The careers and fates of two of the most prolific League of Legends players in history have been intertwined since Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok debuted five years ago. But before Faker's rise on SK Telecom T1 in the spring of 2013, Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong was the best mid laner in all of South Korea. The moment Faker appeared -- solo killing Ambition in his first ever pro game to the awe of the crowd -- their lives have never been the same.
On Saturday inside the Bird's Nest in Beijing, the two will play in their second Worlds final in succession, after Faker once again got the better of Ambition in last year's climax at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Now a jungler, having transitioned from the mid position following the 2014 season, Faker's presence and that initial kill of his career have still followed Ambition.
In 2015, Ambition was one game away from making it to the South Korean final for the first time since Faker became a pro. Down 2-1 in the series, as Faker and SKT have done throughout this year's World Championship, the team battled back, staving off the match point and winning in the final set.
Last year, it was the same story: a tied series going into the final map, a capacity Staples Center waiting in anticipation to see if it would be the moment when the dynasty would topple. It wasn't. Samsung ran out of gas before it could cross the finish line, and Ambition, in defeat, wondered what it would take to finally slay the "Unkillable Demon King."
The legacies of Faker and Ambition and their eternal rivalry will depend on who can become world champion in China's capital this weekend.
What it means for Faker
Win or lose, Faker will still be far and away the best player in the world to ever play League of Legends. That isn't up for debate, especially at this World Championship, where he has had the least amount of help he has ever had from his side lanes. The usual steadiness in the bottom lane has gone haywire at this tournament, and his top laner, Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon, is the biggest feast-or-famine player in the world. In the semifinal against Royal Never Give Up, Faker played Galio five games in a row, and a highlight reel could be clipped together of him flying in to save his offensive-minded top laner, enabling Huni to play on the edge and showcase his strengths, while also covering up for his shortcomings.
A win at the Bird's Nest would give Faker and SK Telecom T1 the elusive three-peat and their fourth world title in five years. This was the year SKT was thought to be at its most vulnerable, with the added investment by teams in the South Korean scene, and SKT's archnemesis, KT Rolster, building a star-studded roster with the single goal of taking down the empire of SKT. KT failed and didn't make Worlds; Longzhu was swept in the quarterfinals by Samsung; and the rest of the world couldn't strike the final blow to SKT.
Instead of comparing Faker to other League of Legends players, Faker now is playing against the accomplishments and legacies of other greats in esports as a whole. In a country with a rich esports history, Faker is so far ahead of the pack in League of Legends, we can now talk about where he ranks al -time in the entirety of esports; and if he can beat Samsung Galaxy for the second straight year, the discussion moves from best player in League history to -- if isn't already a discussion -- whether Faker is the greatest video game player of all time?
What it means for Ambition
Ambition will still be remembered as a legend if he loses, but a victory and a world title will change the story told about him years from now.
A loss and he stays as the old guard that Faker overcame to make his mark in the pro scene. And while he transitioned to jungle and did well at the position, making it to the Summoner's Cup Final twice, he'll have been the foil that always lost to the main character in the end. It wouldn't be Ambition's story -- it would be the story of Faker, with Ambition as one of the many characters who challenged, got close and were eventually fended off.
Ambition recently got married and has been in the professional League of Legends scene as long as one can remember. Before he joined Samsung, rumors swirled it could be the end for him. Balancing a family and being a professional player can be difficult, and as one of the older players in the LCK, this very well could be his last shot at lifting the Summoner's Cup and taking his revenge on Faker for the heartbreaking losses over the years.
If Samsung wants to win the world title, Ambition will need to make sure that his mid laner, Lee "Crown" Min-ho, can hold up against Faker. Crown has been spotty, at best, during this tournament, and it was because of Ambition's influence that Samsung was even able to make it this far in the event. Crown has the skill ceiling to hold his own with Faker, but if he plays as he has since the summer, Ambition, regardless of his position, will need to meet his old friend in the mid lane for possibly the last time.
"Lots of players [have] lost to Faker in big and small stages," Ambition said in the post-semifinals press conference in Shanghai. "But I think whoever stands at the last moment will be the [ultimate] winner. And since we're going to collide with SKT and Faker at the biggest stage next week, if we win, and if I win, I think we'll be remembered as the team and player who beat SKT and Faker."