Dark Passage KaKAO – “No matter where you go, the ultimate goal is to win the league you are in”

TCL, the Turkish Championship League, is seeing an influx foreign talent for the 2018 season; all of them who seem to be coming over from the LCK region.

One of the most notable names in this list of of Korean players is Lee “KaKAO” Byung-kwon, joining as the jungler of Dark Passage Gaming. KaKAO reached the height of his career in Season 4, when he dominated LCK with his stellar performance and won the season MVP for 2014 Summer split.

Ashley Kang caught up with KaKAO to talk about his adjustment to Turkey and his new team, his thoughts on the influx of Korean players in Turkey, his time in KT Arrow and Misfits, and his thoughts on Ezreal jungle. 

KaKAO poses in the uniform of Dark Passage Gaming, his latest team

“Initially, I actually had it in mind to go to NA or return to Korea…Then Dark Passage stood out”

Hello KaKAO!

Hi everyone! I am Lee Byung-kwon, also known as KaKAO. I’ve recently arrived in Turkey to join my new team, Dark Passage Gaming.

How have you been?

It’s been weird; I thought there would be some kind of adjustment period but Turkey feels just like home! So far I’ve been here for two weeks, but it feels as if I’ve been here for three months.

So Turkey is the fourth region you have played in – after Korea, China and Europe…

Four-time champion!

So we’ll see you in NA next?

I’m slowly conquering the world! (Laughs)

(Laughs) And I wanted to ask why you had chosen Turkey over any of the other regions, or whether you were contacted by them.

Initially, I actually had it in mind to go to NA or return to Korea. Korea is a region I know well and I would always like to return there. However, NA is currently going through franchising and I believe the NA market will only grow bigger over the coming years; so I thought this would be a good year to settle down there. Not all conversations went well, though.

I did get contacted by all major regions at some point. At the end, I was progressing in negotiations between Brazil, Korea and Turkey. Out of these teams Dark Passage stood out, showing strong interest; telling me that they had high ranked members and that they are one of the top Playoff teams in the TCL (Turkish Championship League). I was sold by their proposition and here I am.

And here you are indeed. How are you finding Turkey so far?

The people are so nice in Turkey! They are very fascinated about Koreans. Everywhere I go, they have a big welcoming smile. Wherever I visit a shop or a cafe, they tell me “I love Korea”, asking me how I’m doing, making reference to Korean football celebrities.

Also, I notice that the Turks are very friendly towards stray animals. When I would walk down the streets of Turkey, I’d see so many stray cats that wouldn’t run away when I approach them; while in Korea stray cats would run away at the sight of people. Turkish people have a kind heart.

I was just going to ask how you’re adjusting in Turkey, but it sounds like you’re doing well.

Yep. The food here is great, too. Due to my time in Europe, where I was picking up English as a language, I’m finding the communication easier too. I’m having a good time overall.

And how are your teammates?

We’ve been very busy, between running for photo shoots and practicing for the TCL. The managers of Dark Passage are nice – However, the team had a big argument a few days ago. I hope that my teammates won’t run into more disagreements and that we can build a sense of synergy by the 20th of January – when the TCL starts.

What are some of the major differences that you’re experiencing between the LCK and the TCL?

In Korea, even from the very early age children are taught to be competitive. This mindset extends into esports where all the professional players strive to be number one, and nothing less While overseas, I noticed there is a work-life balance; people know how to stop to smell the flowers.

There are ups and downs to both environments, I’d say. As a competitive professional, Korea is a better environment to continue challenging yourself and develop a sense of professionalism. But as a human being enjoying his life, the Western world offers a better lifestyle.

“Out of the new Korean players in TCL, I’ll be watching out for Malrang from Royal Bandits – He is a young player.”

TCL saw a huge influx of Korean players this season. As we speak there are 14 registered Korean players playing in the TCL for the Winter split.

Wow, so many!

What is your personal opinion on the sudden demand for Korean players in TCL?

