On March 31st, SKT defeated KSV with a score of 2-1, successfully taking another step towards the Spring Finals. In the earlier phases of the split, SKT dropped to as low as 9th place. However, as the split continued, SKT recovered their form and successfully made it to the playoffs. During the Summer of 2017, SKT had climbed to the playoffs from the wildcard match, so many fans are expecting SKT to deliver yet another grand performance.
After SKT’s series against KSV, the head coach of the team, kkOma, was invited to the “Weekly LCK” show hosted by the OGN casters. Through this program, kkOma shared how he felt throughout this rough split -- while also sharing an old story of his. In addition, he asserted his determination for reaching the Finals and their upcoming match against KT.
※ Note: Some of the content from the show was edited out of the article for clarity or due to some portions being too repetitive.
How do you feel after winning the first match of the Spring Playoffs?
I’m very happy that we won. I want us to win the next game as well.
You looked like a robot in your most recent interview. You always used to display a high level of confidence, what changed?
Recently, I think I’ve been doing badly… I’ll try harder now. (Laughs)
You guys can take a breath now that you’ve defeated KSV. Can we expect more from you guys for the next match as well?
When we were placed low in the standings, many of our fans lost hope in us; so I was a bit disappointed. I want to make the fans happy by continuing to improve. Please expect more from us!
Today’s match was very bloody… KSV even took game 2 with a huge comeback. However, I think SKT performed better overall in game 3.
In our previous interview, everyone mentioned that even the sub-players who don’t see as much play are an immense help to the team. Today, Wolf prepared a lot for the game 3. I’m very satisfied with the results.
We were very surprised when Bang pulled out Kai’Sa. Were you nervous at all? Especially when considering the fact that she’s never seen competitive play until today?
The most nerve-wracking thing is losing. During the early phases of the split, we attempted to play picks like Sion, but it didn’t work out. Since the scariest thing to happen is losing, we did a lot of research -- the players also did their best. I want to thank all the staff members.
The atmosphere of this interview is starting to feel like… a retirement interview. Aren’t you happy about today’s victory?
I’ll become happy once we qualify for the Finals. Until then, I don’t think I’ll be happy.
You guys have been at the top for a very long time. Perhaps, that’s why you guys had such a rough time trying to bounce back.
The roughest times are when we lose. So in order to stop losing, the players and staff are all doing their absolute best. I want to thank them again for their hard work.
During the 2017 Summer Split, you guys reached the Finals as a wildcard team. Do you think you guys have a good chance to repeat that once again this split?
Recently, I’ve been telling the players that “nothing is over until it’s really over.” Although we hit 9th place in Round 1, it wasn’t the end for us. My goal -- always -- was and is to reach the Finals. If I don’t have this mindset, I think I would’ve had a hard time working with the team. (Laughs) That’s why I always tell everyone that our goal is to reach the Finals. We won today, so we are one step closer.
You sound like a sage!
With time, I started developing those sayings in my head. Sometimes, when I talk big like this and lose, it becomes a meme… that part -- is a bit scary.
Thal played really well today. When you saw Thal scoring himself a solo-kill, how did you react?
I started screaming in the locker room.
Did you expect Thal to play this well with Cassiopeia?
I didn’t -- that’s why I’m so happy and thankful.
▲ Thal's powerful toplane Cassiopeia
KSV’s retaliation was stronger than expected.
We were lacking in a lot of areas today. Once we have the lead, we need to snowball as fast as possible; but we couldn’t do that today. We’ll need to fix these things in order to reach the Finals.
Were you taken back when you saw Bang’s Kai’Sa fighting 1 vs 3?
It was a scenario that frequently occurred during practice. It hasn’t been long since Kai’Sa received her buff, so the toplaner and midlaner may not be too familiar with her playstyle. And if you put it that way, you can see just how well Bang played.
▲ "Justice, rains from above!" Bang's Kai'Sa, who displayed insane performance
By putting Ruler in the center, KSV built a formidable defense against you guys. Were they threatening at all?
KSV seemed to have improved significantly for today’s series, so that part was a bit scary.
In game 2, after having Baron stolen, you guys lost to a comeback. Can you tell us about that in detail?
