An awkward moment of silence enveloped the restaurant after the big discussion on the upcoming change to the NA and EU LCS... but we were simply catching our breath for the next discussion.
The most enviable part of Locodoco's background is his experience and general familiarity with both the NA and KR esports scenes. Naturally, I wanted to hear from him about the differences. Player mentality, the two leagues, and team culture; we talked about various things.
② The difference between NA and KR... why is KR so strong?
In Korea, you were a part of the LoL scene as both a player and coach. You've also had a fair share of experience in NA. In your opinion, what's the difference between the two regions?
There is more emphasis on "team" over "individuals" in Korea... to be more specific, coaches. On the other hand, NA players frequently override the coach's voice with their own. Of course, there are cultural differences, but I think it's mainly because most NA teams started joining the scene with just players. Back then, most teams were run by the players... there were no real coaches or head coaches.
In Korea, having a player override the coaches could be seen as bad - mostly because of the culture. But I also think it's a coach's duty to be able to manage and maintain his or her players' authority and right to speak. Saying things such as: "Wow, these NA players don't listen to me!" is the wrong mindset, and you will never succeed as a coach.
It's the same for traditional sports as well. In the NBA, there are a ton of superstars. Kobe Bryant had his coach replaced a number of times. It's necessary for a coach to have the ability to lead a "star" player. There are a lot of Korean fans that believe NA players have the wrong mindset and that they are rude... but it's simply a cultural difference.
Isn't this your first time as a director of a team?
I've been doing it for a while... Here in NA, we call directors 'head coaches', and it works a little bit differently to Korea. I'm similar to kkOma and Nofe in regards to putting most of my work into in-game areas. A lot of directors that came from the StarCraft scene put a lot more emphasis on things outside of the game... such as player mentality... but I'm fairly inexperienced in that area. It was a lot harder than I thought. (Laughs) I'm still young, and I'm still learning.
Why do you think Korea has been so successful in international tournaments when compared to the other regions?
For starters, Korea has a much larger player pool. There are a lot of talented players in Korea, and so, the competition is very fierce. There are many Solo Queue players that aspire to become a pro... so if a great professional player is to retire, a new and just as great player will simply fill in his spot.
And the system that's implemented in Korea is phenomenal - it allows for new players to grow into a strong player in just a short amount of time... From Solo Queue to scrims, everything is managed very efficiently.
Also, there are a ton of strong teams in Korea, and thanks to them, weaker teams learn a whole lot from playing against them. Strong teams also become stronger from playing against other strong teams. In NA, there are only three teams that consistently maintain good results: TSM, C9, and CLG. But even then, they are weaker when compared to SKT or LZ. There are a lot of teams in Korea that can output performance similar to that of the top teams in NA. There is a system, a virtuous cycle that is in place in Korea... and it's proving to be very effective.
Very recently, 'Longzhu Gaming' won the LCK. What're your thoughts on this?
To be honest, I thought that it'd be impossible for LZ to win. Like I've actually been telling people that as long as SKT defeated SSG in the playoffs, SKT will win... it's because Khan, Cuzz, and Bdd were all basically rookies with barely any experience.
But there was something big that I overlooked. New players in Korea are extremely fast and proficient at refining their weaknesses... it's probably because the players that they practice and play against every day are insanely talented. Khan had no choice but to scrim against players such as Smeb, Marin, and Huni - playing in such an environment got Khan to where he is today.
What if Khan played in another region?
Let's say Khan played in NA and that his major weakness was not thinking about getting ganked. Although it's a weakness, in terms of mechanics, he should be able to dominate in lane. If he continues to get good results through the laning phase, he would most likely ignore the coaching staff when they tell him to "fix" his problems. The coach would have no choice but to let it slip because he's getting good results, right?
But in Korea, he'll be playing against players like Smeb and Marin. He would learn that the smallest mistakes can cost him a game when playing against such players. He also has PraY and GorillA, two world-class players, as his teammates, so Khan would receive a lot of advice from them. If a player is competent enough, he would have no choice but to grow in such an environment.
That's why some less-experienced players in Korea suddenly jump up in terms of skills, and I think that's one of the big parts of how LZ won the LCK... Well, the SKT toplaners also seemed to be in a slump too.
