Despite everything that’s been happening around the world, the American Dream is still a driving force for every person who hopes to make it in America.
Since last season, the professional Korean League of Legends scene has undergone some drastic changes. Players who transferred to China came back to LCK, while more than ten Korean players headed east to the US. To some Korean LoL pro players, their journey to America was like traveling to the Wild West.
As someone who also traveled thousands of miles to realize my own American Dream, I could not be happier to have come across Korean players at the NA LCS stadium every week. More than five months had passed since I first met them, and I was genuinely glad to see that they were the same as ever. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, asking each other how life is going, if the food is okay, and if they are getting enough rest. Naturally, I was privy to their thoughts and feelings about the team house and practice routines.
Chanho “Ssumday” Kim is one of the players I’d become acquainted with through previous interviews and chance encounters. Known as the “King of Communication”, Ssumday joined Team Dignitas this year and has been playing on the same team with Sanghyun “Chaser” Lee, Head Coach Jaeseok Park, and Coach Jeongsoo Kim. Having four Korean players on an NA team is pretty ironic, even moreso when you consider that the team’s midlaner, Laeyoung “Keane” Jang, is also not American.
At one point, I had a sudden thought: how do these migrant players feel about their lives in the US? Driven partly by my journalistic responsibility and partly by my own curiosity, I requested an interview with the members of Dignitas. They were outlanders adjusting to life in a foreign country, while still participating in the LoL season; having been an outlander to America myself, I sympathized with them. After a busy and eventful week, I finally got the chance to tour their team house. As I knocked on the team house, Head Coach Park, Coach Kim, and the players, who had just finished their morning practice, came out to welcome me into their natural habitat, an abode tinted with a pleasant atmosphere and the scent of freshly-cooked rice.
Sawual: You guys have lived abroad for a month already now. How’s the food? I heard you’ve been gaining weight.
Ssumday: Yes, I’m eating well and gaining weight.
Chaser: I don’t gain weight no matter how much I eat.
Ssumday: Chaser probably has high metabolism. He doesn’t gain weight even if he eats multiple hamburgers.
Coach Park: Who else should we have for the interview? Keane said he’s a little bit shy.
Lasso: That’s fine. You’ve lived here for a month now. How is everything?
Chaser: I rarely get to go outside…
Lasso: Are you held inside against your will?
Coach Park: Man, what are you talking about? Haha.
Sawual: I hope you don’t block the door when they try to get out.
Lasso: He could say they’re free to leave anytime they want, but not give them a way to leave the area. They might be isolated.
Sawual: You’ve gotta have a car to get around here. Who usually drives?
Coach Park: I normally do. I have my international driver’s permit, but no car yet. The company will provide one for us.
Lasso: So you guys have been cooped up inside all this time? You don’t even get to see the beautiful nighttime scenery!
Coach Park: Pretty much. We’ve used Uber to get to some places. I’m still amazed that everyone just somehow figures out their own rides.
Ssumday: Some American friends took me to Long Beach. I also went to an arcade.
Coach Park: We’ve all bought American cellphones already.
Ssumday: And we play Pokemon GO.
Lasso: Is this place a PokeStop?
Coach Park: I’m not sure. I don’t know about here, but I saw some while I was taking a walk…
Ssumday: [timidly] there’s one in the Coach Park behind us.
Sawual: What’s the most striking difference between living here and back home?
Ssumday: Nothing much really.
Coach Park: I honestly don’t know if I’m in Korea or the US. [Laughs] I’ve had many long days here, so I feel like I’ve been here longer than I actually have. Everyone’s been through some tough times. I’m basically the handyman here, fixing things around the house. I do hire someone to clean the bathroom though.
Ssumday: We have a person who cleans the house too.
Lasso: I understand that there wasn’t anyone here who could cook before you found a housemaid who cooked Korean food, and I also heard that Ssumday wasn’t a big fan of the food here.
Ssumday: I was really concerned. I tried to stockpile ready-to-eat meals, but we got someone to cook Korean food for us pretty fast. Those unopened meals are still there.
Chaser: I can eat American food without much issue, but I didn’t enjoy eating it. I wasn’t too concerned, because I have high metabolism and eating American food doesn’t make me fat. I’ll probably gain weight someday, though.
Lasso: Would you like to gain weight?
Ssumday: He has a hamburger everyday but it doesn’t help.
Lasso: Was it on Twitter? I haven’t had rolled eggs here but it looks so good. Thank you for inviting us for a meal. Oh, so you guys are off today; Ssumday said he went to the arcade, so what did you do, Chaser?
Chaser: I had an English class.
Ssumday: That day, I signed up for a cell phone service in the morning and went to the arcade in the evening.
Lasso: How are English classes going?