It has happened because of the man who conquered Turkey and took his team to victory – Frozen. I guess he made a lasting impression of the TCL and influenced how TCL sees LCK players. Also, I think the Turks see Koreans in a good light, in general.

Are there any Korean players that you are personally watching out for this split? Frozen, GBM, SnowFlower – there are a few well-known names.

This split, I’ll be watching out for Marlang from Royal Bandits. For the other players from Korea, I’ve played against them back in Korea or in some international matches, and I have some data about them. Compared to this, this will be the first time I’ll be playing against Malrang. I am not familiar with his playstyle and he’s a young player therefore likely to be more aggressive. I’d be wary of him.

Do Korean players in TCL keep in touch with each other?

Frozen actually made a group chat between the Korean players – where the Korean pros could share information about life in Turkey; recommending the best Turkish restaurants, or asking how to order a burger in a Turkish shop…(Laughs).

Lucete and MorNinG also joined your team…

Our coach, MorNinG, and mid, Lucete, are also Korean. They arrived in Turkey on the same plane as me from Korea.

It’ll be an interesting in-game situation as 3 of the players on your team are Turkish and 2 of the players and the coach are Korean. How are you guys finding the communication between the team?

Most of the communication is handled in English. But because our Top laner, ADC and Support are Turkish, sometimes Turkish comes out among themselves. Meanwhile, me and Lucete, the Mid laner, sometimes speak Korean to each other in clutch moments. I’d say as a team, we speak around 10% Turkish, 10% Korean and 80% English.

Tell us more about Lucete.

He came directly from the Korean Challengers league – from APK Prince. We are facing some communication problems as a team because Lucete’s English isn’t too good at the moment. I often find myself translating what Lucete is saying to my teammates, or what my teammates are saying back to Lucete; but I was like that when I first arrived in Misfits, too.

“People still remember me by my KT days…despite feeling like it’s a burden, I’m glad that I made a Lasting impressions to the World”

KaKAO during his KT days, where he first made his name as one of the most inspirational junglers in the world. Photo from OGN Global

Let’s talk about KT. A lot of people remember you from the KT days, and the stellar performance you showed during that time, on champions like Lee Sin, Nocturne and more. You are still the only jungler to have won LCK split MVP.

It’s…actually a burden. (Laughs) We’ve now arrived in the year 2018, if you count the years it’s been 4 years since I’ve played in KT; it’s such a long time ago! But I do understand that my plays at that time have been memorable.

Despite feeling like a burden, I’m glad that I made a lasting impressions to the world back then – even now, it opens doors for me. People still say, “That’s him, KaKAO, who once devoured the LCK scene single-handedly.” These old legacy still impact how people see me now, and help me start conversations with organizations when looking for a new team.

You were also known for your sweet, outgoing personality in the OGN streams. When we announced that we will be doing an interview with you, many Western fans made a reference about “KaKAO Food Gank”, an OGN video series of you visiting Samsung and SKT team houses for lunch.

(Laughs) That was such a long time ago! Is it that you’ve run out of questions for me? Don’t try to sweet-talk it. (Laughs)

I can talk about it though. After I did a food gank in the Samsung Blue team house, we proceeded to film in the SKT team house. The filming crew were unpacking, and then Faker looked at us dumbfounded, saying “Why is he even here?”. I guess Faker didn’t know we were coming to film. Yeah, that’s the end of the story. I guess this interview will be a success because I talked about Faker, the most well-known player?

Any thoughts on starting streaming or booting up your social media again?

I have a very “Can’t be bothered” personality. When I’m on my computer, I just play games or surf the net. It’s not like me to make an effort and to write a post on social media. But…these days, I see other players interacting with their fans on Twitter and that looks pretty fun, so maybe I should get into Twitter.

With streaming…well, what if no one watches my stream? (Laughs)

People definitely will!

