HONGDAE, South Korea -- On Nov. 23, Misfits Gaming announced that their League of Legends team has welcomed former Kingzone DragonX support Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon. Celebrated for his long, successful career in League Championships Korea, the support player is headed to Berlin to take part in League of Legends European Championship.
ESPN sat down with GorillA, who told ESPN how his transfer to Misfits Gaming came about, gave his thoughts on the LCK and LEC and discussed his excitement and concerns as he moves to Europe for the next chapter in his career as a professional gamer. The interview was conducted in Korean then translated into English.
ESPN: Can you tell us how your transfer to Misfits Gaming and Europe came about?
GorillA: When I left Kingzone DragonX and announced that I am a free agent, I thought that I would be staying in LCK for another year. I had a few good offers from LCK teams, too. I wasn't actively looking for offers from international teams. Then Misfits Gaming got in touch with me.
In the first few conversations, the management invited me into a Skype group chat, with all the players of Misfits Gaming in it. "Say hi to GorillA! He'll be joining our team soon." The forward friendliness both caught me off guard and moved me.
I have a funny episode around this. I believe that it was Thanksgiving, a holiday in America. Ben Spoont, the CEO of Misfits Gaming, was on a Skype chat with me. He mentioned that he was out in a park with his family and children. Then he suddenly said, "Let me show you my family," and jumped on a video call to show me his wife and children. "We are a family -- everyone in Misfits Gaming is a family," he said.
ESPN: How did the existing players in Misfits Gaming react when the team introduced you to them?
GorillA: Paul "sOAZ" Boyer actually reached out to me first. He talked to me one-on-one, that he joined Misfits because he wanted to win on this team and that we should work toward that common goal. I've been playing as a professional gamer for a while, too, but sOAZ has a bigger legacy than me. So the fact that he made an effort to talk to me moved me. I even told him, "I'm your fan!"
Steven "Hans Sama" Liv treated me like an old friend from the very first conversation. He called me "hyung" [A Korean term for older brother]. I don't know where he picked that up. He said, "Hyung, have you dyed your hair before? I've just dyed my hair gray. Let's match our hair colors!" [laughs]
The hospitality really moved me. Things are different in LCK. In LCK, you talk with the management [of the team that might sign you]. They will give you the terms and the roster they are building, write down the figure and ask me if you'd like to take the offer. Compared to that, Misfits made me feel like I'm already part of the team from the very first conversation. I think that warm welcome was part of the reason I was swayed toward joining Misfits Gaming.
ESPN: You seem to have had a positive impression with Misfits Gaming as an organization. Do you also have any insights or thoughts on LEC as a league in general?
GorillA: LEC had good results this worlds, and I believe they delivered for a reason. Europe plays aggressively, creatively, with players confident in their own playstyle. I had a very fixed playstyle back in LCK. In Europe, I'll be able to experiment with a variety of picks and playstyles. I'm looking forward to it.
LCK teams have a very rigid playstyle. There is a heavy reliance on macro and vision. Teams outside Korea have become aware of this, and I believe this is why Korean teams were exploited by international teams during worlds. So in contrast to that, I expect that LEC will be a very refreshing, fun experience.
I've played in Berlin for 2018 MSI and at Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin for 2015 worlds. The passion pouring out from the Europe crowd was always overwhelming whenever I was on a European stage. It's a positive memory; I'm looking forward to playing again in Berlin.
ESPN: When Misfits Gaming announced that you will be joining the team, there was an overwhelming support from both Misfits and LEC fans. How did you feel about this?
GorillA: It was heartwarming. The welcome I got when I joined Misfits got me thinking "When was the last time I've received such an immense support?" I haven't had a good performance in the last half of the season while I was with Kingzone DragonX, so the public opinion on me hasn't been that positive. Then the European fans gave me an outpour of welcome, and that motivated me to dream for a LEC title.
Korean fans also came out on social media to support in my decision. Fans told me, "It's good to see you head off to a new challenge." To be honest, I had a lot of mixed feelings when the official announcement came out. Excitement and concerns for heading to LEC, then sorrow for moving away from LCK and the fans.
ESPN: How did you personally feel when the official announcement came out?
GorillA: I knew I would have regrets, whether I chose to join Misfits Gaming or accepted an offer from LCK. Everyone told me that I'd have regrets no matter which path I went with, that I could only try my best whichever decision I made.