Ssumday: I’m studying hard.
Chaser: I’m learning.
Ssumday: My English is definitely improving more now than before I was taking classes.
Coach Park: Each person has his own specialty. Ssumday is good at interpreting, and Chaser had good pronunciation. They each have their strengths.
Lasso: Listen first and then relay the message? Kind of like a whispering game?
Coach Park: [Laughs] Yes, haha. Anyway, they’re learning quickly. Initially, I had trouble speaking in English during scrims.
Sawual: Do you speak in English for voice-comm?
Ssumday: We all try to use English. We don’t have too much trouble, because we’re already familiar with most of the basic words and in-game terminology. We still have some trouble when we have to exchange feedback or talk about more in-depth subjects though
Lasso: Wouldn’t it be easier for the other players to learn Korean since the majority of the teammates speak the language?
Coach Park: Actually, they are teaching each other English and Korean.
Sawual: I’m sure you talk directly to all the players in the team. Do you think you have the players figured out?
Coach Kim: For the most part. However, no matter how much we get used to English, we still need an interpreter to discuss in-depth topics.
Coach Park: I use Google translate for feedback and sometimes get it checked by the interpreter. I do use the chat a lot, but talking is much easier.
Sawual: Google translate couldn’t have come sooner, huh?
Coach Park: I now know how to use Google translate to its fullest potential. If you use distinctive subjects and objects, it mostly gets it right.
Lasso: I’m not sure if Google translate is beneficial or detrimental to learning English.
Sawual: What were some of the issues you had with adjusting to the new life here? They don’t have to be anything major.
Chaser: We live upstairs, and the bathroom has no door.
Lasso: [Laughs] Yeah, I just saw that. It’s like one of the bar doors seen in Western movies. It’s pretty terrifying.
Chaser: Yes, it’s something like that. To be honest, I don’t mind it too much, but Keane seems to mind it a lot because he’s more concerned with privacy. He said it’s dangerous.
Ssumday: It’s dangerous for sure.
Lasso: What do you mean by dangerous?
Chaser: There are certain instances I’ve seen in American TV shows. Trust me.
Lasso: Do you think the bathroom will have a proper door anytime soon?
Coach Park: No, because it didn’t have one when we got here.
Lasso: I’m sure there are less terrifying options for a entrance. Anyway, I never would’ve imagined that would be the first issue that came to your mind.
Ssumday: I don’t think too much about being homesick. I guess I’m bummed that I can’t easily go outside because of the language barrier. I want to be closer to my American friends and make new ones. I’m grateful that our English-speaking friends try their best to accommodate us.
Coach Park: That doesn’t really apply to me because I’ve lived in China. I feel that where you live doesn’t really matter. I can see that things are considerably better here in the US compared to my time at SBENU and OMG. Every aspect is a huge upgrade from before. Having said that, I’m more of a homebody.
Coach Kim: At least there are things to do outside in China. There’s nothing out here.
Ssumday: Apparently, it’s not safe to be outside at night.
Chaser: I heard gunshots once!
Coach Park: You can’t be serious!
Chaser: There was one big gunshot sound, and then nothing.
Coach Park: They always come to the coaching room after they hear something loud to tell me that they heard gunshots. [Laughs]
Sawual: I often go to LA to cover various events, and there are definitely gunshots.
Coach Kim: I’m not worried about burglary. They would probably leave after seeing the number of shoes at the door.
Sawual: Do you talk to Korean players on other NA teams?
Ssumday: I talk to those in KT because I’m pretty close to them. We can’t see each other in person because of schedules though. I guess we’ll meet up when we all have free time. I love hanging out with them.
Sawual: Who’s the laziest when it comes to tidiness?
Coach Park: Besides Ssumday tossing dirty socks on the floor from time to time, I think everyone’s pretty tidy. I’ve seen those Pokemon socks before.
Chaser: A cleaning person comes twice a week. The house is squeaky clean.
Ssumday: I wash the towels everyday. [sounding resentful]
Coach Park: You know who washes all the towels downstairs? I do. You gotta take one for the team.
Sawual: So there are no actual issues so far?
Coach Park: None. I think it’s such a nice thing to have. Players are all opinionated but I can see they’re putting in effort to get along. They do sometimes have altercations, but it’s nothing major. I’m grateful to have them on the same team and I think highly of them for that reason.
Sawual: Is there anything you wanted to do in the US?
Coach Park: Tell them.
Chaser: You don’t mean…
Coach Kim: Does it start with a “G”?
Chaser: You’re joking…
Coach Park: Is it a “girl”?
Chaser: I’ve never said that!
Lasso: I completely understand.
Sawual: Would you like me to go off the record?
