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League of Legends

Should Faker, League of Legends' best ever, leave South Korea?

The best player in the history of the eSport faces a dilemma, that includes location, challenge and financial incentive, and his decision could shape the rest of his life.

Faker looking very thoughtfully before the final against Samsung Galaxy.
Riot Games, Inc.

There is no argument about it: Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok is the best player in the history of League of Legends. The Korean has had major opponents, from direct rivals in the midlane, such as Bae "dade" Eo-jin, to indirect ones, like Cho "Mata" Se-hyeon and Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho, but none have dominated as much as he has throughout his prolific career.

League of Legends is a team eSport and, therefore, the track record of a player does not necessarily reflect their quality. For example, to consider that Konstantinos "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou is a worse ADC than Pierre "Steeelback" Medjaldi because the latter won the Spring Split of 2015 with Fnatic would be a fallacy of major proportions.

In addition to how difficult it is sometimes to measure the level of a player due to the incessant changes of the metagame, which led Faker to shine little in 2014, the small amount of both national and international tournaments in the competitive circuit also subtracts value from the track record.

In turn, League of Legends is a game relatively tolerant in terms of the skill level required and over time the possibility that the most talented are levelled off has been reduced. Players with a low mechanical capacity but good strategic vision, such as Christoph "nRated" Seitz, would probably not have triumphed in the different versions of StarCraft.

Even so, the absolute control that Faker has on virtually all facets of League of Legends is overwhelming. It is almost impossible to find a part of the game in which he is not the best: character repertoire, ability to adapt to the metagame and best of series, potential to create plays and define games with them, and so on.

Faker durante una entrevista en el Mid-Season Invitational de 2016
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Faker durante una entrevista en el Mid-Season Invitational de 2016Riot Games, Inc.

In fact, with the skill and the mentality that he possesses, it would not be surprising if Faker could stand out with ease in almost any game that he dedicates himself to. He himself has stated in The Players' Tribune that he considers himself to be the best player in World of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos.

However, the likelihood of Faker following in the steps of Michael Jordan, a sportsman who is often used as a comparison in terms of their impact on his discipline and importance for eSports in general, and abandon League of Legends is zero.

With regards to Jordan, it is said that it was the absence of rivals that would have forced him to raise the bar was one of the reasons that led him to baseball. This is not a problem for Faker, who was recognised at the press conference after the victory over Samsung Galaxy as a player who is easily motivated, no matter how many awards he has won. "I very much appreciate every championship, so I want to go for another one", he said without even stopping to enjoy the triumph.

In achieving his third world championship, the player himself said that it was the biggest challenge of his career. For 2017, however, the possibility of accepting an even greater challenge has been presented to Faker: conquer the planet with a team from another region.

Last year, during the exodus that led to the departure of 30 players from South Korea, China attempted to take over the best player in the world. Unlike the members of Samsung White and Blue, Faker rejected offers from China that were hovering around the million dollar mark just to retain his crown with the organisation that turned him into professional.

It is rumoured that this year there are offers of 4 million on the table. It is important to remember that the careers of eSports players are generally shorter than traditional athletes and, although I imagine that SK Telecom T1 pays him well, changing team would give Faker a massive monetary injection.

But beyond the financial aspect, which has never seemed to bother him too much, what would it mean for Faker to go to another region or remain in South Korea? From my point of view this would generate two huge narratives.

The first could be compared in a certain way with the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Although in this case Faker would abandon his homeland, he would share the mission with the forward of taking a team, or even a region, upon his shoulders in the search for an international victory. If he achieved this it would still remain a collective triumph, but any possible existing doubt about his dependence on SK Telecom T1 would be dispelled.

Faker delante del mítico Madison Square Garden
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Faker delante del mítico Madison Square GardenRiot Games, Inc.

As never before, Faker would demonstrate that he could confront the world and succeed. The best player in history would transcend even League of Legends to prove that victory is possible without the Korean infrastructure and put an end to all the excuses given by the West to justify its failures.

The second scenario, under the premise of remaining, could lead to the further extension of the dynasty of SK Telecom T1 until a final point of no return. Faker would continue to face the best teams on the planet in South Korea and continue nurturing a relationship with his organisation similar to Tim Duncan with the San Antonio Spurs. If Kim "kk0ma" Jeong-gyun and Bae "Bengi" Seong-woong also remained on SK Telecom T1’s books, the analogy could be extended to the relationship of Duncan with Gregg Popovich and Kobe Bryant with Derek Fisher respectively.

Personally, I do not think that Faker is going to abandon SK Telecom T1. In the three years of his career to date he has been loyal to the entity that has led him to stardom and, while he has the will to continue accumulating titles, I think he will remain in South Korea because playing there increases your chances of winning.

The money, as succulent as it may appear to those unfamiliar with the situation, is not, in my opinion, a problem either. Going to another region would end any economic concern in his life, but between what he has earned so far and the image he has created and will continue developing in SK Telecom T1, he must have resources to spare. In addition, his interest in studying some scientific branch may lead him to a lucrative job in the future given his apparent intelligence.

Should Faker leave South Korea? That’s a question for which I don’t have a single correct answer. The only thing I'm sure of is that, whatever decision he makes, the real winner in the end will be League of Legends for the simple fact of being able to continue enjoying the best player of all time.