After being pushed out of the Korean League of Legends ecosystem, Park ‘5kid’ Jeong-hyeon has found his feet again in the LLA with Team Aze. Now back on home soil at MSI 2022, he’s making his pitch to the world to get back onto the prized LCK stage.
It was quite the surprise for Korean AD carry 5kid to be back home so soon.
The former LCK and Challengers talent was shipped overseas after being bounced around from team to team across three years, not really ever cracking the top echelons of play. That saw him land in Team Aze — the young rising stars of Latin America who defied the odds in their first season in the top flight to qualify for MSI 2022.
However, it has felt like a long time since the high-highs of lifting the regional title in front of 13,000 fans in Buenos Aires.
Bluntly, Team Aze has been demolished internationally. It’s been a trial by fire in Group A as T1, Saigon Buffalo, and DetonatioN FocusMe toy with their Latin American food. Across the map, there’s nothing Aze have been able to do to stem the bleeding as their more experienced foes just walk over them in 20 minute bloodbaths.
It’s been a somewhat embarrassing return home, 5kid admitted to Dexerto.
“We’re just kind of realized that we have a long way to go. [Day 3] was our last real chance for the Rumble stage, so I’m just so sad that we couldn’t do anything and lost,” he said. “We just have to work a lot harder.
“Everyone is pretty devastated. We’re having a bit of a meltdown, me as well. We have to try and recover from it, but the only way to do that is by winning.”
While Team Aze’s MSI 2022 campaign is basically all but over heading into the sixth and final day — nothing short of a miracle 3-0 run and then some will save them — the homecoming has been a chance for 5kid to show off his wares to prospective LCK teams to try and re-establish himself at the pinnacle of League of Legends.
It’s a hard journey, though. Not many players have managed to go overseas and integrate back into the Korean ecosystem successfully. However, the hunger is there with three games left to try and work his way back.
What the Korean exodus looks like
5kid has spent most of his three-year League of Legends career beating around the Challengers scene in Korea. First on Asura (which became RunAway in 2020) then KT Rolster’s Challengers team, he was a middle of the pack AD carry.
According to LCK caster Maurits ‘Chronicler’ Jan Meeusen — a self-professed Challengers “enjoyer” — he never really had the best chance to show off given the circumstances.
“5kid, in the context of CL and LCK, was alright,” he told Dexerto. “There was a high priority on Jhin and Xayah, as well as Aphelios. He also played some Ziggs, which I appreciate. I like AD carries playing a bit differently.
“I think he got dealt a shit hand. He came in, and then he got replaced by a much better player [Lee ‘HyBriD’ Woo-jin], and you can’t really do anything about that. Then in the subsequent split, he effectively got dumped into the LCK, which he was not ready for.
“He’s been marred by not having a chance to show anything in particular.”
The experience on KT, being pushed up to the top flight and then replaced, hurt. While the experience of playing in LCK was invaluable, 5kid couldn’t convert on the opportunity — he was demolished by the best and looked serviceable against the middle-pack squads.
His story in this regard isn’t unique. In fact, over the 2022 offseason alone, you can find numerous examples of LCK talent being shipped overseas — even on his own team he has former LCK prospect Han ‘Lonely’ Gyu-joon.
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Two of 5kid’s former teammates, Lee ‘Harp’ Ji-yoong and Lee ‘Juhan’ Ju-han, are at MSI 2022 but not for the Korean representative. High-profile moves like Park ‘Summit’ Woo-tae and ‘Berserker’ were the talk of the town. Rogue’s Kim ‘Malrang’ Geun-seong found plenty of success again in the LEC too.
Looking at every region outside of the LCK, there’s Korean talent everywhere. In the 12 Worlds-qualifying leagues, there are 80 players who had previously played in the LCK ecosystem but were now competing abroad as of Spring 2022. Some are former (or current) World champions, others are teenagers looking for a kickstart. There’s more if you look beyond the Tier 1 leagues and into European Regional Leagues and other development systems.
At the end of the day, there’s only 50 starting spots in the LCK. Quality talent has to go somewhere, Chronicler says, and finding success overseas is a must unless you’re in that top 0.1%.
“I’m actually really happy to see LCK and CL players go to other regions and do well. It’s a much better representation of how good the player actually is; it’s just not ‘top 15 Korea good’ which is honestly pretty reasonable,” he laughed.
“Players are still able to have meaningful careers and expand their horizons. It’s a wonderful benefit for them to get in touch with other cultures, to meet new people. Look at Malrang and how he flourished on Rogue — people love him. I assume his English is steadily improving.
“Gaming is such an inherently risky career that I’m happy to see players doing well. And even if that’s doing well in a worse region, who cares? For a competitor, it might matter, but winning LLA is still amazing [for 5kid and Lonely], and I’m happy to see players like that succeed.”
The uphill battle back home
However, what that means for an LCK berth is a bit trickier unless you are returning from the LPL.
“The LCK doesn’t give a flying f**k about results outside of the LCK and LPL.The pipeline to me is generally you’ll go straight to LCK from Academy or Challengers, or you get picked up the lower leagues and into the LPL.
“The barrier of entry for LCK is ridiculous. It’s the reality.”
5kid did rue the fact that, so far, at MSI 2022 he hasn’t been able to use the opportunity presented to him properly. His first three games in Group A he’s barely been able to leave the base, let alone have a fighting chance in lane. The gulf in opposition is just immense.
“It means a lot to me [to be at MSI]. We got a really huge opportunity, but we weren’t able to use it properly. It was a huge chance for us because this region has never made it to the Rumble Stage, so I wanted to do it for them,” he said.
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However, it’s not the end of the road for him and Aze yet. 5kid still has a chance to impress those back home, as well as garner some pride for Latin America in the process. Even just one win in this tough group would mean a lot.
“As long as I can focus up and stay sharp, it’s going to be doable [getting back to the LCK]. I think it’s likely I’ll be able to give a great impression, but I have to give it my all on Sunday.
“The chances are extremely low [of us getting out of Groups] because T1 is in our group, but even if we can’t make it out of Groups I want to show them everything we’ve got.”