Not many 19-year-old males who play video games for a living would name themselves Teddy. But then there's Park "Teddy" Jin-sung, who barely even blushes when asked to explain why.
Teddy is one of League Champions Korea's newest faces, having joined Jin Air Green Wings only last December. He made a name for himself this spring by displaying a level of consistency and reliability rarely observed in an AD carry's debut season. Most South Korean esports publications declared him rookie of the split.
"I always snuggle with a huge teddy bear when I sleep at home," he says, smiling.
"Does the teddy follow you to the team house?" I ask.
He snorts loudly and bursts into laughter. "No! It stays home."
The ADC role is thought to be relatively team-dependent; save for rare outliers such as Kim "PraY" Jong-in, very few can look good regularly while playing on a floundering team. That is why Teddy's performances last split received so much positive attention. Despite Jin Air's ninth-place finish, he led the league's ADCs in average experience differential at 10 minutes (+105) and creep score per minute (9.8). He also had the second lowest share of his team's deaths (13.9 percent), the third most kills (131), and the third highest kill participation (69.4 percent). Even in a vacuum, these are impressive numbers. Accounting for his team, his playing position, and his rookie status, they're utterly ridiculous.
To be fair, there have been past instances of individuals on relegation-zone teams delivering standout performances. A recent example would be Shin "Nuclear" Jung-hyun and Seong "Flawless" Yeon-joon's showings on last year's SBENU Sonicboom. Rarely are those peaks maintained, however. Most breakout players eventually buckle under what South Korean fans call gotong (pain), the pressure of always needing to make up for their less talented teammates. Those who manage to keep up their form for an entire split, such as Teddy, are few and far between.
Teddy is happy to be recognized as a good player, but does not quite agree with the community's perception of him as a bearer of immense gotong.
"I think I only shined because my good performances happened to coincide with when our team played poorly," he says. "I had some bad games as well. We would have won them if I had played better."
He also suggests that his style of play might be causing him to look better than he actually is, explaining how he's "very aggressive in teamfights, always looking to go forward, which usually [pads] DPS numbers."
His argument makes little sense, really, because he's one of the players that rarely dies in the league. He's fiercely committed to staying humble.
Last February, Teddy revealed in an interview that he wanted to become the best ADC in the world someday. But now, he says, that is no longer his goal. It came to him one evening, after a practice session full of defeats and frustration, that perhaps he was shooting for the wrong star.
"We were losing so many scrims because our teamwork was so poor," he recalls. "So that night, in bed, seething and unable to sleep, I vowed to forget about becoming the best ADC in the world. Instead, I decided to work on becoming a part of the best team in the world. I drilled it into my head for an hour before going to sleep."
It seems that similar sentiments have been shared across the squad. In their five games played so far this summer split, Jin Air has been looking like a different team. The players have become much more responsive to what everyone else is doing; the speeds in which they come to each other's aid have clearly improved.
Jin Air's new coach, Lim "Comet" Hye-sung -- who joined the organization only twelve days before the summer split -- confirmed that team communication is definitely on the up. He also thinks the current roster could soon become playoff contenders as long as they can continue to improve their teamwork at this rate.
"Our team has really strong lanes," he says, ticking off his players one by one. "I'm still working closely with our mid laner [Lee "Kuzan" Seong-hyuk], but the strength in lane of our bottom duo [Teddy and Noh "SnowFlower" Hoei-jong] needs no explanation, and our top laner [Jeon "ikssu" Ik-su] has also been performing amazingly well -- he just needs to cut back on unnecessary risks."
Comet's addition has completely revitalized the squad, Teddy explains. Both head coach Han Sang-yong and former coach Chun "Sweet" Jung-hee had strict authoritarian styles, which proved to be a tad too asphyxiating for the players. Comet's gentler approach is helping them regain confidence and positivity.
"We used to be super stressed out because we had two fathers," he says. "Now we have a mother instead, and our mental [health] is being taken care of. Scrims aren't as insanely pressurizing as they were before. It's so much better."
How the Jin Air Green Wings will fare with their new, more encouraging team environment should be one of this summer's main points of interest.