For years, there has been rampant discussion about whether the greatest League of Legends player of all time, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, would ever wear a jersey other than one from T1, the only professional team he has ever played for. Faker has even publicly stated on national television in his home country of South Korea that teams have offered him a "blank check" to play abroad.
Those discussions can finally come to an end. The three-time League of Legends world champion is going nowhere.
Faker has re-signed a three-year deal with T1, beginning in 2020. It's the maximum length permitted by the game's developer, Riot Games. Along with his new contract, Faker will become a part-owner of T1 Entertainment & Sports. In contract negotiations, Faker and T1 also agreed that he will move into a leadership role with the company when he retires from playing professionally.
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"I am excited to continue playing for T1 and am thankful for all the fans around the world who have supported me all these years," Faker told ESPN about his groundbreaking contract. "I am honored to become a part-owner of T1 and look forward to working with the leadership team beyond my playing career. I love this team and am proud to help mold the future of this organization."
Since almost the beginning of his career in 2013, Faker has been the face of the biggest esport in the world, League of Legends. In his first year as a 17-year-old rookie, Faker won his first South Korean domestic championship and then traveled to Los Angeles to win his first world title in front of a sold-out crowd at Staples Center. From there, he has won every individual accolade possible in the game and added seven more domestic trophies along with two more world championships.
In his home country, he has become a national icon, appearing on late-night television shows and starring in commercials alongside countryman Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur. Fans in China and around the world have camped out at hotels where T1 and Faker were staying during events, hoping to get an autograph from one of the best video game players in history. One fan in Rio de Janeiro went as far as to jump over a barricade and evade security to celebrate with Faker following one of his various international championships.
First established in 2003 as SK Telecom T1, the South Korean telecommunication company announced a global venture with American telecommunication company Comcast in early 2019 to become T1 Entertainment & Sports. Once a South Korean operation, T1 now has teams and players around the world in multiple gaming titles, including Fortnite, Super Smash Bros. and Apex Legends.
Most recently, T1 announced an exclusive partnership with Nike to help revolutionize esports training facilities and create programs that will boost the physical and mental performance of its players. Faker traveled to Beaverton, Oregon, during the League of Legends offseason to tour the Nike headquarters and learn about his company's newest partner.
"T1 is thrilled to have Faker on its roster for the next three seasons," Joe Marsh, CEO of T1, said to ESPN. "Since T1's inception, Faker has been the cornerstone of our team's success and his undying passion for this organization will continue to drive us forward now that he is a part-owner of T1 Entertainment & Sports. Even after Faker's retirement -- whenever that may be -- he will begin the next chapter of his legacy in a leadership role with T1, helping to mold the next generation of elite esports athletes."