LOS ANGELES -- It would be difficult to find a player whose career had as many peaks and valleys as Clutch Gaming's Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin.
Six years ago, he was the best AD carry in the world, renowned for his mechanical ability and chemistry with wunderkind mid laner Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. The pair carried SK Telecom T1 to a world championship in their first year as professionals. A year after winning the Summoner's Cup, Piglet was out of South Korea following a slump. He found himself on Team Liquid in North America region, where he was still heralded as one of the best players in the world.
In interviews at the time, he said he still believed he was the best player at his position in the world.
During his stint on Liquid, the team faced a slew of roster changes and heartbreaking defeats in domestic semifinals. After a failed attempt to transition into the mid lane, Piglet was all but forgotten. He played in the academy league in 2018 for the majority of the year, and during a period where many of his peers that began playing in 2012 and 2013 started entering retirement, the end seemed to be near for the uber-confident carry.
Not even close.
"I still think I'm the best ADC [in the LCS] so far," Piglet said through a translator at the LCS Arena following Clutch Gaming's season-opening win against Echo Fox on Saturday. "The reason I think this way is because it motivates me a lot. I've also changed my playstyle this year. Before, I just kinda focused on the laning phase. But now, I think I play a lot more towards my team's style and whatever they need me to play."
Piglet's lived by the phrase "win lane, win game" throughout his career. His move to the mid lane only came to be when AD carries were at their absolute weakest and the position was used primarily for utility to prop up other teammates on the map. Piglet then moved to the mid lane, where he could carry games. This is how he has played for his entire career, starting all the way back on SKT in 2013, where the champion Vayne became his calling card.
"It's been a long time since SKT," Piglet said. "As time goes by, I always knew new players would come and new things would happen."
Piglet is entering a new stage of his career. His hair, once long and wild, nearing his eyes, is more cleanly cut. His blunt manner of speech has been replaced with more poise and reverence for his opponents. He no longer is the youngster that teams built their entire team around. In his fourth year in the LCS, he is now a North American resident, meaning Piglet no longer takes up an all-important import player spot.
Clutch Gaming promoted him and his bottom lane partner Philippe "Vulcan" Laflamme to the starting lineup for the 2019 season. The team's ace is a former SKT worlds finalist, as well, but it's not Piglet. Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, who played for SKT in 2017, is considered the star. Piglet is the veteran hoping to surprise people by making a run for international success.
"I think I've garnered a lot of respect out of Piglet so far," said Clutch's starting mid laner Tanner "Damonte" Damonte. "I think he's really respecting me as a player mechanically and also how I play macro and how smart I am, as well. One of my worries coming into the team was what if Piglet just put up a shield and didn't let me become a part of the team with resources."
Piglet is the type of player who respects others who work hard and win games. On Clutch Gaming, he believes he has the right pieces to make a run that he never could on Team Liquid when he was their focal point. Along with Huni, he has another South Korean national in Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo and two young standout talents who already have started to prove to Piglet that they have the work ethic to bring him back to a worldwide tournament for the first time since 2014.
Along with his motivation to return to the international stage, there is one more element driving Piglet to return to prominence. In the offseason, 100 Thieves went out and signed the player that replaced Piglet as Faker's right-hand man on SKT T1, Bae "Bang" Jun-sik. He would go on to one-up Piglet's 2013 world title by winning the Summoner's Cup in back-to-back years in 2015 and 2016, with Faker by his side.
Finally in the same league after so many years, Piglet doesn't want to let this opportunity slip away to prove himself.
"If you compare my career to his career, he's won two world championships and a lot of other achievements, so I want to beat him," Piglet said. "I think about him a lot since he's an ADC and I'm an ADC too. Whenever I'm scrimming with an enemy bottom lane, I think about Bang and how much I want to beat him. He's motivating me a lot."
It has been almost 2,000 days since Piglet felt the confetti fall on him and the roar of the crowd as SKT won the world championship. It's been a long road since then. For years, he believed that through his own way of playing and the dominant mechanical skill he possessed, he could get back there. After watching friends and rivals alike retire, leaving their dreams of winning the Summoner's Cup behind them, Piglet is done thinking about individual accolades and praise.
This could be one of his final chances, and he's not letting anything get in his way.
"I'm more of a listener now," Piglet said. "This year, I just want to go MSI [and] definitely the world championships. I think I have to be a much better player. On past teams, I didn't really think about it that much, but this year, with this team, I think we can make it happen."