Just when it appeared as if his quest for a third Summoner's Cup Final was finished following two heavy losses to both Samsung Galaxy and then-winless Splyce, Royal Never Give Up's ace, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao, pulled through with one of his all-time great Worlds performances. RNG was able to upend North America's champion Team SoloMid to send them out of the tournament in front of their home crowd in San Francisco.
While a majority of the NA fans sat quietly watching their champions underwhelm, despite lofty expectations, a sizable group of passionate Chinese fans stayed following the final Nexus smash to cheer their team onto the next round.
ESPN talked to Uzi following his advancement to the quarterfinals in Chicago next week.
"I'm superhappy to make it out of the group stage," Uzi said. "After our first two games today we were actually upset. We didn't even think that there was a chance for us to make it out of groups anymore, so right now I'm superexcited."
When Uzi joined the Royal organization in 2013, he was seen as a "wild puppy" that the rest of his team members helped raise throughout the game, so he could eventually be the late-game mechanical carry that helped them make it to the Summoner's Cup Finals that year.
Three years since those days at his first Worlds, Uzi feels like he's become a different person with experience.
"I think now I am much more mature. I've been playing more team-based than just showing off my individual skills. And also, back then, the meta was for individuals to [hard carry] but now it's a team-based game so I think I've grown a lot," Uzi said.
When Royal fell earlier in the day to Splyce and Samsung Galaxy, the team kept its spirits high by talking with one another and not letting any of the team give in. Uzi said that it was not a single player that rallied the team for the TSM match but the entire team lifted each other up to make the bracket stage.
"In just terms of potential, this year's Royal is going to have the highest [I've ever played on]," Uzi said. "Everyone on the team is supergreat at what they do [best]. They're all great mechanical players. However, because we're all great mechanical players ourselves, sometimes we all feel like we want to be the shining star of the team. That just means we need more time to cooperate with each other and having a working communication to reach even further than we have right now.
"I think the reason TSM lost against us is because they didn't pay too much attention to our bot-lane duo. For enemy teams, if they actually heavily focus on our bottom lane, it'll give us a much harder chance to win. But [TSM] didn't do that," said Uzi.
One player in the quarterfinals who has eye on Uzi is Europe's H2k Gaming's ace AD carry Konstantinos-Napoleon "Forg1ven" Tzortziou. Forg1ven told ESPN earlier in the tournament he was most impressed by Royal's bottom lane, and he and Uzi shared a similar mentality for the game.
"Every game I play against RNG we're both basically the same players, [Uzi and I]. Uzi will contend every single creep possible, and I will contend every single creep possible. So when we face against each other, I think we are both ready to commit our lives for every creep," said Forg1ven.
Saturday night, Uzi responded by giving his thoughts on Forg1ven.
"So with H2k, we've actually played a lot of scrims against them," he said. "At first, our bot lane always had an advantage, but as our scrims went on and the more games we played against H2k, I felt that Forg1ven is a player that has a very strong will and he's a really fast learner. He started learning how to play against us even when we picked [bottom lane] champions that are much stronger against their team comp. In the end, it's starting to get much harder for us to get any advantage in the bot lane against them.
"I think Forg1ven is a superstrong player. He has a lot of great mechanical skills, and he is superfast learner," Uzi said.
Finally, he wanted to address Forg1ven directly.
"If we do meet, I want to meet you at the final, Forg1ven," said Uzi. "I do recognize you as a great opponent. [Also] you're a really friendly person. You added me in-game even though I don't speak English, and you'll always say hi to me. But I do want to meet you in the finals."