Looking back at the Spring Split, what comes to mind? There was a player that delivered outstanding performance and super plays during the first major competition of the year. He recorded a penta-kill with Riven, which was hard to see in the recent pro scene, and he also turned around unfavorable situations with a solo kill in other matches. During the Spring Split, Kim “Khan” Dong-ha's performance was top-notch.
Khan’s first step in the LCK was different from the beginning. By clenching two championships in a row as soon as he had his debut, he proved by prowess that he’s the best top laner in Korea. After winning the Spring Split, his declaration of war against the world regarding the MSI was one of the main issues.
It may have seemed like Khan’s journey as a pro gamer was all good, but it wasn’t easy for him to reach the top. Khan had always been serious gamer; gaming was his life, his dream and now his work. At one point of his career, his desire to win brought up some issues. We had the chance to listen to Khan, who stayed jolly through the interview.
Q. Can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello, I’m the top laner of the 2018 LCK Spring Split champions, Kingzone DragonX, Kim “Khan” Dong-ha.
Q. How have you been after the finals?
After the finals, I spent a day with my family in Busan and then I met friends back at Seoul. When I have a day off, I usually go outside and spend time with friends. This time, I went to watch the play-in stage since I’m close to cvMax, Sword of Griffin, and HyBrid of Ever 8 Winners.
Q. Confidence is one of the main parts of Khan. Since when were you confident enough to become a pro?
During season 2, I was in the same class as Fenix (Echo Fox). At that time, I was jealous of him because he joined CJ as a practice member. So I thought that I want to do the same. I didn’t have as many games played as he did, but I felt that I could play as well as he does with enough experience.
I was the most confident in laning. At the pro level, you have to be good at everything, but in solo queue, laning is important. There was a time where I played solo queue all day, every day since I didn’t participate in any scrims or competitions. At that time, I gained confidence having multiple challenger accounts. I tried other lanes too, but top lane felt most comfortable.
Q. You had your LCK debut during last summer. Did you think you’d win two splits in a row?
I was confident in individual matches and 1v1 before I had my debut in the LCK, but that’s limited to laning. I wasn’t sure if I would be good at team play and macro. At that time, I hadn’t played in scrims for more than a year and during that time, the meta was always changing. So I wasn’t really sure.
When Peanut came to our team, I thought that we could become champions again. When he first came, we played a few games and he gave feedback. After hearing his feedback, I felt that I had a lot to do. Even so, I was able to win the championship last year and with the improvements from Peanut’s feedback, I thought we’d be a step closer to winning another championship.
Q. As the defending champions, what kind of mindset did you have during this split?
We practiced as we always did. We mainly thought of playing the finals as if it was a scrim. Our scrim results were quite good so we thought that we’ll do well if we just do as we always did.
Q. Cuzz vs Peanut, who cares for top lane more?
Those two are similar, and Bdd cares for top lane really well.
Q. Some fans say that if Bdd is shook up, Khan is too. What do you think about that?
It’s true. All lanes have close connections. In the competitions we play, team play is a lot more important than individual prowess. If one part is shaken, others will be too. I’m sure all teams are the same.
Q. Reactions from the interview after the finals were really hot.
When I wasn’t in the LCK, I saw Imp and Piglet present really fun interviews. Back then, I wanted to do the same if I were to play in such a big stage. I’ve thought of [doing that since] long ago; it’s just that I got the chance just last year. There needs to be somebody that talks like that so that the fans can have more fun.
Q. You declared war, but what will you do if you lose?
Who would say something like that and think they’ll lose? (Laughs) I can’t take back what I said, so I’ll just enjoy whatever happens. If I lose, maybe I’ll need to kneel before the other top laners who beat me. (Laughs)
Q. You’re really popular in foreign countries. Do you feel that?
Not quite yet. I might feel it if I go to a stage abroad.
Q. Many fans always talk about who the world’s best top laner is. Could you say that you are?
I can’t say that yet. Being the world’s best team is more important than being the world’s best top laner. I remember what Peanut said on the video for the finals; it was really cool. If you win the championship, you can proudly talk about everything.
To talk about CuVee, who won Worlds last year, I think he’s one of the best top laners there are. I’ve gotten a solo kill against him, but that didn’t affect the game much. I tried to carry after the solo kill, but it was difficult to carry against CuVee, even with the solo kill. I think all the top laners that play at Worlds are good.
Q. Were you aware of sOAZ’s ‘dogchamp’ meme during the last Worlds?
Someone told me that meme was drawing a lot of attention. I didn’t know the full story of it. I picked Nasus after watching Kiin playing him during the play-ins when he played for Ever 8 Winners. It was quite a hot issue when sOAZ’s Maokai was smashed by my Nasus; I’ll smash the other top laners of the world now.
Q. Do you know Bwipo?
I know he’s a top laner of Europe. I don’t know which team -- oh, he’s Fnatic.
Q. Many EU fans are looking forward to you playing against sOAZ and Bwipo. How about you?
I’m looking forward to it because they’re all champions of their league. I hope they all play well.
Q. HONESTLY. Do you like the team’s new name? Kingzone, and DragonX?
When I tried to decide my new ID, I thought it through for three days and nights, also considering Hanlabong. After I first heard our new team’s name, I thought that I could have made a better name. Kingzone’s just the company’s name, so nothing could be done about that, but DragonX is … Well, to be honest, I think it’s a fun name.
(Note: Khan means Korea Hanlabong, and Hanlabong was his old ID)
Q. It is said that the clash of top laners is really hot in NA. Have you ever thought of playing abroad after playing in Kingzone? Which team do you want to play for?
Any country, any team is possible. There’s no team that I’m attracted to yet. The most important thing is whether the team goes well with me or not; hopefully, a team that listens to my opinions. Up to now, I think Kingzone DragonX is the best for me.
Q. Jayce can’t be left out when speaking of Khan. You picked Jayce as soon as Sion was off the table. Were you sure that you’d win if you picked Jayce?
I was confident of winning the sword vs sword fight with Jayce. I enjoy playing against DPS champions with Jayce the most.
According to other players, they say my Jayce deals extra damage with basic attacks. (Laughs) They say that there’s something special that can’t be put in words with my Jayce. Experiencing that is the only way to know; of course, I haven’t played against my Jayce so I don’t know either.
Q. Although you haven’t lost with Jayce during the Spring Split, there were games where you started with a death. Does it feel like you’ll still win even if you’re unable to split push?
In that kind of situation, I hope for the team win. It’s hard to carry with Jayce in that situation, so the team needs to do well. I think the 100% win rate with my Jayce during the Spring Split is only a bubble. Some of those games, I would have lost if it was solo queue. Like that, sometimes I win because of the team, sometimes the team wins because of me. Everyone’s just helping each other.
Q. In game 1 of the finals, you were solo killed by Sion while playing Gnar. What were your thoughts at that moment?
Kiin hits Sion’s E really well. When I gave up the kill and said ‘Oh no, I’m in trouble!’ Bdd told me that he can carry. But he didn’t. (Laughs) I might have bothered him too much. Still, I did well in a teamfight near Baron with Gnar, didn’t I? Even though we didn’t have initiative, the team still thought there was a chance; we tried to find that little gap. Everyone said that we could still win.
Q. Other pros aren’t able to pick champions like Jayce or Riven in LCK games. What’s the source of your confidence to pick those champions?
Naturally, I think the meta enabled me to pick aggressive champions. Still, the only reason that I was able to play those champions was because my team had faith in me. Champions like Riven appeared because the coaching staff saw me play them in scrims, and I asked them for permission.
Damage champions like Riven die easier than tank champions. If I die, it affects the whole game, so I do my best to survive. I need to concentrate more than when I play other champions; one misstep in judgment can finish off the game.
Q. You also solo killed Kiin’s Gnar with Gangplank and turned the game around. Do you feel that you’re carrying the team in moments like that?
First of all, he went full AD. I thought if I ambush him, I could win. I decided that even if they have Shen, I could kill him. It’s the same always; if I started the fight and lost, the team would have lost because of me.
It’s just taking a chance. It’s harder to play aggressively in big competitions. So I thought I should take that chance. Those kinds of plays went well during practice too. It’s not that I’m 100% sure that I’ll win; I thought that there’s a high chance of winning; still, Camille could have been hiding somewhere in the brush nearby. I was responsible for making that play and of course I would have been the one to blame if I failed. It was a play that needed some guts.
There’s a very fine line between being a troll and making a super play. It’s only called a super play when it was successful. All those highlights of players would have been “What in the world are you doing?” if they failed. I don’t aim for pulling off super plays, but I attempt to create a gap in unfavorable situations.
Q. Split pushers pretty relevant when speaking of Khan, but this season, you played various types of champions like Vladimir, Gangplank, and Cho’Gath.
I thought that they were champions that I could play since long ago. Each champion has their pros and cons. Even I can’t go against the meta. When it was tank meta at top lane last year, I still thought Jayce was playable. It was just different from other teams.
Q. We’ll look forward to diverse champions at the MSI. Can you share any champions you’re practicing?
I’ve been taking an interest in Irelia and Darius. I always think that I can pick any champion. Jax with the new Conqueror rune is appearing, and Yasuo -- he’s a really strong and fun champion.
At the same time, Yasuo is really difficult to play. You have to be sensitive, and make quick and correct decisions. The skillshots also have to be very precise, so he’s one of the most difficult champions. To be frank, he’s one of the ‘bad’ champions. To me, ‘bad’ champions aren’t those who have bad abilities; I think ‘bad’ champions are champions that can be played just joyfully laughing even if you die multiple times. That’s really bad for the teammates.
Q. Many pro gamers shed tears when they lose games. It means that they have a really competitive attitude. How about you?
Since long ago and still today, I play my life on games. I really don’t agree with people who say ‘why put so much energy into gaming?’ Without that kind of passion in gaming, there’s not much I would be able to do. If I decided to become a pro gamer, I really need to play as if I’ll die if I lose. Gaming is work for me; it’s already past the level of just enjoyment. It really stresses me when I see other people cause trouble thinking ‘it’s just a game’.
Q. That attitude must have brought you to where you are now. How did that attitude work for you as a pro?
Because of that attitude, I couldn’t approve of myself when I had a bad performance. So I tried harder to not make any mistakes. If I lose my prowess and think that I’m causing harm to the team, I will retire. To postpone my retirement, I’ll need to stay good. In the past, I disrespected those who had bad performance; it wouldn’t make sense if I’m bad and still playing.
Q. On the contrary, you might have regrets because of that attitude.
From time to time, I lose my temper. Even after a few incidents, my personality didn’t change. I’m just suppressing it inside. I think the next mistake I make outside of the game will be the last that’s seen of me in the scene. So I’m trying hard to watch my mouth so that I don’t become a source of controversy. It’s like I’m standing in front of a cliff. I wish I had these thoughts from the beginning.
I understand that people can have different standards thinking ‘it’s just a game’. They have every right to say that, and they usually aren’t pros and don’t have my kind of attitude. Still, it’s my fault if I lose my temper and say the wrong things. I won’t be using bad language while gaming anymore.
I went and apologized to those who may have been hurt because of my behavior. During the play-in, I went to the waiting room and tried to apologize to whoever heard bad language from me. That’s doing the right thing.
Still, that can’t change my whole attitude: playing my life on games. Just like I respect those who say ‘it’s just a game’, they need to respect me, and I can get mad while playing games. That’s my style.
Q. Before, you were substituted because you were hyperventilating. How are you taking care of yourself?
I have had minor ailments since childhood. I try to stay healthy, but things don’t always go as I want. I need to put in a lot of effort, but that’s quite difficult. Just like when people say that they’ll work out and get an awesome body, and don’t do much about it. I pledge to become healthier but it doesn’t go that well.
Q. Sometimes you shout out loud during games in the booth. Is there a reason?
During games, sometimes something happens and it gets paused. Concentrating is a big part in competitive play, so just before the game continues, I shout out so that we can concentrate in the game.
Q. Let’s talk about the MSI now. Are there any players or teams you want to meet at MSI?
There’s no specific team or player, but I’m curious about their game style and plays. The LPL champion hasn’t been decided yet, but I’ve heard that IG is really good. They say that they’re the Kingzone DragonX of China, so I want to meet them. I’m also close to TheShy, so I hope they reach MSI. I’m also close to Ming of RNG from when I was in China. I’m cheering for both those teams.
(Note: This interview took place on the 20th of April (KST) before the winners of RNG vs IG was decided.)
Q. Is there any player that you want to have ‘kneeling’ before you?
There’s no specific player. I’ll make all of them kneel before me.
Q. Many fans are saying that Bwipo will beat you, what do you think?
Wherever you go, the fans want the team they support to win and be the best. I’ll do my best since there are fans who want Korea, Kingzone DragonX to do well.
Q. Last year’s Worlds was in China, a place you were familiar with. This time, MSI is in Europe.
I was looking forward to going to a new place for Worlds, but it was already decided to be China. Still, it was good, because I was accustomed to the culture and food. Being able to communicate in Chinese was good too.
Europe is a place I’ve never been to. To me, it feels like Columbus exploring. My mind flutters because I’m going to a place that I’ve only heard of. Since we’ll be going there representing Korea, having good results is a top priority, but if I have some spare time, I want to enjoy my time touring. I was always jealous of friends who travel to Europe and post pictures on their social media. So if I have the chance, I want to go to cool places like the Eiffel Tower and take pictures.
Q. You’re going to another international competition following last year’s Worlds. Do you have any comments regarding the MSI?
Since we’ll be representing Korea, we’ll do our best to deliver good performance.
Q. Any last comments?
I want to say thanks to my family, the coaching staff, and my teammates. Also to the CEO who’s in China. All I can say is thanks to those fans that put up a banner at the finals, whoever supported me wherever they are. I also want to thank everybody, not just those who cheer our team, but everybody that supports esports. I’ll do my best to deliver a breathtaking performance in-game and provide fun interviews outside of the game.