Reapered's Game - One Against All
Bok "Reapered" Han-gyu is unique among League of Legends's greatest names. As a mastermind strategist and shot-caller, he established himself as the best at that role in 2012 and won championship on three continents. As a Top laner, he was the best in the world and one of the great carries, with his individual performance at IEM VII Cologne being one of the most startingly dominant in the game's history. He was ahead of his time until it left him behind.
Reapered out-thought you, out-maneuvered you and out-played you. That was Reapered's game.
Order out of chaos
Like a number of well known first and second generation League of Legends (LoL) professional players, Reapered began playing the game Chaos, where there was a character from whom he would take the LoL alias he would later make famous. He had played League of Legends as well, but his interest in the game only became serious with his viewing of the Season 1 Championship in June of 2011.
At that time South Korea had no server, but that would change at the end of the year. Just prior to that, Reapered had begun competing in online competitions in ACE, a team which also featured future MiG team-mate Ambition. The two were scouted by OnAir, the coach of Maximum impact Gaming (MiG), and given an invitation to join. For Reapered, who came from a poor background, that meant moving 324km from his native Busan to Seoul to become a professional player.
"[I] came up from Busan (to Seoul) with nothing but my
MiG already had one of the better teams in Korea and planned to create a sister line-up to practice against. Reapered would be added to a new team, which was built around Cpt. Jack, an AD Carry who had impressed many with his performanes in online competitions. With the original MiG team taking on the code-name "Frost", the second team took the name "Blaze" to fit with the theme. Reapered and Ambition had both shared the Jungle position previously, but now they would swap to Top lane and Mid lane, respectively.
"when we formed a team, there wasn’t really a member that
felt confident in top lane. So, I ended up taking that position. I
actually played jungle mostly, and I also played the mid lane
position more often than the top position."
-Reapered (dignitas, 2012)
With three of the five members adapting to new main roles, the team initially struggled with results and Reapered and his main failed to impress in a tournament hosted by one of the biggest Korean esports sites, while sister team Frost made it to the final. Blaze's atmosphere was chaotic, with personality clashes and blame thrown around, but Reapered would emerge as the figure ensuring everyone's emotional state returned to a base-line level.
Later in the month, Blaze qualified for the first season of OnGameNet's big League of Legends tournament: OGN Champions Spring. Facing inSec's Team Bubble, 20 year old Reapered delivered his first dominant offline performance over the two game series.
The Top lane carry shot-caller announces himself
Blaze topped their group, with Reapered showcasing two champions which would become signature picks for him. Expession's Hunters could not stand against the power of Reapered's Olaf and StarTale, which was composed of the future core of 2013's KT Rolster Bullets (Ryu, Score and Mafa) and now legendary SKT coach kk0ma, failed to deal with the Blaze's captain's Wukong.
The Hunters game marked not only Reapered's OGN Champions debut, but also heralded the arrival of his unique skillset in the LoL world. A listen-in on the broadcast showed Reapered issuing orders to his team. Here was a Top lane carry shot-caller, three years before the likes of MaRin and Smeb would again revive that unique role combination. Against StarTale, another pattern of significance emerged, as even if ganked early on, Reapered would still farm well and his team would group and team-fight their way to victory.
Facing Mount Rushmore
The first seed ensured Blaze would only have to face a second seed from another group in the quarter-finals of the play-offs, but that proved to be more intimidating than one might have initially anticipated. The draw saw Reapered and company facing Counter Logic Gaming. This North American line-up was packed with star names (HotshotGG, bigfatlp, Saintvicious and Chauster) who had attained a near mythical status at the time in the game, especially for Koreans who, due to only getting their own server six months earlier, had been forced to face players of that calibre on inferior ping over on the NA server.
Earlier in the year, Frost had beaten this team to win the OGN Invitational and both shock the Western world with the initial strength of the top Korean teams and establish themselves as the golden boys of Korean LoL. CLG had never failed to reach at least the top four of every offline event they had competed in, but Reapered would change history as Blaze eliminated them in a two game sweep, complete with two new champion picks from Reapered, including a crushing debut Riven game.
Entering the elite
Team OP were the dangerous side standing between Reapered as the final. Their core had been one of the best Korean teams for months already and they were notoriously strong at the Mid lane and Jungle positions, occupied by the maddeningly cavalier talent of Cornsalad and the stable strength of Nolja, respectively. OP had slain FNATIC, Season 1 Champions and winners of IEM VI New York in 2011, in the quarter-finals.
This would be the most trying series of the season for Reapered. Most games he was killed early on and struggled to put an impact on the game until the team-fights, where he would get his kills. Carry performances from Ambition and Cpt. Jack highlighted the true triple carry threat nature of Blaze. No matter the circumstances of the early game, Reapered showed full control over his team as they always found the right dragon fights and skirmishes. This series marked a captain's victory, not a Top lane carry's.
There can be only one
Being as Blaze had started out as the second team of the MiG organisation that had stigmatised them as "the B team", not least since Frost emerged early on as champions as one of the best teams in Korea. Westerners even came back with stories that Blaze would go out and practice the Western teams and come back to the team house and practice against Frost, mimicing the styles of the teams they had faced, so that Frost did not need to reveal any of their own weaknesses but could prepare for the opponents'. While this arrangement was in place, it also worked the other way around in certain cases.
In the final of OGN Spring, Blaze would square off against their sister team, Frost, in an all-MiG affair. Frost had begun the season favourites to become champions, while Blaze had accomplished no notable tournament results to that point in their careers. It was felt resoundingly that Frost were the favourites to take the crown. Even in terms of match-ups they looked to have a strong counter to Blaze, with Frost Top laner Woong having carried his team to the finals and shown numerous world class performances throughout the season.
Where so many expected a Frost exhibition match, beating down their sister team and hoisting the trophy, it was to be a shock for all in attendance, as Reapered again defied the consensus. Blaze swept the series 3:0 and it wasn't even close. Reapered stomped the first two games, playing as Wukong and then switching to Jax in the second, a champion he had not picked that season. In the final game, Ambition would unleash his Ryze in a crushing 24 minute victory that secured the trophy for Blaze.
The B team had beaten the A team and Reapered's men were the champions of Korea. With his powerful finals performance and integral role as the shot-caller, Reapered was undoubtedly the MVP of the team's championship campaign. Over the tournament he had averaged a stat line of 4.1 kills/1.5 deaths/5.3 assists.
After the season, Reapered would change his alias from FantasyStar, which had used for the entire season, back to Reapered.
"I thought to myself, 'If I played really well, then wouldn't
the name Reapered become more famous in LoL than Chaos?' So I
changed back to Reapered."
-Reapered (duowan, 2013)
A new home
Days after the OGN final, MiG became Azubu, as the title sponsor of OGN champions signed the two finalist teams. A month and a half later the Summer season of OGN Champions began. Notable teams in Blaze's group were Expession's NaJin Shield and Team WE, China's best. Reapered was in form throughout the group and showed both ends of the spectrum in wins over the aforementioned teams, beating Shield with his Shen and using Irelia against WeiXiao's boys.
Chewing up North America's best
Blaze were invited to attend the Major League Gaming (MLG) Summer Arena tournament, held in the offices of MLG in New York City, and flew out there right after the OGN group stage. There, they would face an assortment of Western talent. The format was a group stage in which each team played three games in a row against each team and then the top two faced off in a final for first place.
First up for Reapered's Blaze boys was Team SoloMid (TSM). They had dominated North America, winning five straight offline events. Having been one of the few top NA teams not to venture over to Korea, nobody quite knew how they would fare against the best Asian teams. Blaze won all three games, but in unusual fashion.
While the kills on the scoreboard were often close, it mattered little as Reapered ensured Blaze were always gaining an ever-increasing lead in towers, utilising innovative new push strategies to take towers early and often. TSM had no answer for this approach and simply poured all of their efforts into team-fighting, where they performed well but could not prevent inevitable victories from Blaze. Kills for TSM meant extending in the game, while kills for Blaze meant more towers and more map pressure.
TSM Top laner Dyrus wasn't used to facing a Top laner who could consistently out-class him, but saw Reapered grow stronger over the series, culminating in a dominant Irelia game to finish.
The second series was against a line-up called BLACK, featuring a then unknown Rekkles and Svenskeren. Another 3:0 result followed and Reapered dominated with 26 kills and only seven deaths. The second game mirroed the second of the OGN final, as Reapered unleashed the nightmare Jax which had ripped apart Frost. Less than nine minutes into the game he had six kills already and at game's end he was sat on 13.
The final group series came against Curse, who were led by the very same former CLG Jungler Saintvicious who had fallen in the quarter-final of OGN. Reapered's opposing number would be a 15 year old Pobelter. Curse won the second game of the series and thus earning the distinction of being the only team to take one against Blaze over the nine they had played in the group stage.
Reapered attributed Curse's victory to the nature of the format, with Blaze having secured their spot in the final after winning the first game with ease. Certainly, the Koreans had show-cased some different compositions in the final two games.
"We won the first game, which meant we already got into the
finals, so going into the second and third games, it was more
experimental for us because we are playing other matches right
after we get back to Korea. We won't have much time to practice so
we thought the second and third games would be our experimental
games for when we get back to Korea. Like scrims."
-Reapered (Mobafire, 2012)
A rematch with NA's champions
With TSM having won both of their other series 3:0, the final would be a rematch from Blaze's opening game and North America's finest would get the opportunity for revenge. A statistics graphic shown leading into the final showed Reapered at averages for the tournament of 7.3/3.2/10 to Dyrus's 2.5/3.5/9.2. While Dyrus was a strong Top laner in the West and a core component of the team, with it being no coincidence his arrival at TSM sparked their run of dominance within their region, the difference between him and Blaze's beast was startlingly apparent.
The final was even worse for TSM than the group stage match had been, again being swept, this time 2:0, but this time without the games being as close. TSM had struggled to adapt to Blaze's push strategies in the group and played a more controlled game early on, but found Reapered and company besting them more-so in skirmishes this time around.
Azubu Blaze were crowned champions of the MLG Summer Arena, giving Reapered his second big title in a row and making him the first Korean to win an offline tournament outside of his native region. Reapered was widely considered the best Top laner and shot-caller in the world. After the final, his stat line sat at a monstrous 6.2/2.5/9.6.
"I think we won because we practiced a lot more than other
teams just for TSM, Azubu Frost who lives with us figured out what
TSM's strategies and style were. They would play TSM and then we
would play against Frost, so that's how we would practice."
-Reapered (Mobafire, 2012)
Back in Korea, the play-offs of OGN Champions awaited and the hope of winning a third straight offline title. The opponent was Xenics Storms, who had been one of the elite teams the previous season and taken Frost to five games in the semi-finals there. Reapered and company easily swept them to reach their second OGN round of four, which would be a rematch of the past season's final.
The Frost team Reapered faced now was quite difficult in complexion to the one he had trounced three months earlier. The tempestuous Locodoco had been kicked from the team and, rather than recruit a direct replacement, the team had chosen to bring in Top lane talent Shy, fresh out of solo queue play, and role swap Woong to the AD Carry position. Woong had been one of the best Top laners, but it was felt that this allowed for the talents of Shy and that Woong could still contribute his strategical insights from ADC, where he was partnered with Support god MadLife.
Unlike the previous season, when Frost had come into their series against Blaze as the heavy favourites, this time Blaze were the reigning champions and had yet to drop a game in the tournament. Frost, on the other hand, not only boasted a new look line-up, but had been shockingly upset in the opening game of the group by the little known RoMg. In the quarter-final they had beaten CLG Prime, who were having problems dealing with a roster change and role swap of their own around Top lane.
Reapered was shocked to see his world class individual level fail to materialise and Blaze constantly fighting to keep afloat in the series. In contrast to the previous season's sweep, this match went to five games, which in OGN meant a blind pick game to decide the winner. Reapered went with the Shen he had played in the previous two games and failed to get a single kill as Blaze saw their chances at back-to-back OGN titles disappear. Over the five game series, Reapered had managed only five kills total.
"That was the first Best-of-5 we had lost. It was a big shock
to all of us. I think it hit us even harder because it was our
sister team, Frost. The reason being that we had better win rates
in scrims and simply never thought of the possibility of losing. It
was hard to accept defeat."
-Reapered (MachinimaVs, 2013)
In the third place decider, Reapered faced up against MaKNooN's new NaJin Sword team, a sister squad built around the aggressive star Top laner's preferred style of play. There were more struggles for Reapered individually and he saw his team swept into fourth place.
The bitter end
Less than two weeks after the disasterous end to Reapered's second OGN campaign, his Blaze team would have a chance to qualify for the Season 2 World Championship, an expanded version of the tournament which had inspired him to become a professional in 2011. With Frost having gotten the automatic seed granted to the team with the most circuit points, making both OGN finals and winning the Summer season, Blaze were in second place in circuit points and thus would wait in the final to play one team for a shot at the World Championship.
That team would end up being the same one they had lost to in their last OGN series, as Sword battled through two Bo5 series to face them for the spot. Despite losing the first game of the series, Blaze came back to win the next two and put Sword on the brink of elimination. The third game featured Reapered carrying on Jayce and MaKNooN struggling. That pick would be the death of Reapered and Blaze's hopes of Worlds, as MaKNooN used it to win the fouth game and then blind picked it and took the decider.
Blaze had lost three straight Bo5 series, two in a row to the same team. For a team of their calibre and expectations, this was unacceptable. Only a month and a half ago they had been the best team in the world and their innovative strategies were pored over by every other would-be champion.
While the World Championship took place in Los Angeles, where sister team Frost would reach the final, Blaze played in the IEF tournament and won it over some of Korea's lesser names. Reapered's carry play seemed to have evaporated entirely and something was wrong with the chemistry of the team, in spite of their win. A key issue that losing had forced into the forefront was the mixture of personalities in the team.
Where Reapered and Ambition had clashed in the past, victory had been the balm which had soothed their wounds. When Ambition had criticised Helios and Lustboy, the youngest members, Reapered was there to be the uniting factor in the unit. Now, with their leader no longer locking down his individual performances and the team failing to win as a group, Reapered no longer seemed invaluable.
Reapered wanted to continue to innovate and experiment further, while Ambition and Cpt. Jack wanted to play a more conservative style, rooted in the strong picks of the meta-game. It would always be Reapered's philosophy to attempt to stay ahead of the meta, rather than following it, so the divide was clear and Reapered found himself alone on his side. He has said he left, while others have said he was kicked. Ultimately, the outcome was the same. On October 21st, a month after the Regional qualifier, Reapered departed from Azubu Blaze.
Eat Sleep Game
In early December, Reapered form a team under the name "Eat Sleep Game" (ESG), a motto he had adopted and cited in interviews during his time in Blaze. The only established player was H0R0, who had been the Jungler of the Xenics Storm team which finished third in the Spring season of OGN. Reapered brought in old ACE team-mate MighTiLy, who was now playing Mid lane, as opposed to his old position of Support. In the bottom lane, Reapered took in players from solo queue in UandME and StarLast.
If the divide in Blaze had been over Reapered retaining full control and decision-making in how the strategies of the team would operate, then ESG was to be his blueprint to prove that his style of shot-caller was both relevant and effective, as three fifths of the team had no real experience of top level Korean tournament play. The team's first test would be the online Korean qualifier for the IEM VII Global Challenge Cologne, shortly after having formed.
Reapered looked fully revitalised by his time off and looked back to his best form as he destroyed the competition to qualify for the tournament in Germany, even posting an outlandish 15 kills and no deaths Evelynn game against inSec and dade's CJ Entus. Three days after the qualifier, ESG was announced as the League of Legends team of SK Telecon T1, the most famous and prestigious organisation in the history of Korean esports. Mere days after that, Reapered was off to German for his second overseas event.
Class in session
IEM VII Cologne was the masterpiece of Reapered's storied career. Despite the tournament itself not featuring any elite level Asian teams or being of the stature of events like OGN Champions, IPL5 or the World Championship, the magnitude of Reapered's excellence at that event would make it in many ways the most significant of his career. It was the quintessence of everything he stood for as a player and the ways in which he changed and innovated the game.
In the group stage, SKT lost a single game to FNATIC, one of the best Western teams and the runners-up of IPL5. That game aside, Reapered was unstoppable against the other European teams and SKT moved on to a play-off date with Poland's MYM in the semi-finals.
To the outside world, few would have imagined the Koreans would know the members of this team, but in fact the Polish team were infamous for three of them having been part of the Gameburg team which shockingly eliminated MaKNooN's NaJin e-mFire in the quarter-final of the World Cyber Games almost exactly a year prior. Such a result was not a possibility on this day, as SKT rolled over them, thanks in large part to a monster Eve game from Reapered. That pick was quickly becoming a new signature champion for Reapered.
The final was a rematch of SKT's group stage loss, facing FNATIC. The team's form had been incredible over the last month, beating CLG.EU to win Dreamhack Winter and then, two weeks prior to IEM Cologne, going to IPL5 and finishing in second place with two series wins over TPA, the Season 2 World Champions. FNATIC's play revolved around the unique duo lane threats of xPeke and sOAZ, two players who had been playing in the final of the very same Season 1 Championship Reapered had been watching from home a year and a half prior.
sOAZ played a number of champions which could be flexex into the Mid lane for xPeke or vice-versa and at times would even swap position with the Spaniard. xPeke was one of the best players in the world when he got onto his strong picks. SKT would win the series 2:1, but it was the nature of their wins which made the result epic. Reapered left Lee Sin open in all three games, sOAZ's best pick and one of SKT's bans against FNATIC in the group stage. Being as the Frenchman was incredible on the champion, he obliged by taking it all three times.
sOAZ would play well, as evidenced by an impressive second game which went to FNATIC, but SKT won the first and third games off the back of unbelievable carry play from Reapered. Over those two victories for the Korean side, both played on Olaf, he would post a stat line of 23/3/28. He finished the tournament with averages of 6.9/2.5/9.5.
"After we lost to Fnatic, we analyzed the game and found out that we would be able to win if we played again. Players like xPeke or SoAZ had an obvious personality, so we used that to our advantage. In the final, we purposely gave them Lee Sin and used Lee Sin’s weaknesses in top lane. We also banned Katarina to decrease xPeke’s choices.
Lee Sin is a strong champion during early-mid game and
especially in uncoordinated teamfights. He needs to force those
teamfights to become stronger. The downside is that if he
doesn’t get the chances to fight like that, he won’t be
able to grow into late game. If you watched our games, we picked
champions that excelled in 5v5 teamfights like Amumu or Zyra. We
never fought early game and dragged the game onto the late
-Reaperd (dailygame.co.kr, 2013)
SK Telecom T1 had won IEM VII Cologne and Reapered had added not only the third trophy of his career, but had won all three in different continents. Winning OGN Spring had seen him best the elite Korean teams, MLG Summer Arena the top North Americans and IEM VII Cologne arguably the best European team. As much as all victories in team disciplines are a team effort, this very special triple crown accomplishment had only one common denominator: the Top lane carry shot-caller Reapered.
The puppet master at his apex
The extent of Reapered impact upon SK Telecom T1's victory in Cologne became even more apparent when translated fragments were published on reddit of the Korean team's voice communications. They revealed a Reapered who was not the shot-caller in the sense he had occupied in Blaze, issuing commands to top level talents and coordinating their efforts. Instead, Reapered appeared to be practically the sole mind moving the other players around the map like chess pieces and having to at times micro-manage even their buys and simple engagements.
Shocking examples, in light of the victorious nature of the team's campaign, included the AD Carry of the team being told to buy a "cloak", meaning the cloak of agility item - which builds into the AD Carry item Infinity Edge, and coming out of the shop with a negatron cloak, an item used for magic resistence and typically bought by AP champions. In a similar vein, Reapered told his team to "go" at one point, indictating it was time to follow the plan of rotating onto the barron, but his Mid laner misunderstood and flash engaged an opponent.
In light of such trying circumstances, for a champion and elite level player, it is impressive that Reapered's individual game was so staggeringly effective and that his team won the tournament with only two lost games. As contentious as his relationships had been in Blaze, it was clear there had been benefits to having skills team-mates who understood the game themselves. It appeared as if Reapered had gone to the other extreme in creating this team of willing drones.
Asked about his impressive ability to unravel the puzzle of a game and conjure up creative solutions, Reapered cited Sherlock Holmes as an inspiration in how to think. On the topic of his innovation, he explained his philosophy of seeking out unconventional champion synergies which had not yet been discovered due to requiring the team to play a specific way around them.
Where other teams copied the established meta-game, Reapered's strategies came from his own imagination. Of course, having control of one of the world's best Top lane carries, in himself, certainly helped with the execution of those ideas.
Reapered's stock had never been higher, as the rest of the world looked on and realised the feat he had accomplished with practically no top tier talent to help him, especially not at the other traditional carry positions of Mid lane and AD Carry. In fact, both of those positions would later prove to be liabilities for the team.
Rival MaKNooN declared Reapered the best Top laner in the world and said that Blaze was not scary without him, as their poor performance at IPL5 seemed to have highlighted, failing to even finish in the top six. Season 2 Championship MVP Toyz explained that when Blaze had featured Reapered in their line-up, his Taipei Assassins (TPA) had never won a scrimmgage, even citing the number of 30 games.
A work in progress
As the new year began, SK Telecom showed their first flaws, failing to qualify for IEM VII Katowice or IEM VII Sao Paulo. MighTily was replaced with SuNo, but the team failed to qualify for the MLG Winter Championship. Their losses had not all been to elite level teams either. Competing online in the Asian super-tournament StarWar S2, SKT lost every series except one.
Winning IEM Cologne had automatically qualified Reapered's me for the IEM VII World Championship in Hannover, Germany. Despite beating Frost in the opening game of the group stage, SKT's successful 4:1 campaign and secured top seed came with less flair than had been on show in Cologne. The top seed from the group meant Reapered skipped ahead to the semi-final and awaited the winner of one of the quarter-finals there. The team who occupied the open spot seemed scripted, as his old team Blaze, now with the CJ Entus organisation, stood in the way of another IEM semi-final.
Reapered's replacement in Blaze was Flame, a solo queue talent in the vein of Shy but with the mind-set of hard carrying from the Top lane, even more-so than Reapered, since his style had always fed into a team approach of capitalising off kills and grouping whenever necessary to team-fight. Flame had stumbled at IPL5, but in the build-up to it and since he had been show-casing the powerful skills which had earned him his spot in the team.
The whole world had told the youngster that nobody could replace Reapered and in the shot-calling sense they were likely right, but as an individual player Flame was determined to show that statement was not final. Besides, Flame's team-mates had actively chosen to fore-go the days of Reapered's style of play and become a more simple and conservative team. Blaze had fallen in the final of IEM Katowice to the legendary Gambit Gaming and had been beaten by the same team again in the group stage in Hannover.
Reapered did what he could in the series, bringing out his akali - which had downed Frost earlier, and his signature Jax, but today was Flame's day and his replacement smashed him with an all-star performance. Flame and Blaze went on to win the title and, as we now know, their trajectory was set to become the best team in the world.
For Reapered, a top four finish had been a welcome respite from problems back in Korea, but losing to his old team left him wounded. That was his moment to show them how much they needed him. To show them who was right. Whether that would actually have been a fair assessment of the outcome of victory was irrelevant to the topic on both teams' minds.
Round we go again
As if having turned the clock back a year, Reapered found himself having to qualify for OGN Spring again, being as his team was new and had not competed in a previous season. They accomplished that minor feat and began their group stage campaign a few weeks later. The five Bo2 series would see SKT repeating the same pattern over and over again. In all five series, they won a game and lost the other. In four of the wins, Reapered had delivered a classic hard carry performance and on a different champion each time.
Diversity and unpredictability had been the opposite of what Blaze had wanted and exactly what Reapered's departure had been about. With SKT, he would seek out novel and unique compositions to get wins off teams who far outstripped his in terms of talent and experience. Before the season had begun, Reapered had named five teams he felt were ahead of his own (Azubu Frost, Azubu Blaze, Najin Sword, KT B and IM) and by the end of the group stage he had taken a game from the three of them in his group: Frost, KT B and IM.
Fight me, brother!
The quarter-final saw Reapered again meeting his former team-mates in Blaze but in different circumstances. Now, the weaknesses of his team had been seen and only so many tricks and individual performances could be expected to secure wins against top level competition. What's more, Blaze were on a streak of seven straight games won.
The match-up was a nighmare for Reapered's team, as Blaze's strength stemmed both from their carry positions and their new twist on wave manipulation. Top laner Flame had not only adequately replaced Reapered as a carry, but was arguably the best player in the world. As much as SuNo was a noticeable upgrade to MighTily, he was no Ambition, the best Mid laner in Korea and perhaps the world.
In a standard match-up, SKT would have been threatened at these two positions, but Blaze was pioneering the "sixth man" approach of wave manipulation, where they gave up dragons to allow Flame and Ambition to freeze waves and farm up an equivalent amount of free gold onto their two best players. Those two stars, the best at their positions, would then destroy the late-game team-fights Blaze were famed for.
The series was a crushing sweep for Blaze, who extended their winning streak to double digits, and Reapered was left weeping in the booth. It is worth noting that SKT even reaching the quarter-finals was impressive in light of none of their players being in the top five of their role for KDA and four of their five wins coming with Reapered winning the MVP award.
SKT went down into NLB, a tournament which featured the teams who had failed to reach the semi-finals of OGN Champions and others who had qualified. SKT played three Bo5 series here, all three going to a fifth game and only the first, against IM, going the way of Reapered's boys. Finishing in fourth place overall, it was hard to even believe being paired against Blaze in OGN had been the sole reason for the team's failure to make a deep run.
Immediately after the NLB results, the SK Telecom organisation released Reapered and his team. Their sister team, SK Telecom T2, had show incredible promise, finishing third in OGN, and in Mid laner Faker they seemed to have secured the best rookie in the world. Reapered reformed Eat Sleep Game and brought Raven (formerly UandME) and StarLast with him.
In light of the eventual results of the team, many have often wondered why Reapered did not simply abandon the team upon their release from SKT and join an established side. In an number of interviews year later, Reapered later revealed that he had received offers to become the Top laner of better teams, but had felt obligated to stay with his younger team-mates, since they had placed so much trust in him and their careers likely depended upon his presence.
"Honestly, when I first left SKT T1, if I were going to ditch
[Raven and StarLast] and go on my own, I had a lot of team options
open. I decided to play with them, though. As a leader, and as a
friend and older brother to them, if I left them alone it wouldn't
be cool at all."
-Reapered (MachinimaVs, 2013)
With a spot in OGN Champions already secured, the new team joined a newly created organisation called Jin Air GreenWings, taking on the code-name "Falcons". Joining Reapered, Raven and StarLast were new recruits Miso and Roar. Reapered later acknowledged that Jin Air had done a poor job of recruiting, as he was left with a similar problem as when he joined Blaze, with a lack of players at specific roles and too many at others. Miso and himself were Top laners, while Roar was the former ADC of Incredible Miracle but was joining a team that already featured Raven.
Reapered rationalised that Miso, now known to the world as Fenix - Mid laner of Team Liquid, should be given a chance to play his position of Top lane, because the youngster had been a been highly spoken of as a trainee with CJ and a sparring partner of Flame. With Roar agreeing to switch to the Mid lane, Reapered was left with the vacant Jungle position, a role he had not played for a year and a half.
The team won their opening series 2:0 over a Xenics team whose talents (CoCo, Arrow and DayDream) had yet to fully mature. In the next series, Reapered faced reigning OGN champions MVP Ozone and DanDy, the best Jungler in Korea. DanDy showed Reapered the futility of a late-life change to the Jungle position that day, out-classing him in every respect and leading Ozone to two resounding stomps. A win over Xenics Blast allowed Reapered to get some good games off, albeit against a lesser side, and continue his record of reaching the play-offs of every OGN season he had played in.
The opponent in the quarter-final was his old sister team, SK Telecom T1. Where they had been largely the Faker show the previous season, their team had now matured to become a well rounded elite squad, as would be evidenced by AD Carry Piglet bodying the series and SKT ADC Raven, who managed only a single kill over the three games. SKT won the three games in less than 80 minutes of total game time played.
The days of competitive League of Legends being Reapered's game, controlling his team-mates to beat out all opposition in his path, were long gone. He was no longer an elite player at his position, having switched to become an average Jungler, and his team-mates were not top drawer material.
Another fourth place finish in NLB, this time with the last two series being sweeps at the hands of the opponent, saw Reapered at the lowest he had ever experienced competitively. What hope was there for the future? Days after the last NLB match, Raven left the team. The upside of that was Roar could move down to his original position of AD Carry. Reapered too wanted to try a role swap and the team brought in RealFoxy - now known to the world as Chaser, to play Jungle at the World Cyber Games Korean qualifier. Reapered moved over to the vacant Mid lane spot, determined to carry his team again.
The WCG qualifier was a mess and the team came nowhere close to qualifying. The RealFoxy experiment came to an end a week later, with Jin Air recruiting vetern Jungler ActScene. OGN Winter began with a rematch of the first series of the previous season, facing off against Xenics Storm. By now, those aforementioned talents had indeed matured. CoCo unleashed an unmerciful beating and Reapered saw the campaign begin with a 0:2 loss. The team opted to use rookie Rynder in his place for the next series, a 1:1 tie against Stealths.
Reapered came back in for the final series of the group stage, facing Frost. His first sister team had undergone many changes. Woong had long since been replaced, CloudTemplar's spot was now occupied by former Blaze Jungler Helios and RapidStar had retired. Replacing the Frost Mid laner was MaKNooN, Reapered's former Top lane rival, who had also position swapped to Mid. The season would prove an unfruitful one for both former Top lane greats, but it is fitting that the last game of Reapered's professional career came in a lane facing MaKNooN and with them each securing a win.
That Reapered played Tryndamere in both games suggests the depths to which he had been forced to reach to find viable champions for his third competitive position. The last game of his career was a 7/2/9 performance which secured Falcons a second tie, which was not good enough to earn a play-off spot. Reapered did not appear in the Falcons line-up which played in NLB and retired from competitive play on the 1st of January, 2014 - just under a month after his final game.
After two years of competitive play, Reapered had accomplished marvels, all in his own unique manner, but the latter half had been filled with heartbreak and frustration. Reapered commented for OGN for a while and in 2015 joined Edward Gaming (EDG) of China as a coach, helping them win the Demacia Cup, LPL Spring and the MSI. On the 11th of April, 2016, his facebook announced that he was looking for a new team and on 22nd of May it was announced that he had joined Cloud9 as a coach.
In 2012, League of Legends was a far less complex game at the competitive level. The meta-game of strong champions was less well defined and mined, leaving lots of room for innovative picks, unique synergies and creative uses of different compositions. Reapered was not just one of the best Top lane players in the world, he was the best shot-caller and strategist at that time. His problem was the nature of the talent within his team, Blaze.
Blaze were made up of players who all established themselves as some of the best at their roles, which inevitably meant that when the team began to lose, specifically to key opponents and in high pressure moments, it was inevitable that the temprorary truce afforded their bigger egos by victory would be removed. Other players wanted autonomy and a say in the operating of the team, with most wanting to play around their individual strengths more.
In 2012, the coaching structure was in its infancy in Korea. OnAir helped the team largely as a manager and with some of the basics of the game, but the likes of Locodoco and Reapered handled the rest within MiG. From 2013 onwards, the rise of entire coaching teams within Korean LoL has seen every team brought under the reign of such a structure. In Korean culture, no individual over-rides those above him in the hierarchy. While there have been a number of great shot-callers, the coaching staff has option of retaining the final say in how a team will play.
Reapered was a relic of another time when Season 3 began. A genius individual standing out against the collective wisdom of the day. Pushing his philosophy to breaking point, he assembled a team which had no business competing at the top level in Korea or elsewhere, yet won IEM VII Cologne with that very same team and accomplished a better than expected result in their first OGN season. That Summer, even with a line-up which featured two Top laners and two AD Carries occupying four different roles, collectively, Reapered took his team to the OGN play-offs. The fundamental level and balance of roles was not there, though.
SKT had won by virtue of the brilliance of Reapered and the nature of a three day tournament allowing him to put them ahead of Western teams and mentally out-maneuvere the oppnents. Blaze had won due to having quality players, who worked well together and then one of the best minds to unify their efforts. Jin Air was simply a mind without a body, Reapered having given up his own position in forming that line-up. Ultimately, Reapered's game could last only so long.
Which is not to say that his approach was incorrect, merely out of place for that time and era. Had he moved to another team after SKT had disbanded his team, following NLB Spring, then his career might have seen more deep finishes and a revitalisation of his individual play, but it likely would have meant ceding control of the team to coaches and becoming "just" another team-mate.
Forget me not
For Blaze, who went the opposite way, the results were ultimately just as unsatisfying, all things considered. They too won a Western tournament within the first few months, but then found themselves missing the qualities Reapered had offered, just as he missed their talents. Reaching the OGN Spring final with the "sixth man" approach and the best player in the world (Flame), Blaze found themselves shocked in one of the all-time great upsets in the final, falling to MVP Ozone in a sweep and unable to adapt to the changes Ozone had implemented. Could they not have used an innovatie thinker and strategical mind in that moment?
Blaze continue to ride out their late-game scaling style of play, centered around their solo lane, for another year entirely, seeing the talent of their players both launch them deep into tournaments and bring them close to victories over the best teams in the world, yet also setting the ceiling for how far they could go. Once they met teams with more talent or a better strategical approach, Blaze would fall. Their insistance on a conversative and reliable style of play made them a top four team in practically every season, yet never saw them make another OGN final.
The things they could have accomplished together. The maddening agony of great talents, mental and physical, left unchecked by the creative tension of existing within the presence their opposites.
Photo credit: ESL, inven, thisisgame, dailygame, FOMOS, MLG, Azubu
Custom artwork by @hyuugaclan.