When Samsung Galaxy won the League of Legends World Championship, its onstage celebration was awkward yet genuine. The young bottom lane of Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk and Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in rushed over to the Summoner's Cup and gestured at their teammates where to stand.
Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong was the first player pulled out from his team's celebration to speak. While the rest of his team shuffled excitedly, still hugging and laughing, posing for the cameras, Ambition strode in front of them. In his victory interview, he reiterated the team's hard work and continuous efforts that led to the championship win. Next to him, CoreJJ and Ruler fist-bumped.
"As a professional player, it's my job to do the best that I can with this game," he said.
Ambition has played the game for so long that his time in the jungle alone is its own three-year saga, separate from his time as a mid laner on CJ Entus. He continued playing even when many called for his retirement, turning skeptics -- who doubted his role-swap from mid laner to jungler -- into believers.
It wasn't a quick process. But a new competitive landscape in South Korean League of Legends, coupled with changes to the jungle itself, and a little help from his Samsung teammates, created the core of Ambition's transformation.
During the game's initial rise in South Korea, Ambition, like many South Korean pros today, initially started out as a jungler. In the early days of competition, players swapped between roles frequently. Teams were still figuring out the game, and lines that compartmentalized different roles were less clear. When both starting CJ junglers, Kang "DayDream" Kyung-min of Blaze and Baek "Swift" Dae-hoon of Frost, left the organization in the 2014-15 offseason, Ambition was still a top tier mid laner. Even though Kim "Trick" Gang-yun joined on as a jungle substitute in December, Ambition was announced as the team's starting jungler that preseason.
Recent role-swaps -- like KT Rolster Bullets' mid laner Yoo "Ryu" Sang-ook to the jungle position in 2014 -- cast a cloud of suspicion and skepticism over Ambition and CJ's choice, especially with Trick on the bench. Ryu had once been a jungler as well and had been unsuccessful switching over. There was little reason to suspect that Ambition would fare much better.
Instead, CJ finished third domestically after being picked as a middle-of-the-pack squad. It found itself one win away from the LCK finals but lost to SK Telecom T1 3-2 in the playoff gauntlet. Ambition took to the jungle meta at the time with ease, acting as more of a fifth laner. Aided by mid laner Shin "Coco" Jin-yeong's pressure and pushing power, Ambition was given free reign to farm. His lanes were occasionally punished due to his inattention, but experience in both side lanes and Coco's strong mid control allowed Ambition freedom to powerfarm on champions like Jarvan IV, Lee Sin and even Nunu.
But that summer, the flaws of Ambition's playstyle were exposed.
CJ's lanes were attacked early, but Ambition didn't adjust. He continued to invade recklessly without vision or minion pushes and was often punished by the opposing jungler or completely neutralized by pushing lanes from CJ's opponents. The timer on CJ's veteran roster had run out, and the 2015 KeSPA Cup marked the last time that these CJ stalwarts would play together on the same team.
Ambition hinted at a bad team atmosphere during his departure, similar to the rumored passive-aggressiveness that had dogged Blaze members earlier in Ambition's career. Perhaps his selfish jungle style was born not only from inexperience, but poor communication and in-game disagreements.
"I'm sure there were many more problems that could have been addressed," he told Inven. "But nevertheless, I feel like things could have gone much better if we endured the hardships and were more thoughtful toward one another."
Again, Ambition's retirement seemed imminent. He still acted like a fifth laner, focused on farming for himself and joining up for teamfights later rather than helping his lanes early. When Samsung Galaxy, an organization that had fared far worse than CJ in 2015, signed him, the acquisition was met with skepticism at best.
Again, he silenced doubters.
The veteran drew on his own knowledge and whipped the rest of Samsung into shape during the 2016 season. He was the guiding force behind Samsung's gauntlet victory in the summer of 2016 and led Samsung to the 2016 World Championship finals. Afterward, he praised Samsung's strong team atmosphere. After years of rumored internal disagreements on Blaze, it's no wonder Ambition chose Samsung because of its talented group of young players.
"I believe that teams with players that are considerate and understanding of each other will eventually do better than those with who are selfish and stubborn," Ambition said in an Inven interview. "My impression of SSG was that they are diligent and considerate."
But at the beginning of his tenure with the team, despite his experience and leadership, Ambition still needed help.
It came from the unlikely source of Samsung's bottom lane and Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min.
Wraith's strong roaming and smart vision control helped Ambition transform from a selfish power-farming jungler to one who helped his lanes more, either by ganking or giving the team stronger vision. His invades became less risky and more opportunistic. With Wraith, Ambition could focus on learning the jungle position while still being the shotcaller and voice that Samsung desperately needed. When lane-swaps were eradicated prior to the 2016 South Korean Regional finals, Ambition was able to easily control the early game with his now-efficient farming style.
Wraith was substituted for AD-carry-turned-support Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, who was able to showcase his laning prowess with Park "Ruler" Jae-hyuk. The training wheels of Wraith's roaming and vision net were off. Samsung was now a team that excelled in five-on-five teamfighting, objective control, and pushing lanes early aided by Ambition's farm-focused pathing.
After Samsung's loss to SKT in the 2016 World Championship finals, the team returned to the drawing board. Seeing the limitations of Ambition's playstyle and performance, Samsung turned to another former CJ Entus jungler, Kang "Haru" Min-seung, in 2017 LCK spring. Relying on Lee "Crown" Min-ho's strong mid control, Haru had a similar playstyle to Ambition but was more aggressive in his early map movements. Due to Samsung's strong side lanes and Crown continuously pushing mid, Haru's proactive invades were rarely punished until KT attacked Ruler's champion pool in 2017 LCK spring playoffs and swept the team 3-0.
Early in his jungle career, Ambition relied on his mid laner Coco to control the map while he farmed. Later, Haru relied on Crown to control the map for his aggressive early jungling. In summer 2017, with Crown struggling, Samsung called on Ambition to cover for Crown's early laning weaknesses. Samsung's side lanes had developed enough to hold their own in most cases, especially Lee "CuVee" Seong-jin in the top lane, and Ambition's experience as a former mid laner allowed him to aid Crown without losing too much mid lane control. It wasn't ideal, but these small adjustments over time earned Samsung another spot at the World Championship for a second straight year.
Once more, Samsung relied on Ambition to carry the team to victory. Under the Worlds spotlight, Ruler and CoreJJ stepped up. CuVee proved himself as the best top laner at the tournament. Samsung adjusted and attacked the bottom side of the map, giving Group C opponent Royal Never Give Up credit for helping Samsung better understand the Worlds meta. Ambition shored up Crown's weaknesses with vision and mid lane appearances, while Samsung put Crown on simpler pushing champions like Malzahar and Galio.
Now with a World Championship title, the Ambition retirement rumors persist.
After every victory this year, he has thanked his wife, expressing love and gratitude for her understanding of his demanding profession, fueling speculation that this victory will be his last. The evolution of Ambition was now complete: a selfish, solo-queue style farming jungler to an efficient jungler, able to contribute early and adjust when one of his teammates falters.
If Ambition leaves, Samsung has Haru waiting in the wings, but his presence will be sorely missed.