Why North American fans will love Ssumday, the “crazy high school kid” top laner

Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho started his professional League of Legends career at 17 years old with KT Rolster Bullets, competing in the Korean qualifiers for the MLG Dallas 2013, where KT would go on to win the international exhibition tournament. He was called a “top-tier newcomer” by caster Kim Dong-jun and proved that he was worthy of that title in the grand finals against Gambit Gaming at Dallas.

Ssumday is the name that gets mentioned with Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan and Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho as a dominant Korean top laner with immense carry potential. Perhaps the first of the Korean carry top laners, he showed that despite his young age, he could carry a team in the top lane with an aggressive play style centered around crushing his opponents. That style put him in bad spots plenty of times, netting him the nickname of the “crazy high school kid.”

His personality away from the game is less aggressive but equally entertaining. Korean fans lovingly referred to him as the player in charge of KT’s cuteness department. Ssumday would stream wearing “Kigurumi” (animal costumes) on camera and interacted with fans in his own charming way. With a streaming playlist ranging from pop songs to cartoon themes from the early 1990s, Ssumday is at his core a goofy young man.

During some time off in last April, he visited a school he attended and gave a speech to the students, as well as allegedly buying 930 bars of ice cream for the entire student body and faculty. When KT sat in first place halfway through last year’s League Champions Korea summer split, he did a celebratory 24-hour stream with gameplay, eating on camera, and even sleeping.

He appears ready to take that same attitude with him to North America and his new team, Dignitas. He told Slingshot that aside from the obvious goal of a berth in the League of Legends World Championship, Ssumday wants to immerse himself in the North American scene.

“I want to study English enough that I can have a fluent conversation with anyone here,” he said. “I hope I get along with the rest of the team, and I look forward to talking with the fans.”

There have not been many imports that reflected his same attitude when it comes to fan interaction. He’s even started tweeting in English as a way of extending the proverbial olive branch.

His career, perhaps a reflection of his personality, has been a roller coaster of ups and downs. After a successful showing in an international tournament, his performance suffered greatly in the 2013 spring split on KT Rolster Bullets. He showcased all the weaknesses inherent to his play style and was unable to pick up the then meta champions successfully. The one time he tried to adapt, with a Ryze pick in the Emtek NLB 2013 spring, he played one of the worst games of his career and later lost his starting spot to Choi “InSec” In-seok that summer.

Ssumday competed with the KT Rolster Arrows in 2014 and made the impossible happen by beating down defending world champions SK Telecom T1 in the 2014 HOT6iX Champions Spring. In the summer split of that year, Ssumday was back to claiming kills, cementing himself as the best Maokai that stood above even Choi “Acorn” Chun-ju. The Arrows claimed the LCK championship that split, but, like clockwork,  Ssumday failed to get his team to worlds through the regional gauntlet.

The sister teams were brought together in 2015, and the spring split was a continuation of disappointment for Ssumday, as he was destroyed by Najin’s top laner Lee “Duke” Ho-seong in KT’s first game. His champion pool became a problem as he was unable to play contested picks such as Rumble, Lissasndra, or Gnar proficiently, going 50-50 at best against other top-tier top laners. But that just set the stage for the summer, as Ssumday and KT surged again. Ssumday was the MVP of the split, beating out Smeb and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, and KT Rolster reached worlds.

The hype surrounding Ssumday was perhaps never higher entering worlds that year. He impressed in the group stage, but in a quarterfinal match against the KOO (now ROX) Tigers, he was unable to beat Smeb with his signature champion Renekton, losing games even with advantages in lane. KT fell apart in a 3-1 loss.

After finishing third in the LCK last spring, Ssumday and KT took down SKT in the summer semifinals to place second. Yet he would rob himself of another chance at worlds by giving up five solo deaths against Samsung Galaxy’s Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin across five games in the finals of the regional qualifier. KT, the second place team in the summer, would lose the match, ending a 19-game win streak against Samsung and giving up the last spot to worlds to the fourth place team that split.

“Ssumday has been greatly maturing in both mentality and his skill,” his coach with KT, Lee Ji-Hoon, told OSEN in August. “He is always working hard to shore up whatever weaknesses he has, and because he shows confidence in his champion pool, he is a great asset to the team.”

Ssumday always bounces back, and that’s what makes him so endearing. Even the times he fell woefully short, he would always come back, pulling himself and his team to higher places, as KT went from a team with potential to one was expected to wrestle first place from ROX and SKT. Aside from his laid back personality, Ssumday’s resilience is perhaps his most redeeming quality. As expectations of him slowly increased, Ssumday’s performances fluctuated. But every drop was followed by a subsequent rise.

“He is the only player that could carry the game no matter what style of champion he plays in the top lane,” then-TSM coach Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-sub said of Ssumday at worlds in 2015.

Anyone who has been following KT’s run in the LCK will say that Ssumday was at the heart of that team. Now, Ssumday will be bringing his skills and mentality to North America as a member of Dignitas. He is still in the prime of his career and will attempt to add flair to a roster that includes Jang “Keane” Lae-young, Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck and Alex “Xpecial” Chu. With the eyes of both NA and Korean fans on his performance, it would be fair to expect Ssumday to falter.

But it would be unwise to think he won’t come back.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games. Illustration by Slingshot.

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