Since he entered League of Legends, Faker has been the hallmark of competitive excellence. Now that his performance is wavering, can someone take his throne?
Between the Unkillable Demon King, the God of Gods, and the best player in the world, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok has many names in the League of Legends scene. In fact, his legacy is so grand that even landing a single kill on him in a competitive setting became the metaphorical rite of passage that separated good mid laners from the great ones. But no matter how many times he died, Faker only seemed to come back stronger, and—until recently—no one could dream of challenging Faker and his team SK Telecom T1 at international tournaments.
The 2017 World Championship turned this narrative on its head. There, Samsung Galaxy proved that even a god could bleed by dismantling SK Telecom T1 in one of the most one-sided finals in League of Legends history.
Of course, you could argue that the loss wasn’t on Faker. Even when his team was falling apart, the Unkillable Demon King still put together a string of world-class performances, and if it wasn’t for him, SKT T1 wouldn’t have even gotten past quarters.
And then 2018 happened.
Not only was this one of the darkest eras for Faker, who had to play low-impact picks like Lulu and Taric, but it was also a time of hardships for his team that suffered from a distinct identity crisis. At one point, the Korean powerhouse even attempted to sub out its superstar mid laner—a move that proved surprisingly effective in the short term, but ultimately didn’t give SKT T1 enough momentum to clinch the final playoffs spot.
Still, Faker had the chance to turn the tide in the Gauntlet. But dragging his teammates to the finish line the same way he did at Worlds proved too much for him to handle, and a 3-2 loss to Gen.G ensured that the Unkillable Demon King missed the 2018 Worlds Championship. Suddenly, the title of best player in the world was up for grabs. And new challengers stepped up for a chance to claim the vacant throne.
At first glance, it seemed like Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao would be the designated successor. 2018 was a breakthrough year for the Chinese AD carry, and his aggressive playstyle and razor-sharp mechanics made him the driving force behind RNG’s victories at the LPL, MSI, and Rift Rivals. However, Uzi’s golden road led to a dead end when he couldn’t carry a close quarterfinals series against underdogs G2 Esports.
But the fall of Uzi only meant there was one less obstacle for the other contender, Song “Rookie” Eui-jin. Much like Faker, Rookie is the cornerstone of his team’s strategies, and he’s already made a claim to being the best mid laner of Worlds 2018. On top of that, Invictus Gaming has a clear path to the World Championship finals, and once Rookie gets to that point, he will only need one final push, one decisive best-of-five series to claim the title.
Still, would this be enough to outshine Faker? Not just yet. A single Worlds victory isn’t enough to overshadow Faker’s long-standing history of competitive success, and he will forever be in the League of Legends pantheon as the man who inspired generations of top-tier mid laners. The title of the best player in League of Legends will remain in his hands, at least for the near future.
What’s certain, though, is that Fakers legacy will keep getting challenged. Uzi will be preparing hard to mount his comeback, Rookie will be continuing to hone his mid lane dominance, and dozens of hungry newcomers will be looking for new ways to take down the all-time greats.
And if the downward spiral of SKT T1 continues and Faker misses one more World Championship in 2019, he might have to add another title to his long list of nicknames—the King Who Lost His Throne.