Jin Air Green Wings’ head coach, Han “H Dragon” Sang-yong is known for his kind and gentle personality. He is always the one who smiles and says, “Hi” to anyone he meets in the stadium. However, it was not too surprising to see this 15-year veteran coach looking rather concerned throughout this Spring Split.
The start of 2019 was not at all promising for Jin Air Green Wings. It seemed even more bitter cold than their 2017-2018 winter. Their Spring wasn’t warm at all and was full of obstacles to overcome. This Spring, H Dragon didn’t even have time to feel frustrated and defeated. He and his team had to give everything they had to get out of this devastating atmosphere. And as a result, Jin Air managed to display concrete performance in the Summer Promotions and survived in the LCK.
Shortly after the Promotions, we met up with H Dragon to hear some of his thoughts on this Spring Split. Even though he was on a vacation, this veteran coach was constantly thinking of the team’s upcoming summer.
Congratulations on your win in the Summer Promotions! How have you been?
We’re currently on a vacation. I told the players not to play LoL during their rest since I’d like them to fully rest. Although I’m on a vacation I’m busy parenting which I wasn’t able to focus that much in the past. (laughs) I was sorry and thankful for my wife since I couldn’t help her out that much during the season.
It seems like you’re doing something as important as going through a split. Well, this year, you had to face your career second promotion match. However, it really seemed different than the first one.
Although it’s tiring, It’s less stressful if we get good results. However, this time it was very tough since we didn’t get good results. I think it was the toughest split ever. When I first experienced a promotion match back in 2017, our scrims went well. I was confident that we would definitely advance with a sweep since our team had a 50% win rate against teams that went to the playoff finals [in scrims].
Unfortunately, it wasn’t like that this time. As a matter of fact, recently, the Challengers Korea (CK) teams were on a good momentum and were promoted quite often. I thought that the CK teams displayed solid performance whereas my team wasn’t in a good atmosphere. Now I can be honest… I wasn’t even 100% certain that we would win. Of course, I didn’t express this to my players.
I tried to put some confidence in my players. One thing for sure; we gave everything we can in practice for this Promotions. That’s how I was able to tell my players that ‘we are putting in the most time in practice so we can pull it off’. It was important for them to not feel weak. Also, a lot of teams helped us in practice.
Jin Air Green Wings is like a gateway to success in the LCK for rookie players. You brought up numerous players and had to say farewell during your career here.
The toughest moment as a head coach is when my players retire or have to move teams. It’s hard to say farewell to the players that were alongside me ever since their trainee days.
When a team sets off for a goal and finally fulfills it… That is a priceless experience. However, whenever I feel that we’re shaping up as a team, I had to say farewell to my players. At first, it was so tough to overcome. I even started doubt doing this job. But as time passed, I started to develop a different mindset. I started to think, ‘if we can’t be together, I’ll try my best to help them move to a better team’.
Also, it’s very tough when a player is on the verge of retiring. Above all, it’s the toughest to see a player putting in their utmost but has a clear limit to his growth. This is when I become harsh and try to tell my honest thoughts for the sake of the player. It’s really frustrating. Still, compared to Starcraft, LoL is a bit better [for those players]. Since LoL’s meta circulates, regardless of his individual mechanics, sometimes an experienced player can benefit when a certain meta comes back.
Although it’s not exactly the same case I told above, it was a shame to see Yeo “TrAce” Chang-dong retire. Despite the fact that he was one of the older players when he performed in Jin Air, he was very smart inside the game. I knew that he would become a great coach but I wanted him to perform a little bit longer as a player.
Park “Teddy” Jin-seong who recently moved out of the team, seemed quite concerned after his 1st season with us. That’s why I told the front that he is a player that is a must for the team. I also asked Teddy to have faith in me and stay with us for another year. I promised him that after a year, I would give my best support for him to move to a team that he wants to go to regardless of how well we do in that year. Now he went to SKT T1 and lifted the trophy. I sometimes keep in touch with him.
Before leaving the team, he helped us test our new bottom laner. Teddy led the tryouts and he told us that Moon “Route” Geom-su seemed to have the potential to be a good player.
They say that Route had quite a good split.
To be honest, I don’t think he has the potential to be good as Teddy yet. It’s totally up to how much effort he puts in. We can’t say that he is a “rookie” player since he did experience the Challengers Korea and Turkish league. Our team gives out a special bonus if a player makes it to the top 30 Challenger list in solo queue. Route has made it quite high in solo queue and I believe that he is a bottom laner that can improve much more if he can fix his clear weaknesses.
Going into the Spring Split, not a lot of people expected the rebuilt Jin Air to underperform this much.
Well, I did expect that it would be tough. However, I didn’t think that we were a team that is only capable of securing a single win. (laughs) When I first finished recruiting our players, I thought that it was the best we can get. But, to think of it, we didn’t have a leader in our team. We didn’t do well in our first few scrims. On the other hand, SANDBOX did pretty well in the preseason in scrims and gained confidence.
Our players are not that talkative except Park “Nova” Chan-ho. I’ve tried each of them as main shot callers but it didn’t work out as planned. It was tough since these days, everyone in the team should make calls inside the game.
However, my players are definitely capable of winning more than just a single match. I’m the one responsible for the team’s underperformance. I should have led the players better and make them improve their individual skills, but I failed. Our coaching staff isn’t that experienced so we needed more time to learn about the players.
When utilizing a 10-man roster, it’s best when the sub players improve even if they can’t make it to the starting lineup. However, they seemed afraid after watching the team fall into a losing streak. When I asked them whether they want to perform, the players seemed scared and I couldn’t possibly force them to go up on stage. I had to convince and encourage them by telling them about the importance of on-stage experience. “When do you think you’ll get the chance to meet and lane against these S tier players?”
Being on a losing streak is very frightening. Sometimes it makes you forget about the basics. The ‘Rift Herald incident’ which a lot of you guys might remember was an example of that. We never made this kind of mistake in practice. Kim “Malrang” Geun-seong is emotionally sensitive. I told him not to look at the comments but he did and was hurt. It must have been tough for him.
Caring the players’ mentality must have been difficult as well.
I recently heard that Gen.G made legal actions towards some comments and I do believe that it’s possible if the comments cross the line. However, I have quite a strong mentality and I try to believe that those people who wrote those comments must have been suddenly angry or something. So I simply tell my players that they should perform better next time.
During our scrims early this year, Malrang was the ace for our team. Although our performance in scrims wasn’t that good, he was the one who carried the team when we won. But, as we fell in a losing streak in official matches he seemed to be afraid and started to underperform. Kim “Seize” Chan-hee is the complete opposite case. He is a player that performed better on-stage than in scrims. That’s why Malrang is more motivated and puts in more effort.
I was most concerned about our mid lane since Lee “Grace” Chan-ju was on a severe slump. We expected a lot from him but he couldn't carry out his role 100%. He has strong opinions. Although he can have different thoughts, I wished him to quickly embrace what he did wrong. But sometimes he seemed rather stubborn. In the case of Choi “CheonGo” Hyeon-woo, he improved a lot compared to the past. However, he seemed very pressured in official matches. During the Promotions against EES, I was thinking of letting CheonGo perform if we were playing on the red side in game 4.
For our top lane, Heo “Lindarang” Man-heung is good on AD bruisers. He’s not a specialist on damage deal focused champions. That’s why he’s more of a team player that can support his teammates. However, during this Promotions, he completely carried the team which I feel thankful for him so much. Lee “TaNa” Sang-wook is a typical top laner; he only advances forward. (laughs) That’s how he was able to solo kill opponents on stage. TaNa has good mechanics but he is a player that needs to improve more.
How did it feel when you secured your first win of the split?
I didn't have time to think which team we could win against. I was more concerned about how we could be better at that time. To think of it now, I somewhat believe that the win against Afreeca Freecs was possible because Brook performed. A top laner performed in the mid lane so we used that as our advantage.
Regardless of the result, it was a very precious win since we gained confidence. I think that single win made us survive the Promotions.
The high-tier teams managed to recruit some big names in their roster. What do you think about the loan system? Would it be helpful for the mid to low ranked teams?
Like other sports, I think it’s a must. There are a lot of players that have the skills but can’t perform since they are a sub. However, it does seem quite difficult in the LCK. For teams like us, loaning a player and even recruiting trainees are tougher compared to those teams that have a lot of money.
Numerous fans are expecting Jin Air to improve more in the Summer Split. Which player do you have the most expectations on?
Kim “Seize” Chan-hee. I’m certain that he could improve more. I remember a time he once bought two Control Wards. He used one to get a clear vision for closer areas and than advanced to the opponent territory to use the second ward and safely fell back.
This is a difficult play to pull off in an official match as a rookie player. I also expect more from Kim “Kellin” Hyeong-gyu. He has very good mechanics but has some weaknesses in team calls and macro. I think the ‘Route-Kellin’ duo is better at laning in general.
You’ve been in a single team for 15 years ever since the PLUS team, which is known as the first form of Jin Air Green Wings. Haven’t you ever considered moving to another team?
Before this split, I received an offer from a Challengers Korea team with quite a high wage. However, it was difficult to decide to move teams. I was here for 15 years. Also, if I left, I thought that I would defeat Jin Air in the Promotions and make it to the LCK.
Although we don’t get a lot of support compared to the other teams that have a conglomerate as a sponsor, we still get enough support to carry out basic needs for a team. I think our team is the best when a rookie player needs to debut in the LCK.
What is your dream as a head coach?
I still have fun doing this job. My wife sometimes asks whether I’m having fun when I get off work late in the night. I think she asks this because I finish work late every day. (laughs) Then I answer, “I’m having fun!” Personally, I admire Alex Ferguson. When I was in my early 30s, my goal was to continue working as a head coach in my 40s… This year I became 40 [in Korean age].
These days, there are a lot of young and talented head coaches. Sometimes I think, ‘Am I doing this right?’, ‘Am I falling behind from the current trend?’, ‘Will I be able to do the same job in the future?’... I’d like to remain as a head coach until no team wants to hire me.
I’m still having plenty of fun and it is rewarding. Although I won’t be a head coach forever, my thought of wanting to remain in the esports industry in the future did not change. I don’t want to hear that I survived as a head coach because I have a long career. I want to be a coach that survived because I’m good at it.
Do you have any other words to share?
I’d like to say something to the players and to those who wish to be one in the future. A pro gamer is one of those few jobs that someone can challenge to be at a very young age. Actions speak louder than words so if you’re that desperate, I hope you take actions and give it your best shot. You should put in your utmost to not have regrets when you give up. If you forfeit after putting in so little, the circumstances won’t change that much in your second and third shot.
When a player that didn’t put in their best effort comes up to me and say “I want to retire.”, I try to convince him not to. Lee “Rogue” Byung-ryul who was in the Starcraft2 team was like that. He said he wanted to quit after spending only 6 months on the team. Fortunately, he simply “woke up” and managed to win the BlizzCon. I want the players to be like Son Heung-min. He is a soccer player that knows how to take care of himself well. If you see some of his interviews, you’ll also recognize that he is such an exemplary player.
Lastly, I would like to say something to the fans. I want to ask them to stop flaming players that sometimes crosses the line. Although I am a head coach, I do understand them since I’m also a fan of sports. I would be very thankful if you think of the players or the players’ family before writing a comment.