Teams that have faced him and his own organizations have been trying to figure him out as a player for years. All-too-often, his opponents solve the mystery before his own team. The latest team to take a chance on the inconsistent mid laner is North America's Team Liquid, reviving a now three year-old question.
Who is Son "Mickey" Young-min?
The old adage that one's only consistent quality is their inconsistency describes Mickey at all stages of his career. His highlights, mechanical outplays and rare ability to singlehandedly carry a team in a world where League of Legends has increasingly become more team-oriented are all part of Mickey's allure. Teams will continue to take chances on him as long as he retains those mechanics, and Team Liquid is simply the latest in line.
In 2014, Mickey was ahead of the curve, for better or for worse.
While Chinese teams didn't begin importing Korean players in earnest until the 2014-15 offseason, Mickey was part of a first test wave, so to speak, of Korean imports to China that also included Prime Optimus' Kim "Khan" Dong-ha and Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo moving to World Elite, which is now known as Team WE. Mickey (then called Mickeygod) was plucked straight from the Korean solo queue ladder due to his individual mechanics and high placement.
Had Team WE done a bit more scouting, they would have known that Mickey, a Lee Sin mid player, was not a jungler. Nonetheless, he made his professional debut in the 2014 LoL Pro League Summer as a jungler, seated between mid laner Su "Xiye" Hanwei and top laner Khan, waving merrily at the studio cameras before Team WE's Week 4 match against Young Glory.
Mickey the jungler did not fare well - perhaps because he was a mid laner - and was quickly swapped to the mid lane, replacing Xiye. He "Soist" Zhihong returned to the jungle. Despite the swap WE Academy finished last place in the regular season standings with a 9-19 match record.
It was an inauspicious start to what would become a career of extremes.
Prior to the 2015 LoL Champions Korea Summer Promotion Tournament, Mickey joined Challengers Korea team Anarchy.
"Neither team has a coaching staff," OnGameNet caster William "Chobra" Cho said as Anarchy faced Winners to determine the second team that would qualify for 2015 LCK Summer alongside Incredible Miracle. "It's really just the player knowledge and player skill vs. player knowledge and player skill."
The members of Winners wore red zip-up hoodies that had the League of Legends logo ironed on the left side. Anarchy sported white jerseys with a larger iron-on of the same logo across the front. Neither team had money for proper uniforms.
Mickey kicked off Game 1 of the series with an 11/0/10 LeBlanc performance. LeBlanc, and his signature Zed pick, were banned by Winners in Games 2 and 3. Two hours later, with the series tied 1-1, Anarchy won a teamfight in the top lane. This ultimately secured their unlikely spot in the LCK Summer split.
"Mickey looks like he lost the game, but he's actually about to win the game," Chobra said, laughing.
Exhausted, Mickey slumped in his seat as AD carry Gwon "Sangyoon" Sang-yun shook him excitedly before turning to support No "Snowflower" Hoi-jong.
Anarchy was now a professional League of Legends team in Korea. The organization, if it could be called one at all, had no coaching staff, no gaming house and no major sponsor. While the region was still reeling from the loss of sister teams, the lack of larger non-endemic sponsors to fill the void was palpable. Teams like Mickey's Anarchy slipped through the cracks.
So began the somewhat harrowing tale of Anarchy, a team seemingly incapable of winning a game without Mickey hard-carrying them to victory, in the LCK. Anarchy shocked LCK audiences in Week 1 with an upset victory over NaJin e-mFire. During his MVP interview, Mickey's audience consisted of his own cheering teammates, a few stragglers and rows of empty seats.
For his part, Mickey was incapable of mediocrity. He either soared or stumbled, dragging the team behind him to glory or failure. At a time when mid laners were evolving towards a more controlled style of play like ROX Tigers mid laner Lee "KurO" Seo-haeng, Mickey was an oddity. Teams had to ban out his pool of assassins, otherwise they would face a similar demise as Week 1 NaJin.
Mickey was Anarchy.
Sangyoon and Snowflower had not yet evolved into the players that they are today, and neither had jungler Nam "LirA" Tae-yoo. Starting top laner Jeon "ikssu" Ik-soo and substitute Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho were unreliable. Mickey held the sixth-highest amount of MVP points that split, just behind Tigers top laner Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho and Jin Air Green Wings jungler Lee "Chaser" Sang-hyun, who were tied at fourth.
Despite Anarchy's eighth-place finish, Mickey was a standout player in Korea and certainly the most valuable player on his team at the time.
"Mickey was incapable of mediocrity. He either soared or stumbled, dragging the team behind him to glory or failure."
In interviews, Anarchy players later admitted that they'd struggled to adjust to competitive life, especially without any semblance of infrastructure. They questioned whether they had the dedication to become a professional team or were simply using the platform as a slight boost to their popular streams.
This was further tested in the 2015-16 offseason. Not only did Anarchy still lack a major sponsor, but the team was about to have their Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) stipend pulled due to streaming platform disagreements. Most of Anarchy's players already had built successful streams on Afreeca.tv, but KeSPA wanted all of its players to stream on Azubu.tv due to an existing contract. Mickey streamed under the name "아나키스폰좀요" which roughly translates to "Anarchy sponsorship pls" while LirA held the team together. Afreeca entered the sponsorship market and picked up the team on Dec. 29, 2015.
The Afreeca Freecs became Korea's 2016 underdog story: An upstart team that was learning to be a professional unit under the guidance of former Maximum Impact Gaming veteran Coach Kang Hyun-jong, who told the team to become its own protagonist. To some extent, it did. Afreeca unexpectedly qualified for the 2016 LCK Spring playoff gauntlet and requalified in 2016 LCK Summer, although the team lost in the first round during both splits.
Mickey was no longer the sole reason for his team's success and the team was better for it. Despite the overall improvement, Mickey's playstyle barely changed. He continued to play forward in lane, often without vision. His Teleports were highly suspect, especially in 2016 LCK Spring, and he lacked map awareness. Mickey had made strides as a player, but he still wasn't consistent or reliable.
Despite his flaws, Mickey is likely to perform fairly well on his new team, or at least as well as he can by Mickey standards. Expect as many phenomenal one-on-one outplays as inexplicable, aggressive dives.
Averages only apply to Mickey as a combination of his extremes. It's a rare game where Mickey simply exists.
The risk in running Mickey now extends to the rest of the lineup that will accompany him onto the rift, specifically junglers Rami "Inori" Charagh and Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett. Since Team Liquid cannot start its three imports, Mickey, jungler Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin, and AD carry Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin simultaneously, and Liquid does not have an AD carry substitute, either Inori or Dardoch will start alongside Mickey.
Like Mickey, Inori is a player who is known for his miraculous carry performances or risky, over-aggressive invades, with few instances in between. Similarly, Dardoch is an aggressive, resource-hungry player.
The only guaranteed result is that Mickey on Team Liquid, whether exceptional or horrible, will be fun to watch.