Many times I think about players’ legacies. League of Legends is rich in its competitive history, so many unique personalities shaping the scene we see today. Having been years since I last saw him play, the legacy of Jang "Woong" Gun-woong is one I continue to contemplate.
Someone that has done everything to be revered as a founder of Korean LoL is often remembered as a joke. A fraud. A mediocre AD carry with too flexible of a neck. What’s so troubling about Woong’s legacy is his faults have never appeared essential to his success, his image completely tarnished by a few mistakes.
Woong’s career in esports began at the age of 18, playing games like DotA and Chaos, before switching to League of Legends. Before the existence of a server in South Korea, Woong was one of the few high-ranked Korean players on the North American servers.
A toplane savant with renowned Jarvan IV and Garen skills, Woong stood as one of the strongest online players, holding multiple top twenty-five ranked accounts on the server’s ladder. Still in the very early days of competition, tournaments were almost non-existent. The trail blazer he was, Woong would have his first bout with esports.
In 2011, the World Cyber Games were actually a pretty big deal - one of the only major competitions for League of Legends. In fact, WCG 2011 stood as the first major offline tournament in Korea, most teams forming mere months prior to qualifiers. One of the teams formed was l지존x어둠l (|UltimatexDarkness|), a group of friends from the Korean community DCInside. The team consisted of RingTroll, MadLife, Rapidstar, Dun1007, and of course, Woong.
Although initially formed as a casual group of buddies, relations quickly soured. RingTroll was kicked off the team for apparently participating in a practice game with their competitor, Extreme Dive Gaming (EDG). This would mark the first call to question Woong’s character. No proof was shown of this accusation, and further criticism was thrown towards Woong after the leak of private chat logs, showing his intent to replace RingTroll with Locodoco. Condemnation continued after Woong’s claims of apologizing to RingTroll, something the latter vehemently denied happening. Woong later apologized truly, right before retiring.
Currently in esports, replacing players to shape the best roster possible is commonplace. Even the closest of friends must sometimes be separated for an organization to prosper. Business is business. There was nothing wrong with Woong benching RingTroll for a better player, it’s just unfortunate he wasn’t open about his intentions.
Stating publicly he didn’t get along with RingTroll and preferred Locodoco may have received backlash given how tight-knit the community was back then. Defaming RingTroll was not the right course, however - something apparent from Woong’s apology.
Although Woong’s team eventually lost the finals to EDG, a dynasty was taking shape.
After adding Locodoco and rebranding as Maximum Impact Gaming (MiG), Woong was ready to take over the game.
Many key advancements in LoL’s history happened in late 2011. One development was the team adding jungler and future caster CloudTemplar. A frequenter of Woong’s PC bang, on paper the jungler was nothing special. A player too high in age and too low of elo, CloudTemplar didn’t look to be the most exciting of prospects. For whatever reason, Woong saw promise in him, and added him to the team.
With that, Woong fostered the career of one of Korea’s most beloved casters. A personality with copious amounts of game knowledge and wit, CloudTemplar is a gem for viewers. Maybe he’d have joined another team and followed the same career path, but I’d say it’s probable Woong helped jumpstart one of Korea’s best commentators.
The other major change Woong made was moving the team into a gaming house. Without any sponsorship or tournament wins, the move would be difficult. Woong clearly saw the success of such environments in StarCraft, and secured funding from his father’s construction company.
In essence a few empty rooms in the company’s offices, MiG’s living conditions were less than luxurious. Better put, they were appalling. The gaming house had very few amenities, and with the size being roughly half that of a standard Korean apartment, the training grounds of a juggernaut was akin to a clown car. Given how developed gaming houses and esports facilities are currently, it’s impressive what Woong and other early players were willing to endure to gain the strongest edge.
“Frost in later slightly larger facilities”
Another competitive advantage sought by Woong was the formation of a second team for practice partners, a move quite unusual at the time. The result would be Woong’s team becoming MiG Ice, their sister team named MiG Fire. Eventually, the teams donned the more famous Frost and Blaze monikers.
Up until January 2012, MiG Frost had failed to gain a major win. That month, they had the opportunity to compete in the OnGameNet Invitational. With fierce opponents and a packed crowd, the tournament stood as Woong’s original proving ground. The tournament included EDG, the Chinese team World Elite (WE), and arguably the best team in the world, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG).
Although prospects looked bright as they won their match against EDG, through the round robin they quickly found themselves in a nightmare situation. Their only chance of advancing to the finals was to win their match against CLG.
CLG was already set for the finals, so it was clear from the draft phase they weren’t taking the game seriously, running a very unorthodox composition. Woong’s team won the game, advancing to the finals, this time against a CLG playing seriously.
MiG Frost, however, played seriously too. With an exceptional macro game and a standout performance from MadLife, they won the finals 2-0. The best team in the world was beaten three games in a row. More surprisingly, they were beaten by an unsponsored group of no-name Koreans living in a gaming house slightly bigger than a bathroom. I would argue it marked the beginning of Korea’s dominance for years to come.
From there MiG Frost competed in the first major Korean tournament, Champions Spring 2012. The tournament featured not only CLG, but also Fnatic, and the entirety of talented Korean teams. Frost entered expecting to win the tournament, only to be swept by their red-hot brothers in Blaze. Although placing second was surely not a meltdown, Frost was disappointed in the performance, one leading Locodoco to leave the roster.
Despite being one of the best top laners in the world, Woong made the unusual choice of swapping positions to AD carry, making room for the tenderfoot rookie Shy. With their roster set and a sponsorship from Azubu, it was time for Frost to compete in Champions Summer 2012. With their captain adjusting to a new position, a top laner with little experience, and the most competitive Korean tournament yet, Woong’s chances of victory appeared dubious.
