Before he won his third League of Legends World Championship, before he was hailed as perhaps the greatest coach of all time, before he became the coach of SK Telecom T1, Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun was just another Starcraft 2 player.
The year was 2010. Starcraft 2 had just come out, and like many players, kkOma saw in Starcraft 2 a chance to be something. The path to being a Brood War pro was too harsh, and the climb to the top seemed a nearly insurmountable task. Starcraft 2, in comparison, had just come out, so everyone started on even footing. Because of that, he decided to qualify for the third GSL Open Season 3. He made it to the LAN stage and his opponent in the round of 64 was Cho ‘jookTo’ Man Hyuk.
That match was kkOma’s debut, and unfortunately the VODs of it have been lost to time after GOMtv closed its site. That match has never been uploaded. So you’ll have to trust me and go off my memory, as I only remember one game from this series.
The first game was on Shakuras Plateau, and the architecture of the map is such that you get two bases easily before having to extend to a hard to control third (at the time). KkOma, or “Littleboy” as he was known (Littleboy is a translation of kkOma into English), secured his natural and then walled it off with multiple rax. So up to that point, a normal game.
What wasn’t normal was when he teched up to 2-3 starports and started to mass cloak banshees and vikings. With vikings he shut down all overlord scouting. He only revealed 1-2 banshees to force some spore crawlers and kept the vast majority at home. He then pulled all of his marines, cloaked banshees and vikings and then attacked. JookTo was caught completely off guard and lost the game.
I remember this very distinctly; kkOma had a huge smile as if he had just lived through the greatest day of his life. Afterward, he was picked up by oGs — JookTo’s team — either based on his play or the amount of happiness he exuded. It’s hard to tell.
That debut was also the height of his SC2 career as he failed to get out of Code A (which is roughly comparable to Challenger caliber in League) and continued to lose to a bunch of people who even the most diehard SC2 fans couldn’t remember. After StarTale had opened its LoL division with Kim ‘Fruitdealer’ Won Gi as a coach, he switched divisions and then started playing jungle.
He left in April 2012 and was eventually picked up by SKT as a coach. Three championships later, the rest is history.
But the strangest part about this story comes afterward. After SKT had become the clear best League of Legends team in the world, it became popular to say it was like that because SKT had superior infrastructure and more experienced staff than anyone else. It was a strange string of thought both because SKT seemed to have better players overall compared to the West and because kkOma himself had no lineage in the KeSPA system.
Both oGs and StarTale were Esports Federation teams, which were created outside of the KeSPA system to fill the void, as KeSPA didn’t switch to SC2 until mid-2012. Almost none of these teams became successful, and the only ones who survived are Longzhu (formerly IM), Freecs (formerly StarTale) and MVP.
KkOma himself was never a coach in either of his teams, so I don’t know where the line of experience came from either. KkOma’s methodology and ideology about coaching is still a mystery to me as well. KkOma cited his team won Worlds because of the hard work. Given how his own career worked out in SC2 and the teammates, I wonder about the veracity of those words.
KkOma was on a team with Fruitdealer, who by the end of 2011 was more well known for playing League of Legends and alcoholism than he was for his SC2 prowess. Despite that, Fruitdealer still ended up second at IEM New York, nearly beating Park “DongRaeGu” Soo Ho in the finals.
Whatever the case, kkOma is certainly one of the most accomplished coaches in League of Legends. His brief stint in StarCraft 2 is a fun bit of trivia mixed in his famous career.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games