ggChronicle concludes our “Twelve Days of eSports” series with a comprehensive profile of NaJin Sword. Every day between now and the World Championships, we will release one article highlighting each of the teams going to Los Angeles. Don’t forget to check back daily for our new content, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Predictions swirl around the upcoming Season Two World Championship, as fans and pundits furiously debate which team will win. They examine the competitive history of each team, the stability of their rosters, and their dedication to training, all to scry the future. The majority of the squads in Los Angeles boast proud histories for fans to dissect, but NaJin Sword defies this trend. They began a few short months ago and surprised analysts by taking third in their first major tournament, The Champions Summer.
NaJin Sword arose late in Season Two, overcoming the challenge of their recent formation to win an unexpected slot at the World Championship. Built around the League of Legends superstar MakNooN, the team originated at the end of May, 2012. Initially, many fans considered Sword inferior to their cohorts, NaJin Shield, but their performance at The Champions Summer far outstripped their brethren. The young buck of LoL eSports, NaJin Sword enters Los Angeles seeking to maintain their hot streak into autumn and to prove that their last four months were no fluke.
Many of the players on Sword are fresh faces, but one player stands out. Ha-Woon “MakNooN” Yoon — the captain, shot-caller, and Top Lane player — has walked a long and tough path to get his ticket to the Worlds. Beginning with his days alongside Yoon-Sub “Locodoco” Choi, MakNooN was the leader of team Extreme Dive Gaming (EDG) in 2011. It was EDG who would go on to represent Korea in the World Cyber Games 2011. Though not finishing on the podium, they acquired a sponsorship with an electronics company by the name of NaJin, changing the team’s name to NaJin e-mFire. Under that name, they had their share of victories, but eventually met defeat against MiG Frost (now Azubu Frost) in the Round of 8 during the spring season of OnGameNet’s (OGN) Azubu LoL The Champions. The match was intense and showcased both teams’ excellence, but the early exit from the tournament left a bitter taste for NaJin e-mFire.
The MakNooN Factor
“I’m only here today because of my teammates [on Sword]. Even when I suggest risky picks and strategies, the team always follows through. They’re patient with me, even if it fails at first, helping me improve.” – MakNooN
After the defeat to MiG Frost in his Round of 8 match, MakNooN was in a tough spot. Just as it brought him to the spotlight, his relentless aggression became his undoing. After the disappointing loss, many fans believed MakNooN was responsible for e-mFire’s loss. As he was being put under more pressure, he seemed to lose his concentration. Seeing this, the team decided that they needed a change, leaving MakNooN without a team.
Once a star on the main stage, the Top Lane player wasn’t sure where to look. It was eventually the generosity and trust of the NaJin corporation that would save MakNooN. They offered him a second chance, and asked him to build an all-star team that fit his ideal. To MakNooN, this was a proof of confidence in his play style. MakNooN went straight to work and began scouting for players in the Korean LoL server. One by one, he picked out players that would mesh with the captain’s level of aggression, and NaJin e-mFire Sword was born. The sister team was renamed to NaJin e-mFire Shield. At the same time, NaJin brought in former Starcraft: Brood War legend Jung-Suk “Reach” Park as the teams’ manager.
|Manager Reach meets with Team Captain MakNooN|
Unfortunately, Sword immediately lost two of its players, Min-Ki “Fimir” Cheon and Jun-Ho “MulrOc” Won due to personal reasons. MakNooN lost no time in finding replacements, recruiting another former Brood War player Jae-Gul “watch” Cho alongside Jong-In “PraY” Kim. Watch had some professional gaming experience, but only MakNooN was versed in LoL’s professional scene. This inexperience would handicap them when Sword began practicing, as they consistently lost to Shield.
MakNooN had picked out players eager for aggression, but the communication and synergy didn’t come naturally. Through rigorous practice, Sword began taking games off of Shield in a matter of a couple weeks. While Shield remained with the traditional passive gameplay, MakNooN was ready to prove to the world that Sword would slice through its opposition with unrivaled aggression.
NaJin Sword entered the summer season of The Champions as a new competitor. Their only public test so far had been the victory against amateur team Relieve in the qualifiers for OGN’s tournament. Sword was seeded into Group B, which featured some tough competition in the form of Azubu Frost and Team Dignitas. Sword gave dignitas a Korean welcome by defeating them with ease. Frost proved to be more of a challenge, stopping Sword’s streak despite wielding only two bans due to a rule-based penalty to their team. Thankfully for them, Sword experienced no trouble when matched against the amateur team RoMG, progressing past the group stage with a 2-1 record.
In the Round of 8, Sword met Startale which had the recent addition of Locodoco after the spring season. To some surprise, Sword crushed Startale 2-0, continuing up the bracket to the semi-finals. Counter Logic Gaming EU (CLG.EU) was also steamrolling through the Korean tournament, despite strenuous travel schedules in and out of the country. Some fans held hope that Sword might be able to stop the momentum of CLG.EU, but were disappointed when NaJin Sword lost the series 3-1. With their loss, the guaranteed ticket to the World Championship Playoffs was gone.
Sword prepared diligently for the 3rd place match, taking the audience by surprise as they beat former champions Azubu Blaze. With the strong finish, Sword acquired enough circuit points to be placed fourth in the Korean circuit, entering them in the Korean Finals. Much skepticism floated about the team succeeding with their aggressive strategies. The team’s youth was also a factor, and many assumed that either Azubu Blaze or Xenics Storm would take the last spot at the World Championship Playoffs.
After LG-IM shocked the world in a relatively quick victory over CJ Entus in the 5th place match, they faced NaJin Sword. As they faced off, some fans began to feel that insecure in Sword’s capacity to win. MakNooN crushed all doubts in game 3, when he used AP Rengar to slaughter opponents. They won 3-1, and met no opposition from Xenics Storm. NaJin Sword was finally one step away from the World Championship Playoffs.
|Top 5 Plays from NaJin Sword vs. Azubu Blaze|
Despite the good showing from Sword, spectators could not ignore Blaze’s track record. In the final series of the Season Two Korean Finals, Blaze showed an initial weakness, recovering the lead in games 2 and 3 with some brilliant plays. Sword was not ready to give up, bringing the match to the tie-breaker blind pick game. PraY crushed with his Ezreal play, helping his team defeat Blaze and taste a sweet victory.
On the Offensive
A quick look at major LoL matches will show how important aggression is. When Moscow 5 (M5) played Team SoloMid (TSM) at the Intel Extreme Masters in Kiev, M5 presented a level of aggression never seen before to the North American team. While TSM was a team highlighted for its aggressive play in the NA realm, they could not keep up. Over this past summer, a similar incident occurred when Azubu Blaze traveled to the Major League Gaming’s LoL Summer Arena and battled TSM. Although known in the past for their ability to snowball objectives and pressure teamfights, they crumbled once again against the immense lane pressure Azubu Blaze exerted.
It’s clear that aggression is the key to destabilizing opponents: Sword took down the aggressive Blaze twice in major events. It brings an element of surprise which is more unpredictable than preparing against a certain team composition or a certain champion. Relentless pressure can come in different forms, while research can only take a team so far. As during his time on EDG/NaJin Shield, MakNooN is not afraid to attempt plays deemed insane.
While NaJin Shield’s downfall may have been too much aggression, Sword profited from it. With a team that was willing to follow their captain’s lead no matter how stupid the decision, MakNooN was no longer crazy: he was bold and intimidating. The whole of the team followed suit and itched for their stunts to make the highlight reel. Even during the laning phase, each member will try for daring kills, and go on epic roaming missions.
In the squad’s early days, their mechanical skill and game sense were not sufficient to capitalize on their aggression. Players were often caught alone in enemy territory, donating hefty leads to their opponents. Over the past few months, improved communication and individual skill has become apparent. In the nail-biting, best-of-five series against Azubu Blaze for the Korean Finals, NaJin Sword could be seen exercising tactics in setting up team fights and tower dives, executing them with precision. Given that an offense-oriented style comes naturally to NaJin Sword, spectators can expect no less shock and awe from NaJin Sword in the Worlds.
|Azubu Exclusive Interview: NaJin e-mFire Sword|
Ha-Woon “MakNooN” Yoon
The captain and shot-caller, Top Lane player extraordinaire MakNooN is the key to Sword’s victory. It’s fair to say the entire team has contributed to the team’s growth and success, but it is a fact that MakNooN was the core that they gathered around. Now with a team ready to support his ideas, the captain shines as a brilliant strategist. After fighting for complete lane dominance, it is MakNooN who will join his team and who will issue the orders for crazy tower dives and teamfights that guarantee defeat. To the spectator’s eyes, his plays are impractical, but in his mind, they are the most decisive means of winning. MakNooN does not yield to any games of patience or drawn out stalemates. His goal is to crush the opponents at any chance he gets.
As a leader, MakNooN can rally his team, but opponents should be worried about the player too. MakNooN’s strategies start with team picks, where he and his team will try to surprise their opponents by innovating. While Rengar is disabled for the World Championships, there’s no telling what other champions MakNooN has in store.
When he’s not playing the element of surprise, MakNooN is ready to crush his opponent with champions such as Malphite, Irelia, and Nidalee. He also recently claimed victories with Jayce in the Top Lane. Each champion brings a different toolset to the team, and MakNooN uses them with ease. Most importantly, he will always be ready for a duel on the Rift.
Sang-Soo “Ssong” Kim
In many ways, Ssong resembles MakNooN during his days on Shield: in the matches leading up to the Korean Finals, Ssong was the untamed beast. The wild Mid-Lane player shows promising potential during his better games, but presents disappointing failures too. In several games throughout the summer tournament, Ssong would gain a hefty lead, only to lose it by roaming alone through enemy territory. During the summer season of The Champions, fans would praise MakNooN for the team’s victories and pick out Ssong for Sword’s losses. He was well aware of his deficiencies, and hoped to one day join the top ranks of League of Legends players.
