[LPL Journey] The Man That Gave Uzi His First Trophy: Head Coach Kezman's Final Goal

April 24th, 2015. The memory of the match played on that day still lingers like it happened yesterday.

SK Telecom T1, a team heading towards the LCK Spring Finals met CJ Entus at the second round of the Playoffs. Being the heavy tournament favorite, fans and analysts expected SKT to overpower CJ with ease. But to everyone's surprise, CJ led the series 2-0, placing themselves in a position to knock SKT out of the tournament. 

Then the turnaround happened. By subbing in Bengi, a player that was under criticism for poor performance at the time, SKT was able to take the 3rd set. The following 4th game was a brutal showdown, both teams creating a game to be remembered for time to come. CJ Entus struggled, unable to close out the series. In the end, they lost helplessly.

After the match, the CJ fans at the venue wept silently in their seats. As if they were wanted men, when the players climbed down the stage to thank the fans, they didn't know where to look. From that moment on, CJ declined, along with their fans.

The person who took the majority of the blame was coach Kezman. At the time, CJ Entus had Ambition, Madlife, and Shy. But the team failed time and time again, whenever it mattered the most; despite employing a lineup of star players.

Fingers were pointed at the coaching staff. With the barrage of criticism towards drafting and player management, CJ's coaching staff departed from the organization. Kezman, who was with CJ for a significant amount of time, also said his farewell and left for China.

"I honestly believed that my coaching career was at its end. At the time, no one in Korea acknowledged me. I was fully willing to join any team, even if it meant joining a challenger one. The first team that I got in touch with was EDG. But at the time, the owner told me that, 'I don't know you well enough. Therefore, try coaching our challenger team first.' That's how I started coaching EDE (Later known as IMAY). 

It was really stressful at the time. When I grabbed my hair in frustration, a handful of it just fell off. I developed a bald spot the size of a large coin on my head. I never want to experience that again."

Working as a coach on foreign land isn't easy -- food, team environment, player attitude, language barrier, and LPL's unique drafts. In order to prove his worth, Kezman had no choice but to adapt to the new environment. When the league began, EDE went on a losing streak; losing 3 games in a row. Kezman said that at the time, he felt there was no future left for him in his career.

"Maybe I didn't know too much about China. When I first arrived, I fully expected the Chinese players to show me respect because I was an LCK coach. But there were none. In addition, the players were terrible at the game.

All the pictures that I drew in my head during rehearsals never came through on stage. I also had thought that LCK's picks and bans will work in the LPL, but it didn't.

After the losing streak, the owner called me to his office. After preparing my mind, fully expecting to be told to pack my things and go home, I faced him. To my surprise, however, the owner asked me a question. "How can this team make better results?" In response, I told him to give me full control of the team -- to control the players however I see fit. I told him that EDE could make it into the LPL if everyone did exactly what I said.

Honestly speaking, that was said without any real thought. It wasn't confidence that led me to say that... it was the fear of being massively disappointed in myself if I returned to Korea without achieving anything here. I went to China after basically being told that I'm not competent enough for the LCK. Quitting then and there would've made me go back to Korea because I wasn't competent enough for the LPL... That would've been too embarrassing and shameful for me to handle.

'Just for one split, just one!' I told the owner to give me full authority over the team. The owner nodded and did just that. That's when things started clicking.

Korea prefers picking compositions that can snowball endlessly if no mistakes are made during macro management. But LPL players tend to make frequent mistakes, so I had to give them a composition that won't falter from a mistake or two. I made the players practice champions that they were unfamiliar with, and through VODs, I taught them the different types of macro gameplay. 

That's when the players started winning. It gave me goosebumps. 'Oh! I have to use this method in order for these players to perform!' And being honest, there was only one method that worked.

The players in our team didn't have a strong laning phase, so when I gave them strong laning champions, the game ended in the first 10 minutes. That led me to give them picks that can at least go even in lane, but form a strong enough team composition to defend the Nexus when pushed to a corner."

▲ With IMAY, Kezman qualified for the 2016 World Championship

Kezman led EDE to win the LDL with a score of 25-5. After the initial 3 losses, EDE went on an 8-game winning streak. After a loss, they went on another winning streak of 16 games. 

In the following split, Kezman led a previously challenger league team, IMAY(EDE), to the World Championship and made it to the round of 16. This was the first time such a thing happened in League of Legends esports history. Currently, LCK's Griffin is a team that is showing similar progress to what IMAY did during that time. 

