Expession: 'I've never really craved attention or popularity'

Bon-taek "Expession" Koo competes at IEM Oakland 2016. Provided by Carlton Beener/ESL

Bon-taek "Expession" Koo's story is similar to that of the typical South Korean esports professional: He enjoyed games from an early age and dreamed of playing them full-time. In a nation where superstar players took home six-figure salaries as early as 2002, succeeding as a competitive gamer was tantalizingly real, albeit risky career ambition.

In the fashion of his legendary predecessors -- Yo-hwan "BoxeR" Lim, Jae-ho "Moon" Jang, and Young-ho "Flash" Lee -- young Bon-taek decided to pick out a one-word English noun to be his ID. If he were to ever make a name for himself in gaming, in any title, this would be the tag he would go by. After giving it some thought, he chose the first word he memorized in middle school English: Expression.

Not half bad, except that he had left out the R.

Upon discovering he had inadvertently named himself a typo, Bon-taek was left with a choice: Rectify the slip-up and become Expression, or consider it to be a unique tag which he could truly claim as his own.

In 2012, Expession joined Team Hunters and found little success until he transferred to NaJin Shield. The team rebranded to NaJin Black Sword and qualified for the Season 3 World Championships, but failed to make it past the semifinals against SK Telecom T1. He left NaJin in 2014 for health reasons and joined Incredible Miracle in 2015, surviving the rebuilding process that plagued the roster in the 2016 offseason. Expession, a seasoned top laner today, reflected on his career with ESPN.

"I'm very surprised that foreign League of Legends fans still remember me because the last time I've played well internationally was at the Season 3 World Championship semifinals against SK Telecom T1. I'm extremely grateful," he said, blushing.

Expession had good reason to be proud of his performance. He'd faced off against Eon-yeong "Impact" Jung -- considered the world's best defensive top laner at the time -- and drew first blood in two games, leaving a considerable impression. Although Najin Black Sword ultimately fell to SK Telecom T1, the match is still considered one of the closest best-of-fives in worlds history.

"I've never really won anything significant [or] made many finals," he added. "But I've been able to play professionally for a very long time, and that in itself makes for a pretty good career, I think."

It's a tad too humble, especially considering his play style. Even against former giants such as Impact, Sang-myeon "Shy" Park and Ha-woon "MakNooN" Yoon, Expession always headed to lane with all guns blazing -- and by virtue of his brawn, his inflexibly confrontational approach worked out more often than not. In many ways, Expession was the original Ho-jong "Flame" Lee: a lane dominant Korean top laner who ultimately failed to achieve as much as his peak performance warranted.

Then again, Expession was always humble to a fault. In his postmatch MVP interview after carrying Longzhu to a close 2-1 victory over the ROX Tigers, he focused little on his own play, instead spending half of his time praising jungler Dong-woo "Crash" Lee and mid laner Yong-jun "Fly" Song.

Asked why he spent such little time talking about himself, Expession said, "Our younger players have more years and a bright future ahead of them, and I felt that they haven't been receiving enough recognition. Me, personally, I've never really craved attention or popularity. I don't use social media that much, for example."

"Of course, sometimes I look at a player like PraY and think, 'Hey, yeah, being that popular would be nice.' But PraY's popularity isn't something that was just given to him. It's self-made. He earned it. He created it all through hard work, through streams, interviews," Expession said. "Me, my personality isn't cut out for that, I think. And it's a bit too late for me to start even if I wanted to."

On his way down to the first floor to greet the waiting Longzhu fans, Expession admitted, "I really would like to meet foreign fans again at a World Championship. I promise to work hard, play well, and try to make it to Worlds this season."