GorillA on ROX Tigers: 'I wonder if there ever could be a team like that again'

Kim "PraY" Jong-in and Kang "GorillA" Beom-hyeon embrace during the 2016 League of Legends World Championship. Riot Games

A little over a decade ago, OGN discovered that shameless indulgence can actually turn something cringeworthy to something cool. Since then, contrived badassery has been a cornerstone of all their opening title productions for a multitude of games. The video for the 2017 League Champions Korea Spring Split was no different.

Time-lapses of an epic lightning storm? Check. Random cloud particles everywhere? Check. Players in anime poses, feigning grim determination? Check.

Yet amid all the traditional affectations, one sequence stands out as jarringly sincere: the exit of the 2016 Tigers. Side-by-side in their new team uniforms, the separated five gaze wordlessly at the camera as their silhouettes flash away into a painfully starry void, eyes both forlorn and resigned. Then they fully disappear. "It's impossible to see," Alana Stephens weeps, "all the things we used to be."

Most esports veterans are not strangers to having to move on, but leaving family behind is never easy, especially for teammates who were as tight-knit as the original ROX Tigers.

"I, of course, can only speak for myself, as I obviously haven't played on every single team on Earth, but the ROX Tigers' team atmosphere was -- well -- I wonder if there ever could be a team like that again," Beom-hyeon "GorillA" Kang mused, shortly after supporting Longzhu Gaming to a 2-0 victory over Afreeca Freecs.

"It's not that the atmosphere we have right now at Longzhu is bad in any way. Things are going along quite well, actually. It's just that what came before was so insanely great. An outlier."

The player went on.

"As you know, each player is unique in their own way, but in the case of the ROX Tigers, we all were a bit similar," he added. "On [Longzhu], our personalities are more diverse, and no one really [protrudes], so to speak. We usually mind our own business, do our job, and get along well in that way. The team atmosphere sometimes suffers when someone makes a mistake in that regard, but I would say that overall we have an environment that is definitely conducive to practice."

GorillA was known as the cool-headed Tiger on his previous team, reining things in when the spirited squad started to have too much fun.

"When a team's atmosphere is too good, someone needs to take the role of 'that guy,' stepping in and keeping things from going overboard when people get too excited and lose focus," he said. "Otherwise, scrims and even tournament matches can be thrown."

Yet, he had a tinge of regret in his tone.

"Looking back on my ROX days, I sometimes found myself thinking that maybe I had been too harsh, too serious, too much of a 'that guy,'" he said. "So on Longzhu, I'm trying to remind myself that keeping everyone in line is the manager and the coach's job."

"I am also getting older, and my age seems to be catching up with me," GorillA, now 22, added with a laugh. "Keeping up my level of play is starting to take more effort, so I've mostly been focusing on my individual performance."

With their latest win, Longzhu Gaming sits at third place in the LCK, only below the two telecom giants, SK Telecom T1 and KT Rolster. Bon-taek "Expession" Gu, Longzhu's top laner, previously expressed that he wanted to make it to this season's Worlds with his team. But what were GorillA's competitive expectations for the year?

"We of course want to win the league, as all teams do," he said. "Whenever a new team is formed from players from different squads, it takes some time for them to click. I think our team now has passed that initial hump, so if we keep working hard, I believe we should be able to stay near the top."

GorillA also echoed Expession's sentiments about Longzhu's promising mid laner and jungler, saying, "[Fly and Crash] have always played well in scrims, so we always had trust in them. We never got angry at them for not performing well on stage because we always had faith. We knew what they were capable of. All they needed was to play confident, and I think they're starting to do just that."

He smiled, "Maybe it has something to do with my playing support, but I've always been someone that focuses on my team's interpersonal relationships. If a teammate seems down, I try to ask what's up and make them feel better. I try to help everyone gel and get along well together."

Perhaps what Longzhu Gaming needed all along was one real leader, not 10 star players.