The upcoming winter has been a bit colder for Nam “Lira” Tae-yoo this year. Despite the fact that he led his team, Clutch Gaming (Dignitas) to Worlds, Lira announced that he won’t be playing in the LCS next season. He did still want to compete in the NA, though, but he wasn't able to find a team.
Lira was having a break, back at home, in Korea. Rather disappointed at how his FA status is turning out, he spoke that he has regained confidence during Worlds. Just before the stove league began with free agents moving around wildly, we tracked down Lira to talk about a few things.
It’s been a while, so can you please introduce yourself?
I was previously the jungler for Clutch Gaming… and my contract has expired with them, so my name is Lira, and I’m a Free Agent.
How’ve you been?
I’ve hit the peak of my career this year, and since I love playing on stage… I worked really hard. However, I’ve been unimaginably stressed out as well, so I didn’t play a single game for the past 3 weeks. I’ve been dreaming a lot about League in my sleep, to the point where I couldn’t sleep properly. Things are a little better now… Nowadays, I’ve been spending my time like a normal person.
So you’re getting your well-deserved rest?
I’ve been doing normal things. I’ve been helping out my mom with her things, working out, playing with my dogs, and just been spending time like a free, but a jobless spirit.
First, let’s go all the way before Worlds. Despite the 9th place finish in the Spring Split of the LCS, you’ve survived the gauntlet and went to Worlds. What was the process like?
From my perspective, everyone was working hard until Week 2, got cocky, and went on a losing streak. The loss streak kinda just made everyone give up. It was hard to mentally recover from it, and being so low in the standings, it was pretty much over even before we got fired up.
However, in the Summer split, there were many changes and improvements. Huni joined the squad, the communication between the Western players improved, which we also helped in improving. With revitalization on the coaching staff as well, we were ready to beat the mid to lower-tier teams. However, no matter what we did, we couldn’t beat the big 4 teams in the LCS, which are TL, C9, TSM, and CLG,
Towards the end, during our match vs. CLG, we lost because a player of ours ended up throwing the game. After that, I ended up crying out of anger, and that proved to be the turning point for our team. I said things like, “I really want to win, so please listen to me. I really want to go to Worlds”, and my words turned out to be just the motivation that the team needed.
I’ve been very whiny. Being older and being blunt, I’ve never cried before in my life, but the scene really proved to be a wake-up call for the team.
Your team has rebranded to Dignitas during the Summer split. I’ve heard there were a lot of changes, so what exactly changed?
In early Summer, during the takeover process between Clutch and Dignitas, the management just stopped contacting us. What I mean is that the managers started to pay for things out of their pockets… I didn’t know what was going on with the team. We learned that we’ve rebranded to Dignitas through an article. When we asked them, they simply replied, ‘We can’t tell you about it.’ Things were becoming from bad to worse, to the point where our menu was just terrible. When things seemed the worst, when Dignitas stepped in, things took a drastic turn for the better. We’ve had Korean food, and the CEO was directly involved in taking care of the players. The atmosphere suddenly became really positive, and I think things turned for the better.
When we felt discarded and even thought about why we’re playing, the highest authority figure directly stepped in to take care of us, and with a revamp on the coaching and the support staff, there definitely was change. However, things were at their worst, so we welcomed any change that came our way with a positive outlook. Things changed from the worst to subpar, and although we couldn’t beat the big 4 LCS teams, we were able to beat every other team in the league.
After such a rough journey, you’ve finally qualified for Worlds. How did you feel?
At the time, I was really confident in my own skills. It almost felt like we deserved to go to Worlds. To be honest, the ping in NA is really bad for practice. Not only was it bad, we just couldn’t beat TSM and CLG in scrims. Although we weren’t sure we’d make it to Worlds, we did make it. Looking back on it, I think that we went to Worlds not because we were good, but because they were playing badly. With lady luck taking our side, it felt super nice to beat those teams, and I was just amazed at how we made it to Worlds.
What was your goal at Worlds?
Honestly speaking, we didn’t believe we’d do exceptionally well. My in-game mindset is to always play without regrets, and to do so, I knew I had to prepare extra hard. I’ve been a pro for a long time, and when I told them how I felt, I just felt pretty empty. We just had to show up and play.
Were you certain that you’ll make it past the play-in stages?
Yes. Our scrim results were good and we had a positive record during the play-ins. We knew for certain that we’d make it past play-ins.
I’ve heard that an inside personnel told you that since you were the underdogs, there’s no pressure in losing, but would gain a lot in winning, and such advice had a positive effect on couple players.
