On Saturday morning before week 5 of the 2019 LCS Summer Split, Cloud9 Top Laner Eric "Licorice" Ritchie announced via Twitlonger that he was injured and would be focusing on a recovery plan. Cloud9 Academy Top Laner Ziqing "Kumo" Zhao would be starting in his place against Team Liquid and Clutch Gaming.
Kumo, originally drafted by Cloud9 as the first pick of the 2017 NA Scouting Grounds, had not seen much competitive time in the 2019 NA Academy League Summer Split since Cloud9 signed Brazilian fan favorite Flávio "Jukes" Fernandes in the mid-season break between spring and summer. Not only did Kumo have to step into the shoes of arguably the best Top Laner in North America, he had to do so against the likes of Jeong "Impact" Eon-yeong and Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon.
Kumo had only played one LCS match in his career prior to his 2019 debut. Cloud9 started the entire C9 Academy roster in its final match of the 2018 NA LCS Summer Split against Clutch Gaming, but the stakes were much higher under the current circumstances.
Despite his lack of experience, Kumo was quick to capitalize on rare individual mistakes from Impact in the 1v1 matchup. An excellent early game from Cloud9 Jungler Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen gave Kumo the leverage he needed to score solo kills on both Impact and Team Liquid Mid Laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen. Kumo's dominant side lane presence and a fantastic Veigar performance from Mid Laner Yasin "Nisqy" Dincer led Cloud9 to an upset victory against TL.
After Cloud9's victory against Team Liquid, Kumo joined Inven Global's Nick Geracie to discuss his near-flawless transition to the starting roster. "I feel like I've been ready for a long time," Kumo said when asked about the pressure of his debut. "I guess it didn't really phase me."
Kumo flexed the same dominance the following day against Clutch Gaming's Huni. Once again on Jayce, Kumo gained an advantage in the Top Lane and set up several plays with Svenskeren. CG Jungler Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo began counter-ganking which led to many a death for Kumo, but allowed Svenskeren to run away with the entire game on Lee Sin. Cloud9 cracked the Clutch Gaming nexus by 28 minutes.
Kumo will remain in the starting lineup while Licorice recovers, and hopefully, his performance thus far has encouraged Cloud9 to extend Licorice's timetable for recovery if necessary.