[Interview] Coach Ssong: "I would like to believe it was a dream come true to have the opportunity to coach in NA."

Not too long ago, news was announced that Immortals will be excluded from the 2018 NA LCS. Since it was such an out of the blue news pop up, many thought it was just a rumor. Immortals is not a team that lacks skill/talent in any way. In the last summer split, Immortals placed runner up in the NA LCS and also qualified for the World Championships. This is still not to say that there weren’t any problems outside of the team. Immortals has a League of Legends team still had it’s rumors floating around.

Hearing this news, the first person that came into mind was Immortal’s coach (Coach Ssong). Coach Ssong was a one of a kind coach in the eSports scene with an unparalleled level of professionalism. He played an impressive role not only as a coach but also as a player. Although it is not unheard of for a player to step into the role of a coach, coach Ssong has always had a major impact on the scene.

The IMT with Ssong during the Summer Split was completely different to the one from Spring. Despite the player roster remaining relatively the same - aside from Xmithie - the team’s play style and overall skill received a significant bump. Although the coach that brought such significance to a team is currently teamless, many doubt at the idea that he won’t find one soon, as he is a needed staff in just about any team.

The timing couldn’t have been any better. After the 2017 World Championship, Ssong returned to his home country, Korea. He is currently not affiliated to any team, and there is no currently ongoing tournament. It was the perfect opportunity for us to speak to him about his present and future. As soon as we got contact, our team headed to ‘Ilsan’ Korea to hear from him.

¤ It has been a couple of months since our last encounter. I recall the last time seeing you around the 6th during the 2nd round of the NA LCS. How have you been?


I’ve been doing pretty good. Worlds have finally been concluded. Luckily, a lot of people enjoyed the performance, so I have been staying at ease with nothing really burdening me.



¤ Firstly, I want to talk to you about Immortal’s disbandment. It must have been quite a surprise. How did it happen?


We were almost fairly certain the NA LCS franchise approved of Immortals. This is why it was such a shock to hear Immortals had been excluded from the NA LCS franchise. Failure to join the NA LCS has become reality. Because of this, the disbandment of Immortals is near. I have heard there are a lot of rumors going around about being unable to join the NA LCS. I am sure Riot Games will release news about it in the recent future.


¤ It was not like Immortals didn’t perform well last split. Your fan base was at an all-time high. It was very unfortunate to hear.


Yeah, it is unfortunate. We had really good results last season, and we were excited to perform next season. For me personally, because I have only been a coach for a short time, I wanted to work with Immortals as a coach for longer.


¤ The players must have also been astonished. How were the reactions from the players?


Because every member of Immortals thought they were going to get into the NA LCS, they were all extremely shocked and surprised. I think this is why a few players would leave related comments on Twitter. It is very unfortunate because the players yielded incredible results in such a short span of the team’s creation. Each player gained the trust of their teammates but could not meet up to their expectations. They are all very good players. I think you will definitely see them in the next year’s NA LCS. I believe the players with find another team and face off against each other in good faith.


¤ Not too long ago, there was an article about you finding a new team. A lot of people were curious what team you were going to. From last year, your career has been going really well without any issues. Some people were claiming that you were going to transfer to TSM as a coach because the former TSM coach is retiring. If TSM offered a position as coach to you, would you accept the offer?


I would have to consider it, but I think it will be a great opportunity for me. I believe TSM is a team that is capable of holding their own against the best teams in the world. If I join TSM, I will try my best to not only make TSM the best team in NA but also the best team in the world.


¤ If there were no restrictions and importance in team’s skill, what region would you like to coach in? LPL, LCK, or NA/EU LCS?


If I had to choose purely the league alone  hmmm... I’m not sure (laughs). I think every league has its ups and downs. At this instance, I have a lot of interest in the NA LCS and the LCK. I would like to believe it was a dream come true to have the opportunity to coach in NA. Usually players, staff, and coaches alike experience homesick when working overseas. I have experience more joy working in NA compared to being worry of the future. No matter what region I go to, I will still experience a lot of stress. However, when I’m in NA, I can go for a drive and explore the beautiful sights to really help relieve some of the stress.


Watching the two LCK teams battle it out in the finals made my passion burn brighter than ever. Next year if I get the opportunity to, I would like to be apart of an LCK team and show our dominant performance on the stage like we saw in MSI and Worlds. However, not including the 2 regions (NA and KR), I still have a lot of interest in other regions as well.


¤ The players must be looking for a new team as well. Are there any players that have already found a team?


There shouldn’t be a player at this moment who has decided what team they are going to transfer to. It is really hard to say as their contracts all expire at different times. Since the players on Immortals are all very talented, I am sure they have gotten many contacts from good teams. Because they are all talented players, I’m also sure things will go for the better for them.


¤ Looking at the NA LCS, I think it is very difficult to see new players in the scene. What are your thoughts on this?


I agree. It is quite difficult to see a new professional player come to the scene. A long time ago, the NA LCS was running with a 2 team based league, there were always a multitude amount of teams in need of players. This gave a lot of opportunities for newcomers to gain some experience. However as League is constantly changing, the opportunities for new players to play and gain experience has diminished.


This is also because the solo queue mentality is looked down upon. As other sports do training exercises and stretch before a game, I believe League approaches their preparation/practice in a similar way. Stretching would be the equivalent of the solo queue for League. Although it is considered practice, the solo queue does not help improve a player’s teamwork. I believe solo queue is a system that only supports individualistic skill.


It is a good system to improve a player’s individual skill and game sense. This is why I think the solo queue is very important. Because of this, I would hope that every NA user would change their mentality towards solo queue. If I can also play a role to shift the views of solo queue, I would be honored. I believe this will aid all the rookies of each respective league immensely to be easily recognized.


¤ Let’s talk briefly about the World Championships. Did the matchups for Worlds go as expected?


I think the majority of the predictions were true. However, there were slight deviations when it came to game scores. Especially leading up from the group stages to the quarterfinals, there were a lot of things that went opposite to my predictions. Teams that I thought would not perform as good tended to perform up and beyond. Looking at the opponent’s point of view, it must have been quite embarrassing.


The teams that showed the most polar opposite of what I predicted was Misfits and WE. Their performances were directly opposite from one another. Misfits showed an incredible performance, and it amazed me. On the other hand, WE performed rather poorly compared to my expectations and was a bit unfortunate.


I think Misfits is a really good team. To be honest, Misfits pulling off those strategies and picks is a very difficult thing to do on an international stage like Worlds. Without being scared or having doubt, Misfits executed their strategy perfectly. This just shows how much trust they have in their teammates and shotcalling. Misfits has been able to establish an environment with a lot of positive feedback. For example, POE’s Nashor’s Tooth build. To be honest, I still to this day do not understand the build path. Because his teammates gave him good feedback, POE is able to use such a build comfortably. The performance from the Gigabyte Marines also amazed me.


¤ Immortals failed to qualify for the quarterfinals. How did you feel from this unfortunate result?


It was very unfortunate. To be honest, when we got placed in Group B, I thought we had a really good chance of making it to the quarterfinals (laughs). I believe the meta did not suit our team that well. The players and myself included experienced a lot of stress trying to adapt to the meta.


Because our team has a very aggressive style of play, we practiced in a way to go alongside our team’s style. However, the results were not as good as we hoped. There were some negative opinions on our tactics from our players as well. Because of this, we started to practice with the meta. The meta didn’t fit us and this was the problem. Looking at the support (Olleh) alone, he is good and tends to prioritize offensive champions. The jungler, Xmithie, also has a very aggressive style of play and usually gets his leads through sheer aggression. However, the current meta blocks out aggression and keeps the laners in place for most of the early game.


Our top lane is also very aggressive. Since our bot lane is defensive due to the Ardent Censer meta,we could not afford to pick an aggressive top. We did try it out once. We focused on the top side of the map with the jungler. Because of this, our bot lane just got utterly destroyed. We did somehow win that game, but it was extremely difficult.


Trying to go alongside the meta, players who cannot adapt as easy to the meta have a tough time. Trying to play according to a new meta, a player is bound to make a few mistakes.


In the group stage and in the boot camp in Korea, any strategy or team composition without Ardent Censer resulted in losses. As soon as Ardent Censer came into the meta, aggressive supports have had a difficult time. Game was flipped upside down. Many teams started to realize, Twitch and Janna has a high chance to carry the game if they do not lose too bad in the early game. Players and coaches alike agreed with this combo. Even though there were a couple games when teams tried to offset the meta, most of the games did not go too well. Trying to offset the meta, in fact, became an inevitable loss.


After we got eliminated before the quarterfinals, things changed. I’m not sure when Misfits started to prepare their strategy, but they showed us it was possible to offset the meta. My memory might be a little bit hazy. However from what I remember, I don’t think I have ever seen them use that strategy against us in scrims. If we could have found a similar tactic to what Misfits used, we would have done much better. Unfortunate.


¤ TSM’s elimination was also a big surprise. Gathering all the coaches from the LCK, everyone thought TSM would make it to the quarterfinals this year.


Because Ardent Censer is the meta right now, it puts even more emphasis on the importance of teamfighting. Since it is such an ADC focused meta, consistent plays are more valued compared to time to time superplays. Also, TSM is a team that teamfights incredible smart and well.


Instead of the previous metas where you snowball from picks, the current meta only allows snowball to occur if there is a 5v5 teamfight. Because TSM is so good at those 5v5 teamfights, LCK coaches rated TSM very high. The only thing that changed the outcome was that the enemy team just did it better than TSM.


¤ After Worlds, a major patch will hit the live servers, and following it, many changes will come. How will this affect the players? ** The interview took place before Patch 7.2 **

Quite some time ago, when Riot was testing a patch before release, I took part and tested the patch alongside the players.

