Uzi ended 2016 with a quarterfinals Worlds finish on Royal Never Give Up, punctuating a return to his original organization. He had spent some time on Oh My God and Qaio Gu Reapers, but lack of cohesion, organizational struggles, and injury kept Uzi from finding any success with them. They were unable to finish well with the LPL, let alone reaching Worlds and making a deep run. Following back-to-back Worlds finals in 2013 and 2014, missing the ultimate tournament altogether was unacceptable for Uzi. 2016 represented Uzi’s return to the spotlight.
LPL Spring 2017
RNG returned to China with a slightly altered roster for Spring 2017. Looper and Mata moved to other regions, prompting RNG to promote Letme and bring on Ming as a rookie support. These changes brought RNG back to an all-Chinese roster, one of two in the league. While RNG lost two Korean stars, their summer reliance on Uzi felt like it could still continue into spring.
Four of six teams in RNG’s group (Group A this time) remained the same: OMG, LGD, I May, and themselves. Invictus and Snake moved in, while Vici and Team WE moved out. This group would not fall over without effort, but RNG still looked like the top contender. In almost mirror fashion, RNG rose to first place in Group A by week three, and maintained their spot through the rest of the split. They finished three wins ahead of the rest, making them look lonelier than EDG and WE in Group B. As far as individual performance, Xiaohu and Letme earned more MVP nominations throughout the split than Uzi (nine and seven versus four). He also fell short of Smlz (seven) and tied with Imp (four), among AD carries.
Like previous splits, RNG auto-seeded into the playoff semifinals. They faced an EDG squad that missed first place in Group B by a three percent game win rate difference. While RNG won both match-ups versus EDG in the regular season, this was essentially the same team that skunked them in the 2017 Summer Split finals. RNG was able to keep it together, winning out 3-1. They moved on to the finals to face WE, who defeated OMG 3-1 in the semifinals. WE had topped Group B during the regular season, but they had lost all four match-ups versus EDG. Logically, RNG should have been able to beat WE if they won against EDG.
However, history repeated itself once more for Uzi and RNG, as WE won three games straight. RNG finished second in playoffs, mostly due to indecisiveness. Like Deft in the 2016 Summer finals, Mystic had greater effectiveness when compared to Uzi. Condi was monstrous on early-game picks Rengar, Kha’Zix, and Elise. Uzi missed another LPL title and another Mid-Season Invitational.
LPL Summer 2017
For Summer Split, RNG brought in a few new players: Koro1, wuxx, and y4. For week one, they started wuxx as AD carry, and over the course of the split, RNG cycled through various different line-ups. While Baybay, Y1HAN, and Again started a few times each during Spring Split, they were not utilized as frequently as the substitutes during Summer Split. The core line-up of Letme, Mlxg, xiaohu, Uzi, and Ming ended up jiving by the end, but this did not settle until RNG’s tenth series.
Group B in summer had much more flexible standings than Group A in spring. RNG fluctuated from fourth to second within the group over the first eight weeks, only reaching first by week nine. By the end of the regular season, only six wins separated first and last place. Xiaohu stood out as MVP of the split, and he was the only member to start every single game over the entire year. While Uzi solidified his starting spot by the end, it was clear that RNG thought they could accomplish their goals without him at the start.
RNG, yet again, slotted into semifinals, due to their earned bye. Team WE met them there, following their 3-0 over Newbee in the quarterfinals. RNG had won both regular season match-ups versus the number two Group A team. However, WE had skunked RNG in the Spring Finals to deny Uzi and crew another LPL title. WE convincingly took game one in 28 minutes. RNG punched back with a game two win, shutting down WE’s bot lane. Condi and xiye carried a 24-minute game three with close to 100 percent kill participation. Xiaohu drafted Lucian mid to carry game four, and Corki to carry game five. They pulled out a tense 3-2 win to move into the finals.
RNG moved on to face Group A’s top team, EDG. Déjà vu set in again, as RNG had met EDG at the 2016 Summer Split finals. A year ago, EDG took down RNG 3-0 to lock the LPL’s first seed at Worlds. This time around, RNG took games one and two, with Letme, Mlxg, and Ming pulling off crushing engage combos on Cho’Gath, Gragas, and Alistar. EDG responded by banning the Alistar and picking the Cho’Gath, which put them on the board 1-2. Scout ran away with Leblanc in game four to even the score. While game five was not clean for either team, Meiko’s Alistar won out, giving EDG the game, the series, and the first seed for Worlds again.
Uzi was not really a focus during the Summer Split. Mid laners and junglers stole the show, more often than not. Xiaohu stepped up and matched the top mid laners in China, including Rookie, Scout, doinb, and Icon. Ming started showing true prowess on engage champions, allowing bottom lane to feel more balanced for RNG. Uzi still stood as a top AD carry in the league, but Mystic, Fury, lwx, Smlz, and Imp pulled out more MVP votes during the regular season. During playoffs, Uzi’s teammates felt more impactful.
Like 2016, RNG qualified to Worlds as China’s second seed, based on championship points. They joined EDG and WE to represent the LPL. Media outlets pegged RNG as a top five team entering the event, with Uzi ranked fourteenth individually as the fourth highest AD carry. However, RNG’s chances of a deep run took a dip once they were placed in Group C. The group consisted of RNG, Samsung Galaxy, G2, and 1907 Fenerbahçe. Like the RNG-SSG Worlds group in 2016, 2017’s Group C was designated “The Group of Death.”
Group C featured some of the top AD carries in the world, including Uzi, Ruler, and Zven. Even 1907’s padden stood out during the Play-In Stage. G2 was drawn from pool one, Samsung and RNG were drawn from pool two, and 1907 was drawn from pool three, creating one of the most difficult combinations possible. This group would truly test each team and send the two best into the rest of the tournament.
RNG finished at the top of the group with a 5-1 record, only dropping one game to G2. Uzi stood out in week one with a 28.0 KDA, with all other members holding their ground. This performance ensured RNG would face a second place team in the quarterfinals, crucial for a high finish. SKT, Longzhu, and WE won their respective groups, leaving Cloud9, Fnatic, Samsung, and Misfits as match-ups.
RNG paired with Europe’s Fnatic for a heavily one-sided quarterfinals showdown. Fnatic barely scraped out of their group by winning a tiebreaker versus Immortals, and no one expected them to put up much fight against Uzi and crew. RNG took them down 3-1, slotting into the semifinals versus SKT. Uzi had met SKT in Worlds playoffs twice before: 2013 and 2016. Both times he lost. And with the number two and three LPL seeds facing the number two and three LCK seeds, fans anticipated which region would prevail.
Uzi carried the first game on his signature Twitch. RNG played a clean game, only losing three turrets and one dragon over 38 minutes. SKT struck back with their own one-sided match, with Mlxg drafting a questionable Nocturne pick. Uzi put on another exceptional performance with Vayne in game three, ending 6-0-3 in 23 minutes, but SKT evened the score with a game four win. The series, and both teams’ advancement into the finals, teetered on one final match. Game five handily went to SKT, with Mlxg’s Lee Sin unable to get rolling early and SKT’s top side ran away with their lead.
Innovation and flexibility were on the Koreans’ side, as SKT and SSG had played a wider range of styles and a deeper champion pool over the course of the tournament. RNG finished with WE in third-fourth, ending right within their predicted range. And while Uzi and crew must have been disappointed, this performance represented growth for Uzi, the Royal organization, and the LPL. This third-fourth place finish was the highest Worlds placement for Uzi, Royal, or any Chinese team since 2014. This individual and his team made it deeper and deeper into the tournament each year. RNG and Uzi could return to China and prepare for something even greater in 2018.
LPL Spring 2018
For 2018, RNG kept their same basic roster, but also added LMS star jungler Karsa, veteran top laner Zz1tai, and a couple of bot lane substitutes. Some viewed these updates as troubling, and ESPN even ranked RNG as tenth in their preseason global power rankings. The LPL also expanded to 14 teams and geo-locked them into east and west regions. RNG joined the east region with Invictus, LGD, JD Gaming (Qaio Gu), and newcomers Suning Gaming, Topsports Gaming, and Rogue Warriors.
The course of the split was reminiscent of Summer Split 2017, with RNG rotating players regularly between the start and the bench. Letme, Mlxg, xiaohu, Able, and Ming were the predominant starters in the beginning, while Zz1tai, Karsa, and Uzi played most of the late season. The team started their first few weeks downward, bottoming out at sixth place, but rose and plateaued in third. RNG’s 12-7 record put them one win behind Rogue Warriors and six wins behind first place Invictus. This was RNG’s worst regular season finish since Uzi joined, their first time lower than first.
For the first time since Spring Split 2016, Uzi started playoffs in the first round. RNG faced a struggling WE that finished fourth in the western group. A 3-0 moved RNG into quarterfinals versus Snake, who had finished second in the west. Uzi put on true carry performances in each game, ending the series 3-1 to qualify for semifinals. RNG met fellow eastern group IG, LPL Spring split favorites. IG had only dropped one series the entire season, which was to RNG, but all the way back in week one. Superstar mid laner Rookie and crew tore through the competition, ending with an 88 percent game win rate.
While Uzi’s Kai’Sa had pressure in game one, IG’s top-side completely took over, giving Invictus the first win. RNG struck back in game two, enabling Uzi’s Kai’Sa to a victory. IG gave RNG Kai’Sa a third time, which combined with Letme’s Shen for devastating results. RNG upped the score 2-1. By game four, IG finally banned the Kai’Sa, leaving Uzi on Kog’Maw. IG’s team all-around played better, taking the series to match point. For game five, RNG flex-picked Sion mid for xiaohu, while Zz1tai took Singed top. Mlxg, xiaohu, and Uzi had such powerful engage that RNG ran away with the game, knocking out IG and moving on to the finals.
