"In Korea, professional players do not have much. This is not very attractive to me, hence I did not choose to be a pro player."
-Apdo (game.china.com, 2014)
Apdo. Dopa. Even Westerners have come to know the name of the most infamous and enigmatic Korean solo queue player. The greatest Korean League of Legends player of all-time is Faker, but the best Korean solo-queue player is Apdo. Apdo is a myth, a mystery, a name on the lips of fans, a tricky question which finds no easy answer and a complicated puzzle to ponder. Why has such an obviously talented player repeatedly shunned opportunities to enter the professional gaming scene? Why has he so openly flaunted his Elo boosting, to the point of receiving a 1,000 year ban on his main account?
The story of Apdo is a complex one and what may appear to initially be a simple black-and-white outline is soon developed into a more detailed and unexpectedly intriguing portrait. Often billed as merely a skilled but degenerate criminal, Apdo has repeatedly bucked the trends one would expect of such behaviour, admitting that Faker is better than him and even contributing guides and information to the Korean community.
Genesis of the genius
Jeong Sang-gil, now known to the world as "Apdo", was a prolific poster on the Korean forum dcinside, which could be compared to the Western forum 4chan. Playing under the name Apdo, roughly translating, in Korean, as "to completely overpower your opponent", he first appeared during Season 2. At this time he was becoming known for play on champions like Swain and writing guides for inven, often considered the Korean reddit.
Early on in Season 3, Apdo reached the Challenger league of Korean soloqueue and promptly began Elo boosting other people's accounts for money. Legend has it that he paid off his college tuition entirely through income earned from boosting. Apdo's approach was as brazen as changing his in-game names to names which explicitly stated that he was available for boosting and offered the best services. With his business in full flow, Apdo would only play on his main account to maintain Challenger status with it.
Around the beginning of the Summer of 2013, Apdo became eligible to enter the military and undertake his mandatory service, expected of all eligible Korean males at some point between the ages of 20 and 31, depending on how long it is postponed. It was initially expected that Apdo would enter the military immediately as his behaviour following his eligibility being determined was to begin playing heavily on his main account, reaching rank one on Challenger with it.
Apdo streamed along with his friends DoSu (known to the West as Crumble Cookies) and a well known dcinside user. Around the middle of July, Apdo hosted what was intended to be his farewell stream, prior to enterting the military, but returned to streaming three days later, having postponed his service. After making the bold claim of wishing to hit 1,000 LP, he initially hit a slump in play that drew jeers from his viewers.
Banned for Elo boosting
"If Apdo wishes to climb [the ladder], he shall climb."
Apdo had allegedly declined offers from professional teams to try-out for them, claiming he would make more money from Elo boosting than playing professionally. In line with having flaunted his boosting activities via name changes, Apdo would even boost on stream. This led to multiple bans on his accounts, but the notion was that he didn't care since he expected to enter the military relatively soon. Eventually, he received a 30 day ban from Riot Korea.
During his 30 day ban, Apdo wrote a long post on inven in which he provided information about Elo boosting. The infamous Korean went as far as to claim that there were professional players who had taken part in boosting, even going as far as to out Mima (former MVP White player), who was playing in that season of OGN (Champions Summer) with CTU. No evidence was found of Mima's involvement in any boosting, so no action was taken against him and his team reached the quarter-final of that season of Champions.
With his main account suspended, Apdo began playing on a smurf and at the beginning of August hit D1 99LP, eventually entering Challenger with it. He would then rename the account to Odpa, an anagram of Apdo, hinting directly at his real identity. In September he began streaming on Afreeca, a well known Korean streaming service. Apdo won an amateur tournament and would apply to take part in the Season 4 OGN Champions online qualifier with the same team, also featuring another infamous Elo booster.
Apdo's professional gaming career was not to be, though. A female fan purchased boosting services from him and seemingly hoped to parlay her time with him into some form of romantic relationship. When Apdo declined her advances, the girl in question turned over evidence to Riot Korea of his boosting. Apdo's main account was banned for 1,000 years and he was disqualified from competing in the OGN Champions qualifiers, the latter detail being one he himself revealed. His competitive ban was set for two years in length.
