Yesterday Team Liquid announced their entry into competitive fighting games by picking up legendary Smash Bros. Melee players Ken 'Ken' Hoang and Daniel 'KoreanDJ' Jung. Prior to yesterday's signing, both Hoang and Jung have been inactive from major competition for a number of years following major championships by each during that time period. For Hoang, that includes the 2004-2005 MLG National Championship, EVO 2007 World Championship, a stint on MTV's True Life: I'm a Professional Gamer, and once considered the best Smash player in the world.
Now both players are back to the the game they love - with a team they've both looked up to for a long time.
What brings each of you back to Smash?
Ken 'Ken' Hoang: The only thing that truly brings my back are Team Liquid and my fans. Of course also the competition since I'm a very competitive person. I think if any other team asked me to play Smash again I would have probably said no. I'm just a huge Team Liquid fan. I think KDJ and I will make a perfect fit to TL.
Daniel 'KoreanDJ' Jung: I had been going through a hiatus with Smash for several years. Joining the team has awaken the competitive side within me that I haven't felt in such a long time. It really feels amazing to join a prestigious team. The momentum that Melee has been receiving over the past year is phenomenal. With EVO hosting a Melee tournament and the documentary featuring Melee's awesome community, I feel very motivated to return to the scene.
Why come back now? How important was joining Liquid part of your return?
Hoang: Liquid is one of the most important reasons I'm coming back. It's just ever since I was a kid I've been on Teamliquid watching Brood War ProLeague. I've been a fan of BW ever since it came out and StarCraft 2 in general. I'm just a big fan of esports in general. Some people like football, I just like watching StarCraft instead. So when Liquid came to me, if anything it felt like an honor being apart of Liquid.
It actually feels amazing, I just hope I am able to perform well enough to not let them down. I'm just going to try my best. I feel like Liquid really isn't even a team, they've already treated me like family. They should just change their name to Family Liquid.
Jung: I was planning on joining back to the Smash scene. When Team Liquid offered to pick up Smash and asked me to join their team, I instantly knew that was the time for me to return to Smash.
What does it mean to you to be liquid's first Smash/fighting game player? Do you feel pressured?
Hoang: I would be lying if I said I didn't feel pressured. I still feel pressured coming back since I was once the undisputed champion. However it also makes me want to try harder to try to represent Liquid at a high level.
Jung: I don't feel any pressure, I view this more of an opportunity. I am honored to be given this opportunity from Team Liquid, and I will give it my all. I feel I don't call myself a fighting game player since I don't attend major fighting game related tournaments, but I like to play lots of different fighting games so I can experience a diverse range of metagames. How one views their options in Tekken is vastly different than how one views their options in Street Fighter IV. I play lots of different fighting games to challenge myself. I will consider attending more fighting game related events in the future.
Ken and I were rivals back in 2006. But as they say, some of the toughest rivalries make the best teamwork.
What has the Smash documentary done for you since its release?
Hoang: I'm glad the Smash documentary was released. Some of the new school Smashers never had a history lesson of Smash. None of them new what the scene was like when Smash first started. Moreover other people from other esports communities never knew anything about Smash and I was glad it has opened up their eyes a little bit. When it comes down to it, it's just plain esports.
As far as what it has done for me, Team Liquid contacted me, The scene has treated me a lot nicer, I've gotten a ton of fans and friends. When we first filmed the Smash documentary I have not picked up a GameCube controller for over 5 years and because of that I began to play smash again but not competitively. Things are 100% different. The smash community as a whole has gotten way better but of course I can't say their aren't haters out there. There are always going to be haters so I just have to move past that and just try to support the people who support me.
Jung: The Smash Documentary brought back old memories. Memories of triumph and memories of defeat. What the smash documentary made me realize is that I want to make more memories.
You've both been gone for a long time in competitive gaming years. Can you return to the top?
Hoang: I left the Smash scene because I thought I was done with it. I still hold the record of being the champion for the longest amount of time from late 2002 to 2007. A lot of players still give me shit about not being able to keep up with the current metagame. I was also considered to be ranked 100 in the world however I was once the champion and I believe if I want it enough then I could return as a champion. With the support from my fans, determination, and a little luck, I could possibly pull off a Rocky Balboa.
I think I just need to attend more tournaments, I need to play a lot more to keep my tech skill up and just rely on my ability to #Adapt.
Jung: To make results happen I have to immerse myself back into the scene. I'll have to start attending more national tournaments and getting back into the groove.
Players have told me the meta has changed a lot since you've left. Will that be an issue?
Hoang: I don't feel that I am too much behind. I feel like I can catch up pretty quickly. Many have said that the meta game has changed a lot since I left, however this game doesn't have any patches like SC2 or Brood War does. It's the same game when I left, people overall have just gotten better since everything is out there. I still think it's the same game I just have to be able to adapt and read people . Also known as Mind Games
Jung: I feel the metagame has changed quite a bit, so it will be very interesting to play and challenge that metagame in the future. I think the thing setting me back the most was lack of current tournament experience, so this is the perfect opportunity for me to go ahead and get that experience.
At Apex 2014, Champion Dr.PeePee and star player Mew2King among others spoke to me about top-tier characters such as Fox and Falco potentially getting to the point of being the best two characters. As you return, what do you think about this sentiment?
Hoang: When I first started playing smash fox/falco/sheik were the top 3 characters, then I started winning everything with Marth. Then everyone started using marth including Azen, Mewtwoking and few others. Then Marth became god tier on the tier list. Armada started using Peach and winning and Peach was no where top tier. I feel like once you start losing hope in the character you main then you will start losing even more. I think what they are saying is fairly accurate, however you have to keep the hope alive and I believe that Marth can win a national.
Jung: Marth has great potential even in today's meta. While I do believe Fox and Falco are probably the strongest characters, characters like Sheik, Marth, Peach, etc. are still strong threats, even in today's meta.
MLG and EVO now both have Smash Melee, the documentary has been lauded worldwide, and the community seems to be more motivated than ever. What do you think about everything that's happened relatively recently?
Hoang: We've had a pretty dedicated and willing Smash scene to keep it alive for so long and we're super fortunate to have such dedicated people in our scene. Let's just call it another golden age for smash :).
I think it's amazing that EVO and both MLG are having smash. A lot of people never actually had a chance to attend Evo or MLG like i had in the past. Some of the kids were only 10 years old when i competed at both evo and mlg so it's nice to give them a taste of what i've had in the past
Jung: It is really surreal that Melee is getting revived. I'm really glad to see an old school game become mainstream in 2014. I'm an old school gamer deep down, so I am a big fan of games like Quake 3, CS 1.6, Brood Wars, Street Fighter (2/3rd strike), etc. I hope there can be a movement for more old school games to gain momentum as well.
I have a lot of respect for MLG, and I'm truly glad that MLG has returned with Melee. It's a very nostalgic feeling training up for an MLG Melee tournament, but I'm glad that feeling has returned.
Do you believe you have a shot at winning EVO or MLG Anaheim?
Hoang: I think I have a pretty good shot as long as I am dedicated enough. Yes, I believe I have a shot at it.
Jung: I don't like to think of what ifs. I will let the results speak for themselves.
Nintendo recently gave approval for EVO and MLG to run their tournaments, and seem to be slowly taking a more active role in the competitive scene. What do you think about this?
Hoang: I still don't understand why they didn't want us to play smash competitively. It's free advertisement. When I was playing Smash competitively back in the day there was never an issue, we even had some interviews from Nintendo Power. Guess times have changed since streams are live and so active now.
Jung: I truly appreciate Nintendo's support over this game. I can only show gratitude for a company that support its games through a competitive aspect. I remember participating in a tournament that Nintendo sponsored for Brawl, so I hope that this can mean more Nintendo hosted tournaments for the future. Most likely it will be for the new Smash for the Wii U/3DS, but one can hope they may do something for Melee.
Image Credit: TeamLiquidPro.com