The Mid Season Invitational (MSI) is Riot's second largest international tournament in the professional circuit, just behind Worlds. It's an exciting tournament, cutting up the awkward off season time between Spring and Summer with some of the best League of Legends every region has to offer. With Play-Ins behind us, we enter the main event, and some of the most exciting player storylines we've ever seen at an MSI. For our first player profile we look at the Mad Dog, the Puppy, the ADC previously known as the Crownless King: Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao.
There are few players in the World that are unanimously agreed upon to be the best in their given role. Uzi is one of those, the de facto ADC player, known for his hyper-aggressive laning and always managing to be ahead of his opponent. His Vayne play made him all but synomous with the Night Hunter, and his high mechanical prowess is often the discussion of casters of his games. Uzi has all but defined the bar for excellence within the ADC role, and many pro ADCs will compare themselves to Uzi as the gold standard.
However, that being said, Uzi has probably be the single best player to not win anything (some might say that Go "Score" Dong-bin could fill this unfortunate title now.) Uzi has appeared in the five past finals in the LPL. Royal Never Give Up only ended up winning one of those: the one that Uzi was plying his trade for Qiao Gu Reapers and where he and the Reapers finished fourth in the playoffs. Uzi has never been able to break into that first place at Worlds either, finding himself twice at the finals and falling short, both to SKT.
The Uncrowned King was the nickname that Uzi and his fans were hoping to shirk off. One of the best players in the world, constantly performing, often challenging Korean tyrants as the spunky underdogs and putting up a fair fight. Uzi and RNG both represented China well in international affairs, but the lack of hardware has always haunted the organization. The Never Give Up attitude has been there throughout it all. The club has never given up, after falling short so many times, and it’s finally paid off.
Spring Split: The Puppy (finally) gets his Title
RNG entered the Spring Split with their heads held high and a chip on their shoulder. The roster just fell short of another Worlds Finals appearance, after Faker dragged his slumping SKT kicking and screaming to another finals appearance. The starting roster remained largely the same, as the Uzi-Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming bot lane continued and Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao calling the mid lane his home still. Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu was met, to much excitement and drama from fans, with a Jungler duo of Hung "Karsa" Hau-Hsuan, the famed LMS Jungler for the Flash Wolves. Yan "Letme" Jun-Ze , too, found himself playing part time alongside legendary Liu "Zz1tai" Zhi-Hao in the top lane. Additionally, RNG decided they needed to hoard all of the ADC star talents, picking up Dai "Able" Zhi-Chun who became best known for being accused by multiple top tier Korean pro players for scripting (something he was proven innocent of by streaming his hand movements.
With Uzi out for the beginning of the split, and RNG playing old sub Wang "y4" Nong-Mo and new rookie Able, RNG struggled. With the return of Uzi the Mad Dog, however, RNG slowly clamored back into a playoff contending spot. RNG found themselves in third place for the Eastern Conference, considered largely the harder of the two conference (housing both the nearly undefeated Invictus Gaming and surprisingly strong Rogue Warriors.) That meant that they’d have to run the gauntlet to the finals, and, through further luck, had to somehow take down the nearly undefeated Invictus Gaming to the finals.
The first step on their playoff run was to take down long time co-competitors Team WE, dismantling the struggling side in an almost too easy 3-0. Next they faced the tyrannical Invictus Gaming, who looked nearly unstoppable in every one of their roles: Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo, Uzi’s apparent kyropnite in scrims, and coming off a blazing split of his career Song "Rookie" Eui-jin. It was probably the strongest competition they could face all split.
A grueling 3-2 series, that saw back and forth games of RNG looking stellar and then awful, and then Invictus Gaming looking awful and then amazing. RNG managed to take the win 3-2 win, Invictus Gaming being held back by an end of the season hand injury for star top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok. RNG blazed through the hardest part of the bracket and once again into the finals.
Across from them was long time rival and bad memories in EDG. To make matters worse, EDG’s star Ming "Clearlove" Kai all but tilted Uzi in their last time meeting as they reversed swept the golden RNG last Summer. However, fate finally smiled on Uzi as RNG, after dropping the first game, then came back spitting fire as they took the next three. RNG had finally broken the curse, they had finally taken the crown for the Crownless King. Uzi finally had his throne and a shot to make history for the LPL and take another MSI trophy.
The LPL finds itself again with another similar narrative going into this years MSI. China was just narrowly ahead of Europe for most success at international tournaments, but now has pulled ahead with the most recent Worlds showings from both RNG and Team WE. LPL is also the only non-Korean team to win a Riot-run international event (excluding the first two seasons of Worlds, before regions really were a thing.) They’re always the scrappy younger brother, the underdogs, the fighting region always trying to, but never fully, take over the light shined on Korea.
RNG is no stranger to being the scrappy underdog from a region that is full of them. Even going into Worlds, being one game away from another finals appearance, RNG were not expected to be there. They were either going to win in a blaze of glory, or flop entirely. MLXG’s unorthodox jungling and a perchance for fighting often and early had even the LPL casters anxious on whether they'd make it out of groups, let alone if they’d go far. Another tournament, another time where nobody is quite certain whether RNG can make a deep run, or will fall apart under the pressure of the worlds best.
But they’ve got one thing they didn’t going into last worlds: a fired up Uzi. Uzi’s coming off finally getting the recognition he’s needed, has been bolstered by a much more stable roster of players (with Karsa being the adept tank player to MLXG’s hyper aggression, ultimately what was problematic with their Worlds campaign. Xiaohu’s got his Spring playoff buff, and the duo of Letme ZZ1tai in the top has given the roster the stability to work around their star ADC. Finally, Uzi has the supporting staff that enables him for success.
Uzi himself has had the season of his career too, absolutely decimating his opponents: second highest KDA in the league, leading his team to their second title, and cresting the 2000 career kills goal, first pro player to ever achieve this feat. This last one isn't a surprise to many, as the LPL is known to be the bloodiest region, but Uzi has been playing out of his mind this spring. He'll be against some of the best in the world and many won't have RNG winning over Kingzone. But nobody had RNG winning over Invictus Gaming either. Many were skeptical of RNG beating EDG, their bane. Uzi, and RNG, didn't care. They did it anyways. Can they prove the doubters wrong again and bring some more prestige to their home region?
Enjoy this article? Check out this on Travis Gafford