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Robert “Blaber” Huang is one of the fiercest competitors in the history of the League Championship Series. Since his LCS debut in the summer of 2018, the Cloud9 jungler has secured three domestic titles, two MVP awards, and has been named the All-Pro LCS jungler five times. He is undeniably one of the greatest League of Legends esports talents that North America has ever produced, and a childhood defined by his competitive spirit paved the way for him to become the superstar he is today.

Before there was Summoner's Rift, there was the Badminton Court

Blaber’s parents instilled the importance of giving your best to something you do at a young age and would sign him and his older brother up for a plethora of activities. Blaber played piano and violin for eight years of his childhood – the jungler admitted it was mostly because his parents wanted him to – but he found his desire to compete when his parents decided that he and his brother were going to start playing badminton.

“My brother is about 10 years older than me, and we started badminton at the same time when I was 4 and he was 14. I just started because he started,” Blaber told Esports Illustrated. “My brother was kind of the test for my parents. He played every single sport. When I was growing up, I only played badminton.”

Unlike the violin, Blaber was right on board with what his parents had signed him up for in learning how to play badminton. From age 4 to 15, Blaber played badminton competitively and solidified himself as the top competitor in his age group for the entire state of Maryland. His parents began to enter him in national tournaments, where, while he never won it all, he was a consistently elite performer throughout his youth. Oftentimes, professional esports players get opportunities to travel and see other parts of the world by way of competition, but this is a dynamic Blaber has been used to for nearly his entire life.

“That was pretty much my whole childhood,” Blaber said. “I wouldn’t travel to places for vacation, I’d travel for my badminton tournaments.”

Robert “Blaber” Huang of Cloud9 poses with trophy in hand after victory against Golden Guardians at the 2023 LCS Spring Finals at the PNC Arena on April 9, 2023. (Photo by Marv Watson/Riot Games)

C9 Blaber Lifts The LCS Trophy

As he grew up, Blaber continued to be a force in Maryland, but at national competitions, he noticed a slight drop-off when he began to approach his teen years. “When I was younger, I was in the top 2-4 players in the nation for my age group,” the C9 jungler recalled. “But from ages 12-15, I never finished better than top 8 at nationals. I’m someone who is very competitive and I kind of lost interest because I wasn’t good enough.”

As a singles player, Blaber had no doubles partner to help him cover the court, and he began to, quite literally, lose a step to other players in his age group. “Other players were growing really tall, and I’m pretty short. I was coping saying I couldn’t be as good because I’m short,” Blaber said, before quickly adding. “There are some good short badminton players, of course.”

The disadvantage is apparent, though. Blaber would often have to take three steps to get to a position that would take a taller player one step, but in hindsight, the jungler feels like this obstacle could have been overcome.

“Looking back, if I worked harder, I probably could have made up for it. But at the time I was young and I was coping about being too short to win.”

The less stellar Blaber’s play and results became, the more he lost interest in competing in badminton. He stopped working as hard, and ultimately lost interest as a result of not continuing to put up the same level of performance he did in his youth. Blaber hung up his racket for the last time at 15, but it didn’t take him long to find a new competitive outlet. “The day after I quit badminton, I started playing League,” Blaber said with a laugh.

Robert “Blaber” Huang of Cloud9 is seen backstage between matches during the 2023 LCS Spring Finals at the PNC Arena on April 9, 2023. (Photo by Marv Watson/Riot Games)

C9 Blaber backstage between matches.

Blaber has no doubts that his time as a national youth badminton star shaped the competitor he is today, and it’s safe to say that the drive he learned to harness throughout that part of his upbringing is integral to the success he’s had with Cloud9 throughout his League of Legends career. For him, though, it’s not a switch he flips, or a part of himself he taps into – it’s just who he’s been his whole life. “My childhood was very competitive and my parents were always pushing me to be really good in whatever I do,” Blaber said.

“I always wanted to be the best. I grew up being someone who wants to win and who will work really hard to succeed, and I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal.”