This article was initially published in the summer of 2014.
There are three types of leaders in competitive LoL. There’s the shotcaller, the superstar, and the out-of-game strategist. For instance, Cloud 9’s Hai serves as the main in-game shotcaller, Meteos is the backbone who carries the team to victories, and LemonNation determines the overall strategy. Very rarely, players can serve two roles at once. WorldElite’s WeiXiao was famous for being the best AD Carry in the world while serving as the team’s primary shotcaller. A player filling all 3 roles for their team is completely unheard of. Save for Reapered.
This unique brilliance is why I can’t help but look at Reapered’s career with a mixture of both disappointment and longing. This seems like a very strong statement. Reapered is one of the few players who won both an OGN and an IEM title as his team’s best player. He clearly had an excellent career. To this day, he carries a large fanbase. But I can’t help but wonder. If a few things in Reapered’s career had gone differently, could he still be playing? Would we remember him as one of the greatest players of all-time?
Chapter 1: Ascension
Reapered and MiG Blaze first took the world by storm at the very first OGN event, then known as Azubu The Champions. MiG Blaze was widely regarded as simply a training partner for the much stronger MiG Frost, which has anchored by a Locodoco-MadLife bot lane widely considered the strongest in all of Korea. However, Blaze’s lineup of Reapered, Helios, Ambition, Cpt Jack, and Lustboy quickly showed that they were not be trifled with. In the first round of the playoffs, they faced off against Western powerhouse CLG. CLG’s lineup of Hotshot, Saint, Bigfat, Doublelift, and Chauster was considered a top 4 teams in the world and the greatest CLG line-up ever. (During this time, Reapered had briefly changed his name to FantasyStar)
Shockingly MiG Blaze would not only 2-0 CLG, but move on to defeat Team OP 3-1 (their lineup contained only a few players of note, most notably Lilac and Paragon) and then sweep the so-called “A-team” MiG Frost in a 3-0 victory.
After this shocking win, tournament sponsors Azubu decided to sponsor both Blaze and Frost. It was under the Azubu banner that these teams would achieve their greatest fame.
Shortly, after, the newly minted Azubu Blaze would travel to compete at MLG Summer Arena, a round-robin tournament where each of the four teams (Blaze, Curse, TSM, and Team BLACK) would play the others 3 times. Blaze easily won the tournament, going 8-1 and losing only a single nail biter to Curse after the American squad jumped out to a monstrous early game lead.
At this time, Blaze stood at the top of the world, and Reapered stated, “I’m not sure how long we can keep being the best in all the world, but we will try to stay there.” Little did he know, the true peak of his career was rapidly drawing to a close.
Chapter 2: Setbacks
At this time, Blaze was widely considered the strongest team in the world. They had swept CLG, TSM, and Azubu Frost, three contenders for the world title. The only notable teams left were Europe’s Moscow 5 and CLG.EU. (At the time, TPA hadn’t quite risen to prominence and Chinese squad WE were going through a disappointing slump that included losing to a Lautemortis-led Legion.) Not a lot of people remember this now, but a great deal of credit for Blaze’s success was given to Reapered, who was, at the time, the team’s captain. Not only was he considered one of the world’s best top laners alongside Woong and MakNoon, but he also created new strategies (most notably bringing back Vladimir top for wombo-combo press R comps.) In particular, he was considered the “face” of Blaze to Western fans, much like what Flame is considered today. Unfortunately, it was not to last for much longer.
Blaze began its championship defense with a total romp through the group stages, going undefeated against their 3 opponents, which included World Elite and Mokuza’s legendary NaJin Shield squad. They would continue to rush through the finals, but came up against their sister team Azubu Frost in the semis. This time, the tables were reversed. Although Blaze were the favorites, Azubu Frost managed a narrow 2-3 victory and moved on to defeat CLG.EU in the famous “reverse-sweep.” Blaze would bow out in the third place match to MakNoon’s NaJin Sword, managing only fourth place in the second Champions tournament.
