Tea time with KDF Kiin: "If you work hard while looking forward, then you’ll see light later down the road.”


From being the highly anticipated rookie top laner on Ever8 Winners to becoming the veteran franchise star of an LCK organization may seem like a very long and arduous journey. For Kim “Kiin” Ki-in, it took six years. Only a select few players within LoL Esports can say that they’ve even played as pro for so long; at the age of 24, Kiin looks to live up to expectations in the 2022 LCK Summer split.


On a sunny, early-summer afternoon, Inven had a chance to catch up with Kiin at a coffee shop in Gangnam, South Korea. Although we couldn’t chat for long, Kiin provided some interesting answers to our questions. From the state of top lane to the aging curve in esports, Kiin shared his thoughts and resolutions as he prepared to march forward onto the Summer split.

How’ve you been since the end of the Spring split?


I went on a vacation for about 2-3 weeks. I spent the time playing various games. After that, I returned to the team house and practice room to play solo queue and prepare for the Summer split.


Has practice been going well?


We all got closer and became more comfortable with one another than the Spring split for sure. However, due to the break we had, we did make mistakes when we were finding our rhythm, but I think more practice will fix that.


Who’s currently the main shotcaller of the team?


I mean, everybody makes their calls but… If I had to choose the main shotcaller, it’d be FATE. He’s very decisive. He wasn’t really talkative when he first joined the team, but he changed and now talks a lot.


Recently, Kwangdong Freecs also held a fan meet. It must’ve been so good to interact with the fans.


It’s been three years. It felt like forever since the last fan meet, so I had fun and was nervous at the same time. It was obviously great to see all the fans, and we tried our best to have fun. Ellim was especially nervous because it was his first fan meet. 


Kwangdong Freecs had a very slow start this Spring split. How did you feel when the team was underperforming at the time?


Truth be told, our scrim results at the time weren’t that great either. We knew things would be somewhat hard, but our matches at the time went worse than we thought. Everybody was struggling. We told ourselves to recharge after the Lunar New Year holidays, and I think the break really helped find our forms. The games felt playable after that break.


In the end, the team made it to the playoffs and finished the split in fourth place.


During the regular split, I thought, “C’mon, we actually can’t be in last place” [laughter]. Our mindset at the time was to squeeze ourselves into the playoffs. Thankfully, we managed to keep our playoff hopes alive towards the end; everybody was ecstatic after we beat DRX. That was when I had the most fun playing.


You’re already a six-year veteran in the scene. Looking back on things, how do you remember your debut split on Ever8 Winners?


At the time, I… Really didn’t know much about the game, so I just went with the flow. Even when I rewatch those games now, I can tell that I’m really bad at the game.


I feel like you saying that contradicts the fact that you got picked for Team Korea’s top laner for the 2018 Asian Games. In your second year as a pro.


When I joined Afreeca Freecs [Kwangdong Freecs] in 2018, the players at the time were all veterans in the scene. I just gave it my all and just tried to go along with everyone, so I was just lucky.


As the top laner for KDF since 2018, do you also see yourself as the franchise star of the team?


There aren’t that many players who stick with the same org for a long time, so I do think I somewhat fit the bill. Still, who knows what will happen next year, so I need to focus on my performance this year.


There was a point in time when you fell into a slump. What were some of the problems that you faced back then?


I do want to play on the international stage, but it’s not something you can just do at will. The lack of results also did make me lose confidence. I don’t think I had a particular problem… It just felt like I was just falling lower and lower. At the same time, the team wasn’t producing results as well, so I tried not to think about anything else but the game.


How did you feel watching a rookie top laner, Choi “Zeus” Woo-je perform so well at 2022 MSI?


More than anything, I really wanted to soak in the atmosphere of the venue.


Jang "Nuguri" Ha-gwon is also returning to the LCK. [The interview took place before the start of the Summer split - Ed]


I think he’ll definitely perform well; I think all teams are going to return stronger in the Summer.


What are your thoughts on the role of a top laner? All the top laner that’s known for their aggression became more of a ‘balanced’ top laner.


The team needs to babysit those top laners that play aggressive and carry the game. The team has to funnel resources, but if that happens, games can sometimes go awry. On the flip side, those that are more flexible know how to play safe without the team backing them up, so as a team, it's easier to play. I think that both play styles have their strengths and weaknesses.


You talked a lot about your former coach, Choi “iloveoov” Yeon-sung. You must have a lot of fond memories with him.


I vividly remember the season where everybody on the team gave it their all, to the point where I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I remember him telling me, “Don’t get too hung up on the present. If you work hard while looking forward, then you’ll see light later down the road.”

How do you think the recent durability patch will affect the Summer split meta?


Because champions have more health and take less damage, you survive a lot of those moments that would’ve normally killed you before. I think that’s why late-game champions will make a resurgence in the meta. The champion that comes to mind right now is Kayle.


What are your thoughts on the aging curve in esports? Do you believe that you’re physically in worse shape compared to when you made your debut?


Personally, I do feel it’s gotten a little bit worse compared to when I was 19-20. My eyes are constantly tired, so it’s hard to keep looking at the PC screen. I think I was a pretty healthy guy in my debut year, but nowadays, I frequently have sore eyes to the point where I use artificial tears. Also, places like joints and backs get worse for pro gamers, but as long as those parts of your body are healthy, I think age doesn’t really affect performance.


Your passion and your dedication to the game hasn’t diminished since your debut season though, right?


It’d be a lie to say it hasn’t diminished at all [laughter]. That’s why I keep trying. If I don’t, I know I’ll fall behind.

What’s your final goal as a pro gamer?


I don’t know whether or not LoL will survive after I retire and in the distant future, but I hope that a lot of people remember who I was. Also, I started my pro career when I was 19; after I retire, I want to learn and try all the things that I always wanted to and enjoy life.


What piece of advice would you give to those aspiring to become pro?


I didn’t play for that long as well, but… I think this whole thing is worth experiencing at least once in your life. I just embarked on this journey because I thought it’d be a good experience; looking back,the journey hasn’t been too bad. There’ve been a lot more fun moments. Just be prepared that you won’t really have a lot of free time.


Lastly, is there anything you’d like to say?


I keep thinking that I’ll need to perform better than how I did early in the Spring split. I think the season will go well if we start off well. I want to thank all the fans, the staff, and my family for all their support, and I’ll continue to work hard.

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