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Edward Gaming entered 2021 with a retooled roster of superstars. Ming “Clearlove” Kai was set to make his return alongside other EDG legends, like Lee “Scout” Ye-chan and Tian “Meiko” Ye. Park “Viper” Do-hyeon came in as EDG’s big free-agent splash. But EDG’s top lane pick-up proved the most important factor in the team’s success.

Li “Flandre” Xuan-Jun spent the majority of his career loyal to Snake Esports, who changed their name to LNG Esports in 2019. But the shot-calling, playmaking carry of the team never found an opportunity to shine. Many League of Legends fans across the world had never even heard of Flandre until this year, despite him being a pro since 2014. The people who did know of him were either LPL enthusiasts or fans of the Touhou Project series, where Flandre’s name is from.

Regardless, throughout 2021, Flandre finally showcased who he is as a player: one his team can rely on to carry games who can also play a supportive role and facilitate other members’ success.

At the end of the day, EDG have lived and died by how well Flandre played. In games that Flandre held his own, EDG looked great. But when Flandre struggled and couldn’t pick himself up, they faltered.

So far at Worlds, it’s been a mixed bag of highs and lows — but make no mistake. Flandre is EDG’s hidden extra boss, and there are a lot of things people don’t know about him or his past.

Trapped and set free

While this is Flandre’s first year away from Snake/LNG Esports, last year, his best friend and long time partner, Lê “SofM” Quang Duy, left the organization to play for Suning Esports. In doing so, he not only made it to Worlds for the first time, but he also made it to the finals. In an interview from last year’s Worlds, SofM shouted Flandre out.

“I’d tell Flandre right away. During 2018/2019 we were in Snake. People considered us the best players who never made it to worlds,” SofM said. “And here I am, in the tournament, and made it all the way. I want to tell Flandre don’t you dare give up.”

From 2016 to 2019, the two-headed monster of Snake Esports (and later LNG) struggled to keep their team relevant in the LPL. Despite their best efforts, the farthest the duo ever went was a third-place finish in the 2016 LPL Regional Finals — two spots shy of a Worlds berth. And while SofM left for Suning in 2020, immediately reaching Worlds finals like a weight had been removed from his shoulders, Flandre’s loyalty wasn’t rewarded.

He ended up on the bench of a 13th place LNG in the summer of 2020. His relationship, loyalty and leadership for Snake and LNG had finally dried up. With no contract extension, Flandre tested free agency in the 2021 off-season. The torch was officially passed.

Just like SofM, Flandre found the perfect fit, surrounded by talent new and old on the legendary Edward Gaming roster. And for the first time in his career, everything went right. There was no late-season implosion, no having to do everything himself. But while Flandre’s new team stayed at the top of the LPL standings for a majority of the year, he flew under the radar as the least talked about EDG player during the spring split. However, he really came into his own during the summer split, especially in the playoffs.

In the spring split, Flandre played support tanks in order to facilitate his teammates. But in the summer, with carry top laners rising in the meta, Flandre showcased his carry potential as he helped EDG grab their first LPL title in three years. From playing Gragas and Renekton to playing Jayce and Lucian, Flandre could do it all.

Flandre shows an unknown depth at Worlds 2021

Those watching Flandre for the first time at Worlds might think he is a Graves one trick. At times he has thrived, while struggling through others, whether he’s blind picking on weak side or counter picking the enemy top laner. Not many would say his Graves is bad, either, but EDG have super star carries in the mid and bot lanes.

That means, unlike his Snake Esports days where he had to carry, being there to support his teammates is more important than anything. And while Flandre has shown an ability to overcome whatever adversity comes his way, being stuck on Graves belied the depth of his champion pool until his semifinals match against Gen.G.

During the five game series, he played four different champions. His Jax helped seal a backdoor win in Game 1. During Games 3 and 4, his Gwen and Kennan locked down enemy champions and helped Scout clean up kills. And while his Graves faltered in Game 2, Gen.G still banned it away from EDG at times during the series. According to EDG’s head coach, Yang “Maokai” Ji-Song, that helped the whole team worry less about the top lane matchup.

“Against Gen.G, they are an opponent who are very good at playing Graves, but I also want to say our top laner Flandre is the best Graves player,” Maokai said. “We trust Flandre and his abilities because he can still have a very good performance on champions that are not Graves or Jayce.”

Flandre proved his coach right in Game 5, when EDG put it all together to seal the series, with a 5/0/5 perfect game from Flandre. In doing so, he duplicated his former partner’s success by reaching the Worlds finals on his first run through the tournament.

Now, Flandre will go up against DWG KIA’s top laner, Kim “Khan” Dong-ha in the Worlds 2021 finals. Khan came into the league around the same time as Flandre and has been considered one of the best to ever play the game. He has played 54 different champions in pro play during his long career. However, Flandre eclipses even Khan’s ocean of a champion pool with 69 champions played.

That’s why, in the post-game press conference, Flandre said he was and is ready to play whatever his team needs him to play — and that he has the champion pool to do it.

“The reason for me to just pick Graves or Jayce in the previous matches is basically based on the needs of my team,” Flandre said. “This time, there were good choices open, so it was very normal for me to pick other champions other than those two.”

And then there was one

Flandre came into Worlds 2021 on a hot streak. After being put in a more strong-side-centric role in the summer playoffs, Flandre played some of the best League of Legends of his career which played a big part in EDG’s success that netted them the LPL title.

At Worlds, his hot run continued, but in their series against RNG in the quarterfinals, it looked like he may be falling off. Flandre wasn’t playing as clean as he had been. He started getting caught out, overstaying in lane and taking bad fights. He did enough against RNG to offset his mistakes and the same things happened against Gen.G.

But if Flandre wants his path to the Worlds finals to end in a different way than SofM’s, he can’t afford to make those mistakes. One year after Flandre left LNG, only one more best of five separates him from a World championship that could define his career. Winning would be historic for both the LPL and EDG, but a win would mean more for Flandre.

After all, Flandre has a chance to become not only the first Chinese solo laner to win Worlds, but also the first non-Korean solo laner to do so in almost 10 years.

With an ocean for a champion pool and his ability to carry or support at will, if the Touhou fan can bring that extra boss energy, Flandre can destroy the center of any critics’ doubt, get revenge for SofM and emerge the hero for EDG and the LPL.