A newly promoted rookie team coming up into the majors can be difficult, in traditional sports and League of Legends. Doubly so when it's a team in League Champions Korea, the premiere league of South Korean League of Legends. It's the strongest and most decorated of all 13 major leagues across the world and home of three-time world champion SK Telecom T1.
Winners, an amateur club before getting sponsored by Ever8 at the start of 2016, was the prototypical South Korean minor league team: linger in the secondary leagues while displaying up-and-coming talent for bigger clubs to sign and groom into top tier talent. That was before the most recent Winners squad fought out of the second tier in the most recent promotional tournament, defeating two former powerhouse clubs -- CJ Entus and Kongdoo Monster -- to qualify for LCK summer.
A team built around the spare parts of former CJ and Samsung top laner Kwon "Helper" Yeong-jae, Winners' future is built around two players: jungler rookie Kim "Malrang" Geun-seong, who impressed in the team's ascension to the LCK, and the team's ace in the mid lane, Park "Cepted" Wi-rim.
At least in the first week of play, when Winners went an impressive 1-1 as a newly promoted squad, it was no secret who would decide the club's fate in the LCK. And so Winners put all its resources into the rookie Cepted, and he delivered, putting on one of the best opening weeks for a pro player since Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok dazzled the OGN audience back in the storied spring of 2013. In only one week, the title "super rookie" has been attached to the lead man of Winners, with all eyes focusing to see if Cepted can keep up his elite performances throughout the season.
Over his first five games, he has been called upon again and again to be the savior of Winners. In the team's first series versus perennial playoff club Afreeca, Cepted stole a key Baron, which at the time looked like would win the game and series for Winners. Instead, Afreeca got back into the game through rookie mistakes displayed by LCK's newest team, eventually winning that game to tie it back at 1-1 and eventually win the series outright.
Coming off an impressive individual effort but overall demoralizing defeat, Cepted didn't slow down in his second series against MVP, another team that made the playoffs last season in the LCK. This time varying up his champion pool and settling on his most played champions of Syndra and Cassiopeia, he lit up last season's fourth-place team and bullied its mid laner, An "Ian" Jun-hyeong, in lane throughout the series. From his side steps to calm and collected movements in one-on-two gank situations, there were small glimpses, if ever so slight, of a Faker or Song "Rookie" Eui-jin.
When compared to his biggest competition at the mid lane position, Cepted stood even above reigning MVP Lee "Crown" Min-ho of Samsung Galaxy, who began his season with two match victories, including a statement win over SKT T1 to begin the season. Cepted led all positional players in kills and DPM, while also being top of the class at the mid lane position in gold differential and CS differential at 10 minutes. And Winners don't hide the fact that the team plays behind Cepted -- the mid laner being a part of 82 percent of his team's kills (1st in LCK) and receiving the highest gold percentage of any one player on a team in the league. Winners play through the middle of the map with Malrang and Cepted, and the other members in the side lanes are there to act as bodyguards for the ace and his right-hand partner in the jungle.
Next week, Cepted will be truly put to the test, even after having his first two pro matches against playoff teams. In the first games where teams will have pro footage to work off of, Winners will face the Jin Air Green Wings, in a match where Cepted will be expected to perform following his debut week. Then, at the end of the week, he will go toe-to-toe for the first time with the man in the red jacket, three-time world champion and greatest to ever play the game.
We've seen others such as BBQ Olivers' Kang "Tempt" Myung-gu and Park "TANK" Dan-won come into the league and also turn heads with their first week debuts before floundering as the weeks went on. Cepted, the driver of Winners' hopes and dreams, wants to prove he's unlike the other failed comings of the "next big mid laner." This week, his chance will come to take that first step, and that's something, successful or not, you'll want to watch.