Yeonsung "iloveoov" Choi’s challenge - from Starcraft No.1 to LoL No.1

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With an apologetic expression on his face, Yeonsung "iloveoov" Choi informed me that he is a talkative person, and followed up by saying that people are not usually fond of talkative interviewees, as having more terse interviews seems to be the trend nowadays. I disagreed. Whenever I have a good interview, the interviewee usually talks at great length and with immense detail, as if he/she has a deep trust in the interviewer. iloveoov talked for an hour and a half. I had heard that he was a bit of chatterbox, but not to this extent. Of course, this just meant the interview would be that much better.


He gave unsophisticated answers to questions that had not even been asked. He was the type of person who focused more on delivering his raw opinions rather than worrying too much about the listener and the impact his answers may have. Should he become too honest it could arouse antipathy for sure, but that was fine. Because of his characteristics, he can easily draw attention when expressing his explicit thoughts and his true values.


“Too busy. The schedule of League of Legends (LoL) teams is much more difficult compared to that of Starcraft teams. With Afreeca Freecs, the team even had four matches in a single week. Because of the busy time frames of the league schedule, taking a day-off was not an option. Even so, the amount of practice time we could spare was so scarce compared to how much one could get with Starcraft.”


What did he really mean when he said pro LoL teams get less practice compared to pro Starcraft teams? iloveoov has at different times held the title of player, coach, and manager, so he is known as an elite who knows more about esports than anyone. My curiosity grew gradually with every word he spoke, as I realised how much value they held.

 

“The methods of practice are quite different from each other. Let’s take Starcraft practice for example. When we say ‘well, let’s practice invasion,’ we can literally practice it ten or twenty times repeatedly, but not with LoL. Six would be the maximum number of times we can have scrims in a day, which really does not feel good enough.


When Yohwan “SlayerS_’BoxeR’” Lim was practicing 8 barracks bunkering against Jinho “YellOw” Hong, he came up with all the circumstances he might face; when bunkering fails, when a marine gets killed by a drone or a zergling, when the direction is set upward or downward, when the building is not constructed and he needs to retreat, or when a marine kites and kills a zergling. That is how he was able to cope with any situation.


On the other hand, you cannot have a match after practicing all possible situations in LoL. For instance, we had a practice game where the situation was that Dayun “Spirit” Lee and Gyeonghwan “MaRin” Jang invade to interfere with the opponent’s jungling and the opponent is to retreat. But during the real match, the opponent did not back out and instead hid in the bush, then stole a crimson raptor. Spirit was surely flustered already, as he already used smite at the time. He reluctantly returned to his jungle but got counter-invaded because the opponent still had smite. He seriously failed jungling and that was the end of the match.


I realized that it was due to a lack of practice. Players could not think straight because it was not what they were expecting to happen, as the opponent usually runs away when invaded in practice. It would have been a ‘definite win’ scenario if they practiced multiple situations; if the opponent does not back away, or if they somehow back away but place a ward, or no ward. So we have scarce practice time since the system lacks any feature that allows multiple reruns of a particular situation given that we can only have six scrims a day.


That is also why I believe that LoL is such a rich mine. If we can have more practice, it would not be impossible to beat SKT T1. Most teams have up to 6 scrims a day. If we, Afreeca Freecs, can have 8 games a day, we will be able to reduce the gap, even if it takes some time.”


His words were quite unfamiliar, yet interesting. He unravelled his own philosophy as a manager by comparing the practice styles of Starcraft and LoL, and wanted to use his know-how learned from Starcraft and apply it to League of Legends. He emphasized a system that has double squads managing their own scrims - a method similar to that of the brother team in the past.

 

“SKT T1 will always be the winner if it keeps going on like this. It will always benefit SKT T1. LoL currently offers 6 scrims at maximum regardless of your rank, therefore making a parallel line where no one can catch up. In Starcraft, Hwaseung OZ and MBC GAME practiced overnight in order to catch up with SKT and KT’s domination. That is how Jaedong Lee and Taekyong “Bisu” Kim emerged.


The reign of SKT T1 has lasted for a long time. The players are of the highest quality and have a lot of experience. It is impressive that they have defended their stronghold, but the real problem is that other teams are not breaking it down. When Youngho “FlaSh” Lee was in his golden age, some players clapped their hands for his play, and I sent them back home. They were not supposed to be impressed, but become upset; they should want to surpass what they see with anger and thoughts of ‘I can achieve more.’ You are not a professional if you have no intention to win, and that would be a start to getting the motivation to keep you going.


