Coming into the '2018 LCK Summer Split Round 2', SK Telecom T1 put 5 wins under their belt. Given the results they had in Round 1, their sudden boost in performance was highly unexpected. SKT is steadily increasing their chances of entering into the Summer Playoffs. Bang himself mentioned that it's certainly possible for his team to advance to the next step of the tournament.
With SKT's sudden shift in power, many began analyzing why and how this change came to be. Korean fans, in particular, started pointing at the absence of Faker. Ironically, SKT started finding success with Pirean playing in place of Faker in the midlane; everyone else in the team has also been performing better than they had before.
With Faker benched, many started wondering exactly what happened. Some fans worry that Faker will eventually receive an offer from an overseas team, whereas some believe that Faker will eventually overcome the hardships and get back to his usual peerless form.
Many have said throughout the past year that Faker's slump is a large reason why SKT has struggled, and objectively speaking, it's true that he has been underperforming. Back in Spring, Faker wasn't able to outplay his lane opponents like he always had, and his untimely recalls cost his team a number of games. In addition, the member playing in place of Faker, Pirean, has been performing better than the fans initially expected. It's quite possible that Faker will continue to remain on the bench.
This season isn't the first time that Faker has fallen into a slump. After his debut in 2013 and throughout his 6 years in the scene -- even while holding the title of "Worlds best midlaner" -- Faker experienced ups and downs just like every other player. Can Faker bounce back to the top? Here is a retrospective piece regarding Faker's slumps throughout his career.
Faker's first and most notable slump happened in the year following his prime. In the year of his debut, 2013, Faker won the 'HOT6 Champions Summer 2013', and in the same year, he earned the title, "World's best midlaner" by winning the World Championship. But in 2014, with the prominence of Samsung, Faker showed first signs of instability.
In 2014, SKT T1 crossed paths with Samsung whenever it mattered most. During the quarterfinals of the Spring playoffs, SKT fell to Samsung Ozone. At the time, everyone on the team aside from Faker underperformed. Only Faker played at the level the whole team was expected to.
But during the 2014 World Championship qualifiers, Faker's performance cost SKT the match. This was the first time Faker faced humiliation since his debut. At the time, SKT was playing against Samsung White in the 2nd/3rd place match, and in that seriesFaker gave away FIrst Blood for three consecutive games. In addition, he was solo-killed by Pawn a total of 4 times. With this match, Faker failed to qualify for the World Championship for the first time in his career.
It's hard to blame SKT's 2014 slump solely on Faker. The teammates that he played with to win the World Championship in the previous year had all underperformed. Their performance undoubtedly had an impact on Faker's performance as well. Also, the appearance of a new powerhouse like Pawn gave fans a different perception of Faker, lessening his God-like image within the League of Legends esports scene.
The Spring of 2015 was also a difficult time for the famous midlaner. Having gone through a rebuild, the roster of SKT saw a lot of change; with this change, Faker began to share playtime with Easyhoon. During this time, Faker was seen as a double-edged sword - capable of carrying his team when ahead, but somewhat unstable if he was behind. The match that encapsulated this was SKT's game against GE Tigers.
Against GE Tigers, Faker was put on his signature pick, LeBlanc. With it, he brought GorillA's Morgana from 100 to 0 with a single combo - twice. And later into the game, PraY's Kalista wasn't safe from Faker even when behind two Nexus towers.
But in the third game of the series, Faker's performance on Azir heavily contributed to SKT 's loss. By constantly overextending on the champion, Faker fell multiple times in disadvantageous teamfights; and in the final teamfight of the game, Faker died with both his Summoner Spells and Zhonya's available -- costing SKT the match.
In the Finals of the 2015 LCK Spring Split, Easyhoon played all three games in place of Faker. As a player with the pride of the "best midlaner in the World", this came as a shock to Faker. "It feels good winning, but I'm left with a lot of regrets. Next time I play, I'll deliver a better performance than Easyhoon," he said.
It was after the 2017 Rift Rivals where Faker started receiving direct criticism from the fans. At the time, Faker said confidently that he believed there was no region that could Rival the LCK. However, during the Finals of the tournament, Faker died after overextending in an attempt to harass the enemy jungler.
