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Post-worlds pondering: How Koreans felt about practicing abroad

Most professional League of Legends teams will spend a few weeks — up to some months — in South Korea to play during the offseason or before a major international tournament. It’s done to take advantage of South Korea’s great internet, play a higher quality ranked ladder and potentially scrim international teams. A Korean team leaving to bootcamp in another country, rarely happens, if ever. The only time a team would leave the country is to attend an international event.

Such was life for SK Telecom T1, Samsung Galaxy, and ROX Tigers at this year’s world championship in the United States. During the semifinals in New York, Slingshot asked some players how they handled playing on the North American server, how it adapted practice and if the differences are as major as fans perceive them to be.

Solo queue is a majority of a professional League of Legends player’s practice for in-game mechanics. Playing several hours a day strengthens a player’s muscle memory, allowing them to perform complex actions instinctively. Latency lag can thwart those plans. The tournament realm has low latency, or ping, meaning the server is quick to recognize a player’s input and have it executed in the game.

“The ping (in North America) didn’t bother me that much,” SKT support Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan told Slingshot. “There’s a function in game that allows for predicting cursor movements, so it decreases the impact of the high ping. I had the function turned on, and it didn’t affect me.”

The connection to the public server in South Korea is quite good due to proximity and the developed internet, and so the average ping is 9. In the larger United States, though, ping varies across the country, as does the quality of internet service providers, meaning that the connection is more volatile. Worlds was hosted at four major cities: San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. North America’s server was relocated to Chicago last year, which improved the connection for eastern United States players, but worsened the connection for the West coast, where the server was originally located.

“In some parts of the country there is some high ping, and if it goes above 130 it does get a little hard to play,” Wolf said. “But in Chicago and the other cities I was in, it was OK to play, so I didn’t mind too much.”

Wolf’s teammate, Kang “Blank”  Sung-gu, offered a global perspective on solo queue. “I’ve played in a lot of different regions like Korea, China, and America, and I think they’re all pretty similar.”

When asked about the practice environment, Blank thought it was improved from past experiences. “It was better than what it was during the Mid-Season invitational,” he said, referencing the MSI held in Shanghai, china, in May.

Playing solo queue in a foreign server means difficulties communicating with teammates, but Blank actually saw that as a positive.

“I think that international tournaments make me feel less nervous compared to back home, and solo queue is more comfortable because I can’t really communicate with anyone.”

Regardless of where in the world a player can be, there is one common disconnect that occurs. Riot Games updates the game on a regular basis, typically once every two weeks. For consistency, however, Riot games will keep competitive play on a single patch throughout an event. That is a good decision, but the issue arises in a long event such as worlds. Riot continues to patch the game on the live servers, which makes solo queue a different practice environment than the tournament patch. Currently, the live server is patch 6.21, while the world’s patch was 6.18.

“The differences in patch can’t be helped but is still disappointing,” Samsung’s Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in said. But to him, outside factors, such as changes in ping or the patches, should not inhibit a professional. “I believe that a pro does well no matter what the conditions are like, so I don’t want to blame the environment or anything. When it comes to ping, it got a lot better as we moved closer to Chicago.”

With SK Telecom in the states, a rare opportunity has presented itself: the chance to play against the greatest of all time, Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. It’s easy to see him coming. If he has a ban in the draft phase, he will always ban Aatrox.

“The reason I ban Aatrox is because I want to face as many champions as possible, so I want to leave every (meta) champion open,” he said during a news conference after the semifinals.

His pattern has persisted for years; in the old pick and ban phase where the first pick handled all of the bans, Faker would ban Garen, Gangplank, and Galio. In Korean, those are the first three alphabetically listed champions. Faker uses his ban on Aatrox since that champion is the first champion listed in the English alphabet. “That’s why I started (banning Aatrox), but now I do it for symbolic purposes,” Faker said.

That symbolic purpose is to announce to the enemy team they’re about to face Faker. As North American players have picked up on the meaning, some have chosen to dodge the game in order to avoid playing Faker, or at least to try and save some league points from what can be seen as an inevitable loss. It also happens in other regions, and Faker seemed to have begrudgingly gotten used to it.

“I’m not really happy about the opponents dodging me because I am there, but I take it as a sign of respect,” Faker said.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games