There is always a setback to playing alongside the best League of Legends player in the world, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok: You are, most of the time, overshadowed.
For Kang “Blank” Sun-gu, however, that was not the case. Rather than being overshadowed by the Unkillable Demon King himself, he stood at the back of the one who was, for most of 2016, his substitute: Bae “bengi” Sung-ung.
In the Spring Split of 2016’s LCK, the rookie that SK Telecom T1 picked up from China’s LSPL split playtime with veteran jungler bengi. Communication was deemed the first problem with Blank, and there was difficulty integrating him into the lineup. With bengi not at top form with a carry jungle meta, Blank was considered the lesser of two evils.
A rocky start led to SKT placing 7th after the 1st round robin, the lowest the team had ever been since the demolishment of sister teams in 2015.
Then, the team went to IEM Katowice, listing bengi as a substitute player on paper but leaving him back in Korea. With the roster that coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun had decided upon, they managed to clinch the IEM Katowice World Championship trophy, and with Blank out-jungling players like Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, it seemed like all that had plagued SKT had been eliminated in a few short days.
Coming into the Spring Playoffs in 3rd place, SKT took the Jin Air Greenwings to a 4th game, winning 3-1, handedly took down KT Rolster in a 3-0 series, and met their adversary, the ROX Tigers, at the very top.
The ROX Tigers, with a score of 16-2 from the regular season, only dropping 2 matches, 1 to KT Rolster and 1 to Samsung Galaxy, was considered the strongest team of the season with their addition of Han “Peanut” Wang-ho to the lineup. An aggressive jungler with highly praised mechanics, Peanut was everything the ROX Tigers needed to finally take down their SKT; everything that Blank was not.
What had been predicted to be a ROX Tigers win was, in the end, a 3-1 for SK Telecom.
A strategy was crafted by SKT, with their knowledge of the way that Peanut liked to play the jungle, to propel Blank ahead led to Blank out-jungling Peanut, considered one of the best junglers in the LCK.
With their hands on yet another trophy, all seemed well for SKT.
At MSI, all of SKT’s demons came back to haunt them.
The Korean representatives went on a 4 game losing streak, dropping games to Royal Never Give Up, Flash Wolves and Counter Logic Gaming. They came back in the second half of the group stages to qualify for Playoffs by the skin of their teeth with a 6-4 score, as the last seeded team.
In the semi-finals against RNG, they lost the first game convincingly, and it seemed all but over for SKT. The team that had fallen against EDG in 2015 seemed on track to fall to yet another Chinese team at MSI. Yet, 2 and a half hours later, SKT win the series with a 3-1 score, ending the best of 5 with a perfect game over the 1st seeded team from the group stages, Blank proving himself over his mentor back when he was in the LSPL: mlxg.
They went on to raise the MSI trophy with a 3-0 win over the NA representative, CLG, and in doing so, brought home the only trophy that the team had yet to obtain.
The Summer Split for SKT seemed a breeze. As though spurred on by their LCK Spring and MSI wins, the team went undefeated for the first 3 weeks of the split, and then started their downward fall, losing to teams that were, on paper, much weaker: ESC Ever, the Afreeca Freecs and Longzhu Gaming.
Blank was the target of most of the criticism. He received praise for this team fighting, which was considered better than his counterpart, bengi’s, but that was the end of the recognition he received. His mechanics were better, but his decision making was not, and he had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to the superstar of the team, Faker, unprotected, and shut down.
Ending their split with a 13-5 record put SKT in 2nd place for playoffs, where they fell to their longtime enemy on the other side of the Telecom Wars: KT Rolster.
It was the first time since sister teams were done away with that SK Telecom had not qualified for an LCK final. With grimaces, sad smiles and expressionless faces, SKT walked on stage after the ROX Tigers took down KT Rolster to receive their 3rd place cheque.
Going into Worlds, SKT first brought in bengi as their starting player against Cloud9 and took the win. This solidified the thoughts of many that bengi was coming back in, regaining his rightful spot as the starting jungler for the team.
He was not. Blank was brought in immediately after, and even though the two did split their playtime, Blank held most of it. Despite SKT’s victories with him, there was still dissatisfaction.
In the quarterfinals against RNG, Blank once again proved that the student had overtaken the mentor when he consistently out-jungled the more experienced mlxg, showing his ability to play a variety of champions, from Olaf, to Elise, even the more eccentric Zac. It seemed as though Blank had finally become a jungler in his own right.
2016 was a rollercoaster for the young player, and he plummeted once more. In the semifinals and finals of the World Championship, Blank took a step backwards for bengi to clinch their victories. With losses in games 2 and 3 against the ROX Tigers, it was bengi who clawed them back out of the hole that the surprise Miss Fortune support pick had dug them into. In game 4 of the series against Samsung Galaxy, Blank was subbed in for bengi, only to immediately be swapped out again when they lost.
In a sense, Blank got SKT to Worlds and bengi won them Worlds.
With the offseason, it was announced that bengi would be leaving SK Telecom, the only team that the player had been on since his debut. He would be leaving his longtime partner, Faker, cutting to an end one of the most influential and successful duos in the League of Legends world. With bengi leaving, Blank stayed on, and it seemed as though he would continue to be the starting player for SKT.
Then the announcement: SK Telecom had signed on Peanut.
On paper, in game, anything that Blank could do, Peanut could do better. He was a better jungler, he got more kills, his ability to steal neutral objectives was celebrated by the fans and feared by the opposing jungler.
Now that SKT has signed on Peanut, it is speculated by many that Blank will not see much play time, if at all. A supernova in his own right, Peanut outshines Blank in a way not unlike the way bengi had outshone Blank.
With bengi leaving, Blank could finally step into the light. Yet, with Peanut now in the picture, Blank will have to work harder than he ever has before not to disappear into the shadows and into insignificance.