[Interview] Closing the door of 'pro player' Mata, and a new beginning

Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong has retired. He had debuted in 2013 and was in his 7th year, a support at the age of 25. His age wasn’t that young, but it wasn’t too old to stepping back from his pro gaming career. Many people felt sorry about his sudden announcement.


Not long afterward, there was news that softened the blow. RNG announced that they’ve signed Mata as their new head coach. As much as Mata had been the main shotcaller of the legendary Samsung White with his macro ability and sense of reading the flow of the game, we started getting excited about how he would do in his new position in 2020.


Mata was like always. His slightly awkward smile, his careful and serious words were all the same as before. He didn’t pass a single question lightly and from time to time, thought for a while before continuing his answer.


As everyone knows, he was a very competitive player. In other words, he was always passionate and knew how to take action. Some people might have gotten laid back after a few years, but Mata said that his last year is SK Telecom T1 was the year that he had put in the most effort in his pro gaming career.


“All pro gamers are competitive. We’re pro players, it’s obvious. We always want to do better than the opponent and we want to win. It’s just that how we express our competitiveness is different. Introverted players don’t express it much, they think alone for a while. On the other hand, I expressed it much.


The number one priority for me was always my team winning. Since I was always thirsty for wins, I tried to talk more during feedback to reach my goal, and I was more active. These reasons may be why I seemed more competitive than others.


But at some point, I started to change that I should listen to others more. At first, I thought if I said something, others would understand and accept, but I realized that it’s not always like that and that it could be inefficient. So I changed; I tried to keep my comments short and simple, easy to understand, and started listening more.


The current Mata is actually really different from before. Back then, I was more opinionated and spoke strongly… Of course, I didn’t talk as if I was about to fight them all (Laughs). I’m a lot more easygoing now. That would be a part that grew and learned through my pro gaming experience.”

▲ The famous note Mata had written during his Samsung years, meaning "No Worlds->Retirement"

“The 2019 summer split, which became my last season, was the season that I put in my hardest work over the past 7 years. And it was the hardest time as well. I spend a lot of time thinking about the game. I try to find and fix what I lack, but I guess it was the hardest time because I felt that I lack in so many areas. We did lose a lot as well.


When I fell in a slump like that, I tried to overcome it through more and more practice. Falling to a slump comes from wanting to be better. So I tried to look back at myself objectively and find what I lack, fix my mistakes so that I can do better. There isn’t a clear correct answer to overcoming a slump. I think it’s important to find our own way that fits us best.”


Mata is evaluated as a player that changed the paradigm of the support position along with Hong “Madlife” Min-gi. He showed how a support player can change and win the game. Mata’s ability to dominate the vision over the map, to read the flow of the game, and to make shotcalls, completing the compact macro is still considered one of the best.


“It’s simple. When you play a game, the most important thing is to win. If you win easily, it’s even better. So I sought for a way to win easily, and that’s how I came up with that style macro. To come to think of it, back when I was in Samsung, the macro style had a premise that all lanes had to win. That way, I can plant wards and roam. I think I was able to play comfortably because my teammates were really good.


What I really want to say is that it’s completely different now. Back then, I talked a lot and made more shotcalls. However, I learned that the more efficient way was to have each player of the team know their role well. Especially now that the LoL esports scene is more developed. All the players have to be good, not just one person. If just one single player lacks compared to the other nine, it’s a huge difference.”

“I still keep in touch with the former Samsung players. This year, all the Samsung Galaxy White members that won Worlds 2014 retired, but we don’t really give too much meaning to that. It’s such a long time ago. The Thresh skin that I had made… I don’t really recommend it. It feels that that skin misses its grab often. I recommend Deep Terror and Dark Star.”


▲ 2018 LCK Summer was the first championship in 5 years for Mata and the first ever for Score

“To pick the happiest moment would be when I won the LCK championship in kt Rolster. Score finally ‘entered Nirvana’ (Laughs). Obviously, it felt good when we won Worlds back in 2014, but I think it felt even better when we won the 2018 LCK summer championship. There’s a complicated reason for that.