Due to Korea’s points + regionals system, Azubu Frost was allowed to directly enter the World Championships. Due to Blaze’s fourth place finish, they had the second most overall points in Korea, which meant that they had to participate in Korean regionals. Although they were seeded directly into the finals, they were stunned by MakNoon’s NaJin Sword in another 2-3 defeat.
Shortly after, Reapered would leave the Blaze squad due to internal disagreements. There were rumors that the Blaze players, particularly Cpt Jack, felt that Reapered’s poor calls in the Regional finals doomed them to defeat. These rumors were highlighted by the fact that during World Championships, Reapered left the Blaze house to house-sit the Frost gaming house, leaving his teammates for over a month. He would be replaced in the Blaze lineup by a solo queue star who, at the time, only played Irelia: Flame. After leaving Blaze, Reapered would never again play with such high quality teammates and Flame would grow into (in my opinion) the best top laner of all time.
What could have changed?
For Blaze to go to Worlds, they had to either of 2 best of 5 series that wound up going to all 5 games. Had they beaten Frost in the semis, even if they lost to CLG.EU, they would have gone to worlds (their 1 win + 1 finals berth would have been far more points than anybody else.) Likewise, the games against NaJin Sword also went all the way. A few lucky bounces could have sent Reapered and co. to worlds and prevented their nasty break-up.
Sadly, Reapered would never again find comparable teammates to those he had on Blaze. For whatever reasons they broke, the team had suited Reapered perfectly. Blaze’s top-oriented gameplay was perfect for moving Reapered past his laning phase and into a successful mid-late game. Flame clearly is mechanically better than Reapered, but a large part of his success comes from all the support his team gives him. For all we know, had Reapered stayed on Blaze, he could have played the Flame role in CJ Blaze’s subsequent title contention. At the same time, his strong shotcalling may have prevented the infamous “Blaze throws” that we see to this very day. (A Reapered-led Blaze wouldn't have swept through Champions, but they probably wouldn't have lost to Ozone's Zed-centric counter-strategy either.) Similarly, his teammates on Blaze were a great fit for his playstyle. Ambition and Cpt Jack were both superb teamfighters who played high damage champions. Reapered always specialized in playing tanky split-pushers, his most famous champions were Vladimir and Shen.
Reapered had a lot of bad luck with teammates throughout his career, but the worst part was that he left a perfect situation with Blaze.
Chapter 3: A Brief but Failed Resurgence
After the world finals, KESPA organizations realized that LoL was definitely here to stay. We saw organizations like kT, Samsung, and others all pick up and begin training their own teams. At the time, most players were complete unknowns. For instance, dade and inSec were both toiling on a weak CJ Entus team. There were only two notable free agents. One was Reapered of Azubu Blaze fame, and the other was Faker, a rising star on the solo queue ladder. The SKT organization was able to secure both players. Reapered’s amateur squad Eat Sleep Game became their A-team, and Faker joined up with kkOma and a mixed group of ex-pros and solo queue talent to become the B-team. Today, it might seem crazy that Faker would ever play on a B-team, but that was the regard everybody had for Reapered back at the time.
Eat Sleep Game would quickly prove a worthy investment. The roster, consisting of Reapered, H0R0, MighTiLy, Raven, and StarLast would capture 1st place in their first-ever tournament: IEM Season VII – Global Challenge Cologne. This is not an exaggeration. Reapered’s performance in that tournament was the greatest solo-carry in competitive League of Legends history. His entire team had minimal-to-no international experience, but they would run through the entire tournament, capturing the final 2-1 against a Fnatic lineup of soAz, Cyanide, xPeke, Rekkles, and nRated. A huge part of this was due to Reapered’s contributions both in and out of the server. In-game, Reapered’s strong understanding of lane swaps was able to give him a significant advantage over his opponents. He was also an extremely dominant shot-caller, micromanaging his teammates to the point of even calling what items they would buy! Outside of game, he was also a huge innovator. SKT was extremely reliant on Amumu in the final against Fnatic, and he explained that he wanted large fights to beat out Fnatic’s skirmishing prowess. His usage of Amumu and Miss Fortune foreshadowed the Curse of the Sad Bullet Time comps which would dominate IEM Katowice.
