Being one of the strongest regions in the esports scene, Korea packs some of the strongest players for nearly every esports game. One such game is Heroes of the Storm. Gen.G, who were the 2017 HGC champions, proved their dominance by claiming the crown this year as well.
Formerly known as MVP Black, the old team was considered one of the top 3 teams in Korea. However, in 2018, no other team has come close to Gen.G. Their roster was completed with Rich's return in June 2017 and the addition of coach Noblesse in October 2017. Then, when the team began struggling earlier this year, Gen.G went through a number of position swaps to once again become the best. Cunning strategy and consistent practice forged the current Gen.G team, and as the 2018 HGC came to a close, they looked back on a great year.
Located in Gangnam Korea, our team paid a visit to Gen.G's newly built Seoul headquarters. Although the majority of the players had left the house on vacation, we were able to meet and speak with Sake and Reset.
A week has passed since the Finals. How have you been?
Sake: I'm still trying to get used to the time zone difference. In the past two years, I had to prepare for the GCWC right after the HGC Finals. That's not the case this year. I'm a bit bored because of it.
Reset: Many new games were released during the season. I'm slowly enjoying them one at a time.
Let's talk about your achievements. After placing 1st in the Mid-Season Brawl, you went on to win two Finals in a row. Tell us how you feel about that.
Sake: Last year, we didn't win the Mid-Season Brawl. This year, we were able to. I think it's a new HGC record. I was extremely happy with the results.
Reset: Last year, my mindset was: "I want to win." This year, however, as we've been very successful, I leaned more towards thinking "We'll win for sure."
You were very close to winning every international tournament this year. However, in the HGC Phase #1 Eastern Clash, you placed 2nd. I imagine there's some regret there.
Sake: I feel it would better to slip and fall during the beginning than to crash at a later, more important point. Through that loss, we were able to find our weaknesses. It was unfortunate... but the loss gave us a lot more.
In the HGC Phase #2 Regular Season, you lost to Miracle, twice. Did those losses affect you mentally when you met them again at the Finals?
Sake: Strangely, Miracle was the only opponent we struggled against during drafts. A lot of our fans were concerned by this; but as I had mentioned right before the Finals, Gen.G becomes an entirely different team when playing on a big stage. In addition, our match against Miracle was extremely important; had we lost to them, we would've met Dignitas in the Finals. Gen.G does not lose in those types of situation.
Reset: Honestly speaking, we often struggled during drafts when playing scrims with other teams. But when playing on a big stage, we were able to stay calm. Our team coordination was also very clean.
In the semifinals, you were barely able to come out victorious against Team Liquid.
Reset: We scrimmed a lot with Team Liquid, and they were always very strong. I was expecting to lose one or two sets. Additionally, in the 1st set, we lost due to a mistake that we made. That's why we were confident that we could beat them as long as we stay calm and play like we are supposed to.
Sake: Our coach told us that as long as we beat Liquid, we have a good chance at winning the whole thing. However, the 5th game was played on Braxis Holdout. Rich, KyoCha, and I had lost to Fnatic while playing the same map in 2016. Before the game, the players started speaking out about the map, saying it's making them recall bad memories. We comforted and encouraged each other.
On the other hand, your game against Dignitas ended sooner than expected.
Sake: While watching Dignitas vs. Miracle, I came to the conclusion that Dignitas takes 'drafting' too lightly. At the Finals, we had no choice but to ban Maiev and Genji. As a result, Dignitas could've taken Diablo to form a strong team composition. However, Dignitas banned Genji for us. Thanks to that move, we were able to ban Maiev and Diablo, giving us an easier match against them.
Reset: In the end, Dignitas took Stitches to fill in Diablo's spot. JayPL also made a lot of great plays on Stitches. Although the Genji ban helped us tremendously, if games similar to set 3 occurred more often, it would've given us a hard time.
At the Finals, you guys seemed to have put a lot of focus on Alarak. Why?
Sake: It was a pick that we had prepared specifically for the Finals. As most of our fans already know, Alarak is Rich's favorite hero. During drafts, when it was Rich's turn to pick, he mentioned Alarak. Our coach asks him if he can play that hero. If Rich replies with a "yes," he's given that pick. Rich is really good on that hero, so whenever we played him, we get good results.
Reset: Alarak is very strong in the current meta. We expected Dignitas to ban him every game. In the 2nd set, however, Dignitas didn't, so we took the pick and won.
Quite recently, JayPL announced his retirement. Is there anything you want to say in regards to that?
Sake: JayPL is a good friend of mine. We're similar in age, and we shared a lot of conversations. In 2017, his hidden potential just exploded when he met Wubby and POILK. He is a player that makes plays that are only he can come up with. I think he thought extensively about his future and decided to retire. It's very unfortunate.
Reset: When Dignitas was rebuilt, JayPL's plays caught my eyes. He was a tank and a leader that would support his team from the very front. It's very unfortunate that such a great player has retired.
