The Year of Edward Gaming: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Lack of Popularity

18634-nameiteamfocus.png
Images from lolesports flickr.

Edward Gaming has never had a lot of domestic fans. In a recent fan poll that determined invitees to the Galaxy Esports Carnival, Edward Gaming received the second lowest amount of votes out of eight teams and were not invited to the tournament.

That would make the Galaxy Esports Carnival one of the only two domestic LoL tournament in 2014 in which EDG did not make the finals (EDG was also not invited to the World GameMaster Tournament). Edward Gaming made the finals of all ten domestic tournaments they attended and won eight of them. Their only two second places were at the hands of Team WE at the Intel Extreme Masters Shenzhen event (the final map score was 2-1) and Team King at the National Electronic Sports Tournament (also a 2-1 map score). EDG defeated both OMG and Star Horn Royal Club in every bracket series encounter throughout the year.

With that kind of record, it's nearly impossible to deny that EDG deserves the title "Chinese Team of the Year," which they did not receive at the Demacia Cup End of Year Awards, despite winning that tournament as well. There are some arguments to be made for OMG appearing very dominant during the regular season, but they failed to secure a single title. The last time OMG won a domestic tournament—or even placed the highest of a Chinese team in a tournament with other Chinese teams—was in November of 2013.

The Year of Edward Gaming: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Lack of Popularity

A lot of EDG's lack of popularity stems from the very public and dramatic split of World Elite. The aftermath cast EDG as the villains responsible for destroying the most popular team in China. EDG could only have recovered by performing on the international stage—which they failed to do. Beyond their wayward beginnings, EDG is not well-liked for their stylistic departure from other Chinese LoL teams. Much of their play-style is indeed flawed, but the same reason they win is also the same reason their play is unpopular.

It's hard to make an argument that, individually, EDG's players are the best in their region at their "roles" in the way we traditionally perceive them. EDG's top, jungle, and mid laner are all exceptionally talented players, but when one considers traditional elements required of their roles, it's hard to say that Tong "Koro1" Yang, Ming "Clearlove" Kai, or Ceng "U" Long meet these standards.

Yet the reason EDG succeeds is because they don't seem to conceptualize their jobs as key members of the team in terms of these traditionally defined roles. EDG's players have similar champion pools to other players who play these roles, but EDG as a group has identified their skills and repurposed champions to fulfill specific functions. Each player on EDG is good at his "job" in a team fight, and they seem to play their games with these jobs in mind, prioritizing this over winning lane or entertaining fans. EDG is difficult to assess on a player-by-player basis, as they almost seem to actively avoid individual distinction. A previous interview with their coach, Ji "Aaron" Xing and statements made by Clearlove seem to reflect the idea that winning isn't about having an individually skilled player perform a role, but rather getting all the pieces together to play "as one man."

The following component-by-component analysis is long overdue and will help spectators understand both what makes EDG so successful and also so stylistically under-appreciated. EDG's team fighting often compensates for a lot of their early game flaws and allows them to win. To understand how they operate, I've gone through the strengths and weaknesses of each player and provided clips to highlight how they function in EDG's team fight-centric style.

Koro1

When I say "Koro1 is not a good top laner," it's taken with a grain of salt. Koro1 doesn't excel at trading in lane or identifying engagement opportunities on his own, so with the traditional "top lane is an island" mentality, he falls short. He also doesn't give the sense that he naturally excels at teleport timing either, since his teleport timing can be hit-or-miss, and it seemed as if it took a period of adjustment for Koro1 to adapt to teleport's prominence in the 2014 meta game.

Over time, Koro1 has improved in these regards, and given the relatively shallow pool of LPL top lane talent last year, he likely ranked second to Gao "Gogoing" Diping by the end of 2014 LPL Summer. Though it's unlikely that he'll stack up to the steep top lane talent entering LPL this year.

Koro1 excels in understanding zones in a team fight. I chose the above clip not because it was an extreme case of Koro1's skill, but rather symptomatic of things he is capable of doing on almost any champion he plays from Kayle, to Renekton, to Trundle. After Feng "Fzzf" Zhuojun's initial pick onto Liu "Zzitai" Zhihao, Koro1 sneaked into the fight, past Liu "PDD" Mao, who was separated from the rest of his team by The Box. From there, Koro1 single-handedly zoned out and chased down the remaining three members of Invictus Gaming while the rest of his team demolished PDD.

Clearlove

In the past, I've taken a more in-depth look at the Clearlove consistency problem. It's an exaggeration to say that Clearlove isn't a jungler, as when he does roam the map and make his presence known, EDG can have games that end in twenty minute surrenders from the opposition.

More often than not, Clearlove prefers to keep to his own devices for most of the early game and make his presence known through excellent flanking, extra damage, and an area of effect initiation. The above clip of Clearlove as Evelynn, his most played champion during 2014 LPL Spring, shows the intelligence of his angle of approach. Again, the fight starts with a pick. Clearlove and Koro1 then split and flank the rest of LGD Gaming. Clearlove holds his flash while he waits for U to catch up, dealing damage with Hate Spikes over the wall before flashing into the group with U's Wild Growth and helping to take them down.

U

Be sure to start at 50:45.

In the 2014 LPL meta game, a mid laner who doesn't roam is as much of a handicap as one who plays without Flash. In much of high level LPL play, laning is less rigid, and EDG plays without pressure from frequent teleports, jungle ganks, or mid lane roam. This plays a huge part in EDG's failure to have a lot of presence at all as a team in the early game.

This might not be so bad if U would push out his lane and hold his opposition or pull jungle pressure. U tends to win a lot of his lanes, and we certainly saw that at the World Championship during Group Stage, but only marginally. He rarely will style and destroy his opponent without his jungler. Overall, U's early style is extremely low pressure in almost every regard.

Yet EDG likely would not have won a single game in 2014 LPL Spring with a different mid laner. The team's lack of early play-making means they rely on having a player who can not only perform well in team fights, but hold structures and stall. U was most famous for Ziggs, as that was the team's highest win rate champion in 2014 LPL Spring outside Koro1's Trundle. Though he has said in the past that he prefers to play Zed and dislikes the AOE utility style, U has time again proven himself 1) capable of controlling the flow of minion waves to keep EDG's base safe from siege, and 2) capable of landing high impact area of effect abilities in team fights. U performs one of EDG's most essential functions, and despite his flaws, he and Koro1 were integral to EDG's ability to control zones in most of their fights throughout the year.

The above clip (50:45) was chosen primarily for the timing and synergy with Fzzf. The use of Tibbers and Shockwave in conjunction requires exact timing during Clearlove's distraction. This is the kind of "dump every cooldown" play that Chinese teams tend to emphasize, but EDG is able to execute it with astounding consistency.

NaMei

Be sure to start at 17:01.

So far, this article hasn't mentioned Zhu "NaMei" Jiawen even in passing. He's controversial at this point since many fans internationally have only seen his World Championship performance. He, like the rest of the squad, plays an integral function for Edward Gaming, but he doesn't necessarily fail at his traditional "role" in quite the same way as Koro1, Clearlove, and U. Rather, NaMei's greatest fault is in his lane phase map awareness.

There has been some discussion regarding whether NaMei is a good laning AD carry or a good positional AD carry. Making this distinction a "default" when we discuss AD carries doesn't make sense. There is nothing that dictates that an AD carry must be good at one or the other. Jian "Uzi" Zihao has a better laning phase than team fighting phase simply because it's easier to punish his flaws with more players nearby. NaMei's laning phase is more inconsistent than "poor", which I attribute to an apparently low level of map awareness.

When he sees players on screen, NaMei seems capable of predicting skillshots well. He can avoid key catches that would lose the fight for his team (see the above clip in which he starts moving to avoid Fang "Dada777" Hongri's Death Sentence as soon as his opponent flashes) if he can see his opponents clearly. In some laning phases, NaMei will perform very well, usually when the lane is warded. Without vision, however, he plays more passively, or when he and Fzzf do play aggressively, they're punished for it by an approaching jungler. It's hard to say for sure what happens in NaMei's mind, but watching his performances, it seems his inability to predict map movements in fog of war is a failing for him as a player.

It's similarly difficult to explain what NaMei does well. He has a sixth sense for the use of cooldowns by both himself and the opposition. Like the rest of his team, he's very good at stacking skillshots automatically. If his team can identify a way to abuse terrain, NaMei can save his abilities and time them well for the greatest impact. In the above clip (17:01), Super Mega Death Rocket combined with Fzzf's Solar Flare trims down OMG's health, and in his pursuit, he uses Zap! to secure a kill, and flashes forward to amplify U's damage with an autoattack to bring down Guo "san" Junliang as he's about to escape range. NaMei doesn't make the flashiest plays, but he uses his abilities judiciously to maximize impact and also avoid getting caught.

Fzzf

By virtue of being last, Fzzf's strengths have been fairly well covered already. Fzzf calls the shots on EDG, and he often finds the picks that start team fights or supplements the stacking of area of effect ults. He's likely the mastermind behind many of EDG's flanks, and his rumored retirement would no doubt be a hefty blow to the team, should it come to pass.

Fzzf, as a support player, doesn't have the best use of vision or the best understanding of disengage. One source of EDG's inconsistent bottom lane control is their lack of map vision. EDG heavily prioritizes vision denial over securing their own. So not only do NaMei and Fzzf tend to play a onservative laning phase because their top, mid, and jungle don't apply much pressure on the map, but they also tend to play somewhat blind. In addition, though Fzzf was one of the front-runners in bringing Janna into the meta game and was likely the first to pull out the Mejai's, his use of Janna for disengage is underwhelming. He more often than not will use Monsoon to refresh health bars, rather than relying on its knockback capabilities.

One of Fzzf's greatest champions to watch is Alistar for his hard engage potential. The timing of his Headbutt to separate the Positive Energy bottom lane above and his Pulverize dive allowed EDG to begin to turn this game after a surprising first game loss.

Integration

With almost all of the top side of the map failing to apply early game map pressure for EDG, it's hard to call each member of EDG "good" at their roles. Koro1 seldom wins his lane, U is unable to convert his leads to the rest of the map, and Clearlove mainly focuses on beefing up his late game presence. One often hears the idea that "If player X does well, we'll play around him." EDG never relies on any of their players doing well in lane. Each player has a clearly defined job in team fights that's separate from his role in the early game and whether or not he's able to carve out a lead.

Koro1 controls zones well, Clearlove works to create flanks and area of effect initiation, U will trim off an enemy's advantage by holding structures and equalizing health bars, NaMei cleans up the fight by maximizing his damage, and Fzzf is responsible for initial picks or calls. As long as EDG can execute this setup well, their actual roles in the game become irrelevant.

In an esports audience that might prefer to watch an aggressive style or thrive on the 1v1 flashy outplays, it's easy to see why EDG isn't the most popular team. Their lack of popularity is certainly exacerbated by their origin story, but their play-style is hard to appreciate if one doesn't like waiting through games lasting 15 minutes before the action starts.

Stil, the team's approach to setting up "jobs" over "roles," is extremely refreshing. In a sense, there is no "duo" synergy on EDG, as they all play as cogs in one machine. It's likely the best synergy on the team is between Koro1 and NaMei, as Koro1's ability to peel on almost any champion he plays makes NaMei's own job considerably simple in many instances.

Addressing the Flaws

As has already been pointed out, EDG's squad and play-style, while very dominant in China, had glaring flaws in 2014. One can go so far as to say that OMG's more diverse style made them more suited toward international competition, while EDG's masterful ability to come back through team fighting made them the kings of China.

To fix their flaws, one player on EDG would have to exert more pressure and make more plays in the early game. If this were something that could be addressed simply within their current roster, it likely would have already been done. It doesn't seem that the additions of Kim "Deft" Hyukkyu and Heo "PawN" Wonseok will expand EDG's early map pressure game either. Deft has notoriously been known for a passive laning phase, more so than NaMei, and PawN might dominate his lane harder than U, but he still isn't known for roaming, and he traditionally hasn't had U's team fight presence.

One possible fix comes in the form of Zhao "Fireloli" Zhiming, who has built up a reputation as a jack-of-all-trades solo queue star. His appearances as a top lane substitute for EDG during 2014 LPL Spring were underwhelming, and I'm not convinced that he can stand up to Clearlove's team fighting prowess or exert more pressure on the map.

One might find it surprising how difficult it is for EDG to improve on their current situation with a roster swap. The team has been designed to compensate for the inherent flaws of its individual players, and adjusting the balance is a sensitive business. Coach Aaron, previously of World Elite, has managed to build the best team in China twice now, and though he has an unenviable task, it's still hard to imagine EDG as anything but a front-runner in 2015. Whether the team learns to soar outside China is another matter.