A few years ago, an analytic article titled ‘How Tigers Became a Strong Team’ made a big hit among Korean professional baseball fans. The article, focused on how KIA Tigers went through the rebuilding process and stepped up to the top of the table, has been long used by baseball fans as a good laughing stock under the alias of ‘Ta-uh-gang (the initialized version of the article’s Korean title), as Tigers suddenly plummeted to the bottom, defying the wishes of Tigers fans right after the article was published.
Throughout the Summer Split of League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) 2017, I was tempted to write an article focusing on ‘How Longzhu Gaming Became a Strong Team,’ as Longzhu were finally able to shine a light after a series of arduous rebuilding, spending tons of money. However, at the same time, I had to resist my urge, as I was afraid I might jinx Longzhu’s run, just like what happened to Tigers after the ‘Ta-uh-gang’ incident. While I was stuck hesitating, Longzhu reached the finals by coming in first in the Summer Split, and was able to beat SK Telecom T1, the emperor of Best of 5s by 3-1 to rise as the Champion of LCK Summer Split, and also qualify for the League of Legends World Championship (Worlds) for the first time in their history.
At last, I am free to talk about how Longzhu Gaming became a strong team. Upon interview request, Coach Seung-min Choi and Jung-soo Kim of Longzhu were eager to share their remarks on the past season, as if they were at last feeling okay about talking about the magnificent run they had.
Q Congratulations on reaching the Worlds. You must be feeling very special.
Coach Seung-min Choi (Choi)= When I first started my coaching career, I set my goal to becoming the champion at Worlds. It seemed as if I was never going to achieve that goal, since our team couldn’t even qualify for the playoffs, but now I have the chance. I will try my best until the very end to achieve the goal.
Coach Jung-soo Kim (Kim)= I feel so happy, especially because I never dreamt of winning the LCK before the beginning of the split. Everyone was keeping us out of the top three teams, and we were also aiming for the fourth spot. Our plan was to take the spot for Worlds at the regional qualifiers, but unreal things happened, and we were able to secure the first seed of the region by winning the summer split. I’m still shaky.
Q.For Coach Kim, you’re going to Worlds for two years in a row. You were the coach of the finalists Samsung Galaxy, and now you’re leading Longzhu to Worlds.
Kim= It’s a wonderful experience. Not many coaches would have made it to Worlds with different teams. I would like to thank both Samsung and Longzhu for giving me this opportunity.
Q Coach Choi, the relationship between you and Longzhu Gaming go back a long time.
Choi= It really does, since I was in the StarCraft 2 team.I first met Manager Dong-hun Kang as a professional gamer, and went through tough times together as the coach of his team. I always dreamt for this moment, but I didn’t know it would come so suddenly.
Q.Sudden it was. Depending on how big the names of the players are, the team for the Spring Split was better than the current roster. But Longzhu took the throne in the summer split.
Choi= Our team has a crazy nickname called “This time it’s different”. Everything but the results, that was. During the transfer market, we did make big signings, but that didn’t take us to the playoffs. So, what makes our run during the Summer Split even more intriguing is that we were able to prove that we were actually different this time. We were able to realize through trial and error that the massive rebuilding process were more of a harm than good. We were able to learn from our errors.
Q.I would never want to criticize the players of the previous roster, but what do you think was the reason that Longzhu wasn’t able to achieve a good result?
Kim= I was the very source of the problem. During the beginning of 2017 Spring Split, I was coaching Dignitas of LCS NA, but I resigned and came back to Korea after the 1st round. I originally planned to take a rest and observe myself, but Manager Kang wanted me in Longzhu right away. I wasn’t ready with the team, and I had to take a long detour. I wasn’t sure of myself as a coach, and so I wasn’t able to manage the players well.
Q.Longzhu had a really bad 2nd round of Spring Split, which was just after Coach Kim was brought into the team. But as everyone knows, Longzhu were great in the Summer Split. What do you think made the changes?
Choi= Coach Kim knows how to lead players and is very determined. Especially, he makes very clear and decisive calls during the pick and ban, and players also appreciate his calls. He’s usually very friendly to players, but is able to discipline them sternly when needed. He knows how to both ease and discipline the members.
Q.How long have you been working as a coach, Coach Kim?
Kim=My first coaching job was at Bigfile on August 2014, so it’s my fourth year this season. Since Bigfile found it difficult to maintain itself, I had to move to Chinese teams, including OMG. After that, I was at Samsung in 2016, went to Dignitas in 2017, and came back to Longzhu Gaming.
Q.You must have had interesting experiences while coaching foreign teams.
Kim= The gaming atmosphere does vary between teams, leagues, and countries, but there is one thing that’s same for any teams, and it’s that there comes a time when the players fall on bad terms. Only few teams would be able to keep a good atmosphere at all times. American and Chinese players prefer freer atmospheres. At the end of the training, players go out or have personal time. But Korean players are quite different, and they want the coaches to decide what to do. During the summer, we have left the decision to the players.
