INCHEON, South Korea -- Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo took a step forward. He could see his breath in the crisp night air blending into the residual smoke from the recent pyrotechnics display that crowned Invictus Gaming the 2018 League of Legends World Champions.
His sneakers brushed aside silver and gold confetti glinting on the glossy black stage underneath the trophy stand. As his teammates turned to walk off the stage, JackeyLove reached forward for the Summoner's Cup with his laning partner, Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi, and mid laner Song "Rookie" Eui-jin. The three of them stumbled as they carried it off stage together, struggling under the weight of the cup -- they ran ahead of their teammates, drunk on the recent victory.
Moments later, JackeyLove was still glued to the cup. He heaved the trophy over his right shoulder, swaying a bit with the weight. Beside him, iG jungler Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning, held his own trophy, the Most Valuable Player award, tightly to his left shoulder as LoL Pro League interviewer Yu "Candice" Shuang asked him questions about the match. Ning beamed throughout the interview while JackeyLove rocked back and forth on his heels, from nerves, adrenaline or the weight of the trophy that dwarfed his body. When Candice asked him questions, she had to angle the microphone over the trophy. JackeyLove was not going to let go of the Summoner's Cup if he didn't have to.
In the days after the world championship finals, as we all take steps back, sorting out thoughts, feelings and reactions, analyzing every moment of the quick 3-0 sweep from iG, much will be said about Rookie. The foreign transplant from South Korea -- unlike many of his brethren who came to China -- fell in love with the region and decided to stay, committing himself to the LPL and iG, becoming the heart of a championship team. It's a worthy narrative, but this is not that story.
This is the story of a rookie AD carry who was touted as the next hope of China -- following in the footsteps of Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao -- then denigrated for his lackluster performances, and finally finding his own footing on League of Legends' greatest stage. This is the story of JackeyLove.
For many analysts and LPL faithful, it's difficult to believe that this is JackeyLove's rookie year. He became a bit of an LPL staple as a trainee for iG, long before he made his debut this past spring. While iG stumbled, sometimes struggling throughout 2016 and 2017, whispers of JackeyLove's mechanical prowess began to surface, similar to the buildup that accompanied Gwak "Bdd" Bo-seong's pre-debut period in the 2015-16 offseason. Yet, unlike Bdd, JackeyLove was actually able to showcase some of his skill to the public in the 2016 NEST tournament where iG took first place with him in the AD carry position. There he sat -- still a boy between Baolan and Rookie -- the headlining name in a rising crop of young LPL bot laners. Accompanying IG's every move, the clamor to see him start as soon as he turned 17-years-old increased. If only JackeyLove could start, then iG could finally make another serious title run.
JackeyLove's official debut came against Royal Never Give Up. Before he walked onto the LPL stage in an iG uniform for the first time, he was already overshadowed by RNG AD carry Dai "Able" Zhi-Chun who was starting over Uzi, in RNG's first match in the spring split. The story of how Able was once accused of scripting by Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok on stream was brought up first over JackeyLove's debut. This inauspicious start coupled with JackeyLove's own consistency pushed him out of the spotlight outside of a few dazzling mechanical outplays.
Fans and analysts still talked about JackeyLove, but they now cast him in a disappointing light. He was talented, and a significant upgrade in the iG bot lane, which had struggled to find stability after swapping veteran Ge "Kid" Yan to the jungle position. Even as iG razed through the spring split, dropping that one regular-season series against RNG, JackeyLove took a backseat to Rookie and top laner Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok. He was the so-called missing puzzle piece to a championship iG team, but he hadn't graced the LPL stage with as many flashy performances as his team's two solo laners.
Then came the spring semifinals. iG was poised to defeat RNG and take their rightful place first in the finals and then as the LPL representative at the Mid-Season Invitational. When TheShy injured himself, and was not able to play, iG's chances dipped, yet they were still favored. Then JackeyLove had one of his worst on-stage performances to date, in a game where it mattered most.
After another defeat at the hands of RNG in the summer finals, this appeared to be a feature, not a bug. Prior to the team's appearance at worlds and throughout their group stage games, JackeyLove publicly stated in interviews that the team was working on their mentality issues. They were an emotional team. If one of them was down, the team would slowly regress. If one of them made a fantastic play, it bolstered team atmosphere tenfold. Along with improving their 5v5 teamfighting, iG needed to improve their mentality. The team collapsed against Fnatic on their final day of groups, losing the first seed in a tiebreaker.
"For the group stage, it was too smooth," JackeyLove said. "We weren't prepared going into the second round and got two losses. That was a huge mental drawback. But every player was able to come back and adapt and be mentally prepared for future matches. Now that we're in the finals, [now] that we won the finals, the entire team is much more solid in our mentality."
When Fnatic defeated Cloud9 in a quick semifinals sweep, the members of iG gathered on a small dais adjacent to the stage in the gymnasium at Gwangju Women's University. Fnatic stepped onto the platform to meet them, their members posing for photographs with intimidating facial expressions. Valiantly, iG tried to look menacing, but it didn't work. They were affable, not arrogant. Confident, but not cocky. They just truly looked happy to just be there. They were stable. This included JackeyLove -- who attempted to stare down an intimidating Martin "Rekkles" Larsson -- only to smile and giggle quietly to himself.
Days later, in Incheon, JackeyLove let his play intimidate. After being overshadowed by other LPL rising stars and his own teammates, after failing to perform up to standard in prior big matches, he took the spotlight for his own: a 17-year-old rookie world champion.