The League of Legends World Championship is the stage every League player dreams of. This year, 24 teams are gathered from everywhere around the world, including three from LCK. They are hard to reach, but Inven were able to invite the head coaches from these teams.
The interview was conducted before the World Championship start by Inven.co.kr. Translation courtesy of Kyobin Choi.
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We want to know how you all have been doing lately. What are you guys up to for this upcoming World Championship?
LZG.Hirai: I have been taking a break for a little while, doing interviews, before starting team practice for the World Championship.
SSG.Edgar: We are done with the break now. Now team practice starts.
SKT.cCarter: About the same. We also had a break after the World Championship qualifier. Now doing a lot of team games.
Mr. Kang, how do you feel about going to the World Championship for the first time?
LZG.Hirai: Well, I have high expectations for it is indeed a dream stage for us. Of course, we have our worries. Since SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy are strong and experienced teams, I actually want some advice from them (laughs). Well, I am starting to think that they might not want to help us, but we are Koreans after all.
Any advice? (laughs)
SSG.Edgar: We are the ones who need advice.
SKT.cCarter: We don’t deserve to give advice to the No. 1 team! We actually learn from Longzhu Gaming.
"The nightmare of 2014 came crawling. We were very desperate." -- SKT.cCarter
Well then, how is SKT doing this year?
SKT.cCarter: We were really anxious about the 2017 Summer Season. We were even afraid of not making it to the World Championship. We had a lot of discussion. Then the nightmare of year 2014 came crawling in and everybody was very nervous. It was so lucky for us that it worked out relatively well in the end.
We were very desperate. Players and coaches alike. We were desperate to avoid another 2014.
Samsung defeated KT twice in their way to the World Championship two years in a row. What are your expectations this year?
SSG.Edgar: It is similar to last year. We had the most difficult round in 2016 and this year as well. A small difference is that foreign teams are scarier this year. So yes, I am a bit afraid.
You mean teams in this year’s Worlds are stronger? Any team in particular?
LZG.Hirai: We have not played against every team. But Team SoloMid, for example, they come to Korea every year and do team practice together. This year’s TSM is certainly stronger. We could easily know why they are No. 1 in NA LCS. The gap between Korean and foreign teams is getting slimmer every year and by a big margin this time around. Any mistakes can be critical to us.
After we got to see TSM playing, we were kind of relieved that TSM is not in our group. We already knew about Bjergsen, and Hauntzer is just a really strong top laner. Doublelift is the AD carry who can deal a lot of damage in a team fight as well as in the laning phase. Biofrost and Svenskeren are also clever players. I was shocked they could win a game where they were 10k gold behind. TSM is the team that we are most afraid of.
"The gap between Korean and foreign teams is getting slimmer every year." -- LZG.Hirai
SSG.Edgar: They don’t have weak spots at all. The No. 1 teams does not have weak spots, like Longzhu.
SKT.cCarter: The No. 1 teams in their region are all good teams. Even though G2 Esports are a bit underrated in Korea, we see them improve every time we play in MSI, same for EDward Gaming. The Chinese playoffs had really close games. It is a really valuable experience. All teams who took first place in their region are the real deal, especially this year.
SSG.Edgar: All three Chinese teams are strong, and so are TSM. TSM can certainly threaten Korean teams and the Chinese teams have the home advantage. In regards to TSM, I am sure that they will make it to the quarterfinals. As for individual players, Uzi and Zven are the ones we worry about.
How about Korean players then?
SSG.Edgar: Faker, of course. He is just dominating in his solo rank games. A mid laner cannot affect the entire game as much in the current meta, unless he's Faker. I can’t believe what he can do to a game. Even in these finals, Faker alone shined.
Then there's Longzhu. Everyone in that team is strong. So, in conclusion -- we are the weakest! (laughs) To be honest, it was kind of weird that we managed to take third place in the ESPN power rankings and our bot lane duo wasn't even on them.
LZG.Hirai: To be honest, SKT had never had a real break till LCK Summer. SKT always find their place after a nice long break. Longzhu were able to win LCK, in my opinion, because SKT played LCK Spring, MSI, Rift Rivals and so on.
But SKT had its break. Where did you guys go, Saipan?
SKT.cCarter: Yes. Saipan.
