As the LCK spring split commenced the global attention was turned towards DAMWON Gaming, the rumored “scrim gods” of the LCK. Damwon stayed relatively silent during the first round of the spring split, as other underdog teams such as Griffin and SANDBOX Gaming continued to steal the headlines. However, Kim “Kim” Jeong-soo, the coach of DAMWON Gaming, believes the only way is up for DAMWON Gaming as the team breaks its losing streak and the young rookies such as Nuguri and ShowMaker finally begin to adjust to the stage.
Ashley Kang interviewed coach Kim around his hopes for the young roster, how he has made sure that the superstar players such as ShowMaker and Nuguri be in their own element and his observations on the current “generation change” that is shaking the LCK.
I’d like to start with your mid laner, ShowMaker. ShowMaker didn’t really pop off during the first half of the LCK spring split. However, he has recently been showing great performance, the turning point being sometime around the Lunar New Year break. What do you think this is the case? Do you think the recent meta changes are anything to do with it?
On the surface level, ShowMaker looks like he’s performing better because he’s been getting to play LeBlanc. However, I would not say that ShowMaker has increased in performance because of the patch and meta changes. It’s rather that ShowMaker is getting more used to the stage after a few games. He’s less nervous these days – That’s a huge part. These days, he comes to the venue and even smiles. Before, he wouldn’t say a single word at the venue because he was frozen with nerves. ShowMaker isn’t just good on this particular patch; he has a large champion pool and has a good mechanical ceiling.
We’ve just been drafting LeBlanc a lot because we deemed her strong in the current patch. However, ShowMaker is just as capable in other champions.
I’d also like to ask about Nuguri, who is credited as the carry of the team. What are your thoughts on Nuguri and his contribution to the team?
Nuguri did lose his confidence during DAMWON Gaming’s losing streak. Other teams began to play around the top and take Nuguri down in order to beat Damwon. We actually had a deep conversation about the situation. One of the suggestions raised was for Nuguri to start picking tanks or passive champions and Nuguri somehow survives through the lane phase. However, we came to the conclusion that it is best to try to face these challenges rather than work around them. If the opponent team is ganking top often, then we could try to focus on the opponent team’s bot lane more. Or the jungler could counter-gank top more often, too.
We did not want to put shackles on Nuguri, this player with high aggression and immense mechanical prowess. We asked him to continue playing in a high-risk high-return manner. As Nuguri continued to play so, recently we’ve seen his confidence come back up. This is to not understate the stress that Nuguri has been going through. The coaching staff agonized over the situation, too. I think the situation is turning out for the better.
I was just about to ask the pressure the opposing teams have been putting on Nuguri. The standard strategy for going against DAMWON Gaming has been to continue ganking top, so Nuguri falls apart. I guess that Damwon is also aware of the situation and has been working to counter this strategy.
Nuguri is aware of the situation, the coaching staff is aware of the situation. And we plan to face that situation head-on. “Come and gank top if you dare”, so to speak.
I’d also like to ask about the team’s recent choice for the starting jungler. Punch has been starting instead of Canyon in the recent few matches. Can you tell us more about how the recent decision has come through?
In scrims, Canyon has been showing better performance than Punch. In terms of the pure mechanical sense, he is the better player. However, Canyon is still nervous on stage. Meanwhile, Punch tends to be less nervous on stage and has good shotcalling. Finally, he worked so hard during the Lunar New Year break – he continued to grind the ladder by himself throughout the break. The feat moved the coaching staff, and we believed that we just had to start a player who has such a work ethic. His scrim results weren’t bad, either.
So Punch has begun to start for Damwon’s games, and he will do so in the near future.
You mentioned stage nerves several times during this interview, mentioning that as a factor that is impacting the players. If you flip that around, the young players of Damwon will get less nervous over time and that will only reflect in the increase in performance. It sounds hopeful, in a way, for DAMWON Gaming.
Yes, that is correct. The players in our team tend to still suffer from nerves, while other teams have veteran players. However, all Damwon players have great potential and it’s a team that will only improve over time. I think it’s a team that has a lot to show in the future.
During the first round, DAMWON Gaming went through four defeats in a row. The team morale could have taken a hit during that time. How was the team atmosphere during that time, and what did you do in order to recover from the slump?
Yes, the team morale was pretty low during the losing streak. Originally, our plan was to not take a long break during the Lunar New Year holidays. However, we decided to give the players some room during the break. Let them spend time with their family, let the players have a rest. It wasn’t a situation that was going to be solved by applying more pressure. I just relaxed with the players, went to the movies with them, went to karaoke. We thought we’d let everyone enjoy the break and start anew refreshed. Most importantly, we did not try to stress the players during the losing streak.
After KeSPA Cup, you mentioned the goal of DAMWON Gaming as Playoffs. Does that goal still stand for you?
It remains the same. Before the split began, I was convinced that Damwon would finish the first round on 6-3 match score, perhaps 5-4 or 4-5 match score in the first round and that we will have a better performance in the second round of the spring split. I still believe that the Playoffs is very possible for us.
The recently promoted teams are all showing impressive performances in the LCK. Some people are referring to this as “the upset of the rookies”, a “generation change”. Coach Kim, what is your personal thought on this phenomenon?
I think this situation is very…interesting. There are more rookies entering the scene than ever, and new teams are entering the scene, too. That means that we are discovering new talent. So I am very “interested” in this phenomenon. I see this as a positive thing. I hope that Damwon will be included in this positive trend as time passes.
A way to look at this is that the rookies and the new teams entering the LCK are particularly competitive. Yet one must wonder if it is the other way – that the strength of the LCK as a whole has declined.
The LCK has indeed dropped every single tournament last year, so that is justifiable. I think the LCK will find its glory once again when we perform once again.
Thank you for this interview. Do you have any final words?
During the first round, we suffered four defeats in a row. We experienced a situation where the younger players can lose confidence and learned how to deal with it. I believe that now the only way is up for DAMWON Gaming. Everyone in the team is working really hard towards that goal. From the second round, Damwon will be able to show more team-focused players. The fans can look forward to a better performance from us.