Why Clearlove's inconsistency may be EDG's downfall
Edward Gaming found success playing the long game last split, but with LPL competition increasing, that has worked less and less. EDG sinks or swims with plays made by their inconsistent jungler, but replacing him is an imperfect fix.
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Edward Gaming's jungler, Ming "Clearlove" Kai finished the LPL Summer season in first place in the LPL MVP rankings, and he is the only jungler in LPL to appear in the top ten. When EDG performs, Clearlove stands out as the team's carry; he initiates fights with exceptional Cataclysms and repeatedly ganks lanes to set his team ahead. When EDG loses, he seems to flail, unable to find pressure points in the early game. Clearlove's inconsistency is one of EDG's biggest flaws, and a large reason the team will struggle on the international stage. Yet the team's reliance upon Clearlove to carry games means that replacing him won't solve the still larger problem with indecisiveness that plagues EDG.
King of the Jungle
As a member of Team World Elite during the hayday of IPL 5, Clearlove is one of the best known Chinese junglers in the West. He represented China as the jungler during the 2013 AllStars event and rampaged through the early part of Season 3 with the rest of WE. He was known as a fearsome, high farm carry jungler, and Clearlove still boasts strong statistics as a member of Edward Gaming. He has far and away the greatest kill participation in the league, as he's involved in 76.85% of Edward Gaming's kills. The player with the next highest participation below him is World Elite's WeiXiao, at 73.62%, and the jungler with the second highest kill participation in LPL is LGD Gaming's Quan at 68.09% of LGD's kills.
|Highest Kill Participation
|StarHorn Royal Club
|World Elite Academy
Most players involved in more of their team's kills than any other member in LPL are bottom laners, two are mid laners, and only one is a jungler. This speaks generally of the way Chinese teams play in LPL. Strong bottom lanes force solo laners roam to create opportunities for AD carries to rack up kills. Junglers are less instrumental to the score line than other members of the team. From this data, it seems Clearlove should be commended for his apparent impact on his team's games. A jungler involved in kills for his team is a jungler proactively making movements around the map in many scenarios.
Edward Gaming, however, also has the most assists per kill of any other team in LPL. On average, each kill is accompanied by 2.5 assists, meaning that 3.5 members of EDG are involved in a typical kill for the team. It makes sense for a team as skilled in team fighting as EDG to concentrate on making plays as a group, but it also suggests that most of Clearlove's proactive play-making doesn't come in the form of lane ganks. Having picked up Jarvan IV this split, Clearlove is often responsible for many of his team's engagements. During laning phase, Clearlove's presence is intermittent, and Edward Gaming will fall behind due to unanswered jungle pressure from the opposition.
Same Old Tune
Last split, Edward Gaming had the longest average game time in LPL at around 37 minutes. They often gave up early advantages and used vision denial to pick fights around Baron and close out the game with powerful team fights. EDG wasn't content with this one-dimensional strategy, and evidence of a change began with Clearlove. During last split, his preferred champions were Kha'Zix and Evelynn, but he traded them in for the likes of Lee Sin and Jarvan IV during LPL Spring Playoffs and early into LPL Summer. Clearlove began to focus much more on ganking the bottom lane and making dragon plays.
Lately, EDG has fallen into bad habits. In the series against StarHorn Royal Club, Clearlove had a scoreline of 0/0/0 for most of the early game while inSec found opportunities to gank lanes across the map. Rengar hasn't been the most successful jungle champion in the competitive scene, inSec was able to make the selection look good, primarily because he was met with little resistance. Against LGD, Clearlove performed similarly on Jarvan IV, though his Lee Sin was much more proactive.
EDG's games in Demacia Cup and National Electronic Sports Tournament suggest that it's easier for them to win against less experienced teams using their old style of play. LSPL and amateur Chinese teams don't know how to punish EDG for for a passive laning phase. It's only in LPL where more proactive teams with stronger junglers will take advantage of Clearlove's mistakes that EDG has begun to falter.
Looking at Clearlove's history as a competitive player, it isn't difficult to see why controlling the map in the early game might not come easily to him. Historically, some of his most successful champions by win rate are Hecarim, Kha'Zix, and Nunu: all champions that lack hard crowd control and favor a higher farm-to-gank ratio. During the point where Clearlove found the most international success, he was a member of Team World Elite with mid laner Misaya. Misaya's best known champion, by far, was Twisted Fate, and Misaya had a reputation for wanting to be in the mid lane as little as possible, preferring to roam and find advantages for his team elsewhere.
This balance worked well for World Elite, but on EDG, the team's mid laner, Ceng "U" Long, has favored the opposite style. Last split, the mid lane was a 1v1 zone where he excelled. This split of LPL, assassins are in vogue, and players like OMG's Cool and LGD's We1less have made roaming much more of a necessity. A lack of pressure from both the jungle and the mid lane has left EDG waiting for towers to fall.
