When you first download League of Legends, you picture yourself as the hero, the carry. You know that you might not be the best or have the mechanical skills to be the best player in the world or a professional, but you still want to be the main factor in your team's victory in whatever skill level you're in. Be it as a support, jungler, or any position in the game — you want to be the main character.
Bengi has never been the main character in his career as a professional League of Legends player. Even in his early days as an amateur player in 2012 on the team 'BBT' in the secondary Korean league, NLB, there was a little unknown support player on his team called Mata that would go on and sign with the MVP organization a few short months later. His days in the second league were short, only playing six games alongside Mata and going 2-4 in the process, their most notable result being a loss to MVP Blue.
It was announced before the Champions Spring tournament in 2013 that SK Telecom T1, the most well-established eSport organization in Korea, would be creating a secondary team to compliment their current squad headed by Reapeared. The team was built around the most hyped up solo queue rookie in League of Legends history, Faker, a seventeen-year-old boy who skyrocketed up the ranks online against the most established professionals on the scene. Along with Faker, there was also Piglet, an outspoken AD carry who tried out for CJ Entus, and other notable names in either the amateur or pro scene.
Then there was Bengi. This isn't to say he was a throwaway character in the behemoth SKT was creating, but the team, even before it played its first match, had their own designated stars. This was Faker's team through and through; a prodigy at the game, the team around him coached by former professional player Kkoma, was SKT's blueprint in creating a new crown jewel in the organization and their best chance at taking over League of Legends in Korea.
The blueprint, for all intents and purposes, worked to perfection. SKT Telecom T1 #2 (then later K) led by Faker took the Korean scene by storm, taking out top contenders left and right in their initial season and only being taken out in the semifinals by MVP Ozone, the team that Mata went to from BBT as Bengi went to SKT. While their exit in the team's rookie campaign could have been better, the team, and definitely Faker, solidified itself as the real deal for seasons to come.
During the time SKT was atop of the Korean hierarchy, three junglers stood above all others when it came to statistics and winning: Bengi, KT's KaKAO, and MVP's Dandy. Whilst the latter two of the three were more known for their dynamic outplays in the jungle, strong counter-jungle tactics, and ability to carry games on their back through their mechanical expertise, Bengi was a vastly different player.
Paired with Faker, the best player in the world, Bengi was, and still is, his right-hand man. His sidekick. His shield. In 2013, the game was dedicated to getting your star player ahead in the early game to carry, and Bengi was always there for Faker. Oh, Faker is getting camped? Well look right there, Bengi's flying in with a Jarvan flag to counterattack and hold down two champions, getting two early kills. With those two kills — and even sometimes double buffs from the jungler — Faker was able to make victory unattainable for the opposing team.
If you look at Bengi's stats, Lee Sin, possibly the most mechanically intensive jungler, is his most played champion at 45 games. Even his win-rate isn't bad, 64% in his career on the Blind Monk with a solid 4 KDA ratio. Stats alone, you'd think Bengi is just as good with bruiser champions with precise skill-shots as he is with lumbering tanks and utility champions, but you need to look behind what's on paper and understand how Bengi plays.
During his peak playing Lee Sin, Bengi played the champion different than any of the opposing elite junglers in Korea. His job, instead of getting ahead early or making highlight plays, was speed and vision. His first buy would usually be Mobility Boots, giving him the added boost in his legs to use the map as his own personal jungle gym. He would make it across the map with his ward hopping and movement speed, littering the map with eyes so that his team was protected, and he knew how aggressive they could play in lane.
Impact, Piglet and Faker, together, were three strong presences in lane. As long as they knew when ganks were coming and could see, hear and feel what what was coming from Bengi's legwork, they could play comfortably in lane and usually head into the mid-game with a sizeable advantage through their stellar play in the first ten minutes. When his zipping across the map was done and he was stocked with wards from his Ruby Sightstone, it was back to the middle lane where he would watch over Faker and make sure the Prince of SK Telecom T1 was taken care of.
