standing behind the boy that is skt’s sixth man

It’s August, 2016. SK Telecom T1 sit in a booth opposite their ‘brand rival’, KT Rolster. On paper, the Telecom Wars is one of the largest and longest rivalries in eSports, in League of Legends.

In reality, KT Rolster haven’t been SK Telecom’s main rival since the inception of the Tigers: Huya, GE, KOO, ROX. Their name changes so extensive even their players now, split off into different teams, can’t remember the order in which they changed them.

It’s August, 2016. I sit in front of my laptop, staring worriedly, anxiously at the screen. We’re up 2–0, I think. Just one more game.

One more game remains one more game, but by the 5th, the momentum KT’s garnered for themselves pushes SKT over the edge. The reverse sweep is complete, and SKT have lost.

I admit, I cried. Emotionally invested in a group of teenagers who play competitive League of Legends for a living, I cried. I felt disappointment at their loss, but more than anything, I felt sad for them.

I felt sad for Blank.

The player that’s received the most criticism for his plays, more than anyone else who’s ever been on the SK Telecom roster.

There was criticism. Hate. Reddit circlejerk. Whatever you want to call it. In his own words, “The comments were so bad that I couldn’t breathe when I read them.” Every loss, every mistake was pinned onto him. He was the reason SKT lost. He was the reason SKT failed to make the finals of the LCK for the first time since sister teams were abolished. He was a failure.

Despite this, they made it to Worlds. This time, there was no auto-qualification. This time, it was Circuit Points that got them there. This time, they weren’t the favourites to win the tournament.

Even when it seemed like nobody else believed in him, I did. We did. His fans, and more importantly, SKT believed in him. Kkoma believed in him.

In the group stages, when he won, I thought, Ah, finally I’ll see positive comments for a change. There were none. Instead, I got people raving over every other player, and the only comment I remember reading about his victory was along the lines of: A jungler who does nothing for the first 40 minutes.

The quarter-finals against RNG was where he finally could shine. Against his former mentor, mlxg, they lost game 1 but closed it out with 3 consecutive wins after that to take the series 3–1. For the first time, I saw people praising Blank. For the first time, it wasn’t just his fans who were happy of his achievements.

For the first time, I wanted Blank to read the comments made about him online. I wanted him to feel proud of what he had done.

Then came the semi-finals and then the finals. He lost every game he played, going 0–2 against ROX and 0–1 against Samsung, and everything positive disappeared.

He lifted the Summoner’s Cup alongside his team, but was deemed dead weight. He’d just won the Summoner’s Cup, not by his own merit but by riding on the coattails of Bengi.

There was a spiteful part of me, deep inside, that wished SKT had lost with Bengi. It is a part of me I am not proud of, but it existed.

Comments such as Kwanghee Woo’s were made. Tweeted more than six months ago, it’s one I was easily able to find again because of how infuriated I was — am: skt wishes blank could position himself in game as well as he does to ruin photos.

I was angry. I still am angry when I think about it. Without Blank, SKT would never have made it to Worlds. Everyone wanted Bengi, but there was a reason he was never fielded during the regular season. Back in Summer of 2016, when there was nothing left for SKT to lose, Bengi was subbed in a series against Longzhu, and they lost 0–2 in humiliating fashion.

No one takes this into account. No one takes into account the fact that SKT would not have made it to Worlds by Circuit Points if Blank had not stepped up and out-jungled Peanut in Spring 2016. No one gave him credit where credit was due, but took every opportunity to put him down.

In the off-season, rumours started circulating. SKT Beyond, they said. Give SKT a jungler that they deserve.

Then came the narrative we’re all sick and tired of at this point: The ROX Tigers fell apart.

Suddenly, Peanut was added to the line up. It was a roster change everyone dreamed of but no one thought would ever come true; it was a miracle.

There was no doubt in my mind that Blank would be Peanut’s substitute. SKT may say the starting position is one that is shared between the both of them, and the one better on the day will get to play, but words are just that. Words. Blank has played 6 games the entire split, brought in only when Peanut was under performing.

He won every game he played. 100% winrate, when will your favs?, I make jokes about. In Papasmithy’s words: “Ends the season 6 games undefeated. In Champions days, that meant something.” Yet, under all the jokes, I was proud. I was proud that Blank could provide the team with something Peanut could not; I was proud of his wins, proud of his achievements, proud that he was finally receiving recognition.

Blank is SKT’s Sixth Man now. It’s taken him a rough year to get to where he is. He’s no longer the laughing stock of the team, but a player that other players recognize as good.

But everything comes at a price, and for Blank, that price was his starting position.

Now I, as his fan, watch SKT win games with Peanut. Watching them win with Blank is like a treat your parents gave you as a child, happening only once every couple of weeks if you were lucky. I’m happy when SKT wins games with Peanut. I’m happy when SKT wins games, period.

I’m not as happy as I would be if Blank had played, however. That’s something I cannot change. I will always want Blank to start over Peanut, will always choose Blank over Peanut. Call me selfish if you’d like; it’s the truth.

I cannot say I was with Blank from the very beginning, but I’ll do my best to stay with the boy that went from laughing stock to potential hero.

I’ll stay with Blank, SKT’s Sixth Man, for as long as I can.

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