Ex-SKT player Tom ends wild year as coach in China; “I got used to the work that comes with being a coach, but I felt like I understood what KkOma went through.”

Former SKT jungler and League Champions Korea’s 2015 spring champion Im “Tom” Jae-Hyeon has been mysteriously forgotten since his departure to the Qiao Gu Reapers, now called Newbee, in 2016. Despite his illustrious career, he wasn’t even able to participate in team practice, let alone competitive play in China’s League of Legends Pro League, writes Daily eSport’s Park Sang-Jin.

“It was news a while back, but there was lot of things that happened,” he told Daily eSports in a one-on-one interview. “(Bae “dade” Eo-Jin) was also in a similar situation as I. The head coach of QG at the time, Park Yong-Woon was also disappointed but he couldn’t do anything. He told me that I could look into playing in the secondary league when I told him I wanted to be part of a starting roster. I practiced and played with the secondary league team, and even though I scored eight kills as Lee Sin we still lost. The same happened the next game. I thought that I couldn’t keep going like this.”

During the LCK spring split in 2015, the finals pitted SKT, wanting to bounce back from its slump in 2014, against the new challengers to the throne, GE (now ROX) Tigers. SKT shocked many of the fans by not putting Bae “Bengi” Seong-Ung in the jungle and Lee “Faker” Sang-Hyeok in the mid lane, but Tom and Lee “Easyoon” Ji-Hoon. The result was the Tigers’ utter destruction in a 3-0 result. Still, Tom wasn’t able to be part of SKT’s permanent starting roster, so he decided to leave in order to see more play.

After moving to QG but still not cracking the starting lineup, QG honored Tom’s request to be moved to Snake Esports, but he was still unable to play, this time due to Riot Games’ limitation of imported talent in starting rosters. Without reason to stay in China, he returned to Korea but again wasn’t able to play because of contractual conflicts. After a month, he heard that there was an opening for a coach for team Newbee, and after being told by Riot that player contracts are separate from coaching ones, he flew back to China.

“I got used to the work that comes with being a coach, but I felt like I understood what (SKT’s coach) Kim “KkOma” Jeong-Gyun went through,” he said. “Even when we were doing well last year, he said how hard his work was, and as a coach I feel the same way. The way of looking at the game as a player and coach are two very different experiences. Luckily (Kim “Doinb” Tae-Sang) is fluent in Chinese, so communication wasn’t a big problem. I received a lot of help and it was just as much fun as my time in SKT as a player.”

His team won the finals of the League of Legends Secondary Pro League, but Tom told Daily eSports it’s still his wish to continue his playing career. Even now he continues to practice in the hopes of making a comeback, and he offered a warning for players looking to go abroad.

“If any Korean player wants to break out into a foreign league, I want to advise them to go over the contract before signing, even if it means paying a law firm,” he said. “I wasn’t a victim, but I have seen other players go through difficult times due to strange clauses making their way into the contracts. Also, when I was an amatuer, I trolled many times and used vulgar language, but I never got to apologize to many gamers. I want to tell them through this interview that I am deeply sorry, and also I want to thank the fans for their unwavering support.”