Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
If you asked me what I know about sports, I would apologize for having minimal interest. If you asked me what I know about esports, until two years ago I knew nothing. But in the summer of 2019, I was drawn into the professional gaming world of League of Legends entirely by accident.
I was roaming YouTube late one night, as one does, seeing what little bundles of weirdness scurried from their hiding places. My original objective was a particular clip from a show I enjoy. Instead I discovered an icon. His name attracted me first (for mostly personal reasons). Curiously, I allowed myself to watch some of his highlights. From the onset, I was lost. I had no idea what was happening in the game, but the casters were going wild, so it must have been significant.
Most people would have stopped there. They’d recognize their dalliance and find something else to capture their fancy. But I had to know. I buckled down and dove in.
What I unwittingly discovered was a living legend. Called the “Micheal Jordan” or “Lionel Messi” of League, Faker is practically the face of League of Legends. His way of playing profoundly changed how other professionals played and inspired many casual players to start their own foray into the game.
He has won the World Championships three times (more than anyone else), won his regional championships nine times, won the Mid-Season International tournament twice, and has been an All-Star player since 2014, a single year after he started playing. Not that his first year wasn’t memorable—he won his first World Championship then.
By the time I became aware of him, he was competing for his fourth world championship title. As I watched, I became acutely aware of another fact. Many people believed the era of this legend had already passed. He was “old.” Undeserving. Weaker. Slower. Less skilled. A failure. The comment sections were full of criticism and insults.
As I read them, I burned with righteous anger. Even I, who knew next to nothing about League of Legends or Faker could tell just by looking at him that he deserved all the credit and praise he had been given. I could tell he put time and effort into playing. Perhaps he was not like his past self, perhaps he was a little slower, but he was still at the top of his game and the game.
More importantly, I was bothered by how little they regarded his outstanding character.
Faker’s story begins in obscurity and hardship. He does not speak of his childhood much, but from what I’ve gathered, his mother is conspicuously absent. Raised by his father and adorable grandmother, Faker went through life as most shy introverts—not standing out. From an early age, they knew he was clever and had a talent for gaming. He dropped out of high school to compete professionally, and that is where his stardom begins.
Despite his success and fame, only recently has Faker even acknowledged the title “best.” He would humbly deflect it, saying that the goal of his current self would be to play at a level that lives up to the name “Faker”—like it wasn’t even him who had accomplished great things, but rather was an ideal to strive for.
He is also the only player to stay on a single team for as long as he has. Most players will switch teams for better pay or better chances for winning titles, and I have no criticism for such individuals. This is their career and they are trying to make a living. But a profound statement is made when someone remains with an organization for eight years. Others have tried to claim him. A player of his level isn’t merely ignored. On several occasions, Faker has been offered blank checks, which he has always refused. He prefers the challenge of playing against skilled players in his region to money.
Moreso, it’s because he sees his teammates as a second family. Those bonds, he claims, are what make a team strong. He looks after his teammates, wants them to succeed, wants to give them their chance to shine. One time, after he had won one of his championships, he fought back tears, lamenting that he could not stand on the winner’s stage with his previous teammates. At the height of victory and celebration, he remembered and elevated his former comrades.
Faker continues his connections to virtually everyone. He’s always thinking of and thanking his fans, he’s known for giving to charity, he does not neglect the people who were previously in his life. He is an entirely compelling individual, one whose practices and ideologies I find mirroring my own.
Most people, however, only want to see his competence. I will admit, it is alluring. The Gamer life Faker has built is enviable. The success, the riches, the fame are all obvious. But that is what divides a fan from a supporter.
Fans call him “The Unkillable Demon King.” They call him “god.” They call him “The Greatest of All Time.” They chant “Faker Faker Playmaker” when he is winning. But he is Lee Sang-hyeok, a clever, dedicated, dutiful young man who looks after his companions, works hard to better himself and his skills, all the while enjoying himself with some goofy antics.
That is what makes him most impressive. That is what makes him most beloved. That is why so many are willing to follow. He’s a hero and a human. He’s unbelievable and relatable. He has carved his name in the annals of history and has plenty of blank pages ahead of him to fill.
While his impact on the game is legendary, his character’s legacy is in a league of its own. If that is not the endowment of celebrity, nothing should be.