On New Year’s Day, everyone starts fresh, with a new mind and new resolutions. Some resolutions are smaller, like refreshing your mindset, while others are larger, putting people on a completely different path.
Kim “Dove” Jae-yeon wants 2022 to be the latter. A 2019 LCK debutant, Dove has played as a mid laner competitively for six years, counting his time in Challengers. But in 2022, as he returns to his old team, Liiv SANDBOX, Dove is going to the top lane.
Inven was able to sit with Dove for a chat about his transition, worries, difficulties, and the future he was dreaming of.
We were surprised to hear about your top lane role swap. No one really thought of it.
Everyone says that, and even I didn’t think of it. Back in 2020, Joker used to talk about changing positions, and I didn’t give it any thought. But when I heard the conditions and the opportunity that came with it, it seemed very positive, so I decided to swap.
How have you been playing since the switch?
At first, afterI played solo queue for about 2-3 days, I thought, “Is this the right decision?” But I had already made up my mind, so I needed to endure everything I have. Afterward, I kept hold of my mentality and now I’ve adapted. Also, solo queue and scrims are very different. I went through a lot, and I felt that I need a lot of practice.
Top and mid lanes are similar but different. They’re both solo lanes, but… Well, it’s different.
There are fewer things in common than you’d think. As you said, they’re both solo lanes, and the champion pool overlaps a bit. Many people think they’re similar, but it’s often the opposite. Managing the lane, utilizing the jungle, and team movements — they’re all completely different.
There are more things to consider especially when you’re using the jungler’s turn. In a team game, the jungler’s turn needs to be used wisely, but there are so many different issues to consider, so you need to be meticulous with it. It was something I wasn’t aware of when I played mid lane. Before, I used to think top lane would be easier than playing mid.
Frankly, I can’t say which lane is harder. Since I’ve played in the mid lane for such a long time, I feel more natural and comfortable playing mid lane. If I fully adapt to top lane, I should be able to move or make decisions more easily.
Another difference is the champion pool. Although there’s some overlap, there are champions that are only used in the top lane. How skilled are you with them?
Since I believe that I’m good enough at the champions that are played in mid lane, I’ve been practicing the champions that are only played in the top lane. Maybe that’s why it’s been so difficult. I’ve played top lane as my sub role in solo queue, but I’ve only played the champions I used to play. I’m working on those that I’m not accustomed to.
Which champion is the most difficult?
To pick one, I’d say Jayce. Jayce is picked often in competitive games, he’s good enough to be picked first, and he’s often the base of the drafts. Jayce used to be played in mid lane too, so I’m better playing Jayce than other champions. But Jayce is a very difficult champion to play — it’s easy until a certain point, but it’s really hard to get past that.
You’ve returned to your old team after a year. What has changed while you were gone?
Out of the game, during the 2020 season, the team house and our practice facility were extremely good. I’m not saying it’s bad now, but it was that good back then. On the other hand, welfare is better. The practice facility is always full of snacks and it really feels that the organization always tries to do more for the players.
Although it’s your old team, all of the players are different. It could feel like a completely new team to you.
I think that often, but when Joker gives me feedback, I feel, “It’s still SANDBOX.” I played with him for a long time. He’s a coach, but it feels that he’s a franchise star of the team. [Laughs]
How was it to return to SANDBOX?
When I was thinking about coming back, I saw it negatively at first. People might think that I ran away from SANDBOX but returned because it didn’t work out. I gave it a lot of thought, but since I heard how the team thinks of me directly, I decided to return, thinking that I should concentrate on what I know.
It’s a three-year contract. It feels as if you’re thinking of retiring on this team.
I brought up three years first. It couldn’t have been an easy decision for the organization, but they said yes without hesitation. I was very grateful. There were many things that spoke to my heart, but among all the things, the three-year contract was the most positive.
The reason I wanted a three-year contract was that I will be 25 next year. After three years, I’d be 27. By my standards, I thought that would be the oldest I could play as a pro gamer. It might not be easy to retire on my original team, but I thought I would be able to leave smiling. It looked like a perfect scenario.
Your teammates are quite young this time. How is it being the oldest on the team?
I was the oldest when I was on KT Rolster too, but unlike now, there were more players that were the same age. Also, no one really cared about the age, and we were all friends. Here, Croco and Envy are two years younger than me, and they’re the closest to me in age. I thought that I did get old now. [Laughs]
As a former mid laner yourself, what kind of a player is Clozer?
There are things that are my opposite. Clozer plays very aggressively from the laning phase. I used to play according to the situation, but he plays aggressively even when it seems that he should be more passive. It may look simple, but he’s extremely good at that. To put it easier, I have a more conservative style, and Clozer has an aggressive style.
Frankly, he’s still really young. I think a player’s mechanics peak when they’re 20 or 21 years old, and Clozer will be 20 next year. I’m already scared of how good he’ll be next year. We’re on the same team, and we play different lanes now, but it feels that he’ll be so different. Since I’m playing with such young talent, I get motivated more, and it makes me work harder.
I think one of the issues Liiv SANDBOX could face is adapting. There are several rookies, and you’re new in the top lane.
Everyone’s already doing well in everyday life. It’s important, but it’s not the most important. As we’re pro gamers, in-game stuff is the top priority. Frankly speaking, it’s not that smooth, but we all feel that there’s potential. I believe it’ll get better.
Personally and as a team, you’re going through trial and error. How are you going to move forward?
We’re practicing thinking of the way we’re directed. I need to add proficiency in certain champions as well. It’s not that different from before. We just work hard as we did. Although I’m focused more on transitioning, when the season starts, I’m just another top laner. I need to do well accordingly.
Some fans call you Do Yuan-Hao, after Xiaohu.
After I first decided to swap, the first thing I did was look up how Xiaohu played in the LPL. I didn’t watch everything, but I tried to see how he got better by watching his games early in the season, mid season, and late in the season. Watching Xiaohu wasn’t too helpful, since he played really well all the time except really early.
Xiaohu often played mid lane AP champions in the top lane as a surprise pick. Should we look forward to that?
I don’t think I could use them often, but I do want to play them sometimes as a surprise pick, as Xiaohu did. Just like the fans, I thought about Xiaohu a lot. He transitioned to top lane from mid lane very successfully.
As much as there was a big change, your goal or values as a pro gamer may have changed. What do you want to achieve this year?
Obviously, I want to get good results. Along with that, I want to change how people see me. I want to show that I could play aggressively, that I’m not just a conservative player. It isn’t easy, but I believe I can do it. I want to be in the top three top laners by the end of the year. It could be too big of a goal, since I’m just starting, but I’ll be doing my best so that I could be voted on the All-LCK team.
Any last comments?
I wonder, should I ask my fans to look forward to my performance, or to not have too big expectations. [Laughs] Since I’m a professional gamer, I need to be good, so I’d like to say they should look forward. I hope you think positively about my transition, and please cheer for Liiv SANDBOX’s 2022.