[Interview] "To quit while you're ahead"; DWG Khan's last dance for honor

Is there anything else harder than ‘To quit while you’re ahead’? No one knows when an individual will experience success and failure, and even if someone did, it’s hard to step down from the top. Especially as a pro gamer, a profession with such a short occupational lifespan, most would want to cling onto their livelihood, until their pride would finally cave in to tell the person that it’s time to call it quits.


After winning his first championship in the 2017 LCK Summer split, Kim “Khan” Dong-ha went on to win two more LCK championships, as well as a top 4 finish at 2019 Worlds, to hit a high point in his career. He then went back to the LPL after four years for a new challenge, but the results were unsatisfactory. First debuting in 2013, he overcame countless challenges in the LoL Esports scene to become a 25-year old veteran, all the while watching his fellow pro gamers from his generation retire and walk different paths.


For the upcoming 2021 LCK season, Khan took on a new challenge. Perhaps he wanted to create a beautiful ending to his pro gamer career, as this season could potentially be his last under DAMWON Gaming. His sole reason for joining a team that not only just won this year’s Worlds, but also arguably the strongest LCK team in history? Honor.


“Even though it’s been a while since I lived in China, it was just like any other place that people lived, so I didn’t really face too many difficulties in my daily life. My personality allows me to fit into any team environment quite well, and since players on FunPlus Phoenix were quite the rowdy bunch, I got used to the team atmosphere within days. However, as a team who won Worlds in the previous year, not even qualifying for this year’s Worlds was quite the disappointment for everyone. Rather than having a specific reason for not qualifying, the team’s synergy just wasn’t there. It was what it was.  


Since the time that the regional qualifiers ended to signing with DWG, which is roughly about two months, I haven’t played League at all. Deeply thinking about my future naturally drew me away from the game. This was the first time in my career that I’ve thought so deeply about my future, because ever since I started at 18-years old, I continued to push myself, while only looking forward.”


“I think that FPX’s results from this year really weighed on my mind. I couldn’t really continue to delay my mandatory military service as well, so as I was contemplating retirement and find another path, I got a call from our head coach, Kim “kkOma” Jeong-gyun, among other people, to move forward together. At first, I thought that my mind wouldn’t change, but through multiple conversations, kkOma managed to convince me.


What he told me was that even though he doesn’t know how long I’ll continue to play as a pro, he didn’t want me to retire on a sour note. He also told me that if I retired now, I’ll look back at this point in time when I’m in my 30s or my 40s to have a lot of regret, and since there are great players on DWG, he wanted me to really give it a thought. After hearing his words, I became thirsty for success, and since I knew that kkOma was a fun and a great person, I joined DWG, assuming that this would be my last dance.”

When asked about the team’s atmosphere at DWG, Khan had nothing but great things to say about it. While he didn’t have any prior friendships with all the players on DWG except for Jang “Ghost” Yong-jun, he said that all the players were very friendly, so he fit into the team within days. He got very excited when he was asked about the team’s skill level, as it far exceeded his expectations of what he gathered as an outsider’s perspective.


“Players on DWG are amazing. I would’ve imagined that such young players that just won Worlds would be more lenient with themselves, but even now, they’re only focused on the game. If I won Worlds last year, I feel like I would’ve pursued something else. I was exhausted from trying to become world champions for seven years, but watching these thirsty, energetic players definitely motivated me to the fullest.


The oddest player on the team is definitely Ghost. He’s always making these old-fashioned corny jokes, and when Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu, who sits next to Ghost, is about to lose a solo queue game, he gets up to sing and dance. The funny thing is, Canyon’s nonchalant to Ghost’s actions. When I asked Canyon if he ever gets angry and wants to hit him, he just says that it’s a waste of energy. I’m curious how a 20-year old became so wise (laughter). Apart from them, the other players on the team are all distinct characters on their own, so the team environment is very amicable.”


“It hasn’t been long since we started to practice as a team, and so far, there hasn’t been any major problems in honing our synergy. I trusted my teammates’ respective abilities to perform, so solely focusing on my role as a top laner really made the game easy. When I faced Heo “ShowMaker” Su and Canyon last year, I knew that they were going to become a lot better. They’ve far exceeded my expectations since then.


I know that people will definitely compare me to my predecessor, Jang “Nuguri” Ha-gwon, especially when the other four players of the champion roster stuck together. My place on the team is definitely like a poisoned chalice. While there’s immense pressure and concern that comes with my position, my level of confidence is definitely recovering from playing together as a team. If we continue to work hard, I feel that we’ll attain great results. If we do end up underperforming, put all the blame on me.”


“The current top lane meta is all about tank champions, and their high win rates prove so. While top laners may not like the tank meta, if any one of them became the top laner for DWG, they’d not want to play anything else but tank champions. My teammates are very good, and since I’m also pretty confident on tank champions, I feel that I’ll be able to perform.


As for who I think the scariest LCK roster will be next season, I think it’ll be Gen.G. Personally, I believe that teams that stick together for two years are at their strongest. The first year is all about honing their synergy, and the players will be sick of each other in their 3rd year (laughter). Also, the mid lane position has historically been the most important, so with Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon joining Hanwha Life Esports, I feel that they’ll also be the new strong contenders.”


“The franchising in the LCK enabling teams to expand their rosters with rookie prospects is a very good sign. New talents need to continue to flow into the scene for success in any region. This year, I feel that Kim “Canna” Chang-dong, performed exceptionally well in his rookie year, and for next year, my money’s on Choi “Zeus” Woo-je. In my case, even though I’m a bit old, I can still keep up with all the young talent. I can’t wait until the season starts.”

Most of the pro gamers that started off their respective careers alongside Khan have retired, while those that remain have now either become captains, or older brother figures that now lead the team. However, Khan feels that he’s still got what it takes to be the best of the best, and told Inven that he’d rather leave it up to kkOma to be the older brother figure, while he himself hoping to be his childish self.


“The whole age thing is very curious. While I felt that I still got what it takes during the Mid-Season Cup, after the failure I felt during the Summer split, I really wondered if I became too old to continue, especially seeing older players leave the scene after becoming 25. On the flip side, there are also a lot of players that hit their peak while they were older, so in the end, it all came down to the players’ ability to perform.


From bad gamer posture, my whole body suffers from physical pain. While I’d be fine from playing for 12 hours straight in my early days, my body now hurts from just eight hours of playing. They say that the right amount of exercise will help, but it’s hard to balance exercise and practice. However, all these physical symptoms aren’t life-threatening, so I’ll practice hard with the mindset of shortening my life-span.”


“The only differences between myself when I debuted and now is only in my physical appearance and my career. On the inside, I still believe that I’m a teenager. It’s fascinating to see players like Kang “GorillA” Beom-hyun to be that older brother figure for the team, but the responsibilities and the weight that comes with it doesn’t really fit me. I hope that people aren’t afraid to approach me, and I hope to bring entertainment to the fans by just being myself.”

Throughout the interview, his answers were linear. His number one goal was to win Worlds, and hoped to do everything he can for a great finish to his career. As he gave Inven his cheerful goodbyes and returned to the practice room, he seemed like a bigger man prior to the interview.


“People are full of imagination, and I’m no exception. When I imagine about the moment where I win Worlds and announce, ‘This is the end of the road as a pro gamer. Thank you!’, it’s not too shabby. That’s why winning Worlds is my number one goal. If I actually do win Worlds, maybe I’ll become even thirstier and continue my career as a pro.


Nevertheless, to think that this will be my last run as a pro gamer definitely put honor above all else. DWG is that team that I found to be the most optimal for a great ending to my journey, so I’ll be giving it my all to be able to quit while ahead. Please send a lot of support to the team and I, and as I said, whenever we lose, please blame me for all the shortcomings. I’ve toughened up to take all the criticism, so please leave the other players out of all the blame (laughter).”

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