With the shifting metas and how teams played the game in 2014 and now in 2015, Bengi started to lose his grip as a player. One player, even Faker, couldn't carry a team on his back alone and there were more instances where the carry junglers would bully around Bengi. The last half of 2014 was the worst for Bengi, watching as Faker, try as he might, just couldn't will his team to victory. Players like KaKAO, Dandy, and Spirit were now the cream of the crop in Korea. Instead of waiting and observing for something or someone to react to, those three players were making other teams react to their plays.
The new year looked to be a new start to Bengi's career. For one, the three top players at his position — KaKAO, Dandy, and Spirit — all left to the greener money pastures of China, leaving Korea in this weird place where the crown of best jungler was left wide open. Not even the top prospect that people looked at as the next big thing at the position, Swift from CJ Entus Frost, could stay away from the allure of China, heading off to join Qiao Gu in the Secondary Pro League. When all the moving and transactions were over with, Bengi was left with a misfit pack of starting junglers to compete with, some finally getting their chance to shine with the top players leaving and a few picked up from solo queue.
Bengi was better to start the year with his micro, doing well in the preseason and resembling an evolved version of himself from the 2013 season. Along with Faker still in the middle lane, the duo looked like they were back on track to contend for their third title together in Champions Korea. This dream didn't last too long, the harsh reality of Bengi's limitations catching up with him in the regular season, GE Tigers' Lee showed him what a true mechanically skilled jungler could do to him. As hard as Bengi tried to be a KaKAO or a Lee, there was still a ceiling that he didn't have the necessary skills to breakthrough.
The introduction of the Cinderhulk enchantment into the game gave him a second chance at life. The meta moved away from those aggressive carry-oriented champions and moved over to meat shields, needing less micro prowess and awarding more smart play when it came to engaging. Bengi might never be able to pull off highlight reel plays with Lee Sin or win games single handily, but that's not his strength. Compared to T0M, SKT's new rookie jungler, Bengi can't compare when it comes to pressure or executing combos, yet that's not what SKT needed last night in their semifinal win against CJ Entus.
For all his faults when you try to bring up players like Dandy or Spirit, there is still one reason why Bengi can stand beside the next generation of junglers in Korea: his mind. At his core, Bengi is an extremely intelligent and thought-provoking player. When working together with Faker, a player that combines Bengi's smarts and the added advantage of being able to outplay anyone in the world, they create a combination that know what to do together as a unit.
It's easy to wave off Bengi and say that Faker could be great with any jungler in the world, but the chemistry the two of them share is something that T0M and Faker can't come up with over night. Bengi's been there since Faker's debut as a professional against CJ Entus Blaze, and they've teamed up to win two Champions Korea titles and a world championship in the 2013 season. While CJ Entus laughed at the idea of Bengi last night and saw him nothing more than a lingering memory of a time already gone and buried, he proved that his way of playing and understanding the map is timeless.
With T0M, yes, he's an amazing prospect. He presents skills and a way of playing, that when done correctly, gives SKT weapons they've never had when playing with Bengi. T0M is a weird, constantly agressing-type of play that never lets the other team take a breath. Bengi likes to wait, think carefully, and plan each move before committing, while T0M will bull rush in and get attention on him instead of his teammates.
Bengi is never going to be a main character. He will never be KaKAO. He most likely, one day, will be passed by T0M and lose his starting job to him. If there are ever movies made about Faker in the future and his impact on eSports, Bengi will be a side character, with new fans to the scene not knowing who he is and only reflecting on that he was apart of the team that the great Faker was on.
But that doesn't take away the accomplishments he's made. He may be forgotten with the times, but that time isn't now. Bengi's heading to Seoul next Saturday to try and help his long-time friend and teammate Faker secure their third Champions Korea title together. They don't make movies about the sidekicks to the main character, but without that sidekick, the secondary personality who does the little things, there is no hero to save the day.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports. He already has penciled in the 'T0M: The Sidekick to the Sidekick of God' article for 2016. You can follow him on Twitter.