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This time last year, the team that would go on to take first place at the NA LCS Spring Split had existed for about two short months. They didn’t have a roster yet, only a name: the Immortals. Three days later, they signed a young Korean jungler who had spent the previous summer securing the first 18-0 split in the history of the LCS. His name was Yeu-jin Kim, or Reignover. We didn’t know it yet, but North America had just imported its best jungler in years.
Before his time with the Immortals, even before his stint in the EU with Fnatic, Reignover played for a team named Incredible Miracle. Back in 2014, Incredible Miracle was one of the worst teams in South Korea, and Reignover fit right in. In early professional games, his play was characterized by something most junglers would call a cardinal sin: he was late. Over and over, Reignover would find himself on the other side of the map during an attempt to take dragon, or he would arrive at a tower shortly after a three-man gank had killed one of his teammates. Worse yet, he would often try and salvage those untimely arrivals with aggressive, risky plays that would put his team even further behind if they went wrong. And more often than not, they did.
“After having some failures, I lost my confidence,” Reignover recalls about his time on Incredible Miracle. It wasn’t just the losing that hurt: the young player he couldn’t tell what he was doing wrong. “I didn’t figure out the proper way to play a team game as fast as other players, and I didn’t have proper coaching staff to help me out. I had to go through it alone the whole time, and even while I was failing, there was no one to advise me. I guess I was just lost.”
After losing over and over with Incredible Miracle, Reignover put his career on hold. “There was a period where I decided to stop playing and take some time by myself. I was looking over all my games, and trying to figure out what mistakes I was making, and what I should improve. I focused on myself for three months on solo queue, playing as safe as I could, only being greedy where I should be.”
But it wasn’t until he joined Fnatic, and came under the tutelage of League veteran Bora “Yellowstar” Kim, that things began to change for Reignover. “Yellowstar helped me a lot. The biggest thing was that he told me I didn’t have to carry the game. He told me to have faith in my teammates, and trust them to carry me, I guess.”
Incredible Miracle, Reignover’s alma mater, doesn’t exist any more—the organization was gutted and rebranded to Longzhu earlier this year—but if there’s one thing keeping the Incredible Miracle name relevant today, it’s the explosive, phoenix-like ascension of three former players: Seo-haeng “Kuro” Lee, mid laner for the ROX Tigers, Kyung-hu “Smeb” Song, top laner for the same team, and Reignover. In 2014, the “Incredible Failures,” as they were called, couldn’t even push their team through the LCK qualifiers. Two years later, Smeb and Kuro were on one of the finest teams in the history of League of Legends, and Reignover was the best jungler in the West.
Watching Reignover jungle today bears almost no resemblance to the Reignover from Incredible Miracle. For context, there are, broadly speaking, two styles of jungling in professional League of Legends: the first, and more common in the West, is an aggressive, gank-focused approach that’s intended to hobble your opposing laners and get kills for your team, securing an early lead. The other style, the one which Reignover prefers, is power-farming. Junglers playing with this approach aim to clear out camps on their own side of the jungle, and whatever they can get away with stealing from their opponent’s jungle, as early and as often as possible.
Power-farming isn’t as flashy, but it’s a lot more reliable, and when executed properly it has the effect of a slowly tightening noose. Here is how a match-up between a good power-farmer versus a mediocre ganker tends to go: both junglers start out clearing camps in their jungle, killing the neutral creatures to get a little gold. They wind up with the same amount. The ganker runs to a lane to try and get a kill; sometimes it works, but usually it will result in little more than a burnt summoner spell. Meanwhile, since the opposing jungler has shown himself in, let’s say top lane, the power-farmer moves into the bottom-half of the enemy jungle and takes a recently respawned camp. If the ganker goes bottom next, the power-farmer goes top. The more aggressive jungler may be contributing pressure to the enemy lanes, and may even secure a kill or two, but eventually all those stolen camps are going to add up to a major gold difference.
It’s this style that Reignover exceeds at, and its what has made him such a dominant force in the jungles of Europe and North America the last two years. “When there’s a lot of tank jungle, vision control and counter-jungling, I do well,” Reignover tells me. “But when it’s carry jungle, like Kindred and Graves, it’s not my favorite.” Luckily, the meta’s favored his style in recent days, but this new patch might be different. “I have to work hard on this meta right now,” he says. “I’m still not used to it.”
That’s what Reignover’s been doing in the Everett Hotel for the last month: playing solo queue, practicing on the new patch, and trying to understand where the meta for the jungle is going to go next. “A lot of people are playing Lee Sin,” he says. “He’s probably going to start getting banned.” Reignover came here pretty much straight from CLG’s pre-Worlds Korean boot camp, where he helped fellow NA jungler Jake “Xmithie” Puchero prepare. He orders delivery when he gets hungry. When he isn’t playing League, usually on the weekends, Reignover goes out to movies. Horror flicks and thrillers, in particular, are his favorite.
“I thought, I could be a pro gamer. And I could help my mom.”
Reignover is training at the Everett, as opposed to his own home, for issues of motivation. “I get pretty lazy if I stay home, and it’s loud, because of my brother,” he says. His brother just returned from his mandatory military service, and Reignover, too, will have to serve sooner or later: “When my pro gaming career is done. You can defer until you’re thirty, so it should be okay.”
For Reignover, the opportunity to go pro wasn’t something he particularly strived for. It came naturally. In the humble, shrugging manner in which he answered pretty much every question I asked, Reignover told me that he was probably the best player in his high school, back when he was still playing as a hobby. “I wasn’t super good at first—I mean, I was still the best player at my school, but I wasn’t a pro player.”
While he started off playing in mid lane, eventually he got fed up with what he saw as incompetent junglers on his team, so he began to play the role himself. That’s when he started to see real success. “I got really high rank as jungle. The pro players I saw on TV, I was playing them in solo queue, and I wasn’t worse than them. I was carrying a lot of games. I thought, I could be a pro gamer. And I could help my mom.”
Reignover’s mother used to be an interior designer, before her son became the best jungler in the West. With the help of his winnings and team salary, she now runs a family real estate business with his uncles. Since Reignover’s found success in America and Europe, he only gets to see his family on breaks, in the off-season, which he’s on right now. He loves being back in Korea, and being close to his family. Well, as close as the Everett Hotel, at least.
In the New Year, Reignover will be returning to LA, but not to play with the Immortals. Sources say he’s gotten a better offer from Team Liquid, though he’s sad to go. “I really like Noah [team owner for the Immortals], and I really like IMT. I would consider them highly, if they wanted to offer me as much as other teams, but I think they weren’t planning to spend so much on player salaries this season, I guess.”
Reignover’s days with Incredible Miracle are long behind him, now. This year, the “Incredible Failure” will be playing the role of jungler in North America’s All-Star team, thanks to landslide of votes in his favor. The biggest challenge he’ll face in 2017 will be of a different sort: now, he has a name to uphold, and there will be challenges to the throne. “It’s a burden to have all these expectations. I’m worried,” he admits. “But I’m confident that I’ll play well.”