For professional players, the fate of their careers is decided when November rolls around. The possibility of retirement, transferring, and contract renewals permeate the air. Alongside this, there are also others things to consider. The most uncertain age for a professional gamer is their mid-20s. Although it is a period past most players’ prime, it is also when they display the greatest degree of experience and wisdom in their plays.
Because of all this, Deft is in peril. When he announced his return to Korea in 2016, Deft had clarified that he was on borrowed time. Within his 2 years in KT, he was able to win the LCK. The thought of leaving Korea was daunting and unfortunate. Hence why Deft became more careful. If he were to leave Korea now, he may not be granted another chance to play in the LCK.
As a result, the only choice Deft had was to continue his career on the domestic stage. Even with the offer of a million US dollars, Deft did not leave. This is because he was not able to achieve his one ultimate goal of winning the World Championship. More surprising than his choice to stay was his choice of team. Deft decided to go with Kingzone DragonX. While he could have put himself on a better team, Deft ultimately chose to work with players who have less experience than he has.
During the interview, Deft emphasized that this might be his last chance. He explained his various reasons for joining Kingzone. As he elaborated, he named all the properties that are crucial for a pro player: pride, seeking challenges, a cause, qualification, and ambition. Deft explained that even he is unsure about the future. Let’s hear what he has to say about his new and uncertain journey.
This year’s transfer season was an interesting one to be sure. There seems to be a heavy trace of concern. How have you spent your time?
I have never spent more time deciding on which team to go than I did this year. I wondered if this would be my last time being at the top. I came to the conclusion that this was the last chance for me to perform my best. Also, I was concerned that the time I had remaining to be at the top of my game was coming to an end. Because of this, I realized I would be picking my last team. I took my time.
And your choice was Kingzone DragonX. As you said, this team may be your final destination. What were your reasons for picking this team?
I had already decided on leaving KT Rolster. When I was looking into which teams I wanted to go to, I knew for certain that I did not want to go to a team similar to KT. That would ruin the whole purpose of moving teams. Amongst the teams I was looking into, Kingzone caught my attention. The players are young and lack experience. I knew I could play the leader role and be the decisive player the team needs.
In KT, since all the players are veterans, I always blamed myself whenever there was something wrong. That is how much burden and pressure I felt. However, with Kingzone, I think I am finally able to lower that bar a little bit. It made me realize that it was finally my time to fill the leadership position.
I remember you said that a lot in the past. Why do you think you are so eager for that leadership position?
My thinking is that I need to learn how to work with and nurture my team. In doing so, I hope my playstyle shines. Of course, spending my 2 years with KT, my time there was convenient to some extent. All of the KT members played better than me and knew more as well. I never felt the urge to show off as ADC and as the youngest member, it was near impossible to ask.
Granted, my team never pressured me not to. Rather, my team insisted that we not have that “younger-older” stereotype. Regardless, it didn’t make anything easier. It made me realize how ingrained the tradition was in my mind. To put it in a negative light, I guess I made myself stick by the tradition. In the end, I came to the reasoning that I had to change.
Are you saying the reason why you left KT was because of the change and the challenge?
What was certain was that the team and I needed some sort of change. While the one obvious answer was to transfer, I did not want to transfer meaninglessly. At the same time, Kingzone was also looking for a big rehaul. I knew that if I went to Kingzone, I would be focused and passionate. Personally, I never could play well in comfortable conditions. On the other hand, I improve and play better when I am nervous; Kingzone DragonX was the best possible team for me.
You were offered a million dollar salary in China. What made you decide to stay in Korea?
While I did have a lot of requests, there was only one team that truly wanted me. Other than that, no matter how much money they offered to give me, I would not take the deal. Also, I realized that if I went to China, it would be very unlikely that I would ever be able to return to Korea as a player. Another reason is that I wanted to start and finish my journey of 2019 in the LCK. All the offers I received from Korean teams were very appealing. All the teams that reached out had amazing staff. But as I said earlier, I needed a change.
You have won the LCK already. I wonder if you have any other ambitions?
When I was playing in the LPL, I had great results. I like to think that it was my prime. But after returning to Korea, I have only won the LCK once within the 2 years. I was not able to replicate or produce better results than my performance in China. Producing better results than before, I want to leave the stage with the audience chanting my name.
I’m not saying that I am going to retire right now (laughs). I used to think 2016 and 2017 were my prime years, but I was not able to produce the results that I had wished for. Still performing well in solo q and knowing my mechanics are still solid, I want to try one more time. Granted, this is only possible if I maintain my current form.
