Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong is known for his harsh attitude and stern criticism. Teammates joke that he beats them with a baseball bat when they lose, riffing on his resemblance to Haitai Tigers player Lee Ho-seong, who allegedly murdered four people. Ambition comes down the hardest on himself, once stating in a post-match interview that he'd not accomplished anything in his four-year career.
In person, Ambition is surprisingly charming. His eyes are bright, and as they dart between me and my Korean translator, he gives the impression that he understands every word I say. He is assured and poised, discarding his trademark stoic expression for a half-smile.
Ambition is the first to acknowledge that his temper is part of the driving force behind Samsung Galaxy. "After the loss to to TSM, the feeling that I felt the most was anger," he says, though he smiles as he says it. "I realized that it’s not as easy or smooth sailing at Worlds. We overcame our anger by practicing."
The most iconic recent image of Ambition is not of his angry resting face, but of him biting back tears after the unlikely gauntlet run that brought Samsung Galaxy to the 2016 World Championship. Three times Ambition has come close to making it to LoL’s most famous event, but it was only on the fourth try, without familiar ex-teammates like Lee “Flame” Ho-jong and Hong “MadLife” Min-gi, that he was successful.
Instead, Ambition was accompanied to Worlds by rookie AD carry Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, much-maligned top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin, mid laner Lee “Crown” Min-ho — whose only other competitive experience was in Brazil — and former Dignitas ADC-turned-support Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in.
Few knew what to expect from Samsung at the World Championship, and the inconsistencies that afflicted them during the season have cropped up already in all three of games they've played. They've had a close, scrappy match against Splyce, a crushing loss to Team SoloMid, and a measured win against RNG. At the end of Week 1, they have a 2-1 record and are in a three-way tie for first place in their group.
Ambition says that Samsung weren't fully comfortable with the poke composition they chose in their one loss against TSM, but they felt they had to experiment. "In terms of preparation, we’ve had some shaky components with that poke composition, but we went through with it, because we wanted to see how it went. I think that’s one of the reasons why we lost."
After that game, Samsung's preparation shifted from intricate poke compositions to a more familiar style built around comfort picks. "Before the RNG match, we came out and said, 'Let’s do something that we’re all good at,'" he says. "So it’s not as much about the composition, but it was a group of champions that we were confident with."
It worked well against RNG’s high-damage scaling composition. Ambition pulled out Skarner, recalling Samsung's victorious gauntlet series against KT Rolster. He ganked early at level 4, pulling off a two-for-none trade at six minutes.
"The timing for ganking is limited for all jungle champions, so our opponents’ bottom duo were vulnerable picks for ganking, while our bottom duo was doing great in lane. So I tried it once," he says, shrugging. "It worked, and that’s how it turned out well for us."
The battle between simple comfort and more intricate meta compositions has gone back and forth across the first week of the group stage, just as it has at past World Championships. This time, it was comfort that edged out an advantage in the best-of-ones.
"Best-of-ones are a lot of pressure," says Ambition. "You can’t compensate for a mistake. A lost match is a lost match. In that sense, the best-of-one is the best to prepare for strategically, since you can surprise other teams. I can’t be sure of the strongest team in the group, since it’s only been one match against each team."
Though typically measured and serious, Ambition openly laughs when I ask him about the stern relationship he's rumored to have with his younger teammates.
"All I can do for my younger teammates is make a simulation in my mind and just telling them how it might be," he says. "Our directors and coaches are really great about preparing and keeping us together outside of the game. I think it’s my job to keep the team together within the game."
Emily Rand is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.