1907 Fenerbahce Frozen: “When I joined Turkey, I swore to myself that I will either win TCL or retire and join the army”

On Fall 2016, Kim “Frozen” Tae-il Kim, the long-serving mid laner of Longzhu Gaming, announced that he will be taking up a new challenge in Turkey to join 1907 Fenerbahce.

No one would have known that in the following months, Frozen would lead 1907 Fenerbahce to victory in TCL, taking his new team to World Championships. Based on his stellar performance, Frozen was also voted as the mid-laner for Turkish All-Stars Team.

Ashley Kang was lucky to catch up with Frozen, where he gave his candid views on various subjects; his performance in All-Stars, his experience in bringing LCK culture into his new Turkish team, and the future of TCL as more Korean players than ever join TCL next season.

“All-Stars was more stressful for me than Worlds…If I ever return, I wish it would be a fun event”

Hi Frozen! It’s been a while since your Reddit AMA. How have you been?

Hi! I came back to Turkey after All-Stars finished. Since All-Stars, I’ve been going through a lot of mixed emotions. I actually feel like I’ve lost too many things at All-Stars. I lost self-confidence, and I feel like I’ve failed people’s expectations. The few days after All-Stars have been very unbearable for me.

Since I came back from Turkey, I did nothing but play games. I barely slept and just grinded Solo Q. I wanted to make it to Challenger before my break ended. Today, it’s been 10 days since All-Stars, and I managed to get to Masters. (Laugh) Tomorrow the training starts again, so I guess I won’t have time to reach Challenger.

In what ways do you feel like you haven’t met people’s expectation?

I expect that a lot of fans from Turkey would have had high hopes. I’m a “Korean player” – they say so with a certain weight and expectation. I think I’ve shown a good performance playing for 1907 Fenerbahce throughout this season. I could feel the eyes watching, thinking “How would Frozen impress us in the international stage?” I didn’t feel like I’ve met these expectations.

You sound like you’ve been very hard on yourself.

After All-Stars, I’ve even been telling myself that I’m not destined to take a break as a pro player. I’m a type of player that gets rusty even if I take a bit of break, and yet after Worlds finished, I took a vacation in Korea, which I’m now blaming myself for.

In Korea, Kim “Frozen” Tae-il was synonymous with hard work. You’re known to be a very competitive player and practise for long hours, even for an LCK player.

I am. I still hate losing. I still only want to show nothing but the best of me to the fans.

When I left LCK, there was a small thing that I promised myself – that if I ever got to go up against Lee “Faker” Sang-hyuk again, I wanted to be able to go toe-to-toe with him. All-Stars was the first time I laned against him since LCK. I tried…Well. My excuse is that I didn’t get enough preparation for All-Stars.

I’m still competitive, my passion is still burning. Now that a lot of Korean players are coming to Turkey, I’m determined to stay sharp and practice as hard as ever.

Frozen, H-Dragon and Faker
During 2017 All-Stars, Frozen poses with Han “h-dragon” Sang-yong, the coach for LCK All-Stars, and Faker. Source: Twitter@frozen2065

Many players and fans have come forward saying that they found this year’s All-Stars too stressful and not as fun. How do you personally feel about this sentiment?

This year, I went to Rift Rivals, Worlds and All-Stars. I only had one month of break time throughout the entire year; this year has been a back-to-back continuation of competitive events, and stress does build up.

I also feel like the message being communicated from Riot was confusing. We were forming a team of All-Stars to participate in a regional tournament, which made us think that it’s a serious competition that we should be practising for. Then Riot would send us to Disneyland and promote 1v1s, which would make us think that we should be enjoying it more. Even within my own team, we were divided on whether to treat All-Stars as a vacation or a competition.

If I ever return to All-Stars, I wish it would more of a fun event, maybe with players from different regions mixed together. The moment it becomes a regional tournament it becomes…uncomfortable. (Laughs) As if I was at Worlds all over again.

That echoes Pray, who recently said in a stream that “All-Stars is no longer the festival that it used to be; it’s a continuation of Worlds.”

Yeah. One of the most stressful times of my life.

Would you say that All-Stars was as stressful as World Championships?

I’d say it was even more stressful than Worlds.

Wow, really?

Yeah!

Finally, every article needs a Faker story. I heard that you had an interesting episode with Faker’s passport during All-Stars.

The Korean team was flying back to Korea the morning after All-Stars. I was snug in my bed as TCL was booked to leave later than the LCK team. Suddenly I got a call from H-Dragon (The coach for LCK All-Stars) that the LCK players are at the airport and Faker had left his passport behind.

So I jumped out of the bed, put on my clothes and ran out of the hotel room; and when I heard the room door close behind me, I realized… (Laugh) did I leave the door key in my room?

