Through two-and-a-half weeks at the 2016 League of Legends World Championships, the best player in the world is neither Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho of the ROX Tigers or the game's all-time greatest, Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. The narrative before the tournament was the race between Smeb and Faker. The usurper (Smeb) and the king (Faker) both aim for the throne that is only big enough for one of them.
Instead, it is the man sitting a few seats down from Faker, Bae "Bang" Jun-sik, 20, solemn in expression, as he completes another multi-man kill from the backlines of another successful team fight to take the individual top spot in the tournament so far. Last year, Bang was a completely different player, in terms of play and appearance. The marksmen has lost weight throughout the 2016 year, and his play in-game has transitioned from a follower to a leader.
When Jang "MaRin" Gyeong-Hwan was on the team last year, a majority of T1's resources went toward Faker in the mid lane and MaRin in the top lane. For Bang, his job was to play safe and keep himself alive alongside support partner Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan until the laning phase ended and he could start picking stragglers off with his refined positioning and mobility in skirmishes.
Last year at the world championships, where he and SKT T1 would go on to win the Summoner's Cup with only one loss, Bang averaged -3 CS in the first 10 minutes of the game. It didn't matter if he was behind in the laning phase or wasn't leaping into a lead like MaRin or Faker. His job was to play safe and smart. Don't die. Weave in and out of trouble, and hopefully, when the clock hits 20 minutes on the timer, he could start making an impact.
This tournament, however, it has been an entirely different story with MaRin gone and replaced by Lee "Duke" Ho-seong. Bang has been situated in a more forward-facing carrying role this year, and it hasn't changed at the world championships. He was the top player in the group stages when it came to CS differential at 10 (+14) and No. 1 in KDA (12.2) and gold differential at 10 (428). When the jungle faltered in the group stages, Duke underperformed or Faker wasn't at his best, Bang was as steady as could be, carrying the team with a remarkable easy-going nature in the way he plays. Through the group stages and first round of the bracket stage, he has settled on a quartet of champions: Ezreal (3-1), Jhin (3-0), Sivir (1-1) and Caitlyn (1-0).
In 10 games, Bang has died only nine times. He kept up with RNG's top-level bottom lane Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao and Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong, who was consistently pressured by their teammate Liu "Mlxg" Shi-Yu from the jungle. No longer is Bang only surviving like he did last year in the laning phase, but he's thriving, not afraid to trade with the best marksmen in the world and push forward in-lane. The only game that SKT lost to RNG, Game 1 of the series, might have been Bang's best game of the night, going 5/1/1 on Ezreal in a clinic of how good he truly is -- not just as a cog in the machine, but as the machine itself.
He ended the first game (in a losing effort) with 42.3K damage. Uzi finished with 27.5K on Jhin. The next three games, in which he would win, Bang put up equally big numbers: finishing with a scoreline of 19/4/25 for the series. This against arguably the best bottom lane in the world. Bang not only showed up, he surpassed expectations, defeating a bottom lane with Wolf that receives almost all of RNG's attention and resources.
H2k Gaming's Konstantinos-Napoleon "FORG1VEN" Tzortziou, who plays Sunday in his quarterfinal, is in the running. Faker, as always, is right there. A few of the Samsung Galaxy members like Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin and Jo "Core JJ" Yong-in deserve serious recognition. Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, the consensus best AD in the world heading into the tournament, also isn't done just yet.
But right now, following SKT T1's dissection of Uzi, Mata, and the entirety of Royal Never Give Up, there is one man who leads the pack as the best at the world championships.
He is 48/9/57 through 10 games. He has the second least amount of deaths of any AD carry at Worlds even with the four extra games played. He has the most kills. He has the highest KDA. He is playing the best of the best at his position, and he's soaring, playing the best League of Legends of his career.
Faker can be the god. Bang, for now, is content being the ace, leading SK Telecom T1 to Madison Square Garden next week for the semifinals.