The Worlds 2018 Semifinalist, Cloud9 was ready and eager for action. With just a few days left till the season, I met Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu at the Cloud9 team house for a chat. Reapered was just as he always is - very confident.
It was 9 AM, and while Jack and the players were doing their daily morning workout, Reapered spoke on many subjects that some fans have been curious about: some stories from Worlds, info about the boot camp in Korea, and about his high hopes for the team's new mid laner, Nisqy.
It’s been a while since Worlds. How have you been?
As most people know, we’ve been to a boot camp in Korea, and we came back around Christmas. After the vacation, we’ve been grinding to bring up our performance.
Let’s start with some light questions. Warcraft 3 will be remastered; are you planning to play Chaos again?
Let’s see. I don’t know if it’ll come back as fun as it was. I guess I might try a bit if there are some old friends that I played Chaos together with that are willing to, but since I’m in the US, I probably won't play it. But I think I’ll enjoy playing Warcraft 3. I enjoyed playing that game for so long even on ladder, not only the user map settings.
*Note: Chaos is a MOBA custom game of Warcraft 3 which was widely popular in Korea. It could be considered a Korean version of Dota.
I know that you played a lot of World of Warcraft as well. It seems that you played quite a lot around the end of the season and before Worlds.
Yes. I played a lot of Blizzard games when I was young. I might have played only Riot Games after I got to my twenties, but back then, Blizzard games were really good. Warcraft 3, WoW; they’re both really well-made games and there were no contestants back then.
My players all like playing games a lot. Looking back, over the past four Worlds, the expansion pack for WoW came out twice during that period. In both of those expansions, I played WoW with the players. (Laughs)
But since I’m also playing the game with them, there’s a limit to how much we play. I would say, ‘let’s just play a few hours’. I try to make it a ‘fun thing’ that we all enjoy so that we can relieve the stress we get from grinding. It’s good for that, and since we usually play a lot on the arena, there’s always a good excuse for this: we’re just warming up. (Laughs)
Maybe for the players, it was like playing an online game with their work boss, but I think we all had fun playing the game together.
This is the same question I asked Cain; you’ve been a pro player and now you're the head coach of C9. Which role suits you better?
Well, at this point, I’ve come a bit too far to say that being a player suits me better. (Laughs) I think I am a natural-born gamer; I’m overly competitive, I really want to win always, I play for a long amount of time once I sit down. I have the attributes that pro players need. Even so, I think I’m better suited to being a head coach.
Have you been playing a lot of ranked games? What rank are you in now?
After I came back from Worlds, I saw that it dropped to Platinum. So I made it to Diamond and I’m just enjoying it lightly. I’ll get higher when the new season starts.
Cain said that your confidence was the trait that he learned the most from you while you were in the same team. What did you learn from Cain?
Cain is quite meticulous and sensitive. I’m not quite like that. (Laughs) I’m really simple.
For example, when I prepare for a draft before the game, I would start thinking when I get into the shower before I go to bed. By the time I finish showering, I would have a draft prepared. But Cain or RapidStar; they prepare thoroughly the day before. They give it a lot of thought. I thought that might be something I should learn, and I’ve tried a few times, but it wasn’t me.
As everyone knows, you’re a very confident person. Are you like that intentionally?
Not really. I just do and say everything that I have in me. I say I think we’ll win because I really think we will, I say I think we’ll do well because I think we will. (Then what do you think the source of your confidence is?) Hmm… I don’t know… My ability? (Laughs) I think I’m just born this way. I’ve never thought that I’ll lose before starting, I’ve never thought that things wouldn’t work out.
It HAS been a while, but you went to the semis at Worlds; congratulations on that. I saw you do a stream with Lustboy on some of the stories that happened at Worlds. Could you share a few for the English audience?
Let’s start with the Zilean pick. Early when we were preparing for Worlds, we had a scrim with KT. After playing the first game, all the players were like ‘this game is out of this world. We’ll never be able to beat this team’. Laning, macro… nothing worked out the way we wanted.
So I suggested trying the comp that brought us there, the Zilean pick, saying that if this works out against KT, we’ll have a “secret” ultimate weapon. As it turned out, we won that scrim. Big. The game went just like the games we won with Zilean in NA. So we had that prepared as a ‘certain win’ card and hid it till the most important moment.
During the group stage, we played more casual easy-strong picks that were popular during that time. When it came to the important decisive match against Vitality, I thought this was when we should use the Zilean pick.
These types of ‘joker’ picks need to be hidden until the last moment since Zilean isn’t invincible. The draft has to go as natural as possible. For example, LeBlanc is a champion that’s strong against Zilean, but coincidentally, Jiizuke did really well on LeBlanc before our match. So we banned LeBlanc very casually. Every action had to be cool and natural. After we picked Zilean, I wasn’t worried at all. I was sure that we won already.
Another thing that I remember; we had a scrim against iG. In that scrim, Licorice suffered a lot against TheShy. I’ve been coaching for about 4-5 years now, and that was the first time I saw a 10K gold deficit… on one player. (Laughs) The team gold difference was 12K, and TheShy was 10K gold ahead of Licorice. In his defense, it was a very bad matchup. TheShy was on a very aggressive champion, and Licorice had a very passive one. After the match, Licorice was nearly in tears saying, ‘yeeaah… I don’t want to play this matchup’. (Laughs)
Anyways, I felt that this team was really something after that scrim. As a matter of fact, I think Akali and Irelia picks were popular because of them. When we scrimmed against them, we felt that we couldn’t win if we gave them those two picks. When we picked Akali and Irelia, we still lost. So we were crushed in that scrim. After that, we scrimmed against Fnatic, but as you know, they’re also pretty good at Akali and Irelia as well. We lost again. (Laughs)
So we decided to consider these champions that didn’t exist; those two were bans that were locked-in. After suffering a lot from them, we scrimmed an NA team and saw them first-ban Irelia. I was surprised thinking, ‘that’s our ban’. Their next ban was Akali. As it turns out, they suffered a lot from the same picks. From that, I realized all NA teams had similar thoughts.
Fnatic and iG really lead the meta at Worlds, and those two teams really deserved to be at the finals. They were the teams that played the champions of that meta best; they were the meta.
What do you think was the biggest reason for the loss against Fnatic?
Viktor. We actually didn’t have any bans. People who watched would know, but we had the same bans throughout the tournament. So what we did wasn’t picks & bans; we just did picks, because our bans were locked in. Since the opponent would have watched our previous matches, they would know what we’re thinking, and they would have a plan.
Unfortunately for us, Kleptomancy Viktor started to become popular at that time. It was the same thing; it was hard to play against, but we weren’t able to win with it. What we came up with was Ekko, and thought we would leave it to fate. Also, Fnatic’s prowess was actually really good.
There were three rookies on the team, and they experienced the Worlds semifinals. Do you think that experience was good for their improvement?
Of course. Big stages make players grow no matter what; there’s nothing that can compare when it comes to experience. Practicing back here is literally nothing. If we practice here, we scrim with NA teams, but there, we get to scrim with the best teams in the world.
Besides that, we can gain confidence by seeing that the best in the world are also human, we can bond more as a team. It’s not something you can experience every day.
Let’s say you’re a pro gamer; you have a decent work ethic, so you think you’ll do your best while you’re playing on stage. But you don’t really always put 100%, 110% in those games. You may be able to, but usually you get used to the atmosphere and get more comfortable as time passes.
Worlds, on the other hand - it’s a battle, it’s war. You have to put in everything you have. You need to work harder, get more stressed. It’s a period of time that requires a lot more concentration. After experiencing that as a team, nothing’s the same after that.
I have high hopes for my players. They’ll be better than before for sure. And I’d really like to win the championship this time. (Laughs) I’ve made it to the finals, but that last step… (Sighs)
It seems like you’re planning to send Blaber back to Academy and start Svenskeren. Will you be using a similar strategy as last year?
Yes. The players have to do their best and prove themselves. There will be a chance for all the players, and even the 1st string members need to know that they shouldn’t take it for granted. It’s a position they can feel proud of; it must also be a position they have to fight to keep.
In that way, all the players are more motivated. Even if our team - all ten of the players - is really close, like family, they should do their best while competing with each other. When they are given a chance, they need to fight to keep it.
I guess there would be pros and cons to this, but I think the pros outweigh the cons of this type of operation, so we’ll go this way again.
How was the boot camp in Korea?
It was really good. The boot camp was just before the KeSPA Cup; we returned around Christmas and had a vacation. During the boot camp, I concentrated on Nisqy, and I also wanted to develop Westrice and RapidStar. The big plan was to improve all ten players and the two coaches.
At this boot camp, I tried something new. It was Mon through Fri and having the weekend off before, but this time we had one day of scrims, one day of solo queue, scrims, solo queue, scrims, solo queue… So the players had a bit more free time, but for the coaches, it was full time. When the LCS team were doing scrims, the Academy team was solo queue and vice-versa.
Usually, during the season, I give the main feedback. But in that case, there would be less chances for Westrice or RapidStar to improve. They would improve if they do that themselves. So this time, they were giving the main feedback every day for a month. I was coaching the coaches. As for the results, I’m very satisfied. I think the coaches improved a lot as well as the players.
Also with the scrims, we started off playing against the lower-ranked teams of the last season. On the second week, the mid-ranked teams, and on the last week were the top tier teams, but even in the last week, the scrim results were pretty good.
All in all, I think it was a very beneficial boot camp. It was fun and meaningful.
