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Emily Rand: On fandom, heartbreak and EDG

All photos courtesy of Riot Games

When Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia smited the gromp with a sliver of hit points remaining, Ming “Clearlove” Kai struck, stealing it away. The Wuhan Indoor Sports Gymnasium erupted, echoing the cheers that had accompanied EDward Gaming‘s players into their first match of Week 2.

“EDG 加油! EDG 加油! EDG 加油! EDG 加油! EDG 加油!”

The crowd didn’t stop cheering the entire game, screaming at every EDG kill. Cheers continued through the next game — another EDG win — the cries of fans roaring and swelling with each small EDG victory on the map. Draped over every available balcony were large light-up signs, at least one per EDG player. “We are the piggy that you can’t kick away.” one of Clearlove’s fan signs read, referencing a time when Clearlove told mid laner Wei “We1less” Zhen on stream to quit playing League of Legends and go farm pigs. As Clearlove and EDG’s popularity rose through the years, EDG and fans embraced this, with fans peppering gigantic banners with cartoon pig heads this past year.

EDG wasn’t a popular team initially. Instead, it was hated. Clearlove, support Feng “Fzzf” Zhuo-jun and Coach Ji “Aaron” Xing were reviled by many Chinese fans for tearing apart the region’s most beloved team, World Elite. When EDG bombed out of the 2014 League of Legends World Championship by losing in the quarterfinals, fans were more focused on Oh My God and Star Horn Royal Club. EDG’s fan base grew slowly, despite domestic success. It wasn’t until 2015, with the arrival of Heo “PawN” Won-seok and Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu that the tide began to turn. EDG upset SK Telecom T1 at the inaugural Mid-Season Invitational that spring, winning in stunning fashion on the back of Clearlove’s signature Evelynn. EDG continued its streak of domestic dominance and, despite dropping out of LoL Pro League summer playoffs, won in the 2015 Chinese regional qualifier to represent the region once more at worlds.

With each passing year, EDG’s popularity domestically and internationally has grown. A cursory glance at my Twitter timeline reveals screenshots of EDG weibo posts, EDG merchandise, or quick English subtitles for EDG post-match player interviews. The fan base is vibrant and passionate. Thanks to EDG fans, I know more about Nice — a white fluffball of a dog that serves as the team mascot — than my own former dog Piper of seven years ago.

Week 1 of this year’s World Championship was a disaster for EDG. The team was China’s top seed on home soil — in Clearlove’s hometown of Wuhan — and failed to win a single game. Even with strong early-game leads, EDG threw away advantages in team fights. Mid laner Lee “Scout” Ye-chan was a true double-edged sword, aggressively positioning for kills that gave EDG leads while also getting caught out at crucial late-game moments. Although his play had somewhat improved from last year, top laner Chen “Mouse” Yu-Hao was routinely outclassed by his top lane brethren in Group A. At the end of EDG’s miserable Week 1, fans still waited after hours to cheer on the players as they loaded up onto their bus.

By Week 2, EDG adapted. Rookie AD Carry Hu “iBoy” Xian-Zhao had breakout performances on Caitlyn and Twitch, with a 26 combined KDA in his team’s first two games. EDG knew where to put iBoy and his support Tian “Meiko” Ye in order to mow down early turrets as quickly as possible. Clearlove performed better than he ever had at worlds.

Cries of “EDG 加油!” were at their loudest during champion select against SKT, EDG’s final opponent of the day. EDG had all three outer turrets down by 11 minutes. The gymnasium shook with fan cheers. Once again, EDG moved iBoy and Meiko deftly across the map. They had SKT on the ropes.

Then the first lost team fight happened. Then iBoy jumped in to kill Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and died. Then SKT won the game. The group of Cloud9 players, various staff members, and owner Jack Etienne (that Riot Games’ camera had followed throughout the final game) cheered. Cloud9 was through to the quarterfinals. EDG was out.

Every year in EDG’s history, the team has made quarterfinals at worlds. Every year, EDG has lost. Now, the members of EDG find themselves eliminated from groups for the first time in the organization’s history. Despite strong Week 2 games against Cloud9 and AHQ e-Sports Club, EDG will not represent China any further at this event.

On Sept. 2, KT Rolster broke my heart — again. The first time this happened was in 2013. I woke up at 4 a.m. I watched as the rain fell over the Olympic Subsidiary Stadium, through a grueling five-game series. I was somber and emotionally exhausted when KT lost in a now-legendary reverse sweep.

The Han River was on the driver’s side as I rode down Olympic-daero on my way to the Jamsil Students’ Gymnasium for the 2017 League Champions Korea summer finals in August. On my right was the Seoul Olympic Stadium. It was a sunny day, but I could see the clouds and rain. I could hear Korean pop group Yellow begin to sing Queen’s “We Are the Champions.” I re-watch the 2013 OGN Champions Summer final at least once per year. Frozen in time, the KT Rolster Bullets always lose. SK Telecom T1 always wins. I still feel a pang in my heart every time I watch, like an old injury that throbs with a dull ache when it rains.

EDG fans, I don’t support your team like you do, but I know how you feel. In time the wound will be less raw. You’ll be able to see the changes that your team makes in response to the loss and hopefully, they’ll push EDG to new heights. Although I’m not in Wuhan, I know that some of you surely waited for your team to exit the gymnasium, smiling and cheering for them just as hard as if they had won.

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