SK Gaming shook up the 2023 LEC Winter Split in the second week of the competition. After a disappointing 1-2 start to the league, the team came in guns blazing and toppled the then-undefeated G2 Esports and Team Vitality, as well as reigning LEC champion KOI. Not too shabby at all for a team where the most-experienced player, Mark “Markoon” van Woensel, has a combined experience of approximately three splits.
For Markoon, however, the results aren’t that surprising. The victories meant that SK was finally able to translate great scrim results to the LEC stage. He spoke to Em Dash after beating Vitality to discuss why this SK lineup is performing so well, and what it’s like to be a ‘young veteran’ on the team.
Confidence from scrims
Welcome, Markoon, and congratulations on the win streak SK is on. I have to say, and I don’t mean it disrespectfully, that I didn’t quite expect you guys to start the season this well. [Laughs] How do you view this start?
Well, for me, it feels a little bit different. We had scrims, right? I knew that we were a good team and we have contested teams like G2 and Vitality in scrims before, so I knew we could beat them. I can understand it from an outside perspective, though. [Laughs] We completely run it down in the first two games, then we struggle in game three as well… We did not look like a good team. But I’m happy that we’re finally showing that we’re a better team than what we showed in week one.
“It’s just hard to judge the team from the outside.”
I can imagine scrims can give you confidence, but it’s also often called ‘fake data’ because it doesn’t necessarily translate to the stage. How did you manage to translate the scrim results to the LEC stage for week two?
So, last year, when I was in Excel, we were also winning a lot of scrims. We just stomped the early games hard. All the lanes were winning, and I used my winning lanes to stomp every game. With SK, it feels different. We aren’t just stomping every early game, but we’re still winning games. We play the mid-game macro properly in scrims. That’s why, for me, it gave me a bit more confidence than in Excel. We’re actually a better team.
SK’s coaches lead the young pack
When looking at the lineup itself, the expectations for SK were also considerably lower than for the Excel lineup you played for last year. Why is this team working so well?
Hm, I think fans have a hard time judging players that haven’t been in the scene for long. I would say that Sertuss, for example, had worse teammates last year. It’s always harder to shine if you have worse teammates. Also, [Exakick] and Doss come from the LFL and many people haven’t watched the LFL. They don’t know how good they are. Irrelevant is hard to judge when he has been in the league for just one split. It’s just hard to judge the team from the outside.
“after game two already, we realized what the problems were and we started talking about them. Everybody opened up and we fixed the problems quickly.”
I think what you describe is also why people were a bit skeptical: SK has a lineup of very new players, and it doesn’t often happen that such a lineup works out.
Yeah, true. I have to give a big shoutout to my coaching staff as well. What we lacked in Excel was a bit of emotional leadership. When we had problems, I don’t think we solved them as quickly as we could if we had team talks. Here in SK, after game two already, we realized what the problems were and we started talking about them. Everybody opened up and we fixed the problems quickly. I think the coaching staff is really smurfing this year.
Markoon as four-split ‘veteran’
Can you tell me a bit more about your transition from Excel to SK? You had your LEC debut and breakthrough on Excel, after all. How was it to leave them and join a new environment?
It’s pretty weird that I had all those veteran teammates last year, and now, on SK, I have the most LEC games. [Laughs] But I don’t mind it too much. I think I’m adaptable. It’s still a bit hard—I feel a bit pressured to go into this leadership role. But I have the coaching staff, and [Sertuss] is also stepping up as a mature person. I have a lot of help. I’m not the only leader of the team and I feel pretty comfortable that I don’t have to be the leader.
“I feel a bit pressured to go into this leadership role. But I have the coaching staff, and [Sertuss] is also stepping up as a mature person. I have a lot of help.”
Right, it’s only your fourth split in the LEC, so I can imagine it’s a bit strange to take on the leadership role already. But is it something you want to do more, eventually?
I would like to be a leader, but I would say I’m not that emotionally mature yet. I still have ups and downs in my mental and I would like to be a bit more stable, you know? I would love it if I could be a perfect leader for my team, of course, but I still have flaws that I need to deal with before I could be a perfect leader. I’m working on it. It’s kind of fun as well, as a new challenge.
A long year (and career) ahead
You joined Excel in the middle of the 2021 Summer Split, so the time frame of your career is a bit odd. Technically, you’re in your fourth split this is the third LEC year you’re competing in. But, combined, you haven’t even played three full splits. How do you look at your career and the goals you set?
I don’t think too much about it, to be honest. I’m just playing the game and I’m having fun, I don’t think too much about it. [Laughs] I’m also just twenty years old. Take Yike, for example. He comes into the LEC this year, but he’s already 22 years old. So, I still have two years before I’m the same age as he is now. Even if I fuck up now, there’s hopefully still a long career ahead of me.
Right now, the way I see myself is: if I play well, I think I’m one of the better junglers in the LEC. If I play as I did in week one, I’m one of the worst. It just depends on how I play, and I think it can change pretty quickly as well.
“I still have two years before I’m the same age as [Yike] is now. Even if I fuck up now, there’s hopefully still a long career ahead of me.”
SK has had a good start to the season, and it’s great that the team is so in sync already, but the year is long. What is the potential you see in this team?
I think we have the skill to win the LEC, but it’s a lot easier said than done. Every team is going to be improving all year, right? Even if we’re playing really well right now, if we play like this in six months, we’re probably gonna get destroyed. It’s about how well we’re gonna improve in the next months. The sky is the limit, I think.
SK Gaming plays its next LEC game on Saturday, Feb. 4th, at 6 PM CET against Astralis. You can watch the game live on the official LoL Esports site.