Kezman remained with IMAY until the 2017 season. With problems on top of problems, the team took a big fall, but Kezman was once again able to lead his team to the playoffs. Many LPL analysts saw highly of Kezman; that his role within the team was of high importance for IMAY who were struggling at the time to reach the playoffs.

In 2018, before the Spring Split began, Kezman joined RNG as the team's head coach. RNG is one of China's biggest gaming organizations, and Kezman had proved to the world what he is capable of through IMAY. The Chinese fans were excited for what was to come -- and they weren't left disappointed. 

▲ January of 2018, Kezman joins RNG as the team's head coach

"During the latter half of the time I spent with IMAY, the team wasn't making any results. At the time, the team had contracts and financial issues, and this wasn't something that I could've taken care of. I wanted to remain with IMAY until the very end; but when the time to renew my contract came, the team gave me a lukewarm approach. If I wasn't going to be acknowledged and respected for what I'm capable of, I saw it better to simply leave. That's how I crossed path with RNG.

RNG reached out to me ever since I was in the LDL. Firefox, the coach that was with me in IMAY, told me that he wanted to work with me when he left the team to become the head coach of RNG. When I left IMAY, RNG reached out to me again. 

Many teams offered me a position, some teams offered a huge salary, too. However, I wanted to join a team that can perform and make good results. Out of all the offers that I received, RNG looked the most capable. 

When I joined RNG, it didn't feel too different to IMAY. But the RNG players did feel a bit too prideful. That did give me a hard time when teaching them about team gameplay. The IMAY players played with the mindset that 'we all have to join strengths in order to win.' The RNG players, on the other hand, played with the mindset of 'we can finish the game in 5 minutes.'

RNG's playstyle is largely affected by coach Heart. He always tries his best to see the big picture, and I do my best to not taint the color that he has going on with the team. When I want something specific from him, I talk to him personally, alone. What I'm always thankful for Heart is that he discusses everything with me before setting foot on stage. There was not a single game played where he didn't. 

Also, everything was possible because of how competent the players are. All we're doing is drawing a sketch, and the players are completing the drawings. Every team has a certain weakness, and you have to patch that weakness through lane or role swap."

After employing Kezman, RNG saw huge success. In the 2018 LPL Spring Split, Uzi held his very first LPL trophy. Then, RNG proceeded to win the MSI title, becoming the very second LPL team to have done so. Aside from those two tournaments, RNG had also won the Demacia Cup and the Rift Rivals. RNG is currently the team that is the closest to being the 'best LoL team in the world'. 

"I'm not a coach that had frequently won. It was like that in CJ, and far worse in IMAY. I had always only thought about making solid, good results, so I always wanted to win a title. That's why I picked RNG to join. We're winning, and it feels great. 

But the happiness of winning a title only lasts for that one day -- because the most important tournament is the World Championship. Quite recently, I was asked a question from the Chinese media during an interview. Out of 100, they asked me to score RNG. I told them '20.'

All the titles that we had won so far are only worth 20 points. If we win the LPL Summer Split, I'll give an additional 10 points. If we win the World Championship, only then and there will I be able to hand out the remaining 70."

Three years passed since Kezman arrived in China, and in that three years, he became one of the best head coaches in the LPL.  He was excited to return to Korea for the World Championship with his team, RNG. The country where he experienced failure, Korea, and the country where he may return possibly as the best, Korea. How does Kezman feel about returning to his home country?

"I have no intention of boasting about my success when I return to Korea. Hmm... the intention to tell Korea that I was successful in China despite having received countless criticism in Korea? Does it look like I carry such an intention? (Laughs)

I'm really glad that the World Championship will take place in Korea. If it was any other region, we would've struggled to adjust to a new time zone and become used to the local food. I feel that this is a great opportunity for RNG to win -- luck truly seems to be on our side. 

Here in China, the fans' expectation of RNG is insanely high. No one is expecting us to lose, and I do feel a lot of pressure from that. Winning against a Korean team is no easy task. Many teams grew in strength, and there is no 'easy' team anymore. 

In addition, every team from around the world are becoming similar in strength. The popular phrase, 'gap is closing'... I think in 1 to 2 years, that 'gap' will completely disappear. Every region is improving at a fast pace, taking the best of each region and culture for themselves. 

I want to show the best that I can. I want to show the world that I'm a capable person, and I hope that the stage where I'll prove myself on will be the World Championship."

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