Last November, LCK’s stove league was on fire. Fans expected Hanwha Life Esports to set the fire on the stove, but the organization had different thoughts. Instead of signing with the star players, Hanwha Life Esports completed a young roster with an average age of 20 for the future.
What are Hanwha Life Esports' thoughts for 2022? We got a chance to sit down with Hanwha Life Esports director Kim Sang-ho to ask about their plan going forward.
This year, Hanwha Life Esports League of Legends team finished with the best result so far. What was the impression within the organization?
When we first founded Hanwha Life Esports, our goal was to go to Worlds within three years. It took a year more, but we are glad that we made it to the quarterfinals of Worlds. Our performance was well-received by the whole Hanwha group, out of the esports team. Hanwha group held a lot of esports events for the brand advertisements.
We hoped our players and coaches to receive more spotlight for the results achieved after hard work — unfortunately, we couldn't meet the expectations fans had.
Hanwha Life Esports League of Legends team announced its roster for 2022. How does the organization evaluate the recruited players?
Like our fans, we think that the 2022 roster is weaker than the 2021 roster in the short term. 2022 will be a challenging year for us. We hope that in the long term, this year's recruitments will be an opportunity for the young players to play and grow as a team, like how DWG KIA did in the long term.
Firstly, I am curious about Lee "DuDu" Dong-ju. Hanwha Life Esports cared a lot about DuDu since his debut. However, he has not made satisfying results yet. What is the reason the team keeps believing in DuDu?
Some players make great performances since their debut, but some players unlock their potential later. In either case, the players who make the results share a common characteristic — they have an insane amount of practice. DuDu's amount of practice is unparalleled against any of the players we've played with. Looking at DuDu’s efforts, we would like to believe that DuDu will make it, even if it is a bit late.
DuDu indeed showed a lot of ups, downs, and many failures. However, he is a player who has been part of our team, starting as a trainee and putting in more effort than anyone else. We hope that he doesn't get discouraged and become successful one day.
Oh "Vsta" Hyo-seong is also a player that Hanwha Life Esports found. He has learned a lot from Worlds and he is evaluated well within the team for his mentality, communication, and mindset as a pro player. We think that he can do a lot more in the future. Our team will become more solid when successful results come from the players who’ve been with us for a long time.
Kim “On-Fleek” Jang-gyeom seems different from the other players on the roster. What was the reasoning behind his recruitment?
As much as personal performances, team plays are crucial. OnFleek gets well along with other players and has the qualifications as a team leader. Given that there are a lot of rookies in our team, we hope that OnFleek will take care of the team when facing unexpected dangers in-game. He is well determined to do better next year to make up for the disappointing performance this year.
What are your thoughts on the new mid laner and bot laner Kim "Karis" Hong-jo and Lee "SamD" Jae-hoon?
Both Karis and SamD played well in recent scrims. Karis has a firm belief in his plays and strengths, unlike average rookie players. SamD already performed well in LPL. Some people are worried about SamD because his performance has been worse recently. We think that he couldn't play up to his full potential because his support duo was switched often within the team.
I would like to also ask about Son “Kezman” Dae-young. Although he made it to the quarterfinals of Worlds, fans are not too optimistic about him. What is your opinion?
Although our result is making it to the quarterfinals of Worlds, fans are very disappointed about finishing 8th in the Summer split. Looking at the situation from the inside, it was not a situation we can blame on someone.
We believe that fans couldn't trust Kezman because we caused misunderstandings by the lack of communication with our fans. Kezman heavily influences strategies and game directions, in reality. The scenes delivered through interviews and videos are limited — Most of the strategies are not shared through the media because they are crucial and private information.
Also, neither Kezman nor the organization wanted the players to be blamed for the losses. We had to restrict the amount of information we open publically. These aspects stacked and eventually snowballed into disbelief against Kezman.
In the end, Kezman solved the challenging issues from the Summer split and made it to the quarterfinals of Worlds. We still trust Kezman. We do not want to put more pressure on him because Kezman already feels the most pressure about the current situation and worries the most about the team.