When the official patch hits, it could definitely bring change to the “outside” appearance of a professional match. But I don’t think any patch can truly shake up the foundation of the game - say for example, knocking away the EU meta. But since so many changes are coming, I think both players and those who are watching will have fun. To be honest, LoL, as a game, only had “minor” adjustments, which have been mostly just minor shifts in the meta. The game has been played in the same way for a long time.


¤ I think that’s enough talk about Worlds. Let’s go back to talking about you. At the moment, you aren’t affiliated to any organizations yet. Have you receiving any offers so far?

I feel like I receive too much attention for my own good. I can’t disclose any real information here, but I can tell you that I have received quite a bit of offers. As a matter of fact, among the many offers, there is a particular team that I am very interested in joining. The process will take some time, but I think I’ll be able to reveal the team at the end of the year.

I’ve noticed that teams from different regions plan out their roster during different times of the year - the “player and staff hiring period” varies per region. That’s why I’m taking my time before deciding.

“Which of these teams have what I want?” The things I can bring to a team, varies from team to team.


¤ What was the most memorable moment for you during your stay in IMT?

At the beginning of the Summer Split. When I met the players for the very first time, the team atmosphere was terrible. The first thing I heard when I talked with them was: “There are a lot of problems with this team.” This reflected on our scrim results as well; we lost a lot.

On top of that, we had to face TSM during the 1st week of the Split. At the time, the players were very used to losing, but when you beat a team like TSM, it can completely flip the team atmosphere for the better.

If we haven’t beaten TSM at that time to receive that boost, our final result at the end of the Split might’ve been different.

At the time, it was hard... but it’s a good memory now.


¤ It must be a bit disappointing to not have a team to coach for quite a long period of time. Was there a personal goal that you had in mind during your stay in IMT?

Of course. I wanted to show the fans that we weren’t just a team that’s good at utilizing an aggressive style of play. I wanted to show them that we were a team that stays up-to-date with the meta and kites well - that we are a team that’s great at teamfighting. Although Xmithie and I only stayed with the team for about 6 months, we made great results. Imagine how stronger we’ve gotten had we stayed together longer.

I’m really sad that I had to leave the organization because of such an unexpected reason. I was very close to all the players… all the staff members also got along well…

I feel like I’m making this interview dull and boring… sorry. (Laughs) Well, anyways, it’s really sad that such a thing happened.

¤ I want to ask you a rather personal question: you’ve been working within the esports industry for quite some time now, as both a player and coach. Are you planning to continue, for say, 5 or 10 more years? Or do you have other plans?

I’m not too sure… To be honest, when I retired as a player, I didn’t really plan anything ahead. I had no intentions to become a coach. Then, head coach ‘Reach’ persuaded me to become the man I am today. I consider myself to have good fortune of having great people around me. I’m thankful for him even to this day.

That’s how I started coaching, and before I knew it, I started making good results. I then naturally became a part of the esports industry. Then, I began wanting more; I wanted to do something even more worthwhile within the esports scene. I noticed how big the NA esports market was getting, and I think that’s why I went there.


I honestly don’t know how long I’ll continue working as a coach. One day, I may even become a head coach, or just about any other job available within the esports industry. The road ahead is definitely uncertain, but if I feel satisfaction from working here, and furthermore, if I feel “certain” that the esports scene is where I truly want to spend the rest of my life in, I want to become a person that can help it grow.

I’ll probably walk down one of the following two roads. One, I may learn about business management and become a worker for an esports organization. Two, I may learn psychology and take care of the players. As time passes, the “most popular” games in the current market will naturally change. It’ll be hard for me to keep up and stay up-to-date with game knowledge like I am doing now, as I get older. Therefore, I want to use the experience that I have as a coach to either contribute to an esports organization or help players regarding stress management. I want to become a person that motivates the players. I want to become a person that gives them advice regarding the mindset that they need to build a proper future.

Currently, I learn about the game and research ideas that help players perform better. In other words, I only teach things regarding the game. But as I get older, I won’t be able to do that effectively. And that is why I want to eventually become a person that teaches players about things outside of the game. In NA, some teams do employ actual psychologists… but most of them aren’t completely suited for esports.

Long words short, I want to become a person that can truly contribute to the esports scene.


¤ Most likely, you’ll soon start coaching for another team. As for your last question, what kind of a mindset will you equip yourself with, when you start coaching for another team?

I’ve been working as a coach for about 3 years now… and it feels like I’ve just begun. For starters, I’ll do the best that I can, wherever I go. No matter the region that I end up coaching in, I’ll do my best to become a coach that can contribute to the esports industry.

And lastly, I would like to give a word of encouragement to all the coaches in the esports scene. The position of a coach may seem “easy” or “less important” from the fans’ perspective. But it’s a very stressful job. Coaches are also a part of the team, right along the players. So please, root for us too! (Laughs) When a team starts receiving flak for underperformance, the players receive it first but it eventually hits the coaches as well. On top of that, there have been a lot of issues regarding coaches this year. I want to tell all the coaches to cheer up!

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