Song “Fly” Yong-jun shouts into his microphone, rocking back and forth in his chair. It’s KT Rolster’s final pick on red side and teammate Ha “Hachani” Seung-chan stops hovering over Viktor, switching to Kassadin. More chatter, 15 seconds to go, and Hachani swaps back to Viktor.
At 11 seconds, Hachani hovers over Lux.
Two. One. The countdown switches to 60 seconds. Fly smiles.
“Wow, Lux would be—” English-language play-by-play caster Erik “DoA” Lonnquist begins. He is interrupted by a shout from his color caster, Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles.
“Alright, it is cool. Lux taken by Fly,” DoA says.
His opponent is Afreeca Freecs Son “Mickey” Young-min on one of his signature champions, LeBlanc. In 2015 LoL Champions Korea Summer, while on Rebels Anarchy, LeBlanc was one of the assassin picks Mickey had used to carry his team. By contrast Lux was the signature champion of Kim “Frozen” Tae-il, who had played it on Incredible Miracle that same year with little success. Of the 21 champions Fly played in 2015, Lux was not one of them. Instead, a versatile assembly of the usual champions and an affinity for Karthus, who had risen a bit in popularity at that time.
Lux is an unexpected pick, especially for KT’s first game of the 2016 competitive season and their new mid laner, Fly. One of KT’s weakest points on the map throughout 2015 was their mid lane. Kim “Nagne” Sang-moon found his champion pool increasingly squeezed by the meta from week-to-week and by the 2015 League of Legends World Championship, Nagne only had a truly strong presence on Azir, although he also saw some success on the more supportive Lulu. KT picked up Fly that offseason to shore up their lack of a mid lane presence, despite initial doubts from the community. After all, not much had been heard from Fly while he was in China, and his team failed to qualify for the LPL. What KT received instead was a mid laner with uncanny control over his side lanes.
The game begins with a laneswap. Both mids farm while their teammates take turrets on opposite sides of the map. With deeper side lanes, both teams posture around the mid lane.
At 23:35, Fly lands a binding onto Mickey. Final Spark is immediate and followed up by No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon on Lucian for the kill. This opens up the mid lane and the game for KT. Fifteen and a half minutes later, the game ends with the first KT win of 2016 LCK Spring.
In game, Fly sends a congratulatory Final Spark across the Afreeca Freecs’ base. In the booth, he stretches his neck and smiles at Arrow.
“I wonder if this Lux pick is going to make a bit of a comeback,” DoA says. “It’s a fun champion to watch.”
“It’s really a specialty pick,” Montecristo says. “Maybe on red side occasionally, we did see the strength of it there. But it’s really very situational.”
Across his career, Fly has been the centerpiece of unique compositions that make the most of his varied champion pool. During the unlikely rise of the Jin Air Green Wings Stealths in 2014 OnGameNet Champions Summer, Fly played the standard picks of the time — Lulu, Orianna, Ziggs, Twisted Fate — and experimented with other mid lane picks in the LoL Masters tournament. On Twisted Fate in particular, Fly showed glimpses of what would later become his side-lane focused playstyle.
On December 1, 2014, the Jin Air Green Wings announced that Fly was leaving for China’s Invictus Gaming — one of many South Korean pros involved in what was later dubbed “the Korean Exodus” by the League of Legends community. Former KT Rolster Arrows mid laner, Song “Rookie” Eui-jin was also part of this same wave of imports and joined iG alongside fellow ex-KTA teammate Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon.
Of the two mid laners, Rookie had established himself as one of South Korea’s brightest rising stars — many mid laners in LoL history have been considered successors to SK Telecom T1’s Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, but Rookie remains the one that fans and analysts still talk about to this day in 2018. Over time, Rookie has become a career player for iG and this began in 2015 when he and KaKAO arrived at the iG organization together. Fly was shuffled to iG’s LoL Secondary Pro League team, Young Glory, and relatively forgotten by the LoL community. Many lamented the loss of Rookie, who was seen as the face of a new wave of talent in South Korea. Not many lamented the loss of Fly, who had shown glimpses of brilliance on the Jin Air Green Wings Stealths but not much else.
The Lux pick in his first game back in South Korea wasn’t a harbinger of what was to come for 2016 KT Rolster in terms of Fly’s specific, side lane focused playstyle. But it was an example of his sometimes off-meta picks and willingness to try new things in champion select, especially if it fit a specific situation, lane matchup, or composition.
A week after KT’s 2-0 victory over the Freecs, Fly locks in Lux again, this time against the ROX Tigers, for a loss. He then switches to Lissandra for Game 2.
