Recently, some of the travel restrictions [COVID] in Korea have been lifted. You’re no longer required to quarantine upon arrival, which became a huge incentive for pro teams, pro players, and streamers to travel to Korea to practice. All these individuals have a different goal when traveling to Korea; pro players/teams travel to hone their skills by scrimming with Asian teams, as well as grind the solo queue ladder, while those that travel independently, such as the streamers, come to just grind the solo queue ladder.
Ever since the champion Katarina got reworked, I, the writer of this interview, have almost exclusively played her. Call me one-trick or whatever, but there was something about the explosiveness of the champion that really made this game refreshing. For me to interview one of the best Katarina players in the world, Jackson “KatEvolved” Dohan had me very excited. I had a chance to chat with him during his time in Korea to talk about his journey as a pro player, as well as his thoughts on what it’s like to play on the Korean server.
How’ve you been enjoying your time in Korea so far?
Oh, it's, it's insane here. I love it. Ever since I even started playing solo queue, in general, it's been a very good time for me. Streaming has been so fun, I've been able to put in many more hours than I normally would. Usually, if I'm to play NA solo queue, I wouldn't be able to play more than eight hours because I would just go insane. But here, I can play for 12+ hours, I'll stream for 10 hours and then I'll take a small break. And then I'll play again for another four. It's crazy.
Do you play off-stream in Korea?
Yeah, every now and then. Not too often. I would say around only 5% of my games are off stream. The rest 95% are all on stream.
Early days of KatEvolved
Before we get into your time here in Korea, I do want to talk about how you had a very interesting career of being a streamer first. That's where I found you first. Do you mind talking about that?
I first got into streaming years and years ago, probably back in 2016, I would say. I started streaming when I was 14 years old. When I started doing that, I wasn't Challenger yet. It was like my second year playing the game. And then as I was streaming, I eventually hit Challenger. And because I hit Challenger, I started making connections with a lot of people and started growing a little bit on YouTube and Twitch. It wasn't by any means where we are right now, but it was really nice.
Was the purpose of you starting streaming because you wanted to go pro?
Oh, no. I only started shooting just for fun. It was always like in the back of my head that I wanted to be known for something someday in LoL. I was always caught up on looking at websites to see if I was the number one Katarina back in 2014-2016, and that was my goal. I wanted to be the best at something. So I kept on trying and I just kept on streaming, even though I wasn't making a living off of it or anything. I was just streaming every single day because it was fun.
According to my research, you got drafted to EG first through Scouting Grounds, then onto TSM Academy. Talk to me about that transition.
My path to pro was actually a lot more complicated, because I was streaming and doing YouTube the entire time and while I was doing that... The story of it kind of starts when Katarina as a champion was not in a good spot in the meta. It was around the time when Irelia got reworked and Zoe got released. Those two were the mid lane meta for months; the four-second Irelia passive, she Qs you level 2 and you die.
As a Katarina player myself, I remember those terrible days [laughter].
[Laughs] It was definitely unplayable. I was like, "I can't lock Katarina in any of my games because I'm gonna get stomped." So I just stopped playing her for a while. And I kind of stopped streaming and YouTube for a bit, but my audience wanted to see Katarina and I was like, "Okay, well, I don't want to let down my audience." Uploading Katarina was just not good at all.
So I didn't upload Katarina, I didn't really stream at all, I just played solo queue all day and instead of playing Katarina all day, I played those champions: I played Irelia Zoe, Akali, older Swain, Kassadin, etc, right? Just learning those champions basically for an entire year, all of 2018, I would say. I didn't even know about Scouting Grounds at the time, but by the time I learned it, Scouting Grounds had already started. So I already missed the first opportunity to participate. After I learned about it, I was like, "Wow, if I only knew about it earlier, I could’ve probably taken part in it". So I made it my goal next year to go there.
I played in the amateur scene in 2019 for the entire year before I went to Scouting Grounds. The way I got onto my amateur team was through the Tyler1 Championship Series in Dec of 2018. We got second place in that tournament; the team that we lost to, their mid laner wasn't gonna play for them, so they asked me to play for them next year. I joined, we won a lot of amateur tournaments together, we took part in multiple LAN and online tournaments, and did really well. It was my first team environment, and I had a good time playing with them. As a gamer, it's very secluded because you normally play LoL 15 hours a day, don’t go outside, and not make friends in real life. It was nice to go to LAN events with this team, and understand what it was like to be in a team.
