Whatever criticisms you've heard levied against former Royal Never Give Up jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu, they're all true.
He waits too long in brushes for counterganks and wastes time. He gives too many of his resources to laners, sacrificing himself in the process. He has an unusual hatred of Krugs that might or might not make any sense. It's all true.
This past week, long-time RNG jungler Mlxg retired. Among retirement announcements, this one was expected. Hung "Karsa" Hao-Hsuan had been the team's starting jungler for quite some time. Mlxg hadn't started for the team since Demacia Cup 2018 Winter. He was most likely to go to another team or retire, so the announcement came with little fanfare.
When you ask around the League of Legends community, the pioneers of jungling are as follows. Danil "Diamondprox" Reshetnikov during his Moscow Five era prior to the inception of the League of Legends Championship Series. Choi "DanDy" In-kyu's refinement and reimagining of the position in its entirety while he was on Samsung Galaxy White. And finally Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong for his successful career with SK Telecom T1 and studied, reactionary pathing.
Mlxg frequently goes unmentioned in these discussions. He shouldn't. Mlxg's playstyle on RNG has had an irrevocable effect on how players viewed jungling not only in China but around the world.
Like Bengi or a similarly influential figure in Chinese jungling, Ming "Clearlove" Kai, Mlxg has spawned countless versions of himself -- young, up-and-coming junglers who have ascribed to his peculiar, self-sacrificing playstyle like Invictus Gaming's Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning who won MVP for his recent performance at the LoL World Championship. There's a certain disregard for in-game factors like vision or wave control in the school of Mlxg that has made for interesting, proactive and risk-loving students.
These risks haven't always paid off for them as much as they've rewarded Mlxg through the years.
Previously known as "Lonely," the jungler for Team King before the organization merged with Royal, Mlxg's international coming-out party came at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational and RNG's unlikely 3-1 LoL Pro League spring finals victory over EDward Gaming.
RNG was not a favorite going into MSI. Despite the tournament location on home soil in Shanghai and players like support Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong and mid laner Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao, RNG were criticized for their lack of focus, overaggression, and poor mid-game macro.
After the first three days of the group stage, RNG were undefeated at 6-0. Mlxg had become a superstar.
It started in RNG's first group-stage game against SK Telecom T1 on Day 2 and a Level 2 mid lane gank onto Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok's Azir. Less than three minutes into the game, Mlxg was in the mid lane, and SKT, despite having invaded with Kang "Blank" Sun-gu's Nidalee and being in a countergank position, didn't react well enough to stop a timely Xiaohu double-kill. A slight shift in positioning, mana or myriad other factors would have tipped the scales in favor of SKT.
This nebulous space, early ganks regardless of vision, especially for Xiaohu in the mid lane, was Mlxg's home.
A day later, Mlxg did the same Level 2 gank in the same matchup against G2 Esports: Graves jungle, Xiaohu on LeBlanc into an Azir. It worked again. Graves had already been an Mlxg staple. This tournament cemented that association in front of an international audience.
Just over three years after that MSI performance, Mlxg retired, his legacy among international fans similarly cemented by his Level 2 Graves ganks at 2016 MSI.
Mlxg's in-game style and attitude has appropriately been tied to his in-game handle: Ma La Xiang Guo, or spicy numbing hot pot. The one time I interviewed Mlxg at the 2017 All-Stars Event at the LCS Arena, his personality extended far beyond his slight stature and slouched posture. He shrugged when I asked about criticism of his jungling style and fan backlash and said firmly that he didn't care. His face was permanently in a neutral expression as if I had asked about the weather in Los Angeles.
China's LPL has always been associated with needless aggression. In LoL community discourse, Chinese teams are always too much -- too aggressive, too greedy, too impatient, too fast. Mlxg, to some extent, turned this perception a bit on its head by embodying it and succeeding with it. His coordination with Xiaohu allowed him more freedom and confidence than many other junglers who wanted to make similar risky plays but didn't have as much success as Mlxg.
Identifying Mlxg's style in and of itself is difficult. At its core, Mlxg's playstyle sacrifices a lot for his laners. The most valuable resource for a jungler isn't found in camp experience but in time. Time is exactly what Mlxg gave to his team, often to the detriment of his own progress and leveling. He seemed to ignore the existence of certain camps, particularly Krugs, in service of his own back timings or presence in his lanes.
Aside from a noticeable hiccup in team communication during the 2016 LPL summer, when he focused more on farming than expected, this meant early ganks and lane presence. Mlxg became known for his early ganking patterns -- as early as Level 1 occasionally, but more typically between Levels 2 and 3 -- that were inefficient and frequently ill-advised.
His counterganks were the true signature of his style, and these were based more off of his own odd movements rather than those of his opponents. This meant that for every success, there was another instance of time wasted with Mlxg hiding in a brush for inordinate amounts of time. There's a comparison to be had between Bengi/Faker and Mlxg/Xiaohu despite the fact that these jungle/mid styles were wildly different in execution. They both inspired an entire generation of junglers, for better or for worse.
Like the spice in a hot pot, eventually the mouth goes numb, regardless of the heat and flavor these spices bring. At every international event that Mlxg attended with RNG, teams outside of China weren't used to facing these aggressive -- seemingly ill-advised and "incorrect "tactics -- invades and gank patterns. Mlxg would burst into the public consciousness before teams began to adapt and figure out how to shut him down. If you asked Mlxg about this, his response would likely be about how he forced teams to adapt.
On his Weibo account following the retirement announcement, Mlxg posted, "Rare get-togethers, they must come to an end. There is a long way to go, we'll meet again some day." Mlxg's entire career sometimes seems like a rare find -- an aggressive player who happened to find the spotlight almost by accident and influenced junglers for years to come.