Farewell to Uzi: League of Legends’ Uncrowned King
There are many great players in sports history whose trophy cabinets will have that one empty spot. That spot on the center of the top shelf meant for the World Championship. While the cabinet could be overflowing with medals and titles and victories, that single unoccupied spot will always haunt them.
League of Legends is no stranger to such players. Many greats put down their mouse and keyboard for the final time without knowing the elation of lifting the Summoner’s Cup. As of 3 June 2020, there has been none greater to finish their playing career uncrowned than Zi-hao “Uzi” Jian.
The LPL Star in the LCK Era
For newer fans to League, it can be hard to fully understand the utter dominance South Korea exerted over the global scene. In this modern age of intense inter-region competition, it’s difficult to appreciate the extent to which South Korean teams were favorites in any match.
Tellingly, the widely-accepted greatest LoL player of all time is South Korean mid-laner Sang-hyeok “Faker” Lee. Faker has won three World Championships, two Mid-Season Invitationals (MSI), one Rift Rivals, and nine domestic League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) titles.
It is all the more shocking, then, that at the end of the first decade of professional play, the player with the best claim to G.O.A.T status after Faker is Uzi. Not one of the other LCK alumni, or Faker’s teammates who shared in his accomplishments, but the superstar trailblazer AD Carry from China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL).
On paper, Uzi’s greatness can be confusing. His trophy cabinet is fairly barren: not just in comparison to Faker, but in comparison to other LoL greats. Uzi has won one MSI, one Rift Rivals, and what seems a paltry two domestic LPL championships, but a sports legend is more than their cabinet. His impact on the game is impossible to ignore.
How Uzi Revolutionized the Bot Lane Role
The superstar bot-laner had a level of skill that was simply unbelievable and unprecedented. He rarely, if ever, lost his lane. That dominance alone put him in prime position to single-handedly win the match, given the importance of the AD Carry role to dictate the outcome of the game.
More to the point, Uzi was flashy and eye-catching in his play, always on the edge between genius and insanity without ever tipping over into the latter. He was the type of savant who didn’t just reach new heights for other players to try and overcome, he forced the basic level of skill expected of a professional player to improve just so they could even have a chance to compete against him.
UZI DODGES EVERYTHING!
— lolesports (@lolesports) May 15, 2018
His skill and prowess have been praised for over a decade. He was the first Nike esports athlete to ever be sponsored. He’s won numerous accolades domestically and internationally, and yet he has always been the runner up.
Second Only to One
What Faker did for the mid lane, Uzi did for the bot lane. It is for this reason that they are mentioned in the same breath as League of Legends G.O.A.T candidates. In fact, if it wasn’t for Faker, then it is entirely possible that the World Championship would already be in Uzi’s achievements.
They clashed time and time again: the Worlds 2013 finals, the Worlds 2015 quarterfinals, the MSI 2016 semifinals, the Worlds 2016 quarterfinals, the Worlds 2017 semifinals, and most recently the Worlds 2019 group stage. Every time both players were at an international Riot event together, Faker inevitably blocked Uzi’s path to the trophy.
It is perhaps fate that in 2018, as Faker’s SK Telecom team slumped, Uzi flourished. He finally won a domestic title with the 2018 LPL Spring, clinched the MSI 2018 trophy, defeated Team South Korea at both the 2018 Rift Rivals and the Asian Games, and then rounded it off with another Chinese trophy with 2018 LPL Summer. Uzi was on track to complete the first sweep of the League of Legends calendar and win everything in the year, something not even Faker had accomplished.
Alas, the meta shift at Worlds 2018 towards the solo lanes of mid and top put an end to those aspirations. Coupled with a truly career-defining performance from Luka “Perkz” Perković, G2 Esports put an end to Uzi’s chance at a World Championship.
Uzi would make one final Worlds appearance in 2019. Sadly he ended up in the group of death alongside Fnatic and SK Telecom. Once again, Faker would block his path to a World Championship. His golden opportunity to complete his trophy cabinet had passed. Worlds 2018 would be the one that got away.
The Legacy of Uzi
Uzi’s long-standing rival was Faker. His true nemesis, though, was his personal health. Over his eight-year-long career, Uzi had multiple wrist, arm, and shoulder injuries caused by the repeated stress from playing. They were severe enough that he’d often had to take breaks in the spring in order to alleviate the damage. It is unsurprising, then, that his injuries, not an opponent, defeated him for the last time.
On June 3, RNG announced his retirement, citing health concerns. Just like that, the greatest Chinese League of Legends player was gone. Not with one final heroic last stand, but with a quiet and understated succumbing to injuries.
The LPL currently stands atop the League of Legends world. With back-to-back World Championships in 2018 and 2019, the LPL era stands as the true successor to the LCK era. It is bittersweet, then, that Uzi is not the player to enjoy the fruits of that labor.
Uzi blazed a trail for the LPL to follow. Even without Uzi playing in 2020, he was still considered the He was the greatest rival to the face of South Korean dominance. Since 2012, Uzi has stood out as a remarkable talent. He forged his own way to play the game and demanded everyone else adapt and keep up or be left by the wayside of history. The current Chinese champions rose from the environment defined by Uzi. In that way, the LPL’s success is Uzi’s legacy.
It’s just a shame that unprevented injuries mean that Uzi will never get to partake in that glory.
We bid farwell to the most legendary players in the ADC role in League’s history. We do sincerely hope he will make a return to esports in one form or another. Maybe even return to professional play once hes ready to prove his dominance once more.
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