T1 Faker reveals the emotional & physical cost behind a decade of greatness

Carver Fisher

T1 Faker reveals the emotional & physical cost behind a decade of greatness

Lee Aiksoon/Riot Games

I caught up with Faker after their narrow win against G2 Esports at MSI 2024 to discuss what’s changed with the team since last year. Both Faker and T1 as a whole have been through a lot both before and after their Worlds 2023 win, and the months since have changed his view on life and his career.

Faker is a name synonymous with League of Legends at this point. And this isn’t just because of what he’s accomplished up until now, either; Faker’s still making history and adding accolades to his trophy cabinet.

But his Worlds 2023 win and the events that both led up to and followed it have changed things for him. He’s got over a decade of pro play under his belt at this point, but the past year has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging.

Between an injury that put him on the bench last year, his team falling apart without him, coming back to compete and win Worlds 2023, the DDoS attacks that ravaged T1 HQ, and the team coming back to make MSI 2024 despite weeks without being able to practice in the middle of the season, it’s been an absolute roller coaster for him and T1.

He’s been through a lot, and he wasn’t afraid to open up about it.

Faker’s outlook on his life and career has changed

It’s been almost 2 years since I last spoke with Faker. And, though he was gracious when we last spoke in 2022, he also felt impenetrable. It was difficult to get a read on what he was thinking, what he wanted for himself beyond winning it all.

This time, things felt different. 2024 Faker wasn’t the same person I met before. For the first time, I saw the real human being behind the Faker name for myself.

T1 Faker reveals the emotional & physical cost behind a decade of greatness

LCK Official/Riot GamesA candid of Faker taken right before his trip to Chengdu for MSI 2024

Lee Sang-hyeok is, in some ways, still hurting from his injuries, still reeling from how hard he and T1 have had to work to earn and maintain the success they have today. Staying on top for so long has clearly taken its toll, but he’s been trying to change his mindset to adjust to new challenges.

“I can’t say that I changed because of the injury last year. But, around that point in time, I started to kind of differentiate my mindset and my approach to preparing for games. There’s definitely been a change. I wanted to become a lot more solid internally. I don’t want to be shaken up by a single win or a single loss, and I just want to go for more challenges, be proactive, keep moving forward. Those are the changes I had internally,” he explained.

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“Speaking on the injury and my condition, I can’t really say it’s perfectly good. I’m still looking for ways and methods to feel better.”

That said, some things never change. Even all these years later, Faker’s still excited to run into his former teammate, Impact, at international events. He’s glad to see he’s still competing, and the two are still friends. He offered up some words of encouragement as Impact tries to make it far enough at MSI for the two of them to meet on stage again.

“Every time I run into him on the Rift or off the Rift, it’s just amazing. I don’t think that any single match tells everything about a team, just dropping one or two matches doesn’t tell everything about a team. He still has a tournament ahead of him, and I’m wishing him the best of luck.”

Considering Team Liquid’s decisive 3-1 win over Fnatic, Faker was right. It remains to be seen if TL can win against an LCK or LPL team, but they’re still in this. It was a huge step up from how Team Liquid looked against Top Esports, especially considering how distraught Impact was when I spoke with him after their loss.

However, much like Impact is doing this split with APA and Yeon, the team around Faker has been dependent on him for leadership. His thoughts in retrospect on how T1 performed while he was on the bench were surprisingly honest.

T1 is a better team because of the struggles they’ve experienced

I was curious about whether the past year or so has changed Faker’s mind on retirement, whether he had any way he’d like his career to end or something he’d want to be remembered for.

“I don’t really set limits for anything, same goes for retirement. I just want to make sure that I get as much experience as possible while I perform as a pro player,” he explained.

Fair enough. It’s not overly surprising that Faker isn’t thinking too much about retirement, especially considering he’s been exempted from mandatory military service thanks to a big win at the Asian Games last year.

But, when I asked about his experience sitting on the bench as his teammates struggled without him last year, he had a lot more to say.

“Watching them play on stage without me, you know… I had some faith in them that they’d do great. But they didn’t do as well as I expected, they were having a hard time. It was heartbreaking for me to watch them go through that, but I didn’t want to focus on the negative aspects. Even in those moments, there’s always a silver lining, and I’d rather focus on that,” Faker explained.

T1 Faker reveals the emotional & physical cost behind a decade of greatness

Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games

“Then we won Worlds last year. After that, I think not just me, but all the players on my team, have become a lot more solid. Now that they won Worlds, they know how to be more independent from the result of any single game. They’re not mesmerized by a single outcome.”

Faker claimed that their win and the experiences of the past year have only made T1 better as a team, and allowed the players to shine even if he’s not able to put the game on his back. Because, let’s be honest, Faker had a rough series against G2.

When he’s on, he’s still dominating. However, it’s also become clear that isn’t quite as all-powerful as his Unkillable Demon King moniker would make you believe. Caps straight-up outplayed him several times in their clash.

But, despite that, Faker seems to have much more confidence that his team can bring home the W in his moments of weakness. He doesn’t have to be perfect for T1 to be the best team in the world, and it’s not all on his shoulders.

It’s clear that the League of Legends GOAT is still passionate about the game, still pushing to be better. However, it seems that the years he’s spent working with players who are much younger than him has established an ever-growing trust between them that’s clearly paying off.

At the time of writing, T1’s still in the upper bracket at MSI 2024. Their win against G2 has put them on track to keep pushing through the world’s best teams and toward T1’s first MSI title in almost 10 years.

And, though Faker’s vulnerability and willingness to rely more on his teammates could be viewed as a weakness, it could also be a strength, a factor that makes T1 even better than they were before.

It’s hard to put into perspective how much Faker has had to go through to stay on top when looking at his career from afar, how long 10 years is, how many different players he’s had to take down, metas he’s had to read, tens of thousands of hours he’s had to put into making all of it happen.

But, at the end of all of that, it seems that Faker has come out of it a better person, a person he felt comfortable showing me. Even if it was just a glimpse.

It was nice to finally meet Lee Sang-hyeok, and I hope to see him again soon.

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