It’s now December, the final month of the year, and the trading window is in its last stage. Most of the teams have completed their team rosters and coach lineups, and have started their preparation for the upcoming year. During the stove league, we interviewed several players who will be facing new challenges with new teams, one of them being Sang-Yun “Sangyoon” Gwon, who successfully managed to renew his contract with Hanwha Life Esports.
Hanwha Life Esports made some significant change to its lineup during the hot stove league. Among their top, jungle, and mid laners, the only player that got to stay was Tae-Hoon “Lava” Kim. On the other hand, all 4 bot laners, including the sub-members, got to stay. Hanwha completed their 10-man roster before any other teams could and began their preparation for 2019.
Now Sangyoon, who has been with Hanwha Life Esports for 3 years now (including his time with the old ROX Tigers), will be entering the LCK with new teammates. He had to repeatedly swallow the bitterness of not making it to the playoffs; he is determined to break past that wall this time. The team always seemed cursed to just barely miss the cut-off; this post-season may be the beginning of the end of that curse. Sangyoon is certainly determined to make that a reality, and we had the chance to hear about it from him.
You get to play with Hanwha Life Esports for the next season again. Is there any special reason you remained with the team?
I don’t have any grand reason behind it. I thought it would be nice to stay after experiencing the support of the company called Hanwha Life during the past seasons. But I think my desire to stay with the team was greater because I think highly of Coach OnAir.
Hanwha Life Esports is known for the generous support they provide their players. Your team even got their own bus.
That is right. Although I have said this several times, I really like how we get a different vehicle. We get a better team house and we even have an air purifier now. The organization staff members tell us to feel free to talk to them whenever we need something. But since we haven’t gotten such treatment before, the players aren’t good at making such requests (Laughs). Actually, we are getting a lot of support so there’s nothing much we need.
They told me to ask them if there’s anything I need for streaming since I personally stream often - even though I didn’t make a stream contract with the team. I don’t really know what I need and my room is small so I didn’t exactly get anything. They told me that they’ll make a separate space for personal streaming so I think I’ll have to wait a bit.
There must have been moments where you thought you wanted to find a new path with another LCK team or abroad.
Honestly, I never had the thought of wanting to go abroad to play, and I still don’t. The advantage of playing abroad is that it’s easier to make it to Worlds and you can make a lot of money. The thought of, ‘Let’s just do better here and go up, let’s not think about anything else’ was stronger for me. I might be sent to one next year even though I say this, but for now, this is how I feel.
Then what do you think is the advantage of staying in the LCK instead of joining a foreign team?
The biggest merit of playing in the LCK is that it is the most powerful regional league. It is hard to make it to Worlds in South Korea but that doesn’t mean it is hard to win it. But (the LCK) didn’t do as well in this year’s international tournaments. The advantage I can say for now is that it is my home country. I think that’s the biggest advantage.
Also, I don’t think the LCK’s results for this season weren’t good because it was weak. I think it was more of not being able to adapt to the metas. I feel that they can surely make it back on their feet.
You said Coach OnAir’s influence was a big factor when you decided to stay with the team. What is Coach OnAir to you?
I like gentle and flexible people. Coach OnAir is someone just like that. To be frank, he was scary when I first met him. There were even rumors that he was very scary, too. However, that wasn’t so when I got to know him for myself. He feels a lot like a father. Also, I don’t think his in-game feedback falls behind in comparison to other teams. It’s just that we are getting disappointing results because we couldn’t perform accordingly.
The laners in the upper part of the map have changed greatly during the transfer window. Did you get to know your new teammates?
Honestly, I don’t know much about the players since I haven’t been with them for long. Truth be told, I thought SoHwan and Thal were the types that are no fun and only focus on playing games. But when I got to stay with them, I found out that both players have a craziness. They were just hiding it. Thanks to that, everyone has been getting along well.
Moonjin is a real ‘insider’. I don’t know if that’s because he has experience in streaming but the things he says are different for sure. Whatever jokes I play on him, he’s really good at reacting to them. Even his personality is really great. I played a few games with him yesterday, and he had a lot of streamer-like aspects just like me.