Q.What do you mean by letting the players decide?
Kim=Korean teams usually set up best of three scrims at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. and so the game usually ends at 10 or 11 p.m. After the scrim, the players go through the replays or have feedback sessions on the games, and I believe it would be same for all other Korean team. What matters is how the players use the time after those sessions. We let the players decide, whether they should start streaming or play solo queue. We just left the training room to the players, and let them do what they want.
Q.Then, what do the coaches do after the training?
Choi= From midnight or 1 a.m. we usually watch games of other leagues to see if new picks or strategies show up. On days when there aren’t any games, we analyze the plays of the opponents for the upcoming games, or share thoughts on lessons or improvements from the scrims.
Q.Let’s have a look at the Summer Split. Longzhu’s record for the 1st round was 6W-3L, which was the same for the 1st round of the Spring Split. What do you think made the difference between the Spring and Summer Splits?
Choi= We had two crucial moments in the 1st round, which were when we lost to JinAir Greenwings and Samsung Galaxy. At the game with JinAir, we won the 1st round with ‘Khan’ Dong-ha Kim’s great plays, but he wasn’t feeling well. We switched him with ‘Rascal’ Gwang-hee Kim but Rascal wasn’t ready for the game, and we lost. So, we made Khan play again in the 3rd set, who by then was out of his physical and mental shape. Through that game we were able to again realize the importance of player management.
Kim= The second moment was related to pick and ban. It is true that our players are good solo queue players, and one of their traits is that their champion pool is very wide. These traits tend to show up during official tournaments, and the series with Samsung Galaxy, the last match of the 1st round, was one of those cases. We had similar picks and bans for the first two sets and were 1-1. At the pick and ban phase of the last set, the players were talking about picking Fiora and Zed. The coaches had a talk, and we decided to let them play what they want, and if we lose, we should make this a good opportunity for the players to have faith in the picks and bans of the coaches. We lost the game, but we had a very fruitful discussion regarding the pick and ban. We shared not only the opinions of Khan or ‘BDD’ Bo-sung Kwak, but the opinions of every players on those picks. Everyone was able to share their feelings about the moment when daring picks went wrong, and the discussion was able to integrate everyone into one. The game with Samsung made the one team we are, so I would say that it was a fruitful loss.
Choi= After suffering the reversal, Khan cried, although he said he didn’t at the interview afterwards. Coaches can tell. Khan told us that he was “sorry that I insisted on picking Fiora, but I wasn’t good and I’m sorry because I think I have messed up the game.’ ‘Pray’ Jong-in Kim and ‘GorillA’ Beom-hyeon Kang comforted others by saying that “We weren’t able to prop up the game.” At that moment, something came to my mind, some strange feeling that the team became one.
Kim=After the game with Samsung, the team had a wonderful winning streak throughout the 2nd Round. And whenever I saw players loosening up, I told them to “not forget the Zed and Fiora pick”. It acts as the magic words to keep the players disciplined. It’s a meaningful phrase which helps the players control themselves.
Q. Let’s talk about the players. Who’s the hardest to manage?
Kim= I would say ‘Cuzz’ Woo-chan Moon. When I talk to Pray and GorillA, the veteran duo, about a pick that might be useful, they have it ready in no time. Once I told Pray about playing Ezreal, and soon he’s already played some games with Ezreal or is working on it. However, Cuzz believes in what he thinks so much that it takes a great deal of persuasion to make him play a new champ. He wouldn’t want to play a new champ and lose even in scrims. But standing by one’s own opinion is a great trait when it comes to pro gamers, so the coaches are trying to bring out the good side of him. Of course, he is a great asset to our team.
Q Coach Choi, you worked for Longzhu throughout your entire coaching career, and met many players. Who would you pick as the player you felt the most rewarding while coaching?
Choi= Indeed, many players came in and went out of Longzhu. I might be the coach who’s met with the most players in Korea (laughs). Amongst them, the most memorable ones are ‘Frozen’ Tae-il Kim and ‘Flame’ Ho-jong Lee. Frozen was known as the heart of Longzhu at the time, and did work very hard during our tough times. When Longzhu was previously playing under the name of Incredible Miracle, Frozen won all our promotion matches to keep us in LCK. Flame was in the team for only a year, but we really got close. We talk to each other often, even though he’s currently playing in NA. He’s a very friendly guy.
Q.‘Pray’ Jong-in Kim and ‘GorillA’ Beom-hyeon Kang played for Longzhu for the last two splits. How would you comment on their presence?
Choi= ‘PrillA’ duo is just special, especially at the arena. After the game, they tell other players what we were planning to tell. The other three players courteously listen to the veterans. That’s what made the difference for Longzhu in the Summer Split.
Kim= Pray and GorillA are so selfless. I have sometimes seen players with competitive spirit who talk less about their faults and focus more on other’s wrongdoings. But Pray and GorillA talk about what they did wrong first during the feedback. Then they analyze that their faults have snowballed into other misplays and influenced the game. After they are done with their self-examination, they look at the entire game and check what was wrong. This attitude is what I believe makes the newbies look up to the duo and follow them.
