Many great leaders in history shared the same dream. From Genghis Khan to Alexander the Great, they all wanted to have the world within their grasp. In the world of League of Legends, there’s a player that also hopes to conquer the world, by holding the title of ‘Rank 1 Global’.
Meet TF Blade, a Twitch streamer and the substitute top laner for Team Liquid. After he achieved Rank 1 in NA, EUW, EUNE, and LAN servers, he’s currently on his conquest to achieve Rank 1 in Korea. Many consider the KR server to be the hardest server in the world, as it’s a server that’s backed by a deep gaming culture that pre-existed since the early 2000s. Many aspiring players around the world travel to Korea just to play on the KR server, and although TF Blade is just one of many that fit the bill, his goal is different from that of your average bootcamper.
He’s currently in Rank 115 in the KR leaderboards, and with a 60%+ win rate, his goal to achieve Rank 1 is just over the horizon. Inven Global had a chance to catch up with TF Blade to talk about his experiences in KR solo queue, the current top lane meta, and his future goals.
Can you please introduce yourself to the readers at home?
Hello. I am TF Blade, and my real name is Ashkan Homayouni. I’m a streamer, and I play League of Legends for a living. My goal is to become Rank 1 globally, by getting Rank 1 in every single server around the world.
Your quest to Rank 1 in all the servers around the world is actually talked about a lot in various Korean LoL communities. Did you know about this?
I had no idea! It’s really cool and surprising to see how many fans I have here. I actually thought that nobody was going to know who I was when I got here.
I actually quite enjoy watching your climb on your stream, and there were quite a lot of Korean viewers in your chat as well.
What’s funny is that in the beginning, I was reading a lot of the Korean viewers chatting in my chat. My chat is usually full of people typing ‘KEK’ or ‘PogChamp’ (popular Twitch.tv emotes), but now, since the Koreans came to hang out in chat, people are flaming me as well (laughter).
How did you first start playing League?
I first started playing League around the end of Season 3. My friend introduced me to this game, and we started playing together. He told me to pick an easy champion, so I picked up Tryndamere and levelled up together with my friend.
Actually, the first 5 ranked games that I played with my friend, we went duo top lane, because we didn’t know we needed a jungler. I got placed into Bronze 4, and I thought, “This duo isn’t working. I’m going to go solo.” When I did, I got into Gold 1 in the Preseason for Season 4. During the next season, I got to Master tier by only playing Akali, and ever since then, I’ve been waiting to graduate so that I can take a year off and play.
Were you always a top laner, or did you main any other roles on your first?
I was always a top laner. I used to play champions like Xin Zhao in the top lane. It was terrible (laughter).
What aspect of the top lane do you like the most?
In the top lane, if your opponent is not paying attention, they can be punished. It’s similar to bot lane, but the difference is that it’s a 2 vs 2 lane. In a longer lane, when you’re being punished, a good player will properly freeze the wave and deny you CS. In the mid lane, you have the option to roam into top and bottom, and even jungle camps are really close. The thing I liked the most is that top lane is far away from everything and is basically an island, and if you get ahead in a Bruiser match-up for example, you can almost solo carry the whole game.
When did you first hit Rank 1?
I first hit Rank 1 when I was just about to take a year off after high school. I believe it was back in Season 7. During Season 7, my highest record was achieving Rank 1, 2 and 8 over three different accounts. I was trying to get all three accounts in Season 7 and renaming them to ‘I am’, ‘The First’, and ‘Blade’ respectively, but I couldn’t make it happen.
Speaking of which, why did you decide to call yourself TF Blade (The First Blade)?
It comes from a TV show called ‘Supernatural’. It originates from the story of Cain and Abel. Originally, Cain killed Abel with a rock, but in the show, it says Cain killed Abel with ‘The First Blade’, and this blade was so powerful that the wielder was able to kill any demons and angels with it. With me on your team, I wanted the teammates to feel like they’re wielding ‘The First Blade’, and can win any game.
What made you start trying to achieve Rank 1 across multiple servers?
