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Flame on Immortals’ slow start, differences in the NA atmosphere and his relationship with Dardoch

Flame says he wants to be the best top laner in the NA LCS.
Immortals' Flame (Lee Ho-Jong) says he wants to be the best top laner in the NA LCS. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Immortals’ Lee “Flame” Ho-jong (in Korean and translated to English) during Week 2 of the North American League Championship Series. They talked about Immortals’ early struggles, the “stress free” environment living in North America and is relationship with Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett.

AK: It seemed on stage that there are some disconnects in the team right now. Did you find any problems or discomfort in the team so far?

Lee “Flame” Ho-Jong: I understand that most of the other teams have been together for about a month and a half, but we’ve only been able to practice for the past (few) weeks. Given that we haven’t been together for that long, there also needs to be time for me to get used to the time zone, environment, and steadily bring our game back up. I think I’m getting my edge back and learning as I play in the LCS.

AK: There are some of your fans that want the team to just see you play a carry top laner instead of the meta tank picks. Do you personally feel that the current meta isn’t really your thing?

LHJ: There’s always the factor of uncertainty since I haven’t really played a lot of it, especially when it comes to what is really good in a limited timeframe. What I felt while playing the current meta was that tanks are the most textbook choices right now. The stronger the team is, I don’t think there is a reason for them to play a carrying top laner. As the meta dictates that tanks are the better choice, weaker teams should be aiming for those types of variations to take down stronger teams. I can play both, but if I were to practice both, it also impacts the team, since they need to get used to it and adjust according to my play style, and if I kept switching off it wouldn’t be a good way to find a direction that both I and the team can work on.

AK: When the news of your move to Immortals was made official, it surprised many people. Could you explain your process of making it to the US?

LHJ: I didn’t expect myself to make it here either. Since a couple of years ago, when I played in English speaking countries for tournaments such as worlds or IEM, I’ve always thought that the culture and sights were great. I also liked how English speakers tend to be positive and outgoing, and the food also fit my tastes well compared to some other countries. So I thought I wanted to live or spend some time in (North America). I say this in jest, but I also want to go to all of the countries in the world. This wasn’t something that I just thought of this year either. I was looking long term toward competing in worlds, and looking for a team where I could perform well without much stress as I was in contact with a couple of Korean teams. In the middle of that, I focused a lot on worlds, although there were parts about Korea that didn’t make me want to leave. When Immortals contacted me, rather than talking about pay, I explained what kind of life I had last year, what I was thinking, and asked a lot about how the team works and how it practices. Immortals also seemed to feel very thankful and happy that I was that interested in the team, so I was able to quickly make a decision. When I went to China, I personally went around to meet each team, and I also spent a month for negotiations, but my performance suffered during that month. I wanted to move things quickly along including IEM, and I was satisfied with my performance during that tournament. There were some other problems like visa issues so I wasn’t able to come to America for a long time. I do feel like the beginnings were a little weak, so I think I need to work hard now.

AK: You’re well known for being a hard worker, that much is apparent. As you are working with the Immortals, do you also take part in drafting and strategy meetings?

LHJ: I always do that, but because I’m lacking in my English skills, I don’t say much due to us not having a translator. Rather than talking a lot, I follow directions, offer my suggestions and listen as much as I can. I have been studying English, and I did improve a lot. I am trying to help and appeal to the team, but it’s not as much as I could’ve like in Korea. Another difference between NA and Korean teams, although this isn’t always the case, Korean teams try to look to go as far in one year before the contracts come up, because many players tend to leave after a year of play. In the case of NA teams and Immortals in particular, they look more long-term for their players. For example, we all go exercise together. I also felt like my stamina dropped between when I was 21 and 22 because I played too much without sleeping properly. I performed well, but my mental and physical health were terrible, and I felt like I couldn’t keep doing that. So I’ve also been looking to better my health looking long term towards the summer and worlds as well. I usually lived one day at a time, and looking back I feel like I performed well in the spring but fell off in the summer. I’ve been really working out a lot with the team, perhaps too much so because I haven’t been able to play well recently due to the fatigue afterwards. That being said, I don’t know if I can say this, I do very well during scrims. Since it all works out so well in practice for me in the form of scrims, I felt like I should keep working out even if my games suffered for now, especially as I also came down with a cold of sorts, making me unable to play more than three solo queue games after scrims. In my down time I watched a lot of games, and I thought it was weird that I kept doing well in scrims even though I didn’t play often at all. After our last match, I came to the conclusion that this probably shouldn’t continue. I got my head back in the game and exercise a little less so I don’t get sick and started playing even more.

AK: Many fans are particularly interested in your friendship with Dardoch, who said that he likes the dynamic right now because it feels like you two are relying on each other. What are you comments on it?

LHJ: He’s a talented player, and I hope he makes a little less trouble (in a joking sense).”

AK: You mentioned that you didn’t have a translator. How do you communicate for feedback?

LHJ: I try my best to listen as much as I can. I think that our coach is very capable and is a hard worker. So I believe in him and listen as much as I can. There are some communication mishaps because of my lack of English skills, so that’s disappointing. I think I need to be more proactive in learning and speaking English. Lately I also didn’t play as many games as I wanted to since it took longer than I thought to get here, and due to my sickness right after, so I need to go back to the grind.

AK: Did you have anything you looked forward to as you moved to NA? How has your life in your new region been?

LHJ: It’s very stress free. I think I’ve gotten used to the type of stimuli where someone tells me that I need to do better and constantly improve after big losses, so it was very foreign to be in a region without that. I can’t really evaluate this, but NA seems to be more free and respectful of that freedom compared to Korea. I want to take the time to also thank my teammates, the coaching staff, the support staff of Immortals.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games, illustration by Slingshot