Gorillas look to be, and actually are, dangerous creatures. Their sheer size, unforgiving eyes, and fearworthy strength leave little doubt as to what will happen if someone were to knock a chip off their shoulders. But for the most part, gorillas are peaceful. Gorillas will hardly ever display aggressive behavior unless provoked; hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
In game, he's aggressive but level-headed.
Outside of it, he's firm but soft-spoken.
Beom-hyeon "GorillA" Kang rocks one of the most fitting monikers in all of eSports.
Hello. How about a short introduction to our readers?
Long time no see. Great to meet you, and I hope both the fans and I will enjoy this interview.
Congratulations on your LCK victory and Worlds qualification. How does it feel?
I really wanted a trophy ever since I started out as a professional gamer. Going through three years and four grand finals without one was harsh, so I was elated to finally win something. I will admit the victory took my feet off the ground for a short while. But now I'm ready to get back to work. We're not going to rest on our laurels. We want the Summoner's Cup.
What would you point to as the driving force behind your long-awaited tournament win?
I never had prepared this well for a grand finals before. Our winrate in scrims were closing in on 90%, and our team thought there was no chance for us to lose. The actual finals, however, was very much neck and neck; KT Rolster played out of their minds. I would have to credit our victory to the blessings of the cosmos. After all, Smeb's Game 5 Baron steal was just pure luck.
Although second place finishes are nothing to be ashamed of, no self-respecting top team would ever settle for one, let alone three. Our team very well could have disbanded if we had lost yet another finals, so I'm very happy Lady Fortune smiled on us that day.
Prior to your recent victory, you have been likened to SC:BW legend YellOw for reaching so many finals but losing all of them. How did this affect you throughout your career?
It definitely was a mental burden, especially when fans started to tease me for being a member of the “Kong Line”. I even started to joke maybe I was the problem, that maybe our team was losing so much because I always choked in big games... I had to talk with Manager NoFe over that one to feel better about it. I'm glad I can now happily joke about the past.
The general Korean community has never really recognized you as the region’s best support. Are they underrating you? Has this ever annoyed you?
I've always been confident in my abilities, but never thought of myself as the best; I know how dangerous overconfidence can be, so I’m fine with how things are. I would like to take first place in the All-Stars vote, though, even if the two-players-per-team rule ultimately cuts me off.
How were you able to overcome the wrist injury you had early on in the season?
I had really bad posture, which I'm working on, and used an abnormally low mouse sensitivity, which I tried to fix but sadly failed. My setup is so atypical and straining on the wrists that fans and pros alike are shocked when they try playing with my settings.
Since playing with a higher DPI was not an option for me, I had to take care of my wrists in other ways. One was quitting mobile games. Another was finding a better sleep posture. Perhaps most importantly, I minimized my solo queue practice. I used to care a lot about keeping up my ladder ranking; now I only play a few games and try to make the most out of them.
Have you completely recovered?
I am still taking painkillers, but those pills induce drowsiness and make it hard for me to practice. I now only take a dose right before going to bed.
You’ve successfully dealt with several slumps throughout your career. How do you do it?
My level of play fluctuates depending on confidence. Things such as injuries or bad solo queue performances lead me to perform worse in big events. Many other pros only care about scrim and tournament results, but that has never been the case for me. Ever since my days on NaJin, I felt that my tournament performance corresponded to my solo queue performance.
Have external factors ever influenced your performance?
Save for injuries, not much. I rarely leave the teamhouse, let alone meet up with friends.
Would you agree that your highs and lows have helped you ultimately reach the top?
Being the top dog forever would stress me out from anxiety. It’s okay to not perform at your best all the time. My teammates can back me up when I’m not doing too hot.
Is it true that you were responsible for bringing everyone together to form the Tigers?
I was the only player recruited by the organization; once I was in, the organization suggested I try to pick the other four. I first called Seo-haeng “KurO” Lee and he said yes. Next was Jong-in “PraY” Kim - he was considering retirement, but I saw how he was ripping up the solo queue ladder and asked him to join. Ho-jin “Hojin” Lee was also a free agent out of NaJin. For top lane, Kyung-ho “Smeb” Song and Seung-hoon “Huni” Heo were considered; Smeb joined in the end.
What about manager No Chul "NoFe" Jeong?
He really wanted to be a caster, so he first joined as caster-manager. It soon became impossible to handle both jobs at once, so he made the decision to just focus on managing.
