When the curtain closed on the most prestigious Korean League of Legends tournament late last week, a familiar group stood on top of the champion's podium.
SK Telecom T1 K, the team who dominated in the League World Championships in October, had done it again—this time, winning the OnGameNet’s Champions Winter without dropping a single game. A perfect 18-0 record for one of the strongest teams in esports history.
But the win comes along with a sad note. Team captain and all-star support player, Lee “PoohManDu” Jeong Hyeon, has announced just days after that he will be taking an extended break from the team.
News broke on Twitter earlier this week, and the reasoning came via Reddit the very next day—an early childhood injury that has troubled him throughout his life has finally become too difficult to live with.
Poohmandu is taking a break from professional gaming to recover his health. http://t.co/wahiL1a6Ze— TL-Chexx (@TL_Chexx) January 27, 2014
So while the team celebrates, their leader faces an entirely new challenge of his own—figuring out what exactly went wrong, and finding a cure for it.
A fan translation of a Korean news article details his malady:
"[Lee] said that he was involved in an electrocution accident during third grade. After this incident he has been experiencing pain in his chest starting from his middle school years. When describing the nature of his pain, [Lee] mentioned that his chest would feel as if he was drowning. At one point the pain was so severe that he even feared for his life.” [Translation via Reddit]
As Lee got older, the strange symptoms weren't too bothersome, even when he served his mandatory time in the Korean Military. However, his rise in esports seems to have been accompanied by an increase in problems.
In late 2012, Lee joined GSG, a relatively unknown Korean team that was in the lower hemisphere of the professional leagues. He immediately made a mark. The team made an early 2013 run at the NiceGameTV League Battle (NLB), another major tournament held in Korea. With victories over celebrated Korean teams like Incredible Miracle, NaJin Shield, and CJ Entus, GSG took first place and a 5 million Korean Won grand prize (~$5000).
Lee’s efforts were noted and he was recruited by SK Telecom for a brand new team. Paired with rookie marksman Chae “Piglet” Gwang Jin, he changed his in-game handle from “ManDu” to “PoohManDu." Together, the team is known as the “Hundred Acre Lane,” a play on A.A. Milne’s “Hundred Acre Wood” of Winnie-the-Pooh fame.
The joke may be childish, but their game play is far from it. SKT is one of the most dominant esports teams ever formed. Together, they have won two consecutive Korean titles, and took home the gold at Riot Games’ League World Championships. Their total prize money to date is in excess of $1,150,000.
As the captain, Lee has played a large part in getting the team to where they are today, and he has radiated maturity and stability. His individual skill is also not to be underestimated - in the most recent season, his KDA was almost 3.0 higher than his closest competition. KDA stands for kill-death-assist ratio, and is calculated by his participation in team kills divided by number of deaths. At a seasonal KDA of 9.2, that means for every time he died, he helped his team get 9 more kills as payback.
With the season over, Lee now faces a completely new challenge. “Given the team’s dominant performance,” he says, “it was difficult to find an appropriate time to take an extended break.” Still, he has left the team in great shape to continue their dominance over the Korean scene. The fan translation says it all:
“If the new support is able to acclimate and perform well, it will be tricky for [Lee] to come back, and will likely retire at that point. If they do struggle, however, he is willing to make a comeback as soon as possible, provided that he makes a full recovery. Nevertheless, he believes that SKT K will be just as strong without him.”
Lee is just the most recent player to have a major injury pull from the field—StarCraft superstar Lim “Boxer” Yo Hwan’s exit from the game last year was major news around the gaming world. However, the maturity and transparency of Lee’s (and Lim’s) decision stand as a great example for the rest of the scene to follow.
Photo via SK Telecom