In the illustrious career of Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, he's only been eliminated from a major tournament and/or qualifier six times in his two-year career. He's been a part of three domestic Korean championship teams with the SK Telecom T1 organization.
Internationally, he's been practically untouched, winning the 2013 World Championship in the United States and sweeping the All Stars event in Paris, France last year, beating Chinese champions OMG in the final. The start of Faker's career has been one of the best in competitive gaming history — he's seen as the consensus best player to ever play the game.
Out of those six eliminations, four of those harsh, heartbreaking defeats have come by the hands of one man: EDward Gaming's Heo "PawN" Won-seok. Faker has made a career of embarrassing the very best mid-laners in Korea and around the world, but PawN is the one man that has stifled him constantly throughout his career. A soft-spoken, competitive 18-year-old — he's seven months older than Faker — PawN is the only other Korean mid-laner to have the honor of winning the Summoner's Cup.
With a career record of 12-6 in Pawn's favor, EDG's mid-laner has been the one rival that Faker hasn't been able to beat. The two other mid-laners to eliminate Faker from a tournament, Dade (LCK Spring '13) and Ggoong (KR Worlds Qualifier '14), have gotten their comeuppance: Faker being able to come back and get a win back against the player that knocked him out of a competition. That has never happened with PawN, as the former Samsung player has won the last six meetings against Faker before moving to China in the 2015 preseason.
Not playing in the group stages as Easyhoon subbed in for Faker and beat PawN in a one-sided affair, the two teams once again meet in the finals. As the two favorites heading into the tournament, this will be Faker's last chance to see PawN in a competition until a possible clash between the two teams once more during the 2015 World Championships in Europe. If the player known as "God" by his peers and fans cannot take down his kryptonite in the Mid-Season Invitational Grand Finals, the next five months will be a constant reminder in the back of Faker's head:
You might be called the best player in the world, but PawN owns you.
Emergence of the Little General
PawN's debut in the professional scene came during Faker's sophomore season in the summer of 2013. Faker was already on his way to becoming the best player in the world, having led his rookie SK Telecom T1 #2 team to the semifinals the previous season before being upset by the eventual winners MVP Ozone.
On the opposite side, PawN, under the ID "Wonseok," was a relative unknown. He was a part of MiG Blitz, a team backed by Woong, the former AD Carry of 2012 Worlds runners-up Azubu Frost. The former player had an eye for talent and a monetary backing from his parents to create his own professional teams, PawN being the center of one of his two newly formed MiG teams. At the beginning of his career, he was seen as a mostly two-trick pony: he was excellent at playing Ezreal in the mid lane, and he was famed in solo queue for constantly spamming his assassin Fizz.
While Faker would go on to win that Champions Summer season by beating the KT Bullets in a climactic 3-2 comeback victory, MiG Blitz didn't even make it out of the group stages. They were able to beat Incredible Miracle with PawN playing his signature Ezreal and Fizz in those two games, but they were outmatched against the veteran presence of the KT Bullets and CJ Entus Frost.
PawN showed promise in the games he won, a diamond in the rough on a semi-professional squad, and that led to him moving to the Samsung organization during the break in domestic play while the top teams around the globe were playing at the World Championships. Faker won that title, raising the Summoner's Cup in Los Angeles and PawN was at home, watching, signing a contract to join the revamped Samsung Blue team for the Winter 2013-14 season.
The meeting between the two players would not be in Champions, but during the WCG Korean qualifiers which saw PawN's Samsung Blue score an upset in the first round against their bigger brother Samsung White. SK Telecom T1 came into the series as the undisputed best team in the world and possibly the greatest team of five to ever play the game.
Under his new ID that he'd become synonymous with, PawN locked in Nidalee against Faker's most played champion, Orianna, in the first game of their semifinal series. What happened in that game would set the tone for their future meetings: the expressionless PawN killing Faker not once, not twice, but three times in the first 10 minutes, putting the game out of reach against the reigning world champions before it even left the laning phase.
PawN's first game against SK Telecom is uncannily similar to Faker's debut in the professional scene against CJ Entus Blaze a few months earlier. In that game, Faker was the newcomer in the world of professionals, playing against Blaze's Ambition, the all-star mid-laner from Korea who was seen as the best at his position in the region.
Faker picked Nidalee as PawN did in that game, and he also grabbed an early kill in the middle lane, showing the unbridled aggression he would become notorious for. And similarly to PawN and Faker, Faker would go on to cause havoc and terrorize Ambition whenever they played after that initial game.
Samsung Blue took the WCG Korea semifinal 2-0, eliminating Faker for the second time in his career from a major tournament. PawN was the star of the series, constantly pressing the issue against the Worlds MVP and never letting Faker breathe in lane. PawN and Blue wouldn't go on to represent Korea at the World Cyber Games, ironically losing to Ambition's retooled CJ Entus Blaze in the qualifier finals, but the opening statement to the rivalry between Pawn and Faker had been explicitly stated: this PawN kid was good, and Faker, along with SKT T1, better watch their backs.
