One day prior to the group draw for the 2020 LoL World Championship, Inven met with Kim “Rascal” Kwang-hee. Gen.G’s top laner said it’s the first time he’s having an individual interview, aside from the winners’ interview after matches. It’s been four years since he debuted in the LCK — five if you count his career in leagues abroad — yet he had never had a personal one-on-one.
Although Rascal was on vacation, he gladly accepted the interview and appeared with his jersey on. You almost couldn’t tell that was his first individual interview and Rascal’s answers were eloquent and clear. We spoke about why he opted to be a “shield” player and the changes he made for the sake of improvement.
This is the first time you’re being interviewed individually. It’s been a while since you started your professional career, you may have felt left out.
It really is my first time. I thought the winners’ interview after the match was all there is. I didn’t see that many players being interviewed individually, so I thought individual interviews were just for legends like GorillA, Faker, or Deft… It made sense.
When we requested to interview you, did you think you’re at that level now? [Laughs]
Never at that level [Laughs]. Frankly, I had no thoughts.
"[Khan] was someone who could make plays that are only possible in your imagination… Maybe even plays that you wouldn’t even imagine."
You had your debut in a foreign league. Was it LJL in 2017?
The first competition was in the third division in China during 2016. I actually didn’t plan on becoming a pro gamer. I moved out when I went to college and played solo queue when I wished, hitting Challenger. Then, all of a sudden, a team from China contacted me. The offer was too good to turn down. I was living off the minimum amount of support from my parents, so I went to China to become completely independent of my parents.
After spending the summer season in China, a desire appeared in me. I was earning more money than I thought I would be, so I realized that if I played better, I would earn more. I returned to Korea and searched for a team, but it didn’t go well. At that time, a friend who was in Japan asked me to help, saying that he was about to go to the relegations, so I played a few games as a sub.
After that, you joined Longzhu Gaming and was there as the sub top laner. The starter, Khan, was seen as a great top laner back then.
I found the identity of my playstyle when I was with Khan, rather than learning more about how to play. As everyone knows, Khan of that time was a player that had force. As a spectator, he was someone who could make plays that are only possible in your imagination… Maybe even plays that you wouldn’t even imagine. I often thought he was insane.
In that situation, I thought I wouldn’t be able to play, so I needed to find a different path to improve myself, to survive. It was then when I started to play more stably, sacrificing for the team. As much as Khan was good playing aggressively, he felt suppressed when playing defensive champions. I decided I would be more of a help if I were able to play defensive champions perfectly and practiced in that direction a lot.
You became a proper starter in the 2019 season. You were happy with the starting position, yet the results felt regretful. How was that year?
Before 2019, I played in a foreign league or there would be another top laner on the team so it was more convenient. After the 2019 Spring Split, I realized that being the only top laner was harder than I thought. I used to think that practicing a lot is all I needed to do, but there was more to pay attention to out of the game. I really felt I lacked a lot.
For example, when I was a sub player, all I needed to do was practice hard and get along well with my teammates, having fun. But beyond having fun and enjoying the time together, it was really important to gain genuine faith. I started thinking I could lose faith if we lose or if I don’t do well during practice. Too many thoughts passed through my head, so I struggled more than I thought I would.
Still, there were many legendary players that have been around for long. I was able to endure everything thanks to them.
"I considered it a spot I didn’t deserve. Bdd and Clid both had been to high places in the LCK, but it had been only one year for me as a starter."
In 2018, there was GorillA-PraY and in 2019, PawN and Deft. Did you rely on them a lot?
I not only realied on them… There’s a reason that the veterans are veterans. I feel that nowadays too. There’s a reason that those players have been active for so long. Not only because of their performances but their attitude, practice… Everything is outstanding. I think I was lucky to have been around them.
When the current Gen.G roster was formed, there were many doubts about you. What did you think then?
I considered it a spot I didn’t deserve. Bdd and Clid both had been to high places in the LCK, but it had been only one year for me as a starter, and the last season was more of a failure. At first, I felt pressure with all the attention towards our team.
There were still people who said good things about me and such attention turned into motivation. I wanted to become a player that’s worthy of this team by working harder as much as I’m behind at the moment.
On the other hand, within the team, people rated you very highly. In many different interviews, they mentioned that you’re a player that’s really needed to the team. What do you think the reason behind that was?
I’ve worked really hard as a pro gamer. Most players that are rated highly from the outside usually have fancy playstyles. I was the opposite since I mostly played defensive champions, so I didn’t show myself being fancy. I did think I would be rated better within the team compared to the outside.
Even so, I didn’t think I would get that high of a grade. When the stove league began, I wanted to play in the same team as Bdd, so we talked a bit. Bdd gave me confidence and told me that I have high evaluations from within the scene.
As you said, players who play defensively and sacrifice themselves don’t get that much attention compared to “spear-style” players. What would you say about that playstyle?
I think that champions can take priority without being invested are good. Ranged champions are the exact opposite. When ranged champions are picked in top lane, it’s mandatory for the team to invest in them. Since I don’t prefer those champions, people think that I’m not good at playing aggressively.
I’m quite confident in playing melee champions. Since I don’t need any investments in the top lane, I often play bruisers. I think I played Irelia and Camille quite well in many games. I hope fans remember that as well.
"Most players that are rated highly from the outside usually have fancy playstyles. I was the opposite since I mostly played defensive champions, so I didn’t show myself being fancy."
In the Summer Split, both you and the team changed the playstyle more aggressively.