Honestly, I don’t think I have that amazing record in my career. There are plenty of players that have a more decorated career… I won the LCK championship in my debut season in 2013. After that, I didn’t have an LCK title for a while, although I did spend 2 years in the LPL. Anyways, the summer of 2018 was my first LCK championship in 5 years. It really felt good.


Also, it felt even better because I was able to win the championship with Score. Considering his ability, I thought Score should have won far more championships. He has a high comprehension of the game, and just simply remarkable. As a person, he’s awesome as well. Probably everybody thinks so. But, he didn’t have a championship. Another reason was that KT didn’t have a championship in a long time. Everything was just ideal.


Thinking of then, Score said that he wouldn’t cry if we do win the championship. But all of a sudden, he started crying and hugging… It was a bit, you know… (Laughs) As for me, I didn’t actually cry, I guess swelled up a bit? It might not be bad to cry once in a pro gaming career.”


Mata left his footsteps in the LCK and the LPL over his 7-year career. Starting from MVP to Samsung Galaxy, Vici Gaming, RNG, kt Rolster, and SK Telecom T1. He fought alongside many players and coaches. To thank them all in one small page of an interview was definitely not enough. After thinking for a while, he started by saying that there were too many people to thank.


“There are too many people to thank. Too many that I can’t just simply mention a few names. Thinking that this is my last interview as a pro gamer, it reminds of when I first played this game and entered a competition. I remember my teammates going into the amateur competition and my teammates when I first debuted as a pro player.


When I was an amateur, I first entered a tournament in a team called BBT. There was Bengi, who everyone knows, Yoon-ki at top, Bulta at mid, and Catastrophi as the ADC. I think it simply felt good because it was the first competition I participated in back when I was 19. I also want to say thank you to my teammates in the season that I debuted in, Homme, DanDy, dade, and imp of MVP Ozone.”


▲ 2013 LCK Spring Split champions, MVP Ozone

“I can’t pick a specific player if you ask me who really inspired me. To speak a bit vaguely, I often derive positive thoughts from negative things. There were many ups and downs throughout my pro gaming career, and there were things that I did wrong. I realized that I shouldn’t do such things looking at my own past or seeing others’ incidents.


On the other hand, who do I think I inspired… That should be a question asked to them, right? (Laughs) I really talk a lot, so I had long conversations with all of them. So I don’t think there’s a player that I affected the most. There were a few players that mentioned they were thankful for my help in interviews, though.


I did a lot of feedback when I was in RNG. Xiaohu and Mlxg had said that they learned a lot from me in official interviews. I actually don’t remember clearly, but I probably said a lot of stuff, thinking it would help them and have us win. I’m thankful to them as well since they accepted my feedback well, and they also thanked me.”


Now, Mata is about to start the second act of his career. Wrapping up his career as a pro player that he devoted half of his twenties, he has taken a new challenge as a coach. As the head coach of RNG. Actually, in an interview he had 2 years ago, he had mentioned that he didn’t want to become a coach after retirement. We came to wonder what had changed.


“Back then, I always said the same thing. I don’t know if I want to become a coach after retirement and that I don’t think I would. What I mentioned then was that the treatment towards the coaching staff isn’t as good. LoL is a team game. The players, coaching staff, supporting staff all are one team. However, some think that if a team does well, it’s that the players did well, and when that team is bad, it’s because of the coaching staff. It felt that it was unfair.


However, I started to think that the role of a coach has become more important whether it’s abroad or in Korea. LoL esports has been around for nearly 10 years now. Hot prospects appear every year, but the resource for a good coach is quite limited. These thoughts and the situations around me helped with my choice to become a coach.


To add, my role in RNG is ‘head coach’. Technically, it is correct that I’m the ‘manager’, comparing it to Korea. However, my role is more of a ‘main coach’. In Korea, the head coach manages all the players and the whole team, looking after the players’ mentalities and has a stern image. I probably would do some of that, but I’m more involved with the in-game aspects.”

“Initially, I intended to go to the NA this year, continuing my pro playing career. I really wanted to learn English, but things didn’t go well. Afterward, I kept on thinking: should I take a break? Should I play more? Break? More? This went on for a while and it gave me a headache. On one hand, I just wanted to clear everything out and rest. In that situation, RNG contacted me and I sat to talk to them.


Actually, there were several offers as a coach from multiple teams, but when they made the offer, I still wanted to stay as a player, so I turned all the offers down without even listening to their terms. It was the same with RNG. They always asked me if I would join them as a coach, half-jokingly. They always approached me proactively, this time as well. After talking to them, I felt that this team really wanted me so I decided to walk with them.


That last month was a very hard time for me. I often stayed alone in my room and I had so many thoughts. I even cried a lot. I tried to meet up with my friends often to drink to get rid of those thoughts. I had good conversations with my friends and they were a big help. I’d like to say thank you to them through this interview.


I’m obviously worried a bit since it’s something I haven’t done before. But after I signed the contract, it changed a bit. Before signing the contract, I was worried about the risk, but now, I think more about the positive things. It’s a really positive thing that there’s a place that needs me and that I have a chance to contribute to them.


Some people told me that if I were to work as hard as I did when I was a pro player, I would do fine. Before hearing that, I simply thought since I’m a pro gamer, it’s my job, and I thought that I just did what I need to do. Just average. But all the people around me were telling me that I was a hard worker, so that made me think that what I did wasn’t bad.”


▲ Mata in a suit (Image source: RNG)


“I think it would be really funny to see myself on stage, wearing a suit, holding the draft notepad. I’m still younger than most of the other head coaches and I don’t have that sharp image. It might seem like a young boy pretending to be a coach. I bought a new suit and a notepad to use during picks and bans. Some of my friends said my notepad seems heavy. Maybe I’ll get a cute character notepad if we do well (Laughs).


Several Korean coaches moved to the LPL, so I think there would be many fond faces when I shake their hands after the picks and bans. There’s Fly in iG, ZanDarC in LGD, kkOma in Vici Gaming. There’s also Heart in EDG and Homme in JDG. I don’t have that good of a figure, but maybe I should work out a bit to have a strong handshake. (Laughs)”

“My goal for next year? If I was a player, I would obviously say that I’m aiming for the championship. But since it’s my first year as a head coach, I have many worries and feel pressured as well. I still want to make it into the top 4 in the LPL. As we progress over the season, and if we do well, then I can say that I’ll be aiming for the championship.


To look further, I want to become a head coach like kkOma, who has a great career, gets recognized of his works by others, and to be a good person in general like him. He has the best career of all head coaches. Another figure I’d like to be is Zidane, the soccer player. After retiring from pro play, he won the Champions League in his first year as the team’s manager. There aren’t any players that won the World Championship both as a player and head coach. I do want to become the first.”


It was time to finish the interview. We asked him to say whatever he wants to the fans that cheered for pro player Mata. As Mata spoke, we were able to sense a slight tremble in his voice. It seemed that he was looking back at his past 7 years.


“After I announced my retirement, there were many fans that felt sorry and worried about me. I was thankful to them and sorry at the same time. I’d like to say that I didn’t retire because I’m not confident anymore, it’s just that there was a great opportunity in front of me and it felt like a good choice for my future.


When I sat to write that I’ll be retiring, the 7 years felt short. The memories went by like a panorama, from when I first started playing LoL. Since I was thinking of that while writing, what I wrote became longer and longer. Now that I’m having an interview about my retirement, it feels more regretful than I thought I would feel.


Many people had a good image of me and consoled me a lot as well. Looking at the reactions, I thought that what I did wasn’t that bad, and it was a big help. I’d like to show that I’ll always be working hard, whatever I do. I’ll do my best to become an interesting head coach and approach all the fans in a more friendly manner. Thank you, everyone.”

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