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Faker: “If we think about what sports is, it can be boiled down to activities that are fun for people, and esports is just a new-age (version).”

Faker (Lee Sang-hyeok) says esports are simply the new age version of sports.
Faker (Lee Sang-hyeok) says esports are simply the new age version of sports. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, the world’s best League of Legends player, says esports are the same as sports but were just born at a different time.

Faker conducted a rare in-depth interview with Sports Seoul’s Kim Jin-wook and gave his thoughts about the League of Legends and esports scene as a whole.

“I think that sports is at its base something people engage in for entertainment,” he said. “If we think about what sports is, it can be boiled down to activities that are fun for people, and esports is just a new-age (version). Traditional sports use a lot of physical attributes, but the new sports are centered around the brain. Of course, sports like these existed in the past as well in examples such as Chess or Go. But the two of them were never really acknowledged as a sport until very recently. I think it’s because it was hard to enjoy as a group.

“With the advancement of technology, now many people can enjoy games of Chess and Go as a large group. Likewise, newer games like League of Legends have used technology to entice competition and a viewership that is entertained by games. That’s how esports became sports.”

The debate of esports legitimacy is one that persists to this day, and not only in Korea. As the mainstream audience tends to balk at the fact that a sports network would broadcast esports shows how little the audience thinks of games, and professional gamers. In Korea, where esports got its start, this is is no different, as draconian laws and measures continue to paint gaming as something that should be treated like a controlled substance.

This negative perception also acts as an inhibitor for esports itself, according to Faker. He said the health ramifications of being “overly invested” in sports is just as bad no matter what you engage in, and not just limited to esports.

“People think the other sports require players to be physically active, and that creates a healthy lifestyle while esports doesn’t,” he said. “This kind of perception is negative prejudice. No matter what the sport, doing it too much can’t be good for you. Games are easy to approach and can be enjoyed anywhere that a large portion of people enjoy it. That’s why there is a negative perception around it. Imagine what would happen if a person played nothing but soccer for 10 hours.”

Faker is in a unique position as he is a sort of spokesperson for League of Legends at the young age of 21. As League developed into a global sport, Faker’s notoriety also grew internationally, and the game is enjoying the kind of popularity that stands out among other esports. In the absence of some “cataclysmic event,” Faker is confident that League will continue to develop and last a long time.

He also shared some interesting thoughts on the potential of another team usurping his team, SK Telecom T1, and even challenging SKT’s record of three world championships. As it is no small feat to achieve such a goal, Faker said it will require even further investment that will put a strain on the teams and sponsors.

“It won’t be easy to create a team to break the record that we set,” he said. “I do think that the future will be more competitive and grab the attention of more viewers. That means teams will have to spend that much more money to win. I think it’ll be natural that teams that are trying to win worlds, and the sponsors of those teams will have a harder time.”

Apart from the rising winnings, which is a hot topic in Korea, Faker also thinks the glory that comes with victory is just as important. When asked if things like Brazil being able to permanently keep a Jules Rimet Trophy after three World Cup championships being reflected in League, Faker seemed favorable towards the idea.

“I think it’s important to take inspiration from traditional sports in order to become more like them,” he said. “Winnings are certainly important, but the glory that comes with it is also important. If such a goal exists, then it’ll be good for both me and my team. I hope Riot takes these kinds of things into consideration.”

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games

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