Scouting Grounds & practice regimen as an Academy player
So at the end of 2019 was when you went to Scouting Grounds?
Yes. There used to only be the solo queue requirements, but this time, they picked the top two amateur players from each role, and the top two players from each role on the solo queue ladder. Our team didn't make the cut. It sucked, and it was really sad to not be going with everyone.
Lucky for me, I got in through the solo queue; I was like the number 2 or number 1 mid player on the NA solo queue ladder in 2019. I got invited, and I of course went without hesitation. Funnily enough, before I went to Scouting Grounds, I was invited to multiple team bootcamp tryouts, and one of the ones I went to was TSM. And while I was going to TSM, I landed with two of my other friends [Gorica and Johnsun] that were also going to the TSM bootcamp. We were hanging out at LAX, when Gorica checked his email and said, "Oh, I got my Scouting Grounds invite."
I didn't know I was going to get invited, because I wasn’t keeping track of the solo queue ladder. But when we got back to the hotel, I got wifi, looked at my email and I had the invitation. It was actually really funny because the bootcamp was two weeks before Scouting Grounds. So I was in LA for the bootcamp and Scouting Grounds took place after three days.
I’d say Scouting Grounds was the highlight of my career. You learn a lot. I feel bad for the players that had to do it online because of COVID. However, my in-person experience included meeting every LCS coach, a lot of the management from the teams, and other players that are in the same shoes as you are, who are trying to become pro.
As a region, NA failed to achieve international success in LoL Esports. There are a lot of speculations as to why that’s the case, but one of the major reasons that keep coming up is because NA teams do not really practice as hard as the Eastern teams. What has your experience been like in terms of practice regimen with TSM?
I'll start by kind of adding onto what you said about the whole laziness aspect. I don't think it's necessarily the players' fault a lot of the time. I think the year before I started playing Academy, they actually changed how scrim blocks worked. When I started playing, you would scrim five games a day, usually for four days a week because you'd have one off day and then two match days. So each day, you would set your scrims at around noon, and then practice until around 5 p.m. Now that I'm here in Korea, I've actually heard from people how the Korean pros scrim and how LPL pros scrim. [Triple blocks?] Yes, they start scrims at 1 p.m. and end at 11 p.m.
I can assure you that's the case based on my experiences.
Yes. They do three sets of three, which is insane to me. I wish that was what it was in NA when I was playing, but it wasn't. They kind of made it universal with every team to do only five hours a day, because some players didn't feel like they had any free time.
I can understand why some people want to have free time because if you're scrimming five hours a day, your schedule is still already packed. You don't have much free time off because a lot of people are obligated to stream, even if they don't like to. Some pro players might just want to finish scrims and just play solo queue. So my usual schedule would be to wake up at 9-10 a.m., eat breakfast, go to the office, scrim for five hours, eat dinner. And then you go home, and you do whatever.
Personally, I would always rather scrim more. I was always excited for double blocks, where I’d scrim five hours, take a break for dinner, and then play like another two or three games. That was always fun to me, and was always good practice, but that is sadly not the case anymore, because it takes every team to agree to such a schedule, or at least one other team to scrim against.
Overall, I think NA is like the Champions Queue situation, where the whole ‘laziness’ aspect of it is just part of the culture. Of course, there are a lot more internal issues with Champions Queue, where people have complained about the MMR system and how there's a lot of players there that they feel like shouldn't be there. But there's also the problem that there's a lot of players that should be there but aren't.
While we’re on the subject, can you elaborate on your thoughts a bit more on Champions Queue?
A lot of players have different ways of practicing, right? There's no doubt about that. I know players that literally play better if they scrim more and play less solo queue or vice versa. There are different practice methods, depending on what you're trying to focus on. In general, if you're looking at an LCS bot laner, they would probably improve more if they were to just do 2v2s after scrims rather than solo queue, especially since duo queue is gone. What are you going to learn if you're queuing up as a solo support, and you get like the grandmasters on your team? The matchup isn't going to be the same that it would be in an actual match.