As luck would have it, the two teams would meet up in the quarterfinals during the very next season of Champions. Samsung Blue continued their up-and-coming play in their inaugural season with PawN as their mid-laner, making the knockout round for the first time in the team's history. They were paired up with Faker's SKT T1 in the first round, a return match between the best player in the world and the young kid who knocked him out of the qualifiers.
The match occurred on Christmas in Korea with the hype at an all-time high for a first round match in the playoffs. With the Christmas festivities, the ever-popular champions SKT T1, and the upstart Blues with a sophomore season player who killed Faker one-on-one, it was a series to see if the first match was a fluke or if PawN was for real.
This time around, though, Faker would not be denied, figuratively patting PawN on the head as his junior in the best-of-five series by winning all three games to continue SKT's flawless season. Blue were lauded for their inherent talents, PawN not seen as the same level as Faker, and the world's best player going on to complete a perfect season in Champions without losing a single in his march towards the title.
The Pawn Captures the King
The next chapter in the two players' history would come with PawN on a new team. Following SK Telecom T1's perfect season where Faker and his squad demolished both Samsung teams, Blue in the quarterfinals and White in the Grand Finals, the Samsung organization decided on a radical change to the lineups.
Blue, missing a strong voice that could rally the troops, brought in Ozone's Dade. His addition to the team was to give the good-but-not-great Blues an identity and a true ace that could carry the team through team fights. PawN was good and improving quickly, but he was more of a secondary carry, enjoying a lot more zoning and poking champions compared to Dade's in-your-face heroes.
PawN to Samsung White (at the time Samsung Ozone) was seen as an upgrade for the 17-year-old entering his third full season as a pro. A more passive player compared to Dade — well, at least when he wasn't against Faker — PawN gave White a chance to play safer in the laning phase, allowing Imp and Dandy to have a more forefront carrying the team. The new White team tore through the group stages, not dropping a single map in their three best-of-two series, beating Incredible Miracle, Midas FIO, and CJ Entus Frost.
The luck of the draw created another rematch between PawN and Faker in the quarterfinals for the second straight season. This was the counterattack to Faker beating Blue on Christmas the season before, White winning the series in four games. PawN inserted the feeling of deja vu inside Faker, pulling out the Nidalee that killed him three times in the first 10 minutes during their first meeting. The half cat/half lady champion was the right call for PawN, beating Faker out in two games, and then capping off the series in only four maps with a Yasuo performance in the climactic battle. For the second time in his career, Faker was knocked out of a tournament by PawN.
The narrative for the next two seasons would surround Faker, PawN, and Dade. PawN repeated what he did the season before to Faker in Champions Summer 2014, winning another 3-1 match and making it into the semifinals for the second time.
Thing was, while PawN could beat Faker, he couldn't surpass the player he replaced on Samsung White, Dade, who beat PawN in the semifinals of the Spring and Summer season. And Faker, who couldn't figure out PawN and continued to die to him in the laning phase, was the reason why Dade and PawN switched in the first place — he destroyed Dade in the '13-14 Winter Grand Finals that changed the future of Samsung forever.
By the end of the Summer season, PawN had knocked Faker out of two more tournaments: the Summer season of Champions, and the LoL Masters league which paired organizations' teams together to see which system was truly the best. While the elimination of Faker in the Grand Finals of that tournament was a team effort, PawN was the player to beat Faker in the final game of that series, finishing off Faker with a 10/5/19 performance on Twisted Fate. Four times in a year, Faker's junior eliminated him from a major competition: PawN was the only mid-laner to do so in that time.
Their final series against each other would come in the Korean qualifiers for the 2014 World Championships. SK Telecom T1 and Samsung White had tied in second when it came to circuit points in Champions, with Dade's Samsung Blue surprising everyone by taking the first spot. As per the rules of Korea's system, the second seeded team would have an auto-berth into Worlds, and the third place team would have to win a final best-of-five in a gauntlet-like competition.
White and T1 faced off to see which team would get the direct seed to Worlds, and which team would have to go onto face one more team in another series to see if they could make it the biggest tournament of the year. As their previous meetings forecasted, PawN had little trouble with a struggling Faker and stagnant T1 in their third best-of-five of the year against each other.
With Nidalee no longer in the meta as a contested pick, it was Jayce who would send a message to Faker this time around. With a blank face, the Samsung mid-laner crushed Faker in the series, solo killing him with Jayce and sending the reigning world champion to the worst defeat of his career.
While it was PawN's fourth decisive victory over Faker on the year, it didn't technically eliminate him from the tournament. SK Telecom T1 fell into the gauntlet tournament, placed in the finals against NaJin White Shield, and Samsung White punched their ticket to Worlds alongside Blue with the embarrassing blowout of SKT T1 in the tiebreaker.
