It’s been around a year since I last spoke to this man. When the 2021 season ended, Gen.G’s roster was about to go through a huge rehaul of their roster. Fast forward a year later, Gen.G’s superstar line-up finally brought back an LCK championship under their brand, and they did it by defeating the one team that always stood one step ahead, T1.
Now, the 2022 LCK Summer split champions heads to Worlds as LCK’s #1 seed. Will they bring back the Worlds trophy back under the wings of the LCK? Or does LPL prove to be undisputed once again? The CEO of Gen.G, Arnold Hur, looks back on his rollercoaster ride of the 2022 Season, and his thoughts on Gen.G at Worlds.
First, a huge congratulations on finally winning the LCK championship. Talk me through on what kind of emotions that were present when you were spectating; before and after the match, the whole package.
I was probably the most nervous before the match. We’ve always been so close to winning, but we always came up short. When I was watching the matches, I’d be nervous even when we were ahead because we’ve been so close so many times. However, it felt like this team was operating on a different level, and it was amazing to just watch what they do.
I’d say it’s two things for me. As a fan and as part of the ownership, I was completely nervous all the time. The other side of things would be feeling appreciative of the journey. I remember how much time and effort it took when we first brought the team together and talked to each of the players on what their dreams and ambitions were. Even when we were at that phase I knew that this was a special team.
To see all their hard work finally come to fruition, and to see how winning the championship meant differently each one of the players was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To see these young men’s growth and how they approached to get better; there’s an entire article you can write on the journeys of every one of our players and coaches.
Watching that was really satisfying. I guess I can say this now that we’ve won, but in my head, even if we lose, I’d still be very proud of what they’ve accomplished. The phrase goes, “The score will take care of itself”; not the coach of course [laughter]. The contribution from not just the actual team itself, but also from our management side have been immense, so I’m very proud of everyone.
Any time you’re playing against T1, arguably the most prestigious esports organization in the world, you have this mindset of being the underdogs. Surprisingly, there were a lot of Gen.G fans present at the finals; I thought it was going to be 95% T1 fans, so I was telling the fans on discord to be as loud as they can [laughter]. Thankfully, a lot of our fans showed up, and to have that moment with them was amazing.
Maybe this is just a me thing, but I actually don’t enjoy winning that much; I just hate losing. Maybe that’s why my mind was on, “What do we need to do for Worlds? What’s next?” It took a lot of friends and coworkers to convince me to just enjoy the moment and soak everything in. And drink some soju of course [laughter].
Jay [Gen.G analyst] told me that everyone celebrated hard, and he got REALLY drunk. Were there any fun drunk stories with the team?
So, the atmosphere was more like a reunion; it wasn’t like this American style house party vibe. Everyone was able to finally take a moment to relax and have fun. I thought it was going to be a bit more wild and be more like crazy partiers, so it wasn’t like Waterbomb [Summertime music concert series in Korea]. I remember drinking soju with the parents. I wanted to be thankful that they were there, and I could just tell that they were really proud. They were also surprisingly grateful to me, because it was the players that did all the work. Taking shots with the parents was really fun, and they taught me some Korean drinking manners. That was really cool.
In esports, you get so caught up with the strategy aspect of the game, as well as a bit of the drama behind the scenes, that you tend to forget how much this means to them, as these players are young men with a big responsibility of bringing back life-changing amounts of money to provide for their families. So my biggest regret is not having any WON Sojus left to share with the players.
The finals victory was against T1, arguably Gen.G’s biggest rivals for a very long time. I remember one of the key topics that we talked about in our last interview was, ‘What does Gen.G need to do in order to not become a second place team?’ That interview was around this time last year, so what were some of the solutions that Gen.G found to that question since then?
There’s always quite a bit of luck involved, but I think the idea of sacrifice is really big, in a sense of putting the team first. Also, just being bought in who we are as an esports organization is also really bought in, because all of our players are fully bought in. Even in terms of operations as an org, we wanted to create our own esports team culture.
Players even pop up in our official Discord once in a while. This one time, I was just chatting in there with the fans, saying, “I feel really bad because Doran doesn’t get the credit”; all of a sudden, he just pops in the conversation. Small moments like that are also really big.
Being able to really have a team that’s highly intelligent; having this chip on their shoulders and being more open to absorb resources from other teams in the LCK and in the LPL; to look outside and see how we can do what they’re doing, but better is huge.
