For some teams, the KeSPA Cup is but an afterthought to a long and hard-fought season. But for KT Rolster, it's a last chance at glory this year, however pale it may be compared to all that has slipped through the team's hands.
On Tuesday, KT secured its spot in the semifinals after taking a surprisingly tough series against Ever8 Winners. Mid laner Heo "Pawn" Won-seok was not pleased with his team's poor showing in Game 1, but he held on to his characteristic half-smile throughout his post-match interview.
KT, Pawn said, is the only top-4 team without a trophy this year. SK Telecom T1 won the League of Legends Champions Korea Spring Split and the Mid-Season Invitational; Longzhu Gaming won LCK in the summer Summer; and Samsung Galaxy won the League of Legends World Championship.
KT Rolster, meanwhile, has won absolutely nothing, not even a "shared" victory, since LCK hadn't taken home Rift Rivals.
"To us, the KeSPA Cup is of high importance," Pawn told ESPN. "We want to win something to end the year on a good note."
KT Rolster has recently made the decision to re-sign its entire starting roster, a star-studded lineup that failed to live up to its combined name value. A KeSPA Cup victory, though insignificant, would be a nice little celebration -- and much-needed validation -- for retaining the squad in full.
As many fans and experts had suspected, the reason behind 2017 KT's inconsistent teamwork and mid-to-late game shotcalling was due to there being too many captains and not enough crew. But Pawn said while the players had suffered from some internal issues, all the members still wanted to play together.
"Everyone agreed that it would be too much of a shame to just give up on this lineup," he said. "Many of our players used to be the in-game leader of the team they came from. I think that's why bringing them together caused some clashes, but we're starting to fix things now. When we all re-signed, the condition was that only one person will lead from now on, and the others will follow."
Did they play against Ever8 under the new shotcalling arrangement, then?
"Yes, but it's going to be a process," Pawn said. "Our first game left a lot to be desired, but our second game was perfect. We should continue to play like that going forward."
Pawn seemed optimistic about KT Rolster's chances in 2018, partly because KT Rolster has some yet-to-be-announced roster moves left. He said it was a secret who the team's acquisition, or acquisitions, would be -- he didn't even specify whether it would be a coach or a player -- but he believed that the new personnel would bring about a positive change in the team atmosphere.
The mid laner has also focused on bringing good vibes, even when watching from the sidelines.
During this year's Worlds, Pawn made waves in the Korean community by watching some games with stream viewers and offering detailed, humorous commentary. It's rare for top Korean pros to share that much game knowledge in public, let alone in such accessible fashion, so the fans were delighted.
Pawn recalled that he started to stream his live analysis just for fun. But while he enjoyed the communal viewing experience, he also discovered that talking about Worlds games from home just didn't feel right. He felt a painful longing for the stage.
"I realized that it was the first time since 2014 that I hadn't made it to Worlds," he said. "I really want to make Worlds next year and add new achievements to my career.
"Next year, we're determined to win not one, but several, trophies."