Was joining a foreign team an option for you after parting with NaJin?
Not really, as I really wanted to lift a domestic trophy. Another reason was health; I’m the type that gets sick often and easily, so going overseas would not be great for my well-being. Also, you have to talk a lot in-game as a support, but I didn’t speak any Chinese and my English was not fluent enough. Not being able to communicate well would have really stressed me out. So I just decided to stay in Korea and do well here.
And you eventually did.
Yes. But I still don’t think I'll be going overseas. Many Korean pros have done well in foreign teams, but many others have suffered, and some have even been scammed. Moreover, due to there being so many great supports in the region, I have yet to claim the title of Best Support KR. I will keep striving to improve until I am recognized as such.
Would you say you’re the team’s leader both in-game and out of game?
As all of our players were already established pros when we got together, everyone had their own opinion on how we should play; all five of us would try to shotcall in-game. At first, I argued a lot with Smeb; our perspectives on the game were too far apart, and both of us were of strong conviction, so we had a hard time compromising. Thanks to the coaching staff, we were able to come to terms by talking it through. Now we get on really well, as you can see in our gameplay.
How about out of game?
I’m a bit on the serious side, so at first it was not easy to blend into the team atmosphere. Hojin was one hilarious man and used to be our prime jokester... I was usually the only one trying to keep it PG. And we now have a cook, but until she joined, I often took charge of keeping everyone fed. I think that's pretty much all I did for my teammates out of game.
You had it tough against SKT for a long time. What was the biggest problem?
Every sport has a psychological factor to it, and losing so many times to SKT did not help us in that regard. Oftentimes we were handicapped even before the game began. Overcoming such mental blocks is crucial in becoming a better player and a better team, but it wasn’t easy.
Let me set one thing straight, though: some people have said our LCK win “doesn’t count” since we didn’t beat SKT to win. That’s a really stupid thing to say. We met KT in the finals because they beat SKT to get there - KT was a better team than SKT. And we beat that KT. I’m a bit aggrieved; all those people are doing is discrediting KT’s and our achievements.
There’s a good chance you’ll have to play against SKT at Worlds. Are you confident?
Winning LCK helped me regain my confidence. I now can face SKT without being intimidated. If we were to meet them, I promise to put on a good show.
Our scrims against SKT are bloodbaths - both teams put their egos on the line and fight tooth and nail. However, the rivalry has led into a camaraderie of sorts, too. Many of us are good friends with the SKT players. At times it feels as if the two squads are sister teams.
Let’s move on to questions directly related to the game. In comparison to Wolf, Hachani, and Wraith, what are your strengths?
Each player has his own strengths. Wolf is great both in lane and at roaming, so there’s little for me to explain. Hachani is an excellent roamer, which is why he prefers champions like Bard. His roams really speed forward a snowball - I believe the Score-Hachani duo is better at closing out games compared to our Peanut-GorillA duo.
CoreJJ has caught my eye recently, as he uses his ADC experience to precisely calculate all four champions’ damage output - it’s something most support players can’t do. And there’s also Wraith, whose strengths lie in consistency and playing supportive/enabling champions well, such as Nami and Tahm Kench.
My strength is that I’m a jack-of-all-trades with a wide champion pool. I don’t have much of a preference for certain picks and always am ready to adapt for the team.
But I’m sure you have a champion currently out of the meta you’d like to use, no?
I’d like to see Janna in play again. I was responsible for bringing her back to popularity back when she was Tier 1, but never really got to play her at Worlds because she was always either banned or picked away by the opposing team. I never really asked the team to prioritize Janna in the draft, but in hindsight, maybe I should have asked for it - there is a tinge of regret. Not having access to Janna did weaken my influence on the game a bit. Janna played a huge part in me becoming the player I am, so I’d love for her to make a return.
Is Janna currently viable?
Not really. There are many better choices.
Who would you say is the most difficult bot duo to go up against?
In Korea, I would say it’s the Bang-Wolf duo, although I can’t comment on the Ruler-CoreJJ duo as I haven’t played against them yet. As for the other regions, I’ve been watching VODs over the vacation and were impressed with the top teams’ botlanes. EDG, G2, TSM, and C9 looked to be solid, with Deft, Zven, and Sneaky standing out. Biofrost looked to be a good player as well. I no longer can say with confidence that Korea still has the best botlanes.
Worlds is fast approaching and foreign teams are getting considerably better every year. What are your thoughts on their chances this year?
I’m pretty confident because I’ve beat many of them before, but the gap indeed has closed a lot. Fnatic last Worlds had an amazing squad and were ripping everyone apart in scrims; both SKT and we thought Fnatic would win the whole thing. Our advancing past them in the semifinals was in part due to luck - ReignOver had a really mean Gragas, so the sudden global ban was advantageous for us.
What are some key points to successfully play against foreign teams?
Botlane is all about matchups at the moment. Previously, Korean players were so much better that picking into a bad matchup didn’t mean much, but that isn’t the case now. Laneswaps no longer being viable adds to this as well. So matchups are everything.
Staying ahead in the information war would also be important, as most foreign players are happy to talk about the game. For example, I used Trundle in the LCK Grand Finals because G2 Mithy let me in on his strength.
So would a lot just come down to the draft?
Right. It’s a matter of choice. You can’t pick three winning lanes, so teams have to make a conscious decision as to which lane(s) they want to empower.
Will ROX continue to draft around top, or should we expect something different?
At this point, I think our strategy of snowballing top has been figured out. I’m not even sure if that still is a good strategy, as many toplane champions have received recent nerfs.
You can’t win Worlds with just one exceptional laner; there is only so much a team can do with such limited resources. A team is only truly strong when all of its lanes are strong. All three of our lanes are strong, so I trust our manager NoFe will be able to draft flexibly.
Will the new patch bring new supports into the Worlds meta?
I think we'll be seeing ranged supports as they're strong in the laning phase. Not Janna, though.
Champions you expect to see the most?
Bard. He’s amazing at roaming and teamfighting while being able to hold his own in lane.
Will we see some unexpected picks at Worlds?
Many teams are afraid of change, so it’s unlikely, especially when you consider the gravity of the tournament. I personally tried many different champions during my vacation, and felt that most of the off-meta picks right now are off-meta for a good reason. Most can’t keep up with the early game power of the meta ADCs - even Annie.
Thoughts on the latest patch killing off laneswaps?
It’s more fun not to laneswap; the better team can’t snowball as easily in a laneswap situation. I do think that the game basically being decided in the laning phase is a problem, however.
It has been said that removing laneswaps has led to a better spectator experience.
True. But games may end up being too one-sided. The current meta feels very similar to the days when Samsung Ozone dominated. They used to win lane then let Dandy and Mata roam around the map to close. In that vein, I think Mata will do great with RNG this Worlds.
Would you agree that the Uzi-Mata duo disappointed in the LPL playoffs?
Uzi is a very aggressive player; he shines most when he can assume the enemy jungler isn’t there and just go full aggro alongside Mata. RNG’s midlaner and jungler did not do so well in the playoffs, so the opposition were able to punish Uzi and Mata for overextending in lane.
I guess we have time for a few more questions. You’re well known for having a silver tongue - do you have any plans to transition into casting after retirement?
I tend to worry a lot, so I’ve worried about my future a lot. I won’t be able to play competitively forever. I believe my main selling point is my knowledge about games, so I do want to stay in the industry after I retire and finish my mandatory military service. Commentary is one option.
Supports are usually considered to be the most cerebral players. Would your having been a support help you if you were to move into commentary?
To be honest, that’s not true. It’s an urban myth made by supports to inflate their value [laughs]. In-game positions have nothing to do with game knowledge. Faker understands the game better than most, and he’s a midlaner. Smeb has a great read on the game as well, although he’s often preoccupied with his own lonely little 1v1 up top [laughs].
Supporters do have extra breathing room, though. The other four positions are often tied up with micro, whereas supports can spare a moment or two to look at the grand scheme of things. This also applies to teamfights.
What’s your dream?
Manager Jung Suk "Reach" Park is my role model. He told me "You need to maintain a good image. I wouldn't able to work as a manager if I had an unprofessional reputation," and I agree. Making a good impression and caring what other people think about me may seem lame or fake, but in the end it really is just about trying to be a better person. I want to be someone like Reach. I want to be remembered not only for my good performances but also for my admirable professionalism and respectable character.
Any last words for your fans?
Thanks to Inven for arranging the interview. Big thanks to my fans who supported me even when I wasn’t playing so well. I’d like to ask for your continued support - I'll always do my best to help my team stay successful.