Many past LCK players have been employed as imported additions in Leagues worldwide. It's no different for the LPL, a league that has undergone explosive growth this season. The LPL is one of the most competitive leagues in the world, and within it, there is a Korean player that has always been considered one of the best. That player is Invictus Gaming's midlaner, Rookie.
After starting his career on KT Arrow, Rookie led KTA to win the 2014 LCK Summer Finals. Not long after, Rookie joined the LPL to become one of its most highly-regarded midlaners.
Despite all this, Rookie rarely stepped foot on an international stage, but after four long years, Rookie finally reached the World Championship. Many League of Legends fans and personnel are paying close attention to this player.
As Worlds is being held in Korea this year, our team was able to meet up and speak with Rookie. We were able to hear from him about his Worlds resolution, and how the LPL became so successful.
Please introduce yourself for our readers.
Hello, I'm IG's midlaner, Rookie. At the moment, I'm practicing hard to show you a good performance at Worlds.
The last time you competed in the World Championship was back in 2015. It must feel very different to you this time around since you'll be playing in Korea.
Competing in the World Championship by itself is the happiest thing that can happen for a professional League of Legends player. On top of that, this year's Worlds is held in Korea, so I won't have to waste energy trying to adapt to a new environment.
Many fans and analysts think quite highly of IG this year. You guys were even placed 1st in the ESPN power ranking. What's your opinion on that rating?
It feels good being rated so highly. If our team actually wins the tournament, it'll be huge for us.
However, IG has never clearly shown what its capable of in international tournaments. I think it's too soon to make that kind of a rating. If IG fails to meet those kinds of expectations, a huge disappointment will follow. It's a double-edged sword.
Rookie, you yourself were placed 1st in the midlaner power ranking. How's your form?
I think I'm in a good place right now. When your league isn't ongoing, one of the only things that you can use to measure your skills is solo queue. In that regard, I am high up on the ladder, and I don't have any difficulties playing, no matter who I play against. I also take a lot of pride in my own abilities.
However, I'm still very lacking -- too lacking to be called the "best midlaner." Compared to someone like Faker, I lack a lot of accomplishments. Had I accomplished a lot more, I wouldn't have been so burdened by that kind of title. Since I'm not, it really put quite a burden on me. (Laughs)
In every international tournament held in 2018, the LPL defeated the LCK. The LPL is currently dominating every other region. As an LPL player yourself, how do you view the situation?
I feel really grateful for RNG. Thanks to them, the world started seeing the LPL in a different light. Both IG and I have been rated highly -- thanks to RNG, in my opinion. The LPL has been on a roll; that's why I think it's possible for the LPL to win this year.
Is the gap between the LCK and LPL that existed in the past now gone?
Personally, I still think the LCK is ahead. Each region has its strengths and flaws. What's important is how you utilize that strength. Looking at the recent meta, it really favored China. I think the LPL was able to net success in international tournaments this year thanks to its strengths.
While Korea puts more emphasis on safe macro gameplay, China prefers to fight in every given situation to take the lead. Looking at the recent tournament clips, China won a lot of their games this way.
In the 2018 Rift Rivals, you guys won against SKT T1 but lost against KT Rolster. How did it feel playing against the LCK teams? Also, do you think you'll be able to carry out your revenge against KT in the World Championship?
SKT T1 is a team that is strong in international tournaments. At the time, they weren't at their best; that's why I believed that our team could beat them without much trouble. However, when actually facing them, it wasn't easy. They have many veteran players that have a hefty amount of experience on the international stage. Had we failed to take the lead in the mid game, our team would've for sure struggled. I think we were able to make a comeback because our mid-to-late game went according to plan.
Against KT, we simply lost because of the skill difference. When playing against them, I didn't feel any large gap between the skills of the players, but I felt a huge difference teamplay-wise. I felt just how lacking we were when compared to them. I didn't feel helpless though; I didn't feel that we'd lose to them when we meet again. I thought: "through this loss, I want to absorb what they showed us and improve." After the feedback we received following our loss against KT, our team saw major improvement.
Although I can't guarantee that we'll win against KT, I can say for certain that we'll perform better than we did during Rift Rivals. And in truth, I'm actually kind of worried. Our team has been doing great during scrims -- you learn a lot more if you lose during your scrims. I'm worried that we'll become haughty. I want to hold in all these unnecessary emotions and play at my best during Worlds.
Rookie, you're seen as a player that underperforms when playing on the big stage. Do you think you can overcome that weakness during this year's Worlds?
I don't think I'm weak when playing on the big stage -- I think I'm weak when playing an important match. For example, when tied 2-2, I feel pressured into making something happen for my team, and end up making mistakes as a result. I guess you can say that it's the desire to carry? (Laughs) I have to learn to let some things go when I have to, but it's hard. It actually became a sort of trauma for me.
I'm still trying to fix my issues. If I can overcome this weakness, I'm sure my team will make a deep run in this tournament.
Is there a specific team or player that you're keeping your eyes on?
RNG and KT Rolster. Against RNG, we always fell short... that's why I really want to beat them here at Worlds. As for KT, they're just simply a really strong team. Our team also lost against them during Rift Rivals, and that's why I'm keeping my eyes on them.
But in truth, I'm keeping my eyes on every single team competing at Worlds. One mistake during the Group Stage could mean our team's elimination from the tournament.
As for a specific player... I think every midlaner is evenly matched. There isn't a large gap between the individual skills of the players. What's important is how I'll be feeling that day, and how well I'll synergize with the team.
You really seemed to have matured a lot during your stay in China. In your opinion, what's the biggest difference between the Rookie then, and the Rookie now?
In Korea, I felt that my teammates were pulling me along. In China, however, I feel that I'm the one leading my teammates. I spent a lot of time thinking, wondering what's best for me and my team. I think that's why I matured a lot as a player. But with that said, I think I'm still too lacking. To be a leader, you have to be flawless in terms of mental strength and skills. Seeing how I feel extremely pressured whenever playing important matches, I believe I still have a long way to go.
When entering the LPL for the first time, were you certain that you'd do well in China?
In 2015, I was very prideful of my skills. I didn't join the LPL fully predicting that I'd be successful there, but rather, had fully believed that I was very skilled. I was up for a new challenge, and it was a great opportunity to learn Chinese. I saw it as "two birds, one stone."
There aren't that many Korean players that adapted well into the LPL scene. How were you able to do it so well?
Many players find success in China, but a lot also fail. I think the most important thing is how well you adapt and blend into your team.
The most important factor that contributes to how well and quickly you adapt to a new region is, of course, personality. In that regard, I was at an advantage. I have a bright personality, and I enjoy hanging out with new, different people. I didn't have a hard time learning Chinese. In addition to that, IG's team atmosphere is great, and I think that's why I was able to adapt so quickly.
Your familiarity with the Chinese language must've helped you a lot throughout your career. How did you master the language so quickly?
At first, I didn't know any Chinese. It felt like I was listening to an alien language. Currently, I'm able to fluently communicate day by day with no trouble. From the very beginning, I felt that I needed to quickly learn the language; so I always carried a dictionary in one hand and did my best to communicate with the LPL players in Chinese. Naturally, my Chinese got better.
A lot of my friends ask me, "how do I improve my Chinese?" I tell them to frequently speak it. A lot of the imports in the LPL only speak to other Koreans or employ an interpreter. If you don't try and speak the language, you'll never improve.
Throughout your four years of staying in China, there must've been a lot of moments where you missed home. How did you overcome the desire to come back home?
I thought about that for a while now... and to answer that question, I never really missed home. (Laughs) I really do think that I adapted well to China. I love experiencing new things, so all I had thought about before going to China was "how will I be able to get used to China quickly?" The only times I missed Korea was when I wanted to drink with my friends back home.
Do you have any tips for other LCK players who are working towards playing in the LPL?
Living overseas isn't easy; simply moving to another country to "make" money can easily lead to your career's failure. In addition, I don't want to recommend this career choice to those with an introverted personality. Of course, anyone can come and play in China, but it'll be difficult to communicate. It'll also be hard to relieve stress once it builds up. I saw many Korean LPL players return home due to homesickness.
In your opinion, which mid lane champion is at the highest tier in the current meta? I'm curious as to what your opinion is towards Galio and LeBlanc, two champions that made a frequent appearance during the Play-In Stage.
I personally think Akali is the best mid lane champion at the moment. If you leave her open when playing against IG, you'll regret it. (Laughs) She's a champion that I hate leaving open for the enemy team, but at the same time, she's a champion that I'm very confident playing. During the Play-In Stage, teams often left her open but didn't pick her. I don't understand why.
The more I play her, the more I feel how good she truly is. If you master her, you can always fight with an advantage in any given situation.
If I'm to give a tip on playing her: use her ultimate sparingly and accurately. In addition to that, you have to use her twilight shroud in the most optimal way possible. You can dodge your enemies' skills and take on a lot of the enemy aggro at the same time.
Also, LeBlanc is really strong in the current meta. She's a really difficult champion to deal with. To start, there aren't many champions that can counter her. Kassadin takes a long time to scale, and his early game is weaker than LeBlanc, so he can't effectively counter her. Once LeBlanc secures a lead through roams or kills in lane, there is almost nothing that can stop her snowballing. Some say that her teamfighting capabilities are weak; but if your team has a balanced AP/AD composition, she's not bad at all. She does drop in effectiveness in the late game, but she's a great champion to secure a big lead early on.
As for Galio, he's a champion that is great at just about everything. When playing against him during the laning phase, however, it's not too difficult since he isn't too strong at that point. But when paired with champions that synergize well with him, such as Camille or Rakan, he becomes a massive threat. In addition to that, he's very sturdy, so it's hard to completely win your lane against him. Due to his ability to endure and maintain a safe laning phase, Galio is a tournament-specialized champion.
Do you have any tips for mid lane players?
I watched a lot of VODs of good players -- especially Faker's. Faker was my idol during the early parts of my career -- even now, actually. When I felt that I hit my limit and couldn't further improve, I thought of different ways to break through that "barrier."
Every player has a habit. If a bad habit takes deep root within you, it's difficult to correct it. But I was able to correct mine through watching other players' VODs. "So that's what you're supposed to do in that type of situation!" By watching other players, I was able to rid of my old habits and minimize mistakes on stage.
The interview is coming to its end. Please tell your fans about your World Championship resolution.
I have big ambitions -- I want to win. It won't be easy, of course. And as I have prepared for it, I want to show a flawless performance on stage. It'll be a shame if I can't show everything that I had prepared beforehand, right? Whenever I played a Bo5, our team lost in the 5th set. I was full of regrets. I want to play games where I leave behind zero regrets; even if I lose.
Any last words for the fans?
Once in a while, through SNS, old KTA fans message me words of encouragement; I'm always really touched by it. I'm really thankful for the fans that still remember me. Since I play in a league overseas, I'm not as reputable here in Korea. I wonder if I even have one or two fans here in Korea. (Laughs) I want to show them that I'm doing well in China, so I want to perform well during Worlds. I'm confident in my skills, and I want to deliver some great games; I'm practicing at my hardest to show that on stage. So please watch over me!