The performance Faker displayed in the early part of the laning phase left many fans in shock. By attempting to pressure the enemy jungler from as early as level 1, Faker suffered needless deaths. With the midlane priority completely taken over by the enemy team, SKT faced defeat. Until now, no one questioned Faker's attitude and mentality towards the game. But this one moment in the tournament changed that.
After returning from Rift Rivals, Faker and his team went on a losing streak, failing to win in 4 consecutive games. The match that fully showcased Faker's sharp dip in performance was the fight against Afreeca Freecs. Against Kuro, a player that he had always come out ahead of, Faker was pushed back in both the laning phase and teamfights.
In the Spring of 2018, Faker fell into another slump that is still ongoing; many have said that 2018 has thus far been the worst year of Faker's career. Unlike in the past where Faker had always either dominated or at least went even against his lane opponents, the recent Faker has failed to give us anything extraordinary throughout the split. Even during teamfights, Faker often seemed out of sync with the rest of his team.
The biggest criticism that Faker has received was for his poor recalls. Throughout the Spring Split of this year, Faker died more than 7 times while attempting to recall at a dangerous location. Many of these failed recalls cost SKT the game.
The following are a couple of deaths that occurred through Faker's failed recall attempts:
▣ During the famous 90-minute JAG match: died to UmTi's Kha'Zix.
▣ In the same JAG match: died to redemption while recalling.
▣ In an AFs match: channeled recall in front of the enemy midlane tower, forking over a solo-kill to Kuro as a result.
▣ In a KT match: channeled recall near the enemy tower, dying to Score and Pawn as a result.
▣ In a KDM match: died to the enemy channeling an untimely recall.
▣ In an AFs match during Round 2: attempted to recall in the river, dying to AFs as a result.
In the 2018 LCK Summer Split, Faker lost the starter position to Pirean. Faker didn't see play for 5 games, and that count will likely increase -- Pirean performed beyond expectations, and he displayed great synergy with the team's jungler, Blank. The slump that Faker is in now is different from the ones he experienced in the past -- Faker's drop in performance was more clear this time around. He was always the one who carried the team but has become the target of blame for the decline of SKT.
Many worry that this is a critical moment in Faker's career. It was the very first time for him to be benched 5 games in a row, and fans' concerns grow with each passing game. However, it's worth noting that Faker is currently placed 2nd in the solo queue ladder, so it's more accurate to say that Faker is having issues in team synergy and not in his individual performance.
A "slump" is an unwanted visitor that eventually comes knocking on every player's door -- among all of those who are considered seasoned professional players, not a single person has gone without one. In addition, those who overcame their slumps came out tempered and earned further achievements as a result.
Faker also came out stronger time and time again. After failing to qualify for the World Championship in 2014 and failing to make it to the 2015 Spring Finals; Faker reappeared sharper than ever and heavily contributed to his team's victory at the 2015 World Championship.
In 2017, after his infamous run in the Rift Rivals, Faker once again came back stronger and played the most important role for SKT in the World Championship that year. His performance on Galio was the keystone that made up for his team's poor performance. Although SKT, unfortunately, lost in the Finals of the tournament, many fans were shocked and moved at the sight of Faker's tears.
It's an undeniable truth that Faker's slump this year is worse than any he has experienced in the past. However, many fans have faith that he'll once again overcome the hardships and stand at the top, just as he always has. I hope that Faker does overcome this slump. I hope that through it, he'll once again prove that he's indeed the World's best.
"Many people from around the world keep their eyes and attention on me -- talking about my plays whether I perform well or not. But in truth, I don't mind too much about the pressure that comes from the attention -- I don't play to impress anyone, I play to be satisfied with myself.
As a very competitive person, I want to win back my title of "world's best player." It didn't feel good whenever I thought that I was falling behind -- so it was a title that I had to win back no matter what. I'll have to reach the top once again to feel satisfied since that's where I was initially. I'll only feel glad if I win back that title."
- Faker in an interview after winning the 2015 League of Legends World Championship.