The bedrock and centerpiece of SKT's impenetrable empire is Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. Universally acknowledged as the best to have ever played the game, Faker not only inflicts his opponents with suffocative dread via sheer reputation, but he also reinforces and expands that terror every week.
It would be misleading to credit the mid laner for all of SKT's glory, of course. The telecommunications giant's recipe to success has always been scouting, filing and welding a thoroughly world-class squad and coaching staff into a well-oiled machine of destruction, yet public perception leans toward Faker when SKT is mentioned.
It has almost always been that way -- except in 2015, when SKT belonged to someone else.
2015 League of Legends World Championship MVP Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan is the only SKT player to ever have exceeded Faker's in-game presence over an entire year. After claiming everything there was to win from South Korea, he moved to China's LGD Gaming for the 2016 season in one of the biggest transfers of all time. Unfortunately, both he and his team failed to even remotely live up to expectations, ending up having to play to event stay on the pro side of things at the end of the 2016 summer split instead of competing for a world championship. Not many were surprised by the legend's quick return to Korea.
"I arrived feeling a lot of nervousness and fear," confessed Marin. "The prospect of facing against so many great players [was daunting]. Recently, though, I've been starting to have fun and enjoy myself again."
Reflecting upon his rather short stint in the LPL, Marin, offered, "I very much enjoyed my year in China. It definitely was a learning experience for me."
Still, glancing at the past, Marin's tone momentarily turned heavyhearted.
"Our results over the year were disappointing. Looking back, I should have communicated with the Chinese players more, and we all should have worked on our coordination."
Despite the troubles, his time abroad, Marin said, was still a positive one.
"I definitely am open to the idea of playing overseas again. I actually was considering staying in China for another year," he stressed. "But Afreeca Freecs's desire to sign me was extremely high."
It was clear that playing for a club that saw him as a necessity, not an option, was important to Marin, and Afreeca convinced the top laner that his services were needed first and foremost.
Speaking of Afreeca, Marin fully expects the squad to make it to the postseason this spring split.
"Our support [Park "Tusin" Jong-ik] had not been playing competitively for a year, and our AD carry [Ha "Kramer" Jong-hun] is also fairly new, so the duo ran into some problems in lane at the beginning of the season. They have steadily improved, however."
Did he think the laning phase was more important than the mid-to-late portion of the game?
Marin took some time to think about the question before responding that he felt drafting for the mid to late game was more important to him. He feels team compositions that synergize and excel past the laning phase can win the late game even if they are behind.
"If we can strengthen our laning phase while improving team communication and coordination, I think we will become as strong as the telecom teams. And I expect us to do just that in the near future," he said, smiling, cautious but optimistic.
Before departing, Marin revealed his approval of the epic faceoff against Faker in the opening video for the LCK 2017 Spring Split.
"I'm not too sure if there really is an [actual] storyline there, but I think the shot was really fun and cool," he approved, cracking a wide, sheepish grin.