The world’s best League of Legends plater remains adamant about thwarting negative perceptions if pro gamers.
In a recent interview with Sports Chosun, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok said that onus is on him to be an agent of change for how gamers are seen in Korea.
“I think there is still negative preconceptions towards professional gaming,” he said. “I think this is also my job to correct.”
This statement echoes a previous one he made during a televised interview with KBS six months ago, in which he said he wished “to show that esports is a healthy sport.”
Professional gaming is commonly scrutinized in Korea, and Faker has been one of the few of his generation to not only voice his awareness of the trend, but also a desire to fix it. He’s also perhaps the perfect person to actually attempt it.
Faker has been challenging the perception of professional gamers for much of his career with incredibly mature outlooks of life, using his platform to unconsciously — or perhaps consciously — promote the image of a squeaky clean professional.
When SK Telecom T1 K took the first place trophy of 2014’s League Champions Korea Winter, Faker was asked what he planned to do with the money, to which he replied:
“I’m preparing for retirement by saving my earnings as much as I can.”
A then 18-year-old teenager to be talking about a retirement fund was mind blowing for the fans in Korea. It was also one of the moments where Faker showed maturity far beyond his own age. That attitude also seems to explain the neutral nature of Faker’s interviews and personal statements, and even now, three world championships deep, he has yet to engage in the attitudes typical of his age group.
It doesn’t appear to be an image or character he is playing, either. In another interview with Sports Chosun, Faker said that he has indeed gained some pride in his accomplishments, but his mentality with spending remained the same.
“I don’t use more than 10,000 won (about $8) a month,” he said. “When I was younger, my family was a little poor, and I don’t feel a large difference right now. I don’t have a lot of wants. I leave all of my pay and winnings with my father. As I practice, I don’t really have time to spend money, and I don’t like to eat junk food or buy clothing. I don’t have a girlfriend either. I felt that I was making some money when I was able to buy a 158 square meter (1,700 square foot) apartment for my family.”
Faker’s absence from social media was presumed to be because he has been on the side of safety. Young people often say immature or foolish things, and Faker is likely fully aware of that fact. He confirmed that perception in a Sports Chosun interview.
“(I avoid social media) in order to be careful of my actions and statements,” he said. “Esports is also a brain sport like Go and Chess, but it’s still not in good standing with the Korean public, which is disappointing. I hope that esports pros have a more firm sense of professionalism to change this perception.”
Last April, Faker wore a commemorative pin of the victims of the 2014 MV Sewol sinking, which took the lives of hundreds of secondary school students, in the booth of the LCK. In a subsequent interview with Daily eSports, Faker said it was a “gift from a fan,” who asked him to wear it in the booth for the two year anniversary of the tragedy.
The public reception of Faker’s image was overwhelmingly positive, with the Daily eSports article stating that this was more than just remembrance of a national tragedy, but also a message to the viewing public that professional gamers aren’t young people who are unaware of social issues that surround them. Not unlike athletes taking a stand during a nationally broadcast game or a celebrity bringing light to an issue, Faker’s silent commemoration spoke volumes within the Korean community.
Faker is the greatest player in the world. As such, a large responsibility is heaped upon him and he is aware of it. When he says something about trying to improve the perception of pro gamers, it sure seems that he means it.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.