Once upon a time, a Southeast Asian team shocked the world and brought home the most prestigious of accolades in competitive League of Legends history. We are, of course, referring to the Taipei Assassins, Season 2 World Champions who rode the momentum of their underdog story all the way to the top.
TPA’s strengths mainly came from their midlaner, Lau Kurtis “Toyz” Wai Kin, and his pool of control mages (Toyz essentially made Orianna a must-ban despite most teams not playing the champion) and their toplaner Wang “Stanley” June-Tsan’s ability to answer the frankly overpowered Yorick with an innovative AD Nidalee. The team’s action-packed playstyle and phenomenal macro understanding saw the region itself established as a dark horse for the years to come.
TPA’s gold-medal finish at the Season 2 World Championship would guarantee top seeding for whichever team gathered enough points from the region’s multiple qualifiers towards the Season 3 World Championship. The team that would end up qualifying, Gamania Bears, bypassed the Group Stage entirely.
GAM played a single series at Worlds that year — one 0-2 best-of-three versus a peak-form SK Telecom T1 and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok at the very beginnings of their LoL dynasty — and TPA’s Season 2 victory was looked at as a fluke. That being said, GAM’s standout players were still developing: most were multiple years younger than any other player at the event.
This feature looks at the career so far of one of League’s most promising midlaners. Someone who went toe-to-toe with Faker during the very first game of his first international competition. Someone who, alongside a handful of other elite players from his region, brought an entire league into relevance. This is a feature on Huang “Maple” Yi-Tang, Toyz’s living legacy and the PCS’ best midlaner historically and presently.
The Glory Days
With famous names like Hung “Karsa” Hao-Hsuan and Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Chieh on the roster, it’s understandable that the Flash Wolves organization found a winning formula in the most unlikely of places. The squad was so stacked with star talent that the PCS (then GPL and LMS) eventually became known as a one-team league, even though the players started as relative unknowns who shouldn’t have been able to match up to TPA or ahq eSports Club.
From Season 5 onward, FW were able to function at full steam ahead. With Maple at the helm, FW dominated domestically, even toppling TPA themselves at the IEM Season 9 Taipei tournament. The success didn’t end there as FW qualified for their first Worlds as an organization that very same year, and exited Group A as the first seed with a decisive 2-0 game score over the KOO Tigers.
It was here that FW began to get their reputation as a team that could take the traditionally slower, yet still the best in the world, Korean teams by storm. However, their high-risk-high-reward playstyle blew up in their faces spectacularly, as the team opened this very same World Championship with losses to paiN Gaming and Counter Logic Gaming alike.
Maple was at the top of his game here, posting a 5/0/7 KDA on the relatively recent rework of Gangplank and going 12/1/8 on a traditional LeBlanc to answer Azir versus the KOO Tigers.
FW matched up with Europe’s Origen in the quarterfinals. While Maple was head and shoulders above veteran shotcaller and former Fnatic franchise player Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez, his individual performances were not enough to carry his team over the line to success.
Maple quickly became the player to watch on FW, as not only was he explosive and racking up double-digit kill counts on the regular, but he was also extremely consistent.
FW with Maple again in fighting condition then qualified for MSI 2016, where the team took out tournament favorites SKT T1 twice in groups but dropped two games to CLG. This continued into the knockout bracket where the team fell 3-1 at the hands of CLG again, though Maple’s LeBlanc winning three games and losing none while posting a combined KDA of 15.5 was certainly notable.
After multiple years of competing with the best of the best, Flash Wolves gradually began to fall apart — starting with Worlds 2016.
Placed into a group with SKT T1, Cloud9, and the LPL’s I May, FW had a fighting chance of making it out. After all, FW had historically been able to upset Korean teams, C9 were still adjusting to a new roster, and IM were unable to play with their full starting line-up.
Living up to their legacy, FW scored a win over SKT in the opening week of the event. Unfortunately, this was their only win of that week, and with SKT claiming victory the next time these two fought, a win over C9 was irrelevant in week 2. FW ended Worlds 2016 in the last place of their group. Unfortunately, due to the burden of the mighty that they carried, when this team’s strength was doubted, so too was the overall strength of their region.
A strong showing at IEM Season 11 Oakland silenced some of the critics. A victory at the IEM Season 11 World Championship further indicated this team was still to be feared internationally. Qualifying through the Play-In Stage of MSI 2017 alongside NA representatives TSM and Vietnam’s GIGABYTE Marines, FW was the only Play-In team to make it out of groups in the Main Event.
A 3-0 loss to SKT indicated that perhaps FW’s aggressive playstyle was being figured out — it was either that or the players were deteriorating relative to their international counterparts. Matching up to Faker is a tall order for any midlaner, but it was not one that Maple had shied away from in the past — absolutely outclassed in this best-of-five, however, and the Flash Wolves’ midlaner had his howl silenced.
2017 Worlds was FW’s worst international showing yet, picking up a single victory against TSM as they bowed out of their group in last place for the second year running. This marked the end of the Maple-Karsa-SwordArt core that had truly brought this organization to elite status, as Karsa’s talents would be sought after in the LPL.
Despite the roster overhaul and the back-to-back disappointing finishes, FW entered 2018 completely revitalized. The team smashed through the Play-Ins for MSI 2018, and the momentum carried through — FW finished the Main Event’s Group Stage tied for first place.
Maple again looked world-class on a variety of picks versus the best midlaners in the world. Even when forced into a more utility-focused playstyle — Galio, Karma, Taliyah, Malzahar — the FW midlaner made it work and stood triumphant over most competition. FW fell to Kingzone DragonX, the Korean representatives at this event, but they showed that the region could still compete with the best.
Worlds 2018 was Maple’s last disappointment under the FW banner, as after losing in a tiebreaker to G2 Esports that determined whether or not they could escape their group, the team’s remaining core members left.
Maple, along with SwordArt, would try his luck over in the LPL.
The Twilight Years
You may recognize Suning as the organization that surprisingly managed to make its way to the World Finals last year. The loveable underdogs weren’t always underdogs, however, and the organization was renowned for fielding all-star teams that couldn’t click together. Maple, unfortunately, was a contributing factor to this.
The Flash-Wolf-turned-Lion missed out on play-offs in Spring with his new organization, putting up decent statistics on the slightly overtuned Galio but falling flat on everything else. Even his classic LeBlanc was unable to find victory for Maple, and Suning’s 2019 Season rapidly fell apart around him. Summer was slightly more successful, but not massively so. Despite a playoffs-contending finish, Maple and Suning quickly exited in the first round, the former crown jewel of the LMS midlane getting absolutely outclassed by the competition in the LPL.
When Maple was offloaded to LNG Esports in 2020, it seemed like all was doomed for the former midlane monster. LNG were notoriously inconsistent, holding onto talented players but being unable to find great results — similar to Suning in that regard — but even their star players were either on the decline or being traded throughout 2020.
Maple’s performances still left a lot to be desired in 2020, but glimmers of hope and occasional flashes of promise did indicate that the former Flash Wolf was still inside — he just needed to be woken up again.
Heading back to his home region after an unsuccessful two-year, two-organization trip to the LPL, Maple’s career was at an all-time low. Even so, from the moment he arrived back in the region he developed in, the best midlaner of the LMS looked like himself again.
Maple was finally home, and his performances - while not quite as breakout as at his peak - have been stellar so far. PSG Talon have torn apart the competition in the PCS, and their performance at MSI 2021 was largely because of Maple’s ability to go toe-to-toe with the best of the best.
Taking a look at some of Maple’s standout games from both the PCS and MSI this year, it’s pretty clear that even before PSG’s unfortunate substitute situation the team was already moving towards utilising the veteran superstar as a primary carry. However, as Maple is head-and-shoulders above the domestic competition — even PCS stalwart Chen “Mission” Hsiao-Hsien couldn’t slow down the return of the king — we’ve seen a pretty notable bad habit develop.
Namely, drafting champions like Azir, Viktor, and even a stray Corki regardless of the match-up. While domestic teams may not have punished PSG and their midlaner for this overconfidence and neglect of the early game, Maple will not have the luxury of sitting back and scaling freely versus international competition — see PSG’s first and third semi-finals games versus RNG for example.
It’s also a disservice for one of the greatest 1v1 midlaners in the world to force him to default to sitting back and farming up resources for the majority of the game. Maple has shown that he can go against peak Faker and have his career live to tell the tale eight years on - so the least PSG can do is trust that his Akali, Zoe, and other mid-game hypercarries can get the job done.
Maybe Worlds 2021 will give us yet another Maple versus Faker rematch, as competitive League of Legends’ most unlikely rivalry seems set to continue as neither of these legends seem anywhere close to retirement eight years on.
Maple’s back. And he’s almost better than ever.