It was the cruelest possible repeat of fate for KT Rolster, but for SK Telecom T1, it merely was yet another victory for its "sixth-man" system. Kang "Blank" Sun-gu's substitution for Han "Peanut" Wang-ho proved to be exactly what SKT needed last Saturday to thwart its rivals once again.
Hidden behind the glory of the sixth man, however, were the perspectives of the seventh man and the eighth man -- Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon and Kim "Sky" Ha-neul -- who wished to prove their worth against KT, but couldn't.
ESPN sat down briefly with the two players to talk about the match, their thoughts on expanded rosters, and the upcoming finals against Longzhu Gaming.
ESPN: How did you feel after seeing your team win?
Huni: I felt proud of our team for pulling off such a dramatic comeback victory. We cheered them on diligently from the sidelines. Maybe it helped them perform. Despite not getting to play, I'm very happy.
Sky: You just said everything I was going to say! Anyway, our [teammates] played so well and it was great to see them overcome such a tough situation.
ESPN: How was the mood in the waiting room over the series?
Huni: We felt that our first two losses were due to our mistakes, and figured that all we needed was one play that would flip the flow of the match. We were confident that our preparation was perfect... we were sure that we just needed to stop making mistakes. So the atmosphere was fine, really. There was no pessimism at all. We were smiling, right?
Sky: Yeah, we were smiling.
Huni: The mood was great. And [us two] weren't worried about how they would do.
ESPN: Did the mood in the waiting room ever turn bad this season?
Huni: When we lost 4 in a row --
Sky: That was our low point.
Huni: I still think that our picks weren't the problem back then -- our play was what was problematic. And that loss streak still stings. It robbed us of our chances to climb back up the [regular season] standings.
ESPN: Sky, how much playing time did you expect this season? And how much have you improved? Many of your fans are curious as to how you are doing.
Sky: Well, I'm [paired with] the greatest [teammate] in the world, so it's a bit... difficult to get to play. But I'm thinking of it as a learning experience. I didn't expect to be a starter when I first joined, and my thoughts on when I'll get to play haven't changed: If I work hard and get good, I'll get a chance. That has not gone too smoothly. But I do think that I've picked up a lot from being with the best team and the best hyungs.
ESPN: Huni, you never really had to compete for a starting spot during your two-year tenure abroad. How are you finding the fierce tussle with Untara?
Huni: I think the sixth-man system is fantastic. It really helps to have someone that gives you direct feedback, someone to learn from. And no one can play perfectly all the time. Even the best player will have ups and downs. So having someone to step in for you when you're not doing so well is great, especially when the [substitution] can flip the flow of a match, just like what we saw today. This is the team's perspective.
From the player's perspective, it can be a bit stressful, yes. But the only answer is to keep your head down and try to play well. I think having [Park "Untara" Ui-jin] helps me improve myself -- the situation lights the competitive fire in me -- so I appreciate the motivation it provides. I do want to play as much as I can, of course; the hunger is always there. But the only way to achieve that is to work hard.
ESPN: How does being a starter differ from being a substitute?
Huni: For me, being the starter feels more secure than being the substitute. And it also lets me play with more confidence. I think it's really great that we get to watch each other play, then share advice and feedback. But it does feel much more satisfying when I get to directly take part in our victory.
ESPN: Unless Riot Games decides to revise their rulebook, teams will only be allowed to register six players for Worlds. With your two junglers being so integral to the team right now, there is a high chance that you may not make the Worlds roster. How determined are you to fight for it?
Huni: To be completely frank, the only reason why I came to SKT, turning down so many overseas offers, was to win Worlds. But now the situation isn't looking too easy.
I haven't been performing that well recently... I've become the substitute. But it's all due to my not being good enough. And if I fail to make our [Worlds roster], it will have been because I was not good enough. So until it's decided, I will be working as hard as I can for the spot.
Sky: That was my reason for joining SKT, too -- to go to Worlds. But I haven't proved anything yet on stage. If I don't make it, it will have been because I was not good enough. So I won't take it to heart. I will just think that I will have to work harder.
ESPN: How would you rate your finals opponent, Longzhu Gaming?
Huni: I have some experience finishing first in the regular season but then losing in the playoffs. Longzhu have been doing well recently, but they may not be preserving their momentum since it's been so long since they played. Finishing first goes both ways -- getting to rest for longer does help, but you also have to work [harder] to stay sharp.
Sky: [politely nods and smiles in agreement]
ESPN: Assuming you will get to play, how would you rate your lane opponent?
Huni: [Kim "Khan" Dong-ha]'s recent form is a bit frightening, but I don't think it will matter too much to me. I would just ignore it and concentrate on fulfilling my duties for the team. It would be just like the spring finals, where [KT Rolster] put on a lot of jungle pressure on the top lane but I managed to hold steady and work with my team all the way. I don't think it will be too difficult to do the same again.
Sky: [Kwak "Bdd" Bo-sung] has been doing very well. But if I get to play, I think things will go okay, since we used to play with each other in the same team and all.
ESPN: Do you have any last words for your fans?
Huni: I think many of my fans are waiting to see me on stage. I'm sorry for not having played that well recently. If I get an opportunity to prove myself again, I promise to make the most out of it. I will not let it slip. Please keep rooting for me.
Sky: I love you all!