We tried hard to play more aggressively and I also had a eureka moment. I originally thought that I needed to get resources from the jungle to lane aggressively and since I didn’t prefer that, I played a conservative and stable style. But I got to think that if I played aggressively to make the opponent jungle spend their resources in the top lane, our jungler could play freely, which is a big help for our team. During the Summer Split, I think I managed to work well by playing more aggressively without crossing the line where I would fall to jungle ganks.
The changes and growth were clear, but you were placed lower in the All-Pro team than in spring. Wasn’t that regretful?
In the Spring Split, we were 1st in the regular season and I did show solid performances in the top lane. Also, the other top laners were rookies and weren’t playing their best. Honestly, in summer, both Canna and Doran played really well. I think Canna deserved it. I improved a lot, but so did they.
Changing the playstyle of individual players is difficult, but changing the team color would be another level. How much effort did Gen.G put into its transition to a fighting team?
We just kept fighting in scrims [laughs]. Originally, we didn’t fight if there was a single thing we weren’t sure of, but now, we fight if we’re sure about at least one thing. When we play that aggressively, sometimes we forget the necessary macro. There were a few games we played that way during summer. We’re now on the level where we play aggressively without forgetting about the macro. Not just us: I believe all the teams would be putting in the same kind of effort. The team that can balance this out the most will become the best team.
You finished third in summer. We heard that everyone struggled a lot after losing to DRX.
When we were leading the series 2-1, we all were quite sure that we had won. We had a good flow, that was true… But the tides turned and that really got to us. Personally, I worked harder than ever preparing for the playoffs. I did the most I can in every way, but my performance wasn’t that good. I got disappointed in myself.
I kind of panicked since I gave it my everything during practice but didn’t deliver. I wasn’t sure of what more I could do and which direction was correct. I was in that state until the regional qualifiers even. I was in that state so much that I couldn’t contribute much to us qualifying. For that, I’m really sorry and thankful to my teammates.
"I kind of panicked since I gave it my everything during practice but didn’t deliver. I wasn’t sure of what more I could do and which direction was correct."
You said your mentality didn’t recover until the regionals, but your performances at the regionals was quite good.
After losing in the playoffs, I wasn’t able to find what the problem was. When we were preparing for the regionals, I just did what I was required to do. But my performance was better. I was confused. When I worked hard, my performance wasn’t that good, yet it improved once I was in panic mode, not knowing what to do. After the regionals, I had some time to myself, thinking. Maybe I get nervous when expectations towards me get higher. I don’t have the answer yet.
It’s the first time you’re going to Worlds as a starting member. What’s different from going in as a sixth man?
The mindset between being a sub and being a started isn’t that different. I’ve always been thinking about how I could play for the team to win, about how I could support the team. It’s the same this time. If there’s any difference, it’s that there are more responsibilities and pressure.
I think you’d be less nervous since you have quite some experience on the international stage.
I usually don’t get nervous until the competition starts. The nervousness comes when I get on stage… The bigger the crowd, the more nervous I get.
So, since there won’t be a crowd due to COVID-19, that’s good for you?
But if I don’t get nervous at all, I get too loose. It’s hard to concentrate, so I like it when there is a certain amount of spectators. That was one of the reasons I didn’t like online matches. What’s fortunate is that we’re at least playing in proper facilities at Worlds.
"This year will really be different. I strongly believe one of the LCK teams will win Worlds."
Is there a team that you’d like to meet at Worlds? Or a top laner?
We played against iG, JDG, and TES at the Mid-Season Cup. I remember losing massively to TES. They won the summer split in the LPL. After all, to get to a higher place, we need to beat them, so I’d like to meet TES and win.
You could still meet TES in the group stage. [The interview was conducted before the group stage draw. Gen.G has already been drawn in a group with Team SoloMid and Fnatic — Ed.]
I do want to meet TES, but I don’t want to meet them in groups [Laughs]. If possible, I’d like to meet them further down the tournament. Obviously, we need to beat the strong teams to get good results, but it would still be good to advance from a free group. I want to meet TES in the finals.
Other than TES, I’m confident against whatever team we’re matched with in the group stage. It’s not that I’m not confident to play against TES, but I’m more confident against the others. I haven’t scrimmed with NA or EU teams yet, so we don’t know how strong they are, but I believe we’re really strong so it’ll be alright.
You’ll be quarantined for two weeks when you arrive in China. Aren’t you worried that practicing or adapting to the environment would be inconvenient?
I don’t mind much of what I eat or where I sleep, so I don’t think it’ll be too difficult to adapt. Also, I think the quarantine would be really helpful to me. One thing I was sorry about during practice is that, as the oldest player on the team, I lack so much compared to other veterans I’ve played with. Thinking of the players that led me, I think the quarantine would be a good time to become more helpful to the team, and find a way to solve the problems I had.
You’ll be heading to China soon. Can you share your resolutions for Worlds to the fans who would be willing LCK to reclaim the championship?
After experiencing failure in the MSC, the LCK teams have become a lot stronger. DAMWON Gaming showed explosive performances and we worked hard to do so as well. I believe this year’s LCK can really do well. Besides TES, I’m looking out for the other two LCK teams the most.
This year will really be different. I strongly believe one of the LCK teams will win Worlds, hopefully us. Since my teammates are so good, if I do well, we’ll have good results. I just need to find solutions to the problems in front of me. Don’t worry too much though, these problems are mostly out of the game. In-game-wise, I’ve gained a lot of confidence over the year. Like always, I hope all the fans cheer for us a lot. Thank you always, and I’ll be doing my best to live up to the expectations.