Ambition and Bengi went above and beyond their role as their teams' captains at this year's Worlds, shining brighter in the darkest hours to heroically rescue their teams from the jaws of failure. Bengi saved SKT T1 from being eliminated at the hands of the ROX Tigers last week. Ambition united a group of relegation zone rookies with his leadership and shotcalling to bring them all the way to the grand finals of the World Championship.
Let us take a deeper look at the two veteran junglers that stood there when all hope faded, for the two giants will finally collide at Worlds' very last stage in Los Angeles.
"The night is darkest just before the dawn. I am the Lightbringer."
Seongung "Bengi" Bae fell into a long slump after winning his first world championship in 2013. Failing to adjust his style of play to the new season, 2014 marked the darkest year in both his and SKT's career. By the end of the year, however, he was slowly making a comeback with an atypical, vision-focused approach to jungling, purchasing Sightstone even on the most aggressive picks.
In the 2015 LCK Spring playoffs, he subbed in for Jaehyun "T0M" Im when the team was trailing 2-0 to CJ Entus. His unexpected comeback resulted in one of the most dramatic reverse sweeps in LCK history, leading the Korean community to christen him "the Jungle", a nickname that would stick.
Bengi's dramatic return to form resulted in SKT T1 winning their second world championship with horrific ease. But his resurgence was again followed by a slump. With Kindred, Graves, and Nidalee in the meta, Bengi hardly left the bench during LCK 2016, delegating the jungle position to Seongu "Blank" Kang, a more aggressive and carry-minded rookie.
Blank played in the finals of the IEM World Championship and LCK 2016 Spring, winning both and beaming with pride. Most predicted Bengi to stay his position on the bench throughout Worlds as well. Yet when his team was on the verge of defeat against its most powerful rival, Bengi returned with his Dark Flame Dragon fully unleashed. With two magnificent performances on Nidalee and Lee Sin, two champions laymen believed he was hopeless on, Bengi once again brought SKT to victory. When all hope faded, there was Bengi.
In his postmatch interview, Faker explicitly thanked Bengi for both his in-game performance and in-comms boosts of morale. As SKT's eldest brother, Bengi inspired and motivated his teammates to maintain a positive mindset. Shining brightly on what was thought to be his weakest champion, he turned the series around completely in a matter of minutes. By the end of Game 4, the series had taken on an entirely different atmosphere. SKT had already begun marching towards the finals.
"When you meet your ancestors, tell them Ambition sent you."
Chanyong "Ambition" Kang also came a long way. Once considered Korea's single best midlaner, he had to go through a long slump since relinquishing his throne to new and skilled competitiors such as Faker. Moving into the jungle did not produce immediately results, either; when he parted ways with CJ Entus and moved to Samsung Galaxy, many fans wondered if this was the final stop in Ambition's distinguished but now dwindling career. To their surprise, it wasn't. It wasn't at all.
Down 1-2 against Samsung's longtime kryptonite KT Rolster, and facing off against Dongbin "Score" Ko, the best jungler LCK 2016 Summer had to offer, Ambition made the choice to pull out Skarner. No one had thought of it as a viable pick, but Ambition knew otherwise. It was a pick acknowledging his strengths and admitting to his weaknesses in his individual jungle matchup against Score. It was a pick that signified his great trust in his teammates to do well with favorable lane matchups. SSG looked completely galvanized following the Skarner pick, and proceeded to steamroll over KT two games in a row to miraculously claim their ticket to Worlds 2016.
From that day onward, Skarner became Ambition's symbol of confidence in his teammates. In their group stage match against RNG, Ambition once again let the enemy jungler take Nidalee and answered it with Skarner, leading and working with his team flawlessly to shut the cougar down. While Ambition's most preferred pick this Worlds is actually Olaf, Skarner remains as his perennial Plan B that opponents simply have to keep in mind.
Hyung is the Korean term for elder brother. Being an elder brother in Korean culture means much more than merely being older. It entails moral and emotional responsibilities. It is a blessed burden.
Hyung culture is not lost in Korean sports teams. The oldest players are expected to lead the team, at least in terms of morale if not also in terms of shotcalling. In SKT T1 and Samsung Galaxy, Bengi and Ambition had to be such figures. They were the ones who had to take care of their teammates, their younger brothers, and hold the team as one when under fire.
Faker calling Bengi "Bengi-hyung" during his interview and profusely praising Bengi's contributions were to be expected. Bengi may not have Faker's godlike mechanics, but he is the one who brings together the team when the lights go out; the one who enables the other four to shine as brightly as they can. When a team's mental fortitude comes under question in a best-of series, it is up to the captain to hold the boat together. Bengi did that and more. Much more.
Samsung Galaxy became a completely different team ever since Ambition joined. The talented but inexperienced team of solo queue stars united under his experienced leadership and shotcalling. Ambition's influence was well displayed in the team's better macro play, but perhaps more important was SSG's newfound approach to the game when behind. Learning how to cope with unfavorable situations under Ambiton's command, SSG achieved a level of teamwork and camaraderie that would allow them to wreak havoc even on League's largest stage.
One final match in Los Angeles awaits the two veteran junglers that lived League's history itself. Will underdogs Samsung dethrone the two-time world champions and conclude their epic drama with the Summoner's Cup in their hands? Or will the SKT T1 empire yet again further their legacy with a record third Worlds victory? A large part of the fate of the finals lies in the two junglers' hands.