The Tempering: To learn under a Champion
Just like in China with EDG, Ray’s first appearance into the professional scene of the NA LCS was a strong, carry oriented one: his Fizz and Ekko play became well respected, but at this time he was on a fairly mediocre Apex Gaming, so he was never able to fully shine. The team dropped to the forever meh position of 7th place in the NA LCS, and remained there until being bought by Dignitas. Of course, that’s not where many fans will remember him and his time on Apex is not our focus for today: It was when he was picked up as a sub for Cloud 9 that had him working alongside Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong that fans became aware of Ray.
Ray joined the prestigious, fan favourite organization in the off season between Worlds and Spring Split of 2017. To many, his signing was one of the… least exciting during the period. He was signed on as a sub player under an ex-World Champion, SKT Top laner in Impact. Many hoped he may one day succeed Impact, but didn’t think he’d have much time in the near future to really show his chops given that he was on such a star studded roster. Most predicted, and rightfully so, that he was brought on to learn and be the protegee of Impact. The C9 staff saw something in the rough that was Ray’s performance that could be the future for Cloud 9’s top lane.
For Ray, however, it was a bigger signing than going to be a starter for another team for one reason alone: that team didn’t have Impact. Ray’s time with EDG’s LSDL team saw him practicing, but only in an aggressive, solo queue style. His time with Apex only left him with a frustrating and without much of meaningfull placement at 7th. With Impact acting as his big brother, Ray wanted to learn from one of the most unrivaled Top laners the game has ever seen, to become better than just a sub or a starter for a mediocre team. It’s not everyday that a player is so excited to join as a sub, that sees that as the real way to progress himself as a player.
With Impact at the helm, C9’s success grew. But, for Ray, so too did his. “Because I had the mindset to learn from him, I had a lot of pressure on me. I still have that thirst for knowledge under his tutelage, and I think that I can also measure up to him if I work hard enough. Now I’m not feeling too uncomfortable, and I follow him like a younger brother would his older sibling.” (http://slingshotesports.com/2017/06/12/c9-ray-jack-mental-struggles-na-lcs/)
It was alongside Impact that Ray’s reckless aggression became more tempered. He watched as Impact managed to avoid gank after gank and squeeze out of situations that would’ve killed any other Top laner. He saw as, no matter the direction Impact’s opponent would strike him from, his shield was ready to deflect the blow. For anyone who is a fan of Impact, it’s still one of his greatest qualities and a defining feature of his top lane style. “Top laner sense,” as it’s sometimes called, to know when danger is afoot and find a way to avoid it.
Many might find that it would be in actually playing the game that you’d learn most, but for Ray, it was watching from the sideline, hearing the voice comms of the Cloud 9 roster, mainly Impact, that was the biggest growth. He commented on as much in Riot’s video Duos, saying, “The best part is,I can hear what you say, it’s nice that I can learn from it.” For Ray, it was like sitting behind a master and hearing him lecture. Decision making and experience are imperative for Top laners, and Ray’s weakest points tended to reflect his lack of those two. Sometimes he would initiate without his team following up, or he would be caught pushed out too far for an easy gank. Ray’s problems were never in his mechanical skill or bravery, but rather in being too rash. Impact was the perfect balance to that.
Impact’s play was characterized by his mastery of these facets of Top lane play. He was often called a smart top laner, conservative when he needed to be an aggressive when he could (the “Top die!” meme didn’t start for nothing folks) but this was rarely done at the cost of being caught out. Communicating with your team and understanding Junglers possible position comes with time, not through pure skill. Macro play, like when to TP and flank or when to push your wave for side lane pressure, were things Ray had to learn from the master that was Impact.
There’s a reason that Ray was considered the counterpart and counterpoint to Impact’s style. Where Impact’s aggression was cool and calculated, Ray’s was forward facing and boldfaced. Impact even joked that a Sword was too defensive for Ray because you could still parry with a sword. A Spear, rather, that can only ever attack forward was more apt for his little brother. But Ray’s style needed to be honed, rather than changed. His blade needed to be sharpened, tempered, and C9 seemed to understand that. While Impact seemed visibly stressed whenever watching Ray take the reins, it wasn’t because of his mechanical misplays, but rather his over aggression and relative inexperience. He and C9 wanted to temper that aggression, not snuff it out.
As many know, Ray never fully took over the role for Impact, and a lot of C9 fans and NA LCS viewers felt a certain anxiety when he’d take to the stage. He never seemed to shake that ‘Substitute for Impact’ status in NA. But for Ray, as a player, this was possibly the best year of growth he could of had. Ray was rank 1 on the NA Servers at one point, but solo queue was always a natural fit for his style. It was under Impact’s tutelage and getting to experience how he played Top lane intimately that ultimately contributed to the call back to China and his previous team that nobody fully expected. EDward Gaming, or EDG, signed the substitute Top laner to a starting position, to replace Chen "Mouse" Yu-Hao. It was a homecoming that many did not expect, and had many fans excited. EDG finally had a possible threat in the Top lane, and Ray would finally be starting for a good team.