It’s been a while since the trading window closed. Amongst the rebuilt teams, KT Rolster had their fans on the edge till the very end with the temporary contract of their unpredictable AD Carry, Bdd, Score’s military service problem, and Smeb’s curious decision to stay in the team.
The subject of Smeb’s decision was quite simple though; Smeb is known for his simplicity among the pro gamers. There’s is no simpler and sweeter goal than victory for pro gamers; the way to get it is easy as well. They just have to prepare hard and perform well. Smeb was able to set the foundation of that goal quickly by staying in KT Rolster rather than joining the complex trading window.
Being the team’s legend or the star of the franchise were ideas that felt distant for Smeb. During the course of the interview, I had the feeling that he let go of many things. It also seemed that he had become more relaxed. Maybe that was why Smeb was honest about the things many fans were curious about: his dispute with Mata, the rumors about their coaches, and PraY joining the team.
You have chosen to go down the path of a KT Rolster legend. How were you during the offseason?
Actually, rather than wanting to become the team legend, I wanted to settle down since I’ve had enough of going around playing for different teams. It was like, I wanted to play where I felt comfortable at. Also, my team looked after me so much that I didn’t contemplate it too much.
The recent trend in the trading window was, ‘I’d like to play with someone, or be with someone’. I’ve always had thoughts like that, but now decided it’s not something so important. I felt that it would be nice if there were players who would join the team after seeing that I signed first, since everyone is going around looking for good teammates. The team’s former players were also great, but I wanted to let everyone know that KT is a team where players as good as those leaving could join as well.
So in the end, it was a choice only possible because you had certainty and confidence in yourself.
I was confident, but other people’s assessment of me wasn’t good. However, the way I was highly regarded by my team became the reason I felt confident in myself. Also, the fact that there were quite a number of teams that wanted me during the trading window helped me gain my confidence, too.
Then, wouldn’t it help your team be more powerful if they had their old members remain in the team instead of getting new ones?
Of course, I wanted to stay with them very much. But everyone had gone through so much; we cried, laughed, and suffered together, and I found it hard to open my mouth and say let’s do it together once more. We were even placed in a situation where we didn’t know if Score could continue playing due to his military service. As much as my old teammates suffered, I think they also did their best, so I just offered them my support, telling them they should do whatever they want to do.
There were so many rumors about KT Rolster. How did you feel about the rumor on your dispute with Mata?
It’s hard to see it as a dispute; it wasn’t like we had strong feelings against each other because we didn’t get long or had a fight. Those were just pure rumors. We just had different playstyles in-game. Every team has their own problems like this. What many people think happened actually didn’t happen. We did have many disagreements in the first year, but in the second year, both of us would let the other have their way in order to work on our teamwork.
It must have been very hard for you, seeing as you keep talking about how things were hard on your teammates.
Last year and this year were the hardest periods of my entire pro gaming career. My other teammates must have found it hard and been pressured as well. It’s not easy to describe it in words. I know every pro gamer feels like this, and I don’t know if it’s because I am the captain of the team, but it was really hard. I think it’s probably my first time saying that it was so hard in an official interview like this.
Your coaches went through some struggles as well.
I want to be honest about this. I don’t know why people criticize our coaches. Even if we made a mistake in picks and bans, they complete the picks and bans after discussing with the players. There’s no way coaches can decide it all by themselves. It was the result we had after the whole team thoroughly discussed it. So it is hard for me to understand the feelings of people who are criticizing them.
Even if it wasn’t just for the picks and bans, the rumors about your coaches must have had an impact on the team.
I heard stories like they go out to drink after practice. But what’s wrong with going out to drink after practice? Doesn’t everyone go out to drink a glass of beer and shake off how tired they are after their work? Also, during the season, if they went out to drink, they would have gone with the players; I’ve never seen our coaches only focus on their personal lives that much.
It’s the same for the players as well. They can go out to drink a glass of beer after they’ve worked hard during their practice time. It’s not like they have to drink to the point where they black out. Also, it’s not like they drink every single day. When players play solo ranked games after the scrims, they are using their personal time to practice more. I just find it unfortunate how they can be rebuked for a glass of beer.
They’ll need to have special management if they are too immersed in relaxing but I think it is very important that, whoever they are - whether they are players or coaches - should have their own personal time after they are done working.
There seem to be many people who regard your team negatively because of the news regarding team recruits.
Honestly, I was worried. But being worried didn’t solve the problem. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve grown older, but I decided to have faith in my team and wait rather than be anxious. There was a lot of talk about PraY as well, and I did hope for it a bit.
The relationship between us isn’t just about getting along well on the surface; there are many fans who would just regard this as fun, but he is a hyung that I get along with very well in-game. I thought that maybe we could be together this time if there was a chance, but things didn’t go as I hoped. Regardless, I will help our new AD Carries adjust well to the team.
But still, what fans find most satisfying about the team is the signing of Bdd. How is it now that you got to stay with him?
It was the news that helped me discard my anxiety. Personally, I wasn’t sure if Bdd would come, although I was very glad when I got to meet him in the practice facility. I was hoping that players with bright personalities would join us, and I’m satisfied we got them.
My team is known for their delicious meals, and Bdd just waits for the mealtime. It’s almost to a point where he quickly runs to eat once the practicing is over (Laughs). Although I’m not the one cooking, it still feels great for some reason.
Are all your new players outgoing, not just Bdd?
These kids are really loud. Maybe it’s because I’m old now but it’s just fun and joyful to watch them from the sideline. Looking at them reminds me of my past so it’s just great to watch them. I’m trying hard to blend in so that our younger ones don’t find it hard to approach me.
The spotlight moved from KT Rolster, the ‘super team’, to SKT T1, the ‘dream team’.
Personally, I truly look forward to seeing SKT T1 play. I’m curious how well they will play. I think they are a team that provides enjoyment by just watching. I’m sure everyone’s watching them with the same heart, whether they will be shaky in just a year like us, or if they will do well from the start till the very end like they are expected to.
I’m a fan of Faker as well. His score wasn’t great in 2018, and I hope he does better in 2019.
Although my team may no longer be a ‘super team’, their will is very strong in midst of the bright team atmosphere. There are so many players with potential for improvement so it feels like we are building faith between each other already.
Wasn’t there any difference within the team besides from the team members? I heard that your team wanted to change their system for coming and leaving work.
Rather than having to come to work, it’s more convenient to have both the practice facility and team house in one place. But that’s simply because of laziness. Among the players, I have this strong tendency to be lazy; it can be really bad. Now I find it peaceful to think that I’m working out and coming to practice with a clear state of mind.
Is there anything you’d like to say as a senior player after experiencing this year’s trading window?
As for the whole ‘I’ll play if someone comes to the team’ thing, I do understand it because there was a time I also said that too. There’s no reason to criticize players for that. However, I think this will be less common once esports grows more and becomes systematic like professional soccer or baseball. There are still parts of the trading window system we need to improve. It got to a point where my head started to ache when I was hearing those stories unrelated to myself this year; how would it have been for the transferring players and recruiting teams themselves?
Have you ever considered transferring to a foreign team? You are a wanted player.
My heart started to open a bit after hearing other players I’m close with telling me stories about playing abroad. But I still want to stay in Korea. It’s hard to go abroad to play since there are still goals that I haven’t fulfilled yet, and my fans are still rooting for me.
Now let’s talk about the future. What do you expect your team score will be?
I’m not joking when I say our team’s strength is quite good. The players have a strong will, they try hard to absorb what they are good at from each other. They naturally take in feedback well, so all they have left now is to do well. Everyone is just thinking about trying hard since they are all craving victory.
Do you have anything nice to say to your departing teammates? It seemed everyone was saying something to them.
Last time, I saw Deft say that I need more feedback in his interview. I’m going to congratulate him because he gets to play with TusiN now. Of course, it’s not something to congratulate for TusiN because now he’s going to suffer (Laughs). I hope Deft gets to grow more. Since he is just too inadequate, I hope he learns a lot from TusiN (Laughs).
I know it would look great if I say that since everyone had rough times, I hope everything works out well for them no matter where they go, but now that we’ve been separated, all I can think is that I must win against them. It’s going to be really fun to meet them as enemies in the tournaments, and as for PawN and Deft, I would like to teach them the importance of ‘hyung’. All I have left to do now is show these friends of mine how much I was their strength (Laughs).
I think we should now regard you as the franchise star for KT Rolster. It feels like you are the representing player of your team.
It’s something any player would obviously desire. But then, I’ve reduced such desires since I’ve gotten so much attention until now. I don’t feel that I want to be the star of our team. More than a subsidiary goal like that, I just long for another victory.
What is the meta like in the preseason? There were many matches of the type you prefer.
First, the game itself became fast-paced. There are more frequent skirmishes, and there are many moments where the tide is turned due to the bounty system. We’ve already had many interesting games from the KeSPA Cup. What’s so fun about the bounty system is that I start getting emotionally engaged when I get a higher bounty (Laughs). I would become a fugitive, or, in the opposite case when an enemy has a high bounty, I just keep my eyes only on that player.
You must have a greater desire to play in the international tournaments. I’m also curious if you think the LCK style is now outdated.
I truly believe that the LCK teams will do well again in 2019. Since I’m still playing, it’s hard to decide if the LCK style is outdated. Of course, I may be the outdated one. And I find it hard to agree to the statement that the reason there aren’t any new talented players found is because of the ‘oldbies’. At least, I’ve never had any prejudice against new players. Since there are many talented players in Korea, we can certainly come up with a different result for next year.
You’ve talked about how your team has had a tough time so far. Could you also say something to your fans, who were with you emotionally during this difficult time?
It’s my 3rd year in KT Rolster now. This is my first time staying in a team for 3 years, and it feels comfortable. As much as we try hard, I have this strong feeling that I will be able to present my fans with good results. I used to communicate with my fans via streams or social media but I didn’t get to do so much due to personal issues lately.
I hope you will show KT Rolster a lot of support in 2019 and the reason I stayed in Korea is because of you, the fans, so I hope you keep loving us. I’ll make up for the time I didn’t get to communicate with you all by getting good results in the KeSPA Cup and the LCK.