From the beginning of 2015 to the end of Spring 2016, Uzi spent time on new teams, away from Royal Club. During Spring and Summer Splits 2015, Oh My God was his home. But when the team finished fifth or lower both splits, Uzi missed his first Worlds ever.
For someone who finished second place at Worlds twice, this performance was not good enough. He had rotated in and out of games because of synergy and injury issues. For 2016, Qaio Gu Reapers picked up Uzi, but did not immediately start him. A roller-coaster split unfolded, as QG went several weeks undefeated with Uzi riding the bench. They later came crashing down, due to internal drama and inconsistencies, which came to a head when QG had to forfeit their playoff semifinals match to finish fourth.
LPL Summer 2016
After playing on two other teams, Uzi returned to Royal Never Give Up, Royal Club’s newest iteration. He joined a roster that managed to finish first in Group B during the 2016 Spring Split regular season, and went on to win the playoffs by beating Team WE 3-2 and EDG 3-1. RNG represented the LPL at that year’s Mid-Season Invitational, and they finished the Group Stage in first place with an 8-2 record. They were subsequently knocked out by SKT in the semifinals, but their showing impressed up to that point.
Uzi continued his trend of moving to the best-looking team in China. Other than adding Uzi, RNG’s roster remained the same: Looper, Mlxg, xiaohu, and Mata. They headed in Group B, opposite EDG, facing WE, I May, Vici, LGD, and OMG. RNG entered as a team to watch, and, from week two on, they topped their group. They finished the regular season 13-3, with fans anticipating their rematch against Group A’s leader – EDG.
RNG seeded directly to semifinals and faced a fierce I May that knocked out Invictus and Snake in the playoffs. A 3-2 for RNG qualified them into the finals to play EDG, as expected. EDG served RNG one of their only losses during the regular season. They also had a similar 3-2 semifinal win against WE to make the finals. In a heavily one-sided victory, EDG took down RNG 3-0, mostly off the back of jungle and bottom lane. Deft overshadowed Uzi throughout the series, finishing each game with superior statistics.
This finals finish did not overshadow Uzi’s split, though. Summer 2016 was the first time in over a year that Uzi held a consistent starting position on a stable roster. He finished second in the league for MVP votes, only behind his teammate Mlxg. For the first time in a while, it felt like Uzi was closer realizing his potential.
Luckily, RNG’s 600 total championship points for 2016 qualified them for Worlds as China’s number two seed. They joined first seed EDG and third seed I May to represent the LPL internationally. This would be Uzi’s third career Worlds appearance, having missed 2015, and he entered the event ranked eleventh on Riot’s list of top 20 players. RNG was ranked around eighth among all the teams at the tournament.
The group draw did not really go in RNG’s favor, as Group D was viewed as “the group of death.” They faced the most powerful iteration of TSM ever, Korea’s third seed Samsung Galaxy, and Europe’s Splyce. Most fans were high on TSM and Samsung making it out of the group, while hesitant to completely write off RNG. Many media sources explained how RNG’s individual members topped their roles, but they lacked coordination and showed too many weaknesses in the LPL playoffs to be considered a top team. Some even predicted RNG to be the tournaments biggest disappointment.
Uzi and crew won their first matches versus TSM and Splyce, but lost their game to Samsung. On Group D’s final day RNG started 0-2, while TSM went 1-1. The standings pitted the NA LCS and the LPL against each other. Whichever team won the last game of the day would move on to the bracket stage. An early triple kill for Uzi’s Ezreal all but spelled TSM’s downfall, as RNG never let them back in the game. Bjergsen’s Ryze tried to claw them back into it, but RNG’s Baron control and team-fighting held out. Although both teams finished group stage with a 3-3 record, RNG won both matches versus TSM, allowing them advantage to move into playoffs.
Moving into the quarterfinals, RNG matched against reigning world champions, Korea’s second seed, Group B victors SK Telecom T1. And while this SKT did not look quite as sharp as the 2015 iteration, no one expected them to slouch. Bang and Wolf stepped up during the Worlds group stage, so the bottom lane match-up was shaping up to be intense.
RNG took game one, which revolved around Looper’s Jayce and xiaohu’s Vladimir winning their lanes, then superior Baron and Elder control in the late game. SKT followed up by subbing in Blank and taking three consecutive wins to close the series 3-1. Faker, in particular, elevated to another level to keep xiaohu down, while Blank’s jungle tracking voided all of Mlxg’s strategies. Mata and Uzi were not as impactful as LPL fans hoped, and RNG exited the tournament in fifth-eighth.
SKT would go on to win the entire tournament, becoming three-time world champions. In hindsight, RNG would have needed to beat an LCK team to make it past semifinals, which seemed near impossible. ROX Tigers were on the same level as SKT, and Samsung proved they were superior to RNG in groups. Uzi left with his first sub-silver Worlds finish ever. And while he surely wanted more, just being back on League’s largest stage probably meant a lot. He could return to the LPL with an organization that got him closer to his ultimate goals: an LPL title and an international victory. Maybe it did not happen in 2016, but silver at home and a quarterfinals Worlds appearance were certainly steps in the right direction.
If you missed parts one and two, you can read them here. Keep your eye out for part four, as it is released in the near future.
Images: LoL Esports Flickr, The Zono Post