The current MVP of the North American League Championship Series, Lee "Rush" Yoon-jae was one of the hottest free agents in the League of Legends during the offseason. The top-ranked solo queue player on the North American and Korean servers at one point or another during the past few months, rumors swirled where the fast-paced jungler would be taking his talents. Rush ultimately decided not to sign with a team from his home country of South Korea and joined Cloud9, a two-time champion of the NA LCS.
Four weeks into the season, it's still a learning process for the MVP. While he is still one of the most exciting players in the Western region, the transition from Team Impulse to C9 hasn't been seamless. With captain and former jungler (and mid) Hai "Hai" Lam moving to the support role for Rush to start, the first eight games of the split have been a slow and steady progression for the jungler and his team.
This past weekend was a solid improvement for Rush and company, as Cloud9 blitzed through their two games. They started off with a one-sided domination of the hapless Renegades (1-7) that ended in under 20 minutes, and Rush added to his highlight reel of Nidalee games with a 2/0/8 showing. Sunday's match against the upper-half ranked NRG eSports (5-3) took 10 minutes longer than their blowout of Renegades, but it was still an excellent win for C9, holding the high-powered NRG offense to only three kills.
Rush is feared for his damage-fueled champions, but the game against NRG confirmed that he's able to step a bit more outside his comfort zone than his first year in the LCS. After his signature champion Nidalee was taken away and other highly contested picks like Graves, Elise, and Rek'sai were scratched, the defending MVP of the league decided to play a utility-centric champion in Nunu.
"So we picked Nunu this time so [I] could focus on getting kills for [my] AD carry and control the objectives like Dragon and Rift Herald," Rush said after the win over NRG. He admitted that currently the top four jungle picks are Nidalee, Elise, Graves, and Rek'sai, but that the Nunu was able to work in the composition they picked Sunday because of their execution.
Rush has a professional record of 8-4 and 46 kills on Nidalee, and he says he believes that she's still one of the best junglers competitively at the moment -- regardless of how other players perform on her. The champion he has become most synonymous with alongside his flashy Lee Sin, Rush loves the versatility and flexibility that comes along with playing the Bestial Huntress.
"Basically, I hit rank 1 on Korea and NA [solo queue] both with only playing Nidalee and Lee Sin," he said about his success online. "I spammed Nidalee in scrims and changed my item build, which is why some [competitive] players are playing [her] these days."
For Rush, Nidalee gives him the opportunity to choose how he wants to play in any given game. Nidalee can be an assassin, be an essential part of a poke comp, or give utility to her team with heals and traps. As a player known for his free-flowing and brash style, Nidalee is a character that lets the creative (and attacking) mind of Rush go to work.
"[Cloud9] bully each other a lot," Rush jokingly replied when asked how he's adjusting to his new home life in C9 after playing with Team Impulse for a year. "I bully [Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen], [Zachary "Sneaky" Scuderi] bullies Jensen, and Jensen bullies everyone. We really don't get [upset] even though we lose a lot in scrims. They don't get tilted too much ... and it's a positive atmosphere."
Along with being happy on Cloud9, Rush also wanted to give thanks to the management on Team Impulse who gave him a chance to become a breakout star in 2015. Impulse made the postseason in both splits that he started for them, and they looked to possibly be NA's strongest team heading into the World Championships before another MVP of the league, Xian "XiaoWeiXiao" Yu, was suspended from all team activities due to ELO boosting. This started a downturn for the team, eventually leading them to ending their season, ironically enough, against Cloud9 in the North American Regional Finals where Rush's future team reverse swept TiP to eliminate him from the 2015 season.
"Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin is currently the best jungler [in North America]," Rush said on the current NA LCS jungler landscape. "He [gets what he wants]. So, basically, he controls [the] enemy's jungle and forces them to do something, and gets the advantage. Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett is [a] rookie player, and he's playing really well, too."
When pressed about whether he thought of himself along with those two as the current "Big 3" of the NA LCS junglers, he agreed.
"Yeah, and I think [Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen'] is fine, but I think he hasn't [had] a good chance to show his skill. [In time] I think he'll play well too."
Rush knows that becoming a league champion along his new teammates isn't going to be an overnight solution. Looking ahead to week five, Cloud9 hope that they can secure sole possession of second place in the standings behind the undefeated Immortals when they face Team Liquid (4-4) and then take on the very same perfect rookies on Sunday.
Even as the current MVP, Rush knows that Reignover has outperformed him in the first half of the split. By this time next week, he hopes that he can be the one smiling over his Korean peer on Immortals and help deliver their first loss as an organization.