The person behind the idol

SK Telecom T1 crushed Cloud9 in its worlds debut game for 2016. As the winner, it agreed to let the players do press interviews. On the fourth floor of the Bill Graham Civic auditorium, in a room where curtains were drawn up to small sections for a journalist and player to duck into for a quick take, SK Telecom’s players entered. Waiting for them was an eager slew of journalists and media, ready to prod the players for a headline grabbing quote. With about a dozen cameras, some microphones, and many staff members, the Chinese media was the most well-equipped of the group.

We hurried along the process, trying to keep interviews around six minutes in length so that everyone got a turn and proceed to watch the next game. But, there was another flourish to the event: a posing for press. The SKT players lined up for the firing squad, smiling as they endured the barrage of camera flashes and shutter clicks. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok held a fist up.

“SKT fighting!” he said. His teammates followed his lead.

As I snapped a few pictures of my own, I thought of what it must have been like for Sang-hyeok. Being the best in the world, he had the largest target on his back for media. Only the bigger publications got their hands on him, and he was constantly captured on a camera lens. He understood how to behave in front of the media: professional, clear-spoken, and confident.

But in between interviews, I caught a glimpse of the young man who just wanted to play video games. He had joined some of his teammates by the TV set up in the interview room to watch the next game. Free of his obligations for an instant, he squatted down, crossing his arms on his knees and watching the stream with an innocence reminiscent of a child watching Saturday morning cartoons.

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The name on his back is synonymous with “god” in this scene, but that is not who Sang-hyeok is. There is a person completely separated from “Faker,” one that viewers, journalists, and other outsiders rarely get to see through the lense we are restricted to.

Most of us know of Faker: very few know Lee Sang-hyeok.

Photos by Colin Nimer

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