Faker hopes to find glory once again on North American soil

by Nick Geracie

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok is the greatest League of Legends player of all time, and in his storied decade-long career, two of his crowning achievements have come on North American soil. In 10 years as the ace of South Korean organization T1, the mid laner has amassed countless accolades, including double digit domestic titles. However, perhaps no accomplishments loom as large as Faker’s three World Championship victories, and two of those were won in the United States.

In 2013, Faker was the crown jewel of a team of five rookies on SK Telecom T1 2, which was formed around Faker after T1 scouted him out of solo queue. SKT T1 2 came out of nowhere as not just the stronger of the two squads under the organization’s umbrella, but as a favorite to win Worlds 2013 despite qualifying as the 3rd and final seed from South Korea. Faker and co lived up to the expectations and then some – T1 2 boasted a record of 15-3 across Worlds 2013, capped off by a clean sweep of Chinese representative Royal Club at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

Three years later, Faker returned to the states as a two-time world champion after SK Telecom T1 won Worlds once again at 2015 in Europe. This time around, T1 had to settle for the 2nd representative seed from League of Legends Champions Korea after a 3rd place finish in the Summer Playoffs, but ultimately, the end result was the same. At the Staples Center once again, Faker led T1 to victory in a five-game epic against 3rd LCK seed Samsung Galaxy, but since that triumph, a fourth Worlds title has eluded him.

At Worlds 2022, Faker will return to the region where he has enjoyed the peaks of his international success, and in matching those previous accomplishments, hopes to elevate the prestige of himself and T1 to new heights. However, Faker may be facing his steepest level of competition at an international event yet, regardless of host region.

For the first time in an international tournament, Faker enters Worlds 2022 definitively outside of the top 5 mid laners competing at the event. Gen.G mid laner Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon is the best mid laner in the world and has outclassed Faker all year long. DWG KIA has lost a step as a team compared to previous seasons, but mid laner Heo “ShowMaker” Su is still as sharp as ever. Three of the mid laners from the representative teams for China’s League of Legends Pro League at Worlds 2022 – Royal Never Give Up’s Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao, EDward Gaming’s Lee "Scout” Ye-chan, and Top Esports’ Zhuo "knight” Ding – all boast stronger season-long performances than Faker in 2022.

Despite facing undeniably greater odds – both individually and as part of T1 – than previous World Championships, Faker’s external appearance is calm. The mid laner strode into the room in a baby blue longsleeve and black joggers and looked around the room briefly before sitting down for his interview. When asked about the upcoming competition, Faker’s laser-focus came through in full.

“I don’t think much of it,” Faker said nonchalantly. “I just consider this to be another challenge and I take every challenge one challenge at a time.”

Obviously, Faker will be looking for revenge against Royal Never Give Up, who defeated T1 3-2 in the finals of the 2022 Mid-Season Invitational earlier this year, but first, he’ll have to weather the competition of what could arguably be the toughest group at Worlds this year.

Joining T1 in Group A are North America’s 1st seed and League Championship Series champion Cloud9, LPL 3rd seed EDward Gaming, and due to a team from the League of Legends European Championship already been present in every other group, 3rd LEC seed Fnatic is expected to round out the group after escape the Play-Ins stage last weekend. While Faker is unsure of the overall group strength, there’s one team he knows will be a formidable opponent. “EDG is not a weak team,” said Faker. “It will be a good test for us to see if we can take wins against EDG in the group.”

T1 vs. EDG is shaping up to be the premiere matchup in Group A, which has quite a storied history. EDG’s mid laner Scout began his career as Faker’s substitute in 2016, and the two have gone head-to-head in the group stage at Worlds 2017 and Worlds 2021.

For the past few years, the LPL has gotten better of the LCK at Worlds. Aside from DAMWON Gaming’s Worlds 2020 run, China has hoisted the Summoner’s Cup in three of the last four seasons, and with MSI 2022 champion RNG coming into Worlds 2022 as the LPL’s 4th seed, China’s regional depth cannot be understated.

As far as Faker is concerned, though, the quality of the LCK is still superior to the LPL, and as the veteran leader of a talented young T1 squad, he will look to make history as the only player to win four World Championships in League of Legends esports history.

It’s more than that for Faker, though – this isn’t just about unparalleled accolades, it’s about restoring a reputation established within the last decade, but not maintained in its latter half. T1 hasn’t been to the finals of a World Championship since 2017, a match where they were beaten soundly 3-0 by Samsung Galaxy in a rematch of the same finals matchup one year prior.

As much as winning it all means to Faker as an individual, he knows that he’s not the only person he’s competing for at Worlds 2022. A fourth World Championship would solidify Faker as the best player in the World in the present – not just all-time when considering his whole career – and re-establish T1 as the premiere organization in LoL esports.

Furthermore, it could potential harken a new golden era for T1, with an older, experience Faker leading a slew of young talent (the oldest player besides on T1 besides Faker (26) is AD carry Lee "Gumayusi" Min-hyeong, 20) to the same staggering achievement he first accomplished in his rookie season a decade ago.

“If we win this Worlds title, we can recover the legacies of T1 and myself as a player.”

Faker and the rest of T1’s journey at Worlds 2022 begins with their first match of Group A against EDward Gaming on Friday, October 7 in New York, NY.

All images by: Parkes Ousley

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