Han “Peanut” Wang-ho stands awkwardly in his introduction photograph, the SK Telecom T1 logo slightly off-center on the wall behind him. His team varsity jacket is too big for his small frame, almost comically so as the seams fall off of his shoulders, landing on his upper arm, and the jacket cuffs extend well past his wrists. With a somewhat strained smile, Peanut clenches his fist — a not-so-subtle promise of future success. Above this photo of Peanut, a short message reads:
We would like to introduce the new jungler for SKT T1!
We signed a contract with Wang Ho 'Peanut' Han.
Let's welcome Peanut and please continue to cheer for SKT T1 in 2017! Thank you.”
The announcement is straightforward and precise, but awkward all the same. Peanut looks oddly uncomfortable and out-of-place. One of Korea’s most sought-after players this offseason, Peanut has unwittingly stepped into a position where the shoes he inherits will be impossible to fill.
For the first time since the formation of SK Telecom T1 #2 in February 2013, the three-time world champions will not field jungler Bae “bengi” Seong-woong on their roster. For the first time since he signed with SKT, a prodigy plucked from the solo queue ladder, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok will not have the veteran jungler to fall back on. For the first time in his professional career, lest he retire, bengi will suit up for a team not named SK Telecom T1.
For their first team, the veteran esports organization picked up Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu’s Eat, Sleep, Game — relying on Reapered’s experience on Maximum Impact Gaming/Azubu Blaze and the team’s then-recent success at IEM Season VII Cologne. Eat, Sleep, Game became SK Telecom T1 #1, and SKT hand-picked a combination of solo queue talent to go along with two more practiced players — top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong from Xenics Storm and support Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong-hyeon from GSG.
Alongside Faker and Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin, bengi was one of three solo queue players selected for SKT's second League of Legends squad. An aggressive ganker on the likes of Jarvan IV, Lee Sin, and Vi, on which he had a 100 percent win rate throughout 2013, bengi was immediately overshadowed by his two rookie counterparts. Piglet drew attention for his brash attitude — videos of him and PoohManDu duo queueing together revealed an arrogant but loveable kid — as well as his AD carry prowess. Before he was known as the legend that he is today, Faker was a king on the Korean solo queue ladder. Known as GoJeonPa, it took little time for the world to know him by his new name as Faker known solo-killed one of the best mids in Korea at the time, Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, in his first match with SKT T1 #2.
Faker comes off as a colder person — intelligent, calculated, and confident. Bengi is self-effacing and perpetually agreeable, lacking the self-assured nature that so many professional players seem to possess.
“I actually walked out during SKT T1 K’s open tryouts in 2013,” he told Inven's Ccomet and Roxxy in an interview translated by Young Jae "RallyJaffa" Jeon.. “All my friends that had applied with me were being disqualified one by one, and I didn’t want to play without them. But kkOma urged me to reconsider and asked me to return to the tryout. I did and was selected. How fortunate I was!”
It’s impossible to talk about bengi without talking about Faker. It’s equally impossible to talk about SKT’s continued success from 2013 to this most recent World Championship victory without talking about bengi. The two decorated players shaped SKT through the years, not to mention each other’s playstyles and preferences.
Bengi began as SKT T1 #2’s lane controller. His team relied on continuous and aggressively pushing to bulldoze opponents with their superior mechanics. Early SKT T1 #2 lacked the macro finesse or teamfighting prowess of other Korean teams but usually made up for it in snowballing their overwhelmingly strong lanes. Bengi was a large part of this, instantly in whichever lane SKT wanted to pressure and helping his team garner early, insurmountable leads, even if the team made mistakes in the mid-to-late game.
From their semifinal loss to MVP Ozone in Champions Spring 2013, SKT T1 #2 evolved and adapted. They could no longer solely rely on their lanes for map pressure. Bengi pivoted from ganking available lanes at the earliest opportunity to applying pressure through vision.
What was a slight shift in style during 2013 has now become his signature jungling pattern. As bengi has grown with SKT through the years, he honed and perfected this vision-focused style, born of facilitating his star teammates rather than standing out as a carry of the team himself. Behind the scenes, he mediated conflict as the larger egos on the team butted heads with each other. Through multiple iterations of SKT, bengi adhered to this style above all else — attempting to guide his teammates on and off the Rift.
Partnered with Faker on all of his SKT teams, bengi further rewarded the star mid laner’s aggression with a supportive vision net. Faker is a player who is known for his endless champion pool and ability to shift his style of play to suit the meta. By contrast, bengi has struggled mightily with the jungle's constant meta shifts. After finding his own way to support his teammates on SKT through vision in 2013, bengi had a tough time adjusting to the double jungle of 2014 and showed in successive seasons that he’s not nearly as adaptable as SKT’s leading man.
“Each patch wears me out bit by bit, the big ones more so. Junglers have to plan their pathings almost from scratch every time there’s any change to Monsters. It really is quite tiring,” Bengi told Inven. “I’m guessing this aversion to change also has to do with the fact I’m getting older.”
Similarly, SKT has often had trouble adapting without bengi. SKT acquired Kang “Blank” Sun-gu this past year as a carry-oriented jungler who could teamfight well and provide another source of damage. Blank spent the spring season under Faker’s tutelage. Faker controlled the mid lane like no other player, allowing Blank to farm freely. In teamfights, Faker provided crowd control and engage while Blank did the damage. After learning and improving throughout LCK Spring 2016, Blank had a career performance in the finals against then-ROX Tigers jungler Peanut. While Peanut was expected to take the finals by storm, Blank was the stronger jungler, on the stronger team that day. Blank appeared to have found his stride with the team only to fall horribly flat at the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational. SKT fans clamored for bengi.
Although bengi did not play at the 2016 MSI, he did start to split time with Blank throughout LCK Summer 2016. Blank slowly molded himself more in bengi’s image for the team, but lacked the veteran jungler’s experience and natural pathing instincts. At times, SKT still struggled — Faker in particular was punished for his over-aggressive nature — and calls for bengi to start consistently over Blank continued.
These cries are born from bengi’s seemingly unflappable attitude in high-pressure matches. Whenever SKT faltered, bengi has been there to lift them up, providing the comfortable and known jungle style that the team could always depend upon. When SKT was down two games, on the brink of playoff elimination against CJ Entus in Spring 2015, it was bengi’s Rek’Sai that quietly guided the team, coming in to replace Im “T0M” Jae-hyeon from Game 3 onward in what would turn out to be a reverse-sweep. When the meta shifted back to strong, standard lanes prior to the 2016 World Championship, bengi was there, splitting time with the much-maligned Blank before helping lead SKT to victory against the ROX Tigers in the semifinals and Samsung Galaxy in the finals.
Despite whatever difficulties bengi had adjusting to a new meta, he always seemed to find his balance and shrug off outside pressure in important matches.
“Oh, and I’m particularly strong in big games!” he recently told Inven with a laugh when discussing his selling points to potential employers.
Bengi lacks the confidence that appears to come as part and parcel with being a LoL professional, but has displayed his own inner desire to win. Regardless of the fact that his role in many victories is near-invisible. “I’m not that good at setting goals, given my personality, but I still want to show people that I’m always trying my best,” he told Inven earlier this year. “I would like to express my gratitude to the fans who waited for me. I was always asked, ‘When are you coming back?’ When I streamed or met my friends, and that made me hungrier and hungrier to see some play time.”
SKT’s latest jungle addition is the complete opposite of bengi in nearly every way including his personality. Peanut is brash and sometimes a bit overconfident for his age — older members of the ROX Tigers like Kim “PraY” Jong-in and Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyeon helped to keep him in check. His jungle playstyle is aggressive and often reckless, without the same focus on creating a precise vision net for his lanes that SKT came to rely upon from bengi. Off the Rift, he will not be the calming, veteran presence that bengi was.
There’s no doubting Peanut’s incredible talent and in-game instinct. Now it’s up to SKT to nurture and develop that without relying on him to become another bengi when necessary. The recent pickup of similarly aggressive, reckless, and talented top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon suggests that SKT too, is ready to finally move forward.
On the front of the SKT Facebook page — above their recent roster announcements and an emotional farewell dinner to bengi — their banner reads, “SKT T1 LoL World Championship Champions!" All the way to the left of the image is bengi, leaning down in front so their coach Kim "kkOma" Jung-gyun can be seen. This was the last time that SKT hoisted the Summoner's Cup with bengi, currently pinned to the front of their social media page and immortalized in a photograph. Although the image will inevitably be replaced with another, bengi will never be forgotten for the dynasty he helped create.
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.