League of Legends

Rising from the Ashes: The Living History of SKT T1 Faker

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Climbing to the highest position in any given category is nothing to scoff at. Even more awe-worthy is actually maintaining that highest spot. Those select few who are able to accomplish such feats are regarded as ‘Legends’. Once someone achieves legend status, it never goes away. Past legends who dominated their era, such as Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, or Michael Jordan still captivate our collective consciousness and the impact they have on society can not be understated. It’s fair to say that these Legends have inspired the hopes and dreams of countless people all around the world.

Esports experienced explosive growth through a game called ‘Starcraft’. Because of this game, many business opportunities arose and even more talented stars came to light. These stars became idols; they inspired even more potential pro-gamers to join the scene, and generated a big fan base. As time went by, esports grew big enough to be recognized by the media, and was categorized under actual sports.

A popular game among people of all ages called ‘League of Legends’ has been growing every day since its launch. The competitive scene of the game is also constantly producing new stars. But when taking a broader look, there is one player who has had the greatest impact on not only ‘League of Legends’, but esports as a whole. Almost all who follow the esports scene are guaranteed to know this man.

He is the mid laner for SKT T1. His name is Faker, and this is his story.


▣ Coming from nowhere like a meteor, an ‘insane’ high school student that is completely destroying Solo Queue

His name was first heard in 2012. This is when Riot officially released their flagship game, ‘League of Legends’ in Korea. Old school players that had been playing since beta, players from MIG and Najin, were already having their very first competitive match with one another. It was getting easier to find mechanically skilled players on many different streaming platforms, and many were interested in seeing how people played in the highest ranked tiers.

Watching these skilled players was just as much fun as watching competitive games; but among those players, there was a user that caught the attention of many.

There were two players that were extremely skilled and were unmatched at the time. One of them was ‘Bengi’, a player that would eventually become known as a three-time World Champion. The other player was a midlaner that was even more threatening than Bengi; a user known as ‘Go-Jeon-Pa’. Later on, he becomes known as ‘Faker’, and this is how he entered the scene.

▲ Since his debut, Faker has shown great performances on Syndra


Playing unique champions like Leblanc, who had a strong early-game presence but falls off late-game, he left an impression on many people. He also surprised them when he picked up Syndra, a champion who had a win-rate lower than 30% at the time, and proceeded to dominate games with her.

Many players shared gossip about this user. “He must be a professional player playing on a smurf,” or “he is a foreign player practicing in Korea.” Many speculations were made, but none were confirmed as true until someone identified him as a 17 year old boy, and many were in shock after it was revealed to be true. Being the same age as ‘Ssumday’ and ‘Deft’, people started saying things like: “How could these insanely gifted players be mere high school students?”

There is also a very interesting fact regarding Faker. If the normal game matchmaking system was more advanced during that time, the Faker of today might’ve never existed. Due to Faker stacking up multiple wins at a very fast pace, his normal game ELO was way too high; which made Faker bored as the matchmaking would take too long. That is why he started playing ranked games. It was a very critical moment of his career; and it shifted the history of ‘League of Legends’ and esports as a whole.

▲ If his queues were faster than they were, the Faker that we know might’ve never existed…


▣ From being ‘Go-Jeon-Pa’, a solo queue expert, to becoming SKT T1 ‘Faker’, a professional gamer

Just as 2012 was coming to an end, a new season began, season 3. Because Faker was a student at the time and couldn’t play the game to his heart’s content, he ended up being the 2nd highest ranked player in Korea. As if angry at this result, as soon as the new season started, he pushed himself into the number 1 spot of the ladder boards.

Back then, players who made it to ‘Challenger’ tier were very often scouted by professional teams. However, Faker announced that he was playing with an amateur team composed of himself, ‘Bengi’, ‘Ssumday’, and 2 others. This announcement actually brought out more concerns than hope from the fans. “Sure, he is great in Solo Queue, but all the hype will die down to disappointment if he becomes a pro,” “They won’t go far without a sponsor,” “They are students, they should put all of these efforts into their studies instead of playing games.” These and other discouraging comments were normal back then. The future of ‘League of Legends’ as an esport was also vague at the time, which made the future of that sponsorless high school team even more uncertain.