Choi= They don’t blame anything on others. If the veterans are selfless enough to tell others that “it’s our fault,” the team would never fall apart.
Kim= With 'PrillA' helping out the coaches, we don’t have to nag at the players so much. Sometimes, the players and coaches may disagree with each other during feedbacks and hurt others’ feelings. But with PrillA on our team, those things never happen, and our team atmosphere never goes wrong.
Q. Longzhu is now going to Worlds. Coach Kim already has led a team to Worlds, and how do you plan on doing that this year?
Kim= The tournament is going to be held in another country, and players tend to have a hard time keeping in shape. Many things would happen, from food to internet. The solo queue is very different to that of Korea, and language barrier is always a problem. At the last Worlds with Samsung, the players had a hard time with headache and cold. We plan to pack enough household medicine, and also prepare for some Korean food in case the players have a hard time with the foreign food.
Choi= Manager Kang visited China to prepare for Worlds, and came back with the news that Longzhu company will be able to support us to the fullest. But since it’s better safe than sorry, we will also try to plan everything in advance.
Q. The group has been decided, and Longzhu is playing with Gigabyte Marines and Immortals in Group B. What do you think about the draft?(The interview took place before the 2nd round of the play-in stage, and so the question does not mention Fnatic)
Choi = Since Flame plays for Immortals, we’ve been watching their games, and they were good. Also, we checked Gigabyte Marines during the Mid-Season Invitational, and their gaming style was somewhat a mixture of Korean and Chinese meta.
Kim= It’s not good to speak conclusively on who’s good or bad. Thinking that we are a better team than others is what deludes us and creates the cracks of uncertainty. It’s important to keep our guard up, since the Group Stage is going to be held in the format of single-set double round robin.
Q.In Worlds 2016, Samsung Galaxy reached the Knockout Stage by coming in 1st in the Group Stage, with strong teams including TSM in the same group. How do you recall the experience, Coach Kim?
Kim=At the time, after losing to TSM, the team was worried that we might not be able to reach the Quarterfinals. And I think Manger Woo-bum Choi reacted well then. He exactly knew how to comfort and motivate the players. I learnt a lot from him as he utilized the experience in Worlds 2014, when Samsung White became the champion and Samsung Blue reached the semi-final.
Q.In the League of Legends scene, the roles of coaches tend to not stand out. Some even say that coaches only have to care about picks or bans, and even that would not matter if the players are not good enough.
Choi= Deciding on picks and bans are only a tiny amount of the roles of the coaches. As I have said previously, I met lots of players with different styles while working as a coach of Longzhu Gaming. I believe that it’s important for coaches to motivate their players, to not make them settle on what they currently are, but to make them long for better performance, especially when they are satisfied with themselves.
Kim= Picks and bans are not the exclusive properties of coaches. For a certain pick or ban to show up in matches, numerous feedbacks are shared in the team. It’s important for every member of the team to state their opinions. When I was working for a foreign team before, I heard an episode about another team, in which the player opposed to the coach’s opinion to ban a certain champ during the game, because the ban was never discussed during feedback sessions. Although such things would never happen in Korean teams, what I want to stress is that bans and picks are not the exclusive decisions of coaches, and that I believe the roles of the coaches are to establish the environment in which the players can focus on their games.
Choi= Coaches can tell if the player has concerns, such as family or girlfriend issues. Spending time together in the gaming house, we can tell what influences the physical and mental fitness of players. Players tend to be distracted during training sessions if they have family or girlfriend issues. Coaches hear out those concerns, try to provide solutions, or even try to solve issues with the help of the entire team.
Kim=Although training can never be enough, sometimes it might be better to leave the computers and go for a walk or leave on a trip. There’s something special about changing the environment everyone stays in. It is important for coaches to help players let out what they have inside, and try to come up with solutions. The ability to fully sympathize with the players, I should say.
Q.Thank you both for clarifying everyone’s curiosity on how Longzhu became a strong team. I hope that you have a wonderful experience at Worlds. Any last comments?
Choi= I met lots of players, officials, and many others involved in eSports while working for Incredible Miracle and Longzhu Gaming. I am thankful for every relationship I was able to establish. Also, I would like to express my gratitude to Manager Kang who was able to cultivate the driving force to win through the tough times after the Spring Split, and also to our fans who supported us to help us become who we are, and show what we did last split.
Kim= It was the efforts of every players and coaches which led to the team winning the Summer Split. Many thanks to our team secretariat members, assistant manager Byeong-ryul Kang and Yeon Jeon. Winning the LCK can never be explained by the performance of a single player or coach. It was everyone working together as one which made it possible, and if we can maintain our teamwork, I believe that we’re more than capable of coming up with another good result at Worlds.
Translated by ROXCrew.
*This translation was provided through a partnership with the ROXGAMING.
Copyright ⓒ Dailygame co, Ltd. 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지