These famous voice-comms show the team’s trust in Reapered.
Things looked on the up-and-up for Reapered and SKT, but they would never again achieve the elusive tournament win. Eventually, MighTiLy would leave the game and be replaced by solo queue star SuNo (of future Quantic infamy.) Reapered and co. would return at the IEM World Championships, where they would go 4-1 in group stages, triumphing over CJ Frost, SK, EG, and MYM but shockingly losing to an Anexis eSports lineup which was basically Team ROCCAT with NiQ in the jungle. Unfortunately, SKT would lose 2-0 to CJ Entus Blaze and finish the tournament tied for 3rd/4th with Gambit Gaming. After two solid but unspectacular OGN performances (reaching the Ro8 but not going further) SKT would drop Eat Sleep Game (retaining only H0R0) from their sponsorship to focus on rising star Faker. Eventually, Reapered would join up with the Jin Air organization, and repeatedly role-swap in a spectacularly failed attempt to carry his team. Reapered went from a legendary top laner to a mediocre jungler to a horrid mid laner and eventually retired to become a Caster.
What could have changed?
For the early part of Season 3, Reapered’s SKT squad was still a lineup that could compete at a World level. However, they weren’t championship favorites like the CJ squads, Gambit Gaming, or World Elite. Simply, SKT never really developed a secondary hard-carry to play alongside Reapered. In general, teams need three elite players if they want to succeed. If one player is feeling off, the other two can pick up the slack. We see this happening all the time in competitive LoL. Blaze stopped contending for OGN titles when Ambition and Cpt Jack were exposed as mediocre players. Gambit fell off after they lost EdWard. Even the famous story about MakNoon isn’t entirely true. Although he did put the NaJin Sword squad together by himself, he only won an OGN title after Pray and Cain became the strongest bot lane in Korea. Reapered never had that second star, every team went into games knowing that if they shut him down, they would have an easy win.
During his time on SKT, Reapered was the squad’s only elite player, outside of maybe H0R0, who still played second fiddle to the finest Korean junglers like DanDy or KaKAO. Furthermore, it must have been very mentally taxing to focus on both in-game shotcalling and the mechanics required to lead his team to victory. SuNo and Raven actually went into the SKT organization with a lot of hype: both were notable solo queue stars and Raven was considered a rival to Piglet. Unfortunately, neither delivered on their considerable promise and gave Reapered the damage dealing threat he needed to contend. While recruiting his team, Reapered had the pick of Korea’s finest players. Many of these unknowns would grow to be world-famous names: Deft, Piglet, Arrow, DanDy, KaKAO. What if Reapered had lucked out and grabbed one of those guys? With his massive game knowledge, it's not too hard to imagine Reapered training Korea's next cerebral genius.
Leaving the SKT organization would spell the last time Reapered ever contended for a world title. Worst of all, H0R0 elected to stay with the SKT organization, depriving Reapered of his only above-average teammate.
After leaving SKT and joining the Jin Air Falcons, he continually attempt to lane swap, first to the jungle and then to mid lane to try and exert more influence for his team. He was a mediocre jungler and a downright miserable mid laner, losing lane to amateurs and getting completely crushed by elite players such as Faker. By simply not lane swapping, he may have remained an elite top laner and considerably extended his career.
Let me put this out right away. I think Reapered had a great career. He was a groundbreaker of Korean LoL, a founder of the legendary Azubu Blaze, one of the greatest shotcallers ever, the first and best splitpusher, and one of only a handful of players to win both OGN and IEM titles.
It’s a testament to Reapered’s amazing skills that this was arguably a worst case scenario.