The key motivator for any professional esports player is passion. In a sport where many professionals began playing at the age of 16, the driving force behind the decision to go pro is for many a powerful yet simple desire to leave a mark in the history of something they love.
Consistent passion cannot always be met with the same results, however. There are League of Legends players who explode into the professional scene only to fade into relative obscurity. There is no clearer example of this than LGD Gaming jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho. A two-time Worlds semifinalist, one-time World finalist, and no-time world champion, he has spent his career playing second fiddle to the best of the best, never quite achieving the ultimate goal of any pro despite getting closer to that goal than the average player could ever dream of.
Now, after two long years of international absence, Peanut’s back. Having barely made it to Worlds after defeating 2018’s world champions Invictus Gaming in the LPL gauntlet, he’s looking for a taste of the victory that has for so long eluded him.
Peanut’s career began, as seems to be the trend for Korean junglers, with his infamy in Korean solo queue. As far back as players like SK Telecom behemoth Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong and as recently as DRX’s hot-headed Hong “Pyosik” Chang-hyeon, Korean organizations have looked to solo queue to scout godly, hard-carry jungle players and mold them into all-rounded players appropriate for the professional stage.
Scouted by Najin e-mFire in 2015 at the age of 16, he quickly became one of the LCK’s most explosive junglers on picks like Lee Sin and Nidalee. One of the most defining moments of his professional career was his game against the now-disbanded SBENU Sonicboom, in which he prevented Sung “Flawless” Yeon-jun’s Gragas from taking a single blue or red buff for the entirety of the game. He became famous for his hyper-aggressive style and genius jungle pathing, gaining advantages by denying the enemy jungler from entering the game.
Peanut’s breakthrough came in 2016 on ROX Tigers, who exploded into the LCK as KOO Tigers in 2015 Spring but quickly fell from grace after a disappointing MSI semifinals loss to the LPL’s Team WE. After losing in the finals of the 2015 World Championships, the organization picked up Peanut and changed their name to ROX Tigers at the start of the 2016 season. What followed was one of the most dominant years in LCK history, in which the team lost only five total matches across the regular seasons of both spring and summer, heading to Worlds as the first seed for the most dominant region in the world.
Worlds was where it all fell apart for the ROX Tigers. Despite a dominant showing throughout the group stage, they were unable to perform when it truly mattered, losing to SK Telecom in arguably the closest World semifinals the esport had ever seen. Having given SKT their third World Championship final, the roster disbanded for the 2017 season.
Although the current meta is perfect for Peanut, and he has a willing and competent roaming mid laner in Su “xiye” Han-Wei, he will still have a hell of a battle on his hands. The jungle pool at this tournament is one of the most competitive ever and not just from the LCK and LPL. The rise of Western stars like Oskar “Selfmade” Boderek and Zhiqiang “Shad0w” Zhao have only further diversified the global jungle talent in competitive League of Legends.
Although he may be one of the oldest junglers at the tournament at what is a relatively middle-aged 22, Peanut may have more to prove than any other Worlds contender and he’s going to need all the solo queue carry strength he can get to show the world he’s more than just a second-place finisher.