League of Legends 2020 Worlds Finals (Riot Games)
With Korean players enjoying success in the League of Legends World Championships since 2013, teams from all around the world are keen on importing Korean talents to help them enter and win the big tournament.
Koreans were the most represented nationality at the world stage every year since 2013, with the exception of 2014 when LMQ, consisting of all Chinese players, played for North America. Two of the five players in the two Chinese teams that won the world championships in 2018 and 2019 were Koreans who were pivotal to their wins.
Although Korean players need to learn new languages and adjust to different lifestyles when they head to different regions of the world, their mechanical performance is highly sought after by overseas teams. Before the recent adoption of the franchise system in Korea, going abroad usually meant higher pay or a better chance at getting a ticket to the World Championships. Consequently, more and more Korean players have headed to teams all over the world, including Turkey, Brazil, Japan, China, Europe, North America and Oceania among others.
As talented Korean players spread across the world, the players experience regional differences in the playing environment. This is especially true for Lee “Ignar” Dong-geun who has played in Korea, North America and Europe. Even now, as one of the veterans in the LoL scene, he takes the time to watch most Korean and European league games.
Lee “Ignar” Dong-geun (Evil Geniuses)
“In Korea, I was comfortable in many aspects of professional life. In the US, however, I had to work hard to adjust to the different lifestyle that was unfamiIiar,” said Ignar in an email interview with The Korea Herald.
Many LoL fans remember Ignar, who currently plays for LoL Championship Series’ Evil Geniuses, for his key performance as Leona and Blitzcrank in Europe’s Misfits Gaming against former SK Telecom T1 at the quarterfinals of the 2017 Worlds. Ignar went to the World Championships again last year with US’ Fly Quest.
“The reason why I headed for North America was that I felt it was a good opportunity for me. But I think there’s always a part of me that wants to go back to Korea and play there,” he said. “For players considering playing abroad, I want to tell them to have a mindset of working hard to adapt.”
Leaving home to play abroad portends many changes for young players.
Playing in a foreign team means that the players are required to learn the local language on top of the daily practice. As a result, world-class players like Kim “Doinb” Tae-sang and Song “Rookie” Eui-jin, who both won Worlds in the Chinese teams in which they play, are able to speak fluent Chinese after spending years on the Chinese LoL scene.
Another difference playing abroad is that the environment in the West is much more relaxed and lighter than the atmosphere in Korea when players have time off.
“There isn’t much of a difference in the daily number of practice hours for teams in NA, EU and Korea, but the main difference is that after scrims (online practice matches) are done, the environment in the US is more free. There are many teams in the LCS that have a light atmosphere,” said Ignar. “I think I enjoy the relative freedom LCS teams have. Another plus side of the LCS is that the offseason vacations are much longer.”
Daily life for pro players in North America also differs as teams wake up earlier than their Korean and European counterparts. Many Korean players in Korea play individually until late at night and wake up late.
Ignar’s hopes were dashed however with the ongoing pandemic as it meant not being able to enjoy various fun, outdoor activities that the US’ had to offer.
Playing abroad also meant leaving the comfort of Korea.
“I couldn’t eat Korean food often when I played in Europe, but I can easily find Korean food in America. I still miss going to a Korean barbeque place in Korea and eating pork belly,” Ignar said. “When I first went abroad to play in other countries, I had a hard time and missed my family. But after playing abroad for many years, I’m used to it. I think I miss them for around two to three months after leaving home.”
The league format and level of play is also different by region, requiring players to adapt.
“In terms of skill and gaming understanding, LoL Champions Korea is on a higher level,” Ignar said. “In the LCS, with only one game played instead of a best-of-3 like the LCK, a relatively weaker team just has to win against a stronger team once to pull off an upset, so fun results happen frequently.”
COVID-19 has made it more difficult for foreign teams to scout Korean players in the country this offseason and the adopted franchise system offering higher pays for top players meant fewer players have headed to foreign countries, with the exception of China.
Still, foreign teams are always a possibility that many Korean pros consider, and many are ready for the challenge of playing in a new environment.
By Lim Jang-won (firstname.lastname@example.org