Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok couldn’t be less entertaining in interviews, and yet to many, that’s what makes him so interesting.
Faker has been atop the professional League of Legends world for so long, it’d be natural to think he’d reveal some sort of edge. He’s a three-time world champion and the undisputed best player of all time, but he still handles interviews and the public as if he hasn’t accomplished anything. His interviews with both Korean and foreign press leave a lot to be desired in terms of interesting quotes, and they often lack any insight below surface level. Usually defaulting to general or neutral statements, Faker isn’t likely to talk about his dominant performance that easily.
Still, whenever Faker says something — anything, really — Western fans often flock to and celebrate it, regardless of the actual substance of what he says. It’s remarkable to the point of frustration for some League of Legends fans, as seemingly mundane sentences are met with almost universal joy and adulation.
For example, over the course of a couple of months, Faker has made the following statements in various interviews:
“I think I’ll be satisfied when I do well.”
“So I think we need to think about how we can do better than we did today.”
“I think if we return to the way we usually play, we can beat (KT Rolster).”
“I think deaths themselves come from making mistakes, so I think the increased number of deaths recently have been mistakes.”
“Picking champions has become more advantageous with the 10 bans.”
Those are some of the most boring things a professional player could say. If they would have been said by any other pro in the scene, fans would ignore them. But when Faker speaks, people listen.
The “cult of personality” rings true for Faker, who has transcended form a simple professional gamer to something beyond that. He’s dominated League of Legends in a way nobody has seen and has become something of a god in this space. He’s even called the “god” of League and was dubbed the “unkillable demon king” in a 2015 ESPN The Magazine profile. He is someone every player, regardless of age and region, respects.
When a player reaches that level of success, there’s a natural desire for fans to know anything he says. What nugget can he provide today? What tidbit will pull back the curtain to reveal what he’s really like, or how he got this good? The fact that Faker never provides that insight only adds to the intrigue.
Faker has such a mysterious personality — part because he’s a foreigner to Western fans, part because he truly is a living legend — that even the blandest statements carry weight. Dull comments become proclamations from the mountain top, not because he is some superhuman that’s fundamentally different from any player in Bronze, but because that’s exactly what the community made him out to be: A god.
Faker is thought to perceive the game in a way that’s unique only to him because he is so beyond the community’s understanding, everything he says in somehow shrouded in interest. Every word of every sentence incorporates something that we can’t understand because we’re not Faker, and that makes it so interesting. It becomes an activity of “what does Faker actually mean?”
Fans want to emulate — or at the very least, understand — the way their favorite pros think. The true thought process of Faker (and many other top Koreans) has been a mystery for Western fans for most of professional League of Legends history. With his regular streams and SK Telecom T1’s YouYube channel showing more of what Faker is like, the West has never felt closer to its esports god.
And yet, what does it mean to be that close? The more fans are exposed to Faker, the more they see his carefully-crafted, step-on-no-toes persona. And all it does is make them want more.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/illustration by Slingshot