Through the tournament’s progression, all the decisions made by Frost started to work. Shy quickly came into his own as not just a great top laner, but the best in the world. Woong proved to be a serviceable AD carry, albeit unusual in builds and playstyle, but a smart one with great Support synergy. Finally, Frost as a whole showed their best teamwork yet, showing seemingly telepathic communication and unbreakable will.
After strong play throughout the tournament up to the semifinals, where they had a close show with Azubu Blaze, they would meet CLG Europe in the finals. Led by the best player in the world, Froggen, the European squad quickly snatched the first two games. Again showing their uncompromising resolve, Frost pulled off the classic reverse-sweep, winning the OGN title and booking their tickets to the Season 2 World Championships. As the best Korean team and one of the favorites to win the tournament, Woong had the chance to cement his status as a legend, both within his country and throughout the world. However, Woong would not play his cards right.
Azubu Frost came into the Season 2 World Championships in dominating fashion. The meta highly suited their playstyle, and their teamwork appeared as fine-tuned as ever. Woong’s team made quick work of the group stage, advancing to the quarterfinals against the North American starlets, Team SoloMid. Here Woong would solidify his reputation as a villain.
Although TSM were easily one of the strongest teams in the world, Azubu Frost made relatively quick work of them, taking the series 2-0. A strong victory was not what was remembered, however. During one of the games, due to audio issues with Frost’s headsets, a pause occurred. It was reported by TSM that Woong looked at the minimap screen during the pause, potentially gaining an unfair advantage at Level 1. After Riot investigated, they determined Woong did receive an unfair advantage, fining him $30,000.
“What ever happened to Mr. Pillow?”
Such a blow would be rough for any person to take, but an even fiercer beast would come in the form of community backlash. Azubu Frost did their best to show their victory over TSM was in no way fraudulent - again beating CLG.eu and putting up a decent fight in the finals against the victorious Taipei Assassins.
The damage was done, however. Fans all over the world would label Woong as a cheater. Nothing more than a deadweight player who’s only contributions were gained through cheating. Upon returning home, Woong was greeted by an equally hostile community. Korean fans viewed Woong as dishonorable, League of Legends’ answer to Ma "sAviOr" Jae Yoon. Shortly after Worlds, he couldn’t even go in public without fans asking him why he cheated. It got to the point that Woong started seeing a psychiatrist to deal with the stress.
What’s so troubling about this situation, is it really didn’t have to happen. For one thing, it was incredibly incompetent on Riot’s part that such an exploit was even possible. Similar incidents occurred two separate times by players Zz1tai and Stanley, so it was clearly an issue Riot should have been paying attention to. This also shows Woong most likely had no premeditated notions of cheating. It’s far more probable he simply looked around during the pause, something many other players did during the tournament, including TSM’s own Dyrus.
What’s even more unfortunate is that Azubu Frost were favorites to win anyway. Even if TSM gained an early first blood or buff advantage, Frost were highly touted for their skill in playing from behind and winning in the late game. It’s also telling that TSM had tremendous problems playing Azubu Blaze and CLG.eu, teams Woong consistently won sets against. Considering TSM’s track record against teams of Frost’s caliber, it’s very hard seeing them winning the set. The public jury’s verdict was reached, however, and Woong was found guilty.
What’s impressive is what Woong accomplished afterwards. Many times harsh public opinion can act as an inhibitor to success. Despite this, the Korean outcast would continue to cast a shadow that would impact the game forever. For the Winter iteration of Champions, Frost continued to show itself as a juggernaut. The team would return for a third time to the finals, losing to NaJin Sword in what was MakNooN’s magnum opus performance. Frost would compete solidly in IEM Katowice 2013 and IEM World Championships 2013, but the tournament would mark the end of Woong’s career at the highest level. As he would later say “I just couldn’t bear it anymore so I had to run away.”
Woong moved on to helping form and coaching two amateur teams, MiG Wicked and MiG Blitz. The latter qualified for OGN Summer 2013, performing as expected as far as amateur teams go. The most notable thing about MiG Blitz was its mid-laner, Wonseok, otherwise known as PawN. Although the revival of MiG didn’t leave a major imprint on the scene, it acted as a launchpad for one of the game’s most successful players. In fact, one that I would argue was better than any player on Woong’s original team.
After the stint in OGN, Woong reunited with Locodoco, along with several players from the MiG team, and traveled to the United States. There they hoped to compete in the NA LCS as Quantic Gaming. Although initially showing great success in Challenger-level tournaments, the team ultimately failed in qualifying for the LCS, disbanding shortly after. Although Woong’s attempts failed, I would argue it was the mark of a new era. Woong’s experiment with Quantic Gaming was the first serious attempt of Korean players searching for greener pastures in the west. Since then the addition of Koreans to North American rosters has been commonplace, right up to today.
After the failure of Quantic Gaming, Woong has mostly faded away from the spotlight. He’s coached for a few teams but hasn’t accomplished anything significant. All things told, what he has done is extraordinary.
Woong stands as arguably one of the most significant persons in League of Legends history. One of the first great top laners.
One of the founding fathers of the Korean competitive region.
One of the helping hands behind some of League’s favorite players and personalities.
One of the first Korean players to try to join the west.
And for quite some time, one of the first players to be actively disdained.
There’s no doubt Woong has made mistakes, ones he has apologized for and tried to grow from. However, for every wrongdoing, there are countless instances of Woong innovating and helping the scene mature. Some may agree, some may disagree, some may not even care. That’s fine. But if one of the early titans of the game is remembered for nothing more than being a cheater and a loser, it’d be a damn shame.
If you enjoyed this piece, please follow the author for more content on Twitter at @OddballCreator.
Photos courtesy of Gamespot/Inven