It was always like that. We’ve had this mindset that it’s okay to lose. That mindset is good at dealing with nerves, but I personally don’t like it. In such a mindset, it’s important that you don’t underperform. It’s okay for the team to lose, but it’s not okay to underperform. I think that this mindset actually can ruin a team, in a sense where the team’s success should come first before my very own.
In my opinion, all the underdogs have this mindset. I think a lot of people use the expression, 1v9ing, but I hate such a mindset. It’s okay to be bad at laning or whatever, but there are cases where they don’t make certain plays out of fear. I hate people managing your KDA or CS to say that you did well but the team didn’t.
In an interview at Worlds, you’ve shown your respects to Caster Jun. What’s the story behind it?
I’ve always watched TV at home, and the thing I watched the most was Starcraft. To be honest, I’m not even that mesmerized by Starcraft pros. I’ve started living with them at an early age, and even washed dishes with FlaSh (Lee Young-ho), who’s considered a god in the scene (laughter). However, Caster Jun was like a celebrity.
Even when I was in the LCK, when I was in the corner, listening to music and mentally preparing myself, he remembered my name, and told me things like “Do well today!”, “You’re gonna 2-0 tonight, right? C’mon, even the casters want to go home early!” (laughter), and “You’ve gotta send me home early, okay?” Such words encouraged me and helped me deal with nerves.
He’s a very lovable person. I thought about the things to say at Worlds, and I wanted to thank him. Once I was given the opportunity, I took it and showed my respects. It’s just something I wanted to get off my chest.
Is there anyone else that took care of you like Caster Jun? Is there anyone that you’d like to thank?
There’s a lot of people that took good care of me, but Caster Jun happens to be someone that I really like. Coach Kang Hyun-jong (OnAir) and Coach Lee Jae-gyun are the two people that I can think of. Whether it was business or personally related, I’d like to thank Coach Lee for taking care of me. Coach OnAir was always an older brother figure to me. I’ve started when I was 20 years old, and he’s always been that figure. Because of both of them, I’ve learned what it means to become an adult.
Is there someone like Caster Jun in NA? Someone who perhaps jokes around with you, and starts a conversation to help with your nerves?
Everyone was friends there… and to be honest, I don’t know why, but it looked like they were uncomfortable with me. Did they think that I don’t speak English? I don’t think there was anyone particular that liked me. Since I’m an import, I don’t get complimented for playing my part. I can tell, just from listening to the English cast. I was jealous of others getting complimented for just playing their part.
Off-topic here, but you’ve said in an interview that you’d like to meet your fans if there is one, and someone commented that he or she is your fan. Did you read it?
I’ve seen it. I was amazed (laughter). How should I put this… Because of people like them, I’m motivated to play.
If you were given the chance, would you like to meet that fan?
Of course. If I can go back to NA, I want to meet all my fans. I even want to look for my Korean fans, just to meet them. Before I retire as pro, of course.
Worlds is finally over. Did you expect such results?
I honestly didn’t know who’d win. FPX and G2 had similar playstyles but had very different champion pools. I didn’t know which champions fit such similar styles. Although the Chinese players had better mechanics, I didn’t know how well they’d do on such a big stage, especially in their first appearance at Worlds. One thing for certain was that whoever won the first game would win the series. To me, G2’s composed of 5 trolls that are all good at the game (laughter), and FPX practiced a lot oriented around mid lane. Although trolls are good at breaking down composed plays, they failed.
How do you feel about your first appearance at Worlds?
There’s a lot of regrets. Whenever I played in NA, whether it’s scrims or matches, I kept telling myself that I was in NA, so play perfectly, and they make mistakes. However, this mentality carried over to Worlds, and it’s a mindset that is making NA lose. Other teams already don’t make mistakes, and either follow the meta and/or make the necessary plays. However, we only act reactively and wait for the enemy to make a mistake.
We’ve had great scrim results when we were proactive. We went pretty even with DAMWON, who were considered gods in scrims. All 5 of us wanted to be trolls on stage, but during Play-ins, we were back to our usual selves.
So was it stage pressure?
I don’t know. From drafts to playing certain champions, everything’s left with regrets. My team was always good during the early game. I’m confident that we’d never lose pre-15 minutes, but after that, we’d somehow always be behind (laughter).
Even during the first game that we played vs. SKT, I haven’t played Sejuani for almost 6 months. I should’ve played Qiyana, but when the team asked me what I wanted to play, I’ve said, “There’s nothing for me to play. Give me Sejuani.” Things like that are left with regrets.
You’ve faced off against Clid, Karsa, and Broxah. Out of the three, who proved to be the most difficult player to face?
Honestly, I think Clid’s better than me, and he’s a very good fit in SKT. When a certain lane loses, other lanes move faster to cover for the losing lane, and there was pressure even in taking Scuttle Crab, so he was hard to deal with. For the other two junglers, if you look at them individually, I think I'm much better than them.
On the other hand, was there a player that left a good impression in the Play-in stages?
Closer from Royal Youth, Xerxe from Splyce and Tian from FPX have all played much better than I thought they would. I thought Tian was really good from solo queue as well. For Closer and Xerxe, the team funnels a lot of resources into them, but they can carry just as hard. I hate those teams that funnel resources into a jungler. I’ve never been funneled, and I’m always providing resources for my team, so it’s hard to play against those types of teams (laughter).
Tian has been underestimated because he’s always been cast under Doinb’s shadow. Did you think he played well, even without Doinb, in solo queue?
That’s right. His skillshots are really fast. For example, junglers sometimes waste skillshots while taking dragon. So when the support or mid initiates, it’s half a tempo late. However, Tian just walks up and kills the enemy. When I look at things like that, I knew that he’s quick to make a decision on who to mark in order to win. I’ve been playing for so long, that I can tell which players are good by their skillshots. Just like how people know which Ezreals are good by their use of Arcane Shift.
You’ve played Skarner a lot during the gauntlet, but not at Worlds. How come?
Everyone asks me that. Even the NA players. I’m not trying to belittle NA, but it’s a pick that I can only use in NA. Just look at Doinb. If the enemy mid’s defensive, then the bot lane is in jeopardy. It’s the same with junglers. Without priority, the game just blows up.
Skarner is a pick that loses pre-6. However, in NA, no one invades the jungle. When I faced off against a Skarner, I’ve always won. They say that Olaf has an advantage over Skarner, but it’s a pick that needs a lot of practice. There need to be plays that are premeditated, and even if we get Skarner, I’ll always be leading the game at my team’s pace, so it doesn’t really matter. However, it only works in NA, and not on the World stage (laughter)
How would you rate your performance at Worlds?
There’s a lot of aspects to talk about, but how the team will play out the game starts from draft, and I think I was pretty good at it. I admit that I was pretty bad with my skillshots. However, our compositions were usually 4 carries, with me being on a tank or Lee Sin/Rek’sai. Given the circumstances, I think I played my best. With 4 carries, I had to tank the damage and zone out the enemy… but when I’ve watched the replays, I don’t think I did my job that well. For example, my plays would make people go, “Why is Lee Sin at the backlines and not doing anything?” One thing for sure is that I was really bad with my skillshots. In the end, I think it’s a matter of perspective, where I think that as a jungler, if you win pre-15 mins, then you’ve done all you can.
What would you say you’ve learned? Do you have any regrets?
I have regrets in all the games I lose. When I was in NA, I was actually a bit scared of the Korean, Chinese, and the Challengers in solo queue, but I’ve regained my confidence. In scrims, I’ve hit skillshots that normally wouldn’t land on stage, and would usually win. I’ve orchestrated how the mid-jungle, top-jungle, and how jungle-bot will play, so I’ve regained my confidence. Honestly, if I was back in the LCK, I think I’d easily take top 3.
You’re now a veteran in the LoL scene. Aren’t you available for residency next year? I’ve heard that the import rule is actually changing next year.
There’s a lot of talk behind that issue. You have to play for 4 years, but now there’s talk that you need a Green Card as well. I actually feel wronged, because I’ve asked the management to apply for me this Summer, but because of how there has been no communication in the process of the CG - Dignitas takeover, my request for the Green Card application also got lost. If that started this Summer, the process would’ve been completed by next year, and I would’ve gotten my Green Card. I’m actually really annoyed and disappointed that Clutch Gaming screwed that up.
You have a vast amount of experience in both Korea and NA. Although this next question is one that you’ve probably been asked a lot, what do you think the biggest differences are?
As a gamer, it’s the amount of practice. I think that NA players find happiness in the amount of freedom they’re granted, while KR players find happiness in victory in the LCK. The happiness that you’re granted from relaxation is very different from earning it through hard work and effort. In NA, after you finish scrims, they just go out to have fun. In NA, people sometimes ask the players, “Please play at least 5 solo queue games per day after scrims”, and almost begs the players to practice when there’s a new patch. Oh, and compared to KR, there’s a lot more money for players.
I was very shocked when players didn’t play a single game of solo queue, up until the day that scrims leading up to the Summer split started. At the time, Graves received a change in his Smoke Screen, and players were confused by the change.
Out of the 4 major regions, only NA failed to make it out of groups. People have been talking a lot about what’s actually wrong, and lists some of those reasons as lack of practice, lack of NA talent, and terrible solo queue environment. In your opinion, what’s the biggest problem?
