Last month (24h), kt Rolster’s historical moment came to fruition when Head Coach Lee Ji-hoon signed his resignation. He was a renowned professional player, winning 18 championships and had 10 years of leadership under his belt. It was almost impossible to believe because Lee Ji-hoon was pretty much kt Rolster itself.
kt Rolster had a dream team with Smeb and Deft. They tried their best but could only be the runner up in the 2017 season. Even based on these results, no one could have guessed Lee Ji-hoon’s resignation. Many fans commented in skepticism saying “No way he is going to resign right?”.
However, Lee Ji-hoon took blame for his team’s performance and also expressed his gratitude towards the team. Same with everyone else, kt’s players did not take the news too well. They knew very well that Lee Ji-hoon was not just a coach but a person who was binded with the name/team of kt Rolster.
Ending his journey with kt Rolster, Coach Lee Ji-hoon told us, however, that he is only leaving for the meantime. Wanting a last farewell from Lee Ji-hoon, we had the opportunity to interview Lee Ji-hoon. As a contributor of eSports, Lee Ji-hoon gave his warm thanks to his team and his fans.
“I had thought about resigning if the results of our team was not promising enough. I think all coaches alike have this thought come to them when they start their season. I originally wanted to give my resignation after the World Championships had started. I decided to hold on a little bit longer due to my love and consideration for the team.”
Although I can see a lot of emotion coming from your statements, it seems the situation is neither good nor bad for you. Maybe it is because you are not a coach at this moment but a someone who consistently engages with the community/watch Worlds. With the increased leisure time, you have not stopped in putting hours into the eSports scene by playing PUBG.
“I just tend to meet up with a lot of people recently. Regardless of what I do, it seems like all I do at the end of the day is watch Worlds. When my wife asks what I am doing, I just tell her I’m watching Worlds. She gets said when I say this and responds with ‘why are you watching Worlds? Are you an angel of eSports watching them like that?’. It was what I used to do for work, so it becomes frustrating to me if I don’t watch.
My daughter is still very young so she doesn’t know I quit my job yet. My wife is happy I quit. Since I started seeing her while I was coaching, I never had much free time to take care of my family. That’s just how my wife works. She would express her feelings instead of me. My wife would express from time to time that she would like if I quit. However reading from the heart warming comments from my supporters, she said “Seeing from all the support you are getting, it seem at least you must have done exceptionally well at your job”
Not only Lee Ji-hoon but also the whole kt Rolster team has to experience some changes. Since he has always been at the side with kt, the players must be experiencing a lot of crisis in the lack of their beloved coach. However, Lee Ji-hoon and Mata had a few drinks together saying things were not as bad as it seemed. Still, Lee Ji-hoon said it felt strange going to work for the last time.
“I told Score about the news before anyone else and he wouldn’t believe me. When I told the other players soon after, they all laughed thinking it was a joke and didn’t believe me as well. After figuring out it was the truth, they all apologized and it made me feel very melancholy. At the final moments, I did discuss if it was the best for me to stay with the team.
When FlaSh heard the news, he said he was going to start streaming and that my decision was smart. At that moment, I realized even FlaSh had felt the pressure. Himself included, he told me that I can’t help but be worried for the future. FlaSh told me that quitting the work I have been doing everyday will lead to better and new experiences.
It was incredibly hard for me to see the faces of the kt Rolster’s team. They would look at me with faces of “damn he is actually leaving” as I was packing my belongings. Joy and sorrow do not usually go alongside one another but this was the first time I have felt it.”
Even in the process of leaving the position, coach Lee Ji-hoon did not stop worrying for his team. It showed how much he really cared and felt sorry for the team. He asked coach Oh Chang-jong (who he has lived with the a while) to take care of the team for him.
“I was with the team for such a long time before I left. I think it is crucial for coach Oh Chang-jong to stay with the team as he knows all the basics. Since he needs to prepare for the upcoming season, there is going to be a lot of pressure on him. From all the coaches I have seen and worked with so far, coach Oh Chang-jong is by far the most optimistic and dedicated coach. I hope our fans will support him along the way.”
It must have not been easy to leave a line of work that you dedicated over 10 years into. It must have also been even more uneventful for the fans of Lee Ji-hoon. It would have taken an incredible amount of courage to leave a line of work that one has spent most of their 20’s and 30’s in. I started to reminisce with coach Lee Ji-hoon and talked a little bit about the future and the past.
“I had a lot of worry back then because I went to the army shortly after I retired as a professional player. Afterwards, I rejected the position as coach of kt twice. When I was a professional player, I had no thought of wanting to become a coach hence why I refused the offer. However, it was difficult to refuse the 3rd time around. I accepted the offer and decided to work as a coach for 5 years. So I thought. Before I knew it, 10 years would pass by. eSports has evolved so much compared to the past that it is almost incomparable.
Now I’ll be 40 years old in a year or two. If you’re a male over 40 in Korea, people make you worry about a lot of things. I figured it would not be wise to stay in one place for a long time but rather be better to try new things. On the other hand, I am a little bit nervous of what lies ahead as I have only lived in the kt Rolster’s system for as long as I can remember.
Most people tell me that I left kt because I have already found another job to go to but that is not the case. That will be a very ill mannered act to do to my fellow team and faculty. After quitting, I am planning to ask my co-workers for advice on options for the near future. I assume if someone or some team needs me, they will contact me right?
Looking back at my time with kt Rolster, every moment I had with them was the happiest moments of my life. I was the most happiest when we won 2 titles in Starcraft as a Starcraft coach. I remember this one time, the finals got cancelled because of a storm in China. It also happens that my wedding date also got postponed because of this. The company was furious. It was probably the most important moment of my life, and they would ask if I could postpone it. I agreed and it turned out pretty good for me. We won the finals the following day, and the next day I had my wedding. I could never forget that finals stage because it was so dramatic.”
It may be that everyone was predicting the worst but yet curious of kt’s potential. Being such a dream team line up may be the reason why kt’s results were not as good as they hoped. There was bound to some questions regarding kt’s synergy. At least, coach Lee Ji-hoon could conjure some sense of unity to the team.
“Firstly, Starcraft players could get assigned their own personal coach so 1 on 1 sessions where possible. Because League of Legends is a team based game rather than a solo game, it is extremely difficult to sync the minds of 5 players. If the relationship between positions have conflict, it affects the picks/bans as well. I would tell them not to worry about it too much because it is my fault.
So many talented players gathered in one place, and their intentions were all strong. I did, however, worry about if it was possible to create a fluid and synergistic team in a year’s time. That is how much each player on kt had their own strong personalities. It takes a lot of time for them to swallow their pride and work together as a team. LCK is not a place where individuals can survive on their own talent alone.”
The title of the dream roster. The pressure to please everyone’s high expectations. However, they did not neglect putting in numerous amounts of night hours for practice. Coach Lee Ji-hoon and coach Oh Chang-jong put several hours into the team even on non work hours. However, the professional world is cruel and no matter how many hours you put in… someone has to be on the losing end.
“It is really hard to get a unison agreement amongst the players because they are the top players in the world. This is not the player’s fault. This is because, all the players who entered kt have all tasted victory. Because of this, it is extremely difficult to change one’s style due to their longevity as a professional player. Due to each player having different calls that they think is right, shotcalling does not come easy. Therefore, it takes an immense amount of time for a team to be as one.
Although it is unfortunate our results were not as good as we hoped, I have no regrets. Who will ever get an opportunity to have a lineup like this? Isn’t this lineup a lineup that everyone has imagined at least once? Deft-Mata has the roaming potential. We wanted to try out with Smeb, but all the players were in one place. I wonder if there is a tiny bit of regret. Of course I am leaving with an apologetic mind, since we could not please the fans who have anticipated great things from these players. I would like to believe, I found just the right time to leave the team.”
Although it was his time to leave, Lee Ji-hoon’s role on kt Rolster was a significant one. Lee Ji-hoon was the one who did everything he could to recruit Smeb, Deft, and Mata. Most of the eSports coaches meet up with the players for a one on one negotiations, but Lee Ji-hoon will meet up with the players without making them feel uncomfortable.
“I try my best to follow the thoughts of the players. It is strange that players bring their own atmosphere to the game. Even though their ages are all relatively the same, the play style they play are drastically different. It took a lot of time to match their play styles. We would watch kpop girl group music videos together and practice community terminology.
Even though they are professional players, there are all still young. As much as the communication between teammates is of the utmost importance, the communication with the staff is also crucial. This is how players can freely communicate with me or other members of the staff if they have some concerns. However, Faker doesn’t take jokes too well. I would say ‘Faker just play decent today’ and he would respond ‘I’m going to try my best today and win’. He is immune to jokes or humor.”
A small episode with the players. Talking about the stories with the players over the 10 years, time passed by in an instant. We are looking forwards to what the next 10 years will bring for Lee Ji-hoon rather than being concerned. He gave his last regards to his fans and the eSports scene.
“Personally, a professional player will fall for these reasons, 1: Girlfriend and 2: Cars. There are a lot of professional players that are doing well with their girlfriends freely. These players are the players who know how to take care of themselves at a mature age. I, personally, would consider my girlfriend apart of me and whenever I win it is thanks to her. However when you start doing well and then start falling, you need to find out what the problems are.
Right now, I feel sorry for the players. Right now, we live in a very competitive society, right? Back then, during the StarCraft era, players made whatever excuse that they can to meet up with their girlfriend. It wasn't a team game, so organizations had often just let them go. But it's a different case for League of Legends.
During the early parts of a season, players and members from the coaching staff get together and schedule out the entire year. You can already imagine how little personal time the players get. If they get sick, they swallow a pill and continue working - sometimes even playing while being injected with IV. As an adult, it's extremely frustrating to be stripped of free time like that. But the problem is, every team is currently practicing like that. When they start receiving flak whenever they underperform, they become hurt - both physically and mentally. As a professional player, of course, there are things you need to sacrifice. But please, remember that these guys are human beings too.”
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