He has a confidence and self-assurance that few professional players match.
For those who watched Seraph come to America in 2014, making that kind of controversial and confident move seems out of character. When he joined Counter Logic Gaming as the first Korean player imported to America, he seemed mild-mannered. But now, he’s mature and confident—both in and out of the Summoner’s Rift.
Seraph started the year on Team Dragon Knights in the Challenger Series, but he got three games in as a mercenary for Team Impulse before getting traded to Renegades late in the season with long-time teammate Noh “Ninja” Geon-woo. He’s posted a ridiculous 24/7/39 KDA in seven games played, including a whopping 12/3/19 line in his last three games using Graves. Those three games include two of Renegades’ three wins on the season, and they almost included another win in a lengthy loss to Cloud9, where Renegades gave up a lead.
Against SoloMid, Renegades took control with the early lane swap and leveraged that advantage into a win, in large part due to Seraph’s ability to control the game with that champion.
“Well, I think they try to counter pick verse me, but I don’t understand!” Seraph says with a laugh when I ask him when they’ll take away his graves. “Graves is broken! I actually don’t understand why they don’t ban it!”
It was a convincing victory, one that makes it possible to believe something Seraph told Yahoo journalist Travis Gafford on Sunday: Renegades are a top two team in the LCS right now.
That’s similar to what he told me about the win against playoff hopefuls Team SoloMid.
“Maybe it’s just my thinking, but I knew we were going to crush TSM today,” he told me. With a week off for IEM and a new invigorated lineup, the team put in extra practice with three scrim blocks every day. The result is just “payback” for putting in the working, Seraph says.
That’s the kind of bravado you wouldn’t expect from the youngster that stepped off the plane into America two years ago. He has a confidence and self-assurance that few professional players match, despite the struggles of his teams in the LCS over the past two years.
“That was two years ago. I was kid! Just kid,” Seraph explains. “My mindset was real bad at the time. I just frustrating, just losing. I frustrating to losing, and I didn’t see the after things. Now, even though I losing, I’m not upset. I just focus on what was the wrong and figure out the wrong thing, try to fix the problem. I just focus on improving now.”
Being a pro player has to be draining when your team isn’t seeing success, and Seraph is intimately familiar with losing. After failing to qualify for Worlds in his rookie season with Counter Logic, Seraph ended up with the Dragon Knights, who put up one of the worst seasons in LCS history with a 3-15 record in the Summer. But after his time on CLG, Seraph now knows how to build off those losses, and it’s helped him become a more complete player.
He’s learned to be more vocal, becoming a bit of a shot caller for the team. On the Dragon Knights, Ninja was the primary caller with Seraph acting as sub shot caller next to him. But Ninja never learned English because the the Knight’s lineups featured mostly Korean-speaking players. That’s left Seraph feeling like he has to take more responsibility with calls, interfacing between his Korean and English-speaking teammates. Not only is he taking control of teleport plays and calling them for the team, as well as interfacing with Ninja, he’s “drawing the big picture” for the team, as he puts it. So far, it’s working well.
“I think this experience is really good for me because I can see more correctly the game,” Seraph says. “It’s going to be more clear in competitive game, too. It’s really good for me.”
The communication so far has not been an issue. The team seems to have figured out a system that works, showing great chemistry in making plays across the map.
“I knew we were going to crush TSM today.”
“The synergy between him and Ninja, especially when they have double teleports, is really something else,” the team’s jungler, Alberto “Crumbzzz” Rengifo, told me. “They always try to coordinate to have the solo lanes help each other out via pressure, via ganks, all that stuff.”
Part of that may just be Seraph’s ability to work with a team. Austin “Gate” Yu, who played a game with Seraph earlier this season, told me he was impressed by Seraph’s ability to communicate and get his teammates to play off of the plays he wanted to make, even while playing for a completely new team, with no days of practice.
That doesn’t sound like the player who haunted Counter Logic’s top lane in 2014, a listless laner who lacked synergy with his jungler in and out of game. But as Seraph says, he was a kid then, and he’s learned quite a bit in his time in America.
While Seraph still favors the carry champions he was famed for when he first came across the pond—known at that time as a Nidalee main but since becoming feared for other carries like Lissandra, and most recently, of course, the Graves—he now understands how to play the tanks Counter Logic put him on.
“For team, I can sacrifice,” he says. “When I was in CLG, I always play tank champions for sacrificing for the team. But at the time, they didn’t explain why you have to play this, why you have to play safety or sacrificing. So I didn’t understanding. I didn’t play well. But now I know why. I know I can play sacrifice for the team, and I realize it. So it doesn’t matter if I play tank champions.”
In the current tank-heavy meta, we might see more of what should get Graves finally get banned out in the final week when Renegades takes on Team Impulse and Echo Fox. That’s just fine for the team, Seraph says; when he’s on Graves, star AD carry Aleš “Freeze” Kněžínek has to sacrifice farm for him. But next time, it will be Kněžínek’s chance to shine.
And while Renegades is already guaranteed to play in the relegation tournament, those final two matches still mean a lot to the team, or at least, its players.
“I just focus on improving now.”
Two weeks ago, Renegades and Challenger Series hopefuls Team Dragon Knights become intertwined, with Seraph and Ninja coming to Renegades in exchange for their mid laner Alex Ichetovkin and two top laners. Renegades is already locked in to relegation, where they could potentially face the Dragon Knights in a series to decide which team loses their chance at playing in the LCS.
In other words, if Renegades finishes in last, where they currently sit, they’ll open relegations with a battle pitting former teammates against each other.
“Yes. It suuuuck,” Seraph says, drawing out the word for emphasis. “It’s painful.But, that is that. When I face to them, if I face TDK, no matter what I will play 100 percent try hard, because it’s just enemy. I just do my job.”
Seraph says he enjoys Renegades. He was worried when he came to a last place team, but the synergy he and Ninja had with their jungler Crumbzz, and the talent of the team as a whole, surprised him. The transition was “easy,” he says, especially with the extra week of practice thanks to IEM. They’ve been producing results and looking like a team that’s far better than their current place in the standings. But Seraph and Ninja still miss their former teammates. They often take the 15 minute drive to visit the Dragon Knights house when they have time.
“Sometimes I miss Ohq and Kez and Bischu, our TDK manager, but it’s okay,” Seraph says. He never expected to leave the Dragon Knights, an organization he told me was the perfect place for him earlier this season. But that’s life as a pro gamer. And he’s making the best of his current situation.
“Even if we have to go to relegation even though we win all games, this is our job, so,” Seraph says. “Even though I know we have to go to relegation, I have to play 100 percent really hard every single game, because we are pro gamers. It doesn’t matter.”
That is, perhaps, the biggest change for Seraph since coming to America. He’s not a young kid moving to a new country chasing an ephemeral pro gaming dream. He now knows exactly what it means to be a pro gamer and all the harsh realities that come with it. So whether that means he has to crush the dreams of his friends and former teammates, adjust to a new environment, take over more shot calling, play supportive tanks, or even make a post-match statement by denying a handshake, he’s ready to do it with confidence.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr (All rights reserved, used with permission)