Riot Korea announced that they had banned his main account and all of the smurfs, fake accounts, registered to his name, as well as promising to ban all future attempts to sign-up for a new account. With his accounts being tied to his social security number, as all Koreans' are, Apdo would only be able to play on other people's accounts and would need to deny his identity, since account-sharing was also a bannable offense.
Coming back to Challenger
Around October of 2013, an account named "Tar ai ais", meaning "Come-back" in Irish, appeared in Challenger with less than 10 losses. Outsiders quickly deduced, from the skill level of the player and the champion pool used, that this was none other than Apdo. On November 11th, a now legendary gesture on the part of Apdo allowed Faker to finish Season 3 as rank 1 in Challenger. Faker had been ranked second and ssumday, Top laner of KT A, was in first place. Deeming that a Mid laner should finish on top, Apdo purposely trolled his final solo queue game, ensuring that Faker's account finished ranked first.
After more name changes, Apdo changed his name to Dopa, an anagram of Apdo. Crucially, he has never revealed that he is Apdo, even declining to be referred to by that name when I approached him for an interview in 2014, since admitting he is Apdo would see his accounts banned, in accordance with Riot Korea's previous ruling. Apdo, playing as Dopa, has joked that "Apdo enrolled in the military and Tar died in a car crash". He also has claimed to have stopped Elo boosting.
At the beginning of February, 2014, Apdo, playing as Dopa, reached #1 on Challenger. Less than two weeks later, playing on a smurf called "Dopa0", he entered Challenger after a 17 game winning streak. Two days later, that account was sitting on an 88% win-rate and a 20 game winning streak.
The streaming life
In April rumours circulated that Apdo might be joining World Elite as a coach, but these were denied by both parties. The same month, the master of solo queue tilted and found himself free-falling through the rankings after a double digit losing streak. Fans have pointed to a key streak of losses to MaRin, current Top laner of SKT, as being the cause of Apdo's tilt session. Nevertheless, two weeks later, Apdo was back in the top twenty.
With it being around a year since he had postponed his military service, some wondered what his status was, but Apdo revealed that he had agreed to a one year contract with Afreeca, so it was highly unlikely he would embark upon his service in 2014. Due to his Riot ban, he was prohibited from entering even streaming tournaments. Apdo also signed a contract with Douyu TV, a Chinese streaming site.
Apdo had recently begun playing on a new smurf account and he renamed this to a varient of Dopa which acknowledged his streaming and sponsorship business interests. A few days a week would be spent streaming for his Chinese service and the rest were dedicated to Korean services. After a brief break in the Summer, Apdo returned to push his main and smurf accounts back into the top 10 of Challenger. Two weeks into August, he joined GE Entertainment, a group of streamers. By the end of the month, Apdo had ceased streaming on Afreca and would now stream solely the Chinese streaming site YY TV.
On August 18th the Dopa account reached 900LP and five days later he changed his second account's name to YY90888Dopa, reflecting his new streaming site interest. He would stream from 6pm to 12am, reaching 30,000 viewer count peaks, and YY TV began posting articles about him to their front page. When the 'Ice Bucket Challenge' meme began circulating the internet, he was called out for one by a YY TV employee and obliged, speaking Chinese exclusively in the video.
The hunt for $80,000
On September 1st, Apdo announced on Afreeca that he would be going to China. It was later revealed that he would be going to attempt to win the 1,000,000 Yuan prize money (~$161,000) being offered to whoever hit rank 1 on the Chinese ladder with a specific naming scheme and within a specific time span. Beginning streaming on the ninth of September, his rise through the ladder was as remarkable as it was rapid. On September 17th he had reached rank 13 with a record of 180 wins and only 59 losses.
