The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Kim “Micro” Mok-kyoung is DAMWON Gaming. Micro had been a coach in several different teams before he took the challenge of creating his own League of Legends team.
The team that Micro created grew to become the reigning world champions and the players he dug up from PC bangs are now world-class players. The essence DAMWON Gaming, who restored LCK back to the top of the world, is Micro's biggest achievement.
When Micro spoke to Inven, he said that succeeding once could be out of luck, and therefore he wants to prove it again. That's why he chose SANDBOX Gaming. Like Micro, SANDBOX Gaming had much to prove. We met up with SANDBOX Gaming new head coach for a glimpse of the outlines on his new canvas.
We heard that the SANDBOX Gaming management had been offering you the head coach position for a long time. Was there a reason that it took time for you to agree to coach the team?
Many people evaluated my success in DAMWON Gaming well. However, while I was in DAMWON Gaming, the better the team became, the more I thought I lacked ability. Actually, there wasn’t even that much time to think. I was playing many different roles, not just the head coach, and there was no time to think about what I lacked.
After leaving DAMWON Gaming, I wanted some time to look back at myself. I thought it would be a great time to recharge — I hadn’t taken a break for the whole season in my nine-year career as a coach.
I didn’t think too deeply about the head coach position. Rather than considering the team’s financials or the offer itself, I wanted to go to a team that really needed me. There were a lot of head coaches that became free agents in this stove league. If there was a team that wanted me, I was going to join without hesitation. SANDBOX Gaming was the first to come to me and asked if I would join. There were more than enough reasons to not hesitate.
"I started from the bottom with DAMWON Gaming as an experiment, and the result was great. However, I thought the result might because I got lucky. So I wanted to try again. I didn’t need to join a complete team."
In the video interview on the SANDBOX Gaming channel, you said, "There are no merits for me in a complete team". Could you explain a bit?
The players each have their own unique characteristics. There are players who have good careers, maybe there's someone with many championships — there would be players that are in the top grade. If I were to have good results with those players, would it be because I did well? Or because the players did?
I gave it a lot of thought about the roles of a player and a coach in successful or failing teams. When I first made DAMWON Gaming, I wanted to check this notion. Would I be able to become a capable coach? Would I be able to continue to survive doing this job?
I started from the bottom with DAMWON Gaming as an experiment, and the result was great. However, I thought the result might because I got lucky. So I wanted to try again. I didn’t need to join a complete team. In those teams, there are coaching staffs that can do better than I can. To me, the ability of a good head coach is to make the players shine, to give the players that didn’t have a chance the opportunity to shine.
What would be more important between the players’ ability and the head coach’s ability? When we asked another head coach the same question, he said that the player’s ability is more important. His answer was that you can’t just tell a football player to play like Messi and expect him to play like Messi.
My most ideal team is being a “one team”. That isn't to say that everyone becomes one like a family, but rather that everyone has an equal ratio. The players, coaching staff, sub players, and management all have to go together to become a strong team, a trustworthy “one team”.
I don’t think anyone’s share is bigger. The player’s role is 5, and the coaching staff is 5. Together, it becomes 10. If that ratio is broken, I think it proves that the team isn’t balanced. If a team relies on a star player or a star coach and the ratio becomes 7, someone has to rely on another person and someone could be pressured.
The head coach recognizes the players’ talent when forming the team. If the player proves his talent through the given opportunity, the head coach gets recognized for his eye. From that point, the player’s ability becomes the head coach’s ability. If the player shines, the head coach shines.
As the head coach, what do you prioritize the most when you form a team?
When I look at a player, I tend to see his goals, personality, behavior, and habit first, rather than his ability. It’s not that players that have all these qualities are always good, but if I draw a line and gather up players that are suitable for that line, the atmosphere is always good. If the atmosphere is maintained, the results follow.
My ideal condition for “one team” is having a believing atmosphere. The thought that we can win tomorrow even if we lost today, that we can advance next time even if we were eliminated this time. Believing that we can succeed regardless of the result is my ideal condition.
"I’ve always preferred aggressive styles — I won’t manage the team to be defensive."
You are known as someone who prioritizes discovering prospects and has a great ability to nurture them. On the other hand, SANDBOX Gaming is a team that is thirsty for immediate results, rather than looking for prospects. It’s the first time for you that you have to run a season with given resources instead of players that you nurtured yourself. Doesn’t that pressure you?
Since it’s a position that has to be responsible for the result, there would be no coach or head coach that doesn’t feel the pressure. It’s true that the SANDBOX Gaming players are resources that have been in the team, but it’s just that they’re experienced — there are still areas where they can develop. In that sense, this is also nurturing.
Not all teams can take the best players. Coaches and head coaches have to deliver the best results and make a strong team with the given resources. That’s their role and ability. I do feel pressure in that regard, but I still think I need to bring results. I’ll be trying to discover more prospects through the 2nd string league or academy, but for now, I’ll work hard to get the best result we can with the given resources.
Each team shows a style that fits their resources. Does the ideal game style that you pursue go well with SANDBOX Gaming’s roster?
Whichever team I go to, I’ll play using the same method. Many people say that DAMWON Gaming plays the top game because Nuguri has high potential, but there was never a time that DAMWON Gaming’s bot lane was bad. It was just that the top side was exceptionally strong.
It’s not because of Nuguri, ShowMaker, or Canyon that we played through the top side. I’ve always thought it’s efficient to snowball from top to bottom. I’ve always preferred aggressive styles — I won’t manage the team to be defensive. My goal is to create an aggressive and fast team, not avoiding objective fights at any time.
I believe that making a team identity in SANDBOX Gaming would take less time than in DAMWON Gaming. The players of SANDBOX Gaming have experience in the LCK already, so I believe I’ll be able to show my style next year.
You carried a major role in creating DAMWON Gaming. When that team won the World Championship, you left a weighty message on your Facebook. What did that mean?
I don’t want to lay more significance to that post. I was regretful that I wasn’t able to raise that trophy together, and I was thankful to the players that did that well. Watching DAMWON Gaming win the LCK and win Worlds really made me happy. All things aside, although I wasn’t there with them, it felt that I reached that goal with them. I was thankful to the players and I was proud of them.
"I want to prepare for the league as quietly as possible. I don’t want too much attention coming to the team yet."
Is there a team that you’d really like to beat in the league?
I did think of that, but for now, my goal is to beat all the teams at least once, from bottom to top. We lack too much to concentrate on one specific team. After the first round, there would be teams that we weren’t able to beat, so there’ll be teams that I want to beat by then.
Any last comments?
I want to prepare for the league as quietly as possible. I don’t want too much attention coming to the team yet. When we start getting good results, I may have some things to say. I’d like to work hard and show through the results.