When you said that you prepare picks & bans while you shower, it seemed that you’re a very spontaneous person, but this is really organized and well-planned.
When I make plans, I tend to be a bit more of a perfectionist. (Laughs) There shouldn’t be any blind spots to the plan. Going on a boot camp means that the players/coaches have to work while others are on a break. If it isn’t well-planned, they might think ‘why am I doing this? All others are on a break!’
Honestly, when it comes to spending my own time, I get very generous. (Laughs) But I’m very strict when it comes to spending others’ time. It’s for their own good so I made the schedule very tight.
Were there any players that got high in solo queue during the boot camp?
Actually, no. There was an unexpected issue. When we go to boot camp, we usually get a ‘player account’, but when we went to boot camp this time, what we got was a ‘silver MMR Lv30 account’. What that means is that it’s impossible to climb. The players all hit Master, yes - starting from Iron.
There’s no problem hitting Master, but since they’re on a silver MMR account, that means even if you have an 80% win rate, you can’t climb. You win about 10 points when you win but lose 30 when you lose. So that was slightly disappointing. One of the major reasons to boot camp was solo queue; hopefully, this will be fixed next time.
You scrimmed a lot with the LCK teams during the scrim. Which team was the most impressive?
First is DAMWON. Nuguri was really good and aggressive. And for Showmaker, we all called him ShowFaker (Laughs) because he was that good. All the DAMWON solo laners were very impressive.
We scrimmed SKT as well. Faker was Faker, Khan was Khan. And Teddy was really good too. I think all the teams that we played against in the last week were impressive. Kingzone was good too. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to schedule a scrim with Griffin. It would have been fun if we did.
Actually, we did scrim against Griffin during Worlds but… the results were a massacre. (Laughs) We were stomped severely.
Let’s talk about the moves in the roster now. Jensen went to Team Liquid and Nisqy came in.
Nisqy is kind of a rising star. He’s not actually a rookie, but he’s a player that’s on the rise. I thought he could be made into a top-class player. When I met him and talked to him, I found he had a good attitude and has a bright personality. He also had that little C9-like personality. (Laughs) If that was missing, it might be hard to mix into the C9 environment.
I actually had an eye on Nisqy when he was in Envy. He played Lucian really well against TSM so I kept an eye on him. I never thought I would bring him to my team.
The players of C9 have strong personalities in-game. It seems like you would need a leader. Wh…
(Interrupts) Sneaky. You know, he does those cosplays (Laughs) and if you watch his streams, it may seem like he’s really easygoing and light. But in-game, he turns into this charismatic leader. Sven is good too. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t include him… Well, he’s really good on stage, but he’s kind of far from a leader when we practice. (Laughs)
In all seriousness, Sven and Sneaky are both really good on stage. They point out well what they need to do. When the players are distracted, they ring the bell and bring them back to senses.
Scrims should be ongoing; how are the scrim results?
They’re really good. I have a positive outlook for the early season; I think we may be able to make a leap start in the beginning. But what’s important is to keep that pace to the end of the season.
I’m confident that we’ll be able to make it to the top two without much trouble. Since we haven’t been scrimming Team Liquid because they’re our first match, that match should show how it’ll go. I wonder how well Cain prepared.
Are there any teams or players that you’re looking out for?
Clutch Gaming. The players there are Huni, LirA, Damonte, Piglet, and Vulcan. There are two rookies led by a former World Champion, a Worlds finalist, with a mediator, LirA. When a team is composed like that, they’re really fearsome when they get a powerful flow. If they play their way with vigor and confidence, they’ll be able to do that. I think the key to them having a successful season would be overcoming the aftershock when they are stopped abruptly. In my opinion, they’ll be a very strong team on stage.
The LCS is starting later than other regions; does it help with analyzing the meta?
Analyzing the meta was done a long time ago. I just want to play the official matches. (Laughs) We’re starting so late. Starting last week would have been best. You know, official matches make you more driven and it’s more fun and tense. When it starts this weekend, it’s going to be really fun.
I’ve already watched all the matches of the other regions. There are some unique things that they’re attempting, and I’ve analyzed that already as well. Preparation is going extremely well. I just want to start.
Which player do you have the highest hopes for?
I’d say Nisqy. He’s new to the team, and as you know, his first matchup is against Team Liquid Jensen. Nisqy is a player that came from the EU and he needs to prove himself in this league, and I know that he has what it takes here. Not just the LCS; I’m planning to make him into a world class player by next year. He’s a player that makes me eager to see how much he will improve by the end of this year.
Lastly, a word to the fans?
We’re ready to run this season, and I’d like to greet you with exceptional performance. I’m very excited because it seems that we actually can. Please keep up your support for C9 and me, and thank you for all your support.
(After the interview)
Arghh!! Cain! Getting a World Champion support! That’s practically cheating!!