Time to Upgrade
Though Clearlove's ability to engage fights late game has led EDG to a first place regular season finish this split, his performances have been too inconsistent to provide his team what they need in the early pressure game. As teams like OMG, StarHorn Royal Club, LGD Gaming, and even Young Glory begin to evolve away from heavy five-vs-fives, utilizing split-push and assassin play to gain and hold early advantages, EDG has appeared stagnant in their development. They took a clean 2-0 against World Elite, a team that has fixated on extending the laning phase, but they've dropped games against teams like Young Glory, the seventh place LPL team, because of YG's focus on exploiting the map.
Yet replacing Clearlove is not a simple fix. As mentioned earlier, EDG has a high assist per kill ratio, but to put this into a larger perspective, there are only 11 players in LPL with kill participation ratios over 70%. Only three teams in LPL have more than one player with a greater than 70% kill participation ratio. Invictus Gaming and Team World Elite have two; EDG has four team members with more than 70% kill participation.
|StarHorn Royal Club
If four members of EDG are involved in more than 70% of the team's kills, that means that the number of skirmish or laning phase solo kills in the early game is likely low relative to those of other teams in the LPL. As a result, Clearlove cannot bear all of the blame for a lack of play-making in the early game. Effectively, no single member of EDG seems to be picking up kills without involving multiple teammates. In games with extended laning phases, such as EDG's recent games against LGD, they fall behind.
When EDG performs poorly, these extended laning phases cause them to lose games. When considering the team's strengths, it would make sense to force early fights and end the laning phase as soon as possible, but a team-wide lack of individual proactive play-making creates difficulty in this endeavor. Outside of Clearlove, the largest culprit is the mid laner, U.
U ended the LPL split with the highest KDA at 6.55 (the only LPL KDA over 6). He also had the least amount of deaths of any player to play all 28 games for his team at 55, but this is in part due to the fact that he tends to be as far away from the early action as possible. In the past, he has publicly stated that he favors higher mobility champions like Zed or Nidalee, but when given an assassin champion like Ahri or Kassadin in the past two weeks, U has failed to create pressure.
It's unsurprising that his highest win rate all LPL season has been on Syndra with 11 wins and one loss. Syndra's low mobility and high wave clear made farming in lane simple and efficient. On champions like Ziggs and Syndra, U effectively removes himself from the game when the opposing teams mid laner favors roaming. In the LGD set, We1less found kills against Koro1, NaMei, Fzzf, and even Clearlove while U farmed passively. This bolstered his KDA and protected his low number of deaths at the expense of his team's succes.
The bottom line, however, is that replacing U and Clearlove might be attractive, but it doesn't fix the over-arching problem; EDG's early game is extremely passive. According to a rumor, OMG's Cool was considered as a possible candidate for EDG's mid lane when the team was initially formed before the 2014 LPL Spring split. Cool has lately favored Twisted Fate (with two recent exceptions) and Ahri in games where OMG succeeds because of the roaming pressure he can exert upon the map with these champions. If EDG in its current incarnation had Cool in the mid lane over U—or, for that matter, OMG's Drug over Clearlove—I imagine we'd see a scenario in which Cool attempted to make early plays only to be cut off from his passive team.
A similar case occurred in the best of two EDG played against StarHorn Royal Club where the team's top laner, Tang "Koro1" Yang, attempted to dive deep in several engagements on Dr. Mundo only to find his teammates standing passively behind him. In Demacia Cup, EDG played a Kog'Maw-centric composition, and they would flank out-of-position members of Team King, only to back out quickly and leave NaMei's low mobility Kog'Maw to the slaughter.
EDG's problem isn't so much that Clearlove is inconsistent, but that the team relies upon him too much for him to be as inconsistent as he is. If any member of the team would choose to step up and compensate for Clearlove's inefficiencies in the event that he has a bad game, Clearlove would be less of a problem. Lately, that player has been Koro1, with bottom lane teleports that result in kills when not answered by a roaming mid laner. As a result of his efforts, Koro1 rose from 19th to 16th in the MVP rankings in the last week of LPL.
Given that EDG managed to win the LPL regular season largely on the back of their jungler's engagements and intermittent early game presence certainly makes Clearlove worthy of his first place ranking on the MVP ladder. Yet if EDG cannot find a more central early game focus, they'll be easily punished on the international stage, and even in the playoff games next week. If EDG can rally, and support player and shot-caller Feng "Fzzf" Zhuojun can find a more decisive voice, EDG might qualify for Worlds. In an international context, however, they'll likely only perpetuate the sentiment that Chinese junglers are their teams' weakest links.