Frankly speaking, it was our team’s mistake. We needed to secure vision behind the Baron pit before attempting it. We need to look this over and refine our tactics. Also, Ambition’s Smite was very on-point.
Let’s talk about game 3.
In my opinion, when Thal died to the toplane gank early on, CuVee dying to the minions as a result played a very vital role. The enemy team probably planned beforehand to focus Thal -- dying to the minions was probably not a part of their initial plan. If it ended up being a one for nothing trade, we would’ve had a very tough time winning that match.
You guys got good results through a teamfight near Dragon.
In that teamfight, Blank did extremely well. As a teamfight initiator, the amount of pressure you feel is huge. Had the fight gone badly for us, all the fans would’ve given Blank flak for going in like that. This time, however, Blank went in perfectly. I really want the fans to give Blank a round of applause for having performed like that today. In the earlier parts of this Split, many people blamed Blank, but seeing him endure all that criticism -- only to perform so well in the end… it really makes me proud.
As for Bang, sniping Taliyah off of her ultimate with Ezreal’s Q was very impressive.
Bang has been playing very reliably recently. In 2015, he was called the “last bastion.” The casters once said that it’s not too good to see a team rely solely on the ADC to win the game, and I agree, we’ll need to reinforce the other lanes so that Bang doesn’t always become the last line of defense.
▲ As if it was a heat-seeking missile, Ezreal's Q knocks Taliyah off of her ultimate
A lot of SKT’s players are very consistent. Also, I can see just how much effort they’re putting into their preparations.
Everything seems positive at the moment -- as everyone has been improving. Today, all 5 players played well, not just Faker. In addition, the “sixth man” players and the two coaches, Poohmandu and Bengi, are also doing very well for the team. I want to take this opportunity to really thank them. Currently, the two coaches are still good enough to play as players on stage, and they do their job as coaches just as well. I’m really thankful for their hard work.
As there were a lot of stressful factors surrounding your team recently, many fans were concerned with your relationship/marriage issues. Are you not interested in that area?
I feel the happiest when I’m cleaning the house by myself. So during holidays, I just stay at home with my dog.
We also heard that you take interest in Legos as a hobby.
I’ve stopped playing around with Legos now, since I’ve built just about everything. Now my hobby is cleaning. Whenever my team loses, I go home and cook Yuk-ge-jang. Since I won today, I’ll go home and clean.
Yuk-ge-jang…? Does that have anything to do with Ucal?
※ Ucal’s nickname is based on a Korean dish called “Yuk-ge-Jang noodles.”
A best of series is very pressuring on a team, and our final match against KDM in the regular season was especially so. Losing that game would’ve meant the end for us… so the players were extremely nervous. It was one of the most pressuring situations that we’ve ever experienced. If Ucal plays in our upcoming series, I want him to feel the pressure of having to play in a Bo5. If he plays as the starter, he’ll feel immense pressure, and in that case, KT will be forced to sub him out for Pawn.
Is that a warning for KT?
If Faker wins just one of the matches, I think he’ll be ahead of Ucal, both physically and mentally.
Suddenly, you’re confident again. Are you fired up for the KT match?
I haven’t been seeing many people recently, and I have a lot of thoughts building up inside. But at the same time, I’m having a hard time trying to express myself. That’s why I’m being cautious with my words.
Recently, Skarner’s winrate has been poor. How is he as a champion?
During scrims, laners often die to Skarner jungle, but on stage, due to more coordinated shotcalling, they rarely do. If Skarner goes kill-less, he’ll fall short, being less effective when compared to champions like Zac.
Our team has received a lot of criticism for our bad Skarner plays, so in the early stages of the split, we just banned him. He’s a champion that really gets me thinking. If you secure a lead in game, Skarner is one of if not the best early-to-mid game jungler. However, it’s rare to see Skarner do well on stage.
About the pressure that you felt when playing against KDM… you went through a lot of games throughout your career -- the same goes for your players. Do they still get nervous like in the situation you explained?
Only I might’ve felt that way. While preparing for game 3 after losing game 2, I became extremely nervous. And on top of that, we have a lot of new players this split. Although the fans consider Thal and Effort to be on the same level as the veterans, they’re still quite inexperienced… they were probably under a lot of pressure.
But you guys won today, so it must be a relief.
