[The Makers of Faker] The Hero with a Thousand Faces: An Analysis Of Faker and Dade's Champion Pools

This article is part of The Makers of Faker. Click here to navigate and learn more about the series.

Imagine this: you're a top-tier League of Legends player stepping onto the World Championship stage. Nerves? Sure, but not about if you're good or not. After all, you've dominated the year, touted as a tournament favorite. The real pressure is living up to the hype. But as you make your way through the event, fans are in shock at your play, the broadcast can’t stop talking about you, and you return home with one of the most longstanding trophies in the game’s history.


Too bad it was the Dade Award. 



The Dade Award, named after legendary mid laner Bae "Dade" Eo-jin, is something of the game’s Maglia nera. Being grouped with names like Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, Ming "Clearlove" Kai, and Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang might seem prestigious. But here, the binding thread is not glory, but rather disappointment. Dominate the competitive season only to falter at Worlds? Congratulations, come get your Dade Award.

[Editor's Note: Dade has traditionally capitalized his name in previous instances. To maintain consistency and adhere to stylistic standards, this convention will be followed throughout the article.]


There's a touch of tragedy in the fact that the Dade Award completely colors its namesake's legacy. Over two years, Dade carved out a resume among the greats. A multiple-time champion and MVP in a fiercely competitive era, he was often hailed as the world's best player. Yet, his pioneering letdowns have skewed memories.



Another facet of his legacy is his rivalry with countryman Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok — the latter’s first real challenger. Though Faker’s career accolades now dwarf his, there was a time when Dade posed the most significant threat to his claim as the game's greatest. Indeed, Dade, "The General," played a pivotal role in T1’s early challenges. This conflict, however, underscores one of Faker’s defining strengths: versatility. In contrast to Dade, Faker is celebrated for his unparalleled adaptability, showing the value of a robust champion pool like no other.

An Unrivaled Rival


Since late 2013, Faker has been perched on League of Legends' throne, his seat secured with heavy-duty cement as the years roll on. However, his reign wasn’t always set in stone. After his dazzling 2013 debut, many rivals with similarly striking resumes emerged. The 2014 season, dotted with hurdles for Faker, saw an intense competition for the crown. At the forefront, challenging his rule, was none other than Dade.



In the formative years of Faker's career (2013-2014), Dade uniquely stood as a genuine rival. Heo "PawN" Won-seok, despite securing noteworthy victories against Faker, didn't maintain a consistent record in domestic leagues and often found himself in the shadow of his teammates. Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, despite his skill, accolades, and team importance, was frequently overlooked (especially in tandem with Faker) due to his position. Dade had the perfect mix: impressive results, incredible impact, and even the same mid lane position as Faker.


He was the greatest's first significant hurdle. From the very beginning at Champions Spring 2013, Faker and T1 emerged as a powerhouse — even more dominant than many realize. They nearly had zero set losses through the group stage, with Faker on the brink of seizing the Season MVP and propelling his team into the finals in his first-ever tournament. But who halted him each time? In the words of commentator Erik "DoA" Lonnquist: “Dade, Dade, Dade.” Throughout all of Season 3, T1's otherwise spotless series record bore only one blemish: their defeats to MVP Ozone.



Dade stood out for his distinctive playstyle and persona. On broadcasts, he came across as a reserved and dreamy person. One commentator even described him as if one part of his brain was in another dimension. Conversations with his teammates revealed that this remained in his off-camera behavior as well.


But once the competition began, Dade morphed into a battle-hardened leader. A general — universally praised for his shotcalling. “Dade was younger than me, and in Korea, the age difference is something that’s important. But during the game, he was charismatic and a player that knows how to lead the team,” his former teammate Choi "Acorn" Cheon-ju reflected. “Once during a game, I made a huge mistake — I don’t remember what — but he suddenly called me and the team out using swear words, urging us to get back to our senses. I think we won that game afterward.”



