There’s no doubt that Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is the greatest League of Legends player of all time. That statement has been set in stone since he led SK Telecom T1 to the team’s 2nd World Championship in 3 years back in 2015. He won another one the year after just for good measure, and to this day, is only one of two players in the world (Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong being the other) with three World titles to his name.
Whenever you look at franchise players, in any sport for that matter, there’s usually a system built around them – one that features a cast of supporting characters and a coach equally as masterful as the roster’s headlining piece. Whether it was Phil Jackson calling the shots for Michael Jordan, or Bill Belicheck pulling the strings for Tom Brady, there’s seemingly always a legendary coach in the mix who’s right behind the greatest player of all time, regardless of their sport.
In the case of professional League of Legends, that player is Faker, and that coach is Kim “Kkoma” Jeong-gyun. Very rarely do the careers of the greatest coach of all time and the greatest player of all time overlap. It’s even rarer for those careers to unfold within the same franchise. But for Faker and Kkoma, the two have been interlocked in a culture of victory for nearly the entirety of the 2010’s. Throughout a strong majority of League’s lifespan, Kkoma and Faker have stood side by side at the pinnacle of the game.
Together, they spearheaded the SKT dynasty that continuously dominated the professional landscape while simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of any and all competitors. For years, Faker and Kkoma were synonymous with the apex of professional LoL, as the two essentially served as the gatekeepers for the Summoner’s Cup. Together, the duo posted a record of 64-23 at the World Championship, while winning three titles along the way. Between 2013 and 2015, the team posted a record of 30-4 at the year’s premier tournament.
And although SKT has undergone several massive roster changes over the course of the team’s “dynasty era”. Two factors have always remained intact: Faker and Kkoma.
Heading into the next decade, however, the pair that’s gripped pro League by the throat will be broken up. Kkoma’s accepted an offer to coach in China with Vici Gaming, while Faker’s been left behind to lead SKT into the future. And although the star mid laner has been tasked with leading the team many times before, next year will mark the first season where the responsibility falls squarely on his shoulders.
With a breaking of the dynasty in motion, we might finally see a new timeline launched into effect. Complete with a full rebrand, the franchise will move into a new era, but still turn to its stalwart defender of the mid lane with confidence moving forward. Faker, just as he always has been, is the only definite given for SK Telecom. Year after year, he’s the key focal point of the roster, with a full supporting cast of characters propped up around him to help the team win championships.
But no matter what all-stars SKT signed around Faker, whether it was Kim “Khan” Dong-ha, Han “Peanut” Wang-ho, or the countless superstars that have donned an SKT jersey over the past few years, it remained clear that the mid lane would always be constant.
This time around, there’s no superstars on the horizon. The franchise is investing almost entirely into young talent moving forward as four rookies have been signed to the roster. Only Park “Teddy” Jin-seong and Lee “Effort” Sang-ho remain alongside Faker from 2019.
The future of the T1 roster may be surrounded by question marks going into 2020, but this time, what’s for certain is that Faker will have to carry even more of the burden. With an unproven roster in tow and his longtime coach and mentor out of the picture, Faker will be exposed to the world.
But, if anything, this presents Faker with a chance to prove exactly why he’s above the noise and all of the competition. He has the chance to let old narratives die. He has the chance to once again lead T1 to a title. In 2020, the “Faker can’t win without Kkoma” narrative could die once and for all. Next season will be Faker’s opportunity to prove that he truly is the greatest of all time and no one but himself was able to help him earn that title.
Photo Credit: Riot Games, Lolesports, League of Legends