Once there, RNG fought perennial rivals EDG, who had finished first in the west region. RNG had won their single cross-group match-up versus EDG during the regular season, but had not faced them since week six. EDG quickly took game one in 29 minutes, taking advantage of xiaohu’s mid Morgana pick. RNG returned the favor with their own clean game around Zz1tai’s fed Vladimir. Uzi carried game three in a protect-the-Kog’Maw composition, and closed out the series 3-1 off of clean Rakan play from Ming in game four.
Winning this title was a momentous occasion for Uzi and RNG. Over five years of professional League, Uzi had never won a domestic title. He had finished the regular season at the top several times, but always fell short in playoffs. Uzi was considered one of the best players in the world, if not the best, who had never won anything substantial. The 2018 Spring Split brought him to a new career peak, taking the gold and winning playoff MVP. RNG was taking Uzi to his first Mid-Season Invitational in a meta that favored strong AD carries.
This year’s MSI brought together the best teams from each region: Team Liquid, Fnatic, Royal Never Give Up, KingZone, Flash Wolves, and EVOS. Fans and analysts grew excited to watch these bottom lanes face off. Uzi versus PraY, Doublelift versus Rekkles, and Slay versus Betty. Kai’Sa, League‘s newest champion at the time, introduced a mechanically intensive, over-powered marksman for these players to utilize. RNG entered the event ranked second, behind LCK’s KingZone.
Days one through three were relatively weak from the LPL champions, with RNG going 1-1 each day. Flash Wolves began 6-0, over-performing compared to expectations, and KingZone started 4-2. Fnatic finished 3-3, but lost both matches versus RNG, giving them the edge. RNG picked it up for days four and five, claiming all four wins to finish group stage 7-3. Flash Wolves only picked up one win, tying RNG with a 7-3 record. RNG easily secured the tiebreaker match, putting them at the top of the group stage.
The first place group finish proved crucial in this tournament. RNG got to choose their semifinals opponent between third and fourth place. Fnatic was the obvious choice over KingZone, pitting Europe versus China once more. RNG also announced they would start Karsa, who had only played their win against KZ.
Game one went relatively even through 20 minutes, but RNG’s dive composition of Letme’s Vladimir and xiaohu’s Irelia pulled through to win in the end. With Irelia banned and Aurelion Sol picked, Fnatic punched back in game two, gaining a 5,000 gold lead at 22 minutes. However, a four-for-zero team-fight near Baron resulted in a complete loss of the lead and the game. Game three was similar to game two, with Fnatic drawing the early 2,800 lead by 20 minutes, but RNG’s team-fight reeled it back in with another Baron play. Rekkles’ Ezreal cleaned up some fights, while Bwipo’s surprise Singed constantly split-pushed, but RNG took a late-game Baron and Elder Drake to close the series 3-0.
As the pattern goes for Uzi internationally, RNG met the LCK representative, KZ, in the finals. While the Korean powerhouse fell short of expectations in the Group Stage, they easily dismantled Flash Wolves in the semifinals in a similar fashion to RNG versus Fnatic. Historically, Korean teams bested Chinese teams at international tournaments, with EDG’s 2015 MSI victory being the exception.
The first game went to RNG, who drafted three tanks, a Janna, and an Ezreal to shut down KZ’s triple-AD composition. RNG was set up for another victory in game two, taking an inhibitor at 24 minutes, but KZ won a crucial fight, took Baron, and closed with a lead. KZ drafted Bdd Sion mid for game three, taking away one of xiaohu’s pocket picks, but RNG completely dismantled them. Game three ended in 25 minutes, pushing the series to match point. KZ adapted for game four, drafting Illaoi and Vel’Koz, but in exchange, they gave Uzi Kai’Sa. Game four held even until KZ took a fight and Baron at 24 minutes, opening up a 6,800 gold lead. However, Uzi cleaned up two fights at the end to close the game with an RNG victory.
This moment was Uzi’s catharsis. Not only did he win his first international competition, but he carried the team throughout a tournament featuring some of the world’s best AD carries. He showcased the true power of Kai’Sa, reminiscent of his various Vayne games over the years. Uzi accomplished this win in the same year he won his first domestic title.
For the first time, since he tasted glory in season three, since he left Royal and played with China’s next best teams, since he returned to RNG with injury and substitutions, Uzi felt on top of the world. The best AD carry on Earth hoisted a winner’s trophy with his team and entered the off-season with the biggest achievements anyone could have in 2018.,
Now Uzi and RNG enter Summer Split. They have set themselves up for an easy qualification to Worlds, but the bar is set higher than that. Uzi wants to win. He waited five years to get his first gold, and now he wants more. Another Chinese title is first on the list, and, from there, a deep run at Worlds. If RNG should continue their trend from the last few years, they should make it past the semifinals and get Uzi back to where he started – top two at Worlds.
Except, this time, second place will be a disappointment.
If you missed parts one, two, or three, you can read them here: