If you were to ask who is the most domestically decorated player in the history of professional League of Legends, the answer seems simple, a single name propelling itself above all others: Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.
The South Korean legend has amassed a cupboard of the game’s brightest trophies, including three world titles and eight domestic crowns. Be it the Mid-Season Invitational or Intel Extreme Masters, Faker has arrived and conquered.
But the answer to the question of domestic dominance is not Faker. It’s another mid laner, hidden in the emerging League of Legends scene of Latin America.
Mexico’s Édgar Ali “Seiya” Bracamontes Munguía can’t even remember how many titles he’s won when quizzed, going over in his head which tournament trophies he’s hoisted count as domestic titles and which didn’t. Of the 12 Latin America seasons he’s competed in over his lengthy career, Seiya has won 11 championships.
Unlike the number of titles he’s earned, though, that one loss — the 2018 Latin America North summer split — is something Seiya can’t easily forget.
“That one was so depressing,” Seiya said this week at the League of Legends World Championship in Berlin. “First, it was for worlds qualification, and worlds was in [South] Korea, and we really wanted to play there. The saddest reason of it all, though, is that it was our last split with that team, that Lyon/Rainbow7 team. We knew it was our last shot as a team — the team wouldn’t be together next year — and we whiffed it, not even making the finals.”
Seiya’s loss in Latin America North on Rainbow7 would be the final time he played in his home region. After the end of the 2018 season, the two Latin American leagues, South and North, combined into a single superleague of sorts, combining the best talent from both competitions.
It was a reset of the power structure that had formed over the numerous years, with Seiya, a free agent, leaving his old team behind at the start of the new era of Latin America League of Legends.
When he moved to Argentina’s Isurus Gaming, however, he didn’t go in alone. His jungler from Rainbow7, Sebastián “Oddie” Alonso Niño Zavaleta, joined him, bringing over the chemistry that they had developed through their time playing together in Mexico. And although it would take time for Isurus to come together in the opening split of the 2019 season, ending up in fourth place at the end of the regular season, that wouldn’t deter them from turning it on in the playoffs to win Seiya another championship.
“I think our strength is that everyone is good mechanically on our team,” Oddie said. “The communication is really good, but we have to improve a lot more.”
After finding their footing in the playoffs, the rest of the year has been Isurus gearing up for this moment at the world championship. They ran through the second split of the year, taking first place in both the regular season and playoffs, and they exited the plane in Berlin for the biggest tournament of the year believing they could do damage against world-class competition.
A Latin American team has never made it to the group stages at worlds, considered the beginning of the main event of the tournament, but 2019 could be the year that all changes. Isurus battled through ups and downs in the play-in qualifiers to make it out in second place of their three-team group and now have an opportunity to play Hong Kong Attitude in a best-of-five for advancement to the group stages. While Hong Kong Attitude topped their qualifier group, it wasn’t without issue, leaving an opening for Seiya to finally have the international moment he’s been waiting for his entire career.
For all of Seiya’s domestic prowess, the one glaring accomplishment missing from his résumé is success on the international stage. The last time Seiya made it to the world championship, back in 2017, he was decimated and outclassed by Cloud9 of the North America region.
It was a setback that put a limitation on what it meant to be an icon in a smaller region. Regardless of how high he climbed in Mexico or in Chile, where the new Latin American superleague is being held, nothing truly matters until you make yourself known on the world stage.
It took China’s Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao six years to win his domestic title, but by that time, he was already a legend, the most famed player to ever come out of the largest region in League of Legends. Why? International glory. He played in two world finals, losing both but bringing attention and pride to his nation on the largest stage imaginable. Millions watched a young Uzi lead his Royal Club teammates to successful world championship finishes.
The Latin American fan base longs for a similar hero to wave their flag on the main event stage at worlds, and Seiya wants to be that flag-bearer.
“Latin America is one of the most passionate regions,” Seiya said. “They always hype me up, so I feel really grateful for that. I never thought it would be like this when I started playing. It’s not even [just] my own country, Mexico. It’s from everywhere. Throughout the years, it hasn’t changed.”
Clutch Gaming’s Tanner “Damonte” Damonte is cheering for Seiya in his match versus the Hong Kong Attitude. The American mid laner, who already qualified for the group stages by sweeping Turkey’s Royal Youth on Monday in his own do-or-die elimination series, remembers Seiya from facing off with him in North American solo queue back when Seiya played in Mexico.
While Damonte thinks it will be a close contest between HKA and ISG, he’s backing the player who grew up alongside him, hoping the two can meet again sometime down the road.
When Seiya first started playing professionally seven years ago, in his own words, he thought of himself as an ace. He saw a champion and had to delete that champion from the map. He was going to be the star of his team, and everything revolved around him, the super carry of Mexico.
Nowadays, the 23-year-old is moving into the next stage of his career. He’s reinvented himself as less of a carry and more of a leader. Instead of always needing to be the center of the action with the biggest bounty on his head, he’s better suited to being a stabilizing force on a team made up of superstar talents like himself.
“It kinda just happened because of teammate changes,” Seiya said. “Teams got better. It used to be where it was just five players, and they all tried to kill the enemy. With coaching staff getting involved, it has evolved. I [used] to be on a team that didn’t really need that leadership or someone vocal. I just took the role, and my coach has always supported me.”
When Seiya takes the stage at the League of Legends European Championship Studios on Tuesday to play Hong Kong Attitude, it will be the biggest match of his career. There will be no ribbons, medals or trophies on the line. A victory will not only take his career to the next level, it will take Latin America to the next level as well.
A loss, and Latin America — like Brazil, Turkey and other passionate smaller regions who have had their shot to turn the world’s eye — will slink back into the shadows, the hollow promise of “next year for sure” the only solace.
Seiya doesn’t want to wait until next year.
He’s ready to step into the spotlight now.