LZG.Hirai: Just by taking a look at their solo rank games, I can tell they improved a lot. To be honest, we are afraid of them as well. Samsung also proved themselves in qualifiers. I always thought Samsung Galaxy can always win LCK. Personally, we don’t want to meet Samsung or SKT. Foreign teams are scary, but Korean teams are terrifying.
Honestly, I want both teams to be eliminated, in like quarterfinals or semi-finals. Don’t worry, Longzhu will keep Korea’s pride.
If you have to pick any particular player in each other's teams?
LZG.Hirai: SKT’s bot lane seems really determined. They have great fundamentals, as you know. Samsung’s bot lane is also really strong. CuVee and Ambition always do their part as well. I just hope Ambition does not have his day when he faces us.
SKT.cCarter: Longzhu and Samsung are even stronger than everyone thinks. They are pretty underrated in my opinion. I wish to avoid Korean teams as well.
LZG.Hirai: I hope to avoid them until semi-finals or finals. The game between us will be decided by one single mistake or a bit of pure luck.
SKT.cCarter: Crown and Bdd also have the potential to win over Faker. I know Faker is good but we can’t be sure against those mid laners.
LZG.Hirai: I think Byung-Hoon decided to say every player is underrated today. (laughs)
SSG.Edgar: Taking a safe way. Classic SKT Style. (laughs)
"Crown and Bdd have the potential to win over Faker." -- SKT.cCarter
Picking a sub will be a difficult decision to make. What is behind your decision in this Championship?
SSG.Edgar: Ambition and Haru have totally different playstyle and they can help each other. Our style can can completely change depending on who's playing. Haru’s condition is pretty dependent on his solo rank rating. When he ranked at 1200LP at Challenger, he was glorious in team games as well. When his rating dropped, his performance dropped as well.
Longzhu decided to pick Rascal. Any particular reasons?
LZG.Hirai: I don’t like this six-man system to begin with. It’s only five players in the game, but every member of the team, including coaches and subs, decide a team’s performance. But we can only include six players. I am so sorry and frustrated for those who were left behind. I didn’t pick Rascal because he excels unlike others, but because he is a team player and makes great atmosphere for the team. I don’t really like discussing this. I really wanted to bring everyone to the championship stage.
SKT.cCarter: I talked about this a lot before, but the word “sixth man” or “sub” is incorrect. I would just call them a member. I don’t really like how Riot’s official name for them is “sub”.
I picked Huni for his experience. I know it can be controversial. Some even argue that Untara’s poor performance in the finals were the main reason. Team members never thought that. It’s about our strategy in the Championship and Huni’s experience. Also, I feel really sorry for those who are left behind.
Don’t you worry about food and accommodations in China?
LZG.Hirai: Food was always the issue in China. We heard that some players actually have some trouble because of it. We are doing everything to make sure the players can perform well everywhere.
Longzhu’s Chinese staff can help you in this case.
LZG.Hirai: He does whatever he can, though he cannot satisfy our demands all the time.
SKT.cCarter: Can we benefit as well like last year? (laughs)
LZG.Hirai: You guys won the finals last year. Back off. (laughs)
SKT.cCarter: Food is always the issue. Accommodations we can manage, but food is really one that bothers us all the time. In MSI, some had troubles. Blank finds Chinese food delicious for he experienced it quite a lot, but Faker or Wolf seem like they can’t stand its exotic scent. Last year, they couldn’t even eat pizza from Pizza Hut because of that smell.
LZG.Hirai: Same for Burger king. I keep a list of the food that Koreans can eat.
SSG.Edgar: The same is true for the Korean food that's serverd in China.
SKT.cCarter: Yes. Korean food is quite different here. It’s localized and totally different. We are considering many options for the food.
LZG.Hirai: Having a nice meal and sound sleep is really important in the tournament.
Doesn’t Samsung usually carry food, like taking a box of instant noodles? I heard Crown is quite sensitive about those changes.
SSG.Edgar: Crown is quite sensitive about accommodations. Ambition cannot eat Chinese food at all. CuVee can eat anything, I don’t really worry about him. Probably Mr. Kang here has a lot of insight on Chinese food due to his experience. Can you share some advice?
"I think Riot Games left Ardent Censer like this on purpose." -- LZG.Hirai
LZG.Hirai: I don’t eat it, either.
SSG.Edgar: Well, there is your answer. (laughs)
LZG.Hirai: Koreans can usually eat things I can eat for I am very picky as well. So I try them first and recommend to the others.
Let’s move on to World Championship. Are you satisfied with your group?
SKT.cCarter: We were worried about EDG’s bot lane last year. This year, Scout is showing his top performance. I couldn’t find his weakness even after I looked over all of his matches. He used to make mistakes when he is pressured, but he seems pretty comfortable in his new team. I am not worried as much as last year, but still EDG can be terrifying to us.
LZG.Hirai: I think cCarter is the worst type of person: complaining about everything and end up winning every championship. (laughs)
You face Immortals in Group B. Both Flame and SSONG are in Immortals as player and coach, respectively.
LZG.Hirai: Flame is really incredible given a few conditions. But we can beat Immortals for their style is pretty similar to ours. As for GIGABYTE Marines, I don’t really know much about them. They are really unique for they make a lot of unexpected moves. But in general, we have less pressure than SKT or Samsung here. We don’t have an LPL team in the group at least.
SSG.Edgar: Both G2 and Royal Never Give Up are stronger this year. RNG has home advantage as well, all the crowds will roar for RNG. It might affect our team spirit. But we will overcome.
Like Edar said before, teams with strong bot laners will dominate in this championship. Ardent Censer can be main reason for this as well. What are your thoughts on the current meta?
LZG.Hirai: To be honest, I think Riot Games left Ardent Censer like this on purpose. Teams with strong AD carry can overcome games that are not in their favor. Little mistakes in the bot lane can change the whole game. All Korean teams have strong bot lanes, but there is a huge difference between other teams. Teams like TSM and LPL teams have strong bot lanes, which makes them threatening.
SSG.Edgar: I was sure Ardent Censer would get nerfed. It was supposed to, but it did not happen.
LZG.Hirai: There is a skill gap between Leagues in different regions. I guess Riot Games left Ardent Censer to overcome that gap. Ardent Censer can make incredible reversals and it can happen in the World Championship as well.
"My bot laners are the strongest in the world." -- SSG.Edgar
Is there no counter strategy for Ardent Censer?
LZG.Hirai: Ban the Ardent Censer supports.
Not that. Maybe picks like Blitzcrank, which Wolf showed once?
SKT.cCarter: It was only an early game strategy.
LZG.Hirai: A grab cannot make a difference in the end.
SKT.cCarter: Everybody is just rushing to Ardent Censer, all AD carries go to their lane with Doran’s Shield, it makes this game a bit mundane.
What are players’ thought on the group stage?
SSG.Edgar: Our bot lane is pretty confident. They actually want to face stronger bot laners. As a head coach, I feel proud to hear comments like that. I don’t want my players to be intimidated at all. In my opinion, my bot laners are the strongest in the world.
LZG.Hirai: I think of Samsung Galaxy very highly as well. They proved their quality in these qualifiers. The reason I believe Samsung won’t lose in the group stage is simply because they are a very strong team.
SSG.Edgar: Our bottom lane is incredibly strong. If we are able to minimize our mistakes, we will have no trouble. It will be interesting games since all teams in our group have their strong sides, but we won’t have much trouble.
Longzhu is probably the most confident team in the world. BDD, Khan, Cuzz are all proud of themselves.
LZG.Hirai: Yes, unnecessary self-confidence. It should be handled. I believe we will win all games in the group stage, but they are under pressure as well. They have to learn how to handle that pressure, especially BDD and Khan.
SKT.cCarter: We had some pressure last year. Due to team games leakage incident. But this year, I can’t say we lack pressure, but we are certainly less anxious about outcomes.
SSG.Edgar: This year will be the toughest year. Maybe we will have to face foreign teams in the finals as well.
What will be the most interesting best-of-5 match in this World Championship?
SKT.cCarter: TSM against G2 will be the most interesting. Or LCK teams against LPL teams. In the last MSI, the crowd was shouting when we’d destroy a ward. I can’t forget that.
LZG.Hirai: It is unlikely, but I wish a team from each region proceeds to the semi-finals. It will be absolutely interesting and draw more attention to the Championship.
SSG.Edgar: SKT against LPL teams, just like those games in Rift Rivals. LPL teams have more than enough motivation to defeat SKT. It will be really interesting to watch.