The game is a 56-kill slugfest, averaging over one kill per minute. Fly is sloppy and lacks coordination but there are glimpses of what could be. Despite dying on the majority of his Lissandra team fight initiations, and having to use the ultimate on himself, Fly locks down key members of the Tigers so Arrow’s Lucian can assassinate Kim “PraY” Jong-in on the backline and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho can further tie up the team on Gnar. The final team fight to decide the game is led by Fly’s Lissandra flank, coordinating his teleport and Zhonya’s Hourglass timing perfectly. KT ultimately loses the series 2-1, but the team and Fly take a small step forward in a more cohesive direction that will shape Fly’s mid lane legacy.
Come 2016 LCK Spring Week 4, Fly plays Zilean as part of a Zilean/Poppy combination that was first used in North America by NRG eSports against Team SoloMid in Week 3 of the 2016 NA LCS Spring. KT also tries out the Zilean with Ssumday’s Fiora. They sweep e-mFire and Zilean dive compositions become KT’s signature strategy. No one plays it better than KT, and it’s thanks to their mid laner, who is becoming more of a well-known eccentric. Zilean is Fly’s most-played champion that split, even while drawing multiple bans.
It continues that summer when Fly picks up both Aurelion Sol and Taliyah, two more champions that allow him to push the mid lane wave forward before roaming to affect KT’s side lanes. Fly’s legacy becomes losing mid lane to roam.
After his time on KT, Fly is picked up by Longzhu Gaming, earning no small amount of ire from South Korean and international fans alike. Fly is too weird, loses lane, and is blamed for a variety of Longzhu’s problems that aren’t solely his fault, especially when jungler Lee “Crash” Dong-woo invades aggressively without vision or mid lane support. Fans clamor for both top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong to start over Koo “Expession” Bon-teak, and for Fly to be benched in favor of former CJ Entus prodigy Gwak “Bdd” Bo-seong.
Later it will come out that players and staff on Longzhu are not being paid on time, or at all. In 2017 LCK Summer, Bdd takes up the starting mid lane role on Longzhu. On Gold Coin United in North America’s challenger league, Fly is forgotten. Bdd soars, helping Longzhu Gaming win the team’s first LCK title.
Fly is a deliberate speaker. Looking through the glass press box at the LCS stage, Fly speaks for a bit and then motions for FlyQuest manager-turned-translator Josh Kim to translate what he is saying before continuing the sentence. It gives his words weight. He’s even specific about what his favorite current anime series is, typing in the name on his phone (Overlord II) so that Josh can get it right.
The initial announcement that Fly will be FlyQuest’s starting mid laner is hampered by unexpected visa issues. Community discussion turns from whether Fly will be a good fit for FlyQuest — a reasonable concern given his somewhat unique playstyle — to whether he’ll be able to come to North America in time to help FlyQuest for the 2018 NA LCS Spring regular season. Jang “Keane” Lae-young, another mid laner with a legacy of weird champion picks, starts in place of Fly for the first three weeks. He lacks Fly’s side lane presence. The team also trials Lee “Shrimp” Byeong-hoon in the jungle over rookie Andy “AnDa” Hoang. At the end of Week 3, FlyQuest is 2-4.
“After Fly got back, we had a little sit-down and talked about what we needed to improve and change,” FlyQuest AD carry Jason “Wildturtle” Tran says. “I think Fly really helped with our team dynamic. He’s a stable mid-laner and we can rely on him a lot. He’s pretty much the boulder of our team right now.”
Since Fly’s arrival on the starting lineup in Week 4, FlyQuest is 2-2. The team’s losses are much narrower than before, and Fly’s mid lane pressure gives both side lanes and jungler Anda more room on the map. Fly insists that he only plays this way because it suits the team, not the other way around. Currently, FlyQuest lacks the ability to match opposing team’s roams without him roaming as well, he says. If the team shores up this aspect of their game, Fly says that he will play a more lane-oriented style.
“At the end of the day, I am also like all of the other mid laners,” he says. Full stop.
Except, Fly isn’t like other mid laners. His side lane control isn’t necessitated by an inability to stand up to strong opponents in lane, like KT Rolster’s current mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok, but it’s how he affects the map the most. Rather than dominating an opponent 1v1, Fly’s control over his side lanes, especially on the likes of Taliyah, has already benefited FlyQuest greatly. Wildturtle identifies that Fly is the rock of his team in the mid lane but, as an AD carry who has always been known for his aggression, appreciates the help on the bot side of the map.
“He’s very good at roaming to the side lanes or letting the side lanes know when they can win a fight,” Wildturtle says.
“I’ve never played with a mid laner like this before where he’ll be like, ‘You can just fight, fight, I’m on the way, just fight!’ That’s really reassuring that you know your mid laner has your back.”
You can follow Emily Rand on Twitter @leagueofemily.