This year’s stove league was the most chaotic one yet. As an LCK team, what are your thoughts on the stove league?
It was definitely an unprecedented one. There were so many different issues that we were worried about whether the league is going to be fine. Going into this year’s stove league, we put a lot of thought into whether we should spend a lot of money for the short-term goal next year or look at the long-term goal.
To be honest, we were very shocked about how much the LCK market overheated after entering LCK as a franchise team. The player recruitment cost has inflated too much, to the point even a major company like us felt the burden. The cost of running a pro gaming team, including the salary for players, is rising steeply. The LCK player salaries already exceeded that of Korean pro soccer teams and now matches to Korean pro baseball teams.
However, the income from pro gaming teams is significantly lower compared to that of baseball teams. We also doubt whether the marketing effect from the pro gaming teams is as good as baseball teams.
Many players are becoming free agents and moving to different teams. It contradicts the structure we aim for — creating team franchise star players and making healthy improvements for the pro gaming teams. Furthermore, salary inflation is not a positive influence on the entire esports scene. As the top players get paid more, the gap between the top players and rookie players gets wider.
We think that there has to be a structural change. Someone has to search for gemstones and help the rookies to grow. We thought about joining the market to win it all next year. However, after long considerations, we decided to invest in the future and completed the current roster.
We now understand the reasoning and goal behind the 2022 roster. However, fans must be disappointed because Hanwha Life Esports did not recruit players up to expectations.
We know the expectations, but we think the pro gaming teams shouldn't operate only considering the current season. We want to create a structure where our players come together as one team and create a sustainable and powerful team. For example, DWG KIA has grown with the players as a team altogether and won the World Championship. We are looking for the same goal. We hope that fans understand that we are looking from a different perspective, rather than debating if something is correct or wrong. Please support our players, considering the long-term goal.
There are many complaints that Hanwha Life Esports lack communication with the fans. What are your thoughts?
When fans are frustrated, the organization has to solve it. Looking back, we were too conservative about it. Sometimes the games did not go the way we hoped. In those cases, we were deeply heartbroken because our players were blamed and attacked about it. We hesitated to communicate with the fans under the nominal to protect our players.
We were also influenced by the fact that our main business is an insurance company, and we run esports for marketing. The most important value of a financial company is trust. We can appeal to the financial issues with the experience and knowledge our company has. However, we lack experience in running an esports team. If the esports issue affects our main business, the marketing aspect fades. Thus, we aimed for stable operations. After all, we could not satisfy the fan’s demand.
We will actively communicate with the fans next year. We will create more media content. If fans need explanations about the team's situations, we will actively clarify the situation.
What is the goal of the Hanwha Life Esports League of Legends team for 2022? What will the organization do to achieve the goal?
Our first short-term goal is to make it to the playoffs. In the long-term, we will make a team that can make it to Worlds again. Our second goal is to search and recruit top prospects to set a balance between the current performance and the future goals.
Our job is to create the best environment for the players to focus on the game. We will make eating, wearing, moving, and physical wellness perfect for the players. Also, we are preparing a new system to take care of players’ mental wellness. We are talking to a related business to consider how we should care for the players in situations where they can be easily pressured, get nervous, and anxious.
We are confident that we provide the best environment for the players out of 10 LCK teams. If these supports continue, we believe that Hanwha Life Esports will be a great team that players want to join. We will not hesitate to support our players to make a team that the top prospects want to join and look forward to winning the league in the future.
Any last words to the fans who are rooting for Hanwha Life Esports?
We know that fans had high expectations, which were not met. A pro team must prove themselves with the result and that is our duty. Fans might ask “What are they doing?” looking at the current situations. If you give us some time, we will do our duty and prove it.
Hanwha Life Esports is relatively a new team that just turned three years old. If someone asks “Are you doing well in the esports industry?”, we could say that there are aspects that we did well. We believe that our infrastructure and investments will stay as assets, and fans will recognize them one day.
We believe that the works we've done and we plan to do will be the basis of becoming a strong team in the future. Once we create the structure we are thinking of, Hanwha Life Esports will be a team that never leaves the championship competition.