"Unnecessary self-confidence should be handled." -- LZG.Hirai
What about NA and Europe? Which will be strongest team in those regions?
SSG.Edgar: TSM for NA for sure.
LZG.Hirai: There’s a skill gap between G2 and TSM.
SSG.Edgar: G2 is a somewhat unique team, but not quite strong as TSM.
SKT.cCarter: TSM. It has to be TSM. TSM is stronger than any team from NA and Europe. Even compared to top tier teams from LCK or LPL, TSM is still a very strong team.
LZG.Hirai: Hauntzer is really strong, like I said. It’s easier to agree that he is the best top laner in NA. He has what we call flair which lifts our heart in certain moments. Their jungler is also very clever, not to mention Bjergsen. Doublelift knows how to win a team fight, same for Biofrost.
SKT.cCarter: As long as Doublelift is kept away from throwing, TSM will prevail.
Kang: Doublelift used to throw, yes, but he knows how to control it this year.
SKT.cCarter: I agree. This year’s TSM will be a scary team.
Let’s hear about your own team now.
LZG.Hirai: Cuzz began his first season in 2017 LCK Summer. He is definitely the least experienced player in the LCK but he improved so fast in one season. He will be a top jungler if he keeps this pace. Some think Khan can’t use tanks well. Well, he can certainly use bruisers better than anyone. That does not mean he can’t use tanks. I don’t even have to mention our bot lane. Gorilla is certainly No. 1 support in the world, even better than last year.
SKT.cCater: I don’t really care about that power ranking by ESPN, but our players do. Faker especially. He is very, very determined. Talking about my team… Well, I can say SKT is like TSM. TSM players have kept their skills at certain level for such a long time and the same is true for my players. Some think we don’t practice as much, but this is simply not true. I know it is not easy to sit in front of a computer screen for the most part of the day. I feel grateful to all the members for staying hungry all the time.
SSG.Edgar: Teamwork will be our strength. Individually, we are not good enough for a third place in LCK. The thing that I like most in my team is that everyone is really open to feedback. Some players tend to ignore what coaches say. Not my team. They are always open, and they do a lot of practice to fix their mistakes every time.
Last question. I know your final goal is to win the World Championship. Please share your determination and expectations for this Championship.
SSG.Edgar: “Have no regrets.” That will be our only goal. We had ups and downs this season. When we went down, we used to say “if only I tried a little bit harder,” or “if I slept a little bit less.” Not saying those things is our only goal. We want to prove LCK teams are still the best in the world.
LZG.Hirai: We want this Championship so bad. We don’t believe we are ahead because we are from the LCK. We will remain humble and we will do everything to make sure we win this. We will play every game like when we play qualifiers for the LCK.
SKT.cCarter: Just because we did great every time we went on this stage, we do not believe we will do great this time as well. Everyone, every player gave their everything for this stage. We will learn and overcome in this championship.
Any additional comments?
SKT.cCarter: About the comment that Clement Chu made regarding Rift Rivals: it was total lie. Mr. Woo-Beom Choi here knows it as well. It was just bullshit all the way. He said he saw us goofing around, not playing any team games. We were playing team games all the time. He didn’t get into our club house, did he? He said we went out late in night. That is true. Because internet connection went dead after 10pm.
"We don't believe we are ahead because we are from the LCK." -- LZG.Hirai
SSG.Edgar: No internet connection after 10pm. We didn’t practice after 10pm either.
SKT.cCarter: Yes. So we headed to our hotel. Other teams went for meal or came back to the hotel for rest. Mr. Chu made us look like we had a party without taking any team practice. I was going to make an official protest if he came to this Championship as a caster, but he didn’t. There is not a single truth in his comment. Absolutely ridiculous.
Fans believe his comments because they think he is a close observer. We didn’t even comment on that for it is true that we didn’t perform well. KT Rolsters’ and MVP’s members were furious as well. I want to tell everyone this. There is no single truth in Chu’s comments.
SSG.Edgar: We want more support than criticism. I tell this every time, but players get easily hurt by reckless hatred.
LZG.Hirai: When I saw last year’s World Championship on streaming service, I was damaged to look at chats and the online community. Every player tries so hard. They are really, really devastated. All of us care about winning. They want to win. That’s why they became professional. They are giving up everything, and they are just so young. Please, be generous to them. Thanks.
all photos by: Inven.co.kr