Faker Xiaohu Worlds 2023

Road to LoL Worlds Finals 2023- Faker vs Xiaohu, a duel for the ages

Mush 2023-11-18 07:57:55

The Road to LoL Worlds Finals 2023 gets closer and closer to its destination. As we prepare for the most important match of the League of Legends year, we wanted to make a series of articles to get you up to speed on the match-up with Road to Worlds Finals 2023.  In order to achieve this goal, we decided to opt for a different approach than the usual "Match Previews". We'll go over each individual match-up, giving you all the historical context, narratives and stats needed. We're at the end of our Road to LoL Worlds Finals 2023 series with the most fitting duel possible. The captains of both teams, the mid-lane leaders who've been playing this game since before most of the players on the server were even old enough to play League of Legends professionally. Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok versus Li "Xiaohu" Yuan-Hao. Three time Worlds Champion versus Three-time MSI Champion. The most decorated South Korean Mid-laner versus the most decorated Chinese Mid-laner. This isn't David versus Goliath, this is a duel of two Titans.  

The era of SKT T1 Faker

  Xiaohu-- which translates to "Little Tiger"-- is one of the most under-appreciated players in professional League of Legends. There are many reasons that contribute to this, most of them too complex to tackle in a relatively short article, but one of them is his lack of success at World Championships. The Chinese mid later has been a part of the LPL for 8 years now. He made his debut with a team called Gamtee in Spring, but was immediately picked up by legendary organisation RNG in Summer of that same year. A few months after this debut, still as a very young and inexperienced player, he was thrown into the middle of the lion's den. Xiaohu won his first LPL title with RNG in Spring and, a few weeks later, the history behind Sunday's duel began. Xiaohu faced Faker for the first time at MSI 2016. At the time, the tournament had a single group with six teams, one from each region. RNG topped it with an 8-2 record, dropping a game to SKT and another to CLG.  

Xiaohu MSIImage via Leaguepedia

This would be an omen of things to come, but not quite yet. The two mid-laners met again in the first Quarter-Finals BO5 and SKT convincingly beat RNG 3-1. By Summer of of 2016 RNG had set on a core that go down in history as one of the most legendary LPL rosters ever assembled: mlxg, Xiaohu, Uzi and Mata. Looper was their top laner at the time, but was quickly replaced by Letme, who'd stay with the organisation for multiple years. Despite how strong this core was on paper, it wasn't enough to stop SKT's seemingly destined era and Faker's third Summoner's Cup at Worlds 2016. The two teams met in the Quarter-Finals again, and yet again Faker took Xiaohu down 3-1. While the Chinese mid-laner was still looking for his first International conquest, the Unkillable Demon King already had three Summoner's Cups and one MSI title in his trophy cabinet.  

FakerImage via Riot Games

In 2017 the mlxg, Xiaohu and Uzi core remained, but Looper had been replaced by Letme and legendary support Mata was swapped out for Ming, a legend in his own right. The Chinese mid-laner had his rematch against Faker at Worlds once more and, although the roster looked different on both sides, the end result was the same. Another victory for Faker and SKT. But, this time the South Korean mid-laner didn't fly home with the Summoner's Cup, which went to Samsung Galaxy in a shocking 3-0 sweep. This was the moment when tides began to change, leading Faker further and further away from shore, while Xiaohu collected the treasures that he had been seeing glimmering from afar.  

The eternal search for an elusive capstone

  2018 MSI was Xiaohu's first International victory, but his nemesis didn't even show up. RNG took down Kingzone Dragon X, taking home the secondary International title the LPL had ever won. That year, RNG went into Worlds as the favourites to win the entire tournament. SKT and Faker's era were officially over, as the legendary team was absent from both International competition. Xiaohu's roster had won both LPL Splits and MSI. After two years of defeats at the hands of Faker, the Chinese mid-laner was about to walk down the mythical Golden Road. Yet, even in the Unkillable Demon King's absence, Xiaohu and RNG crumbled, losing to G2 in Quarter-Finals in one of the biggest upsets in the history of Worlds, and seeing the first LPL Worlds title taken home by IG.  

XiaohuImage via Riot Games

After two bad years (for his standards) in 2019 and 2020, Xiaohu made his return to the spotlight a little over two years ago, but with a radical change. Cryin joined the team as mid-laner, Xiaohu role-swapped to Top. If winning MSI in an era of utter South Korean dominance wasn't enough to put his name in the annals of history, what about two MSI victories in two different solo-lanes? RNG destroyed LPL Spring 2021 and took then reigning World Champions Damwon Kia down 3-2, giving Xiaohu his second International title. this time as a top-laner. To this day, he is still the only player to win two international titles in two different roles, a feat that might never be mimicked. At Worlds of the same year, though, history would repeat itself. RNG crumble at the most important time of the year, only to see the Summoner's Cup head to China on the hands of another LPL team. By this point, Xiaohu was already in the debate for best LPL player to never win a World Championship, even though Uzi exists. He had been a serious international contender for 5 years already, but could never make it happen at Worlds, the biggest tournament of the League of Legends calendar.
Read: Road to LoL Worlds Finals- Zeus vs TheShy Preview
In 2022, the story comes full circle and the duels resume. This time, the landscape is completely different. Faker's legacy was still unmatched, but Xiaohu had a respectable trophy cabinet of his own. The LCK era of dominance was over, and the two major regions were at a perceived level of parity. The two mid-laners remained where they'd started though. Faker at SKT (now T1) and Xiaohu at RNG, back in the mid-lane. Both players had a resurgence in the first half of the year, Faker after a long period of mediocrity (for his standards) and Xiaohu after some up and downs. When 2022 MSI came around, T1 had swept the LCK 18-0 in the most dominant run the region had ever seen. RNG barely got the better of TES' star-studded line-up to make it to Korea. As had been the case when they first met back in 2016, Faker was the overwhelming favourite in the series against his old nemesis, Xiaohu. The Unkillable Demon King was searching for a feat that not even he had gotten: an International victory in home-soil. But this time, the tides had already been changing for years. 2017's domino effect was leading all the way to this moment, and Xiaohu was about to take down Faker and get his own trilogy of International victories in an upset that turned the Busan Exhibition and Convention Center into the quietest of libraries. The "Little-Tiger" had finally felled his demon.  


  The greatest stories in sports and in life often feel like ones written in fiction books of old. As if in a cruel twist of fate planned by the author before he even started to write the story down, Xiaohu's victory over Faker was short-lived. When 2022 Worlds came around, the two grizzly veterans met yet again in the Quarter-Finals, where T1 swept RNG in a display of utter dominance. The "Little Tiger" remained under the seemingly endless shadow of Faker.  

Image via Riot Games

Yet, to keep the story interesting, Xiaohu isn't the only one searching for that ever-elusive Summoner's Cup anymore. Although Faker still has three of them in his cabinet, they're by now old and dusty, a reminder of an era where he stood head-and-shoulders above his competition, not only in name and legacy, but in every discernible factor of the game. The Unkillable Demon King hasn't won an International Title in 6 years now. He's attended 6 consecutive finals with this current T1 line-up and has lost the last 5. This World Finals is the capstone that both of these players are searching for, although it means vastly different things to them. Faker is looking to win a World Championship an entire decade after his first victory. If he succeeds, his already unreachable legacy will ascend to godhood levels. How can a player win the biggest tournament in the sport ten years apart? He has reinvented himself multiple times and, the player who was dominating games single-handedly with Deathfire Grasp Leblanc is now leading a team of younger talents in the search for their first World Championship. He is the veteran, calm voice, the seasoned soldier that's gone through all this again in his days of young glory, searching for his first victory at an International Tournament held in South Korea.  

Image via Riot Games

Xiaohu is finally looking for the one achievement which has eluded him all these years. This is his seventh World Championship appearance and only the first time he's made Grand Finals. He has now left RNG behind after spending nearly his whole career there and his at a touching distance of the Summoner's Cup that he has been eyeing for 7 years. This is a series that will the story of these two legends for posterity. Seven years of history condensed into three to five hours of nerve-wracking, adrenaline-inducing gameplay. Xiaohu is back in Seoul, the city that brought him his first triumph over the South Korean mid-laner. The long, long shadow of the Demon King still looming over him, filled hushed voices whispering "you'll never beat him at Worlds." Faker is back where he was a year ago, a World Championship Finals as the overwhelming favourite. The doubts of his recent failures creeping at the back of his skull, even through his routine of meditations and seemingly stoic posture. Is this his return to glory, or did those days truly end back in 2017? The Road to LoL Worlds Finals 2023 ends here.
Featured image courtesy of Riot Games. If you enjoyed this article, follow the author on X @mushwrites. For more content like this, keep an eye on our LoL page.

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