When it comes to League of Legends ADCs, it's easy to think of Bae "Bang" Jun-sik. The veteran bot laner will be taking his talents to North America to play on 100 Thieves, go for a few NA LCS titles and cosplay a little at All-Stars this weekend.
ESPN caught up with Bang before his trip to Las Vegas.
ESPN: You recently left SK Telecom T1 and joined 100 Thieves. Can you tell us how the decision came about?
Bang: I actually exited SKT sometime before the official announcement [of my free agency]. Several days before [the official announcement], I had tied up all the conversation with the team and was granted permission to approach other teams. After that, I talked to a few different teams. Then 100 Thieves approached me and showed immense interest in me.
We were aligned in our goals on where the team is headed, goals on our motivation to win titles or where the team's vision was at. Everything was a perfect fit. While I was approached by many different teams, 100 Thieves was the team that showed the most interest in me. I had conversations with the team's players, CEO, general manager, esports manager. They asked very in-depth questions, even down to how we will approach the game.
The level of attention and detail they put into the discussions made me feel that the team was serious about having me as a part of the team. And the package the team offered was very generous, too. I think [the team and I] truly wanted [to work with] each other. That doesn't always happen. I signed with 100 Thieves without hesitation.
ESPN: You played with SK Telecom T1 for a very long time, and now you are headed for a new challenge. How do you feel about your time on SKT and the move now that you have had time to reflect on it?
Bang: It isn't easy to give a short answer to that. I've been a professional gamer for six years, and out of these, five years were with SKT. At this point, the idea of a new challenge became a very alluring prospect for me. That's my one-sentence summary of it.
I achieved a lot during my time in SK Telecom. I even had the chance to play for SKT for another year. However, [the team and I] mutually decided that parting ways was the best resolution for both of us. We both saw the positives of us parting ways rather than the sad parts.
The idea of a new challenge was the biggest single reason [for me leaving SKT], but there were so many smaller reasons, too. There was a hope for ... freedom. A freedom in every single aspect [of being a professional player]. I'm not saying that SKT and the Korean teams lack in freedom. However, there is another level of freedom beyond what they offer. It's difficult for me to go into too much detail, but yeah.
ESPN: You sound very hopeful about the move to 100 Thieves. What are some of the things you are looking forward to in regards to moving to the NA LCS in general?
Bang: I'm going to be really honest with you: The biggest reason for me moving to NA is to win titles. There were several NA organizations that I was approached by. 100 Thieves was an organization that stood out for me, that made me think, "OK, I'll be able to win titles [on this team]." So that's what I'm looking forward to the most.
I didn't qualify for the World Championship this year. I thought that if I went to 100 Thieves, we would be able to go to the next worlds if I did my part. 100 Thieves already has amazing players, and they also have a strong desire to win titles. I think that's what I'm looking forward to. Playing in a team that can have meaningful achievements in international stages.
As of outside of [100 Thieves], I'm looking forward to the NA weather and the fan culture there. NA fans seem more ... exuberant. I hear that it's warm in L.A. four seasons a year. Not the hot kind of warm but a pleasant kind of warm, like the spring and autumn season of Korea. I hear that the air is cleaner there, too. The idea of living there is very attractive to me.
And there are little things, like all the players getting their own rooms in the team house. Most teams in Korea squeeze three, four players in the same room. I had the same lifestyle in SKT for five years, and the time made me long for having my personal living space. I think NA teams are really good at taking catering to the players. I'm really looking forward to it.
Even until the moment I signed on the dotted line of the contract [for 100 Thieves], I saw only the good parts of being a pro player in Korea. Then after I signed the contract, I saw the team house for 100 Thieves. It was a YouTube video of the team owner, [Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag], showing the team house around. I only watched the video after I signed for 100 Thieves. I was watching it like, "Wow, they have that in the team house?" The team house is at an amazing location, too ... watching these videos filled me with happiness.
So ... I ... let's say that 100 Thieves has built an environment that the players can focus only on games.
ESPN: 100 Thieves has built a very solid roster in preparation for 2018: Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho, Andy "Anda" Hoang, Choi "Huhi" Jae-hyun, Zaqueri "Aphromoo" Black and you. How would you rate this roster?
Bang: I'll be honest. I don't know much about Anda. Ssumday is already renowned to be a top-class top laner. I don't even need to list Ssumday's strengths, as everyone already knows how good Ssumday is.
As of Huhi, I met him when I played against CLG at MSI. At that time, he played Aurelion Sol extremely well. I also have this with Song "Fly" Yong-jun [of LCK], I have this fantasy about players who have a mastery of Aurelion Sol. I immediately think, "He knows how to play the game." He's a champion that enables high-level playmaking in the early game but has a very high skill cap in order to achieve this. When someone can play Aurelion Sol well, it is a sign for me that he is good at [League of Legends].
In that way, if we can [work well] with Huhi ... Ssumday is already a powerful and aggressive top laner, and if there is also a mid laner who is capable of making plays in the team, I think that that's a very solid team. I feel a little apologetic to judge Huhi's plays too much as I'm yet to practice with him, however, that has been my impression.
As of Aphromoo, my impression is that he is very passionate [about the game]. There are three reasons that I say that. First, [Aphromoo] seems to research the game a lot and look up a variety of champions. This is my impression of him as someone who is a fan. Secondly, he's been [performing well] for many years. The fact that he has maintained top performance for so many years makes me think he's very passionate.
The third reason is ... so I've been watching Aphromoo's streams, and he was doing something called "in-house." I didn't know what this in-house thing was, so I asked in 100 Thieves group chat what in-house is. So apparently, NA players don't play solo q but make a team out of pro players and Academy team and run 5v5 games. After hearing that, I noted that Aphromoo would stream in-house sessions for 10 hours straight, even during the offseason. That made me think, "Wow, this person really enjoys League of Legends."
Going back to my first reason, I have mentioned that Aphromoo researches and looks up champions a lot. When a new patch [on League] is released, Aphromoo would post on Twitter, "What if Champion XXX buys Item YYY?" That made me compare myself to him. Because if you ask me if I do these kinds of things when a new patch comes out, I don't. Seeing this made me believe that he will work hard, that he will perform well as a player.
I had a chance to talk to Aphromoo, and I felt that he was very genuine. He's the player that I have the highest expectation around playing with.
ESPN: Speaking of rosters, Team Liquid, the defending NA LCS champions, has also built a promising roster. The team has acquired Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in.
Bang: To be honest, I think in top lane, mid lane and jungle, 100 Thieves will have [an edge] over Team Liquid. Everyone except the bot lane. If you just compare the bot lanes, Team Liquid does have an insane bot duo of Yiliang "Peter" Peng and CoreJJ. I don't think [Aphromoo and I] will be able to beat them easily at the lane. However, if you flip it around, it makes me think, "Wow, if I just make sure that I perform well, my teammates will carry this game for me."
To be honest, I had wanted to duo with CoreJJ-hyung. After we both announced our free agency, we got in touch with each other because we are allowed to, right? We told each other that we should go to the same team if there was a chance to do so. I've always mentioned in previous interviews that CoreJJ-hyung is the player that I'd like to duo with if I ever had a chance. However, we got separated. We still keep in touch.
Of course, all teams will do well. However, as a bot laner, the bot lane that I'm most wary of is that of Team Liquid -- Doublelift and CoreJJ. Team Liquid has always done well, and they will give 100 Thieves the biggest competition, but ...
CoreJJ, if you'd like to defeat us, you'll have to pull of some amazing feat in the bot lane. Because I think our top, mid and bot are better than you. I've played against CoreJJ in League Champions Korea and have also laned against him on international stages. I'm excited that I'll be playing with CoreJJ in the same region again. I think matches against Team Liquid will be very fun.
ESPN: You mentioned that the fans in NA are very "exuberant." Are you looking forward to getting to meet NA fans more? You'll soon be headed to the 2018 All-Star event, where you will be meeting with the NA fans in person.
Bang: I'll be honest, I go on Reddit. [laughs] I read stuff that's on Reddit. Reddit seems very similar to Korean communities. I'm not fluent in English just yet, but when I become better in English, I [want to go on Reddit]. I'll be meeting NA fans in real life at All-Stars, and I'll be streaming a lot when I am in NA.
Korean fans are also very exuberant, but NA fans seem to have a different sense of humor due to the difference in culture. I'd browse through Reddit and think, "Wow, they find even this funny." They laugh at the most unexpected things. I've run into jokes that people wouldn't imagine in Korea. That's another thing I'm looking forward to. I'm always curious about exploring new cultures and trying out different experiences. This year's All-Star is my first All-Star, so that's another new experience that I'm excited about.
On Twitter, I promised people that I'll be doing a Xayah cosplay during All-Star. If I am allowed to, I'm also planning to go on stage and play games while wearing my Xayah cosplay. I want to take a lot of photos with the fans. I want to play good, enjoyable matches there. I'm looking forward to it.
ESPN: Thank you for your time, Bang. Finally, would you like to say a word of thanks to your fans in both Korea and NA?
Bang: When I address my fans, I tend to make a mental separation between my Korean- and English-speaking fans. In order to cater for both fans at the same time, I have to speak English fluently. I'll have to work hard to make sure that no one gets left out when I address both my Korean- and English-speaking fans.
First of all, for now, my streams or the way I communicate to the fans will still predominantly be in Korean. That being said, I'm working hard on studying English. Someday, I will be able to seamlessly communicate with both Korean and English. I want to be able to watch my Twitch chat and effortlessly read both English and Korean chat.
My Korean fans seem worried that I might stop streaming in Korean when I head to NA. "Promise to stream there," they tell me. I've been reminding myself that I should not make my Korean fans feel left out.
Recently, the Korean fans have been requesting me to hold a fan meet-and-greet before I fly away to L.A. That's another that has been on my mind recently. I'm giving a lot of thought on how to organize this fan meet-and-greet so it will be a fun experience to the fans who come to it.
A fan has told me to rent out Gocheok Sky Dome [laughs]. [Note: Gocheok Sky Dome is a domed baseball stadium in Seoul, with a capacity of 16,000 people.] So I'm not joking, I actually looked up the price of renting out Gocheok Sky Dome! Then I thought to myself, what if I do rent out Gocheok Sky Dome and only 10 fans turn up? Well, maybe that in itself will be an interesting experience.
I'm doing a lot of research on organizing [the fan meet-and-greet]. I'm thinking everything through because if SKT previously organized things like that, now I'm doing everything [by myself]. All of this is a new experience for me.
Anyway, I'm guessing NA fans will read this interview. Right? [To the NA fans:] I'm going to study English hard, so I can speak, read and write English as fluently as I do with Korean. Even if it might be frustrating [to communicate with me] at the beginning, please wait for me with patience.
Because I'm also eager to hang out with the NA fans. Because I really love hanging out with people. When I stream on Twitch, NA fans also write on the chat in English. I do read every single one of these messages, but I'm unable to respond to them. [laughs] I read them, and I understand them, but I'm not able to respond to them just yet. But we'll be hanging out a lot in the future. The team also promised to teach me English. I'm ready to put my heart into improving my English. I've recently dug up and started reading the English textbook from my high school again. I'll work hard. I'm looking forward to it.