His mid lane style struck a balance: less aggressive than Faker's, but still proactive. His prowess in teamfights was among the best, able to orchestrate plays with perfect positioning. Moreover, Dade's map awareness was nothing short of forensic. He demonstrated excellent precision with global Ultimate abilities, such as Twisted Fate's Destiny, and employed the unconventional tactic of using the Ghost Summoner Spell for better teamfight positioning and efficient map roaming to secure kills. As far as pure team contributions, when he was good, he matched or even surpassed his famed T1 adversary.


Of course, Dade’s greatest distinction lay in his champion pool. At first glance, his selections might have seemed typical for a mid laner. Yet, a closer look at his gameplay revealed a clear divide between his B-sides and greatest hits. Dade was mediocre with most champions, but with his signature picks in a favorable meta, he was a force of nature. When playing Yasuo or Zed — a rarity due to frequent bans from opponents — Dade didn’t just lead his team; he bent the game to his will.


Indeed, Dade frequently outperformed, particularly when facing Faker's team. Looking back, the rivalry between them was spectacular. From mid-2013 to 2014, Dade and Faker emerged as rivals with unparalleled resumes — going blow-for-blow the entire time. Dade clinched the Champions Spring 2013, the MVP award, and was the first to defeat Faker’s team in a series. His MVP Ozone team triumphed over T1 in the group stage, semifinals, and at the AMD-INVEN GamExperience.



Faker, however, quickly ascended. He overcame Dade's team in the Champions Summer 2013 semifinals, leading to a championship and MVP award of his own. At the World Championship, he guided Korea to victory while Ozone faltered, and continued his winning streak into the winter tournament against Dade's team in the finals.


As 2014 progressed, Dade fired back up (partly fueled by the warmth of his “general coat,” which he famously never removed, claiming the sweat it induced invigorated him). He revitalized Samsung Blue, pushing them past historical limits to win the Champions Spring 2014 and another MVP for himself, as T1 faced setbacks. Dade maintained his momentum with a strong showing at Champions Summer 2014, the SK Telecom LTE-A LoL Masters, and a top-four finish at Worlds 2014.


Throughout this period, both players demonstrated leadership and influence, dominating Korean MVP awards. While Faker shone internationally, Dade's prowess was better domestically, marking their divergent paths to acclaim.



Their rivalry, however, concluded without much fanfare. While Faker continued to amass domestic titles and World Championships, Dade’s trajectory took him to China, where his LPL career was less illustrious, ending with his retirement in 2017. Despite Faker's overwhelming success and greater overall standing, he never experienced a defining moment of triumph over Dade. 


There was no parallel to Michael Jordan's conquest of the Bad Boy Pistons, no echo of Joe Louis' decisive victory over Max Schmeling. In the score of their direct confrontations, Dade actually holds the advantage — making him one of the select few with a positive head-to-head record against Faker.


Dade was good. Very good. So it’s weird how time has somewhat forgotten his success, leaving him remembered largely for a trophy named in jest. When compared with Faker, or even players with a comparable amount of success and longevity to Dade, the gulf in their enduring legacies is enormous. Another gulf exists, though. One that sheds light on why Faker's career has continued to flourish in contrast to Dade's. It's an aspect of his gameplay that's both widely acknowledged and yet often underestimated: the breadth and depth of his champion pool.


The Wide and the Narrow


In a conversation about Dade’s legacy with one of the creators of his award, a key theme emerged: bad timing. "Dade was known as 'The King of Spring', former-OnGameNet commentator Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles explained. "The problem with that is that he peaked at the absolute worst times. You don't want to peak in spring and then fall off when summer rolls around. That's when the lead up into Worlds is — when the fandom is at its peak. The problem with Dade is that he peaked at the times when people cared the least. People will remember his Worlds in 2013, and not remember the ridiculous highs he had."


This perspective isn’t one man’s opinion; Dade himself, even at the height of his career, acknowledged an incompleteness without a Summoner's Cup to his name. His approach, marked by intensely focusing on select champions, limited his consistency over a season. This led to performances that, for better or worse, have come to define him.



