Ming “ClearLove” Kai has seemingly collected all the keys necessary to unlock a shot at the Summoner’s Cup. He’s captured marquee international belts like IPL and MSI to accompany numerous domestic titles. He’s done it on two different teams over the span of four years. He’s adapted through the numerous jungle metas. Taken and lost many buffs. Feasted and been feasted upon.
But the Summoner’s Cup has long perched above his reach. ClearLove’s teams are frequent favorites to ascend and challenge the Korean gods. But each time their wings are clipped just as the pinnacle of League of Legends starts to take shape. They are then caged away to regional dominance for another year. They rebuild. And adapt. And each time amount to little more than idle birdsong when Worlds stands before them.
Such is the career of ClearLove -- as ripe with success and talent as it is with disappearing acts. A title run places solidifies him as one of the most successful players ever. Another flop, though, could forever label him a choker. It’s not lost on him, either. His coach and manager, Ji “Aaron” Xing, has been with him since his days on World Elite. ClearLove says Aaron is instrumental to his growth as a player, and more importantly, as a person.
“When I first started playing competitively, my temper wasn’t very good,” he says. “Aaron told me I was a double-edged sword that could carry the team or possibly destroy it. And if I improved my attitude, I would become the very best.”
Major successes seem to always be followed by an equally disappointing neighbor. World Elite’s IPL 5 championship -- one of the most impressive and grueling tournament victories in League history -- came after a back and forth multiday heartbreaker, filled with technical issues, to Counter Logic Gaming Europe in the Quarterfinals of the 2012 World Championship. This was then followed by a year that saw them miss the World Championship entirely, paving the way for ClearLove’s path to Edward Gaming. EDG entered the scene and established themselves as an immediate powerhouse. They swept domestic competition in 2014, securing first in every major event before being toppled in international competition, ironically, by fellow Chinese squad Star Horn Royal Club in the World Championship Quarterfinals.
ClearLove’s standing among the elite pantheon of League of Legends is hard to define. He has the longevity and many of the accolades, including the individual MVP trophy at MSI 2015 where EDG stunned Korea’s SKTelecom T1. He boasts insane win rates everywhere but the world stage.
And when he feels down, he says, “I know Aaron still believes I’m the strongest.” But as is the case in any competition, it’s the big chip that matters the most. Even Lionel Messi’s legacy is tainted by not winning the World Cup. And the only way to remove any cloud of doubt over a career is by winning every single major title.
EDG -- and China as a whole -- fizzled spectacularly at Worlds 2015. But 2016 is not only another chance for ClearLove to prove his mettle and to solidify his standing as an all-time great; it's a shot at redemption for a region that was fell off of League of Legends’ grandest stage.
ClearLove embodies the Chinese region as well as anyone. All its ups and downs. Its promises of glory. China’s far and away the largest region and still hopes to reach its potential. Experts have long touted its teams as the most likely to silence Korea’s reign. But Korea has turned its ear away each time. Each season, new teams rise only to find Korea has risen higher. And ClearLove has witnessed each iteration.
He says, “Domestically, I’ve gotten many tournament championships. I’m just missing the World Championship. I don’t think of it as a dream, though. It’s just a goal that I must complete before I can think about what comes after.”
There isn’t anything else to win after that. ClearLove can etch his name into League of Legends lore with a World Championship title. Anything short of that will be a disappointment for a player who has scaled every other mountain. There is the view from the top, and there is the view of the top. And there is ClearLove, who has climbed and fallen and climbed again. He stands near the top of China again, and he’s about to find out just how close that is to the top of the world.