On Nov. 15, Ki "Expect" Dae-han sat in front of his computer, contemplating his options. He had spent the previous month watching Fnatic practice during their World Championship run, and saw them rise to the Worlds finals. There, he saw his former head coach, Joey “YoungBuck” Steltenpool, reach a higher level than he had in 2017. Back then, Expect was playing as G2 Esports’ top laner, and YoungBuck was his coach. However, much had changed since then.
But Expect still treasured those moments, as they were among his most recent as a competitor at the highest level. After all, he reached his best finishes within G2, since his arrival there in the 2016 summer split until his departure in 2018. In the meantime, he helped G2 reach the Mid-Season Invitational finals off stellar play, and reached other milestones.
“It was really good experience and memory,” he said. “Back then, we went through all the world competitions: IEM Katowice, MSI, and Worlds. It was hard mentally and physically, but I still miss it because we fit [in terms of] our personality and other parts of the game. When we were playing [at] Worlds, we prepared very well and had confidence, but I think it was really unlucky.”
But then, he needed rest, and he wanted to return to South Korea to compete. Indeed, several life changes occurred after the 2017 World Championship, and he wanted to play on home soil, but that was not to be: a failed tryout later, he had noticed that he had lost his game sense. That much he admitted in an interview with Hyunseon “Hajin” Park, who currently works in Misfits Gaming as a translator.
But there’s more to his absence and, ultimately, to his return to the competitive scene as exceL Esports’ top laner.
When Expect wasn’t busy during scrimmage sessions and solo queue adventures, when he sought to take his mind off the daily grind before sleep, he often picked up a controller and launched Tekken 7, playing a batch of fast 1v1 matches. But he wasn’t the only one: then-H2K Gaming bot laner Sin “Nuclear” Jeong-hyeon also played the game. In fact, the two players built a friendship through playing with and against one another: Expect’s Lili vs. Nuclear’s Alisa. “Tekken7 connected us!” he said.
So, when they went back to South Korea and failed to reach a team, it didn’t take them long to plan their road back — by involving one another. “[Nuclear] suddenly said: what do you think about living together?” said Expect, reminiscing about those days. “Playing solo queue in [one’s] own house, it may be hard to be motivated, and he wanted to get a new experience. We practiced together. We were very willing and helpful to each other. I felt a lot of motivation from [him].”
It had been a long time since Expect and Nuclear had played a Tekken 7 match when he spoke about it in retrospect. Their thirty-minute gaming sessions are in the past now: since then, Nuclear joined DAMWON Gaming and qualified to the LCK, leaving behind the place he shared with Expect.
And for a time, Expect was back in Europe: Origen offered him a short-term contract to compete in the European Masters. Beyond allowing him to display his skills, it also didn’t prevent him from joining other teams after the tournament. Still, he wanted to get close to his teammates, no matter how short his stay was going to be.
“It was a short time but it was really good,” he recalled on Origen. “The team members were fun and good players. I just worked hard because I was aiming for victory [at EU Masters]. We didn’t know each other in Origen, and we played for about three weeks in the same house. But I wanted to get closer to them, especially to Froggen, and I did a lot of mischief. I like to be close with everyone.”
In some ways, Expect didn’t change. He still retained his agreeable personality. However, he soon found himself back into free agency. And with Nuclear gone, motivation was hard to come by. Indeed: he had no training partner, nobody to keep him focused or accountable. But he still persisted and ran on empty, even when the World Championship was around the corner. It paid off, as his former head coach, YoungBuck, was bringing Fnatic along for the ride.
The experience allowed him to remember where the fun lied in League of Legends: competitive play. “I didn’t play the team game for a long time, and I saw Fnatic in scrims,” he said. “Then I remembered [the] 2017 Worlds and I can’t explain that feeling.”
He just wanted to be there again. The intense practice, feedback sessions, fun moments in-between scrims and after as they shopped for food or hung out, and the progression that came with it all — these things from the 2017 G2 roster, he saw them all over again in Fnatic. Even though he did not participate in scrimmages in 2018, he watched them, helped them, spoke with them. That reignited his desire to compete. Queue some 1v1s with Gabriël “Bwipo” Rau and some solo queue meetings. “I learnt a lot with them but I think I became really ambitious,” he said.
For one, he totally approved of Bwipo’s in-game name in Korea: I will trade. That reminded him of even more memories – and an assertion regarding the quality of top laners in Europe. Through diligent practice, he occasionally smashed his opponents in scrimmage sessions at MSI and Worlds in 2017. In those practice sessions, he frequently traded.
“I like these words – ‘I will trade,’” he said. “When I was in G2, I did it many times when we played scrims. Teammates really didn’t want to do this, especially Mithy. So I said: ‘If I don’t trade, I don’t know when I win timing-wise, so I have to fight.’ So we solved this problem. Three out of six games, I played around the team and not around laning phase. The three other games, it didn’t matter if I went 0-10 or 10-0. I played animal style: just fight, fight, fight and test my limits.”
To be fair, he isn’t the only top laner with that mindset: SK Telecom T1’s Khan and Invictus Gaming’s TheShy are also fervent followers of constant trading, for good reason: “Laning phase is really important, so if you’re training with ‘I will trade’ [in mind,] you can be a good player.”
After the World Championship ended, Expect eyed his options, but he knew he did not want to sit idle. In the end, solo queue wouldn’t do the trick. He had seen Fnatic’s scrims and remembered some good ol’ memories, and it was time to make new ones. As a result, exceL Esports will be his house of ‘mischief,’ joyous laughter, and improvement for at least two years: his contract runs until 2020.
“I wanted to play the team game again. Really,” he said emphatically. “I wanted to play competitively again and get feedback. I got too much stress from playing solo queue, felt a sense of shame. I just want to play the team game, and I can play well. I also want to improve.”
And get along with new teammates, as it turns out.