League of Legends
Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has
no equal in the world of League of Legends. Crowned king of his profession as a
rookie, the 20-year-old megastar has done nothing but to grow his legacy since
his debut just over three years ago in February of 2013. In his first eight
domestic leagues, Korea's Champions, he won five titles. Internationally, he's
been even better, winning a plethora of tournaments, including two of three
Summoner's Cups available to him as a pro gamer.
237 wins. 84 losses. Faker holds a 74 percent win rate in his first three years of competition, and he has only gotten better in the past year and a half. Since SK Telecom T1 fused its sister teams, SKT T1 K and SKT T1 S, Faker has won 76 percent of his matches and dropped only one tournament, the Mid-Season Invitational (MSI) 2015. Overall, it took Faker just over three years to accrue the five major championships in League: his domestic league (LCK), All-Stars, MSI, IEM, and Worlds.
So what about the world of traditional sports? How does the Unkillable Demon King of South Korea stack up against the best players from other sports when compared in a similar time frame?
Faker (League Champions Korea)
February 2013 through May 2016
• Two-time League of Legends World Champion in three years of competitive play
• Worlds MVP in 2013
• Winner of MSI 2016
• 2016 IEM World Championship
• 2014 All Stars in Paris
• Five-time LCK champion out of eight competitive splits
• 2015 LCK Playoff MVP, 2014 LCK Winter MVP
• 321 games played: 237-84 record
• 74 percent win percentage, 4.9 Kill/Death/Assist ratio
LeBron James (NBA)
2003-04 to 2006-07
• Two-time All Star
• 26.5 points per game
• In those three seasons, led Cleveland Cavaliers in points per game (26.5) and assists per game (6.6), fourth in rebounds per game (6.6)
The player from traditional sports who
might be the closest parallel to Faker is King James himself. Like Faker,
LeBron was a star in his profession long before he turned pro. His high school
basketball games were prime-time television in America, and the general public
was sold a narrative: one of basketball's greatest was about to enter the NBA,
straight from high school.
Based on his stats, LeBron did just that, becoming an All-Star twice in his first three seasons and trailing only two of the game's greatest scorers in terms of points per game. The biggest difference between Faker and LeBron? LeBron didn't win a title in his first three seasons. His first championship came in his ninth NBA season, after his free-agent move to the Miami Heat
Lionel Messi (La Liga)
2004-05 to 2006-07
• Won two league titles with Barcelona (2005, 2007)
• Member of Barcelona's 2006 UEFA Champions League-winning team, but did not play in the final
• Made his Argentina debut on Aug. 17, 2005, at 18 years old
• Scored in his World Cup debut against Serbia on June 16, 2006, in the group stage; he entered the match as a sub in the 74th minute and scored in the 88th.
One of the most famous professional athletes in the world, Barcelona's Lionel Messi was actually younger than Faker when he started his professional career, subbing into a matchup at 16 years old. Since making his way up the tiered system at Barcelona, the virtuoso of the football pitch has been nothing short of spectacular. He scored in his World Cup debut and was on the roster of two La Liga-winning Barcelona sides in 2005 and 2007.
Sebastian Vettel (Formula 1)
2008 to 2010
• 10 wins
• 19 podium finishes
• Ended 2010 season as No. 1-ranked driver in the world
The German F1 racer began his professional
career on Red Bull's second team, Toro Rosso, before being promoted to the main
team in his sophomore split. Vettel went from an eighth-place finish in his
rookie year to a runner-up seat in his second. In his third year, at the age of
23, he became the youngest driver to win the World Drivers' Championship.
He became a world-renowned star in the world of motorsports. After winning his first title, he wouldn't stop there, completing a four-peat from 2010 to 2013 as the world's best F1 driver.
Tiger Woods (PGA)
1997 to 1999
• 13 first-place finishes
• Finished in top 10 in 38 of 62 events (61.3 percent)
• Missed only one cut in those three years
• Won 1997 Masters and 1999 PGA Championship
Tiger didn't wait almost a decade to
win his first major championship. He ascended the sport of golf in the late
1990s and brought the game to a whole new audience with his domination and
flair. He won the Masters -- golf's most prestigious tournament -- in his
rookie year. In his first three years, he finished in the top 10 an impressive
61 percent of the time.
Woods brought golf to the mainstream and introduced the game to people who wouldn't have normally watched the sport.
Faker has the titles, but can he do the same with League and esports?
Sidney Crosby (NHL)
2005-06 to 2007-08
• Played in 2006 Winter Olympics for Canada
• 294 points, third-most in the NH L in that span (trailed only Joe Thornton and Alex Ovechkin)
• 27 points in 20 playoff games in 2008 (led NHL)
Sid the Kid's storyline of entering
the professional sports world mirrors Faker's and LeBron's. Crosby was seen as
the next Wayne Gretzky and was given the added incentive of being a saviour of
sorts to a sport that was lagging behind American football, basketball and baseball.
Given the nickname "The Next One," an iteration of Gretzky's
"The Great One," Crosby had more pressure than any NHL player to
succeed at an elite level.
While the center didn't win a Stanley Cup until his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Crosby did live up to expectations by becoming the game's best player, beginning a popular rivalry with Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin, which sparked general interest in hockey after a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-05 season.
Mike Trout (MLB)
2012 to 2014
• Led all position players with 27.9 wins above replacement (estimates player contribution to winning over the course of a season)
• Scored 353 runs in that span, 40 more than any other player
• All-Star in all three seasons
• Won 2012 AL Rookie of the Year
• Won 2014 AL MVP
• Finished top-two in AL MVP voting all three seasons
If we were to talk about pure
individual skill in the first three years of a pro career, Faker would follow
in the footsteps of Los Angeles Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout. From his
acrobatic catches to his towering power, Trout is everything you'd want from a
player in his first three years. He finished in the top two of AL MVP voting
during his first three seasons and won the award in 2014. He picked up Rookie
of the Year honors in 2012.
The only thing missing from Trout's mantle is a World Series trophy. Unlike basketball, League or even hockey, one player's greatness can't always make up for the shortcomings around him. Trout is the game's best player alongside Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw and outspoken Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper. Yet the trio has failed to even reach a Worlds Series thus far.
Aaron Rodgers (NFL)
2008 to 2010
• 2010 Super Bowl Champion (Super Bowl MVP)
• 1,003 completions (fourth in NFL in that time)
• 86 TDs (fourth in NFL in that time)
• 31 interceptions (fewest among QBs with at least 65 TDs in that time)
Aaron Rodgers is the major outlier on
this list. In the NFL, one player can't magically turn a game around. Whether
you're a future Hall of Fame quarterback or a Heisman winner, it takes time,
and more importantly, it takes the right team around you for a superstar
football player to reach his full potential.
Rodgers didn't start in his first three seasons in Green Bay. After dropping heavily in his NFL draft class, the Packers picked him up to sit behind one of those Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Brett Favre, until Rodgers was ready mentally and physically to handle the professional world of American football. Due to the Packers' treatment of their investment and his ability to learn from the sidelines, Rodgers' development in his first three years as a starter was among the best in NFL history, and the Cal product won a Super Bowl championship, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010.