It’s been two months since Inven had a chance to talk with Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu. He definitely had a different aura around him. In September, he felt like a player who looked as if he was more worried about performing at Worlds, because he had such a clutch run in the regional qualifiers. However, in November, he looked as if he achieved all he wanted and looked as if he was enjoying everything very comfortably.
When asked how he was doing, Deft said that he was very busy. Despite the short off-season, he said that everything felt very fun. Due to his mood, the interview itself felt very comfortable as well. From his older brother’s tears, the factors that led DRX to a championship victory, to his thoughts on the current esports market, he shared a lot with us.
Also, we had a chance to hear about his plans in 2023. One thing was for certain: he had one more year. Now that he’s achieved everything he’s worked for over the past 10 years, what’s his motivator for the 2023 season?
The following interview took place on Nov 18.
How are you doing these days?
I thought I’d have a longer break after returning to Korea, but it’s almost non-existent. Right after I returned, I did some shoots, interviews, among other things; there was only one day of break. I didn’t have any time for myself, so I couldn’t even meet up with the people I know. I was only able to have a meal with Minseok [Keria] and Kwanghee [Rascal]. I don’t think I’ve ever had a season where it was this busy. It all may be physically taxing, but it all feels fun.
There were a lot of things that I did for the first time, and I thought, “There are a lot of things that I haven’t done in life yet.” Recently, I went on EBS [a TV channel] and had a conversation with an anchorwoman. It’s an educational station, so I thought the mood would be very formal, but I was surprised to see everyone there prove me wrong by welcoming me warmly.
A lot of your friends, family, and all the people around you must’ve been so happy for your victory.
Many of my ex-teammates congratulated me. However, the one that stood out among everyone has to be my older brother. I’m very close with him, and he was really emotionally invested in my championship victory. I don’t know if this is the right way to put it, but he wanted it just as much as I did. From what I heard, he sobbed very hard while watching the finals.
I don’t even remember the last time he cried. However, when I heard he did, I thought, “Damn, he really thinks of me a lot.” He was very excited in our phone call after the match, and said things like, “How did you win? I thought you lost, I couldn’t even watch properly because I was so nervous, which champion are you going to choose?” It was a fun conversation.
Also, he made me a video to motivate me and my teammates, which showcased our journey since the regional qualifiers. I couldn’t watch it before the finals, so when I told him that, he was disappointed. However, I think I might’ve lost if I watched it before the series [laughter]. When I watched it afterwards, the quality of it was a bit… I watch too many videos that are professionally produced, so… I was still grateful.
Our last interview was right after the regional qualifiers, right in this building. I never imagined we’d meet again like this after you became a world champion. A lot has changed since then, in a very positive way.
I didn’t know that things would turn out this way as well [laughter]. I worried a lot back then. I was worried about getting knocked out in the play-in stages, because the teams looked very strong. I had doubts on whether or not I can showcase how I improved, and whether or not I would be able to pass the tests. There was a lot on my mind back then.
It feels like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels like I aced a huge exam. I experienced so much in such a short amount of time, all of which were very good experiences. I’m very happy.
I remember you saying that the team will struggle to compete against the other teams, and that DRX will have to absorb the strengths of the strong teams. Do you think the team went in the direction you stated back then for such great results?
First and foremost, every one of our laning phases improved during Worlds, to the point where the level of it was at its peak. On top of that, we were able to absorb the strengths from other teams. Also, unlike the regular season, where you have to prepare for each team during a short period of time, you can pay more attention to each team you’re facing with more purpose. We were able to find the strengths and weaknesses of each team, and formulated a game plan around it.
Then, is it safe to conclude that the factors behind DRX’s victory was due to the meticulous and pinpoint accurate analysis work?
Yes, but the biggest difference between us and the other teams was that our rate of feedback at the venue was a lot faster. I think we were the best at adjusting our drafts and at fixing our in-game mistakes.
The coaching staff prepared our draft really well while we were playing, and the five players talked about how we’re going to execute. Truth be told, we knew the mistakes that we were making. I think we made quite a few mistakes in game 1, but executed our macro almost flawlessly afterwards.
Personally, it felt like members of DRX were much closer. Teamwork and synergy aside, it really felt like you guys were a single unit.
We all went through quite a lot over the past year, so we built up a stronger mental fortitude. I learned just how important it is to find balance through the experience of facing other teams, as well as becoming that single unit to never falter as a team.
I focused on things like this ever since the regional qualifiers. Playing well in-game was a given, but I had to work on how not to waver in any given situation. It was hard, but my teammates were there to boost me back up. It felt like a real team that would cover each others’ blind spots.
In the finals, DRX’s bot lane felt like the weak side. I’m sure it was a strategic decision, but the laning phase looked very tough, so it must’ve also been very tough on a mental level.
T1 favored Karma in the draft, but we didn’t. However, we didn’t want to ban out Karma, so the only option left was to play against her. We had to gain advantages in our draft somehow, so that’s why bot lane was the weak side. I had complete faith in our top side, so I thought that as long as I didn’t break, it would be alright. There were times where I’d normally push myself further to make a play, but I played safer. I tried to think as positively as possible.
You cried a lot in this tournament. A lot of fans did as well.
This year’s quarterfinals had a lot of storylines converging. EDG was my former team, but I never went past quarters with them. I never went past the semifinals even after I left that team. We were pushed to the brink in that series [vs. EDG], and it even was my birthday. WIth all that, the interviewer mentioned the whole 2,942 days thing. All the tough times I went through flashed before my eyes and all the energy inside my legs left me.
2020 was a time that’s very vivid to me. After losing to DWG KIA in the quarterfinals at Worlds, I packed up my gear and looked back at the venue. It felt like I’d never return to the international stage, and I thought that would be my last Worlds appearance. Because of how vivid that time was, I thought, “I’m back here, and I’m moving forward.” I cried because I was very happy.
When I looked at the fans from the stage, I thought everyone was just happy, but I later found out that there were people crying with me. I’m grateful that fans and staff alike were so emotionally invested as well.
Because you’re a veteran among veterans, I want to talk about a topic that’s been discussed for a few years in the scene. First, I think you can really relate to how mainstream esports has become in recent years.
I think a good realistic starting point would be player salaries. When I first started, there was no such thing as a salary. The money I’d make would be the prize money, and that’s around one million KRW over three months [currently ~745 USD]. Everyone knows just how much money they make, and the infrastructure is well set up to the point where players can just focus on the game.
I think the public perception has been becoming more positive as well. In my early days, whenever I’d tell my barber that I’m a pro gamer, they’d think that I’m just someone who sits at a PC bang and practices all day while eating cup noodles [laughter]. They’d ask me what my job is, and when I tell them, they’d respond, “Do you practice at a PC Bang? What do you eat?” Now, however, everyone’s amazed at my job title, and it’s more respected, so I take pride in the fact that my job is more respected.
On the other hand, I feel that there are more responsibilities that add up. I didn’t like feeling more responsible at first, but I think being a pro gamer made me more mature, because of the responsibilities I had as a teammate and a captain.
I think the views on veterans have changed since three years ago, where they’re now considered a necessary part of the team to be the pillar that a team needs to perform.
I did also hear about the negative stigma of being an older player, but it feels like I’ve contributed to the image of veterans being turned around for the positive, so I’m proud of myself.
If you look at all the teams that have either won Worlds or were close to winning it, there was always someone that acted as that pillar for their team. Players like Ambition and Doinb are good examples. This isn’t always the answer, but whenever I see someone like that, I always feel the necessity of a leader.
Personally, I think that younger players can also play the role of a veteran, so it’s not the age that determines the role. It all depends on which way a player’s developed towards. For example, Keria’s a young player with a relatively short career, but I think he’d be a great leader. It all depends on what type of players they are.
If I expand on the question a little, teams are feeling the necessity of having players with great game sense and are ‘smart’ about the game.
LoL is a team game, so I think the culmination of all the five players’ mechanical and macro prowess is what’s important. It’s all about the balance, and I think our team was very balanced. That’s why we performed the way we did, and if one of us fell behind, I don’t think we would’ve won the finals.
If you divide this by in-game roles, everyone would conclude that the top side is more mechanical-focused, while bot lane is more about the macro. I can see top side players just brute forcing their plays because they rely on their mechanical prowess, but the results are usually pretty bad [laughter]. In matches, momentum is important. If we take the fight even with less members than our enemies, I can tell that the opponents get flustered. That’s why it’s important to consider factors like this while preparing for matches.
Speaking of mechanical prowess, we can’t forget about the once ‘Crazy high schooler’ Deft. When do you think your peak was in terms of your mechanical abilities?
I think it was from my EDG days to Kingzone DragonX days. At the time, however, I was only focused on my weaknesses, so I didn’t really think I was playing well. Whenever people would compliment me, I thought, ‘Why do they say that, I’m bad at this, this, and that. They really don’t know League of Legends.’
Right now, whenever I can’t do the things that felt natural back then, I can really feel it. That’s why I can say that I did play well back then. Looking back on it, my standards were close to a machine. I always thought, ‘If I did this, then I would’ve turned out differently. If I did things differently, I would’ve had different results’. Things like that.
That’s why I lowered my standards to a human level. From the amount of practice to the plays I make, lowering those standards naturally made me more comfortable.
Lastly, I’d like to conclude this interview by asking how you feel about the 2022 season, as well as some plans and goals for 2023.
I feel relieved. The things I’ve done this year feel like they weren’t wrong, and I proved through my practice and execution that I was right. It’s not just winning the championship; it feels like I’ve been rewarded for the last 10 years of my life.
The biggest motivator for the 2023 season is ‘Putting myself to the test’. I always told myself to never change, so now that I'm a world champion, I'm going to put it to the test. One thing I'll add is that even now, I hope that all five of us will stick together for 2023.
I might have the title of ‘champion’, but it’s a title that came very abruptly. I’m the same person I was a month ago. I appreciate all the support I received this year, and I hope fans will continue to support me next year. I’ll see you in 2023.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports