Last year, around this time of the month, Blank received lots of criticism regarding his plays as a jungler. As a player, he was rated average at best.
Bengi, a former jungler for SKT had two World Championship titles under his belt. And so, Blank was almost a “nobody” in comparison. Due to the constant comparison, Blank left a bad impression on the fans when he showed poor performance in his debut game.
In 2016, even after SKT took the World Championship trophy back home, criticism towards Blank showed no sign of stopping, because during the actual tournament, Bengi played in the important matchups in place of Blank. Despite the fact that Blank was the jungler for the world’s best team, Peanut left a bigger impression on the fans than Blank; and when Peanut joined the lineup of SKT, many fans believed that Blank would no longer be used for the future games of SKT.
However, in 2017, Blank carries the score of 15:0. He has won every game that he has played, causing the fans’ opinions to take a swift 180. Blank isn’t an ordinary sub that is used to just fill in the position for Peanut when he is ill. Blank is instead used as a sixth man, a reliable clutch player.
The term, “Sixth man” is derived from basketball. In baseball and softball, a relief pitcher is used to substitute in for the starting pitcher in the case of an injury or for other strategic reasons. However, the sixth man in basketball is often utilized a lot more, and they usually play an equal amount of time or sometimes even more than the actual starting players.
The same thing applies to League of Legends. A sixth man is not simply used as an emergency fill-in but is rather a reliable and strong pillar that is used to support the foundation when the grounds are shaking. They are also subbed in to bring more diversity in the Ban/Pick phase, widening the possible strategies by a big margin. To a certain extent, this also creates a competitive atmosphere within the team, motivating the starting players as well as the sixth man to compete and better each other.
Although this can have a negative impact on the team’s atmosphere, as competing against a teammate can indeed cause considerable burden and bring stress to the individuals, there is no doubt however that this method has proven effective for SKT. Even some teams in the North American region started adopting this strategy.
The team that utilized this strategy more than any other is, of course, SKT T1. The players that have sat on the benches of SKT, eagerly waiting for their chance to play, aren’t your average players. From ‘Easyhoon’, who has filled in for Faker when he was in a slump, to Bengi, who served as a reliable switch-in when Blank was struggling; since 2015, the players that served as the sixth man in SKT played a very important role in the team.
The team’s prowess in utilizing the subs became even more refined for 2017. As the starting jungler was swapped to ‘Peanut’, Blank was moved to the bench. SKT’s new toplaner ‘Untara’ also sits with Blank; they both wait, anxious to prove their mettle. There is one quite fascinating fact about these two players: they have yet to lose a game this year.
Out of those two players, however, Blank is just something else. After he took on the role of a sixth man, he was always subbed in when the team was on the brink of losing. Compared to the Blank from last year, who made many questionable decisions in-game, the Blank of today is showing a completely different form.
Some of you may argue that it’s because Blank only played a few games. However, considering the instances where Blank had been subbed in, we can see the sub usually only happens when Peanut is struggling or when SKT loses their first game in a Bo3 series. Excluding their game against the ‘Ever8 Winners’ on June 10th and their game against ‘Jin Air Green Wings’ on June 20th, Blank always subbed in on the 2nd or 3rd set of a series.
In their recent game against ‘Afreeca Freecs’, SKT’s top, mid, and jungle were all making shaky plays. The team had lost their 1st game. However, Blank was subbed in for Peanut in game 2 to completely turn the series around. The team lost control of ‘Baron Nashor’, with Afreeca pressuring the 2nd tower in bot lane. People were expecting and awaiting the eventual destruction of that tower as Afreeca continued their siege. But out of nowhere, Blank homed in on the opposing midlaner, fully utilizing Lee Sin’s kit to cover a wide distance and deliver his target to the jaws of his team. During team fights, Blank also made sure to keep Afreeca’s key player ‘Marin’ from being successful by constantly tracking him and eventually killing him.
▲ The delivery that put SKT ahead
A couple fans have said that if Blank wasn’t playing for SKT, SKT might have been an average looking team in LCK this season. And no one seemed to argue against that.
Last year, my mentality was… in some ways just garbage. But now, I play to enjoy the game. Whether the fans give me criticism or praise, everything sounds better to you if you are having fun. That is my method for maintaining a healthy mentality. - During an interview on mentality.
In the NBA, if I was to pick a player as the best ‘sixth man’, personally, I would pick Manu Ginóbili. His nerves of steel and his ability to always make the right decisions have consistently led the team to victory. The same applies for Blank. Over the course of the one year he stayed in SKT, he didn’t go a day without practice. Now, he is seen as one of the most important figures on the team.
The ‘sixth man’ on SKT T1 does not act as a simple fill-in for the starting players. Blank is proving to the fans that SKT needs this sixth player on their roster to be complete.