Ambition vs. Faker: The backstory of RISE's final battle.
TL;DR: RISE's final battle is the culmination of an epic and poetic 4-year story featuring two of the most legendary names in Korea, Faker and Ambition.
So the Worlds 2018 song, RISE, dropped just a couple of hours ago with its accompanying video. While the verdict is out on the song itself (actually a big fan of it personally), many people are raving about the video. It's easy to see why, its recap of the 2017 World Championship is pretty amazing, and the animation quality is fantastic. However, one thing that got me thinking was the story's protagonist, Ambition. Obviously the key theme of the song is overcoming adversity to rise to the top and become legendary. However, for the hero this path has historically been filled with defeat and despair, particularly when faced with his own personal final boss.
The Fall of Ambition, the Rise of Faker
This story begins in 2013, back when Ambition was in the prime of his career. Considered the best mid laner in Korea, he was the crown jewel in a CJ Entus Blaze lineup highly favoured to win OGN Champions Spring that year. Blaze had largely been in the shadow of their sister team up until that stage, but now seemingly nothing could stop their rise to the top of the food chain.
Enter Faker and SKT.
SKT's freshly-formed second team was comprised of lesser-known talents and a young mid laner who had been picked straight out of solo queue. Drawn against CJ Blaze in the very first match of the competition, this was set to be a trial-by-fire for the rookie. Instead, Faker immediately made a name for himself by solo killing Ambition's Kha'Zix in Game 1, and leading SKT to a shock 2-0 victory.
CJ Blaze recovered following this series, making a run to the final. However, they fell afoul of another major upset as they lost 0-3 to an upstart MVP Ozone side. A BO5 loss to the KT Bullets in Champions Summer, and another soon after at Korean Regionals ended Ambition's worlds dreams for 2013. He could only watch as his title of Best Mid in Korea was taken from him, as well as his shot at glory on League's grandest stage. Faker had made a name for himself off of embarrassing Ambition, and now was a World champion and universally acclaimed as the best player in the world.
One thing to note, Riot released their first ever Worlds animation in 2013, featuring star players from around the world as their best-known champions. SKT's run was so late in the year, Faker missed out. However, Ambition was present, represented by one of his key mid lane picks, Ryze. You can probably see where I'll be going with this...
Rebuilding & Evolving
In 2014, we saw CJ Blaze slowly slump. In Champions Winter they were drawn against Faker's SKT again, and once again they were dealt a 0-2 defeat. SKT would go on to win Champions without a single game loss; Blaze would crash out in the quarter-finals once more.
Spring saw them fare a little better, but they still could only manage 4th place. Summer saw them not even make it out of groups. CJ Blaze was a shadow of its former self, and none more so than Ambition. However, change was on the horizon.
2015 rolled around with two major changes to the Korean landscape. Firstly, many of Korea's star players left for China. One of the few to remain was Faker, sticking with SK Telecom after a rough 2014. This move would re-establish SKT as a Korean powerhouse, and elevate Faker to godlike status once more.
Secondly, Korean organizations were being limited to one team per org. This meant many teams would be formed out of two pre-existing lineups, including CJ Entus. Ambition would have to make way for CJ Frost's star midlaner, Coco. This left Ambition resigned to the Jungle position for the first time in his career.
His transition was slow, but CJ were once again one of the stronger teams in Korea. Coco was a revelation mid, and the team still had old-era stars such as Shy and Madlife to power forward. In Spring 2015, they actually achieved a 2-0 win over SK Telecom, as Ambition was the beneficiary of some comeuppance. However, with both making playoffs, the two would do battle once more. CJ Entus would come within a hair's breadth of victory, but fell 2-3 in a thrilling BO5 match. Once again, the team struggled to fully recover, and they were upset by both KOO and Jin Air in BO5s over the course of Summer and Regionals. Once again, no Worlds for Ambition. And once again, the man who kicked off this downward spiral was sitting pretty as the world champion and greatest player to have ever lived. Come next year, Faker would be the one featured in the Worlds animation as the Ryze player. Ambition had been relegated to a has-been mid that now stuck around by playing jungle.
