When Huang "Maple" Yi-Tang signed with PSG Talon ahead of the 2021 League of Legends esports season, it wasn't just an opportunity for the mid laner to return home — it was a chance to return to the international stage.
After becoming one of the most decorated talents in the history of Southeast Asia, Maple departed legendary organization Flash Wolves to play in China's League of Legends Pro League on Suning in 2019. After a lackluster season, Maple remained in China for 2020 with LNG Esports, whose results were also relatively forgettable in context of the mid laner's illustrious career. After the 2020 season, Maple saw an opportunity to return to Taiwan and join the Pacific Championship Series.
Following its elimination from the 2020 World Championship, PSG Talon parted ways with its mid laner Kim "Tank" Dong-woo, and the prospect of signing Maple provided an opportunity for the organization to continue representing its region internationally. Maple shared the team's vision, as he explained to Inven Global in an interview following day 2 of the 2021 Mid-Season Invitational's Rumble Stage.
"When I joined PSG, I thought there would be a higher possibility for me — and us — to take part in international tournaments," Maple said. "Also, I'm very familiar with the Players in PSG, which was another important reason in my decision to join."
The familiarity between Maple and the rest of its roster, as well as Maple's regional familiarity, has paid off for PSG Talon. The team is representing its region at MSI 2021 in its first split with Maple in the mid lane and currently sits tied for 2nd place in the Rumble Stage with South Korean representative DWG KIA and European representative MAD Lions. PSG has exceeded expectations at MSI thus far, and a large part of that has been due to Maple's return to the international stage.
Amongst mid laners at MSI 2021, Maple is second in kills at 45, only five behind Yuan "Cryin" Cheng-Wei of the undefeated Royal Never Give Up. Maple's damage percentage is the fifth highest of any mid laner at the tournament, and he is top 3 in kill participation. Whatever moves PSG Talon is making on Summoner's Rift, Maple is a part of them, and he's done it on eight different champions throughout the tournament.
Maple's been known to make many a big play on the international stage, particularly thriving in aggressive skirmishes and teamfights, but the mid laner has also improved his laning and overall early game ferocity to match his razor-sharp level of play at other points in the game. Given a chance to make his own advantages on Akali against the Viktor of Cloud9 mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković, Maple was able to net an impressive solo kill on the way to a PSG win over the NA representative.
In the past few seasons of LoL esports, the laning phase has become far more important, and Maple knows it. Fortunately, he just spent the last two years in the region that boasts the strongest laning in the world. "When I was playing in China, I learned a lot from the top players about their skills in the laning phase," Maple said when speaking of his growth from competing in the LPL.
Despite individual improvements, Maple has competed long enough to know that playing well on one's own is half the battle at best when it comes to winning an international event, so he has acknowledged his presence in the roster as a veteran and used it to help embolden the team to the best of his ability.
"Yes, I think I'm kind of taking that role as a leader in PSG," Maple said, pondering. "Before matches, I will kind of preach to my teammates to boost their confidence. I think it's a good thing to do as a veteran in our team."
Since bursting onto the global League of Legends scene with Flash Wolves in 2015, Maple has won nine domestic titles and has competed at seven international tournaments leading up to MSI 2021.
Long thought to be past his prime after disappearing from the international picture as a LPL player, Maple is showing that he still has plenty left in the tank as a core factor of PSG Talon's international success and that his time with Suning and LNG Esports in China has only made him a stronger, smarter player.
All images by: Riot Games