It was actually right after I couldn’t achieve the top 3 spots and change my names like I aforementioned. I thought to myself, “If I could achieve Rank 1 in every server before Dopa does, I could get that title of being Rank 1 global.” No one has achieved this yet, and it’s the only milestone that impresses me, so I said, “You know what? It’s a race. Let’s go.” Although, the only other player that I can think of that achieved Rank 1 in multiple servers is Dopa, and even then, he only achieved Rank 1 in Korea and China.
How do you compare the Korean server as to the other servers?
There’s actually a short version of explaining this. Players on NA servers play to scale into late game. They play for team composition, but they don’t like to take the 1 vs 1 duels that much. They don’t play as aggressive in lane as they should be, and they don’t punish you for the mistakes you make. If you have a Kassadin, they just stall out the game until Kassadin hits Lvl 16 and automatically win with no counterplay. I find this to be very boring, since if you play to team comp, there isn’t much counterplay to it.
The difference between NA and Korea would be that in NA, players are more disciplined to give up certain objectives, where they don’t contest for them if at a numbers disadvantage, but in Korea, players sometimes troll in taking fights over objectives that they shouldn’t be contesting in theory.
In Europe, I feel like it’s pretty similar to Korea, but Korea’s just a harder version of Europe. Players in Europe play laning phase well, and there are fast-paced games, but in Korea, everybody is trying to punish you in lane. They’re doing everything they can to win the game as soon as possible, and that’s really good.
According to the many foreign bootcampers that I had a chance to talk to, they say that the Korean server is a lot harder than other servers. Do you agree?
In Korea, they’re more keen to take fights and practice their mechanics. I’d say Korean solo queue is a lot harder, because when it comes to laning phase, they’re mechanically better, and know what to do. However, like I said before, there are times where you just have to accept the fact that there are some objectives you can’t contest, but I think that players like to troll and greed for objectives.
For example, if you have vision on the Rift Herald but not Drake, it’s natural to go for Rift Herald and give up Drake. If you go for both, you’re walking straight into the enemy blind, and you’re just going to die. I think this is because players in KR want to end the game as soon as possible, but getting greedy for objectives just delays the game, so although I don’t think they’re bad at Macro as a whole, I think they just troll sometimes.
They also say that Diamond players in Korea are at about the same level as Challenger players in NA. Do you agree?
I think they could easily be Challenger in NA, but they need to have the mentality of grinding to Challenger. There’s no question that Korean Diamond players will tilt out of their mind if they play NA solo queue (laughter).
Can you tell me some things you like and hate about Korean solo queue?
The players are very mechanically gifted and I can tell that they are really playing to improve. They also want the games to be over as fast as possible. I like it, but the mindset sometimes backfires when you’re on the receiving end of it. I really enjoy being pushed to my limit each game, and the fact that queue times in Korea aren’t absurdly long is really good as well..
On the flip side, I don’t like how there are so many dodges in champ select. People just know that the difference in team composition strength means it’s game over. Also, some people don’t really have much tolerance until you get to Grandmaster-Challenger. They’ll just quit, and it’s absurd. They die twice, and they’re like, “Okay. I don’t care about the other 4 people that are trying to win the game, so I’m just going to quit.” Riot should be punishing these types of players, so that they’re afraid to just buy Tear of the Goddess and go AFK.
What this does is that a person in that team might get tilted next game, and may eventually do the same thing. The entire Diamond elo is infected by such people, and I don’t think it’s healthy at all.
In the Korean communities, the consensus is that Diamond 2 - Diamond 1 elo is like hell, and that junglers in that elo are pretty much coinflip. Do you believe that’s true in GM-Challenger?
Not every game, but it exists. I didn’t believe that the skill difference between players would matter as much in Korea, but there are a lot of games where one of the players, despite a terrible win rate, is randomly really good. Maybe they have good and bad games, I’m not entirely sure.
There are also games where I just feel like the enemy jungler is vastly smarter than your own jungler. He’s tracking your jungler, getting appropriate vision, waiting in the bush for a countergank, and just doing everything right. Even if I ping my jungler and tell him the enemy jungler is going to countergank, I have a big wave in front of me, so it’s clear that the gank isn’t going to work. Yet my jungler still goes for it, ruins my lane, never comes back top again, and types “Top gap” (laughter).
