Faker and Rookie- Two Gods on a converging path

Mush 2020-09-26 03:13:26
  There have been many legendary players who have cemented their place in the history of League of Legends. Some, like Hong "MadLife" Ming-gi, Choi "inSec" In-seok and Enrique "xPeke" Cedeño Martínez even gave birth to gameplay terms based on their aliases. The Hall of Fame of LoL already has some big names in it, but no one has quite reached the height that two players who still play the game have: Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok and Song "Rookie" Eui-jin. The master and the disciple. The one who got it all in the beginning and the one who spent years of his career searching for greatness. As time passed, what once felt like a duel feels more and more like a converging path that is leading both of these godlike players into a similar road.  The original Faker Junior Faker’s story is basically common knowledge nowadays and will probably never be reproduced again. The meteoric rise to the top of the mountain followed by a dynastic rule over the League of Legends world is most likely the narrative that will define the game for years to come. Faker isn’t the best player anymore, but still is the most iconic and influential. So much so that, similarly to history’s timeless heroes, comparisons are constant.  Lee Sang-hyeok hasn’t gone anywhere, but for years there has been the search for another Faker, the Unkillable Demon King, the player that stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Quite a few mid laners have been described as the next one in line, but only one was even considered worthy while Faker was at his peak. Before Rasmus "Caps" Borregaard Winther, Zhuo "Knight" Ding, Heo "Showmaker" Su, Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon and Lee "Clozer" Ju-hyeon, there was Rookie. The original Faker Junior.  The Arrows fly through Champions Korea Rookie’s story began between 2013 and 2014 in the legendary team KT Rolster Arrows— home of timeless names like Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho, Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon, Noh "Arrow" Dong-hyeon, Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan— in what is often considered the best era in League of Legends history. As fate would have it, KT A and SK Telecom K were placed in the same group, so it didn’t take long for the first duel between Rookie and Faker to happen. KT Arrows took the upset win 2-0 and actually finished the group stage ahead of the 2013 World Champions.  They were quickly eliminated in Quarterfinals by CJ Entus, but just a few months later KT A shocked the World with one of the most incredible runs in a playoff ever in OGN Champion Summer 2014. In what is now remembered as the year of Samsung— the White and Blue sister teams dominated the region and later the World Championship itself— KT Arrows, lead by charismatic legendary jungler KaKAO took the region by storm by beating the incredibly intimidating Samsung Blue team in a 5 Game Final. To even reach this match, the Arrows had to play 10 games, managing to reach the 5th game in every playoff series they participated in.  A different path Despite this impressive result, KT Arrows failed to qualify to the World Championship and Rookie, alongside KaKAO, joined Invictus Gaming in the LPL. Here came the big divergence in the Rookie-Faker storyline. The now legendary mid laner wasn’t even the main star of his team when he left Korea, but as the years passed he has consistently risen as the prime example of a legendary career being built in the midst of the Korean Exodus. Faker was the King who preferred to sit in his throne and dominate the world from his home region, while Rookie worked hard, through a long, bumpy road, until he eventually became the pivotal point in the LPL’s first World Championship. The divergent paths managed to bring them together, kings of their respective regions.  Rookie didn’t manage to reach true success for a while in the LPL. A lot of the top teams got an injection of South Korea stars during this off season and Invictus Gaming kept repeatedly getting stopped in their tracks by EDward Gaming, Heo "Pawn" Won-seok and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu's team— both ex-Samsung players. EDG were on top of the LPL throughout 2015, especially after their legendary performance in MSI vs SKT, but IG still managed to fight back and earn a qualification to the World Championship. Unfortunately, IG were quickly eliminated in a relatively easy group and Rookie’s darkest times began. 2016 and 2017 were two disappointing years of mediocre regular seasons, disappointing playoffs and an inability to qualify to international tournaments. It was obvious that the organization kept trying to build the team around the star Korean mid laner, but it felt like it wasn’t working.
