[Interview] LCK Caster Valdes on LCK, SKT's Struggles, and Caster Jun

Brendan “Valdes” Valdes has been around in the Korean esports scene for many years now. Ever since he started with Starcraft 2, he has been bridging the language gap for the English audience. A few years ago, he started casting the LCK and became a symbolic character of the English LCK desk. During the Rift Rivals, we were able to run into Valdes and chat for a while about the SKT’s struggles, the LCK, and caster Jun.


Hi, can you introduce yourself?


My name is Brendan Valdes, I go by the ID Valdes. I’m 27 years old and will be 28 in two months. I’ve been casting the LCK for two and a half years. Started in 2017 with SPOTV. I’ve been casting total about 6-7 years, full time. I came to Korea about 7 and a half years ago.

How do you like it here?


I love Korea. It’s super comfortable. Feels like my home more than America now because I’ve been here for so long. Even though, I do miss home from time to time of course. (Laughs)

What did you cast before LCK?


I was doing a lot of Starcraft 2. That was my main full time thing. I was doing a lot of stuff on the side as well, like PUBG and FIFA. A lot of side games that I wasn’t committing all of my time to but my first full-time gig was SC2 pro league with SPOTV. I did that with Wolf Schroeder, who’s now casting the Overwatch League. That was my first full-time casting gig.

Are you enjoying casting? Was it kind of like your “dream job”?


Well, the funny thing was that when I was younger, I was never really a talkative guy. I was kind of an introverted guy; play games, read books… I did have some close friends, but I wasn’t “super-outgoing” or anything like that. And I’ve never done any camerawork or anything. But I got a chance to fill in for casting here while I was working in Korea about seven years ago.

That was actually OGN Champions Season 2. That was way back in 2012. It was too big of an opportunity to pass down. Even though I had no broadcasting experience, I just decided to do it and now I’ve become accustomed to the job and gotten much better over the years. Now I feel that it’s a lot natural to me compared to eight or nine years ago.


You’re on the desk with PapaSmithy, LS, and Atlas. How do the roles differ amongst you?


The four of us do the LCK; Atlas and I do the play-by-play and LS and Papa do analysis. So mainly Atlas and I share time on the play-by-play. Atlas and I do pretty much the same thing; the stand-in host. We mainly explain and describe how the play happened when it happens and try to be exciting. Maybe hype up the crowd and stuff like that - even though our crowd is on the internet. (Laughs) Very different from actually having our voice go out to the venue.

Compared to the analysts; analysts actually, in League of Legends, they take more of the casting time. Because there’s a lot of downtimes to explain the details. For example, why are players going for this build, why do they pick those champions, why do they choose this composition. Stuff like that. And item builds, all those are covered by the analyst, and we kind of segue those discussions and bounce ideas off of each other.


I believe you’ve met caster Jeon Yong-jun (Caster Jun). Are you close with him?


Sure, we’ve met. I always see him and talk to him at the afterparties. In the past, especially, I know the OGN guys are really close with him like Monte. I wouldn’t say we’re super close friends, but we’re definitely friendly and always chat and say hello.

I’ve noticed that even though the English audience doesn’t understand a thing he says, they love caster Jun’s enthusiastic style of casting. What have you learned from him as a caster?


I mean, the guy’s a legend. He’s been doing it for so many years. I don’t know exactly how many years, but it must be over twenty by now, at least. The guy just… He has this immense presence and charisma. It’s hard to say that I would directly learn something about the style of casting, because it’s very different between English and Korean; the way he displays the play-by-plays is significantly different from the way Atlas and I or other English casters do play-by-play. But the guy is absolutely inspirational. He’s kind of like a father figure to all of us as well. Always cheering us all on and giving us tips and stuff like that.


Something specific I’ve learned from him would be… Maybe just be louder? (Laughs) When I first started, I was much more quieter than I had to be. That could be a very simple thing, but through watching him and other legendary top-level casters, I learned that I have to be a lot more energetic. He always brings boatloads of energy. That’s definitely something I’ve learned from him.

Let’s move on to the LCK now. Starting about last year, LCK has become more of a ‘challenger’ to the throne. Why do you think that is? And at what state do you think the LCK is at?


You mean how they kind of fell from being the one dominant region? Umm… I wouldn’t really know what to say in terms of the teams specifically, but I do think that the other regions just got better. Even Europe now has become a contender. We couldn’t have said that in the past, right? They would sometimes take games off of Chinese or Korean teams, but now it’s like you never really know. You go to MSI and EU vs NA finals. The landscape is definitely changing. The other regions are now kind of playing to their strengths. They’re not looking up to Korea saying we’re gonna practice 16 hours a day and go crazy to do exactly what the Koreans do. The European style is much more free and definitely more aggressive than Korea as well.

In terms of meta, I think the meta has kind of changed away from what Korea was good at. They were really good at controlled slow-paced style, scaling up and eventually becoming strong and trying to cut out all the mistakes they could possibly make. China especially, they’ve always been known for being super aggressive. Once the meta kind of switched towards being beneficial to playing aggressive and punishing the Korean style, it took the Koreans a while to adapt, because their style has been the best for so long. They’re not easily willing to say, “Oh, we just gotta change everything and get more aggressive.” 

Looking at Kingzone vs IG, the composition Kingzone drafted was very aggressive. They thought they have to be proactive on the map and that they need to poke them down and do that kind of things. That’s part of why teams like Kingzone, DAMWON, and SANDBOX, Kingzone may not necessarily new, but the newer teams and more free-style teams that are willing to change up their meta are succeeding because they’re willing to say we can play this aggressive style that is necessary to win nowadays.

I think Korea as a region is going to catch right back up. I don’t think they’ll fall from grace for too long. I predicted them to win this Rift Rivals as well over the LPL. I would expect them to be a heavy contender at Worlds; I don’t know if they’re going to win, but I would say that at least a Korea team should make the finals.


Many fans are wondering about SK Telecom T1’s underperformance. What do you think the reason was behind their struggles in the early season, after the MSI?


Well, that’s the really big question. If I had the exact answer to that, I would just go over to SKT and fix them right up. (Laughs) I think their drafts were very outdated. When they first came back for the beginning of summer, they lost a lot of games in a row. It was because they were drafting that old style. The teams would take huge advantage of that. Even if they had an insane lineup with legendary players, the opponent would still beat them, even if the opponents are not as good on paper. So SKT took a while to try to adapt to the meta; nowadays kkOma’s in there helping with the draft. You can see that they’re changing their style little by little; they won the last couple of games.

I think the teams have so much expected of them as well to finish off the spring season, do the finals, and immediately have to go to the MSI. They never got a break. That can wear down on them. At the MSI, kind of failed in the Korean fans’ eyes. They didn’t win it, and that’s kind of failing for SKT, right? So they come back, they’re tired, maybe some arguments are breaking out. It’s not as easy as it used to be to win. They went through a little slump there, but I think they’re going to come out of it. If they can fix some of their communication issues, their drafts if they can get a little bit more modern. I would say that they would come back.


So you believe they will come back?


Yeah. That would be my prediction. They’re already doing pretty well. I know that the wins they had weren’t against top tier teams, but they definitely looked a lot more solid and willing to change. They’re making less mistakes.

How do you think the rest of the LCK season would go?


I think that DAMWON Gaming is a huge name to look out for. Nuguri was always an incredibly carry focus player. He even mentioned specifically in an interview how he’s kind of opposite from his team; he wants to go in when they want to back off. But it seems like they’ve all got onto the same page, and also, Showmaker is having more carry performances and prove that he can actually “make the show” as his name suggests. Overall, I think they’re improving a lot as a team. I would expect them to go third, probably.

SKT, they’ve already taken so many losses. I think they’re going to come back. Maybe they would slip in at about fifth. SANDBOX is also really good, and Afreeca… They were doing well, but I don’t know what happened. It could be inexperience; they have an extremely young roster. They show so much promise, but I don’t know if they’re going to make it happen for this split, but definitely, a team to look out for.

Kingzone is obviously super strong; probably first or second in my mind. Griffin goes without saying. They don’t do very well in the finals, but when it comes to the season, they’re like the season kings. They very often get first place and dominate the league. I would assume they would do similarly. The real question is can they actually win and get that ticket to Worlds because everybody has been looking for Griffin at Worlds.

Are you looking forward to watching Griffin at Worlds? They did take part in their first international tournament here, but to see them face up against NA or EU teams would be different.


Yeah, when Griffin first entered the LCK, the hype was so strong because they went undefeated in Challengers. Everybody was talking about it, how they were the new big team. They actually lived up to that name in a sense during their first season. But then, they kind of choked at the finals... and choked again in the next finals. I think a bit of that hype has died off. Maybe everybody’s kind of on the Kingzone train nowadays. Everybody’s super hyped for them, and they all want to see them on the international stage once again with a different lineup this time. 

But I mean, everybody wants to give Griffin a test. Not just a best of 5 in the LCK test, we want to give them a ‘go to a foreign country, eat foreign food, be uncomfortable and play against other teams that have different styles to see if they can compete with that test’. People were hyped for so long, and they were denied it two straight splits. A lot of people are still waiting for it; I know I still am. Just to see if they can actually prove themselves.

About Rift Rivals now. In general, there are some discussions going on about having Rift Rivals right in the middle of the season. What’s your opinion on that?


It’s definitely a fun idea if you think about it. Adding more international competitions… For the fans, it’s fantastic to watch the teams play. But I do agree that it seems to be a bit much to just cut one week right through the summer season and have all these top teams be forced to show strategies and be practicing really hard while the other teams have a little break and have some time off. 

It’s kind of like you get punished a bit for performing very well in spring. (Laughs) Which is kind of weird to say. I don’t really know how we would fix the system or change it up. I think maybe a different type of tournament or something like this with a similar idea, promoting international competition would be nice. I don’t know, it’s hard. I don’t have a solution right now, but maybe a change might be necessary for the future.

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