What did you and the Kingzone DragonX staff talk about?
After returning from Japan in the early morning, I decided to sign with Kingzone. This was when I first met the CEO of Kingzone. However, the CEO didn’t think I was actually going to join the team. He was very thankful for me, and I felt he had enormous respect for me. It felt like I was being honored. Despite it being the very first day, I felt like I was obligated to produce good results right off the bat. In addition, I wanted to make Kingzone a team that all players dreamed of going to someday.
It is rumored that players are reluctant to play for Kingzone. What are your thoughts on this?
Personally, I don’t care too much for rumors. This is because I have not yet experienced it for myself. Before joining Kingzone, I had heard that their facilities are not that great. With last year’s unpaid wages incident, I also heard the financial team was in disarray. Despite this, there was no issue with unpaid wages this year. When I went to the facilities myself, I actually liked it a lot.
Rumors are merely rumors. My own belief had made it certain. All that is left is for me to perform well on the team I have invested in. I believe not just the players themselves but the team as a whole can achieve amazing feats.
Are you saying that Kingzone DragonX is destined to stay for the long run?
That is exactly what I am saying. In Esports, the typical contract duration is a year. However, if all my means are met, I don’t see why I would not stay with that team indefinitely.
To be honest, I thought you would forever be with your old trusted duo partner, Mata. Could you tell me why you decided to split with him?
There were plenty of teams with whom I could have played with Mata. But because of the fast-paced transfer season, the more me and Mata waited, the more offers started to slip away one by one. In a situation when urgency was crucial, Mata already favored joining SKT T1. At the time, my best option was Kingzone. Since we always talked about following what made us better and happy, there were no harsh feelings when we went our own ways. In fact, we supported each other and wished for the best.
Come to think of it, your time with PawN has been equally as long. Did playing with him again factor into your decision?
To be honest, just like me joining KT and the transfer season before that, I had no thought of PawN in my mind. However, talking with him this time around, it made me want to work even harder. Also, from all the years I have known PawN, he seemed the most desperate. Seeing this made me trust him more. There was no hesitation in deciding to play with PawN.
Now each team is at the last stage of shaping their roster. There’s Griffin and SKT T1, the most likely candidates for winning. You will be challenging them.
I certainly have the confidence to defeat them. There wouldn’t have been any reason to choose Kingzone DragonX if I didn’t feel confident. I especially won’t fall behind anyone in bot laning. According to PawN, we can win against any mid laners or junglers so all we have left is winning (Laughs). If you think about it, our mid lane and jungle have got to win. When PawN persuaded me to join Kingzone DragonX with him, he told me that, “I would regret it if I joined another team right now” so I believe that he will repay my trust.
Well, defeat them all and you’re sure to win. What are your expected rankings?
Honestly, I don’t know what our final rankings will be. I’ve stayed with my teammates for 3 days and still haven’t found out what types they are yet. I heard that they aren’t usually this quiet but they’ve been quiet so far. Rascal, especially, is really quiet. As for Cuzz, I think he’s the type who would carry the game by himself if you let him do as he wants. I think I need more time to read the team atmosphere and predict our final rankings.
Is there any team you are personally looking forward to playing against or one you’re simply interested in?
I am curious about my team the most. It is a continuous stream of question marks. I don’t know how it will turn out. You can usually tell by just looking at the team roster but our team is really like an imp. I guess you could say a team without any knacks. I think we will get an honest result based on how hard we try.
Nowadays, it seems that players are recruiting players in the trading window. I heard that you actively took part in recruiting TusiN.
There’s something I felt from this year’s trading window. That if you tell another player you want to play with him, it can put pressure on him and harm him. Since what I say can restrict that player’s options. Despite this, I actively appealed to TusiN. We were able to make quick decisions since he expressed how he wanted to be with us as well.
PraY is taking a short break, and Bang has left for the NA LCS. The players who played with you are leaving one by one; how do you feel about it?
I don’t think these two players lost competence in the LCK. They are not falling behind but taking paths they have chosen based on their principles. Running away because one is afraid of being challenged by the rookies is just nonsense. The reason I stayed behind in South Korea is that I am confident I can win no matter what kind of challenges I face.
Anyway, I would like to applaud Bang’s decision. We frequently kept in contact in difficult times and became closer, and he seems much happier now than he was then. He has won many times and is going to get great treatment so I think it’s something I should congratulate him for. I believe that he will do great in 100 Thieves since he is this competent. Of course, I think I will perhaps win if we play against each other in Worlds (Laughs).
I don’t have any close relations with PraY but he is an AD Carry with a very unique and distinct play style. I learned a lot from him by just playing with him in South Korea. He is a player that gave me the most stimuli as well. It’s not like he is retiring right now so I hope he comes back as soon as possible and plays with me in tournaments.
I am worried that the ‘best treatment’ will come with some pressure. Was there any pressure you got from having the top price among AD Carries?
Pro gamers just get pressured to win. Since it obviously is the best treatment, I could get more criticism if I don’t do well. Even so, there weren’t any other AD Carries who did better than I did in 2018 and I didn’t want to be treated any lesser than that. I think I should just do my best rather than worrying about getting criticized beforehand. Esports is a place where you get appraised based on how well you do.
Your pride played a big part in choosing contracts this year. Was your pride your first priority when it came to choosing a team?
I think so, too. Before, it was more like loyalty. Or I would make contracts only with my will. But that doesn’t mean my pride is high. What I took into consideration was if this team had no other options aside from me, and how much effort they made in the cost aspect and during the recruitment process. Anyone would have their pride hurt if they are told that the team desperately needs them but they show hints of recruiting another player behind their back.
The principles I have for choosing a team are - first, if I am competent. If I have the competence of a top player, then I find a team that will agree to my terms. I consider if I will be part of the team’s strength if I join, and then have my salary come next in the priorities.
However, just looking at the team right now - it’s hard to believe Kingzone DragonX is a likely candidate for winning.
Obviously, it is impossible to know the final ranking as I mentioned before. However, the reason I am confident is that we can synergize with each other. As for the bot lane, it would still be enough help if one, the AD Carry or support, does well. Same goes for the mid laner and jungle. In that aspect, I, PawN, and TusiN have enough experience on our team. Cuzz has experienced victory, and Rascal has learned a lot as he played with good team members, so we stand a good enough chance of winning.
Now you are one of the eldest in the team and have to look after the younger ones. This is your first time in such an environment during your gaming career; how do you feel about it?
So much time must have passed. It feels different now that I have to play the role of the elder ‘hyung’. First, I plan to trust my younger teammates, guiding and supporting them. Both Rascal and Cuzz have been tested and have gone through difficult times in a situation where they are not the starting players. Their time as sub players will be a big help in their future pro gaming career.
I have never been a sub, but on the other hand, I wonder what it would have been like if I experienced it once. Then there would be no time for me to be lazy. These two perhaps might be even more desperate than I am, so I want to look in the same direction as them and try our best to get the results we want.
I heard that you set the same goal as Coach Hirai. Could you go into details about what you discussed?
Coach used to tell me to work with him many times before. I couldn’t be with him because there were other opportunities whenever he said that. He was very happy that I could finally be with him this year (Laughs). A variety of staff is giving us help, starting from data analysis to bringing out the strengths in the current team. Coach, who was guiding the team by himself, now has reliable allies.
I would like to achieve good results with my coach based on that system and support. Both coach and I don’t have any record of winning at Worlds; it’s no wonder we both have the same goal. I think he can achieve what he aims to by continuing what he has been doing so far: taking good care of his players.
Lastly, what will the year 2019 be full of for Deft -- excitement or worry?
I had a feeling that things would somehow work out - whichever team I went to - during my time as a pro gamer. However, I’m not really sure about Kingzone DragonX; no one knows how deep they can fall if they stumble, but there’s also no limit to how much they can grow if everything works out. That is what makes them even more appealing, and they are a very good stimulant to my pro gaming career. I would like to work as team as soon as possible. This adventure has more excitement than worry for me.
I certainly wanted to express my gratitude as I got so much love and support as a part of KT Rolster for 2 years. I’ve been scolded a lot by Smeb and Mata during these 2 years (Laughs). I would love to let all of that out on them as their enemy. I’m obviously joking, it was indeed happy memories for me as I was able to be with such great teammates.
Also, Coach ZanDarc’s ability to give feedback is amazing. I would like to ask him to give Smeb harsh feedback. And since Score knows what to do by himself, he won’t need any separate feedback. Only Smeb (Laughs). Mata is also great at giving feedback, I hope he gives his team members in SKT T1 scary feedback after losing to us. Also, Ucal must have learned a lot in KT Rolster so I hope he defeats everyone as part of Afreeca Freecs, except us of course.