We gaze upon other people as we live out our lives. Sometimes when we do gaze upon someone, we may feel better or worse accordingly. This concept is amplified in the presence of numerous people (especially in the public). Our perception becomes a lot more sensitive. There is no way around the fact that their actions will be publicized in some way or form.
This goes the same for pro gamers. Fans who love the game will watch not only the pros playing the game but also their outside activities and tendencies. It is inevitable to receive sharp criticism and loving support at the same time from these fans, sometimes excessive criticism cannot be avoided. It is almost as if you go from a hot tub and then a ice tub back and forth, endlessly. Pro gamers have to live in an eSports pro ‘world’ where not only your physical but also your mental has to be steadfast. They must be able to endure the hardships.
It has been 2 years in SKT T1 that Blank has been skipping from hot tub to ice tub. This is what Blank had to say on the matter.
“The thing about people’s reaction is that when you’re doing well they lift you up and if you’re doing bad they pull you down. What I got from this is ‘as long as I do well, I can change the views that others have of me’. I should not focus on other people’s views but try to focus on my own play.”
At an age of not even 20 years old (born in 1998), Blank gave a very mature and insightful answer than what we were expecting. We were very surprised. The staggering part is Blank figured this all about through his own experiences. It was not like someone gave him advice or told him to think in this way. I wonder what has happened to him to make him think in this way.
Meeting with Blank while he prepares for Worlds 2017, we got a chance to gain some insight into a deeper understanding of his journey while in SKT for 2 years.
Taking his first step into a world renowned team, SKT, for the first time in 2016, Blank must have experienced a mix of pure joy and incredible pressure. On top of this, the legendary Bengi (Seong-ung Bae) was assigned to the same position as Blank in the Jungle.
“While I was playing in China, I thought to myself to make sure I make it into the Korean scene the following year. It was a very difficult time for me back then. My skills didn’t improve and my communication with my team was non-existent. I contacted the team first. I passed their tests and I applied to the team with a mindset to improve/learn.
Back then, Bengi was an absolute legend in the jungle. I really wanted to be just like him. I still do. He was extremely nice and always a good mentor to look upon. At that time, I had no idea on how anything really worked. Through Bengi, I learned so much. He would stand behind me and watch as I practiced. Since we had two Junglers for our team, Bengi and I could bounce ideas and information back and forth which was nice.
At the time, I didn’t see it as a competitive standpoint playing with SKT. I viewed it as simply a teammate helping out my team. When I did get defeated in games,...I did not necessarily feel disappointed but thought ‘I should try harder’.”
Whilst in the process of learning, Blank’s LCK debut was sooner than expected. In the spring split 1st round 2nd match again Jin Air, Blank was put into the test. Unfortunately, it resulted in a painful defeat. Having many problems since then, Blank had to overcome the loss.
“At that time, I payed a lot of attention on what people thought about me. I always kept myself updated with the community. When I don’t perform well in a game, I inevitably receive criticism. Because of this, I start to get concerned about this criticism and this will carry on to the next game, where I do not perform well. If I make one mistake in a game, I can’t cope with it. My head just goes blank. This was the biggest problem.
The team provided Psychological counseling. I would wake up around 8 in the morning and start by answering some questions. The Psychologist was also a professional athlete so I learned a lot of know-how from him. It really helped me a lot.
The director and coach helped me a lot. My teammates… because they are guys, it is always difficult to talk about certain subjects. A tap on the back kind of thing? We wouldn’t need to say anything to each other. We would just tap on the back and the person will know exactly what it means (laughs).
I personally stopped looking at the community. The thing about people’s ‘feedback’ is that if you do good they say something nice, and if you do bad they say something bad. So, I changed my mindset to ‘If I keep performing well, I can change how I view myself’. I rather focus on myself and my plays instead of focusing on other people’s opinions.
How I release stress? I just sing. I go to Karaoke, sometimes even alone. I went alone recently actually. I used to go to Karaoke with Untara a lot but recently he has been too busy and hasn't gone with me since. I don’t think I am a good singer but I sing a variety of songs and sing a LOT.”
In all honesty while talking about things about the past in a joking voice, I was curious about something. It might be a very weird and sensitive question but, I trusted Blank to laugh it off and genuinely answer the question so I took a leap of faith. It was a very controversial topic at the time. ‘Why did you use your full combo on a target with Taric ulti?’.
“Uh… wait a minute. I think I erased that instance from my memory (laughs). If we have to bring it up again, I knew Taric’s ulti gave immunity to damage, but there is a timer on which that immunity activates and I didn’t know that timer. I threw my spear but it became all sparkly all of a sudden. At that moment, I didn’t realize the target was immune and that is why that whole scene happened. As a pro player, I should know this but I admit it was my clear mistake.”
Although with a face of slight regret, Blank did not avoid the question. Blank answering, gave room for freedom. Thanks to him, the mood/vibe of the interview was comfortable. There were many ups and downs but Blank finally made it to the 2016 World Championships. Every pro player’s dream is to make it to Worlds. Because it is Blank’s first appearance at Worlds, people speculated “what if his performances is not as good?”.
Against ROX Tiger’s, SKT put ‘Bengi, Blank, Blank, Bengi, Bengi’ in the quarterfinals. Against Samsung Galaxy, SKT put Bengi, Bengi, Bengi, Blank, Bengi. Every game Blank has been in resulted in a loss whereas every game Bengi was in resulted in a win. Bengi seen as a carry hero, Blank’s performance in the last few rounds were buried naturally.
▲ 2016 World Championships Quarterfinals, 'Bengi' and 'Blank' hugging each other after win
Nevertheless, Blank was incredibly happy that his team won, and felt only that. As soon as Blank saw that his team won, He ran straight towards Bengi and gave him a hug. We felt so much joy at that moment.
▲ Carrying on 'B''s legacy!
This scene reaccured not even a year later but this time it was Blank hugging another team member, Peanut. Before we talk about Peanut joining, we have to talk about the 2017 summer playoffs against kt Rolster. On this day, SKT had 2 losses in a best out of 5 bracket. Blank carried his team with 3 consecutive wins to win the playoffs against kt Rolster.
“It was a very interesting experience for me. At last year’s World Championships, Bengi redeemed me and I was so happy that I ran to hug him. This time however, Peanut came running to me and hugging me after we beat kt Rolster. I had a good time. It felt strangely amazing? From a spectator point of view, the loss-loss-win-win-win may be entertaining to watch but for the players it is nerve racking.
What do I think about playing in a set where one loss can be the end? Firstly, I always have confidence. That’s the way it should be. I was also extremely passionate. It is not the mindset of “if we lose one we are eliminated”. For me it was “even if I lose I only lost one game”. That mindset kept my mind at ease and it really helped me perform better. The less pressure you put on yourself, the more control you have over your mental/mind.
I had confidence to beat kt Rolster in the playoffs. In the first two games, I don’t believe we exerted our skill. Because of this, I was very confident we can comeback and win. Even before game 3 started, we were talking to each other about stories of us winning the series. It wasn't with any bad intentions. We just wanted to lift the mood for everyone and regain some confidence going into the 3rd match.
I saw kt getting a little bit impatient inside the game. It was very similar to how we were last year. Last year’s playoffs, kt went win-win-loss-loss-loss. We also won 2 games in a row and lost the rest. Because we had the experience of losing that way, I think it helped us gain that loss-loss-win-win-win against kt.”
In 2016, Peanut transferred from being ROX Tiger’s Jungler to SKT T1’s Jungler in 2017. He became yesterday’s enemy and today’s ally. Peanut showed such great talent and performances in 2016. Blank could not have helped but feel threatened for his position. When a new player joins the roster, it is very likely for that player to be selected for the first few games. It would have been inevitable for competition between him and Peanut. However, Blank greeted Peanut with an open and positive mind.
“Peanut played extremely well in 2016. Oh and Peanut smites exceptionally well. Me on the other hand… I can’t really smite that well. We learn from each other a lot and I knew we were going to have really good synergy. Peanut being on the team makes me want to try harder and be better.
Did I learn any steal know-how from Peanut? I don’t think so. I just watch him from behind when he plays. I don’t really need to tell him anything. When there is a crucial moment in the game, I can see Peanut shaking his keyboard while he presses on his keys. I think he was just born with the skill. Peanut’s rate of stealing Baron/Dragon is extremely high. If there is a chance to steal he will do it.
I think smiting has a direct correlation to reaction speed. When I see Peanut timing his smite, I genuinely think it is all skill and no luck involved. Oh him getting out-smited? That is also skill (laughs).”
The incredible power SKT’s Top and Jungle had was immensely reinforced to the point they had no need to fear any team in 2017. However, danger was never gone. After the loss at Rift Rivals, SKT was recorded to have their first 4 loss streak. Blank explained that it was mostly because of his lack of skill. After the loss against Samsung, Blank lost all confidence in himself and this continued throughout the next 4 games. It was so bad that he couldn’t even pull through one win in a series.
To make matters worse, SKT was hit by outside controversy. As I mentioned earlier, I claimed that ‘mental’ is one of the most important factors in the eSports scene. Therefore, I trod lightly onto the topic and asked how these issues have affected the player’s performances.
“I am not sure about other players but, for me personally, I don’t think it affects me too much. I believe people’s opinions on our play and how we play are completely different. If I was myself last year, it would have affected me really hard. Since my mental has gotten a lot tenacious, I have no problems dealing with it now. Of course there are going to be players who get tilted from some of the comments people say, but most pro players are veterans by now. Their mental does not easily get shaken. A loss streak just means you lacked skill.
I often talk to my team before matches to not get tilted too easily. I’ll tell them to play as we practiced and we will do just fine. Because, we have trust in each other.”
From such confident responses, I felt and knew Blank has been working non-stop on his mind control. Blank said that he does not blame external factors to his performance. He does not give excuses if he played bad. When Blank knows he played well, he feels absolute pure pleasure.
Last few topics are going to be on the current play-in stage for the World Championships. In the 2017 season, SKT has subs for Top, Mid, and Jungle. Since only 6 members can come to Worlds per team, they had to pick one of the subs out of 3. Everyone was curious to see who the 6th member for SKT at Worlds would be. THe lane that was the most concerning during the LCK period was Top lane. Therefore, I had a questioning eye for that lane.
“I didn’t hear the story behind the choice so I’m not exactly sure. In my opinion, I think Jungle can be utilized much more compared to that of Top lane. When I got news I was the one going to Worlds, I felt very subtle. I had in mind that there was a chance I might not go to Worlds.
If it is for the team’s best interest I can’t say much. Obviously from an individual standpoint, I am very happy I got to go. Winning is above all top priority. Would have I been sad if I didn’t get picked? Can I go with no comment (laughs)? I would have been slightly disappointed for sure. The World Championships is a tournament that concludes an entire season so…”
LCK is considered the best region and Korean teams are considered, for a long time, to be the strongest. Last year in July at Rift Rivals, Korea got defeated by China. Many people were astonished Korea lost. Especially because, Korea has won the Championships since Season 3, and they would always make it to the final round. Most people predict that this trend will continue for this year as well.
“The most ideal group placements will be not to face any Korean teams till the finals. Of course, it would be nice to not go up against any Korean teams in the finals as well (laughs). Longzhu and Samsung are both very strong teams. I do not want to vs them in the finals. For this year, the 3 Korean teams will make it to the quarterfinals. Korean teams as always been strong.
I feel like the other regional teams grow in strength every day. They shouldn’t be calling it ‘Wild Card’ anymore because some of these teams are extremely talented. The region I am most wary about is obviously China. I watch a lot of Chinese games. Chinese teams in general, are all very strong. I can’t forgot about TSM. We should keep an eye out for TSM as they are the representative 1st place team from NA. Their Mid and Jungle synergy is really good and Doublelift has been performing amazing recently as well.
Our main goal right now is to come first in our group seed (A). The second place will probably be EDG or AHQ, but I think EDG is a little bit stronger than AHQ.”
Our thoughts aren’t too far from what Blank thinks. Other regional teams are getting better, but Korean teams will always be top dogs. Blank has shown some disappointment in the change in meta. World Championships patch 7.18 is getting hard carried by Ardent Censer because of it’s amazing synergy with ADC. It is so impactful there is even a saying of “I got Censer”. Ardent Censer covers for the weak early to mid game and has revolutionized the games.
“Honestly the stress is immense. Solo ranking got harder. Even if I shut down the enemy bot lane, their carry ADC and Censer support will just all of a sudden end the game. If I give away even one kill in a teamfight, there is no counter play. It is rare for this to happen, but, if Twitch bot with Ardent Censer wins lane? You can never win that game (laughs).
From a Jungle’s standpoint, I wish they removed Ardent Censer. No matter how good you play as Jungle, if the enemy has Ardent Censer, the game is extremely difficult to win. The only fair way is to get your own Ardent Censer. Another method is to destroy the lane with Ardent Censer, but in pro levels, it is extremely difficult. I want to find another way to counter it but honestly other than going your own Ardent Censer, there is no answer.
I am not sure yet if the meta is good or bad for our team. I think it is half half. We haven’t yet tried the Ardent Censer comp in a tournament. I guess we just have to wait and see what the outcome will be when we use it at Worlds.”
In the span of only an hour, we got such an insightful look into the story of Blank. He is honest when he needs to be and he also answered some questions with his own humor. We can clearly see that not only his skills but also his maturity has grown a lot. It is almost time to take Blank and his team on a place to China. We await their journey in claiming the 4th title for the World Championships.
“I want to thank all the fans who have constantly supported us. I have gotten a lot of nicknames from my fans. I think they have a very unique thought process. I am amazed how they can come up with such interesting ideas, and I am also very thankful for it. I especially like images inspired by ‘DarkKnight’ and ‘Parody’. Both of those are from one of my fondest movies I like to watch. Very nice nicknames to have.
I want to also thank all the foreign fans for letting us stay at your region. I promise I will go to China and win while showing a good performance!”