Chaser: [flustered] No, it’s not like that. Let me explain. Okay. My American friends asked me if I liked American girls. And I told them that I like all girls, because I was afraid that they would think I was gay if I said the wrong thing. They were laughing so hard about it.
Lasso: That’s quite bold for an impromptu response. Well, you can’t take it back now.
Chaser: I had no other choice.
Lasso: Thank you for the explanation.
Chaser: It wasn’t an explanation, but a story. But that aside, I wanted to go to Long Beach. [covering up]
Ssumday: I’d like to go to popular places. I want to go to Hollywood, Universal Studios, and Disneyland so much. I also heard that Santa Monica Beach is really nice.
Coach Park: Are you sure you mean that “beach”, and not the other “beach”?
Ssumday: Stop making things up!
Coach Park: I’ll admit I went to far there. We’ll probably go to Disneyland later.
Lasso: What was that about a different “beach”?
Coach Park: Well, I’ll have to look into that. Things could go seriously wrong.
Lasso: You may never fully come back.
Ssumday: My English tutor said Disneyland is really far from here. She said it would take about eight hours.
Sawual: It won’t take that long.
Lasso: I think she’s in on the whole scheme of locking everyone inside the house.
Sawual: I’ve heard that you (Coach Park) like to stay indoors, but wouldn’t the players want to go outside and play?
Coach Park: Well, I'm not worried about that because they don’t seem to be desperate to go out and play. They are practicing really hard. We've had two days off so far. We went to Koreatown and had some BBQ for the first day-off, and we went to an arcade for the second day. Non-Korean players went with us too. I suppose culture barriers are overrated. Since we are in the States, we want to visit more places and take a lot of pictures. We didn’t go out much when we were in China.
Chaser: I've heard that it only rains once or twice per year, but it's been nothing but rain nowadays.
Coach Park: Also, Ssumday would kill me if I locked him up completely.
Sawual: What are your daily routines?
Coach Park: We practice in three parts. We do two scrims and then play Solo Queue until midnight. We are free to do whatever afterwards.
Chaser: I just lay down on my bed and play with my cellphone.
Coach Park: Ssumday, don't you have a new hobby?
Ssumday: Well, I usually go walking around…
Chaser: Come on, be specific. Aren't you going out to play Pokemon GO?
Ssumday: I felt like I'd go crazy after being stuck inside the team house for 20 days. So I go for a walk sometimes to get some fresh air. Playing Pokemon GO is a bonus.
Chaser: Are you sure? Isn't it just to play Pokemon GO?
Lasso: What level are you in Pokemon GO?
Ssumday: 10. I just started playing.
Sawual: Do you keep in touch with your friends in Korea?
Chaser: Of course, we have instant messengers for a reason. We mostly talk about how we are doing. It hasn’t been that long since we’ve left Korea, so I’m not missing anything that much.
Sawual: Were you worried about anything before going overseas?
Ssumday: There were many more differences than I thought, but.. I’m okay with how things are.
Chaser: I was worried about food and entertainment, but professional gamers only need food and shelter for basic needs. It’s possible to work as a professional gamer with just those two, and we have Uber to get to places.
Lasso: Wait, what about clothing?
Coach Park: [Laughs] There’s no need for that.
Lasso: I guess that’s why you don’t need the bathroom door.
Sawual: What are the English lessons like?
Ssumday: We are doing great. Sophie really knows how to teach on our level.
Lasso: Speaking of Sophie, she has been tweeting some stories about her students…
Ssumday: They are mostly about me. I won’t go into details because it’s easier to explain when read rather than spoken. (Translator’s note: Unfortunately, they are mostly in Korean :()
Lasso: If you are using the same room as Keane, I’d guess that you speak entirely in Korean .
Chaser: Yeah, we generally speak Korean to each other. We do joke around in English though.
Lasso: English for joking?
Chaser: 'Joking' with swear words, to be precise.
Lasso: Oh, I see...I've heard that curse words are the first thing you learn in a foreign language.
Chaser: Well, to be fair, it sounds so 'right' when Americans curse. You can't get it out of your mind and want to try it out yourself.
Sawual: What are your thoughts on scrims and ranked games in NA? How do you feel when you play with NA players?
Ssumday: NA Solo Queue doesn't follow the competitive metagame as rigidly as KR Solo Queue.
Chaser: Since the other two NA teammates speak in a different language, it works out nicely because we don’t know what the others are complaining about. If we understood everything that we said to each other, we'd have to take some time to clear up misunderstandings. However, since we can't understand each other fully, we can communicate with each other while filtering out unnecessary words.
Ssumday: To clarify, we don’t hear the words that are better off not heard.
Sawual: So, what are your thoughts on NA Solo Queue?
Coach Park: There is room for improvement. For example, somebody wanted a specific champion but didn't do that great with it, and it turns out that person has an over 70% win rate. There are a lot of one-trick-ponies like that.
Ssumday: Sometimes, I see champions that I haven't seen for a long, long time. I've seen Wukong, Tryndamere, and Illaoi being chosen as the first pick.
Chaser: I've seen more than enough jungle Shacos.
Coach Kim: There are teams in NA that focus mostly on scrims, because playing in the Solo Queue doesn't do much in terms of practicing, because of the stuff we mentioned. It's much better to do scrims. Players should also feel the same as well.
Coach Park: Chaser, do you agree?
Chaser: Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't. I mean, considering how my win rate is high even when I play as Corki in the midlane...
Coach Park: Well, I suppose there still are a few outstanding players.
Sawual: Doesn't playing in NA feel different from playing in Korea?
Chaser: Baron calls in Korea are made more carefully, and only when players feel that they can definitely take Baron without risk. However, in NA, Baron calls are made much more frequently. It feels like teams do it intentionally, to cause the other team to make a mistake and then take Baron if they create that opening. There are more risks compared to Korea.
Lasso: Who does the shotcalling for your team?
Coach Park: Chaser usually does it, but Ssumday sometimes does it in mid or late game, depending on the team composition. Also, it's done in English.
Chaser: Somehow we all understand it no matter how broken the English is.
Sawual: Did you get any advice or help from the pros that were already in the States?
Ssumday: They told me how the food is like here, and also gave me some advice on signing a contract.
Coach Park: Signing a contract. That reminds me of a story.
Lasso: There’s always a story.
Coach Park: I’ve heard that some contracts look like a joke. So I took a look at the contract myself, and some parts were not how I thought they would be. For example, things like “the team can terminate the contract whenever they want to.” I thought, “what is this, a temp job?” but I know that’s just the way it is. I thought ‘then there’s no point in this contract’, and it took me a long time to make some reasonable changes. Eventually it turned out well, and I went to the company with Chaser. The story starts from here. Chaser was supposed to come with us, but he didn’t answer his phone. They were not that close back then, but Ssumday said “Oh, I wish Chaser was here toooo!” So I called Jin Air, got the contact numbers of Chaser’s parents, and was finally able to reach him.
Ssumday: I mean, we were supposed to sign the contract together but… he was asleep.
Chaser: No, it’s not what it looks like. I have something to say about this too,
Coach Park: Don’t.
Sawual: So you were sleeping, and showed up just to sign the contract?
Lasso: Sounds like a huge artist signing a contract for a hip hop label.
Coach Park: I still remember Ssumday’s voice. “I wish Chaser was here toooo!” It was kind of cute.
Sawual: Then you would have met each other for the first time in Korea when you were signing the contract.
Ssumday: We bumped into each other several times while in Korea, but we didn’t really become friends. It can be hard to become friends with someone, unless that person is someone like GorillA.
Lasso: I assume Gorilla has a unique personality.
Coach Park: He really does. When I was in SBENU, he would just randomly call SBENU players out, say "Hey, I know you are all going through some tough times, I'll buy you food," and then buy them sushi. It was amazing. He really has a great personality.
Sawual: GorillA, there’s never an end to the heartwarming stories about you...
Lasso: I guess you miss your fans in Korea.
Ssumday: It goes without saying that I really cherish my fans, and…
Sawual: He doesn’t miss a beat.
Lasso: I didn't even see him move his mouth.
Ssumday: [Laughs] Well, it’s not like I disappeared or anything. I'm still here. All the support from fans is what keeps me going.
Lasso: There’s actually a fan who always says thank you to me whenever I upload pictures of Chaser on Twitter.
Chaser: Really? [Laughs]
Coach Park: I was actually thinking of running a team blog as a side job, uploading photos and stuff like that... But we kept losing, and I lost motivation.
Lasso: Speaking of side jobs, you could be an Uber driver once you get a car.
Coach Park: I thought about that when I was in Korea. They’re gone now because of safety issues, but I would like to have a plan B like that.
Sawual: Any last words for your fans?
Ssumday: You go first, bro.
Coach Park: [Laughs] I'm thinking! I told you to be brilliant, but not like this.
Chaser: [After a long pause] Well, we are doing well here in the U.S. so there is nothing much to worry about. We still have a long season ahead of us, so we will work hard to bring about a good outcome. Please continue to support us.
Coach Park: Ssumday is also good at coming up with stuff to say.
Ssumday: I am pushing myself hard here in America, so please don't forget about me.
Coach Kim: Um, they already said everything I wanted to say.
Coach Park: We will try our best as the four Koreans who came to America with a big dream. I think we will be able to win more matches if more people cheer for us. Please keep it up.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.