“Your world champion is returning,” are some words that are etched into my mind, impossible to forget. I must have watched the group stage teaser for 2019 hundreds of times. Every time I turn it on, I’m waiting for one moment, the moment where Song Eujin appears on-screen. A moment that all of that summer I thought would never come, the pains of the season and playoffs built up to a game five versus a hungry young team vying for that final ticket to Europe. As the nexus fell and I jumped in joy, as the players I loved so dearly cheered, yet there was sadness. A sadness I didn’t notice.
Zhuo ‘Knight’ Ding, takes a deep breath and sits back in his chair heavy-hearted. His first full season as a starter in the LPL had ended in shortcomings and heartbreak, but he had stamped his mark on those watching. Taking the defending World Champions to 5 games, standing his own against Rookie, arguably the best mid laner in the world. For most Knight would be one to watch in the following season, for some he was the best mid laner not to attend worlds. A title that was held by Rookie for a long time, followed by DoinB. As the victors bow to the Shanghai crowd and walk off, TOP is left there, to collect their thoughts and keyboards. That pain felt would be the motivation for the season coming, as greatness is never defined by how much you win, it’s defined by how fast you get back up from falling. To Knight’s right, Xiong ‘Xx’ Hui-Dong. After coming back from a suspension the year prior, he looked to help his young mid laner achieve greatness. Throughout the regular season, they did that, yet when it came to crunch time he fell short. Xx had put it all out on the rift and been given nothing in return, with a huge play in Game 5. Catching Baolan & Rookie in the cataclysm of J4 but it wasn’t enough. To Knight’s left, Lee ‘LokeN’ Dong-Wook, tries to gather himself but the tears keep falling. Leaving JDG at the start of the season after two years LokeN looked to fight with the best. Yet, like 2018 with JDG he falls short in the regional gauntlet. The feeling of a second year of the same stuff must have sat with him at that moment. He again was almost at the goal, maybe even closer but not close enough.
The day prior, JDG had fallen to IG in a five-game series. The team LokeN had left, had fallen at the same point as they did the year prior. JDG’s 2019 was interesting to witness, making an incredible dream run to finals. Taking down FPX & RNG on the way, to getting obliterated by IG in the Finals. In Summer, the story was different but the ending was the same. They fell to 10th, missing out on playoffs. Yet, because of their run in Spring, they accumulated enough points to make Gauntlet where they faced the team that ended the dream run, with history repeating itself. However, JDG didn’t fall apart they dug in and took IG to 5 games, better than their previous result. Sadly, they would sit and watch the Gauntlet final again, another year of being spectators as their LPL brothers took to the worlds stage. Zeng ‘Yagao’ Qi, would watch as his close friend Knight would fall in the same place as he did. Game 5.
Yagao & Knight hail from the same city in China, Pingxiang. Growing up in Pingxiang allowed for both of the players to meet at a cybercafe and join a team together. At the time, both tried out for the mid-lane position, but Yagao was considered the better player in the role and Knight was moved to Jungle. Yagao arrived in the LPL a year earlier than his friend, taking the starting mid-lane spot at Jingdong Gaming, replacing DoinB. Knight would spend a year at Young Miracles, before joining Suning in 2018 but was benched/made inactive in June. Joining TOP E-sports for the new season, where he was confirmed to be the starter, to take a shot against his hometown friend. Sadly, both fell by the hands of Rookie & Invictus Gaming.
It would be the younger of the two who took down his demon first. TES facing up against Invictus in the Spring playoffs, taking them down 3–1 convincingly. But as the story would have it Knight would come to face his childhood friend, his rival in the final and fall in a thrilling 5 game series. As Yagao leaps out of his seat to celebrate, Knight sat. Maybe he had thoughts that he should have won or maybe he was happy for his friend, all we can say is that he had come along way since Spring 2019, finally making the finals and there was more to come. TES would go on to win the Mid-Season Cup followed up by a rematch of Spring. Again going the full distance but this time the younger brother stood on top, claiming his first title. Beside him, Jackeylove claimed his second and Karsa his third, with 369 and Yuyuanjia getting their first with Knight. The former having been sat on the stage with Knight the night of the Gauntlet, having been through that pain.
The boys from Pingxiang will be fighting alongside each other to keep the world championship title in China but also carrying on their childhood rivalry in full view of the world.
Thank you for reading.
Just to end this, I am attempting to write multiple pieces about the LPL teams heading to Worlds in 2020. I’ve contemplated releasing them all together as one piece, but felt maybe it would be too long for everyone to enjoy so here’s the first.
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