LCK fourth seed DRX has had to fight tooth and nail for its place in the League of Legends Worlds 2022 Group Stage. A disappointing end to the spring, compounded by a Quarterfinals exit in the Summer Playoffs left the team in need of a mini miracle run in the Regional Finals.
However, DRX’s mettle moved mountains when it mattered most, and back-to-back best-of-five victories against KT Rolster and Liiv SANDBOX secured the team’s place in the Worlds Play-Ins Stage. Having cleaved through the Play-Ins with a clean 5-0 record, and claimed victory over Chinese second seed Top Esports once in the Group Stage so far, DRX is showing up in a big way on the world stage.
Leading DRX’s charge from behind the scenes is head coach Kim ‘Ssong’ Sang-soo, who is no stranger to the New York crowd. After constituting part of the ROX Tigers’ coaching staff when it fell to SKT T1 (now T1) at the Worlds 2016 Semifinals, coach Ssong has had a long journey back to Madison Square Garden.
Having spent three years in North America – peaking with a brief Worlds 2017 run with Immortals – between then and now, coach Ssong’s approach to his craft is informed by experiences drawn from both the east and the west, giving him a unique perspective.
During an interview with The Loadout, conducted following the victory over GAM Esports, coach Ssong opens up about the culture he has worked to cultivate since taking up the mantle of head coach in February, divulges learnings from his own coaching journey, and offers his take on where he feels North America as a region is right now.
The Loadout: Coach Ssong thank you so much for joining me, and congratulations on today’s victory. I just want to start by asking for your thoughts on how you feel the team has performed so far at the end of the first round-robin.
Coach Ssong: I feel like my team has been performing better. If you think about a graph, it’s like a line that’s going up so I have a very good feeling about that, and I believe we will be able to show even better performances in the future as well.
That’s what I like to hear. What do you feel have been the biggest factors which have contributed to this upward trajectory for the team?
So we started from the Play-Ins in Mexico, and from there we went through a lot of altitude sickness, and a lot of trouble with our player conditions and just getting used to the schedule.
Just having that period of time to get adjusted to that, and having more of a buffer has actually had a really positive effect on us. And in terms of trying to figure out the meta and analyse everything regarding the team, I definitely think it had a huge influence on our upward trend.
I feel like DRX’s upward trend started even before Worlds. You had a really tough battle to get here – from Playoffs, to the Regional Finals – which to me shows the team possesses a real tenacity about it. What can you say about the character of this group of players that you’re in charge of?
As you mentioned, we had a tough battle to get here, so it was a challenging journey. And to even get out of the regional qualifiers, I knew I had to create an environment where everyone has more faith in each other, and we have to be a team that is more disciplined. So we had a lot of different conversations, and there was a lot of feedback within the team – between the players as well.
I think that was probably the starting point of us building more trust with each other, and we were thankfully able to pass the regional qualifiers and now we’re here at the World Championship.
From all that experience, from all that trust building and tenacity like you mentioned, I think we’re now at a point where, despite losing maybe one or two matches, we will not falter, and we will continue to have a good mentality.
You’ve also shown great tenacity yourself. You’re back in New York, at Worlds, for the first time since you were with ROX Tigers in 2016. And you’ve definitely come a long way to make it back here. So in that time between 2016 and 2022, where do you feel that you’ve developed and evolved the most, both as a coach and as a person?
Between 2016 and 2022 there were a lot of things that happened that I went through, and I have been a part of many different teams. Through being a part of them, I was able to meet a lot of really good, talented players. And that made me really think about what kind of thought process a player might have, what sorts of decisions that I have to make to coalesce with the player to create the best result, and what kind of approach I have to make in terms of discussing feedback with the team.
So throughout these experiences, I was able to come up with how to best synergise within a team, and that’s just something that I’ve constantly thought about. I think I now know how I have to make decisions, be it to lead the team to victory, or just for the [sake of] the team. This is one of the things that I have evolved and developed as a coach, and it’s something I’m very confident in. I’ve definitely become a much more responsible person as well.
Having spent three of those interim years in North America, I would just like to get your thoughts on the state of the region right now.
So yeah, NA has not been performing very well this year, but I do believe that it’s heading in the right direction in terms of development. We are currently seeing a lot of rookies that are performing at a high level in the LCS, and it [the region] has come up with Champions Queue where they can compete against each other.
I definitely think they have an idea of what direction they want to go in, and I hope this is just one of the processes to increase the player base as well. In terms of game-related things like teamfighting and macro, I do think NA lacks in that sense. But it’s something that it can definitely improve upon if it takes the time to fix its problems, and shape itself into a better region.
Coach Ssong’s DRX will continue its fight to make it into the LoL Worlds Knockout Stage when it takes on Rogue on October 15.