Not many people would have predicted the rise of SANDBOX Gaming. Newly promoted to the league and debuting to the LCK in the 2019 Spring Split, Sandbox defied everyone’s expectations with a dominating performance highlighted by their victory over SK Telecom T1. At the end of Week 2, Sandbox now sits at a 4-0 match score. The underdog team is placed 2nd in the league, only coming behind the LCK’s currently undisputed final boss, Griffin.
Ashley Kang interviewed Lee “Dragon” Jun-yong, the coach of SANDBOX Gaming about the underdog team’s breakthrough performance in the 2019 LCK Spring Split, how the coaching staff’s readiness to put prejudice aside allowed players such as Joker and Ghost to blossom, and his resolutions for the next match against DAMWON Gaming.
Congratulations on the team’s victory over Hanwha Life Esports, Dragon. What did you think of your team’s performance today?
Our performance reflected the scrim results. Hanwha Life Esports is also a very aggressive team, and the playstyles of the two teams are similar. We expected today’s match to be a fierce match even from the drafting stage, and we put a lot of preparation towards the match. Yet, we were able to gain a solid victory. In that way, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I am satisfied with today’s performance.
You speak of playstyles. I would agree that HLE and Sandbox both have very aggressive playstyles. Yet, I also noticed that there was a difference in this aggression. Sandbox was always one step ahead in in-game decision making.
I think all our players are excellent at making in-game decisions. During the practices, the other coaching staff and I have been putting emphasis on swift decision making.
Sandbox also seems to have a high priority on objectives such as dragons.
I’ll agree with this. Our jungler, OnFleek, and our support, Joker, are very sharp at catching the right moment to attempt for objectives. So we seem to take objectives more often than the other LCK teams.
SANDBOX Gaming was never in the spotlight. When various analysts gave their power rankings leading up to the 2019 LCK Spring Split, Sandbox was often at the bottom of these lists, quoted as a “relegation material”. And now, Sandbox is defying all these expectations with positive performance. What do you think is the reason behind this?
Yeah, I remember those power rankings too. We’ve all read them.
This is my personal take – Damwon and Sandbox were promoted to the LCK at the same time, through the 2019 Promotions. At that time, Damwon grabbed all the public attention and hype as the new rising stars, while SANDBOX Gaming’s promotion to the LCK went relatively unnoticed. Many people did not even know who we are. If there is a certain amount of public hype allocated to the newly promoted teams, most of that got funneled to Damwon. In a way, we were able to prepare for the season with little pressure because of this.
Yes, players read these power rankings and analyses leading up to the LCK. When they did, it actually drove them harder. The players wanted to prove everyone wrong. They wanted to work harder and become the underdogs that could upset this league, and see how high this team can climb. We collectively steeled our hearts, and I believe that this motivation also contributed to the good performance we’re now achieving.
Speaking of players, I’d like to ask about Joker, the support player of Sandbox. There is a prejudice against older players in the Korean esports scene. As a result, Joker was underrated and many people expected him to be the “weak link” of Sandbox. Then came the LCK, and Joker is going toe-to-toe with the best players in the LCK. What is Joker’s contribution to SANDBOX Gaming?
We consider Joker as the pillar of the team. It is true that he is now the oldest player in the LCK. Joker himself is acutely aware of the fact that if he doesn’t practice twice as hard as the young players he can fall behind any time or decline in form.
The coaching staff are from overseas and held no prejudice over Joker’s age; we put our trust in him. There is also a level of respect for Joker: awe that a player can be at the age [of 27] and yet still maintain a competitive form.
Joker truly is the pillar of the team, making his contributions felt in every corner of the team. He is the main shotcaller. He takes on the mantle of the older brother and takes care of other players both in-game and outside of the game. He creates a healthy environment for the rest of the players, be it within or outside the Rift. One thing is certain – that Joker is irreplaceable and invaluable to the team.
As we speak of players exceeding expectations, I’d also like to talk of Summit and Ghost. Summit was a substitute top laner in Afreeca Freecs and never played a game last year. Ghost was the AD carry of the bbq Olivers last year, yet truly began to shine this year with some amazing performances.
We were not concerned about how other teams saw [Summit and Ghost]. We thought that the only thing mattered was whether they would perform well once they played as part of the team. So we trialled both Ghost and Summit out and decided they are “the ones” for our team.
As for Ghost, his confidence was low at the time he joined Sandbox. We tried to boost his self-confidence, convince him that he is a player capable of growth. When Ghost formed a rapport with the other players and realized just how much the coaching staff trusts him, he fully blossomed [as a player].
As for Summit, he learned so much during the time he was at Afreeca Freecs. It is unfortunate that he was not able to see the light due to being a substitute. Now Summit is able to show what he has always been capable of in our team.
So, to summarize – The fact that the coaching staff were not biased about the players, be it their age or their performance in previous teams, ultimately led to the team’s current good performance?
This is a question that I’ve been asking everyone. The recent LCK has truly been a series of upsets. The existing teams and household players are underperforming. The teams that have been recently promoted, in contrast, are performing above expectations. Why is this happening?
It’s difficult to give you a single reason. In my opinion, the underperformance of players and teams such as KT Rolster and Gen.G is a temporary phenomenon. They are top tier players, they could bounce back any moment.
Teams like Sandbox and Damwon have retained their rosters and had a shorter period of adjustment. So amidst the period of confusion, while other teams are getting their teamwork together, the new teams surged up the rankings, relatively doing well.
The recent victory of Sandbox over SK Telecom T1 was truly an upset. In previous years, the performance of players would be different just by laning against a stronger opponent, like SKT or Faker. However, SANDBOX didn’t look intimidated in their performance against SKT.
I can’t speak for the other teams, but as for Sandbox, we don’t play with a prejudice no matter who the opposing team is. We do acknowledge that the opponent team is good. In fact, at this point, all the teams in the LCK are good to a certain level. However, none of our players are intimidated by the name values of the opponent team, be it SKT, Griffin or KT.
Thank you for this interview, Dragon. Your next match is against DAMWON Gaming, a team that was promoted at the same time as SANDBOX and is also known for their aggressive playstyle.
Damwon is the team that took the spotlight away from Sandbox during the 2019 Spring Split Promotions. So there is an element of envy. Also, during Challengers Korea, Damwon defeated Sandbox in every game except one. So we are determined to overcome that bad memory in this new venue [LoL Park].
And as for the outcome, who knows? Every single match we have played in the LCK has been a new experience for us. Every single team that we have defeated so far was a good team. So we will continue on with a mindset that we never know what a match will be until we face the opponent. No matter who the opposing team is, we will play our own game. We’re just focused on performing the best we possibly can.