Players would purposely troll Apdo and, once he reached rank 3, even queue dodge to prevent him being able to play. Despite such behaviour, he would reach rank 1 at midnight on September 30th, earning himself the prize money, which turned out to be 500,000 Yuan (~$81,000). His final record was 197:63, marking a 75% win-rate. On October 1st he began streaming with a webcam turned on.
Apdo's climb to rank 1:
9/9 Begins streaming on Chinese Solo-queue
9/23 Master tier
9/25 Challenger 466lp
9/26 Challenger 750lp
9/27 Challenger 828lp
9/28 Challenger 1000lp
9/29 Challenger 1130lp
9/30 Challenger 1293lp RANK 1
Skills and style
Apdo is acknowledged as incredibly skilled player. While comparisons are often drawn, by Westerners, with incarnati0n, successful high Elo Mid laner on EUW, what sets the two apart and makes the comparison inappropriate is that Apdo is considered very good at three or more roles. Best known as a Mid laner, he is considered as good as or only a little worse than Faker in solo queue games. As a Jungler he is considered to be very good and his play in both the Top lane and as ADC have been noted as good. The only position at which he is not highly touted is Support.
In contrast, Faker is only really known for being good at Jungle outside of his usual Mid lane position, rarely needing to play any other roles due to being first pick the majority of the time and other players giving him Mid to increase their chances of winning the game. Challenger in Korean soloqueue is almost exclusively made up of pros, semi-pros and ex-pros. Competition is fierce and players are required to play a number of champions and at least two roles, with "one trick ponies" (specialists on a single champion), rarely reaching that high on the ladder, instead stuck around Diamond 1.
Apdo is best known for his play on AP Mid lane champions, particularly Kassadin, Ryze and Twisted Fate during Season 3. His Kassadin was famed for being so deadly that he could instalock it as a first pick and still dominate any attempt to counterpick him, such as with an AD Mid lane champion. Reaching 70-80% win-rates on the champion, it has been speculated that he was a primary reason behind the champion's popularity and heavy banning in both solo queue and OGN competitive play. Apdo also played Orianna and Ahri back during that time.
As a Mid laner, Apdo is known for a style based around heavy roaming and rotating into other lanes. Using this style, he is able to apply massive amounts of map pressure and find kills elsewhere on the map, not being limited to having to try and dominate the mid lane each and every game. This style, combined with his intuitive sense for when to make plays, has been a primary factor in his incredible success in repeatedly winning Challenger games and climbing accounts in seemingly record time, putting together 20-30 game winning streaks.
While not known as someone who dominates the Mid lane directly with every champion, Apdo is considered excellent at countering OP champions and being able to play in disadvantageous match-ups. His success and style is predicated more on the cerebral than mechanical aspects of the game, though he naturally has a high raw skill level as well. Apdo has even stated that he only uses mid or late game champions, eschewing those which attempt to dominate the lane early as he does not consider himself a particularly good laner.
Interestingly, it would appear that Apdo either does not smartcast any of his abilities, a trait shared by famed Western Mid laner Froggen, or chooses the option which causes the skill cursor to show when smartcasting. Despite claiming that he never smartcasts, he casts skillshots so quickly that some have speculated that the latter explanation must be true. Apdo says that smartcasting is bad for calculating distances when microing. His refusal to smartcast even extends to the likes of Lee Sin, Jayce and Ryze.
Apdo's personality is as complicated as his history of name changes and seemingly shifting motivations. When playing solo queue, Apdo has preached an approach of playing in a calm and focused manner, yet he is openly friends with players like DoSu, who are famous for what would be considered "toxic" speech in the West. Apdo seems to carry a strong sense of pride and considers himself above the majority of Korean players.
Interestingly, there are some instances where Apdo has shown respect to other Korean players. Firstly, it appears he admired the play of Ambition at times. This is reflected both in his name change to MidGodAmbition prior to the CJ Blaze Mid laner's disasterous individual and team loss to MVP Ozone in the OGN Spring final. When Apdo's Kassadin began terrorising the Korean server, he claimed he was inspired to play the champion after seeing Ambition hit 20 Mejai's stacks on the it in a game.
More recently, Apdo placed an illegal bet of 200,000 Won (~$185) on CJ Entus Blaze to win their semi-final match-up against NaJin White Shield in OGN Spring 2014. Blaze would go on to lose the series 2:3, with Ambition falling in a mirror match-up on LeBlanc against Shield's Ggoong. Ambition's stock as a competitive Mid laner has been dropping ever since 2013, and he has since role-swapped to Jungle for CJ Entus, but the former Blaze star is famed for seemingly always maintaining a top 10 rank in Challenger, showing that his mechanical and strategical understanding of the game has always remained consistently elite, at least from an individual point-of-view. It's easy to see why such a player would garner Apdo's respect or attention.
Beyond Ambition, Apdo has shown marked respect for Faker. Aside from the aforementioned incident in granting Faker the top rank to end Season 3, Apdo has also openly stated that "I can't win my lane against Faker, he's too good. so stop talking about who's the best or so, Faker's the best. Yet I play differently." Interestingly, Apdo has still asked for Mid lane in games when he was queued with Faker at times, showing that his opinions and feelings are seemingly mutable.
"Overall I think we each have a 50/50 chance to win. Faker used to win more often and now I win more often."
-Apdo (game.china.com, 2014)
Despite seeming aloof, even raging at stream viewers who criticised him on his Korean stream, considering them to be too low Elo to be in a position to point out his flaws, Apdo has contributed to the community's understanding in a number of ways. Firstly, he has written a number of guides for champions. Secondly, while streaming he is known to be informative in his commentary. Thirdly, in early 2014 he engaged in some casting and was considered to be quite good at it. Finally, he has posted on numerous other topics on Korean websites, such as revealing information about Elo boosting.
Where Europe's incarnati0n is a skilled solo queue Mid laner, Apdo's domination of the most competitive and skilled solo queue ladder in the world, all while playing against the best players in the world and excelling in numerous roles, suggests he is more than a mere solo queue talent that would flounder in real competition. His ability to rise through the ranks faster than any other player, starting time and time again with new accounts and going on epic win-streak runs to reach Challenger, show an ability level that have led many to label him the most talented solo queue player in the world. Certainly, he has some hallmarks of a League of Legends prodigy.
Despite such talents and ability, Apdo once showed any real interest in competitive player. In League of Legends he stands as a true anti-hero. Not quite the degenerate criminal some portray him to be, instead he is a man of his own ideals and determined to live by his own rules. During his Elo boosting days he took some of the best skills in the game, from a solo queue context, and applied them to the most efficient and rapid boosting of others accounts possible, raking in the money from those who wished to climb. Later, he took his skills to China and soon showed that he could not be stopped from climbing even by playing with team-mates who spoke another language and with direct opposition from some of the Chinese player-base.
"When I was in Korea, my impression of a pro play life was not very good. I do not have a clear understanding of the eSports environment in China at this point. So I am not sure if I would like to go to China and become a professional player."
-Apdo (game.china.com, 2014)
If League of Legends were an anime series, then one could easily imagine Apdo cast as the antagonist to Faker's protagonist. Where Faker is famed for his mild-manner, dedication to competitive play and desire to be the best Mid laner, Apdo represents the highly skilled but "toxic" pro, eschewing competitive play in favour of Elo boosting and flaunting his skills by reaching top ranks with multiple accounts, caring little about being the best at one role and instead seeking to be the best at multiple roles and in winning games. Both players possess talent levels which cannot be denied, yet their mentalities and applications of their abilities could not be more different.
Perhaps it is fitting that Faker is the only player Apdo will truly acknowledge as better than him in any sense. In Faker he finds his mirror opposite and yet someone else with skills he can relate to and vy with atop the ladder. Master of high Elo. Notorious Elo booster. Banned for 1,000 years. Apdo is many things, but above all else he is an enigma. There is nobody else in the world like Apdo.