Imp’s retirement bookends a League of Legends era

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In his retirement post, bot laner Gu “imp” Seung-bin alluded to the fact that he had been thinking about retiring from League of Legends for some time, at least since this time last year. It wasn’t a surprise, or an emotional reaction to a disappointing year. His post was brief, thanking his teammates and apologizing for not playing as well as he had expected during his final season.

The League of Legends community was not surprised by the news; Imp had not been in top form for years. Instead, they acknowledged his accomplishments in a brief moment of nostalgia.

The last time Imp was at a world championship was after South Korean players flooded LoL Pro League rosters at the end of 2014. Imp joined the exodus and was the star bot laner of LGD Gaming, who became 2015 LPL summer champions and were considered favorites to win worlds. LGD failed to make it out of groups, winning only two games in total. It was a significantly worse collapse than Imp’s 2013 worlds failure, when Samsung Galaxy Ozone, a favorite to win that year’s worlds, lost in a tiebreaker to Moscow Five and didn’t make it out of the group stage.

Although Imp is remembered for these stunning failures — the shock of 2013 Ozone was only eclipsed by the unexpected collapse of all three Chinese teams at the 2015 world championship — he’s also remembered for his remarkable successes. The 2014 Samsung Galaxy White roster is hotly debated as one of the greatest League of Legends teams of all time. Composed of top laner Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, jungler Kim “DanDy” In-kyu, mid laner Heo “PawN” Won-seok, Imp, and support Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong, this Samsung White lineup is a list of OGN Champions top superstars, and Imp was a large part of Samsung White’s success. Frequently recognized as one of the best bot laners in the world, Imp also became a point of comparison for up-and-coming solo queue bot laners.

His playstyle was rarely stable and he varied wildly from being without a doubt the most mechanically-stunning AD carry in the world to a player whose risk-taking would cost his team fights and games. His career followed a similar path after he left South Korea for China in the 2014-15 offseason — winning an LPL title in his first year before spectacularly bombing out at worlds and beginning a descent into mediocrity.

Yet, there was something about Imp that was both charming and relatable, despite the fact that he wore Givenchy t-shirts worth over $1,000 and had a giant purse that looked like a dog. Imp was weird. He rolled around in the grass at the Seoul World Cup Stadium in Mapo-gu before going on to win the 2014 worlds finals and caused no small amount of frustration for his laning partner Mata. He was boastful, which he used to hide his insecurities. Behind every exclamation that he was the best there ever was, there crept a shadow of self-doubt.

With the retirement of Imp, nearly all of the Samsung Galaxy White Season 4 World Championship-winning roster has retired from competitive play. Only Mata remains active — he was released from T1 and is currently seeking another team. This is the third retirement retrospective we’ve written this year, the other two focusing on the retirement of Royal Never Give Up jungler Liu “Mlxg” Shi-Yu, and legacy South Korean player Go “Score” Dong-bin. Many other players have retired within the past year, including former Samsung White teammate PawN.

This one is a little different. This one is both about Imp and also much something larger than Imp.

Imp’s retirement is another indication that the era of OGN Champions is over. That era where South Korea was peerless and completely untouchable. The era where they could have probably beat other regions with their Jin Airs, or a similarly lower-tier team. Now the Jin Air Green Wings have been relegated from the LoL Champions Korea league and only three of the ten starting members of the powerhouse 2014 Samsung sister teams are active players. The future of South Korean League of Legends is in lineups like Griffin and Damwon Gaming or on the trainee teams of T1 and KT Rolster.

Imp’s retirement is also a reminder that players don’t always get to go out with a spectacular implosion or at the peak of their careers even if their career consists of both implosions and peaks. Sometimes they go out on a middling playoff team with statistics like a 3.5 KDA on the year, 12th of 18 LPL bot laners that played more than 10 games in 2019.

Entire esports lifetimes have been lived since Imp was at the top of his game, but the loss at his retirement announcement is still felt because he was such a character and a defining player of his time. When people remember Imp, they recall the defeats first but end on his triumphs, thinking outside chronological order because they want to remember Imp at his best. That’s the true power of Imp’s legacy: the existence of failure alongside the greatest success a player can have.

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