After your time in KT, you went to China. Your first stop was Invictus Gaming, where you qualified for Worlds for the very first time. From Invictus then you transferred to Wan Yu, an LSPL team that went through a difficult time bouncing between 2nd league and 3rd league in China.

I do have a bit of regret about my performance and Invictus’ final position at Worlds. For any competition, unless you come in 1st place, you walk away with regrets.

But I felt achieved to have taken a Chinese team to Worlds. I showed some good performances at the end of the split and carried my team to a placement Worlds – in a situation that no one had expected.

With my time in Wan Yu, how could I put this…(Thinks) My time in Wan Yu was almost like playing with friends in a PC Bang. I could not sense any professionalism from my teammates, and the management wasn’t too good either. It led to a point where I started to think: “What am I doing there? This team has no hope”. It was depressing.

KaKAO in Misfits Gaming uniform, where he played for a split alongside Alphari, PowerOfEvil, Hans Sama and Ignar.

“Misfits…Our team had half of Europe’s accents being spoken, and all while I was just starting out on English.”

On 2017, you went on to play in EU for Misfits.

I enjoyed my time there and I personally think that I had adjusted well with the team but I think I was dropped from the Summer roster because of my communication skills. Misfits is a team that has a heavy focus on strategy and teamwork. Amidst all of this, communication turned out to be a huge barrier – I’m not saying my English is good now (Laughs) but my English was even worse at that time. I wouldn’t be able to understand even simple cues like the top calling MIA.

While we are at the subject of English, the accents of my teammates played a part in this. Alphari spoke in an English accent, it was so hard to understand him. The mid laner was German…and the ADC is French! Our team had half of Europe’s accents being spoken, and all the while, I was just starting out in English. It was so hard.

So the rumors that you quit Misfits for NA money is not true.

Well, I was getting paid a lot in Misfits too…

After they took in Maxlore as their new jungler, Misfits went on into the Semi-finals in 2017 World Championships, taking the world’s spotlight. How did you feel about their performance, watching from home?

I felt jealous. (Laughs). Ah, they swapped me out just to perform so well? I was initially a bit jealous watching my ex-teammates performing without me. Yet ultimately I was happy to see my old team and teammates do well on the international stage.

“No matter where you go – the ultimate goal is to win the league you are in.”

Now we’ve come full circle. You’re making a fresh start at Dark Passage in yet another region. Any goals for this year?

Some Dark Passage teammates got into a big argument recently. I really wish that we can overcome our disagreements and build ourselves an environment where we can all focus on the game. If our team manages to establish such a mind-set, I think Dark Passage will easily see itself into Playoffs.

No matter where you go, the ultimate goal is to win the league you are in. But even if our team does not win TCL immediately, my goal for this split would be for Dark Passage to lay foundations towards being a successful team in Summer split.

I do think that the Summer split is more important than the Spring split; if you look at it from the perspective of the whole year. When the Summer champion lifts the cup, the Spring champion is already forgotten. But don’t make it sound like I’m not interested in performing in the Spring split! Even during the Spring split, it would be really good to get a high position in the league.

TCL will begin soon – On the 20th of January. Any surprise picks that we might see in the jungle, even though they might not be meta?

I really want to play Ezreal jungle even though he is out of meta. He looks so fun to play with, and I never got a chance to have a competitive match with him during the time that he was a valid pick. His Arcane Shift allows you to go over walls and it allows or creative ganking routes and counter-jungling paths, especially in the early game.

Good luck with your upcoming matches! Any last words to your fans; both old and new?

Dear Korean fans – Will there be any fans left that are still cheering for me in Korea? (Laughs) My fans from my LCK days, my fans from my short time in Europe, thank you for still remembering me.

Dear Turkish fans, thank you for welcoming me. I’m looking forward to this upcoming season and I’ll be looking to take Dark Passage towards victory. Fighting!

Special thanks to Ekin Odacıoğlu who organized this interview, and Toru and AJ’s Angels who have helped out in editing the final article.

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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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