Well, what can I do. I ran down to the reception, asked for Faker’s room key and went running to find Faker’s passport. It was nowhere to be found, though, and I was searching everywhere, until I got another call from H-Dragon – hey, it was in Faker’s pocket all this time.

I can say that I got a lot of exercise that morning thanks to Faker.

1907 Fenerbahce Frozen
Frozen’s amazing performance led 1907 Fenebahce to victory in TCL Summer Season over the defending champion SuperMassive eSports. Source: Riot Games

“Before I came, TCL played LoL as just a game – I started telling my teammates that it’s work”

This time last year, you announced your move to 1907 Fenerbahce, and many people were voicing their skepticism. “A waste of a good LCK player”, people said. Yet it has worked out beautifully with you taking the team to Worlds and you being voted into the Turkish All-Stars team.

When I was at Longzhu Gaming in LCK, I was actually at an all-time low. Hitting rock bottom. I was no longer confident in my plays and skills. I was considering retiring.

I was afraid – that I was fading away. That I was to be remembered as yet another “has-been” average player. That people in a few years would say – “Frozen? Who is that?”

And I hated the thought of it. I wanted to achieve more than that and make a mark in this scene. When I accepted the offer from 1907 FB, I had a commitment; that I’d give my best in Turkey, and would either make it to Worlds or retire and join the Korean army.

That’s amazing.

If I was to go all the way to Turkey just to not achieve anything, I would have been ready to tell myself that that I have reached a limit as a professional player. Thankfully, Turkey worked out really well.

That being said, I do remember arriving in Turkey more determined than afraid. I always believe that if you put in enough effort, you will be rewarded with results.

And I did give it my all this year. When I talk of effort, I’m not just talking about effort as an individual player; I worked really hard to meld into the team, for 1907 FB to be elevated as a team.

Tell me more about working as a team. How did you guys overcome the language barrier?

I have to give credit to my 1907 FB teammates. They are very quick-witted. As spent more time together, even if I’m talking with body gestures, they would know what I’m talking about.

As of communication in-game, it happened naturally. A lot of terminologies in Korea are the same in English so I could make myself be understood. I also taught my Turkish teammates Korean in-game slangs. And if everything else fails, there’s always ping. If it doesn’t work, make it work. (Laughs)

1907 Fenerbahce Frozen
Frozen and his team, 1907 Fenerbahce. Frozen’s leadership skills was attributed as one of the key factors that led 1907 Fenerbahce to international success this year. Source: flickr/lolesports

You were coming into Turkey with your background in the LCK, probably the most prestigious, professional league in the world.

Did you bring some of that LCK strategy or mind-set to the new team when you moved from Korea to Turkey?

Yes, that is correct. When I first came to Turkey, I noticed that the [professional gamer’s] culture was very different here compared to Korea. In TCL, players still considered League more of a game than work, and teams lacked a systemic approach to how they played games. This was a gap that I really wanted to fill.

I drew upon my experience in Longzhu Gaming and my knowledge of what other LCK teams were doing. I proposed wake-up times and fixed practise hours, rules going into scrims, more structure around how we execute ban-picks. Also, I proposed that we no longer play games other than the League during the competitive season, that we have feedback sessions after every scrim. We talked a lot as a team, discussing how we can bring more structure into our team.

It almost sounds like you acted half a coach as well as a player; were your teammates ok with it?

I won’t blame them if they resented me. (Laugh)

My teammates would have been playing League as a game, for fun. When I joined the team, I brought all these changes with me; suddenly, they have to study the game, treat the team-house like a workplace. I’m not going to lie; it must have been hard for my teammates.

Did any disagreements surface because of this?

There were frictions but we’d always resolve them before it became boiled up. I believe that I’m a good team player. During scrims, I’d be harsh and critical; then after scrims, I’d take the players out for dinner or a walk, asking how they are feeling, if they had feedback for me. Making sure they’re ok and we are still on the same page. Continuous and open communication.

And these contributions have led 1907 FB to winning TCL and qualifying for Worlds.

I’m going to be very honest; I don’t believe that 1907 FB would have done so well if I had been just another “Korean” with a high SoloQ rank.

More Korean players are going overseas than ever before, especially to the Wildcard regions. I believe that is very important for a team looking to hire a Korean to judge at the player as a whole package rather than how good he is in game. The player’s communication and leadership skills, whether his personality will be a good match to the team.

It’s difficult for a selfish player to do well overseas. Being a Korean is not enough.

You’ve gotten a of of love from Turkish fans this year. Your Twitter feed and Twitch chats are flooded with Turkish messages of support. In Turkish communities, they speak of you as a honorary Turkish, one of their own.

Turkey is my 2nd home. I can’t stress how grateful I am for all the love that I have received this year, and that’s one of many big reasons that I stayed in Turkey for another year.

There is so much attention and expectation for me from Turkish fans. There will always be “flamers” but even these I accept as feedback. It’s an honour to be at the center of this attention.

There even is a side of me that craves more of this attention – and this pushes me to try even harder next year. For our profession, our popularity is directly proportional to our performance. And performance only comes from blood and sweat.

Actually, earlier today, I was taking a stroll. Turkish primary kids were recognizing me, asking me to take photos with them. These are the moments that make me feel proud about what I do.

I was just going to ask about Turkish fans recognizing you.

Since I came back to Turkey, I went out of my house twice – And both times someone recognized me. It’s a record so far. I’m very honored.

1907 Fenerbahce Frozen
Frozen shares a bromance moment with his teammate, padden. Source: flickr/lolesports

“Bring on the new Korean players, TCL is now my home ground”

Let’s talk about next year, and the journey forward. You’ve signed for another year with 1907 Fenerbahce.

Yes, I have – And I have done so in a very happy place. I really want to thank the team for signing me for another year. The team and staff supported me, and I felt at home despite the fact I was away from Korea.

This year’s goal is to go to Worlds, yes?

This time, it’s to get to the Worlds Quarterfinals.

Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun joins Fenerbahce as the new jungler (Congratulations!) You and Chaser both played for Longzhu Gaming. How much influence did you have in Chaser becoming FB’s new jungler?

As you know, Move’s contract did not renew at the end of this year, so we had to look for a new jungler, and I was quite involved in the conversation. We decided to acquire a veteran jungler – there are cons and pros to getting a veteran versus a rookie – and we specifically wanted another Korean player.

So we started reaching out to various Korean veterans who were free agents at that time, and Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun was one of them.

I tried really hard to convince Chaser to join our team. Chaser is an amazing player with a good work ethic that never received limelight for the talent he is. I wanted regain his confidence and accelerate his career by going to Worlds with us. Our goals aligned, and I’m really happy to welcome Chaser to 1907 Fenerbahce.

We also have a new support, Zergsting, joining our team. We’ll be practising as a team starting from tomorrow. Really looking forward to getting our new team together and finding our chemistry.

Not only Chaser; there has been an influx of Korean players joining the Turkish league this off-season. High profile LCK players at that. The media has attributed this demand of Korean players to you.

There is something I told my friends when I first accepted the offer from 1907 FB during the fall of 2016. I said that if my move to 1907 FB works out as I expected, by next year, half of the TCL teams would be hiring Korean players.

And it really came true!

I think more than half of TCL teams have signed Korean players, and the number will increase even more before Winter season.

Yes, I do believe that I’ve gone out to show what value a LCK player can bring to TCL with my performance this year, and that I was a catalyst for Turkish teams exclusively looking for Korean players this off-season. And to continue to make this a true statement, I now must practise harder than ever.

You’ll be laning with named Korean players like GBM and Cepted next season.

I now see TCL as my home ground. That I’m playing as the defending champion, while the new Korean players are coming in as challengers to my home. I want to show the other Korean players that it’s not just about in-game mechanics; it’s a team game.

As you know, SuperMassive eSports have acquired GBM and SnowFlower as their new mid laner and supporter, as well hiring Irean as their head coach. GBM and SnowFlower have said in an interview that their goal is to win TCL and play at World Championships.

We’ll just have to do well at MSI. We can win another seed for Turkey so two teams from Turkey can go to Worlds. It can happen if we can make it into the MSI quarterfinals.

I actually didn’t know that it was a possible scenario.

Yep, it is.

But if it was to be that only one TCL can qualify for Worlds as last year…?

There is that. And if that doesn’t happen, it will just have to be 1907 Fenerbahce again. (Laughs)

1907 Fenerbahce Frozen
Frozen in his All-Stars jumper, during 2017 All-Stars Event Day 2. Source: flickr/lolesports

Thank you so much for giving time for this interview. Finally, could you say a word of greeting to fans back in Korea as well as your new fans in Turkey?

To my Turkish fans: Thank you for the unreserved support you’ve given me this year. Sometimes, I get emotional and write things on Twitter where I might falter or show a lack confidence; and Turkish fans always respond to it with absolute support. These gestures really give me strength, so – keep going!

To my fans back in Korea: Back in LCK, you’ve given me endearing nicknames such as the Frozen Heart and the Heart God, for my performance at Longzhu Gaming. It’s been a year since I played in Korea, yet they still use the nickname, and they remember me as a player; again, these little gestures really give me strength during tough times. I’ll continue to try hard to bring good news and repay this gratitude. Gam-sa-hap-nee-da!

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Ashley Kang

Ashley is a full-time front-end developer, part-time esports enthusiast, part-time backpacker around the world. Fluent in both Korean and English, her passion and joy is to bring exposure to esports scene and LCK as a region.

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