When I play solo queue, I play on my main account. My most recent memory was when a botlane duo chased me around the entire game saying, “don’t gather any experience,” “don’t buy any items,” “don’t do anything.” It was hilarious. Also, sometimes, I get teammates that AFK at fountain searching me up to see if I’m really kkOma.
▲ kkOma ordering Huni to "Don't try to make a play" became a meme in some community.
Recently, you were in the spotlight of the community for playing Renekton with the Conqueror rune.
I think he can be useful if used on stage -- not as a first-pick though. I may have to play it on my smurf to avoid attention.
Are you trying to hide some secret Renekton strategies?
If you don’t think about the jungle at top and fight using basic attacks by approaching the opponent by using E twice, it’s really fun. If the opponent jungle ganks top, you can just blame the jungle: “The opponent jungler is way better than ours.” It’s really fun. (Laughs) At first my teammates watch as if they’re seeing something they haven’t seen before. If they meet me again, they say “Don’t try to do anything, just stay near the turrets.”
Let’s look back to the old days now. Do you remember your debut as a player?
The first competition was against CloudTemplar’s team in the 2012 Invitational Event. Our team was StarTale and we had Score and Ryu on our team. However, at that time, our members played other games before and they hadn’t even maxed their level yet. They switched to LoL because they saw potential in the game. The opponent had Jarvan or Cassiopeia or something like that; we didn’t even know their ultimates and we first found out that if you don’t look at Cassiopeia, you don’t turn to stone at her ultimate.
Even back then, Kim Dong-jun was commentating. I think he hasn’t aged at all. He’s like a vampire or something. Sometimes, I get surprised at my own face on the screen – CloudTemplar seems to have gotten younger as well. I’m so jealous.
In your pro debut, you played Skarner against CloudTemplar’s Jarvan.
I did. It became an issue because I had said in an ‘I’m The Carry’ broadcast that Skarner was really bad. The fans were saying “What the…?” So I’m still kind of scared of Skarner. I don’t want to see him. (Laughs)
Do you remember your LCK debut?
I.DO. NOT. REMEMBER. (Q. You played Riven with 2/3/12 and won.) I hadn’t played for long, but I played the game really weirdly. I picked all AD runes and went ganking at level 2. Come to think of it, I think I was a pest to my teammates. (Laughs)
▲ kkOma during his days as a professional player
You weren’t able to play after falling into a losing streak after that. Rumor says you were released.
I think I was happier back then. I only needed to be responsible for myself, but now I need to take responsibility for many people.
Didn’t you have a lot of happy moments as a coach?
Yes, I did. A lot. I think I wasn’t thinking of all the glorious moments like becoming champions.
Which championship was the most memorable?
The most memorable match was against KT, we lost two games and won three in a row. Tears fell like in the movies. I needed to get up on stage but the tears didn’t stop.
(Showing him the video of that moment) How do you feel watching yourself crying?
I think I was really young at that time. I’m so different from now. I wish I can do better than before so I can cry again after winning the championship.
Do you think you’ll cry if you win the championship this time?
I’m not sure. If we win dramatically, I would probably feel the emotions from back then; I really do want to feel that. That was my first finals as a coach, and I wanted to hide because we lost the first two games. The players did well and overcame the unfavorable situation, and I think I cried because all those emotions just built up in me.
* After watching ‘Off the Record’ of each team *
The atmosphere in the booth is all different, how is it for SKT?
It’s always peaceful.
In ‘Off the Record’, you seem to give feedback quite viciously.
It’s always peaceful before feedback time.
Do you prepare feedback by taking memos, even when you win?
In game 2 against KSV, if the players had vision behind the Baron pit, it probably wouldn’t have been stolen, but they didn’t. I took a memo on that for feedback. I try hard to reduce the mistakes by correcting the players’ unreasonable plays like that. I’ve done this since when I first started to coach, but it’s still very difficult.
Who’s the mood maker of SKT?
The team is always fun and bright when off the screen. Except me.
Do you have any last comments regarding the upcoming match against KT?
We’ll prepare well so that we can beat KT and face off against the next opponent. Even though we fell to the lower ranks in Round 1, I want to thank all the fans who continued to support us. We’ll do our best to repay the fans by delivering a performance worthy of their support.