The No.1 team tends to maintain and repair. They do not practice as hard as they used to, as they would still win without as much effort anyway. Lower tier teams are supposed to practice even more, but they don’t. Hence it makes them stay where they are no matter what. And this is where I became sure of the success in this niche, because you only need to practice as much as Starcraft. This is what’s been already answered by the ten years of Starcraft.


A Starcraft pro team consists of a number of aces and other rookies. Aces practice with rookies, and rookies learn from the aces. I suggest that LoL pro teams should be organised in the same way. A constant and repetitive practice with double squads, consisting of at least 10 players and 3 or 4 backups for each team should be fine. This investment seems quite appropriate considering the fact that the match is worth billions of dollars. Of course, a leader who is capable of managing that many people would be needed too.


Most people were skeptical when I brought up a plan of increasing the number of pro team members to that of the brother team of the past, saying that it would be a failed plan as players were going overseas at the time. I do not think so. I believe that the fact players went overseas is evidence that the double squads system worked. They had the opportunity to go overseas because their skills improved. The player pool was the widest, and their skills were splendid; even the players in my team told me that they improved more than ever before at the time.”


iloveoov was certain about his points, that the team needs individuals who can perform self-scrims in order to develop further. The main purpose is to increase the amount of practice.

 

 

“It has been a month since we increased our practice amount with more night scrims, and members are already improving. Of course, it’s tough for players when they practice more, but it eventually leads to victory and that is what motivates them. If you want to be the best, you have to practice with the best mindset; Yuna Kim, Seungyeop Lee, Chanho Park, and Jisung Park for example. Lee practices batting the next day even after his best home run. Kim practiced 6 days a week, whereas Mao Asada did once in 2 days, resulting in Kim being able to perform a triple lutz while Asada did not.


“Practice will always beat out talent. But when people with talent also practice, that is the best. It is common that talented people do not take practice seriously. The greatest players have also had the greatest amount of practice. I once asked who practices the most in my team back in the Starcraft period, and one of rookies told me that it’s Taekyong Kim. He was the best in the team at the time, so you had to practice at least one more round than Kim did if you wanted to get better. LoL has an excellent environment with more salary and a wider base. So, what do you do? practice more.”


While iloveoov was addressing the importance of more practice, he also complimented Gyeonghwan “MaRin” Jang for being such an elite. He also believed in the possibility of defeating SKT T1 if Afreeca Freecs becomes a team that adjusts to MaRin.


“There’s a limit to improvement when you train just 10 amateur players. You need a player like MaRin to push over that limit. A pro player should put his training as his first priority. MaRin is the most hard-working player on our team. His sense of purpose is different from all others. MaRin doesn’t want to be just the best top laner; he wants to be the best in all of League of Legends.


I’d like the rest of our team to share the same passion as him. I hope his determination influences his team members. No matter what happens, or even when given personal time, he is always able to get a certain amount of training every day. Even on his day off, he comes back to practice. There has never been a time where he didn’t keep up with his training.


I’m not favoring MaRin over the others; it’s his attitude that I approve of. If Seohaeng “KurO” Lee adopts this attitude, I’m sure he will be able to surpass Sanghyeok “Faker” Lee. He needs to be ambitious. If he settles for the way things are right now, there won’t be any room for improvement. He can make it, one by one, winning one match after another.”


The topic naturally moved to KuRo. There was a time he told an anecdote about his coach during the victory interview on the day Afreeca Freecs beat SKT T1. When he was suffering from his trauma from his match against Faker, iloveoov gave him some advice that had a positive influence on him. We personally asked iloveoov what he told KuRo.

 

 

“I can’t tell you all of it; that’s a secret between KuRo and me (Laughs). But I can give you a brief description of what we talked about. Back when I was still a pro gamer, my match results against Jaeyoon “sAviOr” Ma weren’t so good all the time. It felt like whatever I did, he knew what I was trying to do and was prepared to counter it.


Then there was one time I won against sAviOr in a Chinese tournament with a perfect 2:0 score before my retirement. At the match, I thought, ‘Fine, you have been better than me so far. You really are great. That’s why I’m not going to care this time, and just do whatever I feel like doing.’ Then, I won a complete victory. A challenger has nothing to lose. And that’s when they become the most intimidating. That’s what a challenger should be like.”


What are his thoughts on Dayun “Spirit” Lee and Jaeha “Mowgli” Lee? Recently, Afreeca Freecs has been using a sixth man for their jungler. Spirit was seen frequently in the early split, although he soon fell behind in his competition with Mowgli to be the key player. This seemed to have wounded his pride, and with advice from coach iloveoov, he was able to move up to 3rd place on solo ranked tier. We were also curious about his thoughts on appointing junglers.


“Spirit has been a pro for almost 4 years. There are many members who are the same age as him on our team. That’s why they feel it’s hard to be straightforward when he makes any mistakes. They are being considerate because they know he has his own knowledge and they respect him. But that doesn’t help with team communication. You need to be straightforward in order to win.


On the other hand, everyone feels at ease when they are talking to Mowgli. He just started fresh and is young, which is his ‘passive ability’ and his strength at the same time. That’s why the team communicates better when he is appointed as jungler. He does have a weakness, though. His mechanics aren’t as good as those of Spirit’s. The amount of damage Spirit and Mowgli inflict on the enemy is different, given the same situation. Spirit tries to hit the enemies and use skills on them as much as he can.

 

 

I think that there are two kinds of stress in our team- ‘Spirit stress’ and ‘Mowgli stress’. For spirit, people get stressed because they’re not able to say what they want, and as for Mowgli, it’s his lack of mechanics that stresses them. When we appoint a certain jungler, I listen to our players talk until their stress seems to build to a point where they start talking less and less. Whenever this happens, I appoint the other jungler. Then the team starts to communicate more. Both players have their own strengths and weaknesses, and need to learn from each other. Spirit needs to listen more to the team now and then, and Mowgli needs to work on his mechanics through more training.”


iloveoov also talked about his unique take on motivating players. He wanted his players to be fierce and have a powerful desire to win. He wanted his players to be thirsty for victory rather than be dispassionate. That’s why he doesn’t hesitate to speak harshly to his players in order to stimulate them from time to time.


“Motivating them is crucial. Obviously, the method differs from person to person. For example, at first with Spirit, I tried praising. But that didn’t seem to work so I tried being cold and brutal, which seemed to give him intense drive. His eyes were filled with anger. It was obvious that he was playing better than Mowgli, but when he is appointed, the team loses, and when Mowgli is sent in his place, the team wins, which upset him very much.


I really liked that fierce look in his eyes. I thought, with that attitude, he will be able to win 1st place. Seohaeng also has something similar. He becomes exasperated when they lose. If you become somewhat unruffled after losing, that means you’ve reached your limit. But Seohaeng finds it infuriating. That’s why I think Seohaeng has potential to be a greater player.

 

 

Jongik ‘TuSin’ Bak and Jonghoon ‘Kramer’ Ha know what their weaknesses are, and try to overcome them. Our bot laners haven’t met their limits yet. They have the talent but it’s just that they haven’t had that sweet taste of victory yet.


Both TuSin’s and Kramer’s desire for victory are not enough to meet my expectations. I want them to become more furious, and crave for victory more. TuSin does have the ambition to be victorious. When I put pressure on him for losing, he did pull himself together. After that, he showed improvement for sure.


As for Kramer, I tried being harsh for once which made him disheartened. I think I need a different way of motivating him. He once told me that one day he wants to make just 100 million won(≒ $90K), and move to the countryside. Well, wanting to make just 100 million won means you are not interested in winning the World Championship in the first place. I think that’s not how he should be like. Before coming in for the interview, we had a talk, and I told him that I want him to become more ambitious than that.


I want our players to become more passionate. I want them to think only about victory, and aim for 1st place. I want them to think about nothing but the game. I know that’s hard, but if they endure all those hardships and stay strong, there’s that sweet victory. Not only that, League of Legends comes with real compensation. There’s no reason for them to not try hard.


Right now, there are two players who are as ambitious as I want them to be on our team. I’m going to create an environment where these two can be positive influences for the rest of the team. When it comes to being a pro, your scores are important. And to have great scores, you need to train. I know that they are going to see this interview later. I hope that even this interview can stimulate them. It would be nice if they strive more after reading this interview.

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