In League, I believe that you need 5 players that are good at the game and wants to win, and 1 great coach. However, I think people are just half-assing it. Making the same mistakes over and over is one big reason. For example, if the enemy jungler gives you double buffs, then they’ll continue to do so. Putting NA environment issues aside, how are you supposed to win when they’re just bad at the game? It’s a matter of mindset, really. How is a player that’s bad at the game supposed to win?
Let’s look at the solo queue environment. In Korea, pro gamers are always playing late into the night. However, in NA, they’re only up until 1 AM. Putting ping aside, how is the environment going to get any better when pros aren’t playing? Players are giving excuses to how they can’t play the game because of Shaco and Alistar one-tricks or whatever… but I don’t understand how that works when they just don’t practice. They use that time to sleep or work out when they don’t even watch the games or play solo queue. Teams in NA only plays 2 blocks of scrims. I always say that we should play 3 blocks, but even my team doesn’t want to play 3 blocks, and the other teams don’t want to as well.
How is Lira in 2013 different to Lira in the present?
Simply put, I’ve learned a lot more than back then. If there’s ever a thing called ‘League Psychology 101’, where there’s this recipe to improve any team I go to, I think I’ve mastered it (laughter). I think I’ll be able to identify what kind of a person someone is by playing together or having a conversation, and will be able to improve that person. I was the 8th oldest player at this year’s Worlds, and I think that with age, comes experience. I’m confident in what I’ve experienced, and wherever I end up, I think I’ll do well.
What did you learn? Is it in-game things? Or something outside the game?
I’ve learned how to properly convey my thoughts to people, and how to give feedback. At the time, I was very cocky and dumb because of my confidence in my mechanics. I didn’t even know how to improve at the game.
If you can tell one thing to your past self, what would you like to tell him?
Stay with KT and go to IG with Rookie (laughter). Then, I would’ve been more successful. I think if I did well in KT, I think I’d be playing with Rookie right now. I don’t think I was terrible back then. I wasn’t popular back then as well. I was the captain back then, so I was the one who took all the negativity towards my team. At the time, I didn’t know why I was cut from the team, but looking back at it, I now know why I got cut.
In your opinion, do you think 2019 was a successful year for you?
I’ve hit my all-time-career-high, and I think I did well but… I don’t understand how the current FA market is going to play out. NA teams are mostly looking for imports in the carry roles, and if I decide to return to Korea, it’s a risk I need to take. In a way, things are unfair. I think I did very well this year, but how bad do the carries have to be to look for new players in those roles (laughter)? I don’t know about going to other regions, but I like taking risks, learning new languages and making new friends.
How would you rate your English among the other Korean imports in NA?
To be honest, since I don’t speak English with other Korean players in English, I don’t know. I think it’s pretty good, since I’ve been told why I don’t speak English. Personally, unless I’m perfect at something, I’m embarrassed to do it, so I tend to shy away from it a little. There are absolutely no problems with my English, and I’m even able to deal with contracts by myself. I’m good at reading and writing, but just a bit bad at speaking the language.
Do you hang out with NA players a lot?
I like drinking, so I sometimes go out with Korean players. On the other hand, I don’t like loud places, so I don’t like house parties. I usually drink Soju bombs with other Korean players. Impact’s usually the one that pays (laughter).
Is it with the ‘Crew’? Reapered, Impact, Huni, and CoreJJ?
These days, it’s mostly CoreJJ and Reapered. They’re usually the ones to set up dates for drinking. I think CoreJJ really likes alcohol. However, I haven’t been to those meetups recently, because all they talk about is the game.
Although your next team hasn’t been decided, what would you say your goal is for 2020?
I think that people’s assessment of me is really bad right now. The players and the coaches I’ve been with know how good I am. I personally don’t like making flashy plays. I like making plays that solidify a hard win, or those that make the team come back from a deficit. I don’t like winning or losing in a very hard fashion.
However, I now think, “Do I need to be more flashy? Do I have to hard carry?” Although I’m unhappy with how others think of me at the moment, I want to show how good I really am, wherever I may end up going.
What’s the region that you want to play the most in?
Right now, it’s NA. Going back to LCK is a different challenge, and I’ve learned a lot of English, and certain habits of other players as well. I like to exploit others’ weaknesses to win (laughter).
Lastly, is there anything you want to say to your fans all around the world?
I’m currently FA, so I don’t know where I’ll end up. However, I hope that you’ll continue to support me, wherever I go.
If you met that one fan that commented on Reddit, would you be willing to sit down for a meal with that fan?
Of course. A bowl of Ramen in the U.S. (laughter). Everyone comes when I’m there. I’m down to meet all my fans.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports