In professional sports, it's common for some of the best athletes to hold themselves to almost unrealistic standards of play. For those so deeply determined to carve their name into the game's history, an individual performance short of perfect may not only be unsatisfactory but shameful. The same holds true in competitive gaming and League of Legends.
Take Gwang-jin "Piglet" Chae for example. Once considered the world's best AD Carry, he helped SK Telecom T1 demolish Samsung Ozone 3-0 in the finals of League Champions Korea Winter 2013-14. And yet, he could only break down in tears after the games were over.
"My play was very poor today so I'm not feeling anything right now. All I did was press R," a dejected Piglet muttered on stage, oblivious to the fact that his team had just been immortalized as the most dominant squad in League of Legends history.
Fast forward to 2017 and that same resolve lives on in Kyung-ho "Smeb" Song, the world's greatest top laner. Despite starting off the spring season with flying colors, going 7-1 in the toughest league in the world, the two-time LCK MVP was clearly disappointed in his own performance.
"Sure, you could say some of it is due to external factors. Last year with the Tigers, the meta itself was quite top centric, and my teammates' styles of play allowed me to really shine," Smeb said. "Always be the top dog, so to speak."
He smiled in recollection, "My new teammates have [different] styles, however, and the current meta calls for top laners to play a more supportive role. So there definitely has been a change in environment."
He clarified and added that he was OK with the constant need to adapt to the metagame.
"I am content with how things are going as a whole -- our team is doing well in the league," he said. "Regardless, I am confident that I can return to my 2016 form, whether it be through us meshing together better as a team or the meta shifting again towards the top lane."
When asked about the difference between the former ROX Tigers and current KT Rolster, Smeb brought up the topic of team atmosphere.
"At ROX, we were always having fun in abundance. Day-to-day life was fun. Practice was fun. Tournaments were fun. Everything was fun," he said. "At KT, well, we also have fun, of course, but are more serious in scrims and tournaments."
To Smeb, the defining characteristic of the new KT Rolster is sheer competitive drive.
"My teammates all really, really want to be the best. Score is absolutely determined to win something, and the three returning from China are extremely intent on becoming Korea's top players again. I used to practice a bit more leniently, but the atmosphere here has [convinced] me to crank things up," he said. "Everyone is very hungry and takes each and every game seriously. Our goal is perfection: perfect preparation, perfect play, zero mistakes. If we can keep on trucking at this pace, I think we'll realize our potential come Worlds."
Did he find KT's team atmosphere more conducive to improvement, then? It didn't take long for the player to express his uncertainty.
"I think it's just a matter of style -- it's not like we played poorly last year [on ROX] because we had fun, right?" He explained. "Both approaches have their positives and negatives, I think, although my answer obviously can't be conclusive."
How was he feeling heading into the upcoming Telecom derby between SK Telecom T1 and KT Rolster on Thursday? Smeb decided not to focus on his "rivalry" with Sang-hyeok "Faker" Lee, the best mid laner in the world, but rather his first face-off against his former teammate and jungler, Wang-ho "Peanut" Han.
"Out of all the scattered [ex-Tigers], Peanut and I are the ones that [have] yet to settle into our new environments, I think," he said. "We both still are figuring out how to best fit in."
Would Smeb have to tread carefully against a teammate he once competed with?
Smeb shook his head and said, "My style changed a lot since the move, and the same goes for Peanut. Most of the information we have will be outdated, so we probably won't make use of what we used to know."
Before leaving the interview for another evening chock-full of practice, Smeb asked for a final moment to connect with his foreign fans.
"The reception I got at last year's Worlds and All-Stars was amazing, and I cannot thank you enough for it," he said. "I will try hard to go to as many international tournaments as possible, including this year's Worlds and All-Stars. I wish I could stream more and interact more and have more fun together -- there are a lot of things I want to do -- but I have to work hard to get there first. So I hope I can repay your support with good play. Thanks!"