I knew all this. Then when the official announcement came out, all the million different emotions rushed over me. "Had I made the right decision?" I asked myself. As I sat on my computer and saw the official announcement come up on the Twitter feed, I became so sad. I broke down and cried for two hours straight.
One of my regrets was that I'm heading to Europe without getting to play in LoL Park. I'd have considered myself an iconic member of LCK, however, I won't be there to be part of that historic milestone.
I'm not scared about moving to Europe or leaving Korea. The tears weren't for that. I've been playing for LCK for five, six years, meeting so many wonderful players, staffs and fans. It hurt to think that I'll be moving away from all these people in my life, made me wonder if I had made the right decision.
ESPN: You've also parted ways with Kim "PraY" Jong-in, your longtime bot lane partner. You've played with him for both ROX Tigers and Kingzone DragonX, but he won't be joining you for Misfits Gaming.
GorillA: All of the iconic bot duos in LCK have parted ways during this offseason. Bae "Bang" Jun-sik and Lee "Wolf" Jae-wan, Cho "Mata" Se-hyeong and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, then PraY and me. It does feel like an end of an era, doesn't it?
Bot duos part ways for many reasons. Sometimes players wish that they were douing with a different player. I've never felt that way with PraY-hyung, however. I never wished that I rather be duoing with another AD carry while I was with him. During the four years we played together, we never argued over personal differences and seldom about in-game performances.
Yes, I am regretful that I'm separating with PraY. However, we've promised to continue supporting each other. We've said our goodbyes with smiles on our faces. It is sad to part ways, however, we'll both headed to the next phases in our lives.
ESPN: You speak of an end of an era. LCK had an unexpectedly underwhelming performance as a region in the 2018 world championship. Perhaps LCK as a region will see major changes due to the results of worlds.
GorillA:. I think we will see a shift in the way the LCK teams perceive and approach the games. Currently, veteran players in LCK tend to only initiate a fight when they see an advantage. The LCK laners rely on vision and macro; this makes them predictable.
DAMWON Gaming and Griffin are the teams that break the mould. For these two teams, all the lanes play as if they have their jungler right around the corner. This playstyle seems to align with the current meta: laning boldly regardless of whether your jungler is nearby to back you up and being able to invest in a fight in any moment. I think Korean teams will veer towards this kind of playstyle, especially after the results of worlds.
ESPN: Riot has recently announced their world championship schedule for the upcoming three years. Next year, worlds will be held in Europe. Does that motivate you even more to qualify for worlds next year? Europe will be your home ground next year, after all.
GorillA: After the announcement, I've been telling the players and esports people around me, "I'll see you again at worlds." It would be sad if they were coming to Europe to play for worlds while I fly back to Korea for a vacation. [laughs]
My biggest strength as a player is being able to be the facilitator of the team and unite the team together. I've often been touted as the team's "mother" or "offline support" in my previous teams. These nicknames have merit. For me to be able to serve this role, I have to have deep conversations with players in my team and build rapport with each one of them. My English isn't proficient enough for me to do this just yet. My biggest goal is to get my English up to a conversational level as soon as possible so I can utilize my strength as a player in order for Misfits to go to worlds.
Yes, I'll have to go to worlds. If I do, it will be my fifth worlds. [laughs]
ESPN: You seem very concerned about your English skills impacting your experience in Misfits.
GorillA: Other than English, I'm not too concerned about my move to Europe. I get along with people. I'm good at adjusting to new environments. I don't think the food in Europe will be an issue, either. And if does turn out to be an issue, I always have instant noodles to fall back to. [laughs]
ESPN: Would you like to say anything to your colleagues, fans and friends in Korea?
GorillA: I'm leaving LCK after five, six long years. This is not the final goodbye. Let's say this is but a short getaway. It has been an honor to play in LCK.
I'll stream. I'll do whatever to keep in touch with my fans back home. Misfits seem to be good at making the fans feeling connected with their players, and I'll do my part too. Please keep supporting me, even though we are separated just for now.
ESPN: Finally, do you have any word of thanks to the new fans in LEC that you'll soon be meeting in Europe?
GorillA: I'm headed to Berlin, and that thought fills me with butterflies in my tummy. I've already been exposed to the passion of the LEC audience before, heard their chants shake the stage. So I'll be working hard so I may be graced with your passion and support once again.