In the history of competitive League of Legends, no country has come close to producing as much high-level talent as South Korea. Winners of the last three Summoner's Cups, the mentality for the rest of the world has transitioned from trying to figure out a way to beat them to opening up their wallets to buy the best talent from the country known as the Mecca of esports.
With teenagers and 20-something Koreans getting their bank accounts flooded with foreign money, it's almost become a running joke on which top prospect from Korea will be next to get signed by a North American or Chinese organization. This had led to quite a few instances where skilled players have lost their edge when traveling overseas -- their diligent, almost desperate struggle to stay afloat in South Korea replaced with the lax and rosy atmosphere of a foreign club.
And can you blame those players? A young adult, traveling to a new country after signing a contract worth more money than you ever thought was possible. The team house is more fun, the practices aren't as strict, and you're allowed to spread your wings without the watchful eye of a parent, teacher, or Korean head coach behind you. It's the best vacation of your entire life. Enjoy it as long as you can!
But the latter doesn't describe Chae "Piglet" Gwang-jin.
A world champion from 2013, Piglet does not see North America as a vacation spot, a place to have a few laughs, or meet new best friends he'll cherish for the rest of his life. He wants to accomplish the same goal he's had since he was a rookie in the pro scene: winning the world championship. It's a job for Piglet, and the only thing that matters is winning; everything else - the money, the fame, the fan girls, the silly confetti that drops the rafters - is secondary.
As an AD carry, his role is usually guided by the support player. Not Piglet. Team Liquid brought in a rookie this season, Matt "Matt" Elento, as a partner and it's been the Korean sharpshooter who has held the reins thus far in the relationship. Piglet's supreme confidence within himself and Matt's equally self-assured mentality has created an impressive dynamic, as the young support slowly became more consistent and in tune with his teammate as the split progressed.
"At first, [Matt and I] had conflicting styles," said Piglet. "But now because Matt has a lot of drive to improve, our styles are matching and he's improving a lot."
Improving. Getting better. Victory. While being close friends with your teammates is nice, the power of friendship isn't going to win you the Summoner's Cup. Strength. Determination. Drive. Matt's focus on becoming one of the best supports not only in NA but the entire world is a trait that coincides with Piglet's.
Parties with friends last a few hours. Being the best at what you do, regardless of what field you're in or how long you maintain your form, will be a memory that lasts forever.
"If there's a decisive shot caller [on Liquid] it'd probably be [Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett] at the moment," Piglet said, breaking down the different captaincy and leader roles on the squad. "It's more of the out of game presence stuff that [I'm] trying to show how to be a professional. Making sure you practice. Making sure you put in the work. Those are the things I want to show as a leader."
It's telling how highly Piglet thinks of his teammates. Generally, when a type like Piglet is given three rookies to play with in a split, you'd be expecting some backtalk or annoyance from the veteran player. Why do I have to waste an important part of my professional career playing babysitter for three new kids? It's been the exact opposite. The three newcomers have shown the willingness to learn and adopt Piglet's in-game ideology.
"There is still some discomfort being here," Piglet admitted when asked if he'd adapted to living in the United States after living in the country for over a year now. "But at the end of the day, [I] came here to play games, not to be comfortable."
Besides confidence, the best way to describe the current iteration of Team Liquid would be hungry. They're hungry to become stronger. They're hungry to prove they're the best. They're hungry for wins, victories, and any other synonym you can think of which defines a successful conquest.
"NRG, their individuals players [I'm] not scared of," said Piglet, going over his thoughts aloud on his team's first round opponent. "Their macro and team play is not that good either."
Are there any teams in the league Piglet is worried about in the playoffs?
"No," he stated bluntly.
Ending the interview, I brought up a question I asked Matt the weekend before. His support teammate stated there was no tandem in the league near them when it came to pure mechanical skill and dominance in the bottom lane.
Piglet's opinion didn't waver: "We're #1 and no one is even close."
"Thanks," I said, intending to end the interview...
"[I] watch a lot of Korean games and maybe a little bit of Chinese games," he told me. "[I] feel as of right now, as how [I'm] playing, [I'm] the best AD carry in the world."
The NA LCS finals might be in Las Vegas, but Piglet isn't interested in any gambling or magic shows. He's heading into the playoffs believing he'll be the one left standing at the end of the spring split. And if he's not?
Back to work.