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Eat, sleep, coach: On Reapered’s continued evolution as a coach

Reapered has evolved in many ways since his playing days, but his confidence remains the same. Photo courtesy of Riot Games.

The name Reapered was feared in Korea and, once he stepped onto the international stage at the MLG Summer Arena, internationally.

Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu was not only the top laner for Azubu Blaze, but he impressed audiences and opponents at MLG with constant direction for his team during and after their in-game comms.

“In all the interviews we did, we probably turned out to be cocky,” Reapered told Mobafire after a 3-0 victory over Team SoloMid in August 2012. “But our mindset is always not to think about losing ever. So saying all of that is to make us confident, never to think of losing.”

That confidence would characterize Reapered for the rest of his playing career: Always thinking of what was next with certainty. Often called the puppet master for his authority over his teammates on the original SK Telecom T1 League of Legends team, there seemed no better player to pursue a coaching career in his later years than the former Blaze, Eat Sleep Game, SK Telecom T1, and Jin Air Green Wings top laner.

Seven days after Reapered left his first League of Legends home, Azubu Blaze, in late 2012, another young man who was primed to reign over the Korean top lane took his place. Now that man, Lee “Flame” Ho-jong is the top laner for North American team Immortals. Reapered appears across from him onstage at the North American League Championship Series Arena in Santa Monica, Calif. a maximum of six times per split as the head coach of Cloud9.

Asking Reapered about his days as a puppeteer only leads to an admission of past mistakes, an acknowledgement that current game is played wildly different than the League of Legends that drew him away from Chaos.

“Back when I was still playing, I realized that the way I was communicating and the way I was leading the team was incorrect,” Reapered says. “Shortly after this, I retired. Now as a coach, I’m making sure that my players don’t fall into the same pitfalls that I had in the past. That’s my role as a coach.”

Unlike many other Korean imports to NA, Reapered often pauses mid-sentence, allowing Lee “Robin” Seung-hwan to translate his words as clearly as possible.

“Your English is good, though!” C9 support Andy “Smoothie” Ta said to him while the two waited in the press room on the previous day. Reapered shook his head, smiling.

“No, no,” he said, before turning to watch FlyQuest and Team Liquid on the monitor to his right.

A day later, he follows everything I say, bobbing his head in confirmation before dictating his answers to Robin. Rather than humility, or a lack of understanding, his delivery gives his words weight. It’s likely that Smoothie was correct; Reapered could do interviews in English. Only once does he ask Robin for clarification. Yet, there’s a distinct desire to ensure that what he says is truly heard, that he is able to communicate in the most nuanced way possible.

That is similarly reflected in his coaching style, where he has completely shed the image of the player Reapered, and is now simply Coach Reapered, leading one of NA’s top teams. He cites an innate ability to recognize how players receive and deliver information as one of his personal strengths, something that has allowed him to slip into the role of a coach as easily as fans of the legendary top laner predicted back in 2013. But he doesn’t control his players. He guides them.

“I’m not hasty about trying to get them to change,” he says. “I let them have some time to grow into these ways of communication and I observe and try to fix it together with them rather than asking them to fix things immediately and expect things to be done over a short period of time.”

Photo courtesy of Riot Games Brazil

Reapered uses the example of C9’s poor early game performance at the beginning of the summer split to demonstrate his approach to coaching and how he communicates with his players.

A flawed early game is something most players, and even fans, can recognize. Before a decent showing at Rift Rivals in Germany, C9 was heavily criticized for its over-reliance on late-game team fights and inability to make proactive plays before the 15-minute mark. Reapered is quick to emphasize that identifying the problem and demanding with authority the team do something about it rarely fixes anything.

“You could spot that their early game is weak and you can tell them, ‘Hey, make your early game better.’ It’s easy.” Reapered laughs and taps his hand against the arm of his chair. He waits for Robin to translate before continuing.

“That’s not how it works. You need to continuously be reminding the team that you are a team and you are operating together, and you need to overcome these weaknesses together. As you’re doing that you try to fix the pick and ban, change the way they play the early game a bit, try to influence it that way. But ultimately what’s important is that the team is reminded continuously that they need to be working as a team together to overcome their weaknesses.”

He continues to chuckle at his own example, but throughout the entire exchange, Reapered is calm and assured. The unified play style that he repeatedly says he wants for C9 is wildly different than his notorious shot-calling on various teams in the early days of his career.

What remains of the old Reapered is his confidence, the poise that comes with a natural self-assuredness that he will never lead C9 astray. Reapered is difficult to impress, although he pauses for a long time when I ask of the greatest surprise he has experienced as a coach.

“Thinking!” he immediately responds in English. He turns his head from side to side in a slightly exaggerated fashion. A moment later, he gives his answer to Robin in rapid Korean.

“When I first joined the team I was really surprised watching Jensen,” he says. “I kind of felt like ‘Ah, this guy has talent that I haven’t seen before.’ It felt like, if I raised him properly, he’d be a super good player.”

Reapered pauses again before continuing.

“But I didn’t have to raise him, he just turned out to be a good player on his own.”

There are a myriad of comparisons that could be forcibly drawn between C9 mid laner Nicolaj “Jensen” Jensen and his coach, but unlike Reapered in his early career, Jensen is but once voice onstage that eventually blends harmoniously with those of his teammates. Smoothie’s continuous stream of information rises above the rest at first, then jungler Juan “Contractz” Arturo Garcia, then the low tones of AD carry Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, short bursts from top laner Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong, and lilt of Jensen.

Rather than dictate their every move and pull all of the strings, Reapered leads C9 as a conductor. This is Reapered’s game now.

Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games