I’d say the ping in Korea is pretty nice as well, right?
Definitely! 9 ping is the best! This is why players are so mechanically gifted. Imagine if NA had 9 ping...
Did you meet top laners such as Nuguri, Kiin, and TheShy in solo queue?
Although I haven’t played against Kiin or TheShy yet, I played four games against Nuguri. I can tell that his laning phase is really good. He punishes you well, and freezes waves to properly zone you out. I think that his game plan is punishing players by creating a massive CS difference.
However, I don’t think that such a strategy works too well in solo queue. I don’t mean to brag, but in all four games I played against him, he lost to me every single time. Maybe he was tilted, or had unlucky teammates. We went even in lane, but afterwards, I’d say that the teamfights went in my favor.
Did you meet any other well-known players that you enjoyed playing with?
I played with a lot of T1 players. I played a lot with Teddy, Closer, the new mid lane trainee for T1. Closer’s actually a really good Irelia player, and he told me that he learned from me, so I was like, “C’mon dude. No way. You don’t even know me”.
Actually, your montages are really popular in Korea. There are a lot of Korean channels that made some for you.
Really? Maybe the champions I play are hype and fun to watch.
▲ One of many TF Blade montages that Korean Youtubers make (Source: BloodMoon LOL)
Can you tell me some players that you were really impressed with in Korea?
All the players I played against performed at a high level. I don’t think there was anyone that impressed me to the point where I was just lost for words. In my opinion, if you have that mentality where someone’s better than you, you become afraid of your opponent and start playing passively. I just think that there’s not a player that’s so much better, that I start becoming afraid.
Is there a specific player that you look up to?
Back in the days, although I didn’t watch that many videos of pro gameplay, I used to watch videos on CuVee, Smeb, and Khan. When I’m playing a matchup that I haven’t played before, I quickly scroll through a Youtube video to see how pros play a certain matchup.
Right now, I watch TheShy and Nuguri to see how they play certain champions in certain matchups. For example, if I want to know how these players are playing against a Mordekaiser as Renekton, I’d quickly search it up and fast forward through it to see how they play out the matchup.
In the Korean community, some people say that you have a very selfish playstyle.
I totally agree. I used to say that my playstyle is ‘Cancer-Aggressive’, where I played so aggressively, that I wouldn’t want to play against myself. Sometimes, in solo queue, it’s a 1 vs 5 game, and the only way you’re going to carry such games is to be willing to take risks, play really aggressively, and show that you’re mechanically better than your opponents.
This way, you give your teammates some hope and give them a confidence boost. If I just play passively and give resources to my teammates, but nothing happens, things may or may not work out. In my mind, the right way to play is by playing aggressively, and taking all the resources, so that I can give back by carrying teamfights.
Can you share some thoughts on the current top lane meta in general? Which champions do you find strong at top lane?
Don’t even get me started. It’s very tilting (laughter). I don’t know about champions that I find to be OP, but there are champions that I ABSOLUTELY hate playing against. People should never play these champions in the top lane, because of how it takes little to no skill to play these champions.
In my mind, a champion takes no skill to play if it can’t be punished. No matter how far you may be ahead of these opponents, there’s no counterplay to them. Let’s look at Sona and Soraka top. Even if you have 5 kills on them and have an 80 CS difference, they will still be strong in a 5 vs 5 teamfight, and since you can’t exactly make your teammates play smarter, you just lose.
So are you saying that support champions played in the top lane are very frustrating to play against?
Definitely! That’s exactly what I’m saying! With these champions, as long as you get 5 cs per minute, and with a vast amount of gold generated from the support items, they’re going to hit their two-item power spike with Athene’s Unholy Grail and Redemption, and at that point, they’re super strong in teamfights and the game just feels hopeless.