Worlds 2013 offers a great contrast between Faker and Dade. This tournament not only cemented their reputations among the broader audience but illustrates their differences as players. Both players entered the competition in separate groups, leading teams that were widely seen as tournament-favorites. Yet, as the event unfolded, the initial matches demonstrated the difference in their preparation and approach.


The performance of Samsung Galaxy Ozone at Worlds 2013 stands as a notable blunder in esports history, marked by a mix of inflexibility and overconfidence. While the fault wasn't solely with their mid laner — player interviews reveal the team's underestimation of international competition — Dade emerged as the most prominent figure of this misstep.


At first glance, the meta of Worlds 2013 seemed like a glass slipper fit for Dade: assassins, particularly his favored Zed, were in vogue, with Zed achieving a 100% pick/ban rate — the most highly contested champion of the tournament. However, the mid laner admitted in an interview, “I felt prideful after winning the spring season. Since the summer season, I haven't practiced as hard as before. In the end, I think my sluggishness came about because of the lack of practice at that time. It's my fault.”



Looking at his games, it certainly looked like his fault. Subtle changes in the meta over the summer hinted at a shift away from Dade's preferred champions, but this became glaringly evident at Worlds. Once-dominant picks like Ryze and Twisted Fate — previously his keystones — no longer carried the same impact in his hands. His unorthodox choices like Jayce, which didn’t synergize well with their team compositions, only compounded the problem. Most notably, there was his ill-fated Gragas, a champion where it seemed as if he applied the ability 'Drunken Rage' to himself rather than in-game. His blatant misses with skill shots led to fans quipping that his Gragas was better at throwing games than barrels.


The performance was a debacle — sparking significant backlash from the community. Western fans mocked the arrogance of SSO’s players, and back in Korea, his reputation plummeted, matched at the time only to the likes of Jang "Woong" Gun-woong. Yes, such was the extent of Dade's poor play that he was in the company of someone who had literally cheated in competition. The narrative that Dade was somehow cursed from winning Worlds isn't entirely accurate; in reality, his 2014 showing was solid. However, the disaster of 2013 loomed so large that it cast a shadow over his later achievements.


The extent of Dade's underperformance is more severe than most realize. It wasn't a case of opponents banning out his champion pool. A glance at the game drafts reveals a telling detail: aside from the standard Zed ban, no other champions were targeted against Dade by competing teams. The fact that he had no pressure on his choices shows how limited his effective champion pool had become.



Contrast that with Faker during the tournament. He faced bans on selections beyond Zed, but performed on a diverse range of champions. Yet, the strongest testament to Faker's champion pool wasn't just in the variety he played; it involved the incident of the “Barcode Killer”


In a group stage match against the Lemondogs, Faker's team orchestrated a pick-and-ban phase for the ages, and showed Zed's status as the coveted pick of the tournament. T1 hinted at not banning Zed, prompting the Lemondogs to seize the Master of Shadows within a second. T1’s picks were methodical: Zyra and Corki for bot lane, Riven for top, and Jarvan IV for jungle. The commentators, along with the audience, were abuzz with speculation: What champion would Faker choose to contend with the formidable Zed?



The answer, however, was hiding in plain sight.


In a final twist, T1 locked in Singed for the top lane. The surprise was unveiled — Faker would be taking Riven to mid lane.


Despite a few early deaths from overzealous play, Faker's mid Riven — a choice virtually unprecedented in professional play then — became an effective soft-counter to Zed. This strategy was replicated with similar success against TSM, showing its viability. In doing so, Faker provided a good answer to the most hotly contested champion of the tournament. While he reserved this tactic in the more serious matches of the event, the mid Riven quickly became one of his signature picks, a strategy he would deploy in future tournaments with notable success.



The remarkable aspect of this innovation lies in its process. It wasn't the product of a planned T1 strategy, honed over months. When asked on the English broadcast, Faker's explanation was straightforward. "I rarely played Riven back in Korea," he revealed. "I started playing Riven a lot once I came here this month during solo queue. I found her a lot of fun — she had many utilities and awesome skills, so that's why I chose her." Fans and other teams had a front row seat to this development — as he steamrolled through solo queue and brought the pick out in scrims. 


