With the pandemic still raging throughout the world, I wasn’t able to meet in person with one of my favorite interviewees in the LoL scene, Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho. We always had to talk online, through vastly different timezones. This time, it was different. Ssumday got back in Korea after the World Championship to spend quality time with friends and family, and even have a little gig at a fellow pro gamer’s wedding.
When we finally met, Ssumday put on a huge smile, like he always does, sipped his coffee and got out everything he needed to get out. After a brief reunion, we started chatting about being back home in two years, Worlds, and his life in NA.
I’m so happy to see you again! You haven’t been home for a while. What have you been up to?
Yeah, it’s been two years. In the past few years, I had a long offseason break, since we missed Worlds. But this year, the break was short since we made it and the season itself finished later than usual. My break was about one month, and it went by with a blink of an eye. [Laughs] We’ll be practicing starting tomorrow, and I think it’ll be fun.
Recently, I sang for KaKAO at his wedding. He told me his wife really liked the song "Love is an Open Door". It was supposed to be Arrow, Ryu, and me singing together, but Ryu had issues in the army and wasn’t able to have his vacation as scheduled, so I ended up singing with Arrow.
We only practiced once together, and it sounded great, but sadly, it didn’t do as well at the actual wedding. [Laughs]
Were you able to meet Ryu at all? At least visit him at his troop?
I wanted to, but he was in one of the front-line troops, so I couldn’t visit him. I heard that he’ll be on vacation on Dec. 10 or so, but I’ll probably be busy bootcamping then. [laughs]
Since we spoke about winning LCS the last time, let’s talk about Worlds. You went to Iceland after a short break, right?
We first went to Germany to bootcamp. At that time, our jungler and sub jungler both got their visa late, so we just played solo queue there. And we all agreed that bootcamp kind of poisoned us. [laughs] EU solo queue shook up our mentalities, including mine. When we got to Worlds, our game wasn’t as good as our LCS finals.
In Iceland, at first, we all weren’t able to adapt to the scrims. I heard other teams started scrimming about a month before. They all knew how to play Tryndamere mid or Graves top, and knew how to face them, but we were starting from ground zero, so our game got back on track a bit late — a bit too late. By the time we retrieved our good performance, we were already eliminated. [лaughs] That’s really regretful.
The food was also a bit of an issue for me since I prefer Korean food. There was a great Korean restaurant in Germany, but not in Iceland. I wouldn’t say that it affected my performance, but I lost a bit of weight there.
How did the team react when you first saw the group draw?
Frankly, after we won the LCS championship, we were all very confident. Even on the day of the finals, we thought Team Liquid was a really good team — the only reason that we had a one-sided win was that we were able to show everything that we prepared.
So, since we were extremely confident, we were just happy. [laughs] We weren’t worried too much about T1 or EDward Gaming. The only team we wanted to avoid was DWG KIA, and we were happy because we did avoid them. [laughs]
That confident, huh? [laughs] You would have scrimmed against a lot of teams there. How were they? Which teams were strong in scrims?
Well, we obviously weren’t able to scrim T1 or EDG — come to think of it, I think we had a hard time. [laughs] We scrimmed LNG Esports a few times and learned a lot from them. Hanwha Life Esports helped us out a lot too, and Chovy was insanely good. Abbedagge struggled a lot. [laughs]
As you said earlier, 100 Thieves were eliminated rather early, but you managed to take down EDG in the last game to put T1 in first place. Reapered said that you motivated yourselves saying “Let’s make T1 get out in first place since they went 2-0 against us”.
Well, just after it was confirmed that we were eliminated, we played against Detonation FocusMe. In that match, our performance was really bad. Honestly, if DFM played just a little bit better, we could have lost. Everyone was in a sad mood after that match, since our next match was the last before we went home.
We still had to play the last game, and we need an objective when we play. After we talked about taking down EDG to make T1 advance in first place, we were able to concentrate again. No one wanted to finish the year with a loss, and so we won.
What was even better was that EDG won Worlds. [laughs] It really means something to have beaten the World Champions at least once. This was special for us — it made us look forward to our next year more positively. If we had lost that match, the team atmosphere during the offseason might have been a bit different.
It turned out to be the most difficult group to get out of. A team that played to the end in the semifinals and… well, the world champions. [laughs]
You know, three years ago, I was in the same group as Invictus Gaming and Fnatic. They met each other in the finals. Why am I always so unlucky? [laughs]
We also said if T1 beat EDG twice in groups, we would have had a chance for a tiebreaker. We all saw Group D have a four-way tie with teams at 3-3. We were also 3-3 but were eliminated early without even a chance for a tiebreaker. But what could we say? We were eliminated simply because we weren’t good enough.
Remember how C9 went 2-4 and got a tiebreaker?
[laughs] I know. I was kind of jealous of them.
What do you think of the results of the LCS as a whole? C9 somehow managed to get out of groups again, 100 Thieves and Team Liquid were both 3-3, which is quite alright. At least there weren’t any teams that went 0-6 or 1-5.
It was rather regretful because my expectations for LCS this year were really high. My initial expectations were two teams in the quarters and one team in the semis — hopefully having two NA teams meet in the quarters so at least one team could reach the semis. [laughs]
Frankly, when I was in the LCK, I didn’t watch the LCS to learn — I mostly watched the LPL or LEC, but the gap wasn’t that big back then, and now it’s even smaller. The gap between A-tier players and S-tier players is paper-thin, and it goes the same with leagues and teams. What we need to do is close that paper-thin gap to be reborn as an S-tier team. Obviously, that’s the most difficult part. [laughs]
Overall, were the results as you expected? After you were eliminated, I mean.
Just looking at the semifinals, I think it went as expected. The most shocking part of Worlds 2021 was when FunPlus Phoenix was eliminated in groups. They were a team that had such a close fight with LPL champions, EDG — we thought they were at the same level. I don’t know what happened, but I was sad to see them get eliminated so early.
And frankly, it was shocking when EDG won the championship. [laughs] In our last game, we bet EDG by a pretty big margin. We were decimated by T1, though. I thought there were several teams that were better, but I guess all the games EDG played — since they played all five games each from the quarters to the finals — made them improve so much to ultimately win the championship.
Now after Worlds, 100 Thieves confirmed the LCS roster quite early and the team’s here to bootcamp. What do you expect to take from this bootcamp?
A month is both a short and long period of time, and what we need to do is find our game to prepare for our next season. It’s always good to be prepared, right? Even at school, if you didn’t do your homework, you feel uneasy. It’s the same thing. [Laughs] Also, if you go somewhere far from home with friends, you get much closer with them. I’m looking forward to bonding as a team more. It’s going to be fun.
It seems that Tenacity was called up from the academy. What kind of a player is he?
It could seem that I’m too proud of myself, but he’s the kind of player that’s evaluated the way I was when I was young. He’s a solo queue warrior with great mechanics. He loves playing aggressive champions, but he needs to learn the team game a bit more. Overall, he’s really good.
This would mean that you’d have to compete for the starting spot in the top lane. What does that mean to you?
Obviously, competing with someone within the team is pressuring, but in the world of professional gaming, if I’m not good enough, I need to pass on that spot to someone who’s better. That’s how it works.
Right now, I’m wondering how he would melt into the team. Our team has our own style, and I’m curious about how it’ll be different when I’m playing and when he’s playing — whether he would struggle in the same areas that I struggle with, or how he would deal with the situations put for him.
How do you think the next year would go? You beat the world champions in your last game of the year, and the same roster is moving forward next year, so the synergy would probably be even better.
I was watching the stove league, and it seems all other teams are all jumbled up. I think 100 Thieves will be one of the top teams next year. If you ask me, I’d say if we could manage to maintain the form we had at the end of last summer, we’ll be able to keep on winning the championship. That said, I’m still regretful that we weren’t able to maintain that form at Worlds.
We were the fifth team to hang a banner in the LCS Arena, so we’ll be confident and proud whenever we walk in there. I hope we could put up more banners there, consecutively.
Cloud9’s roster change is kind of unprecedented, and I’m curious about how it’ll change with Summit there. If Summit’s English skills are as bad as when I first came to NA, he would have to go through the same that I went through… At least C9 have an interpreter and they have other Koreans in the team, so he won’t have as much trouble adapting.
So far, which team do you think will be the strongest?
Most people would think the same thing. Like everyone else, I think Team Liquid would be the strongest.
You're still living in the NA. Did you expect it to be this long when you first moved to the United States?
At that time, I would never have thought that I would be here for this long. I was just a shy boy back then, and the alphabet was just about all the English that I knew. [laughs] I even thought that I might return to Korea after a year.
It’s interesting that I’m here for this long, and I’m kind of proud of myself that I was here this long. It means that I didn’t do badly in NA and that I lived properly and well.
What's your biggest takeaway from your five years in NA so far?
I would have to say the whole experience itself. Others have to spend so much money to study abroad, while I even earn money while I’m here, living with native English speakers. Back when I was in school, I would never have thought that I’d live in America, speaking English.
Another takeaway is that my personality changed. It might be that I’m just aging, [Laughs] but I’m not as shy as I used to be, and I can say what I want without hesitating too much.
People who speak multiple languages have different personalities in each language. I’m also different depending on if I’m in an English-speaking environment or a Korean-speaking environment. Does that happen with you as well?
I think so, yeah. [laughs] My English tutor said that I’m different when I’m speaking English starting from the tone. She told me that I’m more like a baby. I have to go through an extra process in my head when I talk in English, so I’m more careful. When I watch Huni in interviews, he’s so outgoing and he looks really cool. It’s a bit regretful that I still can’t be like that.
On the other hand, what do you think you lost while being in NA?
I really loved communicating with the fans, and I used all the energy they gave me as motivation. The most regretful part of being in NA is that I can’t communicate with the Korean fans much. It might be that their support doesn’t go as far as NA, or it could be just that all the fans’ daily lives are too busy to seek me. [Laughs]
When I played in Korea, my friends and family were able to boast about me, since I appeared on TV — now they can’t do that anymore. I’m still really happy when Korean fans recognize me in international competitions and say, “Is that the crazy high-schooler that used to play in KT?”
As a LoL player, playing in the LCS might be limiting yourself in how much you can reach at Worlds. Have you ever thought of going to a different region so that you could reach higher goals?
Honestly, I did think about going to other regions to get higher at Worlds. But my thought process went the other direction. The heights an LCS team can reach at Worlds might be limited, but if I were to break that limit, that would be something to be really proud of, right? If I won Worlds as an LCS player, wouldn’t that be legendary? [laughs]
If you do, you’d be praised as much as, maybe even more than Faker! It’s time to wrap up now. Anything you’d like to say to close the interview?
I might be pretty old as a pro gamer, but I’m still pretty young as a person. I still have a lot of passion inside me, so I still want to put on the performance that I want to show. I want to tell myself that I can do it, that I can do well. [Laughs]