Few would argue that Kim “Kiin” Gi-in of Afreeca Freecs is one of the best top laner in the LCK, if not the best. Renowned for his wide champion pool, consistent performance and carry potential, Kiin has been considered one of the major factors in the LCK 2019 spring split performance of Afreeca Freecs as the team defended its position in the LCK, escaping relegations.
Ashley Kang talked with Kiin at the eve of the summer split, who remained humble. “If someone mentioned my in-game ID and they recognized it, that would be enough for me.” Kiin said. Kiin discussed the challenges and the road ahead for Afreeca Freecs, the LCK’s growing pain to adapt to the new meta, and his goals as a professional gamer.
This interview is volume 1 in LCK Sketches, a series of in-depth interviews with the LCK players.
It’s great to talk to you once again, Kiin. How have you been spending the short break between the spring split and the summer split?
Kiin: I had a vacation and got well rested. Then I came back from vacation. I practiced, played solo queue. I fulfilled team schedules, did interviews, stuff like that.
Afreeca Freecs had a rough split during 2019 spring. Reflecting on this fact, what areas has the team been focusing on during practice?
Kiin: The players didn’t really click with one another during the spring split. So [during the break] we’ve been focusing on getting our teamwork together, learning to trust each other more. For example, if a jungler decides to execute a certain action, the other laners would try to follow that decision.
Afreeca certainly had its ups and downs during the spring split. During this period, the team attempted a variety of different rosters. But throughout all this, Kiin, you were always a starter. There would have been a lot of trial and error, and pressure on you to get your teamwork right with many different players at a time.
Kiin: So many things were in flux during the split, yet I continued to hold on at the top lane. There wasn’t much to change for me, even during the period our roster was changing all the time. There wasn’t a lot for me to adjust. I just tried to do my best, in my given situation.
Was there a lot of pressure for you, as the only stable member of the roster, “holding on”?
Kiin: There was a period when the team went through a difficult phase. It’s true that there was a bit of pressure on me during that time. However, as we drew closer to the end of the split, the pressure on me began to lessen. Escaping relegations certainly helped. When we realized that we might just not go to relegations, I think I let go of some of the burdens in my head.
I don’t think there was a single player in the team who wasn’t stressed.
There was a period in the split when Afreeca Freecs had to seriously consider the idea of going to relegations. In fact, you did not know whether you were going to relegations until the very final series of the split, KT Rolster vs DAMWON Gaming. Were you in the venue at the time?
Kiin: I didn’t go to the venue. If KT Rolster had won that day [which would put Afreeca at 9th place] and we were to go to relegations, I think I would have not wanted to come back to the team house.
But you watched the final series, at least …
Kiin: I tried to not watch the series. However, at [the team house] my teammates kept saying out loud, “Hey, this team is winning!” I was going to check the results afterwards, but I couldn’t help but tune in, I ended up watching it.
I’ve been to relegations once already, right? I can talk about it now, but the feeling at that time was indescribable. If we had gone to relegations again, that would have been too difficult for me.
Afreeca Freecs, thankfully, escaped relegations. What was the biggest turning point for the team, that allowed the team to land on safe ground?
Kiin: To be honest … Every moment was difficult. So I can’t think of a single turning point. However, if I had to pick one … It would have been from the second half of the split when we started adding new members to the roster.
Aiming began playing AD carry, SSun entered the roster. I think it was around the time Ssol came into the roster, too.
That was around the time that Afreeca stopped switching its roster as much and seemed to stabilized. Did things get easier at that point?
Kiin: Then we started playing the matches, and things weren’t quite right. It’s hard to tell you when our exact turning point was.
You must have been extremely stressed throughout the spring split. Did NoFe contribute in helping you or your teammates?
Kiin: I don’t think there was a single player in the team who wasn’t stressed.
During the spring split, it was the other teammates who were having a tougher time than me. NoFe concentrated on looking after the players other than me.
If it is ok to ask, who was the single player on the team who had the most difficult time?
Kiin: Ucal kept thinking that he was much worse than last year. He had a tough time. The relationship between us is ok, though. He was more beating himself up a lot.
I’d like to ask about the recent 2019 Mid-Season Invitational. G2 Esports eventually won the competition. Afreeca Freecs was one of the most experimental teams during the LCK. Meanwhile, G2 Esports eventually won the MSI with their creative picks and strategies. What was your impression of G2?
Kiin: [Perkz], their AD carry comes from a mid lane background. So he has a very wide champion pool. G2 would draft a mid champion, then later rotate the champion to the bot lane. Things like that were refreshing. My impression was that G2 was good at finding good champions.
I also have to ask about Wunder and his top Pyke.
Kiin: Wunder, I guess he is good, but … I don’t know about him too well. I went against him last year, and my impression is that likes to play aggressively in the lane.
As for the top Pyke, I’ve actually seen it before in Korean solo queue. It’s been a while, actually. There was a player in Korean solo queue who liked to play top Pyke. I saw top Pyke late last year, early this year, then I forgot all about it. Then he made an appearance in an actual match, and I was surprised.
It’s interesting you mention that Pyke top was seen in the Korean solo ladder. Pyke top was already being experimented and noticed within Korea, yet I wonder if players in the LCK would have tried to play him on stage.
Kiin: I don’t think there would have been a player who would try him on stage, no. I’d say that it is a specialized pick for G2. I don’t think even international teams would try top Pyke, either. I’d say that the pick was only possible because they were G2. That’s their team color – every player in the team has a wide champion pool.
I believe the [LCK] teams thought the Worlds result was a “one-off” thing. So the teams maintained their existing style.
What was your impression of the MSI, the overall tournament?
