It was only a few months ago where Robert "Blaber" Huang was sitting in his high school classroom, ready to graduate. After making into last year's Scouting Grounds, the week-long combine event for up-and-coming North American talents to be seen by the 10 NA LCS franchises, he was drafted by Cloud9 and told the team he wanted to finish school before pursuing his dream of becoming a professional League of Legends player.
Everything fell into place at the right time for the newly graduated teenager. Following his departure from school, the main C9 squad in the LCS struggled to gain any momentum in the early weeks of the summer split. Coupled with Blaber's stellar performance in the academy league and the clock ticking down before C9's hopes of a sixth-straight appearance at the World Championships were extinguished, the rookie was thrust into starting lineup on its last legs.
"I told [my coach] I didn't think I was ready," said Blaber in an interview with ESPN at the LCS Arena last weekend. "I honestly didn't think I was. I wasn't really doing that great in academy, and I was a little nervous to play in the LCS. I wanted a little bit more time to improve, I guess, but since they asked me to, I decided to try out [for the starting position] and it seems to be going pretty well."
In what has become the region's strongest position and the one which has become the best to breed new homegrown talent, the jungler role in North America is often known for its confidence. Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett burst onto the scene three years ago and began the revolution of homegrown jungle talent in the NA LCS. As he's come into his own on Echo Fox in the last year, there are others like Matthew "Akaadian" Higginbotham and Jonathan "Grig" Armao who've established themselves as starters in 2018. Blaber, similar to Dardoch with his robust style of play and devil-may-care attitude when throwing his champion around like a wrecking ball into objectives, wants to be the next great North American jungler.
In doing so, though, he's replaced one of the few non-domestic starting junglers in the league, Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen of Denmark, who has already done everything you can in the NA LCS, winning three titles as part of the Team SoloMid dynasty which ran roughshod over the league in 2016 and 2017.
"My relationship with Sven is really good," said Blaber. "I really respect him. I ask for his opinions a lot, and I think he's a really good jungler."
Blaber's debut in the NA LCS couldn't have gone any better. Since joining the team, the once last-ranked C9 has shot up the standings, now sitting in a position to possibly grab a first-round bye with a strong closeout to the regular season this weekend. While the duo of the rookie jungler and superstar mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen has been a large reason for the team's reemergence into the playoff race, it was the now-sidelined Dane and the often overlooked homegrown mid laner, Greyson "Goldenglue" Glimer, who pulled off what can be called the marquee win of the season for the team.
After only dropping a single-game since his debut in the NA LCS, C9 sat Blaber and Jensen for its game with defending champion and league leader Team Liquid in favor of Svenskeren and Goldenglue. Although on paper the moved looked ridiculous -- who benches the hot hand? -- it worked out in spades for C9, as Svenskeren's signature Lee Sin bullied TL's Eugene "Pobelter" Park in the mid lane all game and drove C9 to one of its biggest blowouts of the year.
In a season where its been anything but easy for the two-time NA LCS champion, the budding bond between rookie and veteran in the jungle might take the team all the way to South Korea for Worlds in October.
"[Blaber] is super aggressive so he can play on stage kinda like how he would play in solo queue, which a lot of teams aren't ready to play against," said Svenskeren. "I think that's one of his main attributes. I really don't think he's worried about anything. I guess I'm focused on not being too worried about what can go wrong.
In-game he might be cool as can be, but outside, Blaber is still learning the ropes. With the playoffs and possibly an international debut on the horizon, it's not time to get too cocky.
"If we make playoffs, I'll be nervous," said Blaber. "I think I have the potential to be [the best jungler in North America], but I definitely need to improve. Right now I'm not nearly good enough, I say."