It's not easy transitioning into an entirely new culture for your career. You need to adapt to everything foreign around you — food, transportation, and having to understand an entirely new language. It's even harder when your job forces you to succeed at communicating and getting along with people who've already been working together before you came.
Kim "FeniX" Jae-hun came to North America under the radar, his signing with the recently rebranded Team Liquid glanced over with the announcement that former world champion Piglet was joining the squad as starting AD carry. Compared to Piglet's past records, FeniX was merely an add-on to the importing of one of Korea's most legendary and known players.
FeniX, known under the ID "Miso" in Korea, was a raw prospect during Piglet's reign as one of the best players in the world. He started out as a practice partner on CJ Entus as a top laner, practicing and getting to test his mettle against Flame from Blaze and Shy from Frost. His work ethic brought him to getting signed by the Jin Air organization, transferring to the Jin Air Falcons squad where he would play his first games as a professional.
His career on Falcons was a turbulent one, the team lacking in talent and coordination matched up against the best team in Korea's Champions. FeniX showed raw potential at the top position, doing well in the few occasions that his team actually won games, but not enough to standout against the deep field of opponents. In 51 professional games for the Falcons, his overall record was a dismal 17-34, dying 45 times more than he had kills and only participating in a meager 57% of his team's overall kills.
Following his exit from the nosediving Falcons in the middle of 2014, FeniX lingered around Korean solo queue for the next few months before finally deciding to set his sights in a foreign region. His move to North America, as mentioned, was essentially overlooked with Piglet coming in behind him.
There were rumors of the former Falcons top laner playing in NA solo queue and terrorizing in scrims, but when he was finally announced as Liquid's starting mid laner, the reactions were more facing towards the new Liquid organization and anticipating Piglet's debut in LCS.
While Piglet's struggles were a leading narrative of last season's NA LCS (with the former world champ even getting benched at one time) FeniX equally had a tough time adjusting to a new region. Personality-wise and getting along with the group it was easier for FeniX, his outgoing nature working well to create bonds in new surroundings; the real problems came with his in-game meshing with the team. He wasn't awful or a standout to get benched due to lack of performance, but he was just...there at times.
FeniX ended the regular season 66/58/101, an average scoreline like most of his team that struggled pre-playoffs. Piglet worked through his issues of acclimating to a new region, and Liquid qualified for the post-season on the last possible day, beating Team 8 in a tiebreaker. Piglet's inclusion on the team helped FeniX start to branch out, having his first few standout games as a Liquid member during the playoffs where he ended with a record of 5-3 and a KDA of 5.9 compared to his 2.9 ratio at the end of the regular season.
The transformation for FeniX has continued into the summer months, progressing from being an afterthought in games to becoming a main focal point in Liquid's rise up the rankings. One of the biggest changes in his gameplay is the solidification of his early-game. Last season he was having trouble with falling behind in gold during the first 10 minutes of game. This split it's been an entirely different story, with FeniX continually beating his peers in lane and holding an average of 8 CS over his opponent by that same 10 minute mark.
Unlike Bjergsen who is the be-all and end-all for TSM's success depending on how well he carries, FeniX plays a different game. He's more of a patient player, enjoying his time on champions where he can poke from the back and harass, waiting for the split second where he can see an opening to attack.
This is why his Azir play this season has become one of the signature player-champion combinations in the league; Fenix upped his overall record on the Emperor of Shurima to 4-0 after their win over Team SoloMid on Sunday.
FeniX's self-preservation with Azir is what makes him one of the most dangerous players in NA. He's only died four times in his four games on him, with his self-restraint and calm movements with the champion allowing him to get out of situations that look like they're certain death. Instead of trying to be the main engage tool or going for a low target with a quick dash in, FeniX likes to wait for the perfect opportunity to pull the trigger and unleash his cooldowns.
This is even true when it looks like a fight is going in their opponents' favor, like today against TSM; with seemingly a flick of the wrist, TL's Emperor of the Sands turned the brawl around to divide the lunging TSM members and conquer them to another victory in the standings.
On a triple threat team of carries, FeniX is the quietest. Piglet and Quas are aggressive, will make huge, flashy outplays on their individual accord and end games through their late-game power. For FeniX, even his biggest play of the season, the four-on-one tower dive versus Counter Logic Gaming, wasn't from his own doing. They came to him; FeniX patiently and wisely threw up his turret, outplayed the aggression coming towards him, murdered them all, and then went back on his merry way to help his team.
FeniX doesn't need to be the face of the team or the player that everyone raves about. He does his job to the best of his abilities, farms the entire map, and then deals a majority of his team's damage through massive poke from champions like Azir or Twisted Fate. He jabs at you with a thousand paper cuts until you're forced into a fight, where he'll step back, watch Piglet and Quas go in for blood, and ultimately sweep everything up with a final engage to put himself into the fray.
At 10-4, Liquid have already surpassed last season's average win total and are in a position with two weeks left to secure an all important bye in the postseason. TL, with their third place finish last campaign, accrued enough circuit points to put them into a strong spot of either grabbing one of the two direct Worlds spots for NA or at the top of the last-chance gauntlet where they'll only need one Bo5 win.
Worlds was never a possibility for FeniX back on Korea with the lowly Jin Air Falcons. Now, two years later, his patience might finally pay off with a trip to the biggest LoL tournament in the world alongside a team he's made a family.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions.