When you think about Longzhu Gaming, the name Khan always seems to come up. As someone who’s made carries work in a tank-oriented meta, it’s no wonder Khan draws a lot of attention, and his flashy outplays have been showcased in countless montages. Of course, he wouldn’t be able to win the LCK title alone. Bdd was also there with his immaculate mechanics, and PraY and GorillA are widely considered to be the brains behind Longzhu’s brawn.
But no one ever remembers Cuzz.
Is it because Longzhu’s jungler isn’t as flashy as his teammates? Or was he simply along for the LCK ride?
Raising a Dragon
When Longzhu overhauled their roster for the 2017 Summer Split, fans had every reason to be skeptical. Sure, you could get hyped for Bdd playing on stage, and the world-class bot lane of PraY and GorillA is always a treat to follow. But we’ve already seen these players fail in the past. And considering Longzhu’s long-standing reputation of a talent graveyard and recent financial difficulties, it was hard to imagine them turning their bad luck around.
But the bigger point of contention were the newcomers. Khan came into the team after a number of haphazard showings in the LPL and the LSPL, but at least you knew what to expect of him. As for Cuzz, he was a complete dark horse. He joined Longzhu as a 16-year-old jungle prodigy in 2016, but he spent all of his time on the bench, streaming for the org.
Now that he was brought onto the main roster, Cuzz had to step up to the biggest challenge a League of Legends pro could face. He had to show up as a rookie in the hardest league in the world.
Could he actually do it?
The answer was a resounding no.
Every newcomer dreams of having that crowning moment, that grand debut that makes it clear they’re a force to be reckoned with. Cuzz didn’t have that moment. In fact, his first professional game against KT Rolster started with a botched top lane dive that almost led to Smeb turning the gank around for a double kill.
Cuzz proceeded to lag behind KT’s jungler—Score—scrambling to match him in pressure and CS numbers.
By the 27-minute mark, Cuzz had only participated in 1 of 10 Longzhu kills, and it was abundantly clear that the game wasn’t going his way. His team still won, but it was mainly due to the stunning performances from Bdd, PraY, and Khan taking up the slack.
The second game went a bit better. Cuzz took advantage of great setups from his teammates to pull off several decent ganks, but his own plays backfired more often than not.
Still, he wasn’t afraid to start a fight even if it’d be at the cost of his own life, and it was partially this trigger-happy nature that earned Longzhu Gaming their first victory of the split.
For most rookies, scoring a 2-0 against KT’s superteam would be a massive feat, but it’s hard to imagine Cuzz was happy with his performance. After all, every single one of his teammates had their moments to shine.
And Cuzz was well in their shadow.
The first half of the 2017 LCK Summer Split saw little change. Even when Cuzz was on carry-oriented junglers, he still played second fiddle to his teammates, and for every hit of his, there was always a miss to follow.
He pressured with invades, but he failed to plan escape routes. He followed up initiations, but he struggled to find the right fights on his own. He went for the right objectives, but his steals were shaky at best.
It became evident that despite his champion pool of Elise, Lee Sin, and Kha’Zix, Cuzz was playing a supportive role on his team. If his laners set him up with gank opportunities, he’d take them, of course. But something like adapting his pathing and reading the enemy jungler was still out of his reach, so Cuzz often let Khan fall victim to ganks in favor of farming his jungle camps. And if Longzhu ever fell behind, it was rare to see Cuzz rallying a comeback with clutch play.
But if there’s one thing you couldn’t take away from him, is that Cuzz tried.
Sure, his plans didn’t always work out, but in those do-or-die moments, you could count on him going for the right plays. He just couldn’t execute them.
At least, not yet.
Change in Direction
Whenever a rookie plays his first split, the growth possibilities are immense, and Cuzz was no exception. Slowly but surely he began to improve.
One of his key shortcomings—fighting too many river skirmishes—turned into a strength as Cuzz would simply destroy his foes in 1v1s, or survive long enough for other Longzhu Gaming members to pincer his opponents.
He also stood at the vanguard of Longzhu’s offensive, and his Kha’Zix was one of the main ways of getting Bdd’s Galio into the fray. While he had issues with being in the wrong place and at the wrong time in the early game, he was always there when an opportunity for a 4- or a 5-man play presented itself.
Still, his aggressive tendencies often led to Cuzz overextending in teamfights and paying with his life on squishy champions like Elise or Kha’Zix. But perhaps that was a playstyle he had to adopt because of Khan’s carry-oriented champion pool.
As the meta shifted away from damage dealers and towards tanks, Cuzz, too, had to change. His trademark Kha’Zix, Elise, and Lee Sin were replaced by Zac, Sejuani, and Gragas.
The champion pool mix-up didn’t come easy.
During his first games on the new picks, Cuzz looked shaky—especially when it came down to landing Sejuani ultimates—but as the season went on, he slowly turned into a solid frontliner for his team.
Cuzz’s growth culminated in the finals against SKT T1. The match started with a sketchy top lane dive—a callback to his first series against KT—but this time, Cuzz made up for it by taking advantage of Bang’s aggression with a great bot lane gank. He wasn’t dying on the frontlines as often, and even when he did, he made sure to exhaust every option before it.
The evolution of Cuzz was even more palpable in game 2, where he identified the incoming top lane gank and came to Khan’s aid ending with a one for one trade.
In the past, he might've missed this setup, but the new Cuzz read it like a book.
Old habits die hard, though, and SKT T1 did manage to catch Cuzz in the river in game 3—a move that laid the foundation for Huni’s terrifying snowball. But in game 4 Cuzz did what all great junglers do after a loss. He adapted.
Huni was clearly a problem in the previous game, but now that he was on Cho’Gath and Khan was on Jayce, Cuzz had all the tools he needed to turn SKT’s top laner into a glorified cannon minion.
And that’s exactly what he did.
With one gank after another, Cuzz dismantled Huni and set Khan up for one of the best Jayce games in League of Legends history. The ragtag lineup of Longzhu Gaming took down the reigning champions in an explosive 3-1 victory. And Cuzz was, finally, a significant part of it.
Igniting the Fire
Coming into the 2017 World Championship, Cuzz still has his problems. A single season isn’t enough to turn a rookie into a powerhouse, and Cuzz can get reckless with invades, overstep his limits in teamfights, and miss key smite steals.
But he’s also shown that he can improve, and that he’s more than willing to pull the trigger and sacrifice himself as long as his death lets his teammates shine.
That makes Cuzz the perfect shadow to Longzhu’s flame.
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