▲ Comments made from users from an article about the new amateur team


As expected, this amateur team didn’t last long. However, ‘Kkoma’, the present day coach of SKT T1, approached Faker and offered him a position on a team. Many of the organizations at the time were forming ‘sister’ teams and Faker was recruited into SKT’s 2nd team, ‘SKT T1 K’.

Looking back at the roster of the team, it’s impressive even by today’s standards. ‘Bengi’ a three-times World Champion, C9’s toplaner ‘Impact’, Team Liquid’s ADC Piglet, and ‘PoohMandu’, a person who has held the World Championship trophy as both a player and a coach. These impressive players were the starting line-up for this team.

Every player in the roster was notorious for their dominance in Solo Queue, so the fans had high hopes for the team. As expected, the team easily passed the preliminaries. Afterwards, Faker and his teammates climbed on to their very first stage. It was the season’s very first tournament in Korea, OLYMPUS Champions Spring 2013.

▲ Starting lineup for SKT T1 K: Impact, Piglet, Poohmandu, Faker, and Bengi (From left to right)


▣ A Shocking debut game, and the beginning of a Legend

The day that would decide the future of ‘SKT T1 K’ had come.

On April 6th, 2013, ‘SKT T1 K’ went against their very first opponent, ‘CJ Entus Blaze’. Blaze was one of, if not the strongest team in LCK at the time. So it was only natural for all the fans to put their money on the latter team. However, the fans’ predictions were completely shattered to pieces by Faker’s Nidalee pick.

Faker’s ‘Nidalee’, who packed strong poke and high mobility, proved to be a perfect fit with Bengi’s ‘Jarvan’ and Poohmandu’s unique ‘Fiddlesticks’ pick, and stirred chaos on the ‘Rift’. On their 2nd round, Faker showcased his ‘Karthus’ and claimed victory once again. This resulted in a very glorified debut game.
 

▲ ‘SKT T1 K’ on their first victory of OLYMPUS Champions Spring 2013


‘SKT T1 K’ remained strong throughout the entire season. When they reached the semifinals, they lost to ‘MVP Ozone’ (later to be known as ‘Samsung Galaxy White’). Although their dreams of taking the cup were crushed, they overcame ‘CJ Entus Frost’ with a score of 3:0, taking 3
rd place on their very first season of their very first year. Their momentum carried them on to the next season. The team came back even more refined than before, with their weaknesses patched up, and as strong as they ever were. With revenge in mind, ‘SKT T1 K’ quickly climbed the ranks once again to face ‘MVP Ozone’, ultimately overcoming them.

In the finals, SK Telecom’s rival franchise, KT Rolster was waiting for them. Despite ‘SKT T1 K’ showing a very convincing performance during the season, they lost the 1st and 2nd set to ‘KT Rolster Bullets’. Their performance was shaky, and they were concerning their fans. “They started off strong with good spirit, but I guess this is where they fall.” As soon as the fans were starting to lose hope, Faker flipped the tables.

On the 3rd set, Faker pulled out his now-famous pocket pick, ‘Zed’, and overwhelmed his opposing laner, ‘Ryu’. On the 4th set, Faker took advantage of ‘Ahri’ by fully utilizing her high mobility to bring the score to a tie. The final set of the match was a ‘Blind pick round’, which was the format of LCK during that time. (When two teams were tied 2:2, their tie-breaker round was played in a blind game-mode.)

Despite SKT’s miraculous comeback with a reverse sweep, this match became much more famous for the battle between the two midlaners. Both players blindly picked ‘Zed’, resulting in a mirror matchup. Their battles were fierce, going back and forth. But it eventually came to an end when Faker, with just 30% health, single-handedly killed Ryu’s full-health ‘Zed’ all while under the enemies’ inhibitor tower. This 1 on 1 battle became a historic play in the League of Legends esports scene; and Faker gained a huge amount of awareness from fans all over the world, while also starting out on his path to becoming a living legend.


▲ To this date, Ryu is getting killed by Faker, somewhere in the world.


After such a historic game, ‘SKT T1 K’ continued on to their promotional tournament for a chance to play in the ‘World Championship’ tournament that year. They took down both CJ Entus Frost and Blaze, and stopped ‘KT Rolster Bullets’ from progressing. After qualifying for the World Championship, they proceeded to dominate the tournament, establishing a large skill and team coordination ‘gap’ between Korea and the rest of the world.

Faker climbed the ranks of LCK only to become the world champion; all in his very first year of playing as a professional gamer. He received the title, ‘The best midlaner in the world’, and was heavily acknowledged for his accomplishments. After their return to Korea, they completely dominated ‘PANDORA TV Champions Winter 2013-2014’ without dropping a single game. They seemed invincible; simply untouchable…

▲ Faker is constantly being challenged as he sits on his throne


▣ The fall of SKT T1 and their eventual revival from the ashes

Did their winning streak in the previous year jinx SKT for the season of 2014? It was a nightmarish year for Faker and his teammates.

Due to health problems, PoohManDu was removed from the roster and the new support did not work well. This led the team into an eventual slump. The players had no synergy amongst each other, and eventually they ended up failing their chance to make it to the semifinals of the LCK. A team that held the world championship title was completely humiliated, and their slump continued for the entire year.

This was when Faker started cementing his title as the ‘best midlaner in the world’ even further. Fans started picturing him as the ‘head of the household’ in the SKT lineup. However, despite Faker’s consistent performance in the midlane, he couldn’t cover the bad performances of his teammates, who were all still in a deep slump. The snowball that started small rolled into a massive one, colliding into SKT. Although the team won the title of the NLB summer 2014, it was more of a forceful carry by Faker than a victory achieved by the combined effort of all the players.

▲ Faker won All-Star despite his apparent slump.


“Have they found their old form?” In-between games, the fans asked this question when SKT started showing good performances. But the amount of disappointment that was built up was too high for even Faker to cover up. Even when SKT lost, the fans embraced Faker by saying things such as, “At least Faker played well.” But during their promotional tournament where they were fighting for qualification to the ‘World Championship of 2014’, they faced a crushing defeat against ‘Samsung White’, once again leading the team into a state of emergency. Faker also received much flak from his anti-fans when he was solo-killed 4 times in a row by ‘Pawn’ in the midlane.

Their devastating defeat against ‘Samsung White’ wasn’t the end of their misery. They continued their losing streak when they played against ‘Najin Shield’, completely losing out on the chance of being able to play in the ‘World Championship’ tournament. The fans began questioning SKT. The once great and mighty had become one of the worst. The fans doubted SKT’s ability to return to their old prowess. But no matter how upset the fans were at the downfall of the once strongest team in the scene, it could not possibly have been compared to how upset the players themselves felt.

▲ Interview taken during the World Championships of 2014


The year 2014 started nearing its end. And the tides shifted. The players of the world champion team, ‘Samsung Galaxy White’, started parting ways, and since organizations were only allowed one team, most team rosters needed a complete overhaul, which brought many to start from scratch. However, this gave SKT an edge.

As the fans’ concern carried on to the year 2015, Faker revved up his engine and had the grand revival that everyone longed for. Since his debut, Faker was known to pull some off-meta picks, but his picks this time around were champions that we had never seen before in the midlane. Despite this, he completely trashed every opponent he met in the rift. On the same nights that Faker would play these champions, ranked games back home were hell on Earth. “Did you not see Faker’s game today?” Players would lock-in ‘Irelia’, ‘Master Yi’, and ‘Olaf’ while announcing that they would be playing in the midlane.

▲ Faker, please, no!


There once was nothing left but ashes, but from there, Faker and SKT had their grand revival. It was as if SKT purposely got on their knees during 2014 to prepare for their sprint in 2015. Ever since then, their dominance in both domestic and international competitions has continued on to this day. The team returned home with another MSI trophy this year, and is receiving endless attention from fans. The fans are now curious to see if SKT could take it another mile and become four-time world champions.


