Cloud9 has spent an unbelievable season. After finishing the regular season with a 17-1 record, they went on and won the LCS championship. Over the whole spring split, including the playoffs, Cloud9 only lost a total of two games, to TSM and Evil Geniuses.
It was the first-ever championship to most of their players, and a first LCS title to the team’s mastermind, Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu. Reapered was happy, but he also said that he felt sorry and empty because the players weren’t able to have that experience on the stage, in front of all the fans and the crowd.
It had been quite a while since Cloud9’s championship, but Inven Global caught up to listen to what Reapered wanted to say.
How have you been? It’s been crazy these days with the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve been doing alright. The coronavirus situation is worse than I expected, so I’m not able to go around much and mostly stuck in the house. The players are all stuck in the house as well.
I remember you played a lot of other games with your players. Do you still do that?
Not much. Since we’re not able to go out, there’s not much we can do. Although I did play other games a few times, like Valorant. I just tried it, saw what it is… But it feels that we ran out of fun things to do. Playing games isn’t that fun right now; exercising and swimming are more interesting.
Since you can’t go out, you miss outdoor activities, right?
Yeah. We’re always stuck in the house, so it’s more fun to do things using my body. I didn’t expect the players to exercise or anything during their vacation, but they exercised a lot and worked hard on schedule. I was a bit worried that they might play Valorant too much, but that didn’t go too long. There weren’t any other games to play.
There are a few players that enjoy Teamfight Tactics. I like it too. Playing TFT lightly is fun. We play it with Jack as well. Jack also enjoys playing games. After he’s finished with all the business, he comes and plays TFT with us, giving advice to each other.
Let’s talk about the season. It was the best ever record in the history of LCS. How was it?
I can say our season started with the bootcamp in Korea. At that time, I was a bit disappointed with the team, since it was the first time we didn’t make it through the group stage. The players were quite disappointed as well. We had a new roster going into the year 2020, a complete rebuild. The previous rosters weren’t that we spent enormous amounts of money, and we had a lot of plans. We had signed Zven and Vulcan and parted ways with Sneaky and Svenskeren. Most people probably would have probably thought that we’re probably trying to save money while rebuilding the team.
Jack and I really liked this version of our team in the first place. Many people knew that the bot duo players spent tons of time playing, and practicing LoL and that they were talented players. The main part of the rebuilding was the bot lane. Blaber replaced Svenskeren in the jungle, who shared time on the roster, so it wasn’t that different.
When we first brought these five players together, in the bootcamp, our results weren’t that great. We gave and took about half and half, but as the spring split started, I was quite sure that we would have a great run. These players work really hard and they also gained momentum.
When you’re doing too great, you could sometimes trip or become careless. Our longest winning streak was 12, but there was no hint of them becoming careless. They worked as hard as before, participated in practice exactly the same way as the beginning. Their mindsets toward the competition and scrims were really good.
When we had the first loss against TSM, I wanted to see how they would react. I took a step back during the feedback session and let them discuss the loss. I didn’t lead the conversation yet the players accepted the loss very well. They were discussing what they lacked, what the problem was, how they would improve. It was very constructive despite I didn’t lead them. From that, I thought we would do well in the playoffs as well.
In a previous interview, you had said Svenskeren and Sneaky carried the role of a leader within the team. Weren’t you worried that they were no longer with the team?
The image of the leader I want doesn’t lie in one area. Actually, I don’t think we need one specific person as a leader. When we were rebuilding the team, we also discussed that they were the leaders. Sneaky had a sort of leadership when games didn’t go as we desired. He would catch everyone’s attention, saying things like, “We’re not doing this right”, “let’s collect ourselves”, or “let’s try this”. Svenskeren appealed his opinions clearly during the draft; his leadership was shown during the early game or while we prepared for a match. This could be what a team needs from a leader and there are other ways as well.
Zven plays a lot of games. The number of games he plays, solo queues… In a way, I think that is leadership. He becomes a role model to the other players. Zven has been 1st in the solo queue ladder for a long time. His teammates see that and get motivated. Blaber tries to catch up with the number of games played and participates very actively during the preparations or reviews. This can be considered leadership as well.
Everyone takes part where they can show their own leadership, to set good examples in front of others. It’s not that one person leads the others, but everyone’s really doing their best. I think this is what’s working right. I also do my best to set a good example for the players, and they follow well.
I heard that Zven practices a LOT… How much does he practice?
Even compared to the Korean players… He might play more. All he does is eat, sleep, and play LoL.
About half of the season was held online due to the coronavirus. How did it affect the team? Was it positive?
It was neither positive nor negative, but it was really different from playing at the LCS Arena. It took longer to prepare the tension, to recreate the feeling of being at the arena and get in that mindset. We gathered around, talking about the match, trying to keep ourselves on our toes, to have 100% concentration. That was a bit difficult.
Another thing was that we were sad that we weren’t able to win this championship in front of all the fans. When a team wins a championship, it should be around the fans and the crowd, enjoying the atmosphere, celebrating, and being congratulated. To hear the fans stomping, shouting… It’s one of the most exciting moments that you can experience as a pro gamer. This was the first championship for everyone except for Zven. I felt sorry for my players that they weren’t able to experience that.
Starting this season, the playoffs format has changed. How do you think it is?
The attempt is good, but there could be adjustments that can make it better. I think it’s a good attempt. With the new format, the matches are in best of 5s and are in a double-elimination format. What’s good about the double elimination is that the team that should go up, goes up.
For the players, the more they play, the more it helps improve them and feeds them experience. This way, the players would play a lot more games. If a team plays the maximum number of games that you can play in the playoffs, it’s more than the 18 games we play during the regular season. I personally like this because I like playing more games.
Since you brought up playing more games, Impact mentioned that he wants Bo3s back on his Twitter. What do you think?
I talked with Impact about that. I’m not sure how many players or related people want to play Bo1s… From what I know, most of the team officials prefer Bo3s. Playing official games also can count as practice. The experience gained from official matches can’t be matched by that of scrims. The more matches you play, the faster you can improve.
I also prefer Bo3s. There are things that you can change after the first game according to the opponent’s strategy or drafts. In a short amount of time, we can adjust little things and get back in the game. This is what’s fun about Bo3s and Bo5s, and it’s more interesting for coaches. There are more things that coaches can do in Bo3s; we can attempt joker picks, new champions, adjust strategies… In Bo1s, there’s nothing like that. We just prepare for the match for a week, get to the arena, do the drafts… And that’s it. All we can do is watch, as if I’m playing Football Manager. (You can at least substitute the players during the game in FM.) That’s right. There’s nothing more I can do. As for Bo3s, I can get the feeling that I’m working more properly compared to Bo1s.
As you know, your record was 17-1, and 9-1 in the playoffs. Did you think that you’d do this well?
It wasn’t that much. I did think that we would get in the top 3 no matter what and that we would reach the finals without much trouble. I thought that was a given, but I didn’t think we would dominate the league this much. There was a moment during the middle of the season that I thought we might actually win the championship undefeated since our form was too good.
Who was the happiest when you won the championship?
I think that would be Jack (Laughs). The players and I felt kind of empty after winning. We were just at home, no crowd or fans, no big stage… It didn’t really feel like winning a championship, you know? As for Jack, he said that a championship is a championship so he enjoyed it as it is. For me, I felt the happiness about the day after, but the moment we won, there wasn’t that much excitement for me.
Can you pick three things that made this season so successful?
Three would be too much. I think everything just clicked properly (Laughs). My coaching style aims for aggressive plays, and my players also seek that kind of play. The synergy between the players and the coaches simply clicked. As the players improved, they enjoyed what’s happening and the team’s level just went straight up which motivated everyone to work harder.
Do the other coaches like the aggressive style as well?
Not all of them. Since I’m the head coach, I set the direction. Even if it’s different from what they prefer, they try to fit themselves to my style. We’re all on the same ship so whether it’s right or wrong, they follow what the captain says.
Which player did you think would improve the most?
That would be Blaber. It was his first time to play full-time on the starting roster. Before, Blaber was always like a joker card. This time, I wanted to present him to the fans as a good player and I had quite high expectations towards him. He really lived up to my expectation. If you were to ask all the LCS players, who they would pick as the best player in the league, I believe Blaber would easily get in the top 2. Maybe top 3. He did that well this season.
As for who actually improved the most, I think that would be Vulcan. Since Zven has a lot of experience and has several championships in his career, he has a very good mindset. Zven always gives his 100% whether it’s solo queue or scrims or official matches. Playing bot duo all the time with such a player made Vulcan catch up really quickly. Vulcan and Zven had started the bootcamp earlier than the other players; Vulcan improved the most and the fastest over the season.
Who would you pick as the season MVP?
If I have to pick just one, I would say Zven. As I mentioned earlier, he does what he needs to do, sets good examples to other players. You know, if the player next to me is playing solo queue and practicing, I feel the necessity to play another game. When other players don’t play much solo queue, Zven or Nisqy nudges and urges them to work harder, so the other players get to do their best in a good atmosphere. In that way, Zven makes MY work easier. That’s why he’s MVP (Laughs).
I’ve always enjoyed the stories you tell about yourself, the team, and the players. Was there anything interesting that happened during the season?
When we lost to TSM, we decided our draft direction by playing rock-paper-scissors (Laughs). The draft itself didn’t have anything to do with the reason we lost, but since we lost after we decided our draft that way… I thought we had a bit of carelessness on the day before the match.
On that day, Nisqy and Licorice played rock-paper-scissors, each having a good draft scenario. Licorice won that rock-paper-scissors, and he picked Shen (Laughs).
As much as you did so well over the whole spring, you must be sad that the MSI was canceled.
Right. From right after this roster was built, the players worked really hard. In the bootcamp and during the season. They learned well and improved a lot. I really wanted to win the championship so that they can go to the MSI, gain more experience at an international level so that they can do well at Worlds.
If we went to the MSI, we would have been able to play against other competitors outside of the NA and learn our levels. Whatever result we got would have been positive. We could become humble and get in a better mindset. It's a great opportunity to learn and gain experience; missing out on that was what made me sad.
I personally am coaching quite well in the NA, and I can lead the team fine, but the biggest I can contribute to the team is when we play against higher-level teams. Giving feedback to the players afterward, tell them how the game is played… My biggest strength as a head coach is that I can feed the players experience very quickly.
So rather than doing well at the MSI, you’re sad about missing the space for competition and the opportunity to have your players gain experience.
If we had gone to the MSI, I would have been satisfied even if we weren’t able to reach the semifinals. We would have learned a lot. Although we may have dominated the LCS, there are higher-level teams. We would have realized our position and be better prepared for Worlds. We could have been more confident heading to Worlds. As you know, Worlds is always the ultimate goal every year.
On the other hand, the Mid-Season Cup will be held between the LCK and LPL. The prize pool insists it’s not just a regular friendly event. Aren’t you jealous of the whole event taking place?
Yes, I am. As much as Korea and China geographically very close, it would be more convenient to have an event like that. Although it’s a “friendly event”, it’ll be very competitive with all the rivalry. The NA and EU are in a more critical situation with the coronavirus, so we wouldn’t be able to do it. The distance is also extremely far, so I’m purely jealous and envious about the MSC (Laughs).
Even if there was no prize money… It may mean a lot less, but since it’s a place where the players can compete, it’s good for the players and the coaching staff. As a head coach, I feel the necessity of having new experiences when leading the team. The top-level teams of each league always learn something new when they play against other regions’ top-level teams. There’s something only those players and teams can gain; experience, strategies, decision making, etc.
As for who might win, I really don't know (Laughs).
How are you planning the next season?
There are several things I emphasize when I prepare for a season. For the last season, the keyword was confidence. Confidence was the most important. What we concentrated on was to make a composition that the players feel the most comfortable playing, something we can pull out whenever, and in whatever situation. The most practiced comp, champions, playstyles. That way, if we were to attempt different things, there was always a backup plan, somewhere we could come back to and start again.
Comparing it to the human body, we focused on training our biceps only. We strengthened the power of our strike. In the next season, we’ll be adding lower body exercises, core exercises, and gain more muscles, to improve our overall performances.
We’ll be aiming to improve our weaknesses, add more playstyles, and deepen our champion pool. It’s to bring up the level of completeness. If you play with a shallow champion pool, the playstyle gets limited to one or two ways and you always fall behind starting from the draft. In that situation, you won’t be able to win that much. Last season was strengthening our strengths; this season will be improving our weaknesses.
You released a new video recently, about how to draft. I’ve seen you in many videos, but it was really awkward; like reading a script.
(Laughs) I actually had a script and I read it; that was why it was awkward. Usually, when I stream or shoot videos, I don’t have a script, so it’s more natural. It wasn’t that easy as I thought; when others film me, it’s fine, but it really feels awkward when I shoot myself (Laughs). I’m just a beginner when it comes to Youtube content. I’ve been thinking I need improvement in that area.
What you covered was very similar to what you had said during the stream with Lustboy after Worlds 2018.
The main goal of this series is to let fans know how the draft is processed in the professional scene. I don’t think there would be too many people that know how the draft goes in our comms. It’s a very important part, and to explain it in bits, there could be misunderstandings. In that matter, I’m preparing this series to let the fans understand more. It won’t be that long… Maybe 5-6 episodes, 5-8 minutes each? I hope everyone watches a lot.
Lastly, a word to the fans? Any other comments?
I’d like to thank all the fans that read this interview, those who are always interested in Cloud9 and me. I hope everything gets back to normal in the close future so that we can see you all at the arena again. I’ll do my best to present good performances in the upcoming season and at Worlds as well. Thank you!
Images via Riot Games
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