BUSAN, South Korea - The roars of LPL fans were enough to shake the foundations of BEXCO Auditorium at the League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals on Oct. 20. From the seats of Invictus Gaming Gao "Ning" Zhen-Ning's hand triumphantly crashed into the hand of mid laner Song "Rookie" Eui-Jin. The youngest member of iG, Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo, looked around, mouth slightly agape in disbelief.. Kang "TheShy" Seung-lok, began walking to the other side of the stage to shake hands with the slouched, defeated players of KT Rolster.
An hour later, Rookie sat in the BEXCO interview room, his cheeks slightly flushed and a big grin on his face. A four-year veteran of iG, the jersey enveloped him like a second skin. "It's dreamlike," said Rookie. "It was a result that no one in our team expected. We were shocked. The fans were shocked.
"It's like a dream, surreal."
KT Rolster had so many factors going for them. They were a super team that came out of the group as the first seed, favorites to win the tournament, and had the prestige and fanbase of the LCK behind them. And iG, the second seed of LPL always haunted by underperformance in crucial matches, had beaten KT in the biggest international stage in five games.
This has been the most successful year in iG's history. Following a dominating performance at Rift Rivals, iG finished the LPL summer split regular season on an 18-1 match score and qualified for worlds. When Riot crowned Rookie as the second best player attending 2018 world championship, the international audience were re-introduced to "poor man's Faker" from KT four years ago.
"iG, compared to [KT], has never been able to show much. iG, as a team itself, has always felt incomplete. Even the iG fans thought KT will win today and the team agreed with them. I would have been satisfied even if we lost, if we had just gave unregretful performance on the day and put up a good fight. However, we've won and that actually feels terrifying."
Rookie continued to bring up the words "terrifying" and "dreamlike." His international and domestic success has been lackluster, only now make his second worlds appearance.
"For me, Faker is like... a mountain. That makes me feel lost on how to overcome it." Rookie
He debuted in 2014 for LCK's KT Rolster Arrows. The seventeen-year old drew comparison with Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok with his mechanics and aggressive playstyle, earning the aforementioned nickname poor man's Faker (later when Rookie was having great results, casters would sometimes jokingly call Faker a poor man's Rookie). In the 2014-2015 offseason, Rookie moved to iG in China with his fellow jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon. For the following three years, Faker continued his ascension to legendhood as SK Telecom T1 won two more world championships. Meanwhile, Rookie remained in a struggling iG as the team's only consistent performer.
If you are a professional mid-laner you cannot help but be compared to Faker, Rookie admitted. "Even though he unfortunately did not make it into worlds this year, the incredible feat he has shown in stages have burnt such a strong impression into people's memory. Same for me. For me, Faker is like... a mountain. That makes me feel lost on how to overcome it."
Rookie's four patient years in iG was finally rewarded in 2018. At the beginning of 2017 iG rebuilt their roster, acquiring the hyper-carry top laner and Kang "TheShy" Seung-Lok. By 2018 JackeyLove, the AD carry prodigy, became of age for competitive matches, becoming the final piece to iG's playstyle of aggressive laners with pushing lanes.
But what will the ceiling be for iG and Rookie as they rewrite their own history? "iG always has been a team like a dice," Rookie said. Sometimes, we roll six, and sometimes zero ... that being said, I think iG is a team with infinite potential. We can soar to the sky, or fall endlessly. If we only reduce our inconsistency, we will become a complete team."
Rookie smiled. "There is no ceiling, maybe. We can reach the space."
Earlier that day Rookie said "Even when someone else comes and matches Faker's career, they will still say 'He is the second coming of Faker.' Even if another mid-laner reaches Faker's achievements, the name of Faker will still linger. He is a legend itself of the League of Legends scene."
iG will now face not their LPL rival RNG, but the underdogs of Europe who beat the Chinese powerhouse, G2. Rookie will soon hop on a bus alongside his iG teammates as they ride to play the semifinals in Gwangju Woman's University Gymnasium. The ride from Busan to Gwangju will be long, and Rookie may nod off to sleep in the leather seat of the express bus. Perhaps he will continue to dream.
The boy with a humble smile continues his five-year long walk in patient steps. Perhaps it is time for Rookie, who has lived in shadows of heroes for too many years, to finally become a legend of his own.