I can understand why some players decided to not play Champions Queue, because it’s a waste of time for some players.
So after your tenure with TSM, you transitioned back into full-time streaming. Talk to me about that transition.
I had multiple opportunities, but I didn't really want to play Academy anymore and I didn't really see the point in playing LCS at the time. So I decided to just go back to streaming. I wasn't even planning to go back to streaming initially but I started streaming every single day and doing daily uploads. In the process, I regained my passion in content creation and I started to really enjoy it. It was going really well for me so I was like, "Okay, I'm going to stick to this."
In general, I have more free time. Before I played Academy, I would stream for 10 hours a day. And then when I started playing, my time was obviously very limited. Even though I only scrimmed for five hours a day, I'd only have around like three-four hours of free time a day to stream. Some days, I wouldn't even feel like it because maybe we had a bad day of scrims, or maybe I just wanted to play different champions in solo queue.
KatEvolved’s experience on the KR solo queue ladder
Fast forwarding to the present day, what made you decide to take this trip out to Korea?
My reason was just to just to stream. I've been playing NA solo queue for the past six years. I've always wanted to go to Korea. It was actually a plan I had since my Academy days. It was my plan to go to Korea during the first off-season, which would be around May-June 2020. But COVID hit February or March of that year, so that's when all the restrictions came into place. When the restrictions were lifted, this was like my only chance. I saw it. I was waiting this entire year for the visa applications to open, and the visa allowed me to stay here up to six months.
I was like, "Okay, well, I've always wanted to do this. I feel like if I don't do this now, then I probably will procrastinate and just never do it again." This is my first time being in a different country, and it’s been a good time so far.
Did you have any specific goals, such as hitting a certain LP or anything like that?
No, just Challenger. My initial plan was to hit Challenger on the Korean server and then go play on the Chinese super server, but I wasn't able to get an account on the super server.
You're currently at what? 900 LP [during the time of the interview]?
I keep going from 900 to 800, just going up and down. I wouldn't say I'm stuck because I'm gonna be there for a few days but definitely our LP graph is going up slowly, slowly but surely. [He finished at 756 LP on the ladder when he left Korea - Ed.]
Did you expect to hit that high?
In a way I did. I didn't expect to climb the Challenger that fast; I wasn't expecting to hit Challenger in 13 days, that's for sure. But I was definitely expecting to hit Challenger at some point in the trip, just not as early as I did. I was going to hit Challenger, maybe a few weeks in, maybe like near the end of the trip.
From someone that played NA solo queue almost exclusively, what are some of the things that you like and you disliked so far about the Korean server?
The server itself is very good mechanically. Maybe the ping has something to do with that, because everyone's playing on 9-20 ping, as well as the Chinese players playing on 35. Obviously a lot better than NA solo queue. In NA, if you're on the west coast, you're playing with 60+. If you're on the east coast, you're playing with 20. So there's a very big gap there. So overall, a lot of the mechanical players on this server shine because of low ping.
Overall, though, I feel like due to so many mechanical players on the KR server, they fail to realize that there's also macro in the game. A lot of my solo queue games in Korea are about perma fighting. There's no thinking about what can happen after the fight. I've had solo queue games where someone will go for a 1v2 and die, which leads to losing Baron. But I feel if a lot of players just think properly then they just won't go for the 1v2. I feel like the players here take a lot of risks.
I feel like part of that reason is because pro players use solo queue to experiment more, so for them, it’s more about limit testing.
Definitely. I've had my fair share of limit testing on NA when I was practicing champions too. I would play Zoe, going for constant 1v2s, 1v3s. So I get that, in a way, but it just feels almost every game is the same.
Also, I feel like in Korea, there's not much off-meta stuff played. You'll go to NA and there'll be some random Rammus jungle player or someone in mid lane that plays something like Brand mid. In Korea, it’s just the same champions every other game, like Renekton-Nidalee.
What do you prefer?
I enjoy the meta, but after a while, It does get kind of stale. The mid lane meta right now is just Ahri, Vex, and LeBlanc. You'd see the odd Qiyana one-trick every now and then, or maybe a Fizz one-trick, but that's about it.
Do you enjoy playing here more than NA?
Definitely. For me, it feels better overall, because I would deem myself as a more mechanical player, rather than a well thought-out laner. There's a very big difference between laners that just play lane correctly and make very minimal mistakes, like Nemesis, for example. And then there's players that are mechanical and outplay the enemy that way. I would say I’m more of the latter. So playing on 9 ping has definitely been a really big upside for me.
I remember you mentioning how NA pros kind of feel better [than Korean pros]. Can you explain or elaborate on what you meant by that?
I feel like they play more macro focused. For example, let's say I'm playing with LCS supports: A lot of the times, I can expect them to always be mid at the correct time. If they base, while the wave’s pushed in, they know the wave is gonna take at least 30 seconds or more to bounce back. So the ADC will play back, and support will come mid, right? It's a very standard thing that happens in any solo queue or any pro play.
But you'll rarely see that on the Korean server in Challenger. Sometimes, I’ll see a support be on a perfect timer to roam, but he won't use it. He'll just run back bot lane. Or maybe the support plays correctly, and while he’s mid or top, the ADC walks too far up when he doesn't need to, dies to a gank, and the game is over for the bot lane. Just small things like that.
I feel that these things are almost basic game knowledge, which leads me to believe that these players know it by theory, but the execution isn’t there.
Yeah, it's just execution. I feel like a lot of players have the understanding. There's no doubt that you see such things in pro play or any random solo queue stream. But when it comes to actually playing the game, the hard part for a lot of players is executing it. Sometimes they'll forget or they'll mess up the timer. Small things that can make playing the game very hard.
So why Katarina?
Call it one-tricking or maining: Why Katarina?
This story actually goes back all the way to 2014-2015. I played the game for an entire year, where I played strictly just normal games with a lot of my friends I met online. I went through phases of playing every character, so I had a wide variety of champion knowledge on what I wanted to play and what I wanted to climb the ranked ladder. I played a lot of top lane, jungle; Lee Sin, Rengar, champions like that. Eventually, they came up with Hextech Crafting, so I opened my first crate, I got a Katarina skin. Now, I’ve not bought any RP at this point, so I was really hyped when I got the skin.
At this time I was probably a Gold 4 player, and also very young. When I opened the crate, I got Sandstorm Katarina, so I instantly queued up to use the skin. I play a normal game versus a Diamond 5 Galio in mid lane. It was the old Galio versus the old Katarina, which was a hard counter match-up for Kat. I solo-killed the Galio a few times and I was like, "Wow, this character is so fun".
So you felt the power? [laughs]
Yeah it was really fun because I was able to just jump on him and kill him [laughs]. As soon as that game finished, I just queued up for solo queue and I just played Katarina over and over. Fast forward a few months, I became a Diamond 1/Masters Katerina. Then in Season 7, I hit Challenger early in the season and I stayed there playing her.
What are your thoughts on the new skin [High Noon Katarina] by the way?
I actually uploaded a video about it recently. Overall, I think it looks cool, but the sound effects are kind of what turns you away from it. Same as Blood Moon, which is probably my most disliked skin. I'll use every skin except for Blood Moon.
Reflection of the Korea trip, and what's next for KatEvolved
Do you think coming to Korea has "evolved" your branding as a streamer?
It's definitely helped a lot with streaming and YouTube. Overall, there's not much going on in North America, which is kind of sad, right? You don't get a lot of these big names like Faker or ShowMaker. Playing with these big names definitely helped a lot in terms of numbers related to my stream and Youtube.
What's next for KatEvolved?
This might sound weird, but it's always been a goal of mine to go back to pro play. I've been always talking about it on stream and posting about it on social media. I only initially wanted to take a one year break, just to stream again, and I was open to joining teams again starting this year. Unfortunately, I ended up not joining one, and didn’t even get into Champions Queue for some reason.
That’s why I decided to come to Korea. As I said, I always wanted to come, and grabbed the opportunity. To just stream every single day while I'm here, climb as high as I can, and see what comes from it.
It's always been a goal of mine to go back to pro play -- I'd say it still is -- but from this trip, I learned that streaming has been very fun for me. I have more people watching and supporting me, and I’m truly grateful for it.
I don't know how my return to pro play would look like. It’s not really up to the player when it comes to joining a pro team. You just put yourself out there and hope teams notice and come to you eventually. Even so, I still hope I can return to pro play.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports