Kingzone DragonX has been struggling with internal problems.
This was first mentioned in Naver Esports Radio, LCK Show, on the 3rd (KST), but during the broadcast, they only mentioned that there were problems and did not discuss any details.
From July 20th, Kingzone had a 4-game slide, falling to the lower half of the standings from the top. Fans were disappointed at Kingzone’s recent results and were asking what the problems could possibly be to have it kept a secret from their fans.
After speaking with several former and current officials from Kingzone, LoL esports authorities, and some players, we were able to draw an outline of what happened. All sources asked to stay anonymous.
Head Coach Hirai does not have power.
Before going into details, we need to look into the background first. The current Kingzone DragonX is quite different from IM (Longzhu) where head coach Kang "Hirai" Dong-hoon assisted in operating the team spending his own money. Back then, Hirai was the general manager/director/marketing lead/head coach. It was completely Hirai’s team.
During this period, Hirai struggled with operating the team with issues in payments, so he had to ask for help from the Korean Esports Association (KeSPA). To sort out the issues, KeSPA attracted Chinese investments to create the current Kingzone DragonX. Afterward, Hirai’s role and responsibilities within the team decreased. He did still contribute to the team regarding marketing by attracting sponsors from Red Bull in 2018, but from 2019, Hirai mainly concentrated on being the head coach of the team.
The sources said that in the middle of the 2019 summer season, a third-party individual business bid to take over Kingzone. It was said that Kingzone’s mother company, FEG (Fighting E-sports Group) lost interest in running an LoL team because it required too much investment.
The takeover was decided all of a sudden. Although terms were agreed upon, official statements hadn’t yet been covered. The problem was that the new management started to have an effect on the team immediately. All sources told that there would have been no problem if this happened during the offseason, but the team was in a close competition which caused a problem.
The new leadership started by shaking up the coaching staff. They started searching for new coaches, planting seeds of anxiety within the coaches. One source said that the atmosphere had the original coaching staff completely excluded and that the attitude was so coercive that practice was hard to progress.
This wasn't due to players having lost faith in the coaching staff. According to sources, the players rather had faith in the current coaching staff and followed them closely. The players insisted that they would like to continue the journey with them. However, the new leadership went on and started searching for new coaching staff members.
Sources claimed there was another disturbing incident which shook up the players more directly. They said that the new leadership attempted to renew the contracts despite the fact that they were still in the season. Negotiations to renew contracts don't occur often in the middle of a season. As most LCK players don’t have an agent, they would have trouble concentrating in their games when negotiations begin. What's more was that the so-called "negotiations" were rather enforced.
Another problem was that they only offered contract renewals to some of the players, as several sources said. This implicitly told players whether they were wanted or not. Sources mentioned that those who weren’t offered a contract renewal became dispirited and had trouble finding motivation to play.
As told by sources, the questions during the negotiation weren't very positive either, asking questions that may cause conflicts between the players such as, ‘who do you want to play with next season?’ or ‘who’s prowess lack within the team, and what does he lack?’ This was contrary to the coaching staff always telling the players that even if someone lacks prowess, they’ll be going together.
The time for negotiations wasn’t very timely as well. Sources explained that negotiations were held one or two days before the official matches, late in the night after all scrims ended. The negotiations went past 5 AM and the players had trouble practicing solo queue.
All Negotiations Rejected
First, the players refused to renew their contracts. Sources said that the players meant that they didn’t want to lose concentration due to contract issues and that they complained having to discuss such a matter in the middle of the season. While rejecting the contracts, they also asserted that they’d like to continue playing with the current coaching staff, preventing the team from falling completely apart for now.
The coaching staff and players are continuing to grind their effort in the remaining summer season and to get to Worlds. What Kingzone lost during this period is that their analyst left the team, and that everybody in the team has been hurt, while head coach Hirai is doing his best to recover the morale of the team.
Meanwhile, on the request to check facts on this matter, Kingzone headquarters claimed that the report is groundless, and announced a statement denying all rumors and articles regarding the 'LCK Show' radio broadcast.