Over the last four years, the conversation around SK Telecom T1 has always been about mid lane superstar Sang-hyeok “Faker” Lee first and then everyone else, if there’s time. But what often goes unmentioned is that for every moment of SKT’s success, Faker has had a shadow living in the jungle. With Bengi now leaving SK Telecom after four years and three world titles, it’s as good a time as any to look back on his remarkable career with the organization.
Remaking the Jungle in His Image
Jungle has always been the strangest role in professional League of Legends. When we talk about great junglers, it’s easy for the first names on our minds to be players like In-Seok “Insec” Choi or Byung-kwon “KaKAO” Lee — players who make incredible individual plays and have the potential to carry their team to victory in individual games. It’s easy to skip over the supportive junglers whose style revolves around their team. The Insecs and KaKAOs of the world win their team games. The supportive junglers win their team championships, and no one in the history of the game has been as good at that as Seong-un “Bengi” Bae.
When Bengi first came into the scene back in 2013, the jungle was a hodgepodge of three semi-different styles; the aggressor, the support and a hybrid of the two. Today, most junglers fall somewhere into the hybrid category, making highly calculated movements of aggression based on the information they have gathered. In fact, it was against two of the world’s best hybrid junglers of the last season, Chan-yong “Ambition” Kang and Wang-ho “Peanut” Han, that Bengi had to face to earn his third World Championship with SK Telecom.
But before Season 3, it was often assumed that the aggressive jungle style was the one most likely to lead to success. At the Season 3 World Championships however, Bengi proved the strength of the supportive jungler.
In most cases, previous to Bengi’s success, it was slightly unclear what the role of the supportive jungler was. Before Bengi, the role was essentially a midlane support, who assisted the midlaner much like the bottom lane Support assisted the AD Carry.
What Bengi understood was the best support he could provide for his team, and for Faker in particular, was to eliminate variables. So he did. He warded entrances to lanes and the jungle, he tracked the opponent’s jungler, and ganked for and backed up his lanes only when it was more advantageous than gaining information. A philosophy that has now become essential for any top-tier jungler.
In his time with SK Telecom T1 Bengi carved a place in the game for himself that he forced the rest of the world to match.
One Last Ride
If we were ever unsure of whether or not Bengi was crucial to SKT’s success, the Season 6 World Championships made it clear.
Coming into the tournament, Bengi was faced with a mountain of criticisms ranging from his champion pool -- and the now famously absent Nidalee -- to his map pressure. While a majority of this criticism was coming from outside his team, it was clear SKT had similar feelings when it went into the tournament with Sun-gu “Blank” Kang as the starter in the jungle.
Until setting foot on the Worlds stage, Blank had shown brief flashes of promise, but never quite seemed like a long term solution for the type of roster SKT had. At Worlds however, Blank was an entirely different story. He struggled to keep up with the general pace of the game set by the tournament’s best teams, and at his worst moments participated in some of the worst losses SK Telecom has ever suffered.
In every case, Blank could do a piece of Bengi’s job but could never match all of the aspects that proved key to SK Telecom’s success in the tournament. When Blank did well, the carries struggled. When the carries did well, Blank was behind. But, when the tournament was on the line, SK Telecom always turned back to Bengi. And every time, he put his teammates in the perfect place to succeed.
As we move forward and see what the future holds for SK Telecom, what will be most interesting is watching the organization reconcile the fact that its style never rested solely on Faker. That isn’t to downplay his hand in the dominance -- it should be said he is still the best player in the world hands down. It is rather to say that the hardest-to-fill void that SK Telecom could possibly face is the one made by Bengi’s absence. In the style he helped shape, there has never quite been a jungler who could match him.
For Bengi himself, the future seems more uncertain. He has talked about retirement for well over a year, and it would be hard to blame anyone for wanting to go out on -- quite literally -- the highest possible note in competitive League of Legends. Should he decide to continue, his place on another roster, whether in Korea or somewhere else, could be an interesting one. We have never seen him play outside the company of some of the world’s best players, and it surely had a major impact on the way he learned the competitive game.
But the speculation and predictions can come later. For now though, let’s just take a moment to sit back and remember the career of League of Legend’s most decorated jungler.