You can’t win if you don’t take risks. Playing it safe is an easy way to make the top four; at this level of competition, you can’t just be better and win. You gotta have something that you put the effort into, which allows you to tilt the scale in your favor. I think game 2 of the Summer finals is a great example. If we lost that game while leaving open Zeri-Yuumi from Red Side, then I can only imagine what the Reddit thread would be like. But, we had a plan against it and took a risk.
That kind of mentality is what separates a top team and a 1st place team. You can also realistically end up third or fourth because of that risk, so my thing is to reassure the players that I got their backs. People may get upset, but don’t worry about it. I got your backs. We’ll make the changes necessary when it’s the offseason, but during the season, don’t worry about failing when taking a risk. Because the action of taking a risk itself is a necessary action for us to win.
You’ve stated that this rendition of Gen.G’s roster revolved around Chovy and Ruler. What made Doran, Peanut, and Lehends be the other three players synergize well with two players needed?
So Ruler is by far the hardest working pro player I’ve ever met. Chovy has what I call the ‘Steph Curry Gravity’, where he changes the shape of how the team operates around the mid lane. That’s game changing. However, looking back on our journey, I don’t think Doran, Peanut, and Lehends got enough credit.
Doran doesn’t get enough resources inside the game. How many times have we seen Doran get three-man dove while the rest of his team were taking resources on the other side of the map? His job is always on that top lane island, and is a lonely one. Most solo queue grinders would get tilted and always complaining about his team, but Doran has this Iron Mike mentality.
There are a lot of cases where a player will get ganked or fail at a play, and you can hear them verbally expressing their disappointment. Like with a sigh or whatever. Doran doesn’t do that. He says things like, “Don’t worry guys. I stalled.” He’s a consummate professional team player. That’s a big difference, because it changes how the team reacts. I respect him a lot for it.
Lehends is awesome because not only is he really funny, he’s always looking to figure out what’s next. He understands, at a super high level, what the team needs to do to operate itself to a win. Everybody makes calls, but this just gives more freedom in just letting Chovy and Ruler be themselves. Also having him and Peanut work really closely with the coaching staff on figuring out the meta is really powerful.
Finally for Peanut; he’s been a genius in the jungle. Him basically challenging Score on ideas for the jungle is also very powerful, but the one thing I want to praise him the most for is how he leads his team in comms. During that game 5 against DWG KIA in the Spring playoffs, if I was in Peanut’s shoes, I would’ve been so angry. However, even despite being in a huge disadvantage, he was breaking down what their remaining win conditions were.
The way he conducted himself in that game is something I gained a lot of respect for. His ability to do that is the epitome of being an esports pro.
Peanut joined the organization for the second time this year. He went from a player that struggled to find his ground in the LCK back in the 2019 season to receiving the Finals MVP award this split. How do you compare the 2019 Peanut to the 2022 Peanut?
This guy just became a man. He’s a grown up; in terms of the way he thinks and the maturity he shows, he’s an ahjussi. I honestly feel like I’m talking to a different person. When he originally joined us, I’m pretty sure he also felt like we were a different company. We’ve both evolved over time.
He’s also begun to appreciate what it means to be a pro player a lot more. He realized how short a pro player’s career can be, so he doesn’t want to waste any more opportunities. That really drives and motivates him, his teammates, and even myself. He’s realized that his time as a pro player is short, so this realization made him hungry. I respect his growth.
I think that he stated in a few interviews where he credits his time in the LPL to be when he grew up. Watching them how they’re willing to try new things, new takes on the meta; he absorbed a lot of that from his time there. That’s why he’s willing to take risks; the limited amount of time he has as a pro.
One of the key things that stuck with me was how Gen.G players banded themselves with a powerful mindset of not losing ever again. How did you react to that powerful mindset?
I loved the fact that the team was clicking in to buy in completely into the team. In Spring, I think we were at the phase where everyone was starting to understand each other within a very limited amount of time. COVID taking out our players one by one didn’t help out either.
There are two types of players. There are those that complain about whatever they want to complain about, and then there are those that work hard to maximize the time they’ve been given to its fullest. I think everyone on the team is of the latter. I appreciate them for being that hungry for success, because working with people that complain about everything just doesn’t do it for me.
One other thing you mentioned in a recent interview was that if Gen.G failed to acquire Chovy for the 2022 season, then one of the other possible options was to bring Nemesis out of retirement [laughter]. LCK is starting to bring in Vietnamese players as trainees, so I’m curious how you imagine what it’ll be like if Western players played in the LCK.
Outside of a few exceptions, I think it’ll be really hard for an established pro from the West to integrate with a Korean team. It’s just because of how the infrastructure of expectation and culture are set up. If the foreign pros were trained early on in the Korean infrastructure, I think it’s completely doable.