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Times were tough, but Rookie stayed strong. He integrated himself fully in the Chinese region, learned to speak Mandarin and is still considered the best speaker of the language among South Korean pros in the LPL. Even during his team's tough times, he consistently managed to maintain himself high up in the MVP standings and was growing as one of the LPL’s biggest stars. By the end of 2017, the light was finally showing at the end of the tunnel when Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning, Lee "Duke" Ho-seong and Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok were added to the roster.  As a dynasty ends, another begins 2018 was an explosive year for the Invictus Gaming roster, who brought this chaotic style of play for the entire world to behold and, above all else, fear. The incredibly talented team, with the unrivaled solo lane duo of Rookie and TheShy dominated both Regular Season Splits in the LPL with 18-1 records, yet a kryptonite remained: EDG were out of the picture, but RNG seemed to always be able to take IG down. Rookie was now head and shoulders above every other Korean import in the region, but China’s true king, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao, remained strong at the top of the region. Despite the shortcomings in the playoffs against RNG, Invictus Gaming managed to qualify to the 2018 World Championship and change the trajectory of history entirely.  RNG was heading into the Championship as the favorites to win the whole thing. The team had 4 players in the Lol Esports Top 20 Players list, with Uzi at the top. They had beaten IG in all the important moments and it truly felt like Uzi’s time to bring the Summoner’s Cup home, but Rookie and TheShy had other plans. Invictus Gaming dropped a game against Fnatic in the Group Stage, but convincingly headed into the Knockout Stage as one of the favourites. The team was placed in the same side of the bracket as RNG, but immediately were facing a huge challenge: KT Rolster, the LCK’s first seed. An incredible narrative was surrounding this match: KT Rolster was Rookie’s first big org, the team had Deft and Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, probably the two biggest imports that went to China in 2015, and the tournament itself was being played in South Korea. It was time for Rookie to rise above and cement himself as the true success story coming out of the Korean Exodus, and so he did. Invictus Gaming managed to take KT Rolster down in a hard-fought 5 game series— considered by many the “true final” of the tournament— and quickly dispatched of the remaining opposition in incredibly dominating 3-0 wins.  Up and down the mountain Rookie, the original Faker-Junior, had finally reached the true “Faker Status”, and had transcended it, in a way. Raising the Summoner’s Cup in his home region, but raising it for his new home, the LPL. This was the beginning of the Chinese reign over the League of Legends world.  As Rookie was rising to the top of the mountain, Faker was on his way down. The crushing 3-0 loss to Samsung Galaxy in the finals of Worlds 2017, followed by the inability to qualify to the 2018 edition was the downfall of the SKT dynasty. Similarly to what IG had done leading up to 2018, SKT was attempting to rebuild the organization around Faker. This approach was looking very good for the team in 2019, after adding Park "Teddy" Jin-seong, Kim "Clid" Tae-min, Kim "Khan" Dong-ha and Mata to the roster, the mixture of talent and experience was bringing a lot of hope to the region. SKT convincingly dominated the LCK in the Spring Split and qualified to MSI. On the other side of the Yellow Sea, Rookie and Invictus Gaming were doing the same. The gods were finally meeting, again.  The Rookie-Faker match up was probably the most hyped narrative for the whole tournament. The two legendary mid laners hadn’t faced in a long while and the Faker vs Faker JR storyline had been building for years. Invictus Gaming cared little for the narrative value behind the game though, and destroyed SKT in a whopping 16 minute win. Three days later, SKT managed to fight back after the humiliating loss and convincingly beat IG, with both Rookie and Faker playing Ryze in their respective wins, but a true series between the teams didn’t actually happen, leaving the now 6 year long narrative on hold.  Both teams were placed in different sides of the bracket in MSI and Worlds, and both teams lost their semifinals. They haven’t met since, and won’t meet at this year's World Championship. Rookie and Invictus Gaming haven’t been able to handle the LPL’s top team teams, despite the sheer amount of talent the team has. Faker and T1 aren’t being able to keep up with the new influx of talent in the LCK, even though the organization has been taking some risks and finding new talented prospects.  Gods, legacies and closure After rising and falling, both gods are now sitting at home watching the new dreamers fight for the ultimate glory at the top of the mountain. Time passed and the metas changed, but both players have always managed to bounce back. They’ve reinvented themselves, they have achieved unmatched levels of success, consistency, mechanical prowess. This is a deep slope to be in, but there are no other players more capable of making such a long climb. It is perhaps fitting that we never actually get a real series between the two legendary gods of the mid lane, this is real life after all, if every interesting narrative had a movie-like ending to it, they’d lose their unique charm. Yet, I still hope that we manage to witness the Olympian duel happen in the Rift, on a worthy stage and occasion. I don’t know what happens next, but you can be sure that these two titans will rise to the top again. And even when they’re not there anymore, whoever sits on the throne will have to look back at who came before and do their best to surpass the unrivalled legacy of the two gods of League of Legends: Faker and Rookie- Two GOATs on an ever converging path.    
If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @Kaaaosh. Images courtesy of Lol Esports Flickr.

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