As for Bono, I don’t think he was able to show all his talents because he is still shy. Tempt is at the same stage, too. But one thing is for sure, they both aren’t normal (Laughs). I know because I’ve heard rumors. I’m looking forward to it.
Do you get along game-wise?
Honestly, it’s not perfect yet. There certainly are many parts we need to work on. We still need to grow closer in order to be more comfortable. We are trying to eat all together and stay together as much as possible. (According to the interview with Coach OnAir, you went to the public bathhouse all together.) Actually, it was demanded that we do so (Laughs). Of course, I think it’s a positive demand. I think the coach wants us to be closer as well.
You got your top laner and jungle changed; what kind of change did this bring to Hanwha Life Esports' play style compared to its old one?
With our current game style, we have no choice but to all be aggressive, whether it is picks and bans or gameplay. It’s because of the meta mainly, not just from the players or the team. Every team would aim for such a style. It’s now best to snowball the game quickly by playing strong in the laning phase. The picks & bans became very important because of that.
There were changes made to the coaches. Notably, Coach Woong joining your team got a lot of attention. How is it now that you get to stay with him?
There was one time Coach Woong visited the team house before. I didn’t know back then but his visit was a bit like a test. We just thought he came to hang out. Coach Woong’s feedback tends to be very direct. I personally liked it very much. It was something I wasn’t good at doing.
In fact, he is very good. Of course, I can’t say he is perfect yet, but he is a good coach. Also, he takes close care of his players. He would ask each of us, “Did you sleep well, did you eat?” whenever we wake up in the morning. This may seem like a small thing, but from the player’s perspective, it is very nice and heartwarming.
When you have newcomers, you also have people who leave. You must feel very sad since you’ve played a long time with SeongHwan and Lindarang.
It is always heartbreaking when players leave the team. It always feels like this when our team members change little by little. But what can you do about it? Things could get much better for these players outside the team. I think each of us went to find their own path to a better future.
How did you say your farewells?
We only had exchanges like, ‘Hope you do well there, you’ve done well.’ Saying goodbye is always sad. That is why we parted with each other rather numbly. The time and place where we parted weren’t right. I think we will have to schedule a time to come together again later.
You’ve been together with Key in the bot lane for 3 years now. I bet you could guess each other’s thought just by looking at each other in the eyes.
You can’t help but become like that if you’ve worked on synchronizing with each other many times. It feels like we’ve stayed with each other longer than that when I hear that. It should now be time for our hard work to pay off. In some ways, we are like lovers. We know each other too well.
It seemed like you got a lot of attention by staying close with SnowFlower, your former teammate, almost like a lover there as well (Laughs).
This is different from back then. We had many childish traits back then. We were young and less experienced. We accumulated experience as players during the past few years, and we have gotten more systematic as we aged. Key has changed a lot as well. I think it might be because he stayed with me for a long time, but he became more streamer-ish. He makes more jokes, too.
Now that we mentioned it, SnowFlower has returned to the LCK. As KT SnowFlower.
We keep in contact but it seems that he doesn’t talk much since we are in the same LCK. I heard that a day before the official announcement was made. His reputation grew beyond him while he was in Turkey. I wonder if he has the skills to join KT (Laughs). I'm kidding. There wasn’t any particular team I wanted to win against before but now I think I want to win against the teams my former teammates joined.
But still, weren’t you proud to see your former bot lane partner, SnowFlower, getting to play in Worlds and getting in good shape?
No. It was more like why is that dude over there? (Laughs). He would talk like it was an obvious thing he made it to Worlds after he played in it. It was like he was saying, ‘I’m in 1st place’. But when I got to watch their games a bit, I saw that all his teammates were good.
Old bot lane partners like Bang & Wolf or PraY & GorillA chose to part ways this year. How did you feel when you saw that?
It felt like, ah, they are going away to make money. I’m kidding. To be frank, I didn’t think they would go away that easily to play in foreign teams. Going abroad is no longer somewhere far away. Wouldn’t it be better for me since the good players left? (Laughs).
Meanwhile, there are newly made duos. Are there any particular players you are keeping your eyes on?
Teddy and Mata, who recently joined SKT T1, seem powerful. SKT T1 completed their roster lineups. I do feel confident, though. We won’t easily fall down because our strength is the synergy that we’ve had for a long time.
AD Carries went through tough times with all that non-ADC champion meta and brawl meta focused on the top part of the map in the last season. It’s now the pre-season, how do you think the situation is for the AD Carries now?
It became even tougher. Everything became much stronger. They were already strong and became stronger. Riot Games is making the meta into one where you fight often and end the game quickly. For the fun of the spectacle. Because of that, I expect AD Carry champions to stagger again. It’s basically granted that a mix of AD Carry and non-AD Carry champions will appear in games.
If that is so, is there any champion you would recommend to AD Carry players who are taking this hard?
Definitely Lucian. Lucian is the number one champion. There are some people who are selling nonsense with Kleptomancy Lucian. I did that too a bit, but Press the Attack is the best rune for most of the AD Carries. Kleptomancy might be good if you are going to the top or mid lane but as for AD Carries, Press the Attack is a must. If Lucian gets banned, then you can pick anything you want. Except for the champions you definitely don’t see any more like Kalista or Vayne.
You are known for your very wide champion pool.
Actually, if you are a pro gamer, you would know how to play most of the AD Carry champions. When it comes to the champion pool, the difference eventually comes to playing non-ADC champions; most of the ones I’ve played came out of my coach’s head. The coach would tell me to just use it during the practice. We tend to try out anything. There are cases where we would just play one game and use that the next day during the tournament.
There was one time we used a Karthus & Nunu team comp during a tournament. I haven’t even played 10 games on Karthus before, and we won playing him during the scrim the day before. That is why Lava, the original mid laner, went to play ADC while I played Karthus mid.
Playing something new on stage for the first time without much practice… Doesn’t that imply you’re very talented?
I don’t think so. As a professional player, I think I don’t have to play many games to be able to play above average to some degree. I think the problem lays in confidence. If I don’t get any feeling that I would lose by playing [a champion], then it would feel like I’d be able to play it even though I didn’t practice much.
You’ve said before that you receive a lot of inspiration for new champions and item builds from foreign leagues.
That’s right. In truth, almost nothing new is discovered in Korea. It’s because Korea prefers playing what they have always been playing. In contrast, foreign teams are very open-minded. Our head coach watches a lot of games from the other leagues and recommends new champions and builds to us. AP Kai’Sa and Heimerdinger are picks that we took from another league.
Looking back, HLE was always really close to qualifying for the playoffs but fell short.
We kept falling and falling... We lacked persistence. If we fall, we need to get back up; but instead of getting back up, we completely collapsed. And like that, we got the same poor result for 2 years. It’s very unfortunate and regretful.
We need to become more persistent. Even when a slump finds us, we still need to be able to perform at a certain level. This is because we lack the ‘basics’.
In addition, because we’re focusing so much on the basics, we had to spend a lot more time during practice. This had a negative effect on us because we grew exhausted over time. Maintaining your physical and mental condition as a player is very important… After coming to the conclusion that this is problematic, we received feedback that we should avoid practicing until 6 AM. “Let’s focus so that we can finish by 4 AM,” we said.
What is your newly-formed team’s goal for 2019?
Most players will respond, “1st place,” or “qualifying for the World Championship.” As for myself, I want to be more realistic about it. We need to tackle what’s at the front in order to advance. I want to qualify for the playoffs. I’ll set a new goal after we achieve that first.
Is there anything you want to say to your teammates or fans?
I sincerely hope that the players who left the team find success. I also want to tell SnowFlower that I’ll beat him no matter what if we end up meeting. (Laughs) Due to having completed our 10-man roster early, we were able to quickly begin practicing. Everyone is really giving it their best. We’ll get good results next season, so please continue cheering for us!