The best player in League of Legends history, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, is set to become a free agent on Nov. 18, when his contract with three-time world champion SK Telecom T1 ends. His decision on where to play next could shake the entire esports scene to its core. So where will "The Unkillable Demon King" sign after failing to make the world championship for the first time since 2014?
We have a few destinations in mind.
SK Telecom T1
Why SKT Faker should happen
What is League of Legends without SK Telecom T1 and Faker playing as one? He is the main character of the entire shebang, and SKT, the iconic South Korean esports franchise sponsored by the telecommunication giant, is his team. Can there even be an SKT without Faker? I don't know if I can fathom Faker showing up to play onstage not wearing his signature red SKT jacket.
In terms of winning, SKT know how to win. This is a franchise that has won in every game it has touched. The team founded a PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds not too long ago and is already performing at a high level. The current roster needs work, and the ownership needs to go out and splurge on some free agents in the offseason to build around Faker, but they've already shown they can do that.
It's the most boring option on the table, and yet, it might be the most likely. Faker has shown loyalty to SKT, and I don't know if, even after a dreadful year, that's enough for him to sign with someone new.
Why SKT Faker shouldn't happen
They don't deserve Faker. Who knows how long the GOAT's prime is going to last, and this team completely wasted one of those prime years by making him play with a woeful platoon of junglers and below-average teammates. They thought Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan was the answer as starting jungler for like a week! The team's overall strategic know-how has been terrible ever since head coach Choi "cCarter" Byoung-hoon left at the beginning of 2018, and picking up someone such as Park "Teddy" Jin-seong isn't going to magically make their drafts better.
Just like LeBron James when he left Miami and then Cleveland the second time, Faker owes nothing to SKT T1. He has brought them worldwide fame, four world finals, three Summoner's Cups and a trophy case so full they had to go out and buy a second one. It's time to put down the red jacket and take the next step in your career, Faker. The king needs a new place to call home.
Why Gen.G Faker should happen
Isn't this the perfect place for Faker to end up? With Gen.G, he would not only get to stay in South Korea and represent his home country but also have the resources to extend his brand internationally with the help of the Silicon Valley-backed organization. Gen.G is the fusion between America's esports scene and South Korea's, so why not go to a team that has the pockets to pay Faker a large salary and market him to the western audience while also giving him the chance to play in front of his fans?
Not only is it a good brand fit for Faker with a team with the checkbook to sign him, but also, Gen.G might be his best chance to get back the Summoner's Cup. If he doesn't retire in the offseason, who doesn't want to see old rivals Faker and Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong team up in a quest to return pride to South Korea after how terribly the country did this year? I don't think Faker would have any qualms about playing with the 2017 worlds MVP, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk, someone who could take the load off Faker's shoulders when it comes to carrying. Plus, Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin fits the mold of a top laner like Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong and Lee "Duke" Ho-seong, both of whom Faker won a world championship with.
For Gen.G, there is no reason not to go out and try to sign Faker. After an inconsistent carousel of mid laners in 2018 and a woeful worlds performance by Lee "Crown" Min-ho, Faker should be on the top of the shopping list.
Why Gen.G Faker shouldn't happen
Faker doesn't need Gen.G. It's Faker. Why would the best player in history join the team that defeated him in the most difficult series of his life? Gen.G, formerly Samsung, made Faker break down into hysterics after sweeping him in the 2017 worlds final in Beijing. Gen.G also eliminated SKT from worlds contention this year by beating them in the South Korean regional gauntlet. Do you really think the GOAT is going to join the team that beat him and play second fiddle to the legacy of Ambition on that team?
Faker wants to crush Gen.G, not join them. I never want to see Faker in navy and gold. Gross.
Why TL Faker should happen
Steve Arhancet is calling, Faker. Look outside. You see that limousine filled with American dollar bills? There's a monster truck behind that limousine ready to crush it because there are gold bars inside just for you. All the money, Faker. Just take it. Did you hear we just got Michael Jordan as an investor? He's the basketball version of you. Let's make you the first esports billionaire. Hey, did you know the North American LCS arena has a smoothie bar? You'll love it.
But really, with Liquid not even making it out of groups after a dominating domestic year and Faker a few days from free agency, there is no way you can bring up possible Faker destinations and not have Team Liquid near the top. They have the money. They have the brand name. If Faker wants to make worlds every year until he retires, playing in North America is going to be a lot easier than qualifying in South Korea, where rookie monsters such as Griffin and DAMWON Gaming are rising.
Eugene "Pobelter" Park's contract is set to end with Team Liquid, and with top laner Impact about to become a resident of North America after playing in the region for four years, the team can go out and get another international player with its import slot open. Faker knows he can win with Impact, so he'll at least have one former friend he can rely on in his new region. Steve knows Faker will cost a boatload to get from South Korea, but he also knows Faker and Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng are a license to print money anywhere on Earth.
Why TL Faker shouldn't happen
Don't do it, Faker. It's a trap. Sure, the smoothie bar and lesser competition sound nice, but this is not where you want to take the next step in your career. Teams with Doublelift have failed to make it out of the group stages the past four years. Do you think the team will stop playing around Doublelift and the bottom lane just because you're there?
The tug of war between Doublelift and Faker on the team could end up messy. We've seen Faker play second to an AD carry before in his career, but will he really do that in North America, where he knows he's the most talented player in the league? On top of that, the language barrier is going to be difficult with everyone outside of Impact and Kim "Olleh" Joo-sung. Would the team just converse in Korean when it comes down to important moments in the game?
On paper, the idea looks great. In practice? Probably not so much, especially if Faker wants to win a world championship next year. If Faker signs with TL, I think it would take at least a year for him to adjust before he'd have a chance to win the Summoner's Cup again.
Why 100 Faker should happen
Picture this: Faker, standing on stage decked out in the freshest clothes, singing alongside Drake in matching 100 Thieves merchandise. Isn't it beautiful?
OK, 100 Thieves might not make a lot of sense if Faker is gunning for a world championship straight away, but don't laugh at the idea. 100 Thieves is growing faster than any other esports franchise right now, and with Drake on board helping the merchandise and pushing the brand, what other team could help Faker reach the mainstream conscious by next year?
Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho is a strong player, and 100T already made it to worlds during their rookie year. Faker in the mid lane alongside Ssumday in the top lane should be an automatic pass to worlds for the next five years, and in two years, Ssumday will be a resident, so then the tandem can go out and buy whatever South Korean superstar is making waves.
Yoo "Ryu" Sang-wook might not be happy about this transaction, though.
Why 100 Faker shouldn't happen
If Faker wants to be a clothes model and hang out with Drake, he should just retire. If he wants to actually contend for a world championship in 2019 or beyond, 100 Thieves Faker is nonsense. What's next? Coast Gaming Faker? MeetYourMakers Faker?
In a world in which the Thieves sign Faker, they'd probably bench him out of the blue at worlds for a random Challenger mid laner. I'm finished thinking about Drake and Faker. Never again. Let's move on.
-- Tyler Erzberger
Why EDG Faker should happen
Back in early 2016, mid lane trainee Lee "Scout" Ye-chan left SK Telecom T1 to escape Faker's shadow and start regularly on a professional team. He found a new home on Edward Gaming, starting for Heo "PawN" Won-seok when PawN was plagued by a back injury. Scout's time on EDG has had many highs and lows, depending on the day. Although it would be unfortunate for Faker to follow Scout to China and take his place after Scout has proven himself as a strong mid in his own right, there's no way Scout can bring the same dimension to the team that Faker did. And EDG need something to change. They're not a bad team by any means, and they performed better than many expected at the recent world championship. Yet EDG have struggled to have any semblance of a competent mid game, frequently giving away their impressive early-game advantages in poor trades, mistimed backs or odd lane assignments. EDG has been all about the bot lane for years now. Faker's presence would immediately change that.
Why EDG Faker shouldn't happen
But would that change be for the better?
If this had been a year ago, there would be a much better case to replace Scout for his inconsistency. This year, especially after his summer performance, that case becomes a lot weaker. Scout can't do everything that Faker can do, but he has proven to be the mid laner EDG has needed, and he was a large part in getting them to the world championship at all in this year's Chinese regional qualifier. Through the years, Faker's teams, especially when he had Bae "Bengi" Seung-woong in the jungle, have had their own foibles, and while EDG does over-prioritize the bot side of the map, there's no guarantee that Faker's way would be better for the team, despite his ability to adjust and adapt to the meta individually.
Why KT Rolster Faker should happen
As an ardent and frequently harsh KT Rolster fan, I can't say that I haven't imagined Faker somehow finding his way to KT, even if the thought just doesn't feel right. Faker has spent the entirety of his career on KT's largest telecom rival both in and out of esports, so imagining Faker in a KT jersey is awkward to say the least. Like Go "Score" Dong-bin for KT, Faker has been a company man for SKT first and foremost, and the team has, from most accounts, rewarded him handsomely for it, especially after salaries increased after the 2015 season.
If Score has yet another year in the tank, his presence could be a difference-maker in whether Faker would go to KT at all, even though he would likely have to take a pay cut to do so. Score's leadership, experience and shot-calling were all deciding factors in players such as Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho and Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong coming to the team in 2017. Despite a finals loss at the 2018 Asian Games, the mid/jungle duo of Faker and Score immediately looked strong, especially when compared to Faker's 2018 SKT jungle partners.
Why KT Rolster Faker shouldn't happen
Besides the sheer awkwardness of seeing Faker under the KT banner, the idea of Faker and Score could easily be better than the actuality of Faker and Score. At this point, both players are fairly constant in style, and while they initially would likely bend to meet each other in the middle, with time, one of their voices would take priority over the other. There's also Son "Ucal" Woo-hyeon, who turned out to be just the mid laner KT needed when PawN was injured (yeah, there are a lot of similarities between KT and EDG). Ucal has stepped up and improved significantly from his debut performance. While Faker is still a better player, Ucal's ceiling is unknown, and with his improvement throughout the year, there's no reason for KT to spend a significant amount of their budget to acquire Faker if they can hang on to Ucal and continue to develop his talent.
Astralis (or other new European franchise)
Why Astralis Faker should happen
Astralis is hardly a brand-new organization in esports. They have had success in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive since they were formed from the talented former Team SoloMid roster in 2016. With reports that they're to join the European League of Legends Championship Series as a new franchise, Astralis, like many other organizations, will be looking to make a splash both on the Rift and in marketing the brand to the LoL audience. This goes for any organization entering the EU LCS, in which brand presentation has generally been underwhelming outside of the few exceptions of G2 Esports, Unicorns of Love and Fnatic. Faker is League of Legends personified. He brings myriad marketing opportunities and is also the best player to have ever touched the game.
Why Astralis Faker shouldn't happen
As previously mentioned, it's difficult to see Astralis in particular -- this changes a bit if you're using their name as a placeholder for another large organization coming into EU LCS' first foray into the North American franchising setup -- picking up Faker. If there's one thing that the recent world championship has made apparent, it's that there's at least a small handful of top-tier talent available in every region.
Europe has never thought of itself as a region that lacked talent to begin with, and Denmark in particular has consistently supplied the EU LCS with strong performers, including G2 Esports' Martin "Wunder" Hansen and Fnatic's jungle/mid duo of Mads "Broxah" Brock-Pedersen and Rasmus "Caps" Winther. One of the main reasons to bring Faker onboard is not only his in-game prowess but also his worldwide popularity. Astralis could easily make a similar marketing move by sticking with a roster of talented native Danish players and developing them under the Astralis brand. As a player-driven brand, this would fit Astralis' marketing better.
-- Emily Rand