On July 27, 2015, Team Dragon Knights took to the Rift against Gravity Gaming and pulled out a win. But with a 3-15 record on the season, the team finished last place, and was automatically relegated.
On Saturday, Shin played his first match on the LCS stage in nearly five months and showed why he still deserves to be there. On loan to Team Impulse, he played a game no one expected him to win against LCS stalwarts Cloud9—and then carried the team to victory.
When Shin saw Cloud9’s team composition, which featured two AD carries, Shen, Trundle, and Nidalee, he knew exactly what to pick.
“It looks like really good comp, but they have no CC,” Shin says. “Lissandra can pick their two carries really easily and also Nidalee is really squishy, so I just can explode everyone. That’s why I picked Lissandra.”
It worked perfectly. He posted a 3/0/9 KDA with the champion, using well-timed teleports and flanks to create the fights that brough Team Impulse a surprising victory.
Even as a veteran with 46 regular season LCS games under his belt, Shin was nervous heading into the match after so much time away from the big stage. But when Team Impulse needed a loan, he was happy to showcase his talents in front of a big crowd once again.
“I think it’s really good experience for me,” he tells me after the match. “And I actually didn’t expect we won the game super fast, because we didn’t practice any games. I’m really happy today.”
Shin brings a translator with him, but speaks in English for the entire interview. Perhaps that’s not surprising for a player who has spent over a year and a half in the country—he was imported by Counter Logic Gaming ahead of the 2014 Spring Season as the first Korean player to enter the LCS. At that time, Shin seemed sometimes crushed by the pressure of being Korea’s first import, playing for one of America’s most demanding franchises and fanbases. Now, he’s more relaxed, happy he’s still playing in America and happy he’s competing in League of Legends.
In many ways, that’s thanks to Team Dragon Knights. “I really love my team, and I think everything is perfect for me,” he said.
The Korean player seemed to struggle fitting into Counter Logic Gaming when he first came to America, failing to build working relationships with four teammates who already weren’t close with each other. Shin says he was certainly at fault, too. But as an outsider with a different culture, it was even more difficult for him to become part of the group.
On the Dragon Knights, he’s right at home. That’s in part because the team features five players and a coach who speak Korean.
“Best thing is, we can share every matter for each other, so we can be more close,” he said. “I think that’s the most true, important thing for our team. The bad thing is, I don’t use English anymore, so maybe my English skills stop right here. That’s pretty sad.”
Of course, this weekend he had a chance to use them. Impulse featured an English speaking lineup, and Shin managed to interface well with them, engaging fights with his team following up.
“It’s a little bit fresh for me,” he said. The last time he played in LCS, the Dragon Knights featured a lineup with four Korean speakers and Andy “Smoothie” Ta, who only spoke English. This weekend, he had to speak “100 percent” in English, “so I imagined like one years ago when I played on CLG. It was really fun, todays game.”
Shin showed that he’s still certainly LCS caliber, and fans expect Team Dragon Knights to show they are as a team during the upcoming Challenger Series. The squad got relegated in the Spring in large parts due to visa issues grounding two star imports, Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo and Kim “Emperor” Jin-hyun, who is winning games in the EU LCS this season on G2 eSports. By the time the two players got into the lineup, the Dragon Knights had dug themselves into an insurmountable 0-8 hole.
This season, the Dragon Knights managed to bring in an even bigger name import, Oh “Ohq” Gyu-min. The talented AD carry played for NaJin e-mFire last year and entered the offseason as one of the hottest free agents, a player many feel could emerge as the top player at his position worldwide in the right situation. Most were surprised when he signed with a Challenger squad like the Dragon Knights, but in many ways it’s a unique opportunity for a player like Ohq.
“I think one of the best reasons why Ohq joined us is because even TDK is foreigner team, but is not actually foreigner team for us, so maybe Ohq loved it,” Shin says. For a Korean player who wants to experience a foreign country, going to a team with other Korean players and natives who speak Korean has to be more comforting than jumping into a foreign environment like Shin did with Counter Logic Gaming. Plus, Shin says, he and the team’s new coach were close with Ohq.
That pickup easily gives the Dragon Knights the scariest roster in the Challenger Series, a team many expect as a shoe-in to qualify for the LCS next season. The obvious team they may displace is, of course, Team Impulse, but Shin isn’t so sure after playing a game with them.
“I actually think, before I played the game, to be honest, Impulse was like 0-2, so, yeah,” Shin is almost ashamed to say, “I thought they were bad, compared to the other teams. But in their game, I just completely changed my mind. They are actually really good, and after Pirean and Procxin are coming to them, they can go far.”
Impulse debuted two imported players of their own, jungler Kim “Procxin” Se-young and mid laner Choi “Pirean” Jun-sik, against Renegades on Sunday. The two stepped off a plane from Korea late Saturday night and were thrown into the fire—and pulled off the win. Impulse may not be as hapless as many expect. That’ll make it even tougher for the Dragon Knights to win their LCS spot, but he’s still confident in his team and organization. They’re going to take it one game at a time.
“Everyone expected we dominate in Challenger Series, but we don’t expect it,” he said. Every team in Challenger, he says, has at least one strength that will make them difficult to beat. “So we keep trying hard 100 percent every game.”
But, he says, “We will win.”
The Dragon Knights only arrived in America a couple days ago, just in time for their first Challenger Series match against Enemy Esports on Wednesday. Shin says he’s happy to be back in America, a place that more and more feels like home. Part of that is the Dragon Knights organization. He says the ownership and management are very involved and create a “super good” environment for the team. He likes the new head coach, who he calls “really logical” and the most intelligent man on the team. And, of course, he likes the sunny California weather.
“I love NA too, because, I’m not hating Korea, but I really like NA for everything.” He laughs when he mentions the weather. “If you stay in Korea for two months, you can feel it’s terrible,” he says. “It’s super bad!”
Shin’s time in Counter Logic Gaming wasn’t what anyone hoped, but he hasn’t backed down from the challenge of competing in a foreign nation. In fact, he’s thrived. Games like Saturday’s, where he carried what was essentially a pickup team to victory against one of the game’s most storied franchises, show he still has the skills. And with the Dragon Knights gunning for an LCS spot, we likely haven’t seen the last of Shin on the big stage.