People encounter countless obstacles during their lives. Some choose to simply stick with the status quo, whereas others accept the challenge and try to overcome it. Although the former is often a safer choice, it also usually prevents improvement. On the other hand, the latter can be a bit risky, but if you succeed, it’ll take you a step further in your life. Numerous people go for the safer choice because it’s not easy to recover from failure.
That is why people love stories about overcoming challenges. They admire the main character’s ability to take risks and hope they fulfill their goal. From these stories, people gain motivation and the energy to move forward themselves.
Former head coach of Tigers and EDG, NoFe has decided to put down his head coaching career and take on a new challenge as a ‘coach’ in Afreeca Freecs. He chose the LCK’s Afreeca Freecs over numerous top-tier LPL teams that promised him the very best conditions. This will be his second challenge after shifting from a pro LoL player to head coach. Let’s see what he had to say about his new challenge.
You left EDG. What was the reason for it?
I kind of felt that I was stuck. I was fortunate enough to start as a head coach; I’ve been continuing this career ever since. Although I had my own philosophy, I couldn’t help but think, ‘am I doing this right?’ in my last year in EDG. I wanted to make a change by leaving EDG.
Wasn’t it difficult to leave a team that you were in part of for so long?
EDG gave me a lot of good memories. To be honest, I was afraid when I first came to China. What I heard from others [about the LPL] frightened me, but EDG wasn’t a team like that at all. They were more passionate compared to any other Korean team and they had significant respect for the coaching staff as well. I felt comfortable and adjusted quite easily. However, I had to go through some changes such as language, food, and environment. Still, I didn’t get stressed much from life in the gaming house in general.
That’s why it was difficult. I was quite attached to the team. As a matter of fact, some of the guys are players that I found and brought up myself. We respected each other, but still, there was that language barrier that I had a hard time overcoming. This doesn’t mean that we couldn’t communicate with each other. It’s just that in the feedback process, I had some troubles when I communicate with the players to find an answer.
What I decided on was to go back to Korea and directly communicate with the players. I was also curious about how much I could excel [from direct communication]. I wanted to know my capabilities. I wanted to figure out whether I have the right and ability to receive the same amount of positive recognition.
You haven’t reached the top in EDG. Is this one of the reasons why you came out of the team?
There is a connection there for sure. If I managed to deliver good results, I wouldn’t have questioned myself and wouldn’t think that I was stuck in the same place. The communication issue wouldn’t have been a thing as well. I failed to deliver results and this means that I lacked something; I wasn’t sure about where this ‘lack’ came from. That’s why I thought about leaving the team.
When I shared my thoughts with EDG, they told me that ‘if I make satisfying improvements in a different place, we might have another chance to work together’. I was so thankful.
Among the players, who seemed the saddest to see you leave?
Ray seemed really sad. Meiko also seemed sad when I told him I’m going to leave. Haro as well. Clearlove also, who worked very hard to stick out among those exceptional Chinese junglers; I helped him out a lot too. After we were eliminated from Worlds, Haro sent me a long messenger text. He said he was so sorry that he couldn’t play up to my expectations. I became very emotional after reading that.
You’ve changed your role from head coach to a coach.
When I first thought about going back to Korea, I did want to continue as a head coach. I had some plans in my head and if I could successfully execute them, I thought I’d do well. However, none of the Korean teams offered a head coach position.
I received a lot of offers from the best Chinese teams. I was on the verge of signing a contract with one team. Chae Jung-won, department manager for AfreecaTV offered me a coaching position. I thought about it a lot. It was mainly about whether I can do well as a coach under head coach iloveoov. I talked with my wife a lot as well.
The main reason why I accepted Afreeca’s coaching position is that I thought I had become lazy. I also thought I had lost my proper path. I was always a head coach, so I had to share feedback on my players and coaches. However, thinking back now, I never received any kind of feedback on myself. Since iloveoov is a veteran that has vast experience in the esports scene, I thought he would coach me well. In fact, I was certain that I made a good decision after meeting him in person.
You’ve experienced both careers; head coach and coach. What are the differences between the two?
What I’ve been experiencing was like a playhouse. (laughs) In my Tigers days, I was a head coach in a new team that didn’t a have a concrete structure. EDG felt like a bigger and more structured team. However, my role was communicating with the players inside the game surrounded by team officials. So, this is my first time working in a gaming team that is this well-structured. It’s interesting.
Afreeca Freecs is a highly-organized team when it comes to managing the players, making practice schedules, and communication between coaches. It’s efficient as well. I feel this quite often these days.
Tigers and EDG had only one coach. Isn’t this your first time working with numerous coaches in one team?
It was the same when I worked with Ssong and Hermes. I led the communication on the game and players. Personality wise, I feel uncomfortable when some else does that work. The two coaches were like advisors that were right next to me.
Here, I’ll be following the head coach’s orders and cooperating with the three coaches, including myself. I’ll have to find my role. For now, I’m trying to head to where my head coach is leading me. Although it’s new and tough, I’m having fun.
viNylCat is a veteran coach that has been working in the scene for 8 years already. He has some good thoughts and know-how so I have a lot to learn from him. Although he has no pro experience, Yeon is a very smart and hard-working coach. He inspires me a lot. Overall, I’m satisfied since now I feel secure in an environment that I wanted to be in.
What were your first impressions of the Afreeca Freecs players?
Everyone was complimenting Kiin since he is very good. I met him with high expectations and he did not disappoint. He is something for sure. I had some thoughts on Ucal since his kt Rolster days. Well, it must have been a team circumstance, but I thought that the role that Ucal was on could be rather unsatisfying for him. After I joined the team, I’m keeping on eye on Ucal for a lot of things. I need some more time to observe, but I know that he’s learned a lot from his former team so I’m looking forward to what he’ll bring.
The moment I saw Spirit, I knew he was a hard worker. He’s so passionate. At the same time, I thought I’m pretty old now since he was a super rookie when I was about to retire. When I was on Lee Sin, he came in for a level 2 counter jungle on his Maokai. (laughs) That young player is now the oldest veteran in the team. Time sure flies…
Young players like Twingkle, Aiming, Proud, SSol, and Jelly are guys that are full of passion towards pro gaming. It hasn’t been long since our first meeting so I haven’t learned everything about them.
Twinkle, your jungler, is getting a lot of high praise in the LCK. What is it like watching him play for Afreeca?
Twinkle has explosive potential. I am currently teaching my junglers how to move and oppress the enemy as the Chinese junglers do. Twinkle’s ability to absorb all this knowledge is outstanding. He applies what he learned without me lifting a single finger. I feel like Twinkle is the type of player who will be big someday.
The Kespa Cup has just started. With the newly-rebuilt teams entering, how well do you think Afreeca Freecs will do?
Because LPL is a completely different region, I was never able to fully look at the LCK. With our first opponent, Griffin, I had the impression that they were a weird team. I am consistently looking at Griffin’s VODs. They are overall… praised by the majority. I felt intimidated when I heard that. I’m not supposed to, right? I need to believe that we can win.
It is important to get our first win because it will give our younger players confidence. I will also try my best to prepare for the remainder of the tournament. Even if we don’t win, I want to give off the impression that it was a close and entertaining game to watch.
In regards to the Kespa Cup, could you say a few words to the two debuting support players?
In terms of Jelly, he is a very bright guy and is responsible just like a support. Since he is full of passion, I think he might make a few mistakes. I hope Jelly doesn’t lose that passion throughout the year, and I hope we can continue to work hard together.
For Proud, he has been with a lot of teams already. Because his performance on those teams has not been spectacular, Proud has lost some of his confidence. However, not just me, but the entirety of the coaching staff believes Proud has immense potential. As long as he regains trust in himself and the confidence to go on, Proud will do well.
After the Kespa Cup ends, the LCK will begin. Time is passing by so fast. How do you think Afreeca will do in the upcoming year?
One of the biggest reasons why I wanted to return to the LCK was because of the LCK’s recent performance at Worlds. While I am not saying that I produced good results in EDG either, it was still difficult for me to watch how it went down. When you think of esports, Korea is still the representative. It made me question if this happened in the past. I’d like to think this is the reasoning why all the teams in the LCK went into full rebuild mode. The teams recalibrated the players and found their respective talented coaches.
Every year, Korea is praised for Worlds, but there really wasn’t a year like this before. In order to bring the LCK back to high praise and make every player the MVP for their team, we all need to work hard. Deep inside, I believe I want to be a part of all this. Also, I want to be the one who wins it all.
When you look at the new Afreeca Freecs roster, you can clearly see it is possible. As long as I cooperate well with the coaching staff, I like to believe Afreeca Freecs will be the star of it all. LCK and Worlds.
Lastly, could you say a few words to your LCK and EDG fans?
To the EDG fans, I am honestly so sorry. We all worked extremely hard to achieve our goal of passing the semifinals. Unfortunately, I left the team after they had failed. Regardless, I had a strong bond with the players. I’ve devoted everything I had to the players and the team. We achieved growth from it. I truly believe EDG will become stronger than they have ever been next year. I hope everyone will continue to support EDG.
To the LCK fans, it has been a minute or so. 2 years I have been outside of Korea and still, there are fans who constantly support me. I am truly grateful. I will try my best to restore the LCK’s pride. Please support Afreeca Freecs and the players.