You can’t win a lot of championships without also tasting defeat. Unless you’re Michael Jordan, who went 6-0 in the NBA Finals, if you make it to enough championship finals, you’re probably going to lose a few. Tom Brady has won seven Super Bowls, but he also has lost three. LeBron James has won four NBA titles, but his critics love to mention that he has lost six times in the finals.
I was at the Chase Center this past weekend for the 2022 League of Legends World Championship final where I saw Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok compete in his fifth world championship final (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2022) and lose for the second time (2017 and 2022). Having gone to nearly half of the 12 world championships that have been contested and won more than any other player, he is considered the greatest League of Legends player of all time. He’s the GOAT, the Unkillable Demon King -- God to some fans.
I saw a post on Reddit that pointed out that Faker has more international finals wins (five) and more international finals losses (four) than any other League of Legends player. That includes the Mid-Season Invitational as well as Worlds.
Faker appeared to be the most distraught among his teammates after losing the Worlds 2017 final. Photo credit: Riot Games
The losses only add to Faker's greatness. You have to be great to reach nine international finals in a decade.
Some people will surely look at him losing the final for a second time, lack of championships since 2016 and lack of international titles since 2017 as a sign that he’s washed. Too old. Time to retire. At 26, he’s considered ancient in League of Legends. Though if he’s looking for inspiration, he doesn’t have to look far. One of his opponents in this year’s final was Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, who became the oldest player to win Worlds as he lifted the Summoner’s Cup for the first time at the ripe old age of 26.
League of Legends has only been around for a little over a decade. In another decade, it probably won't be as rare to see players in their late 20s and some even in their 30s still competing at a high level. We’re already starting to see that in another decade-plus old game: Counter-Strike.
Read more: A brief history of Faker at Worlds and MSI
Faker probably will retire soon, and it’s something that might unfortunately be hastened by South Korea’s mandatory military service. The fact of the matter is, another world championship final loss doesn’t take away from his legacy. It only adds to it. To be such a veteran in the game and going back to a final while playing alongside a group of 18 to 20-year-old teammates who had never reached a Worlds final, five years after his last Worlds final appearance is remarkable.
I’m sure losing a Worlds final again after being back for the first time in five years must have been crushing. I’m sure Faker realizes he might not get many more chances to reach this stage given his age. But I think five years has given him perspective that only age can give. This time, he wasn’t the one seen sobbing after the loss like in 2017. Instead, it was his young teammate Ryu "Keria" Min-seok, whom cameras captured looking incredibly distraught after the loss.
Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games
In the postgame press conference, I asked Faker what he told his teammates given the fact he’d been in this situation before.
“I told my teammates you guys did a great job from the bottom of my heart,” Faker said via an interpreter. “Even though we ended up being the runners-up of Worlds, at the same time there is so much things to learn from it, so even though we lost the final series I think we have so many takeaways.”
Faker’s teammates are lucky they get to play alongside him. I’m sure what they’ve learned in losing the Worlds final and Mid-Season Invitational final this year will be invaluable for them going forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win Worlds and/or MSI next year. Or maybe the year after. The greats always find a way. Faker has proven you can’t count out a legend.
Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games