It was a tournament focused on skirmishes. Teams that proactively opened fights came out with good results. The teams [that fought] overall had a solid performance, I’d say.
This skirmish-heavy meta, taking early game advantages then snowballing them, is not something new. It’s been around since the 2018 World Championship. After Worlds, LPL and LEC teams quickly adopted the skirmish-heavy playstyle. Compared to them, LCK teams tend to have slower games. Why do you think this is so?
Kiin: The Korean teams tend to have more emphasis on macro. However, I think the teams are now more self-aware, trying to change this slowly. I’m not saying macro is bad. However, the meta is headed towards [more skirmishes]. The teams are trying to change themselves.
Before, we tried to play safe. Now, if the enemy comes in, we do not necessarily avoid the fight.
Analysts are saying that South Korea is too slow to adapt to the meta. During 2018 Worlds, the LCK teams faltered against early-game aggression. Yet, come spring split, we didn’t see the LCK teams adjust their playstyle too quickly. Why do you think this is the case?
Kiin: Last year, South Korea had a poor result at a World Championship for the first time. Personally – I believe the [LCK] teams thought the Worlds result was a “one-off” thing. So the teams maintained their existing style. However, if we fail again, perhaps then, drastic changes will happen. We’ve failed this time [at the MSI] again, so I think we’ll see more changes come the summer [split].
Because they’ve seen the performance of iG, or the success of G2?
Kiin: If the top teams in the LCK can open fights proactively, I don’t think they will be any worse than the top teams you’ve mentioned. So if they start doing this, I think the LCK can climb to the top again.
I’ve had a chance to interview players and coaches across different LCK teams throughout the spring split. I often asked the question about the difference between the LCK and the LPL. Often, the answer seemed to be “This is the LCK way of playing, we will not change but perfect our playstyle”.
Kiin: The top teams in the league were in that mindset. While the lower tier teams kept losing to them, so it was difficult for that playstyle to change.
How do I say this … It is the middle-tier and bottom-tier teams who try to make these changes the most. The top tier teams don’t have to change, they are already winning when they are maintaining [their style]. So there wasn’t a sense of crisis, the need to change.
If a team tries to change its playstyle drastically, there might be a period of trial-and-error when their standings may temporarily drop. Do you think this was one of the reasons they were hesitant?
Kiin: They are the teams that have to get results. Perhaps they didn’t want to go through the trial-and-error. I think that might be why they kept their playstyle.
The 2019 LCK summer split will kick off in about a week. How are you feeling as you look forward to returning to LoL Park?
Kiin: When I went into the spring split, I was excited. Now that we are going into the summer split, I feel … That time flies so fast. I didn’t even do much, and I looked back, and summer is already about to kick off.
Sounds like the spring split was tough for you, indeed.
Kiin: Because we weren’t getting results, I would not say that I didn’t have a tough time. I think the results were the biggest thing.
Afreeca Freecs, along with other powerhouse names such as KT Rolster and Gen.G did have a tough time with poor results. Over the break, KT acquired PraY while Gen.G acquired several players across all of its lanes. Compared to this, Afreeca Freecs did not make major roster changes going into the summer split. What do you think Afreeca has to do to stay competitive with these teams?
Kiin: I believe the individual players in my team are skilled, so I’m not worried about our potential. I’m just … There might be some players that might stress out on the stage. So I guess I’m worried about that.
I’m not saying this is the case, but there is a perception that Afreeca Freecs is a one-man team of Kiin. That you alone carry the entire team. Kiin, what do personally you think about the “Kiin 1v9” narrative?
Kiin: It’s a team game, after all. I don’t find this imagery necessarily a good thing. It’s a game where you can show yourself when there is a certain amount of support from the team. I don’t personally believe [the 1v9 statement] to be the case.
In that case, what kind of teammate would you like to be seen as?
Kiin: A top laner that can perform as expected in a given situation. Someone that supports the team from beneath.
Top laners are also often referred to by their playstyle. In that way, what kind of playstyle do you prefer as a top laner?
Kiin: I guess the carry top player is the best, [laughs] but that’s just my wish. If I can be a player that can play in a given situation, that is enough. Carry champions are fun.
Was Vayne top fun to play?
Kiin: That was very fun.
Will Pyke top be fun to play? [laughs]
Kiin: I’ve tried him a few times in solo queue, and he was fun. As for the stage, I’ll know if he gets played.
if someone says “Do you know who Kiin is?” and the answer is yes, I’d consider myself successful as a professional gamer.
I’ve followed your recent Reddit AMA. Many international fans came out to ask you questions and connect with you. People referred to you as the best top laner in LCK right now, and one of the best in the world, if not the best. How did it feel, to read all these comments?
The only thing I’ve seen in that AMA is comparison questions. “Who is the better top player, X or Y?” [laughs] Well, thank you. To prove myself worthy of these statements, well, I’ll have to make these opportunities happen. Thank you.
Perhaps it will be more real when you do go overseas.
Well, I haven’t had the opportunity to go overseas.
LCK is home to many legendary top laners. We have top laners that have left their mark in the history of League. Kiin, how would you like to be remembered in history?
If someone mentioned my in-game ID and they recognized it, that would be enough for me.
Rather than comparing myself to another player, if someone says “Do you know who Kiin is?” and the answer is yes, I’d consider myself successful as a professional gamer.
I would personally say that people do know your name.
Yeah, I’d have to go overseas first before I see if it’s the case. I guess I’m successful then?
Thank you so much for the interview. Finally, do you have anything to say to the international fans – to your teammates, perhaps?
Thank you for always supporting Afreeca Freecs. We will try our hardest to perform better at the summer split and go to Worlds. Thank you.
To my teammates. Let’s try harder, and let’s get better results for the summer split. Fighting, everyone.