The Definition of Clutch
Clutch players have fascinated traditional sports fans forever. Players like Chauncey Billups “Mr. Big Shot,” Derek Jeter “Mr. November,” and (perhaps the most infamous example) Robert Horry aka “Big Shot Rob” have always captivated the minds of fans, rivals, and analysts alike. It’s baffling. How do these players perform even better when the stakes are the highest? LoL has a fairly young history, but many of the most exceptional players have already shown themselves. Faker’s 1v1 duel on Zed and xPeke’s infamous backdoor against SK have more or less enshrined them as two of the greatest clutch performers of all time. We love superstars like Froggen and MadLife not just because they are brilliant playmakers, but because they seemingly came through with big plays on demand to win their teams games.
The most clutch moments in LoL history.
However, LoL hasn’t yet found a definitive king of the clutch. Faker’s consistent brilliance made it difficult to tell his regular season games from his peak playoff performances. He surely never shirked during the playoffs, but it’s difficult to call him the king without a significant step-up in his play. He was just a consistent, almost robotic, destroyer. For the last 3 years, LoL’s Captain Clutch has probably been Xpeke. He would show up at every tournament and give a resounding performance to the tune of 3 EU championships and 3 World championship berths (with one World Championship win, albeit in Season 1.) The fit was deserved, but in the eyes of this writer, a little bit imperfect. In spite of Xpeke’s superhuman propensity for improving his game when it mattered the most, he was never a contender for the best player in his position. I was resigned to waiting longer, but then I realized something. Over the last two years, the same few things have happened in October.
1. My crazy college roommate has dressed up as a serial killer to scare kids on Halloween.
2. An actual serial killer has torn the heart out of China’s number 1 seed and fed it to the dogs.
Uzi’s individual brilliance and clutch play in both World tournaments have made him a legend forever. He may not be the greatest player overall, and has often looked fatally flawed. But one thing is undeniable: nobody raises his level at the World Championships higher than he does.
Here’s a dirty secret about Royal Club, Season 3 Worlds finalists. That team wasn’t actually very good. Top laner ackerman has at times looked quite brilliant playing in North America, but truth be told, he has looked nothing like a Worlds finalist. Lucky is perhaps the most overmatched Worlds player ever to come out of China barring the infamous Dada777. Fan favorite Tabe had his moments as a shotcaller and initiator but his mediocrity with skill shots forced him to almost exclusively play Annie and Sona. Innovating Annie support gave him a massive edge over other players, but without his signature champion he had very little impact. The only other World-class player on that team was probably mid laner Whitez, who’s massive champion pool and solid mechanics allowed him to serve as a reliable second carry for Royal Club. The team was particularly exposed in the 3-0 whitewash by SKT. The Korean superstars simply crushed every lane and rolled to an easy victory.
So how did Royal run roughshod over world-contenders like OMG and Fnatic?
Here’s a hint.
Some may argue that it’s not quite as simple as this clip looks, and that the other Royal Club members did step in to make crucial contributions to the team’s Cinderella run. This in undeniable. Had Uzi’s supporting cast been replaced by weaker players, Royal may not have made it to the finals. However, the team was clearly centered around the 16 year-old star, who oftentimes had to singlehandedly drag his teams to victories. After watching Royal Club play, every single fan had two questions. Weren’t AD Carries nerfed in Season 3 and why didn’t any other team play like this?
A god is a god no matter what position. And only Royal Club played like that because only Royal Club had Uzi.
A one-time shot at greatness could just be mere coincidence or a flash in a pan. Many players and teams have enjoyed brief streaks of dominance only to fail when the stakes are once again at their highest.
After Uzi’s transcendent run to the finals, it looked like the AD Carry prodigy would be dealing with a tough climb back to the top in Season 4. He looked badly exposed by SKT’s own superstar AD Carry Piglet and his best teammates (Whitez and Tabe) both retired after the world championship. To make matters worse, top laner Godlike would leave with LMQ to play in the North American LCS. Uzi was left alone to head up a rebuilding effort. It was a complete trainwreck. Finding all Chinese supports unsatisfactory, Uzi would make one of the most ill-advised role swaps in history. First trying out jungle in scrimmages, Uzi would settle in as a mid-tier Chinese mid laner, a far fall from challenging for the title of “World’s Best AD Carry.”
