Just An iBoy: From Unknown Substitute To LPL Champion

Fans tuning into the LPL for the first time in 2017 to enjoy the Playoff Final between Royal Never Give Up and Edward Gaming, were all left asking one pressing question in harmony: who the heck is Hu “iBoy” Xianzhao?

For many international viewers, the young EDward Gaming AD carry seemed to come out of nowhere. One second, Hae “Zet” Sung-min was the starting ADC for EDG, the next, a rookie was destroying Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao in lane on China’s largest regional stage.

Who is this Chinese prodigy? And how did he defeat one of the most legendary players in Chinese League of Legends history to take the LPL crown?

Source: Riot Games Flickr

To some extent, iBoy did come out of nowhere. By the LPL Playoffs, EDward Gaming’s newest academy project had only played 13 games at a professional level; no one expected this meteoric rise.

In week 7, Zet fell ill, and EDG turned to the young talent – who had only recently become eligible to play – to fill the gap.

His name was Boy (His coaches forcefully changed it to iBoy) and in his first series, the rookie shocked legendary ex-Samsung White ADC Gu “Imp” Seung-bin with an MVP performance to defeat LGD Gaming. It was a thrilling start for a talent who’d only just begun his sudden rise to the top.

Without any warning, EDward Gaming’s newest member became a flagship starter for the team. His star performances on Tristana and Kalista earned him the nickname “Little Uzi” just a few games into his LPL career.

A premature title for an entirely new AD carry? Maybe, but iBoy lived up to his namesake. He earned his starting spot on the team with a seven-game winning streak, including multiple MVPs.

A Rookie’s Challenge

iBoy’s biggest test was yet to come. Sure, he looked incredible in the regular season, but could he perform at the same level on the playoff stage?

All eyes laid on him as the semi-finals kicked off, but iBoy didn’t seem to mind the immense pressure that rested on such young shoulders.

By the end of it all, iBoy was instrumental in carrying EDG to a playoff victory and his cool, calm and collected attitude would continue into the finals.

It’s hard to compare the daily grind of scrim practice to the atmosphere of the LPL Finals in Beijing. No amount of practice can prepare a player for the deafening noise of thousands screaming your opponents’ name.

Almost nothing challenges one’s mentality like taking off your headset after a hard-fought lost, and hearing the roaring crowd cheer in favour of your defeat. To survive in such a harsh environment, you have to be remain strong. It’s not the easiest task for an 18-year-old boy, in his 18th game of professional League of Legends.

iBoy wasn’t just going up against the crowd. He was going up against arguably the most famous LoL player in Chinese history.

Uzi has the largest fanbase in the LPL both in and out of his home country; not everyone watches the Chinese league, but everyone knows Uzi. Now, ‘Little Uzi’ would face the larger, more experienced, more successful version of himself.

It was the ultimate task. To prove his status as an LPL star, iBoy would have to take down the most famous AD Carry in the country, and win on the largest stage in LPL history.

The Next Generation

In the beginning, iBoy seemed to crack under the pressure. His first two games were abysmal, along with the rest of EDG. The communication he’d established with Tian “Meiko” Ye seemed to go missing, and his inexperience showed with a slew of rookie mistakes across both games.

However, down 2-0, in front of a crowd fully against him, and versus the toughest regional opponent he’d ever face, iBoy did the unthinkable: he stayed calm.

iBoy and EDG in action in the LPL Summer Finals
Source: Twitter

IBoy led the charge to take back the series from the clutches of Royal Never Give Up. He absolutely dominated Games 3 and 4, and shut down his legendary lane opponent for the rest of the series.

With Uzi immobilized, and iBoy leading the team, EDward Gaming made an impossible comeback from the jaws of defeat, completing the 3-2 reverse sweep.

At only 18, China’s latest prodigy has a world of opportunities ahead of him. He has yet to forge his own path, still a mere 23 games into his young rookie career.

No longer will he be known under the moniker “Little Uzi”, with his win over RNG, iBoy has exceeded the shadow of his predecessor.

He is just “Boy”, ready to forge a whole new generation of Chinese botlaners, like Uzi did before him. Maybe in a few years, “Little Boy” will be the name given to the next LPL superstar, ready to take his reigning title, as the definitive Chinese AD carry.