Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok may be the most successful esports athlete hailing from South Korea; a multi-millionaire at just 27. Having won multiple Worlds championships, the highest title in the League of Legends (LoL) professional scene, he has accomplished more than anyone else in his field, doing so on all four occasions with the same team: T1. As a comparison, many people may consider Faker the “Michael Jordan of League of Legends”. With that said, he is one of the wealthiest esports players in the world, based on Faker's net worth in 2023.
Faker started playing competitively at the age of 16 with SK Telecom T1 K (later T1). Since then, the team went on to win the Worlds championship a record three times, leading to T1 being regarded as one of the best teams in the world. As a decorated player, Faker is a highly-prized asset of T1. Thus, apart from his tournament earnings, Faker's hefty paychecks continue to raise his net worth.
Faker's net worth in 2023: ~$6 million
Born on May 7, 1996 in Gangseo District, Seoul, South Korea, Faker dropped out from high school to pursue his gaming career. Faker's decision to focus on his passion for esports will lead to one of the most storied careers in esports history, one that he continues to write today. Choosing his career over education proved to be fruitful for him, as he would end up becoming one of the highest-earning esports athletes in the world. Still, he wishes to continue his education after retiring from esports, according to a 2015 interview with ESPN.
Faker's tournament earnings: ~$1.4 Million
Over his seven-year career so far as a professional gamer, Esports Earnings estimates a total of $1,257,615.87 in tournament winnings for Faker. Most of his winnings come from his cut from their three Worlds championships. He took home approximately $800,000 from the $4,000,000 his team won from 2013-2016.
Across T1's four Worlds championships, analysts and fans recognized Faker to be the driving force for their team's success. Only he and his teammate Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong won the championship three times with T1, up until Faker won his fourth championship in 2023. This makes the two of them the only players to ever have won the championship thrice. However, unlike his teammate who still plays competitively under T1, Bengi has since retired from professional play.
Faker's career earnings make him the highest-earning Korean esports athlete as well as the highest-earning LoL athlete in history. Compared to other game titles, however, Faker is only ranked 67th. He trails behind his peers in Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Fortnite.
The rise and fall of the T1 Dynasty
Faker's arrival in the scene ushered a new era in LoL history. Within just the first year of his debut match, Faker already helped his team win Worlds.
Faker has an impressive Worlds Grand Finals record. Of the four times he played under T1 in the Worlds Grand Finals, they managed to win three times. Their win-loss record in the Grand Finals was 9-3 between 2013-2016. During this time, T1's dominance was undisputed, with many considering the team to be a dynasty in the LoL circuit. They were simply untouchable.
Samsung Galaxy later tarnished this record in the Worlds 2017 Grand Finals. Already showing a shaky performance in the matches leading up to the Grand Finals, T1 looked like a wounded beast, showing signs for the first time that T1 was no longer the invincible team that they once were. Samsung Galaxy swept T1 that year, scoring 3-0 over the former champions, toppling the T1 Dynasty.
While the team's unbeatable aura has since been dispelled, Faker was still feared the LoL Champions Korea (LCK), the Korean LoL circuit. Fans and analysts alike still regard him as one of the best players to ever play LoL, giving him the moniker “Unkillable Demon King”.
While Faker continued to thrive, his team has yet to recover. The team goes on to miss Worlds in the next season. They made a small comeback in 2019, finishing 4th in Worlds. However, the team has fallen the lowest in their whole career in 2020. This year, T1 failed to qualify to Worlds for the second time in three years. The T1 Dynasty has fallen.
Faker's T1 contract: ~$3.3 million
On top of his tournament earnings, Faker is rumored to get a large sum from his salary as well. In 2017, Naver Sports reported on a rumor that while many other teams offered Faker large sums, Faker chose to stay with T1 for a $2.5 million 3-year deal, the longest contract allowed in the league's rules. In 2020, Faker again re-signed with T1, locking him with the team until 2022. This deal was eventually renewed for another 3 years until 2025, although figures on his salary have not been revealed, affecting our evaluation of Faker's net worth in 2023.
7 magnificent years and many more to come as a player and team owner.
Please look forward to our continuous journey with @faker.
함께한 빛나는 7년에 감사하며, T1과 이상혁 선수의 여정은 앞으로도 계속됩니다.
— T1 LoL (@T1LoL) February 18, 2020
The star player's involvement with the team goes further than just being an athlete with the team. When he renewed his contract with T1, Faker also became part-owner of T1.
“I am honored to become a part owner of T1 and look forward to working with the leadership team beyond my playing career,” shared Faker in a press release.
This indicates that even after his future retirement (which, as of 2023, Faker says he has no plans on doing), Faker will still play a huge role in T1's organization.
The Frugal King
Many are surprised that in spite of Faker's deep pockets, the “Unkillable Demon King” actually leads a very frugal lifestyle. He once revealed on Korean talk show Radio Star that he only spends less than $200 a year. While figures are not publicly available, Faker most likely earns more than $200 every time he goes live on the streaming platform Twitch, where he has over 3 million followers.
His fans also noticed that Faker doesn't have a very varied wardrobe. He often plays matches in a white t-shirt under his team uniform, leading to fans calling him “White T-shirt collector”. Fellow LCK player Kim “PraY” Jong-in revealed in 2017 to Game is Hard a hilarious rumor that Faker owns no other clothes than his team's clothing and white t-shirts.
In an interview with Naver, Faker shared an explanation for this behavior, saying:
“I don't care about my clothes, if clothes have patterns or colors, it's confusing which one's clothes are (in the gaming house). I just put on a white shirt spontaneously, but I recently realized all of the white shirts look like mine so it is easy to find. That's why I'm wearing a white T-shirt every day.”
Faker's simple and down-to-earth personality enhances the respect that his peers and fans have for him. Inside and outside of the arena, many in the esports industry admire Faker. And thanks to his frugality, whatever he's worth now may only just continue to grow in the coming years.
Sadly, Faker's run in 2021 was cut short even if T1 performed so much better compared to last year. T1 failed to win an LCK title this year but still managed to reach Worlds. However, a Finals comeback wasn't going to happen, as T1 was defeated by regional rival and defending champions DAMWON Gaming. On the other hand, DAMWON Gaming is on its way to replicating T1's previous success. If they end up beating EDward Gaming in the Worlds 2021 Finals, it will only be the second time a team would win the Worlds title two times in a row.
Worlds 2022 Comeback
However, in 2022, the Demon King re-emerged and challenged every team in the LCK and in the World. SKT T1 became dominant again in the 2022 season, winning the Spring Split and going second in the Summer. Many thought that SKT.T1 will win another championship off the back of Faker. However, it was not meant to be, and the team would lose to DRX in the 2022 World Championships in a heavily-contested 5-game series, taking home $333 thousand.
Winning Worlds for His Teammates in 2023
The Demon King became the God King when he became the first and only League of Legends pro to win four Worlds Championships, leading his squad to gold. After cleanly sweeping Weibo Gaming 3:0 in the Grand Finals, Faker proved that his 2022 return was not a fluke and that he has really returned to reclaim his seat at the head of the table. With a very convincing finish to a rock-solid 2023 campaign, T1 won over $600 thousand in prize winnings, further adding to Faker's net worth in 2023.