The Spring of 2018 was a bittersweet season for KT Rolster fans. While the fans may have been displeased by the fact that KT only placed 3rd in both the regular season and the playoffs, they were at least able to confirm just how strong the new midlaner is. Ucal's fiery debut in the Spring was like a war declaration for Summer.
When playing against SKT T1 during the playoffs, Ucal had the passion and vigor of a new player and the cool-headed decision-making of a veteran. He didn't show any weakness, even when fighting against the likes of Faker, and pushed the renounced 'world's best midlaner' into a corner. With the unexpected and powerful playstyle that KT brought, SKT had no choice but to give up the lead. A brand new player -- on his debut -- had set up the winning board for KT.
For our interview, we met up with Ucal at a coffee shop near the KT gaming house. Although he had a child-like appearance, his responses to our questions were bold and well thought out. We realized that his aggressive and bold playstyle comes from his personality.
The following is the interview with Ucal.
Hello! Please give us a brief introduction of yourself.
Hello, I'm the midlaner for KT Rolster, Ucal.
You seem to have a unique IGN. How did you come to name yourself "Ucal"?
During my school years, my nickname was "U-Gal" -- the "U" coming from my real name. I wanted to apply this to my IGN.
Also, the name carries the meaning that "I'm strong". Since I liked the idea, I chose to go with Ucal.
You joined KT as a trainee, but you're now considered one of the primary members.
Because of my young age, I remained a trainee -- or amateur player -- for a long time. I think I started playing League of legends when I was in 7th or 8th grade. While consistently climbing the ladder and looking for a team, I ended up joining KT Rolster in May of last year.
Realistically speaking, many if not most "players in training" end up dropping out of the team before being able to see play on stage. What do you think the coaches saw in you before deciding to put you out there?
First of all, I maintained a very high score in solo queue. Also, my playstyle is completely opposite to that of Pawn's -- I think that's why the coaches thought highly of me.
Since you mentioned playstyle, can you tell us a bit about it? You play very fearlessly and aggressively.
I think my playstyle follows my personality. Aggressive plays are almost always "high risk, high reward," but I'm confident enough in my skills that I won't make mistakes. I think that's why I play like that.
What changed for you when the team officially added you to its roster?
My lifestyle and playstyle saw some change. I started playing more aggressively. I also spent a lot of time talking with our coach. I then made the judgment that I'd be more useful to the team if I play aggressively.
Excluding Rush, the player that joined the team at around the same time you did, KT Rolster is filled with long-time veterans. How did you feel when you first joined?
It was amazing. My goal was to win a tournament of any kind, and I felt that KT would bring me closer to that goal. The difference in experience is very large -- a new player can't help but feel extreme pressure when matched against a veteran player.
Do you think you're also lacking experience in that regard?
Not really. Despite my lacking experience, I think I play extremely well! (Laughs)
You're overflowing with confidence! How helpful are your "veteran" teammates?
I consistently fixed my playstyle after talking with my teammates when I first started scrimming. To be honest, I didn't get too great of a result back then. However, Smeb told me that "you can do much better, I'm certain of it," and encouraged me. It gave me a lot of strength.
Your debut game was against Kongdoo Monsters in Round 2 of the LCK. How were you feeling when your team decided to put you out there? Was there a lot of pressure?
I don't remember being too nervous... Instead, I felt that "I finally got the opportunity." It was an opportunity to show off my performance.
What score would you give your performance during your debut game, from 1 to 10?
I think I'd give myself a 7. Although I was confident, I was lacking in skill at that time. I felt that I was still too far away from being the best player -- well, until the playoff that is.
I think the debut game was very important for me. It allowed me to find and fix my weaknesses.
I have a feeling that your game against SKT in the playoffs really engraved the name Ucal into the minds of the fans.
I was actually really excited to play before the match. Similar to my playstyle, Faker is a midlaner that makes flashy plays during the laning phase. So I was very curious as to what results our clash would bring. In the end, however, I think our laning phase just went on without any surprises. It was a fight of "which midlaner better utilizes their jungler," and I think I did better in that regard.
You said that "midlaners utilize their junglers." In game 1, Rush lost, but from game 2 and on, Score came in and finished the series. From the mid-jungle matchup, what exactly affected the outcome of the games?
The difference in experience probably had an effect, but during game 1, our team was just really off in terms of teamwork. The mid-jungle wasn't the problem.
As a midlaner, what's the difference between Rush and Score?
Simply put, Rush makes a lot of risky and aggressive plays. On the other hand, Score approaches the game more slowly; making decisions that are based on his long-time experience. Therefore, when playing with Rush, I more often than not cover for him. When playing with Score, however, he's the one that covers for me.
Then as a midlaner, is it more comfortable playing with Score?
When I was lacking in skill like I've mentioned, I felt better when playing with Score. But now, I've come to realize that both players have unique strengths to their playstyles. When playing with Rush, we can really squeeze out the enemy team. As for Score, he's better for the more traditional and orthodox fights.
I'm also curious as to how your playstyle differs from Pawn's.
I think it's correct to say that I have a more aggressive playstyle. But when Pawn is playing, he shifts a lot of his weight onto the botlane -- making the bot duo stronger. As for me, when I play, the mid and botlane almost always end up being 50/50 in terms of growth.
During the split, you used Taliyah and Azir as some of your main champions. Were those champions that you felt the most confident with? Or was it a pick for the team/meta?
I was confident, but at the same time, those two were good for the meta. In addition, they fit really well into my playstyle because it gives me the power to make the decision of whether to fight or not. Champions like Karma can only "retaliate" in response to an enemy's attack rather than opening up a fight herself. If I'm to pick a champion I'm most confident with, it'd be Ryze. He is my favorite champion, but I wasn't able to play him too much because of the meta/matchup.
Although the Spring Split was a worthwhile one for you, as you had the chance to prove yourself, the fans of KT Rolster were hoping for more from the team this year.
It could've gone better, but we weren't able to solve the root problem within the team's style.
Even when just a single lane loses [the laning phase], we rarely win that match. How should I put it..? "We lack the ability to make proper comebacks?" In order to solve that problem, we started thinking backward and began practicing with the mindset that we're starting over -- to make sure that everyone is satisfied with each other's performance.
Usually, in a game, every player that needs to make a sacrifice for the better of the team can't help but make some sort of complaint after a match. We're receiving a lot of feedback in that regard so that if one side makes a sacrifice, the other side takes an advantage of it... so that the sacrifice won't be in vain.
Hearing you gives me confidence that KT Rolster is preparing well for the next Split. Can we expect a lot of great things from KT in the Summer?
Although I feel sorry for the fans because we repeat this phrase almost every year, I think the fans can definitely expect more from us this time.
As a professional gamer, do you have a role model?
Score and Faker. Faker is actually the reason why I started playing League of Legends. I was amazed at how powerful he was in-game. As for Score, I'm amazed that he's able to maintain such a high level of performance for such a long time.
Including yourself, out of all the midlaners in the LCK, who do you think is the best?
He tends to play aggressively and does everything well. But his highest quality is his teamwork. As for myself, although I think I got a lot better, I'm still lacking in terms of staying in rhythm with the team. As for the next best player, I'd choose myself. The only difference between Bdd and I is teamwork.
On Facebook, you posted a picture of a sheet of paper while mentioning Score... and written on it was "Before winning the 2018 LCK Summer and the World Championship, I won't have any breaks or vacations. If I break this rule, I will retire." This picture reminded us of Mata's post in 2014. How did Score react when you posted that picture?
He told me to hurry up and win for him so that he can die in peace. (Laughs) He had put all his faith in me.
Did you really refuse to take all the breaks and vacations? It could be exhausting you know.
I think it'd be okay for me since I'm still young.
I think the fan meeting that your team had after the match was a whole new experience for you. I heard from other players that they felt empty inside when no one lined up in front of them [for autographs] when they were rookie players. How was it for you?
The fact that I have some people that started calling themselves "Ucal's fans" makes me extremely happy. I had expected beforehand that I'd slowly and eventually gain fans when I become a professional gamer -- but regardless, I was extremely happy and thankful for each and every fan. Also, it was okay for me even though the line was short.
Although the number of fans that are rooting for me now is still small, I know that the number will begin to grow as I continue to play. So it was still a fun experience for me.
Is there a memorable fan? Is there a special gift that you received from one of them?
There was a fan that gave me an anime action figure. I've placed it next to my computer in the gaming house. I want to thank him again for it!
Any finals words to end the interview with?
I strongly believe that we weren't able to show too much of ourselves during the Spring. For the upcoming Summer, we'll play a wider range of champions and get better results -- and make sure that Score finally gets his inner peace!