“One of the trademarks of a champion
is that he can outlast you”
– Lou Brock, two-time World Series Champion and MLB Hall of Famer
The duo in crimson red jackets. The Unkillable Demon King and the Right Hand of God. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and Bae “Bengi” Seong-ung are a pair of teammates that come once in a generation at high-level competitions, like Jordan and Pippen or Glavine and Maddux. Perhaps moreso the former, Faker blazing the trail as the greatest League of Legends player in history, and Bengi flying under the radar like Pippen, always assisting Faker on his path to greatness. Together the mid-jungle duo has won both World Championships they’ve attended, qualified for three out of the four WCs held during their careers, and tomorrow have a chance at winning their third world title. In fairytale fashion, despite always trying to be phased out of the team, Bengi is constantly swooping in as Faker’s hero and subbed in during the most difficult matches of his career.
It’s no surprise that in a series ending 3-2 against the ROX Tigers last week, Bengi would finish that series with a 3-0 win loss record, SK Telecom only losing when Kang “Blank” Sun-gu was the starting jungler. Bengi led the team to a victory in the first game and then handed the reigns over to his now long time protege Blank, only to watch his team lose two straight games. With their backs against the wall, the time-tested veteran would step onto the rift again and guide his team to back-to-back wins in elimination games.
Bengi’s career may not be adorned with highlight performances or world-class mechanics, but no one can deny he may be the most clutch player to ever touch League of Legends. There aren’t many competitors who’ve nearly never been top of their class that can consistently lead a championship team to victories in the most important games of their season. Perhaps in a few games, this is possible, outlier performances where everything just clicked that day, but to consistently do this without being considered top-class? That’s the longevity of a champion.
Outlasting the Competition
Faker and Bengi’s repeated World Championship runs can be overlooked by the sheer fact that well, Faker is on your team and their team hails from the greatest region in the world. A simple cross-reference between the players that attended the season 3 World Championship (Faker and Bengi’s first) and those that attended the S6WC can quickly show why reaching their third finals together is a feat in history.
Season 3 and 6 World Championship Attendees
- Maple, NL and SwordArt: Gamania Bears → Flash Wolves
- Looper and Mata: Samsung Ozone → Royal Never Give Up
- Uzi: Royal Club → Royal Never Give Up
- Pray: Najin Black Sword → ROX Tigers
- Impact: SK Telecom T1 → Cloud 9
- Mithy: Lemondogs → G2
- Xmithie: Vulcan → Counter Logic Gaming
- Meteos and Sneaky: Cloud 9
In a percentage, that’s only 15% (11 out of 70) players whose careers have maintained the same level of consistency as SKT’s jungle-mid duo when it comes to attending World Championships. However, none of these players have achieved the same level of success as the recurring championship contending duo of Faker and Bengi. In fact, another cross-reference of players can prove this even further, by looking at players who, like Faker and Bengi, have won a world title and are now attending in S6.
World Championship Winners Attending in S6
- Impact: SK Telecom T1 (S3) → Cloud 9
- Looper and Mata: Samsung White (S4) → Royal Never Give Up
- Bang and Wolf: SKT Telecom (S5)
Not counting Faker and Bengi means only 5 of the 22 players that have won a world championship (23%) are attending. The only players on that list to not have the prestigious duo by their side when they won their world title are Looper and Mata, a pair that SKT already dismantled in the bracket stage. Impact qualified from a much weaker region, North America, and Bang and Wolf have continued their run with SKT to repeat an appearance in the finals alongside Faker and Bengi as they did last year.
Even players who wrote their names in the history books alongside the duo have fallen from greatness (Marin, Easyhoon, Piglet) and struggle to find success on other teams. Being able to possess world championship contending skill across three different years in the short career that is professional eSports is something that is essentially unprecedented. This is a talent that goes beyond that of skill and begins to blend more into the determination of a player, their will and ability to weather the storm of adversity.
The Will to Win
“Champions have to have last-minute stamina, they have to have the skill and the will. But will must be stronger than skill.”
– Muhammed Ali, three-time lineal World Heavyweight Champion
An analogy to represent the importance of a player’s will is that the only player in the finals to share a stage with Faker and Bengi during their rookie season in S3 is Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, a player whose peak was considered to be when he played mid lane during those early seasons and rivaled Faker. Coincidentally he never qualified for a World Championship until S6, after he’d changed roles to jungle and was considered a far less skilled player than he was in S3, but conversely a much more cerebral and determined player.
Ambition has said himself that he’s never practiced harder than he did with the young teammates he brought up this season in Samsung, and it’s a testament to the will it takes in order to have the chance at winning the Summoner’s Cup. This example can serve as a direct argument to why someone like Bengi may be one of the greatest players to ever grace professional League of Legends, because he’s a competitor, not a super-star; a Champion in the eyes of his coach and teammates, not the eyes of the spectator.
The only season SK Telecom has failed to make a world championship is Season 4, where fans and experts alike amounted a portion of their failures to Bengi’s lack of star-power in the team. Since then, SKT has tried to phase him out, attempting to have him train a young mechanical star, Blank, to take over the position. Regardless of this, coach KkOma always kept Bengi in his back-pocket, always behind the scenes being the morale for the team, and as a result Bengi was constantly called upon. Emerging onto the stage after seemingly being given a bat-signal of sorts at the final moments, Bengi would come into the booth whenever a match mattered, whenever his team needed their veteran leader.
Throughout every iteration of SK Telecom there has always been complete trust in Bengi by the players, as if he possessed some sort of wisdom when it came to leading that others couldn’t. To lead in such a fashion across multiple World Championships against the disapproval of your fanbase, of those who critique gameplay of regions across the world, is evidence of Bengi’s unmatched will to be a champion; an unquenched thirst to drive his teammates over the bridge of victory.
A Champion’s Epitaph
Regardless of the cacophony of criticism or disapproval that surrounds a championship player, when the book-end is placed on their professional career, it will always end with “They were a champion.” Perhaps they were never the greatest at their position, never a superstar within their team, never flashy enough to be glorified by fans, but in the end, they were a champion. There’s no doubt that Faker will be remembered much more vividly than those four short words, but for his right-hand man and third summoner spell, that’s not exactly the case.
Even after an unbelievable performance — as an in-game leader and individual player — there is still debate whether Bengi is the caliber of player to have a chance at a third world championship trophy. If fans continue to fail in recognizing the insurmountable role Bengi has played throughout every SK Telecom run alongside Faker, then he may only be remembered as that guy who the world’s greatest player kept around. Like the best friend of a famous persona that they’ve known since high school and keep around because they came up together. A footnote to the story of a titan of professional e-Sports.
Instead of decorated memories, Bengi may end up being thought of as just a mere champion by circumstance, not by virtue, but it’s evident he achieved it through the latter. Though his epitaph viewed by the community may end with the short “He was a champion” it will be relieved vividly in the memories of the teammates he touched as the man who kept them grounded and came up clutch during the most difficult matches they played.