A Western import would have their own expectations of what it means to be a pro, but in Korea, it’s either do or die for almost all of these players. Long-term, I think there will be more international rosters, but I imagine that these will still be on the Academy/Challengers circuit.
Especially throughout the Summer split, you had a chance to meet with a lot of the fans, whether it’s you being at LoL Park in person or through watch parties at pubs. What are some of the things you’ve learned from the in-person interactions with the Gen.G fans?
Fans in person are very different from fans online. The ones that I meet in person genuinely care and are willing to have a conversation, while a lot of the online fans are like, ‘Why aren’t you doing the things I want your company to do’? Versus in person, they just want to talk, they want to learn, and are genuinely excited to learn not just about the players, but about the industry as well. I understood fans so much better when I talked with them in person, so I always invite fans to say hi and even take photos.
In Gangneung, I had a lot of T1 fans come up to me for pictures. There was this couple where the guy was a T1 fan but his girlfriend was a Gen.G fan. Seeing them made me more appreciative of how awesome our sport is. I hopped into our Discord and promised our fans a taco truck if we won, so we’ll see how that goes.
While there are so many great aspects about the fans, there are also the ugly sides to it. I think the people have seen its peak with the truck protests, and the reception of this from the West have warped into memes, as well as an overall negative POV on the Korean fan culture. What do you want to tell the Western fans that now have a warped sense of what the Korean fanbase is like?
I mean… They’re just trucks. The worst position to be in is when you don’t get a truck; it’s when nobody cares. Internally, how you react is important, because it sets a precedent on how you reacted in those situations. There’s a time and a place for us to make changes, and we’re always listening to what our fans have to say, but I will not cross a boundary where I’ll make sure our team has their room to operate, so that they don't feel like they're being being run by fan sentiment. I always promise my teams that. At least when it comes to competitive, we’re not going to respond to fan sentiment, whether we’re winning or losing.
Each org has their way with operations, but for me, the trucks are, ‘At least fans care’. Building a stable relationship with the fans by interacting with them a lot is something I’m trying to do. Through the thick and thin. There are going to be bad moments, because that’s just part of sports. Myself and the organization can build that relationship with the fans to help them understand that we’re not perfect as well thus we also make mistakes all the time, but we’re going to keep trying to do better.
However, there’s one thing that I do not like. This is the part where things might be a little bit controversial. There’s a bunch of Redditors and Western fans that have never even stepped foot in Korea, painting all of Korea and its fan culture to be toxic. That’s just not true. It’s not an accurate portrayal.
In Gangneung, fans of both teams were just hanging out, taking pictures, eating food… I wish there was beer [laughter]. How can there be fried chicken but no beer? If I was going to buy a truck, I’d protest about the lack of beer. I think it’s a worthy cause, and have fans protest about it as well as Riot Korea [laughter].
Now that Gen.G finally captured their first LCK championship trophy under the Gen.G brand, what does the team need to do to be competitively ahead of LPL and the rest of the world?
In terms of getting ready, a lot of it is going to be around figuring out how we can use our resources to be ahead in that leadership position of advancing the meta. It’s also about absorbing what other teams are doing, especially with each region having a different take on the meta.
As a roster that’s never had international experience together, things like jet lag would also prove to be a challenge. Every place that we’re going except for San Francisco has great Korean food. San Francisco as a city just has terrible Korean food options. A bottle of Soju is like $18 there, so you can imagine just how bad everything is. If we’re lucky enough to make it to San Francisco, we have to figure out the players’ Korean food meals.
Given the history of the team at Worlds, is there a team that you hope you want to beat?
Cloud9. We had a very bad showing in 2018, so I want to beat Cloud9. We’re also worked together on a few things, we share the Puma sponsor; I actually respect Jack a lot for his successful organization. Something like nine Worlds appearances in 10 seasons, right?
I definitely want to also beat G2 from the LEC as well, but I’m honestly pretty scared of the LPL teams. We’re going to have to make sure that we bring our A-game plus something extra.
Lastly, it’s no secret that you’re a huge advocate of kbbq; what is your perfect kbbq dinner that you recommend to the fans?
I do love Korean bbq. I’d say that I prefer samgyupsal [pork belly] over the highly rated Hanwoo beef. I actually think getting the Jeju black pork, thick cut, not overcooking it, with a little bit of Wasabi, some WON Soju, and some marinated Perilla Leaves. That bite of pork and washing it down with WON Soju is the greatest feeling in the world. Also, always get Doenjang-jjigae over Kimchi-jjigae. Make sure it’s thick cut.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports