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League of Legends: Zeka and Deft talk beating T1 and Faker


At the annual League of Legends World Championship, an unlikely winner emerged this year. The underdog, DRX, beat out three-time Worlds winners T1 at the November finals in San Francisco. Multiple fans speaking to The Washington Post had expressed doubt about DRX’s ability to win coming from one of the league’s most competitive regions, South Korea, but said they’d been rooting for the team regardless because it made for an interesting story.

The Post sat down with two of the team’s winners: Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu, a 26-year-old League veteran who had seen his share of victories slip away from him, and Kim “Zeka” Geon-woo, a 20-year-old, fresh-faced midlaner quickly developing a reputation for crushing his competition, even when confronting the legendary T1 champion Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. Both players spoke to The Post through a translator.

“People used to ignore us, saying that we’re not really good. It’s like we’ve always been playing against the odds,” said Zeka. “But as we kept winning, we really liked the winning feeling.”

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The midlaner talked about how the team maintained its morale despite often losing the first game in a series of best of five. Zeka suggested that losing the first game wasn’t necessarily a bad thing — the opposing team could be misled into thinking they had seen DRX’s tricks, giving their team an advantage going forward.

“Actually from the qualifiers back in Korea, we always lose the first game, but we are able to come back and overcome the match,” Zeka said. “It’s not like a normal thing to do. But we were able to do it again.”

He also talked about what it was like to play against Faker, a League of Legends esports star he had grown up watching. He and Faker didn’t have much time to chat after the games ended.

“It was not about who we won against, but how we did. That’s what we as a team talked about,” Zeka said.

Deft had a viral moment earlier this year when he cried tears of joy after winning the October quarterfinals in New York against Edward Gaming, the Chinese team that won Worlds in 2021. He explained that he became overwhelmed by emotions.

“Qualifying for Worlds itself was a very difficult task for us,” Deft said, adding that those memories came rushing back to him after their unlikely victory in the finals. “Just like a movie or a drama, it was really like a miracle.”

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Zeka said he wasn’t really into praying or being religious, but that he did believe in destiny. “There’s a destiny in winning Worlds,” he said.

In the past, Deft said he felt frustrated when younger esports players or players he felt had inconsistent performances ended up winning Worlds. For example, Faker, who is the same age as Deft, has won Worlds three times, while Deft repeatedly lost in quarterfinals in previous years. But Deft said that if he felt frustrated about how his 2022 teammates were younger than him and had more easily achieved success, it would be unkind of him to feel this way since they were all on the same team.

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After DRX won Worlds, the five-member team took home about $489,500 in prize winnings, plus a portion of sales from certain Worlds-themed in-game cosmetics. With the earnings, Zeka said he was considering investing in real estate.

“If we get a lot of revenue from the skins, maybe I can buy a building,” he said.

When pressed on what kind of building, Zeka added that he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet, but that it seemed like a wise investment. Deft said he would save for retirement, something that players in their late twenties and thirties begin to consider.

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After Worlds, the team members rushed to Las Vegas for a day before visiting the Grand Canyon. Soon after, they returned to their homes in South Korea. Now, in the offseason, Deft and Zeka have signed onto other South Korean teams after their contracts with DRX expired. Zeka signed onto Hanwha Life.

Deft was able to defer his mandatory military service and sign onto another South Korean team, DWG KIA, for at least another year. But at 26 years old, he will have to serve in the Korean military sometime within the next few years, according to the country’s law mandating all able-bodied men serve at least 18 months in the armed forces by age 28, which has conscripted music stars and esports pros alike.

Deft reflected on his country’s rules, saying “everything has pros and cons.”

“Obviously, Korean professional gamers cannot play as much as other professional players can in other regions,” Deft said. “That could be a disadvantage, but I think because of that, most Korean players have to really play hard in the short amount of time they have. And that’s the silver lining.”

When asked if North America is the strongest League of Legends esports region — a running joke in the pro League circuit, as the region has underperformed every year — Deft nodded and said he agreed, especially if people in North America were listening to his response.

After Deft returns from military conscription, he said he might challenge whoever has set the record for the oldest professional esports player in Korea at that point and come back to play more. He said he believes older players tend to retire because their reaction times may start to lag behind younger players, but also because as they age, they may begin to lose the passion and ability to dedicate their entire lives to gaming.

“When you get older, you have a lot of other interests coming out,” Deft said. “When you’re young, you’re very passionate about the game. You only think about playing the game.”

When asked if his other hobbies and interests were emerging after years of pro play, Deft said: “For the last 10 years, gaming has been my number one priority. Until the day I retire, gaming will be my number one priority.”

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