On March 29th, Kingzone DragonX heightened their hopes for a second place finish to the season by defeating Griffin with a 2-0 match score. Heo “PawN” Won-seok showed off his expansive champion pool by adding Corki to the list, while Moon “Cuzz” Woo-chan extended his great form with an impressive Rex’Sai. Below is the press conference interview of head coach Kang “Hirai” Dong-hoon after KZ’s victory over Griffin.
Congratulations on finishing the spring split with a win! How do you feel?
Hirai: I am very happy that we could extend our winning streak. Even more satisfying is that I could see that the players have improved.
During the interview after your last match [2-1 win against Afreeca Freecs], you said that you would scold your players. Today you seem to be much more supportive. What did your players do well and which parts of the games need improvement?
Hirai: I told the players that we needed to win today’s match because by doing so we can secure third place. In massive fixtures like this, players usually get nervous and stiffen up. I realized that the players were a bit anxious after the draft phase, and it transitioned into several mistakes in both game one and game two. I think this is something we have to work on. The bright side was that despite the nerves, our players displayed a wonderful level of communication and trusted each other.
You have previously said [in your past interviews] that league standings aren’t the most important thing for you this split, but with second place so close in sight, don’t you feel the desire to end the split in second place?
Hirai: No. Although league standings are very important for any professional team, I believe that if you win all the time before the most important moment [such as the finals], you overlook your mistakes “because you have won”. I think that given that we have areas to improve on, it would be better for us to lose to better opponents and learn from our mistakes.
Does that mean you would be fine with SK Telecom T1 winning over Afreeca Freecs tomorrow?
Hirai: The better team will win, my personal preference on who wins doesn’t matter at all. These recent weeks have seen even lower placed teams playing at a very high level. I would say that the most we can do is to carefully watch the games and try to learn as much as we can from the match.
PawN’s champion pool this split is 19 champions strong. Have you been planning to have PawN play various champions?
Hirai: Yes, every champion that every Kingzone player plays in the LCK is a result of extensive research and practice. We simulate every situation in the game that we can think of, and we practice with those assumptions. I really want to take a brief moment to thank my players for keeping up with a very demanding training system. Some days I demand players to play champions that have a very straightforward playing style, and on other days I ask them to sacrifice their individual play to empower their teammates. The players kept up perfectly without objection. In terms of the number of champions played, we never recognized that PawN played that many until people told us. We still have a few champions in our pockets that haven’t been used yet, waiting for the right situation.
Looking back at your season, what was the most disappointing moment for you?
Hirai: I think our round one [0-2] loss against Hanwha Life Esports was particularly disappointing. There was one aspect of play that we didn’t prepare against coming into the game, and HLE focused on that exact aspect. Although the players didn’t play as well that day either, it was a fault of the coaching staff and a tactical defeat.
It was surprising that Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu drafted Viktor, but even more so that he revived the spellthief meta. What made you bring up the strategy?
Hirai: It was something that we have been preparing for some time. We could have brought this out the last match, but the situation didn’t allow it and we used it today. It is all part of the situational simulation and the best approach to the situation.
[pause] and you all think that Deft doesn’t play much of “the awesome dudes”, but he’s good at them. [laughs]
Given that you finish the spring split in third place, which team do you think you will face in the playoffs?
Hirai: I think that depends entirely on who prepared better, and who plays better on the day. Between playoff teams, I don’t think there is a large gap in terms of competitiveness. Speaking of which, we will make sure we will be the better-prepared team regardless of who we meet in playoffs.
Today’s win secured Kingzone a ticket to Rift Rivals. Kingzone has a poor history in international events, are you confident that you can turn that around?
Hirai: I am. I think our team improved a lot this split. Not only the players but the coaching staff as well. If we keep this up, I’m sure that we can have a good showing at Rift Rivals too.
Thank you for the interview! Do you have any closing comments?
Hirai: I want to express my gratitude to the players and the staff. I am very assertive when I give feedback, but the players accept my guidance without any trouble. The coaching staff are up all day researching champion compositions and strategies from both domestic and foreign sources. Also, I want to thank the organization for supporting us, and last but not least, our fans that are always there no matter what.