Taking a closer look at the Korean PUBG scene, we sat down with OGN’s and SPOTV’s caster and analyst, Seungmin “Joel Sophie” Lee.

Those following the Korean PUBG scene are well familiar with Joel Sophie and his work. He quickly became known for his deep knowledge of the game and established himself as one of the most insightful casters in the scene. Earlier this year, he was invited to cast at StarSeries i-League Season 1, alongside some of the best PUBG casters and analysts in the world.

Korean teams had a lot of success at PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS’ first major tournament ever. Gen.G Gold took the first place in the TPP tournament and their sister team Gen.G Black, while dominated on the first day of the competition, finished in respectable sixth position. But while Gen.G players had seen some success in the Charity Showdown, it did not go for them quite as planned in the FPP event. Although the Korean players had shown some promise, they still couldn’t compete on the less familiar FPP grounds, as both teams finished outside of the Top 8.

Joel Sophie talked about his career as an esports caster, gave us an insight into the Korean representatives at PUBG Global Invitational 2018, and discussed the further impact FPP will have on the Korean PUBG community.

Vie: Tell us a bit about how you ended up where you are now. How does one become an English caster for a Korean league?

JoelSophie: I got my first job in esports when I applied and was selected as a translator for OGN, working on the League of Legends Champions Korea (LCK) program, starting June 2016. During my journey, I formed aspirations to become a caster, so I let OGN know of my ambitions, and just a year after my translating debut, a position opened up for their Blade & Soul tournament, and that became my debut as an English caster.

Photo via Twitter

Vie: Why PUBG? What was it about it that made you go “I must get in on that”?

JoelSophie: Doing well for myself and gaining respect within the industry, my ambitions grew in wanting to get involved in a major title. However, I knew that established scenes, such as LoL, Overwatch, and CS:GO, already had their own established talents. That would make it difficult for me to break in past them.

I wanted a scene that was going to grow at the same pace as I was going to grow as a caster. When I was thinking that in late 2017, the game that fit that bill was PUBG. I had confidence in my skills, that it would be recognized, and that I could grow with PUBG in their own esports endeavor. It was also intriguing that its developer, PUBG Corp., is a Korean-based company, so I was excited for an opportunity to be directly involved in communication and to maintain a close connection. I let OGN know that I wanted to be considered as a candidate for their first PUBG tournament, PSS Beta. The competition was definitely fierce, but in the end, I was selected for the position, casting with @proxywolf. Now, I am providing full coverage for two of the three PUBG Korea League Pro Tours with OGN’s PSS and SPOTV’s PWM.

Vie: Let’s go a few weeks back, before the PGI. What were your expectations for the Korean teams there?

JoelSophie: I had the pleasure of being invited to cast for StarLadder’s StarSeries i-League PUBG back in March, where I had the privilege of witnessing the competition between the best from the West and the two invited Korean teams. Needless to say, the Korean teams were underwhelming when compared to the likes of FaZe Clan and Team Liquid. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but simply in acceptance of the fact that this is Korea’s current competitive state. I always kept a close eye on the European competition, whether it was GLL, Auzom, etc., knowing these teams were the best in the world of PUBG esports.

Simultaneously, I was casting the Korean tournaments while keeping track of their progress when compared to their previous February through March performances, when they showed that StarLadder, IEM Katowice, and PGL Bucharest weren’t the stage that Korea would come up to shine. I definitely saw a huge improvement from our teams, especially in FPP, to a point where I wasn’t afraid this time of them facing up against the best in the world. I expected at least a Top 5 Korean finish for TPP and a similar result for them in FPP. Admittedly, it was pleasantly surprising to seer Gen.G Gold finish at the top of TPP and just simply disappointing to see them finish their FPP run the way they did. I believe they could have done much better.

Vie: It’s no secret that TPP is huge in Korea. What is the general consensus there in terms of FPP? 

JoelSophie: Even today, the general player base in Korea isn’t heavily exposed to the FPP playing environment, being unaware of its benefits. Since PUBG was the first shooting game for many at the time, the initially introduced TPP mode quickly settled as the norm. When so many people had already invested hundreds of hours in the TPP mode before FPP was ever introduced, it became difficult to find reasons sufficient enough for them to change. However, it is a completely different story for the professional scene. After disappointing finishes from top representatives at international tournaments hosted in FPP, the truth started to creep in that doing well in FPP was going to be the only way to truly find global success.

Vie: Do you see Korea switching to FPP for good anytime soon?

JoelSophie: Even the domestic tournaments shifted heavily towards FPP in their most recent formats, and my assumption is that it won’t be very long before even Korea fully shifts to an all-FPP format.

Vie: So the TPP event at the Global Invitational went pretty much as you expected?

JoelSophie: I expected Team Liquid to closely rival the top position for TPP with their past success with unconventional competition modes. This happened when Miramar and TPP were first played in tournaments, and Liquid excelled in them. Those guys thrive under pressure and do amazing things in unexpected situations.

All in all, I think placing second was a good result for Liquid, and while OMG did well to place 4th, I was a bit disappointed in 4 Angry Men. I thought they would do just as well as OMG, and for Japan, the pure player base is just simply not enough to be competitive with Korea and China at the moment, and the infrastructure needs to be improved for them to find more success, so their result at PGI wasn’t too much of a surprise. With all that said, I would never consider ‘being the best’ being ‘bare minimum,’ but general success in TPP for Korea was definitely ‘more than expected.’

Photo via Starladder

Vie: The FPP tournament did not go quite so well for Korea, though. 

JoelSophie: I honestly believed that Gen.G Gold theoretically could’ve fought it out for that top FPP position. They were absolutely prepared enough to take it home. I can only speculate that just as with any other team, their most recent accomplishments relished over TPP and the Charity Event did lead to at least some amount of complacency. I know EscA and his experience with consecutive success in the past when he played Overwatch for Lunatic Hai, so I kept my trust in him to lead his team to a proper mindset, but the moment you lean towards ‘expecting to win’ is when teams will fall hard, even more so in PUBG.

Vie: So you think Gen. G Gold could’ve done better in the FPP event?

JoelSophie: Gen.G Gold did fall hard in FPP. They ‘expected’ to do well, and I’m confident that EscA and his team have learned a valuable lesson from all this. I might be overly critical to a team that won two-thirds of a major tournament, but it’s the manner in how Gen.G Gold fell in FPP that leaves me wanting more. I don’t think their performance on the last two days was a fair reflection of their true potential. Give them another chance, and I believe they will pull off a more convincing result.

Vie: There’s an idea floating around, that once China and Korea switch to FPP they will become the new overlords of the PUBG scene. Do you agree with that sentiment?

JoelSophie: Yes.

Follow Joel Sophie on Twitter @JoelSophie_.

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