③ NA and Worlds
Which region do you think will win Worlds this year?
I think Korea will win again pretty convincingly... as early as from the laning phase. Khan was dominant even in Korea, I think he will destroy everyone from every other region.
The Korean players are all exceptional laners, and the pace at which they play their games is fast when compared to the other regions. And because they make little to no mistakes, they play their games around trying to take early advantages. On the other hand, NA teams tend to make a lot more mistakes, which in turn leads them to build a mid-to-late game, a more balanced team comp. Facing off against a Korean team will be a brand new experience for some teams from other regions... as they most likely haven't lost to a team that plays around early advantages while making no mistakes.
Don't even think about beating Korea by utilizing their playstyle. In order for other regions to beat Korea, they will have to find their own style. You'll always have to play "catch up" if you do, so in the end, you will never come out on top.
TSM always seemed to fall short during Worlds... I think Doublelift made many critical mistakes.
It's probably because they have been placed in such a different environment... In the NA LCS, Bjergsen almost always takes the early advantages for TSM, so the ADC will have an easier time. This is especially the case because it's easier for ADCs to position themselves in teamfights if the midlaner is doing well. In my opinion, in NA, the only other laner that can go toe-to-toe against Bjergsen is Jensen, but then again, that's not really the case at Worlds.
Doublelift is a great player, and the reason behind his mistakes probably comes from the sudden change in the environment [NA to Worlds].
What do you think about the Korean players in NA? Toplaners especially, because they often get compared to the domestic players.
More so than the cultural differences, the biggest difficulty for a Korean player in NA is communication... and League of Legends is a game that requires good communication.
Korean players, in general, make very detailed calls. "Come gank for me after X number of waves," or "I want to snowball my lane in X way." But in order for players to make these kinds of calls, they have to be very fluent in the language. So Korean players end up showing only 70%~80% of what they're really capable of.
There are lots of discussions about who the best toplaner in NA is, and in my opinion, I think Hauntzer takes that award. In terms of mechanics or decision-making, sure, Ssumday or Flame might be better, but Hauntzer has the advantage of being able to fluently communicate with his teammates - and that's a huge plus.
The most important thing for an import player to have - to do well in NA - is communication. If an import is not able to fluently communicate with his teammates, a problem will occur, and it'll be hard for a team to hire him.
Do you think more Korean players will come to NA starting next year?
I think it'll be better for them to stay in Korea to gather experience and hone their skills. Player salary is now about equal between the two regions, so it'll be easier for them to just stay in Korea anyway. Also, it's rare for a player to do well when they return to Korea from overseas.
Have you ever considered the idea of returning to Korea as a coach?
It would be amazing for a strong team in Korea to hire me... But they probably won't need me, and personally, I want to stay in NA. I want to beat TSM - I want a challenge. I've beaten LCS while coaching TSM, and to be honest, the sense of accomplishment wasn't that great. TSM was already a strong team before I joined.
Why do you think TSM is such a strong team [in NA]?
First of all, TSM has some of the best players in each role. Especially the midlaner and ADC... they're undoubtedly the no.1 in NA. In my opinion, Svenskeren is the only one that seems to lack in something. But whatever the case is, all the players are great mechanically, and their teamwork is also fantastic.
Also, TSM has big expectations from fans. In Korea, every team is pressured to do well, but in NA, TSM gets the greatest amount of pressure. If they're in 1st place, people don't think too much of it. But if they're not in 1st place, they receive a ton of flak.
TSM has been such a dominant force in the NA scene... is this healthy for the league?
A lot of people might dislike the idea, but I think a team like TSM is necessary. TSM motivates the other teams to play better and gives them a goal to work for. Other teams will most likely feel a sense of inferiority when looking up at TSM, and in turn, will motivate themselves to improve.
The recent NBA Finals had the largest amount of viewers in five years - even though it was a season where the Warriors were so dominant. Sure, many people were upset that the Warriors were running over everyone, but in the end, it brought more viewers. So can we really say that it's unhealthy for the league?
The Korean esports scene was developed through StarCraft's Flash and League's SKT T1 - and in my opinion, TSM and G2 are developing the NA and EU scenes respectively... because the fastest way for weaker teams to improve is for them to look up to the best teams.