Four thousand people chanted as Edward Gaming took the stage in Busan, South Korea during the 2014 League of Legends World Championship. The League of Legends Pro League first seed was facing the LPL second seed, Star Horn Royal Club (now known as Royal Never Give Up), and it would be a match to remember. It was EDG’s first Worlds, but Royal Club had already made a Finals appearance the year before, so despite EDG holding the higher seed domestically, they didn’t yet have the international experience that is so often crucial for victory in a best of five setting.
EDG started the series off poorly but somehow managed to bounce back after an 0-2 start to push the series to a fifth and final game. But as the crowd cheered for what could’ve ended as the first and only reverse-sweep in Worlds history till Top Esports took down Fnatic in 2020, EDG faltered, losing a grip on their momentum, and after 40 minutes of play, their nexus exploded for the third time. It turns out, experience playing through palpable tension came in handy for Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao and his crew.
That moment of EDG’s collapse would be replicated time and time again as they attended four more World Championships back to back. Each time, the team would blunder, unable to push past the quarterfinals. Whatever the odds, they always failed.
EDG at Worlds:
2014: Out in Quarterfinals ❌
2015: Out in Quarterfinals ❌
2016: Out in Quarterfinals ❌
2017: Out in Groups ❌
2018: Out in Quarterfinals ❌
— LoL Esports (@lolesports) October 23, 2021
After Star Horn Royal Club defeated them in 2014, Fnatic broke them in 2015, with a 3-0 sweep. Then ROX Tigers smashed them in 2016, 3-1. EDG took matters into their own hands in 2017, beating themselves by failing to even qualify out of the group stage with a 2-4 record. And finally, in 2018 back in Busan at the exact same convention center where it all started, Fnatic once again wiped them out, 3-1. In their five trips to Worlds, their overall best of five record was a measly 4-12.
After 2018, the team went dormant, not returning to Worlds until three years later when they finally won the LPL summer playoffs in 2021.
But when EDG flew out to Iceland for Worlds 2021 this year, they brought more baggage along with them than a few suitcases for their month abroad. They brought the weight of a curse, a jinx that kept the team from performing when the stakes were high, a hex that locked them in quarters.
Once again, the team found themselves against Royal Never Give Up in the quarterfinals; history was more than set up to repeat itself, but turns out nobody knocks EDG out of Worlds before the semifinals six times in a row. Perhaps it wasn’t an EDG curse at all, but a curse on their former jungler, Ming “Clearlove” Kai.
Clearlove and EDG
Clearlove joined EDG in their inaugural split at the beginning of 2014 after a short stint on Team WE. He and the team found immediate success, winning both spring and summer playoffs in 2014. Clearlove received the third most MVP votes that summer before their fatal Worlds collapse. They pushed onward in their return to domestic play that spring, winning the split to make it three in a row since their creation. From there, they redeemed that first Worlds appearance by taking down the legendary SK Telecom T1 in the MSI Finals, claiming an international trophy just 15 months after forming as a team.
They weren’t able to win that summer for the four-peat, but they still qualified to Worlds where they made their second disappointing run. From there, they rebounded again, winning two of the next four LPL playoffs, bringing their total count to five of the eight possible LPL titles in their first four seasons. All the time, Clearlove was topping the KDA (kills/deaths/assists ratio) for junglers in the league and racking up MVP votes and highlight reels as they cemented themselves as perhaps the single best team in the LPL.
At Worlds 2016, however, Clearlove performed poorly which resulted in the team losing two “free” matches, including one to INTZ, the Brazilian representative. Those losses resulted in a forced tiebreaker, which EDG also lost, which then resulted in them drawing the ROX Tigers in the quarters. Clearlove stepped down in 2017 to focus on his individual play beyond the competitive environment, but he returned in the summer to lead the team back to yet another LPL title. But despite that improvement, EDG failed in the Worlds 2017 group stage, their worst performance yet. And in 2018 the team failed to win either one of the playoffs — the first time in the team’s history — and made their last trip to Worlds for a few years with yet another quarters failure.
In 2019, amidst EDG’s worst-ever domestic year and first failure to attend Worlds, Clearlove stepped down as a player and eventually stepped into a coaching role for the team. But even in his absence, EDG continued to slide downward, missing the LPL playoffs for the first time in the team’s history in 2020. They hit rock bottom.
EDG’s Rebirth and Worlds 2021
2021 marked a new, exciting year for EDG. They started off by signing Park “Viper” Do-hyeon and Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun, two incredibly talented players in their roles. Clearlove stepped out of the coaching role to be a substitute jungler for Zhao “Jiejie” Li-Jie, and the two other mainstays of the team, Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “Meiko” Ye, well … they stayed.
It’s fair to say the roster worked out.
EDG found a third-place finish in spring and then won their first title this summer since 2017. Then, at Worlds, with all signs pointing to yet another quarters fallout, they managed to pull off the upset in their fifth game against RNG to do what they had never been able to before. EDG is finally headed to a World Championship semifinals. And even though Clearlove only played one single game this year and isn’t on stage in Iceland with his team, he’s still been a crucial part to Jiejie’s development all the same. “From when I started on EDG, he’s always given me advice and opinions based on his experience,” Jiejie said.
Next weekend, EDG will face the winner of Cloud9 and Gen.G at Worlds 2021, both of which look highly beatable based on their group stage performance. The real question, though, is whether or not EDG can manage to push harder and continue to grow and adapt, or if they’ll fall immediately once they meet a non-LPL opponent. If they do manage one more win, they’ll likely find a T1 or DWG KIA with them in the finals.
EDG have already faced T1 in their group, so even though they hold a negative record against them, they at least know what’s coming. But it seems as though they may have their eyes set on DWG KIA instead, the defending champion and Korean first-seed. “I think Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu is ingenious,” Jiejie said in an interview with Upcomer’s Tyler “FionnOnFire” Erzberger after choosing DK as the team he wanted to meet in the finals. “He’s incredibly good. If I were to face him, I’ll just try to showcase my best performance.”
It turns out Riot once again proved their affinity for spoiling the event through their Worlds theme. In 2019, FunPlus Phoenix famously won after the Worlds song was titled, Phoenix, and this year, we have the Worlds 2021 mantra, MAKE/BREAK, which is now clearly about EDG making history and breaking their curse (and also about Cloud9 making it out of groups and breaking the NA loss streak to EU in tiebreaker matches, but that’s a conversation for another day). Or maybe the EDG curse wasn’t a curse on the team at all, but rather a curse on Clearlove himself. Either way, they’re still alive and kicking, with a week off to prep for their next matchup and to determine if they’ll have a chance for the Summoner’s Cup or go home just one series later than they have before.