"The captain is back."
On the 18th of February, the player that was widely regarded by fans as the 'carry captain' of CJ Entus, Flame, made his return to the LCK after 3 long years. His first match back was an incredible comeback victory against SKT.
Flame who was subbed in when the team was losing 0-1, made multiple crucial plays that turned the table in his team's favor. In the second and final game of the series, Flame stole Baron with smite that he had taken with Unsealed Spellbook to craft the advantage that his team needed to push for the victory. That scene threw all the fans out of their seats, and they were once again reminded of the 'captain'.
With DAMWON Gaming, Flame seemed to have refined a past weakness that he once had, instability. With more steady and stable gameplay, Flame accumulated a lot of victory with his new teammates and proved that his skills remain undiminished. With the addition of Flame, DWG finished the 2019 LCK Spring Split in 4th place.
Inven Global was able to meet and speak with Flame after he returned from his vacation.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
Hello, I'm DAMWON Gaming's top laner, Ho-jong "Flame" Lee.
How have you been spending your vacation?
I'm on a week-long vacation. After a short visit to Busan, I decided to stay at the team house and hang out with my teammates who chose to do the same. I've also been exercising, pilates. Other than that, I've mostly been gaming.
To my surprise, a significant amount of LCK players have spent their vacation staying at the team house. Don't you guys want to leave and do other stuff?
During the ongoing split, I imagined myself visiting a lot of different places and doing a lot of different stuff; but when I finally got my vacation, all those thoughts disappeared.
I'm spending a peaceful vacation; exercising, gaming, and reading.
I heard that you played soccer with your teammates today. I've also heard that pro gamers have a hard time playing sports that require a lot of running. (Laughs)
I run well, actually. I'm DAMWON's Messi. Although that was a joke, I did score a lot of goals. (Laughs) The DAMWON players are pretty good soccer players. Out of every professional team, I think we're one of the best!
Isn't DAMWON also having a workshop soon?
Yeah, I think we're going to Gapyeong? Our head coach always tries to get us, the players, to engage in recreational activities together. I really like that about him.
It's been a little over 2 months since you've joined DAMWON. Have you grown closer to your new teammates?
I believe so. Everyone is getting along. During my vacation, I spent a lot of time with my teammates who haven't left the team house.
You returned to the LCK after 3 long years. I imagine you had difficulty adapting to the new environment.
It was hard at first. For example, back in NA, I'd wake up at 10 AM and go to bed between 12 to 2 AM. Having to play until 4 AM each and every night was very hard to adjust to. I guess you can say it took my circadian rhythm off balance? The sudden decrease in sleep really affected me physically.
A significant amount of professional players that have begun their career around the time that I had, started having wrist issues 4 to 5 years ago. I haven't had any issues with mine, but ever since my return to Korea, I started experiencing some pain. Trying to maintain good health had been a bit difficult with the large increase in practice.
Anyhow, I joined DAMWON after a long break. Last year, since my team and I failed to qualify for the World Championship, we didn't scrim much; and as an individual, I didn't practice much either. And as a result of that, I had to spend a bit of time to get used to the new meta and its champions. I'm still not at the point of where I want to be.
LCK teams seem to have a more rigorous schedule than the other regions.
It's true, the difference is quite big. In NA, it seemed that teams find it extremely important players bond with each other. It kind of felt like, not showing up when everyone else is eating or hanging out together in NA had the same level of severity as not showing up for practice here in Korea.
For my first 2 years in NA, I didn't mind my teammates much and I just practiced like how I used to in Korea. But during my last split, I decided to try and follow the NA team culture. That's when I felt that my skills as an individual were declining. That kind of environment is beneficial in a lot of ways for many people, but it wasn't for me. I learned that I don't have to try and blend in all the time, and that I have to do what I feel is the best for me.
A lot of fans stated that DAMWON Gaming felt more stable as a team with the addition of Flame. What kind of role did you play in DWG to receive such praise?
To begin, everyone on DWG has great mechanics, potential, and all of them have a wonderful personality. They are players that can find great success later down the road. However, since they're inexperienced, they don't know what to do in a lot of situations. Therefore, I watched them play and gave them a lot of advice.
One example is, I provided reasons for the players to make certain plays. "The current situation is like this, so you should do this and then we should do that. We can win." I was very detailed and specific with my orders.
Wouldn't that be hard to pull off in-game? Or were you just that specific during feedback post-game?
Actually, I spoke more like this when on stage. I played my first match not long after I joined the team, so I barely played any scrims. My teammates at first didn't talk much when in-game, but their ears were open to suggestions. In addition, the players have great mechanics, so the shot calls I made became even more effective.
In a way, you might've been the driving force that pushed DAMWON into the playoffs.
I wouldn't say that... I believe all I did was make DAMWON win 1 or 2 matches that they could've lost. One of them was the SKT match. I won a couple of games as a starter and a couple as a sub, and I believe my win rate was half and half. However, I felt that the match against SKT was set in stone for DAMWON to lose; I feel that we won the unwinnable after I subbed in.