Let's change the subject. Gen.G's new HQ in Seoul looks very impressive. Is there anything that you want to boast about?
Sake: I'll keep this short. It's perfect.
Reset: The team was already perfect without the new building. The new building made the team even more perfect.
Sake: The best gaming equipment provider, Razer; the best furniture provider, Sidiz; the fastest internet provider, Netgear; Mirae Asset, who helps us structure an investment plan.
The support from the many sponsors is what's behind Gen.G's perfection.
It's been a year and a half since this 5-man roster was formed. Do you think you've all adjusted to each other in terms of synergy and performance?
Sake: We were struggling in the beginning -- especially because of drafting. Drafting was something that we were hopeless with. That's why bringing in coach Noblesse was such a huge success. The position swap also made Gen.G stronger. In addition, he's been with us for quite a while now, so we don't run into any issues during our everyday life. We speak freely about what's on our mind -- without crossing the line, of course.
Reset: As Sake said, I feel that Noblesse completed this team. We used to have a lot of holes here and there throughout the team. Noblesse patched every single one of them.
Noblesse's role within the team must be very important.
Sake: First off, he doesn't interfere with our daily life or privacy. (Laughs) He's 99% drafts. As JayPL mentioned before retirement, drafting in Heroes of the Storm is hard and very pressuring. Last year, at the HGC Phase #2 Eastern Clash, our team's players took turns doing drafts. All of us struggled. That's when we came to the conclusion that we needed a coach that'll do the drafts for us.
That's when I personally reached out to Noblesse. We [the players] paid him with our own money. That's how much we wanted to win the Finals. And in actuality, we continued to perform better with Noblesse. When Gen.G heard about this, they officially hired him. We were able to take a lot of victories this year thanks to him.
Reset: When we lose a match on stage, there are times where we ask ourselves: "did we lose because of drafts, or did we lose because of our plays? If a loss is caused by drafts, the feedback becomes a lot more complicated. It's very stressful. Noblesse took that responsibility right off of the players' hands. That's how we started performing a lot better.
Sake: Most foreign teams have coaches. Most Korean teams, on the other hand, don't. If you wish to go higher, I advise you to consider thinking about picking up a coach.
Gen.G players have the widest champion pool out of any other team. Is there a special reason behind it?
Sake: There isn't a perfect answer to drafting. You pick your heroes based on maps and the enemies' hero composition. That's why you need to be prepared to combat whatever the enemy throws at you. That's why a lot of players practice as many heroes as they can.
Reset: We have a lot of players that have experience playing other positions. The fact that our players can play whatever they're told to play is a huge help.
Is everyone satisfied with their current position?
Sake: I'm the A-grade carry that is always prepared to play - Sake.
Reset: It is fun playing a carry, but there are times where I have to play Rich's heroes... Since Rich often plays those heroes during scrims, I don't get much practice time on them. That was the case with Hanzo at the Finals. Despite my lack of practice on the champion, I had to play him on stage. It was a lot of pressure.
Sake: I felt really sorry for him during scrims.
Reset: Rich never backs down. (Laughs)
Currently, you guys are at the top of the HGC. Does the thought of losing or falling into a slump scare you?
Sake: That's something we can worry about when it actually happens. We weren't at the top from the beginning. We slipped and fell multiple times before finally learning the way to reach the top.
Reset: I'm a player that was once at the very bottom. Even if we lose, I'll use the loss as a stepping stone and improve. If a new, stronger team emerges, I'm sure all of us will put in more effort to take them down.
Were there any memorable moments you've experienced during your careers as professional gamers?
Sake: When I came to realize that we had a lot of fans; I didn't know we had so many! During the HGC Phase #2 that took place in Incheon, most spectators were cheering for us. I attended the event with the simple mindset of playing the game. When I saw the fans cheering me on, it really moved me.
Reset: I feel the same way. I think we have a lot of fans that watch us online instead of actually coming to the offline events. (Laughs) But nowadays, a lot of them come to watch us play in person. I've also received a lot of gifts from them. I'm very thankful. I'm always practicing as hard as I can to repay them.
What does 'Heroes of the Storm' mean to you?
Sake: There is a famous quote that reads, "there are three opportunities in life." I believe HotS is the first opportunity. I'll do my best to not let go of this opportunity.
Reset: I always tried my hardest to buy my parents' trust. I told myself that if my investment in HotS fails, I'll look for another path. But my parents kept their faith in me, and it marked a new beginning in my life. In time, I was able to proudly carry the title, "professional gamer." Compared to the past, I've really become successful. (Laughs)
Any last words for the fans?
Sake: We're writing new history here with Gen.G! I won't be satisfied here -- we'll do our best to continue accomplishing greater feats! We'll become the world's best, so please watch over us!
Reset: I want to thank all of our fans. We'll do our best to repeat this year's success next year, so please wait for us! Thank you!