The differing and effective styles of kkOma and KT Rolster’s Lee Ji-Hoon

The clip made quick rounds on social media and brought a wide range of reactions from those who viewed it.

SK Telecom T1 coach Kim “kkOma” Jung-gyun, during a Feb. 16 League Champions Korea match against Samsung Galaxy, berated his players in the booth after Game 1 — which SKT won.

It seemed confusing why kkOma had such a visceral reaction after a victory, and one can wonder if that kind of coaching style could be detrimental for a team. Even in interviews, kkOma is often not satisfied, even after 2-0 wins (like the one Feb. 16), looking for more places to improve and weaknesses to curb. KkOma seems fixated on the standard of play for his team, and some of that looks like it’s rubbing off on the players. With three League of Legends World Championship wins to his name, kkOma has become the model for Korean excellence; he demands greatness from his players because he knows they can produce it.

On the other side of Thursday’s rekindling of the “Telecom Wars” is Lee Ji-hoon, head coach for KT Rolster. Like kkOma, he has been a mainstay with his team (joined the organization in 2013), and though he doesn’t have as much success as kkOma (only one worlds berth), he is considered to be one of the coaching greats in Korea. KT is repeatedly among the best teams in the strongest region.

Often seen interacting jovially with players — both in his team and out — through social media, Lee seems much more friendly in comparison to KkOma. Even in interviews, he often jokes about his players, sharing funny anecdotes and giving off the air of a playful father in charge of five children. Lee’s easy-going nature seems to be evidence that the hardline approach many Korean coaches take isn’t the only way to succeed.

Coach Lee even poked fun at his opposite, kkOma, asking if there was “a voice recording of what (kkOma) was yelling about,” during a segment from OGN’s “Weekly LCK” show. But Lee also made it clear that he respects all KkOma has accomplished.

“Of course he’s a great coach, and he’s a good friend of mine, but I’m still curious if he’s like that even after they win, would the players not be negatively affected by it,” he said on the show. “I can think that because SKT is a team that has been working together for a long time, that even that can be good feedback. In our team’s case, I step in when the players get a little too crazy. I mostly let things slide, but when the players get too loose, I scold them every now and again.”

No successful coach would allow the players to walk all over them to the point where they lose the respect of their players. As coaching still plays a large part in managing a team with varying personalities, especially one like 2017’s KT, with such a strong collection of star players including Somg “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu and Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. Lee even confessed that the team had a lot of difficulty coming together as a team.

This isn’t to say that kkOma does nothing but demand his team to do better. Often seen in the streams of SKT’s players, kkOma maintains a good relationship with all of them. Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin thanked kkOma for “heavily criticizing” him during his acceptance speech for 2013’s ‘Best AD Carry of 2013’ award for the Korean Esports Awards. Current ADC Bae “Bang” Jun-sik bought kkOma a Rolex after worlds last year. The players also joke with KkOma about his ongoing search for a girlfriend. KkOma obviously commands the respect of his players, and the players are very attached to their coach in a way that goes beyond simple success.

Even with the variance of coaching styles between the two, there is more than just success that ties the two coaches together. KkOma and Lee are both well respected by their respective teams, and have a firm grip to keep the players in line. With proper managerial skill and the knowledge of what to do and when, both coaches have paved a successful route to the top — through very different means.

Slingshot staff writer and Korean League of Legends expert who also owns a Pikachu-themed iPhone case.

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