I feel that Riot needs to nerf the support items more, or whatever it is that makes these champions strong in the top lane. I respect every champion that has the potential to be punished, but champions like Sona, Soraka can’t be punished, and are incredibly strong with high base damages. Even Poppy, although she’s not a support champion, fits into this category quite well, so she’s very frustrating to play against.
Even with the recent nerfs to Soraka and Sona, people will just play other support champions in the top lane. Some people are even playing Janna top, because of how broken the support item is. It’s getting really obnoxious, because you’re not properly playing the laning phase. You’re just basically farming against them, and when it comes to teamfighting, if you don’t have the better team composition, you just lose. Whichever team drafts the better team composition wins, and at that point, the game becomes Teamfight Tactics 2.0.
If or when you achieve Rank 1 in Korea, what’s next in your journey?
There are other places that I want to visit, because fans from around the world are telling me to visit their country. I do want to play on each server, since hitting Rank 1 in all of those servers accounts to the title of being Rank 1 global. At the very least, I want to visit all the countries where the queue time in Challenger isn’t incredibly long. For example, if I go play in the OCE server, the queue times in Challenger can go all the way up to 40 minutes, and with those queue times, there’s no way I can get Rank 1.
You see yourself more as a streamer as to a pro player. Where do you exactly find yourself in that spectrum?
The funny thing is, I actually took a year off after high school to become a pro player. I wasn’t trying to become a streamer. However, things just aligned in a very different way than I initially thought. I was actually on a team with a jungler from NA called Metaphor. We practiced a lot, so the team looked very good, but some things happened, the owner ended up going back to China, and the team fell apart.
I had four months remaining from the year that I took off, where if things didn’t work out, I’d have to go back to school, so I started streaming. I told myself, “Yeah, let’s stream 12-13 hours a day until it grows”. That’s when I started doing ‘Unranked to Rank 1’ challenges, and realized that streaming may actually be fun. The amount of dedication you put into it will definitely pay off in streaming, but as a pro player, it still depends on the team you’re in, and you can’t prove your worth unless you’re on a really good team. I’m a very independent person and when it comes to streaming, since I have full control over things myself, it’s a lot easier for me.
I feel that NA is a region that’s been hungry to produce good top laners in the LCS. Is there a possibility that we’ll see you on the LCS stage?
I’ve been saying that I want to go pro after I achieve the title of Rank 1 global. No promises yet, because I don’t know what’s exactly going to happen in the future, but I do have this passion to go pro one day.
Although Corona19 is terrorizing Korea at the moment, have you done a bit of travelling in Korea?
I was going to do a bit of travelling, but obviously, because of the Coronavirus, I’ve just stayed home. Everybody in the house isn’t going out much, so we’re just playing solo queue all day and ordering delivery food. My schedule right now is, wake up, take a shower, eat breakfast, stream, then go to bed. Once I get Rank 1, it’ll be a good chance to take some time and relieve stress.
I did go to Seoul with Midbeast (another Twitch streamer staying with TF Blade), my brother, and my other housemates. We went to a Korean bbq restaurant, a couple of bars, including a shisha bar, and checked out a club. I didn’t like the club because it was full of people and was too dark, so I got out of there pretty quickly.
I heard that Impact is helping you out a lot. What kind of a relationship do you two have?
Ever since I joined Team Liquid, Impact and I have been friends. We played ping pong with Moe (Yassuo), and just hung out. Impact told me that if I go to Korea, I can stay at his place, since he already had PCs set up and what not. I’m currently staying at Impact’s newly built tower, and I’m staying with Midbeast, and two of Impact’s friends. Rush randomly moved in here for two days, then moved back (laughter).
Lastly, a few words to all the fans supporting you in Korea and around the world?
It’s really great to have so many people supporting me, because without you guys, I would not be here right now. Whether it’s in Korea or Europe, it’s mind blowing to have so many fans supporting me. I never would’ve imagined that I’d be travelling around the world and be greeted by so many fans. Thank you so much for all the support. I really appreciate it.
One last question. Are you confident that you’ll be able to hit Rank 1 in Korea?
Of course. You need to be confident in whatever you do. If you’re not confident about the thing you’re passionate about, then what’s the point?
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports