Kim “Willer” Jeong-hyeon was once a basketball player before an injury derailed any hope to become pro. Now, after switching paths, he is the jungler for Hanwha Life Esports at the 2021 LoL World Championships.
Reykjavik, Iceland – It is the second to last day of the 2021 LoL World Championship groupstages. Backstage are Hanwha Life Esports, preparing themselves for what could be their final day of the 2021 season. Sitting at a 1-2 record, Kim “HLE Willer” Jeong-hyeon takes a deep breath, centering his focus on a long day ahead of him. He grabs his mice and keyboard ready to perform under the pressures of the international stage.
He becomes a driving factor behind Hanwha Life Esports successful Week 2 and the Korean fourth seed danced to a 3-1 record on the day to book a ticket to the Worlds quarterfinals.
At just 18 years old and with a scarce amount of experience as a pro player, many young players would crack under this pressure. But for HLE Willer, moments like this are what sparked his initial passions for competition and achievement.
Jeong-hyeon, the aspiring pro basketball player
Before Kim “Willer” Jeong-hyeon was the jungler for Hanwha Life Esports, he was a talented basketball player. In his younger years – watching old clips of Michael Jordan on Youtube – he had aspirations of becoming a professional basketball player, in hopes that he too could collect his own achievements.
“Basketball was my everything a few years ago.” HLE Willer shares when asked about life before League of Legends. “It was so much fun and I don’t mind spending endless hours practicing to get better.”
Having already been to his county’s regional finals, he had hopes of taking his game to the next level in the high school varsity team.
Then, he suffered a season-ending injury.
In the final game of junior high school, HLE Willer experienced a serious injury in-game, derailing his aspirations to keep competing in basketball.
“It was a really weird period for me.” Willer says. “I was so bored without basketball that I was trying to think of anything that could replace it. That’s how I got into League of Legends.”
Looking for something that can nurture his love for competition and achievement, he makes a complete 180 to League of Legends.
Trying to become a professional League of Legends player
Willer took his love for the game and made it a goal of his to become a professional player. Because of his natural skill at the game, he was picked up by T1 academy in July 2020. Shortly after, he was picked up again by Gen.G Academy in the same month.
This would become his first taste of playing at the professional level in League of Legends.
The first months were extremely tough and Willer found himself as a player with mechanical talent, but no experience. And in just three months with the team, he was released, looking for a new team to join.
The adjustment was one that took him by surprise. No longer able to solely rely on mechanical skill, the jungle role becomes more taxing at a pro level – more so than any other position.
“Basketball is physically exhausting and I left the game because my body failed on me.” Willer shares when thinking about the differences between basketball and esports. “Esports takes such a big mental toll on you and the jungle especially becomes more intense at the higher level.”
Yet, in that moment, Willer began to realize how competing as a professional League of Legends player gave him that same excitement he felt as a basketball player a few years ago.
“The thing I loved most about basketball is being able to progress.” Willer states confidently. “Being able to achieve something great after struggling in the beginning is what I realize made me love basketball.”
As a kid, he loved watching old clips of Michael Jordan and how much he won. But as he learned more, he saw how hard he worked to get to that point. He remembers how much failure he had to experience before becoming the best basketball player of all time.
Everything lead up to a new wave of motivation to become great.
“That basketball mentality of wanting to improve really began to translate into my esports career.” Willer states.
And that motivation really began to form once he joined Hanwha Life Academy in April 2021. With a newfound level of motivation, Willer quickly progressed. He spent just one month at Hanwha Life Academy before moving to Hanwha Life Challengers.
And in an even shorter amount of time, his progression was notable enough to grant him the starting jungler role towards the tail-end of LCK Summer with Hanwha Life Esports.
HLE Willer looking to best the Michael Jordan of Esports
Just three years ago, League of Legends was not even a thought for Willer. At the time, all his focus was put into becoming the best basketball player he could now. Now, he has made the full fledge transition into a professional League of Legends player.
At just 18 years old, WIller’s journey has come a long way. Six months ago, he was a newcomer. One picked up to join Hanwha Life Academy– trying to learn the ins and outs of jungling at a competitive level. Now, he is in the Worlds quarterfinals with Hanwha Life Esports looking to take down T1.
“Stakes are so much higher here than in CL and Academy.” Willer states. “But I feel so much more motivated and eager to improve because I want to win so much more after experiencing the professional level.”
Surrounded by stars Deft and Chovy, Willer is not the star player of the team. Instead, he is a rookie trying to figure out the ins and outs of the jungle role. But his progression in such a short span creates an exciting future.
His journey at the World Championships is one that is filled with a lot of progression for his own game. He has progressively grown more comfortable on the international stage. Initially looking very rocky in the Play-ins, the young jungler is now finding his own stride and played a vital role in Hanwha Life’s week 2 resurgence.
Similar to his younger years – trying to become a Korean basketball great idolizing Michael Jordan – he now finds himself in a similar position under the spotlight trying to take down the Michael Jordan of esports, Faker.
“It has been so much fun playing at Worlds. I just want to keep this amazing experience going.” HLE Willer states humbled by how surreal everything has been.
Hanwha Life Esports will look to take down T1 in their quarterfinal matchup on October 22. HLE Willer now has an opportunity to get back to the highest level of competition. What better way to make a statement on the international stage than to take down the Michael Jordan of esports.