The grass is greener...
2016 saw a roster swap that none of us could have expected. Ambition left a solid CJ Entus team for a struggling Samsung squad, still heavily rebuilding after suffering from the previous year's exodus. The team were not favoured to do well, and could only manage 6th place in Spring. However, their gradual improvement allowed the org their first playoff berth since 2014, and a 4th place finish overall to qualify them for 2016 regionals. Two BO5 victories later and the legend of "Samsung in the gauntlet" had begun. More importantly, Ambition had finally qualified for the World Championship. Not as a superstar midlaner, but as a supportive team-focused jungler.
Samsung were not well-touted for Worlds. Drawn into the "Group of Death", they managed to overcome the rabble and emerge with a first-placed seed. A generous draw saw them with a simple path to the final, where Ambition would get his shot at Faker's SKT in one BO5.
A forgone conclusion in everyone's eyes, many saw the writing on the wall as SKT shot out to a 2-0 lead. Things looked done and dusted, but with a miracle elder dragon steal Ambition and Samsung clawed their way back to 2-1... and then to 2-2! A glimmer of hope had emerged for the underdogs. Alas, once again the world's most clutch team would shut them down in Game 5 and earn their 3rd World Championship title.
Ambition was one of the most veteran players in the world at this stage, and had earned everyone's plaudits for a long career. In 2017, Samsung began to give play time to another jungler, Haru. It looked like the end of Ambition's career was approaching. Except...
One More Try
In Summer, it became clear that Haru was not a good short-term option for Samsung. That's all well and good for a team that can afford to play the long game, but Samsung were once again facing a scrap for regionals. In their first game, Samsung were 2-0 down to Afreeca Freecs with Haru in the jungle. Needing a swap, Ambition came back in. Providing a stable late-game presence, he led Samsung to a reverse sweep, and another victory against KT Rolster to qualify Samsung for Worlds once more.
The Group of Death proved to be more perilous in 2017 with top teams such as Uzi's RNG and Perkz' G2 in their way, and Samsung could only manage second place. This set them up against Longzhu, dominators of LCK Summer 2017. Once again the underdogs, Samsung shocked the world with a 3-0 victory. Another win against Team WE, and Samsung were all set for a Worlds final rematch.
At this point, we can hand things over to the video. It depicts Ambition's climb over the course of 2017 Worlds, but in my mind it represents a climb of 4+ years, ever since that first fateful encounter with Faker. 2013 should have been the year of CJ Entus Blaze, but Faker ruined it and took over the show.
The trajectory between the two careers is amazing. This video is the second time that Faker has been portrayed as Ryze, and with good reason. For a man who has mastered many champions over the years, it's funny to see him synonymous with just the one. Yet, his play on Ryze is undeniable. Comparing Faker's persona with Ryze's lore, the two are superhuman in their ability and otherworldly in their presence. Both the Faker/Ryze videos show them handling insane power effortlessly.
It's the perfect match, one that the original Ryze player could never aspire to recreate. Instead, Ambition evolved. Forced to give up his crown, his key pick, he changed everything. He swapped roles to survive. He left his home, a sinking ship, in an attempt to continue his climb. Kha'Zix, the champion he was killed on back in 2013, was featured in RISE as one of Ambition's picks. Given how the player has adapted, it fits beautifully.
All in all, it's been an understated story of Korean League of Legends over the past five years, but when framed as it is in RISE and considering its historical context, it's utterly captivating in my mind. The redemption of a fallen hero who suffered defeat after gruelling defeat, as he finally overcame his demons to win it all!
This was wayyyyy longer than I intended it to be. I know I embellished some of the details a bit, but even without any flourish I still believe the story itself is a fantastic one. If you read it all, I hope you enjoyed it and hopefully we get even more great stories out of Worlds 2018!
EDIT: Bit of an error in the above part, it was actually Flame in the 2013 animation, not Ambition. However, Ambition's most-played champion all-time in the mid lane was Ryze. He stopped playing the champion after 2013. I'll still maintain Faker took it from him :P2,540 Read the full article on Reddit