North American League of Legends teams have been importing more Korean players than ever.
Last year, Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon, Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, Lee “GBM” Chang-seok, Jeon “Ray” Ji-won, Kim “Procxin” Se-young and Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min hdebuted in North America (though Huni and Reignover had already played in Europe). This year welcomed Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho, No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, Ryu “Ryu” Sang-wook, Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok, Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, Nam “LirA” Tae-yoo, and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyeon.
Surely many things go through the minds of a Korean player before they make the decision to play in NA, especially so in the cases of those who move straight from Korea. Slingshot’s Andrew Kim asked a handful of Korean pros why they joined NA and why they think others also did.
No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon, “Phoenix1: Since I left the best team I could enter, KT, I wanted to seek out a new experience away from Korea. So I was thinking of going abroad since then, and another big reason is making it to worlds, since it’s really tough because of the level of Korean teams. I’m not saying that other regions are weak, but comparatively, I felt like I would be able to go to worlds as long as I do well and carry.
Lee “Flame” Ho-jong, Immortals: 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.
Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo, EnVyUs: I think for the players who want to leave Korea, they can be divided into two categories; either they go to China or the west. The players all tend to talk with one another, and there’s a consensus that NA is really good, as well as supporting players financially. I think part of it has to be because word of mouth.
Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin, Team Liquid: Since they were playing in Korea, and some of the foreign players that joined were in Korea, so they might have not have spots in Korean teams, and although life in Korea is comfortable, maybe they wanted to play while learning English. There is a trend where American teams pay a little better than Korean ones, so I think that might have played a large role in their decisions.
Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyeon, Dignitas: It’s my understanding that the esports market is growing, so I think that plays a part, I also think learning English is a part of it too. When it comes to players with a long career, I think some players find the rigid life of Korea to be stressful. I think being able to do well at your own pace while being more free is also a factor.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games/illustration by Slingshot