As Dade drowned in the shallowness of his champion pool (quite a paradox), Faker experimented and innovated as the event went on. 


Diving into the Abyss


The range of Faker's champion pool stands out as a defining feature of his career. This versatility is a crucial factor in his greater success when compared to other greats like Dade. While he has his own signature champions — Orianna and LeBlanc, among others — his proficiency extends far beyond these. He has demonstrated a high level of skill across an enormous array of the game's roster. It's more than reasonable to suggest that Faker possesses the deepest champion pool in history.


As of the writing of this article, Faker has competed using nearly half of League of Legends' 168-champion roster. While it's important to note that Faker's long-standing career contributes to this statistic, his champion diversity remains exceptional even on a year-by-year analysis. When compared with other mid laners — a role rivaled only by top lane in terms of diversity — Faker’s range doesn't merely compare favorably; it jumps off of the page. 



In an analysis of mid laners from all major regions, Faker always ranks among the most versatile. On average, he uses over 20 different champions annually, never dipping below seventh in terms of champion pool breadth. And with the exceptions of 2013 and 2019, he always ranks in the top five, often oscillating between the first and third positions. 


While his postseason runs have given him opportunities to play more champions, it's crucial to note that he's achieved this in historically the most competitive region. And while other players may have hit loftier peaks (holy crap, Caps), no one matches Faker's enduring and consistent mastery.



The impact of Dade's champion pool on his career trajectory is obvious. In metas that suited his preferred champions, he often appeared as the world's top player. But outside these times…he did not. This vulnerability was arguably the most significant challenge of his career. It led to career-defining failures, and was a key factor in his inability to replicate his success in China (displacement and language barriers also big reasons).


When speaking with caster Barento "Raz" Mohammed about The General's LPL career, he stated, "While it was exciting to see Dade perform in China, it was clear he had stagnated individually. He had wildly inconsistent performances but was still entertaining to watch with how often he pulled out oddball picks like Zed [in that meta], Kassadin, Ekko, Ezreal and Brand. Their games were often chaotic and lacked a lot of structure, and his team definitely suffered for it." There's no doubt that with a stronger champion pool, he wouldn't have had to continue playing inconsistent oddball choices. 


Meanwhile, Faker's champion pool has been a cornerstone of his career. His impact transcends the Riven pick; he has redefined the mid lane with champions like LeBlanc and Galio and revitalized the role of Gragas as a mid-lane flex option. Whether carrying games in the late stages with Azir and Ryze or adopting a more utility role with picks like Lulu, Faker's versatility is unparalleled. He not only adapts to meta shifts but often sets the pace, always finding new ways to maximize his benefit for the team. This consistent excellence and strategic innovation have been hallmarks of his career for over a decade.



Regarding his large champion pool, Faker has given weird, esoteric explanations, such as that he trains in his imagination. The other big factor he gave, and the more persuasive one, is his mentality. 


Reflecting on his own struggles, Dade offered this explanation: “In the past, the champion pool was inevitably narrow. As I said before, I was a little lazy in practicing at the time. Moreover, even if you select a champion that usually has good results, it only shows a bad performance during the competition. It occurred to me later that I should have practiced a pool of champions who could respond to the situation.” 



Compare that with Faker, who stated, “The most important thing, as I always say, is your mindset. Having the ability to reflect on yourself and consider how you can improve is the most important thing.” More than his natural talent and desire to do so, he clearly understands the value and importance of always staying ahead — never getting complacent. It’s more than just natural talent and creativity, it’s hard work and humility. 


This isn't to suggest Dade never possessed these qualities. Anyone capable of going head-to-head with Faker during such a competitive era, even being lauded as the world's best player, undoubtedly earns the respect and admiration of fans. Dade excelled in numerous facets of the game, showcasing remarkable talent and skill. However, his relative shortfall in one critical area accentuates the fine line between being one of the best and being the best. 


While Faker's legacy is frequently celebrated for his electrifying plays and decision-making, it's the exceptional breadth of his champion pool that stands as a vital testament to his dominance in the game.


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