“My teammates’ skills are among the best, so all we need is for me to do well.” – Ssong
The day was not far off, as Ssong showed incredible Ryze play during the match against LG-IM in the Korean Qualifiers. In the Korean Finals against Azubu Blaze, Ssong stood proudly in the spotlight with his surprising Evelynn pick. Fans were skeptical, but it was clear the team had prepared for this moment and trusted in Ssong’s abilities. The Mid player would proceed to get a Quadra Kill in game one. While he did show bad solo queue habits in game two, even Locodoco had to admit that “This Ssong is not the same Ssong” by the end of the Korean Finals. Now, he stands side by side with MakNooN as the bloodthirsty solo laners of NaJin Sword.
It’s hard to tell which is scarier: the unimaginable amount of aggression from Ssong, or the potential of crazy new picks.
Jae-Geol “watch” Cho
Watch came into the LoL scene with some fame: in his former professional Brood War career, Watch was not known for his skill but for his charming looks. He decided to transition his professional gaming career when he was spotted by MakNooN in a solo queue match. MakNooN liked what he saw and recommended Watch to his manager. When Reach decided to recruit Watch, it was not on the basis of a former professional Starcraft fraternity, but because Watch showed diligence in his lifestyle and harbored a passion for LoL.
Opponents shouldn’t be fooled by Watch’s looks, as he is more than just a pretty face. The talented player tried out for other teams’ AD carry positions, and climbed the ladder by playing AP Zilean Mid. On Sword, he is the overwatch for his teammates as he roams the jungle with champions that excel at ganking.
Picking Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis as his rival, Watch will enter the stage on October 4th with a guaranteed grudge against CLG.EU in the group stages. When he retired from Starcraft, He apologized to his fans, promising to bring better results as a professional LoL player. Look out for Watch to play his favorite champion Nocturne in the upcoming Championships.
Jong-In “PraY” Kim
PraY began playing League of Legends 3 months before his college entrance exam. He may not have performed well for college, but nearly a year later, he is flying out to LA to represent Korea in a professional eSport. Like many other players, PraY remembers making the mistake of jumping into ranked queue without much practice. After losing many placement games, Ashe was the champion that attracted him to the AD Carry role. As he progressed and began to climb the ladder, PraY excelled with Vayne, but retired her in favor of Graves who was more versatile in the higher Elo. Even so, PraY was not accustomed to other popular champions such as Corki and Ezreal by the time he joined the team. This would force him to incarnate Urgot when Graves was commonly banned.
“[with Ashe] I realized I only needed to stay alive to win.” – PraY
Progressing as a player, he decided to learn Ezreal. His use of the prodigal explorer during the Korean Finals is evidence that PraY has the dedication and skill to compete; PraY admits it was relatively easy to learn Ezreal as the champion shares similar traits to Corki and Graves, but it is still an impressive feat to dominate with a champion after a few weeks of practice. At the end of the summer season of The Champions, PraY had the most kills recorded of all players, with a massive 68 along with a whopping 3086 creep score in 11 games. These mechanics go a long way to support his aggression. MakNooN picked the right man for the role, as PraY admits he cannot resist a low health enemy champion begging to be killed.
Nu-Ri “Cain” Jang
Before his career on NaJin, Cain was a well-rounded Top Laner. Initially recruited as Sword’s AD Carry, Cain migrated to the Support role after Fimir and MulrOc’s departure. There, he reunited with Ssong, his old ranked queue partner who also introduced him to League of Legends. As the oldest member of the team, the new role fits him quite well – with avuncular care, Cain looks out for his teammates both inside and outside of the game.
Though frequently banned in the Korean scene, Cain’s Alistar has become a force to be reckoned with in Bottom Lane. Ever humble, he admits that he still needs to improve his Head-Butts and Pulverizes. In the Korean Finals against Blaze, Cain played a successful Sona in all five games; the team’s profile lists Taric as another champion he is proficient with.
While outwardly warm to his teammates and fans, Cain believes that being cold as steel is the key to succeeding as a Support player. He states great supports never let their guard down or get emotional, since their opponents can always turn the game around. Cain also credits his experience in the AD Carry role to his success as a Support. While he may not be the superstar of NaJin Sword, Cain keeps a close watch over his teammates.
The Bottom Line
NaJin Sword has gathered quite a bit of attention and praise with their recent successes. Their victories against Azubu Blaze are notable, but the team is still too young to be given an accurate assessment. On one hand, they are favored, as other teams don’t have as much material to prepare with. On the other hand, Sword enters the World Championship Playoffs without much experience against teams from outside of Korea. Among all the unknown, fans look to Sword with one expectation: lots and lots of tower dives.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: all translations done by the author, William “Chobra” Cho.