I'm curious as to how your relationship is with Nuguri, the other DWG top laner that you're competing against for the starting position.
At a glance, Nuguri is cute and fun. I'm 7 years older than him... We don't talk much. When I speak to him, he responds. When I don't, we don't talk. I don't necessarily think that I'm a difficult person, I just think Nuguri has a bit of a curt personality. (Laughs)
As for the competition, I'm one of the 1st generation players, so I began my career without concerns regarding that. Having to compete against a teammate for the starting position was stressful; a kind of stress that isn't necessary. All I need to do is just focus on 'me' and my personal improvements, but the thought of having to better someone else in my team really bothered me... more than it should.
It's gotten a lot better than before. I've been receiving less stress. Now, having to compete with another player for the starting position has become the norm in pro play, so I came to just accept it as it is. I'm fairly certain that a good amount of veteran players felt this way, as they haven't experienced it in the past.
Now that I think about it, you're one of the oldest players in the LCK. Have you felt the age difference? (Laughs)
When I first joined the team.
The other players were happily playing solo queue until 4 AM, as for me if I stay up too late, my body suffers. That's when I felt, "Am I too old? Is this my limit?" But things became better with time. Maybe I had trouble because I wasn't fully used to that kind of schedule... but then again I did have a lot of burden when I first joined.
Because they signed me mid-split, I felt the burden that the team has to do a lot better than before with my addition. That thought really stressed me out.
When the team was going on a win streak, that thought dissipated a bit. However, when we lost to Griffin, I really struggled mentally. Although it felt great when DWG got on a winning streak after I joined, I believed that defeating Griffin, a team that DWG struggled against all split, was the most important task. So the Griffin match really had its toll on me. I felt weak, blamed myself, and had a hard time recovering from it.
I guess in a way, you were in a slump. How did you recover from that?
The split has ended. (Laughs) I believe that it's hard for a player to drastically improve mid-split. I don't need to hone my game senses, that's not what I need. I simply need a lot of accumulated practice - and you can only practice so much during a split, as it's just a little longer than a month.
And personally, I felt that I improve the most when I'm practicing during the offseason, as I'm guaranteed a lot of time to work on my individual plays. That's why I'm staying positive. I really like the environment that DWG has provided me for practicing.
There's a bit of speculation that DWG is especially weak against Griffin. Some state that you guys don't play like yourselves when playing against them.
I think that's true to a certain degree. Although Griffin is better than us in general, I feel that we play worse than usual when we're up against them. My teammates seemed to get really nervous when playing them, too. However, I believe this is something that we can easily overcome with practice and improvement.
After defeating SANDBOX Gaming in the wildcard match, DWG placed 4th this Spring Split. And honestly speaking, not a lot of people expected DWG to win.
It's true that SB has better macro and teamwork than us. However, we were ahead of them in terms of mechanics, laning, the ability to trade, and champion pool. I think our strength outweighed theirs.
It must've been unfortunate that you couldn't compete in the playoffs.
It's definitely unfortunate... but I did struggle, mentally, near the end of the split, and Nuguri had a better understanding of the champions that newly arose in the meta. My entire focus at the time was on adapting to the new team environment and developing synergy with my teammates, so it was difficult for me to focus on playing solo queue and work on my champion pool.
During all that, Nuguri quickly picked up champions such as Sylas and Kayle to practice - and he actually played them really well during scrims, too.
Even in my opinion, I think it was a better decision to play Nuguri over me during the playoffs. And of course, I did want to play - if it was the old me, I would've been very upset and stressed. However, this time around, I instead made a resolution to work even harder.
Before leaving for NA, you were known as a very competitive, but also a very curt player. Speaking to you now, you seem to have gotten... a lot 'smoother' as a person.
If you're too competitive as a person, you will have a hard time getting along with others. You're easily angered and frustrated. I'm still a competitive person, but I do my best to keep the bad things that come with being competitive buried inside. I think reading really helped me in that regard.
In the end, you have to keep trying and attempt a lot of different things. You can't and shouldn't be afraid of failure. What's important is how you approach your failures. I used to be very bad at accepting them. Losing made me angry, and I often couldn't hold it in. I started looking at losses as a learning experience.
How do you think the Summer Split will go? What is your goal?
If we prepare well during the offseason, I believe we can place 2nd or 3rd. Of course, winning the whole thing is the best outcome... but I believe 2nd or 3rd place is a more realistic goal. If we're going as far as to the World Championship, I do want to avoid having to play in the gauntlet. But unless we really improve, it's very likely that we have to play in it. From how the Spring Split played out, don't you think it's very likely that SKT and Griffin will take the 1st and 2nd seed?
Lastly, do you have anything to say to your fans?
Firstly, I want to thank all the fans who are always rooting for me. During my fan meeting, a lot of my old fans and fans from overseas came to visit me. It was an amazing experience. I will work on my individual performance so that I can reach a point of satisfactory during the Summer Split.