Faker's season came to an end against White Shield in their next series, failing to make Worlds for a second in a row with a demoralizing 1-3 loss to NaJin. That was the sixth exit of Faker's career from a tournament, this time at the hands of Ggoong, but with a hefty helping hand from Faker's unforgiving tormentor.
|Pawn's game history vs. Faker|
The God (and the Easyhoon) vs. The General
It's been ten months since PawN beat Faker in that Worlds qualifier tiebreaker, the former leaving Korea after winning the World Championship in 2014 to join China's EDward Gaming. Faker stayed in Korea, sticking with the only franchise he's ever known, rebuilding a new SK Telecom T1 that was a fusion between his old SK Telecom T1 team and their sister team, SK Telecom T1 S. The two players would lead their new teams to titles in their respective regions, and then coming to the Mid-Season Invitational where the two teams have battled through adversity to make the finals.
"The General" was actually at first a nickname of PawN's former organization teammate Dade. The title came from Dade's restoration of the Samsung Blue team, joining the squad and leading them to a Champions Grand Final in their first season with him in the middle. His boisterous personality and shot calling gave Blue the identity they sorely lacked, leading his troops to victory after victory, all the while wearing an over-sized winter coat that he even wore in the summer.
Dubbed the general's jacket for becoming something Dade was never seen not wearing, it was passed down to PawN during the 2014 World Championships. After failing to beat Dade during the domestic league circuit, PawN was finally able to overcome his big brother of sorts in the semifinals of Worlds.
Subsequently, after White's 3-0 steamrolling of Dade and Blue, Dade walked over to PawN, embraced him, and took off his truly general jacket, and gave it to his junior to wear during the Grand Finals against StarHorn Royal Club.
Although praised as the "God Slayer" for beating Faker countless times in lanes, PawN is not the assertive carry that he's sometimes painted as. He can carry on champions like Kassadin and Fizz, but his greatest power comes in the form of long-range, poking and zoning champions. His Jayce, Orianna, Nidalee, Twisted Fate, and even more recently his Azir have been his calling cards, his steady play in the center of the map giving the rest of his talented team the ability to carry. When he plays more of a passive poking or zoning role, it allows Koro1 or Clearlove to join Deft as the primary carries on the team, and PawN can enjoy the spoils of war from the back lines.
When Faker plays PawN, it almost feels like Faker is forcing the issue too much. Since those three iconic kills in 10 minutes during their first meeting, it's been an uphill battle for Faker. He was able to beat him on Christmas in a sweep when PawN was still on Samsung Blue, but he's not been able to do anything since, only winning a single map here or there against the EDG mid-laner.
Faker has accomplished pretty much everything a player would dream of in their professional career already: MVP awards, a world title, countless domestic crowns, and the title of the best player in the world.
Dade, Ryu, Ggoong, Nagne, Ambition, CoCo, Cool, Kur0, and even his teammate Easyhoon — he's bested them all.
Then there's PawN. A player who has eliminated him four times in his career, sending Faker out of a tournament and back to the team house with only thoughts of defeat in his mind. Faker doesn't like to lose, and PawN has been the one player that has repeatedly defied him the chance to get his revenge at every turn.
"I feel Easyhoon is the better mid-laner," said PawN to theScore's Kelsey Moser in an interview following EDG's one-sided win against Taiwan's AHQ in the semifinals.
"The reason that I could beat [Faker] one-on-one was that I simply did better than he did. The reason my team won against his was that our team had better teamwork."
The simmering storyline in all of this anticipation to Faker's 10 month wait to exact revenge on his nemesis PawN is that there is Easyhoon, SKT's secondary mid-laner. Easyhoon was the player that played against PawN in the group stages, doing something Faker couldn't do in the his last six attempts against EDG's mid: beat him and destroy his Nexus. While everyone is expecting to Faker to step up and beat PawN in the ultimate battle between the perceived best mid-laners in the world, there still exists a chance that Easyhoon is the player SKT choose to start tomorrow against PawN.
Easyhoon doesn't force the issue or try to make things like Faker has been known to do when he plays PawN. He, like PawN, enjoys his zoning mages and can play any role from ace to supportive-mid depending on what his team's composition sets him up to play. Instead of going at PawN and wanting to rip out his jugular, Easyhoon is calm, relaxed in lane, and doesn't overextend. The first game between the two in the group stages ended with Easyhoon not dying once on Vladimir, going 5/0/5 compared to PawN's inadequate 0/2/0 on Lulu with 60 less CS than the SKT mid-laner.
Faker wants this fight. Obsessed with victory and being the best, PawN is the one red mark on his long list of accomplishments. A victory against PawN in a major international would relieve the pressure that has been on his shoulders for over a year now, having to endure five nights where PawN left Faker's lifeless body on the ground, the then-Samsung player raising his arm in the air over the former world champion.
For Faker, this match isn't only a battle to see which Korean world champion mid-laner is the best. It also isn't simply a match to see which of EDG or SKT have the best chance of winning Worlds at the end of the year. This isn't about money for Faker. This isn't about a shiny trophy. This isn't even about proving he's the best in the world.
If Faker plays Pawn in the MSI Grand Finals, this match is about Faker teaching his junior one thing and one thing only: you might be able to make God bleed, but you'll be the one looking up at him when it's all said and done.
|Faker's game history vs. Pawn|
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports. If Faker and PawN don't at least play one game in the MSI Grand Finals, please forget you read this so we can reissue this article during Worlds. Thank you!