100 Thieves' Ssumday quietly earns spot in NA LCS MVP debate

Why Ssumday Should Win MVP (2:50)

A large part of 100 Thieves' success is because of the team's top laner, Ssumday. Tyler Erzberger explains why Ssumday is his pick for NA LCS MVP. (2:50)

"I'm not sure exactly, but I don't like to lose against someone. And I like the game. I'm not a world champion, so maybe that."

The delivery belied Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho's steely determination. He spoke in a soft, low voice with a small smile, and as affirmations go, it's not a strong statement.

But Ssumday's dreams of a world championship, his will not to lose and his love for League of Legends are what make the 100 Thieves top laner one of the best players in North America, regardless of his modest attitude.

Ssumday has been playing League of Legends competitively since he was a 16-year-old on Psw Ares, before the KT Rolster organization picked him up in early 2013. In transitioning from rising global phenomenon to regulated and unified leagues, League of Legends has more than a few veterans like Ssumday who are still trying to cement a competitive legacy.

"I think about the future," Ssumday said. "My personality is a lot of worrying about the future and things. It's kind of sad because I've played for a long time and maybe my fans will forget me. Those kind of things."

"Polite" is a word that immediately comes to mind when thinking of Ssumday, who is a current contender for most valuable player of North American League Championship Series Summer Split. 100 Thieves head coach Neil "pr0lly" Hammad used "polite" almost interchangeably with a similar descriptor: "nice." Ssumday is a coach's dream.

"The way he treats the team and coaching is really awesome," pr0lly said. "He's like, 'What do you want me to do here?' and it's like, 'Oh, all right then. Are you sure? Because you're playing really well so do you really want my opinion?' It's really easy to maneuver him when the meta changes a bit to try something different. He wants to win more than he wants to play what he wants."

In this same, brief assessment of Ssumday's respectful good nature, pr0lly couldn't help but touch upon the other important, and frequently overlooked, side of Ssumday's personality.

He really wants to win. Above everything else.

"With Ssumday, it's one of those weird mixes where he's super nice, super quiet in every setting, but then as soon as you talk about League or talk about another player, his face changes, and he's just a different person," pr0lly said. "He's a killer. You'll have a normal conversation with him, and then the second you bring up any kind of competitive thing even though he knows that he's really good and would be winning in that situation or 1-vs.-1, he'd still be like, 'Why are you saying their name?' He's really laser-focused on improving and winning."

All too often, a more outwardly aggressive personality is lionized by League fans as a better competitor: the trash-talking ace like Team Liquid's Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng. But winning and being nice or polite aren't mutually exclusive traits. In Ssumday, they come together to make the best top laner currently playing in North America.

On KT Rolster Arrows in 2014, a team with jungler Lee "KaKAO" Byung-kwon, mid laner Song "Rookie" Eui-jin, AD carry No "Arrow" Dong-hyeon and Ha "Hachani" Seung-chan, Ssumday was the quiet one. He was polite. He smiled. The team had a bright and friendly atmosphere. Ssumday was part of this, but also on the periphery of it publicly, overshadowed by the personalities of his more outwardly boisterous teammates.

This all changed once Ssumday was in-game. Arrow was known for in-game aggression, and Ssumday was no exception, diving past full-health inhibitor turrets into opponents' bases to chase another final blow as Jax. Arrow's games were bloody and often short because the team ceded advantages as frequently as it accrued them. Ssumday was a part of this too.

By the time KT Rolster made it to the League of Legends world championship in 2015, Ssumday was known as one of the best top laners in the world -- a player who could take any small laning advantage and turn it into a team victory. Now, Ssumday thinks it would be fun to meet KT at worlds, if 100 Thieves can make it.

"We have a group chat for old KT," Ssumday said. "For important matches, I say 'Let's go KT!' I like to see KT at worlds because it's my old teammates and old coach, but I don't like killing each other." Ssumday laughed. "If I lose, I get very sad. We are in a pretty good position, but I already experienced two years ago, we were in the best position for worlds, and it's not the end until the end."

Pr0lly attributed a lot of Ssumday's incredible performances this split to an increased comfort level with his teammates. This comfort came through English study and time. Now Ssumday can not only communicate his opinion better in game, but he has come to know his teammates and staff better out of game, joking and coaching a hapless pr0lly through a hot-pot meal.

"He's been doing more than just his role of playing top lane," pr0lly said. "Even when we do macro stuff that doesn't involve him or early game stuff around bottom lane, he normally has an opinion now where in spring he would be really quiet and not give an opinion about it. He's much more involved now. He can express feelings now and that helps a lot with being comfortable. He's just a lot more social and comfortable and he's that way onstage too."

One of pr0lly's more difficult moments was telling Ssumday that he wouldn't be starting for 100 Thieves at this year's Rift Rivals event. The team instead would be trying out Academy jungler Đỗ "Levi" Duy Khánh. Due to roster rules, North American native top laner Brandon "Brandini" Chen received the start over Ssumday.

"He said yes with a smile," pr0lly said. "I was like, 'I know your true feelings. He's lying to me to be nice.' In the two weeks leading up to Rift Rivals, that was when he was spiking in play, so having to tell him that sucked. He was just really polite, accepting, he came to scrims and watched. I know deep down, he's not saying it, but he's like, 'Man, I want to play so bad. I want to beat these Europeans.'"

On the 2013 KT Rolster Bullets, Ssumday felt an immense amount of pressure when he couldn't play. He wondered what he was doing wrong and thought about how he could improve to regain a starting spot. In a 2015 interview with FOMOS, Ssumday described his time as a substitute for Bullets as one of the worst times in his professional career.

"It was the hardest time for me as a player when I couldn't play any games," Ssumday said at the time. "That spot really had a heavy burden to carry. Not being able to play meant that you became more anxious, and it was really hard to be motivated. It was a time where the burden would just keep growing."

But after Rift Rivals, Ssumday returned in NA LCS right where he left off. Despite the inconsistent performance of 100 Thieves as a team, especially in the middle of the split, Ssumday has emerged as one of the strongest MVP candidates this split. True to his personality, he brought up his own MVP candidacy without provocation, but only after stating his team goal with 100 Theives.

"The first thing is doing good so we can go to worlds. The second thing is so I can get the MVP this split."