The journey to this World Championship has been a long and winding road. Everything has changed for the young prodigy for China, including all four of his teammates. Uzi finds himself on a new squad featuring rising support star Zero and the legendary jungler inSec. But somehow Uzi finds himself in a shockingly similar situation. Once again, he finds himself at the head of a talented but flawed team. Once again, his team has lived and died by his hands. And once again, those same hands have throttled the life out of China’s hyped up first seed. A one-time shot at greatness could just be mere coincidence or a flash in a pan, but repeated greatness is excellence.
So what makes Uzi so good? It’s been two World Championships and the young man has always found himself the greatest player in every series he’s played but one.
In Uzi, we see a player who is so supremely confident in his own playstyle and methodology that he will refuse to deviate from it. No matter what the game state is and no matter what the match-up is, Uzi will brutally force the issue and play the exact same way at all times. In lane, Uzi forces his opponents to fight for every single cs, contesting with auto-attacks at every opportunity. In teamfights, he is often completely unafraid to dive far behind enemy lines on his beloved Vayne, Lucian, and Twitch picks. Oftentimes, he will play Caitlyn as a frontline champion. I suspect that his playstyle is what accounts for his godliness in crunch time. In decisive games, teams often play conservatively because they are afraid that a single error can mean tournament elimination. Instead, Uzi will go the other way with his gameplay. In clutch situations, he pushes the tempo even harder. This incredible discomfort has rattled even the most hardened veterans.
Although Uzi’s fiery personality would suggest a player prone to tilt issues, these issues have never shown up on the global stage. In fact, Uzi often brings out his best performances with his back against the wall as seen in last year’s semifinal match against Fnatic and this year’s nail-biter against Edward Gaming. This might be too strong of a statement, but considering the stakes of Uzi’s Game 5 win over EDG, I want to say that game was the most clutch solo-carry of all time. We’ve seen players pull off transcendent performances (Cool’s 20 kill Yasuo game comes to mind) but never with the stakes at high as this. EDG had just recovered from a seemingly crippling 2-0 deficit and a Game 5 defeat meant that Royal Club would be out of the World Championships. With ClearLove and FZZF’s massive step-ups, EDG was outperforming Uzi’s supporting cast in every single position. inSec must have been haunted by the memories of his past reverse all-kill defeats. Looking at Uzi’s sullen expression after Game 4, I thought that EDG had broken his spirit and the series was over. Instead, he delivered his best game of the series and crushed NaMei on his signature champion.
In spite of Uzi’s individual brilliance, it’s impossible to discuss Uzi’s greatness without considering his LoL soulmate inSec. It’s amazing how much these two players hate each other, especially considering that they don’t even speak the same language. However, whatever enmity they have in real life is seemingly completely forgotten in the server. With his obscene mechanics and infallible aggression, inSec is virtually a jungle mirror of Uzi. With inSec diving in from the front line, and Uzi rampaging forwards to join him, Royal Club has developed a bizzare synergy that has carried them into the Round of 4. In inSec, Uzi finally has a? teammate (perhaps the only possible teammate in the world) who can keep up with his breakneck aggression. If nothing else, these two players prove that the languages of genius and hatred are both universal.
Fittingly enough, this photo was taken from an article with the title “inSec calls Chinese player stupid cunt.”
All in all, Uzi’s greatness is rife with contradictions. An objectively selfish player whose teammates decide to build around himself anyways. A fiery temper who’s seemingly immune to tilt. At one point, his flaws will seem like too much to overcome. At another, those some flaws will look like his greatest strengths. A star who has always struggled to find the right teammates, he nonetheless despises the player who was meant to play with him. However, here’s the biggest contradiction: the most internationally accomplished player in Chinese history doesn’t have a single LPL title. I just wrote about 3000 words about the man and I still can’t understand this. But it really doesn’t matter. He is the most accomplished international player in Chinese history. All I know is that when Worlds rolls around, Uzi is still the king.