▣ Mr. Solo Queue Advisory: No draft will stop Faker’s wide champion pool

2017 marks Faker’s 5th year since his debut. Since most pro gaming careers have a short life span, Faker is quite an experienced player by pro gaming standards. Despite this fact, he’s still going very strong. How does he continue to be as consistent as he has been? Mechanical skills aside, his wide champion pool may be the biggest factor, one that no draft has been able to halt even during his amateur days.

Specifically, LeBlanc and Syndra are two champions that get banned regardless of patch versions. Allowing Faker to play either one often leads to a destructive early game, whereas his Ryze and Cassiopeia become an unstoppable force in late game. 

Off-meta picks that completely throw off enemy drafts has also become Faker’s signature move. His Irelia against the Koo Tigers in 2015 SBENU LOL Champions Korea Summer, when he fully returned to his top form, as well as his Olaf which wreaked havoc on the Bangkok Titans at Worlds, were once quite notorious in solo queue. 

So much so that the opposing player blurted out, “Whoa, this guy’s insane.”

 
▲ The match against Koo Tigers in summer 2015 was the origin for his nickname, "Madker"


Above all, what makes him Faker is the mind games, which he perfected in countless solo queue games, and his impeccable initiations, which become known as “lethals.” Just as the legendary MLB pitcher Greg Maddux advised on proper positioning for defense while anticipating the trajectory of the ball he just threw, people who have seen Faker’s games maintain the idea that he sees something others don’t.

Calling out “I got him” when the enemy’s HP is at 100% and then actually picking him off is something only a select few pros can pull off. Since Faker sees kill potential when no one else can, people jokingly comment that he’d be the worst commentator. Imagine him casting a match where he looks at a champion with full health and comments “It’s a lethal. Why doesn’t he go in for the kill?”

What’s more astounding is that he considers his plays to be something that comes as natural.

Q. It looks like the "I got him" video has reached the status of being a meme in Korea. Is there something that you'd like to share about it?

I don't think it's that big of a deal.

- From a post-match interview on March 22nd


▲ Faker's "got you" was on everyone's mouth as he uttered those words on his stream


▣ Among his countless monikers, his real wish is to be a mature pro gamer

It’s hard to deny that Faker has gone further than any other League players has. As such, he also has various nicknames that reflect his decorated career.

Names like “Unkillable Demon King”, “Best Mid World”, and “Senpai”, which was popularized by Doublelift, all refer to the same person. In Korean communities, people call him “Fa-Sokdae” after an oppressive character from a classic Korean novel, Our Twisted Hero, due to Faker’s dominant playstyle. Other Korean fans also call him “Our Hyeok”, as he is a player who is near and dear to fans’ hearts.

Fans’ high regard for Faker is something the game’s developer, Riot, also recognizes. At the 2013 Worlds, Riot VP Dustin Beck compared Faker to the basketball  legend Michael Jordan. If Faker was a star player in League up until that point, he’s then become an esports icon.


One of the contributing factors to his high esteem may be his clean private life. Compared to many pro gamers, who have been in the center of controversies due to inappropriate conduct, account boosting prior to going pro, and trolling, Faker has never caused a stir outside of his plays.

Along with this upright private life, the sheer number of hours he puts into practice is something every player should aspire to. Besides regular scrims, Faker accumulates practice hours in solo queue, which has been the source of his consistent performance since 2015. As hard work beats genius and pure enjoyment trumps hard work, perhaps League has become an area where Faker finds joy.


▣ Out of the Limelight: The human side of Faker

Though he’s had no notable scandals in his private life, Faker does have some interesting stories about him.

The most famous one is his use (or lack thereof) of skins. Unlike other pro gamers, Faker is known for rarely using any skins. He couldn’t afford skins as a student prior to going pro, and he hasn’t seemed to care for them ever since.

Q. Will you use your personalized World Championship skin if there is one?

I probably still wouldn’t buy it. I’d rather save money or use it to buy fried chicken.

- From an interview after winning 2013 Worlds

Faker caught fans’ attention when he used Battle Bunny Riven as his first skin at PANDORA TV Champions Winter 2013-2014. It was later revealed that the skin was mistakenly applied by a staff member who was checking on tournament accounts, but that didn’t stop people from talking about it, especially after the team tweeted a photo of Faker with a bunny ears headband.

▲ Battle Bunny Faker was enough to get fans talking on Twitterverse.


He made news this year when he started to stream on Twitch. Though his first Twitch stream reached over 200K concurrent viewers, not everything was smooth, as the standby interpreter added an additional barrier, serving as a middleman between the viewers and the streamer.

Soon these issues were ironed out, and fans were able to enjoy excellent and fun plays from their favorite player. Some viewers were also excited to see players showcase other games to pass the long queue time.

Back when he streamed on Azubu, a viewer asked Faker what his desired qualities are in a potential mate. “My desired quality is a lady who’s better than me at League,” he responded. Communities are divided on whether Faker doesn’t plan on getting married or if he plans to purposefully lose to a woman whom he’d like to marry. In either case, it’s a first world problem for the team’s coach kkOma, whose meme involves “the man who can’t get married.”

People wouldn’t think it, but Faker does have other interests outside of gaming – googling his own name and watching highlights of his plays. Unlike the reserved demeanor he always exhibits in interviews, he’s very much interested in the public perception of him, as other people of similar age often are.

▲ "Let's see... Are they talking about me?"


▣ Being the best means bearing the corresponding weight

Since Faker is widely considered to be the best League player in the world, fans are quick to criticize his smallest blunders. Whenever an opponent gets a solo kill on him, he’s apparently in a slump. Whenever his team loses, the blame is on him.

A case in point is the historically bad matchup against Samsung, originating all the way back in the MVP Ozone days. On his debut season, Faker was thwarted by them in the semifinals. In the year after he hit rock bottom, Faker was once again denied a ticket to Worlds after completely losing to Pawn. Recently, Faker lost to Samsung without putting up much of a fight, though it should be taken into consideration that SKT T1 had little practice due to MSI.

▲ In fact, Faker has lost to Samsung multiple times just this year.


Additionally, the spot for best mid laner is constantly being challenged, with newcomers vying for the position in every season. Since the mid lane position is one with the most game-changing potential, claiming the title of ‘best midlaner’ is a high honor.

No player is perfect, and Faker sometimes falls behind other players in mid lane, which ends up costing the game. Whenever that happens, people like to sing the “Faker’s washed-up” anthem with fingers pointed. However, there’s no denying that Faker is the grounding player on SKT T1, evidenced by the team’s consistency in tournaments.

He shines during the darkest hours for the team. Without coming up with tedious excuses, anyone can look at his past championship titles if ever in doubt.

▲ List of Faker's championship titles since his debut


▣ The gap is what?: Witness history as it’s being written

Pundits often cry out the slogan, “The gap is closing” when mentioning LCK and other leagues in the same sentence. In fact, we saw overall improvements for all teams across the world, exemplified by G2 in the finals and by the Gigabyte Marines.

Yet if the gap in question refers to the one between SKT T1 and the rest of the world, the answer may not be as clear-cut. SKT T1 is still in the process of carving out a piece of history and proving with results that the gap is indeed still there.

▲ I already can't wait for this year's Worlds.


And Faker has always been a part of the history. Despite the occasional hiccup along the way, it’s more impossible to imagine SKT T1 without Faker than it is to picture Faker without SKT T1.

He’s constantly writing the legend even as we speak. Where will his story take him, and what emotions will he bring us?

It’s a joyful time to be alive, just to bear witness to Faker writing a chapter in the history of League esports.



Hope you enjoyed our first installment of Legend History on Faker. Please comment on which player you’d like see covered next and why. Your inputs will be greatly appreciated for the next piece.

10 lucky winners who leave a comment by June 20th will receive an autograph signed by SKT T1 Faker.

 



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