A week ago on July 24, EDward Gaming jungler Ming “Clearlove” Kai competed in a League of Legends Pro League match for the first time in 841 days. Clearlove’s return to competitive play was particularly momentous as he played against Team WE -- the organization he left in August 2012 before joining EDG in February 2014.
Clearlove’s last start for EDward Gaming was in the 2019 LPL Spring Playoffs in a loss to SinoDragon. After taking a break from competition for the rest of 2019, Clearlove served as the team’s head coach in the 2020 LPL season before returning to an active player role in 2021 as a substitute jungler.
Clearlove’s start marked the first game of 2021 where starting jungler Zhao "Jiejie" Li-Jie was not in the lineup. On his signature Sejuani, Clearlove was successful in helping mid-laner Lee "Scout” Ye-chan’s Nocturne secure first blood, but after several early skirmishes won by Team WE, the game went pear-shaped for EDG.
Clearlove was subbed out to give Yu "JunJia" Chun-Chia, EDG’s other substitute jungler, a shot at the matchup against Jiang “beishang” Zhi-Peng, but he fared no better as Team WE took the match 2-0.
At 10-3, EDG is tied for 1st place with FunPlus Phoenix and is one of three teams that has already qualified for the 2021 LPL Summer Playoffs. As indicated by his league-leading 7.5 KDA, Jiejie has been serviceable for EDG, to say the least. However, it is possible that the team has a reason to experiment before the post-season begins, especially given the lower stakes of having already qualified.
Should Clearlove continue to get playtime, a return to his prime level would only make a strong EDG stronger. Clearlove’s wealth of experience and several years of playing with Scout and support Tian "Meiko" Ye could make him the superior starting option in the long run, specifically when considering Clearlove’s familiarity with international play ahead of the World Championship, which will take place in China in a few months.
EDward Gaming has three matches left in the 2021 LPL Summer Split. The first is against the winless Victory Five, which could provide an opportunity to give Clearlove some confidence before the team’s final two matches against FPX and LNG Esports, both of whom have qualified for the Summer Playoffs alongside EDG.
It is entirely possible that Clearlove was simply given more of a symbolic start against his former team in Team WE, especially when the match took place the night before his birthday. The start for Junjia in game 2 could imply that EDG is looking to switch things up in the jungle ahead of the post-season, or it’s possible that Jiejie was given the night off and Clearlove’s start was more ceremonious than anything. There is also the possibility that EDG uses any combination of all three of the junglers, and that these specific substitutions are for adding depth and experience to the roster ahead of the best-of-5 series format that makes up the post-season.
While EDG lost its game with Clearlove back in the starting lineup for the first time in over two years, the veteran jungler showed the same intelligent traits that made him so formidable in the prime of his career. Even ater 841 days away from competitive play, one thing is obvious: Clearlove still has plenty left in the tank