It’s the end of the year, and it especially feels lonely, because the 1st generation pro gamers are retiring one by one. The fact that all these pro gamers that everyone was able to meet in venues won’t be there anymore is a news that makes everyone unhappy. Although everyone cheers them on, the emptiness that comes with their absence will linger with the fans for a long time.
When Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng announced his return to the LCK, it felt that much greater to have him back. He’s already a 7-year veteran in the scene, with 2020 marking his 8th year. He’s been around us for that long, and we’ll get to see him around for at least one more year.
Kuro joined KT Rolster as their mid laner. Not only did he reunite with his former head coach, Kang “Hirai” Dong-hoon, but also with his former teammates, Park “TusiN” Jong-ik and Kim “Aiming” Ha-ram. With the same warm smile, he greeted me near KT’s new training center, and thus, the conversation started.
This question befits the start of any interview. How’ve you been?
After I came back from China, I think I spent all my time meeting people. I think that I came back to Korea on Nov. 17th. I had a lot of time back then, so I met up with friends and other fellow pro gamers. In terms of my old ROX Tigers teammates, I met up with everyone but GorillA. I even met up with GuGer and Duke. I was going to grab noodles with Peanut, but we couldn’t find time to do so.
I took a long break from playing. Then, I was invited to the LPL All-stars, so I was in China for 5 days, and came back to Korea on Dec. 2nd. Shortly after, I moved into the KT team house on the 4th, and it feels a bit weird to be living in a Korean team house after a year abroad in China.
Last time, you went to a salon and got a perm via GorillA’s recommendation
I usually don’t get a perm, but I wanted a change in my hairstyle, so I got a regular perm after getting consulted. However, I realized that a perm isn’t my thing, so I don’t think I’ll be getting one in the future (laughter).
I usually don’t cut my hair short, but I’m used to it now. It takes me less time to wash and dry my hair, so I’m a little bit satisfied with it.
Zoe is the newest addition to your family. How big is the puppy now?
Zoe’s about 6 months old. The puppy loves people and is very outgoing. When people come over to my house, Zoe’s tail turns into a propeller and spins like crazy, and loves giving hugs and kisses. She also gets along with our cat, but sometimes, they get into these ‘play-fights’.
KT Rolster is building their new team house and practice facility. How do you like them?
I really like the new team house. Our cook makes the most incredible meals, so I especially love it. Our new practice facility isn’t quite ready yet, but so far, it’s looking really good. I’m quite satisfied with our current practice facility, but the fact that we’ll be going to a new place makes me a lot happier. Because it’s new, it’s very clean and spacious, and we’re getting new PCs as well, so I’m very happy about it. The management is very proactive in getting us the things we need, and they get us everything we want. I don’t have a lot of things I need, but when I asked them for an extension cord, they got me one right away.
You returned to the LCK after a year. Did you feel pressured at all?
There definitely was pressure. I did quite well in a new environment, but to return to Korea after a year of playing in China brought me much excitement and anticipation. However, all the teams in the LCK are so good, so I have to prove that I’m not a veteran for nothing. Things like that worried me.
When I first decided to return, I didn’t have any doubts in my in-game prowess. I missed playing in Korea, talking in Korean, the Korean food and the lifestyle in Korea. I felt that because I was homesick, the idea of returning to the LCK was quite attractive..
Did your parents watch your matches in China?
My family always tries to watch all my matches. They asked me how they can watch the LPL games, so I told them. They always ask me how I was doing in China, and during matches, they sometimes say, “Why are those people playing that way” (laughter).
My mom knows so much about the game that she gives me feedback on the champions I use. She spent 8 years watching my games, so she’s an expert now. 3 to 4 years ago, she even started giving me advice. She would even watch other teams’ games and tell me “These guys are playing these champions”, or “This team’s gameplay was clean”. I think that despite me not being a part of the LCK last year, she watched almost all the matches.
She must be quite thrilled to have you back in Korea.
Since I’m quite old, and I still have to serve my compulsory military service, I think I have about a year or two left in my competitive career. If I play in Korea, it allows me to see my parents a lot more often, and they would have an easier time to see me play, so they were thrilled. When I was in China, they were really worried. Although I told them I was doing alright, they were obviously worried to have their son overseas, so they were hoping that I would do well in Korea.
Speaking of which, you’ve reunited with your former head coach, Hirai.
It was pretty surreal. I learned that you never truly know how a relationship can turn out. Even before joining KT, I realized, “Hey, going through the end in the same manner as the beginning isn’t so bad”. Hirai also told me, “I never knew we’d meet again like this,” and laughed.
You used words like ‘the end’ and ‘1 or 2 years left’, so I feel that you’re under a lot of pressure.
If I do well, there will be 2 more years left of my career. Also, since I’m a mid laner… there is not a single mid laner that’s old as me. If I look at the rookies that just debuted, there’s a bit of shame there because of the age gap (laughter). That’s why I think there’s about 1 or 2 years left in my career.
The one thing I was jealous of the players in the LPL was that they didn’t have to go to the army. Because of it, they looked a lot more comfortable.
How is Hirai during the IM days different to Hirai of the present?
The difference is huge. Back in the IM days, not only was it my first year as a pro gamer, it was Hirai’s first year as a head coach of a LoL team. We both didn’t know a lot of things back then. However, since we spent a long time in the LoL esports scene, we understand things a lot more now.
As how it was when you were on Afreeca Freecs, not only are you the oldest member on the team, you’re also the team captain.
I think my role is similar as to how it was back then. I’m not the stern, older brother type of person on the team, but rather the type to freely listen and talk about the worries that the younger players on the team have.
I try to become that person that younger players can come up to me and ask to hang out, or ask for advice over some drinks. I believe that because I have a lot of experience in the scene and I’m old, I can share some advice that will help out a lot of my younger members on the team. It’s possible that they can be concerned about the same things as I was in the past.
Some teammates are still very shy, so I’m trying to make sure that we all get along and have a good time. It hasn’t been long since our roster was completed, so I think things will get better over time.
What kind of conversations did you have with your teammates so far?
I haven’t had any deep talks with any of them just yet. I was already friends with TusiN and Aiming, but it’s my first time meeting Malrang, BonO, SoHwan, and Ray. I think I talked to Ray about our time in China. I’m roommates with BonO and Aiming, so we became close through talking a lot before falling asleep. We’ve also shared certain ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories as well (laughter).
Although it hasn’t been long since you’ve been with your teammates, how are you liking them so far?
Since I’m heading into my 8th year as a pro gamer, I can confidently say that gamers are generally good in nature. I’d say that 98% of them are nice, while the other 2% are the rotten apples of the tree. I think that everyone on my team falls into that 98%. SoHwan is a very quiet person. Malrang is kind of similar to Peanut. The way he talks and acts is like how Peanut was during the Najin and the early ROX days. The current Peanut… has been infected by the ways of the society (laughter).
Now that I look at it, you’re now teammates again with TusiN. This will be your third time, as you were teammates with him on IM and on Afreeca.
TusiN doesn’t seem like a younger friend to me. We rely on each other, and if we’re concerned about something, we’re direct with one another. We also have a lot of common interests. We both like going to karaoke and having a drink with the people we like. (Would you say you two are intimate?) We’re not that intimate (laughter)... to be honest, Kramer also likes the same things that TusiN and I do, so he completes our trio.
KT Rolster is a gaming organization with deep traditions. You must be more determined than ever.
KT Rolster is a team under a huge telecommunications company, and it’s my first time playing under such a team,so I always have this mindset of needing to do well. It’s a team that was steady in the LCK standings, and even has a championship trophy in their name, so there’s pressure in properly representing such a big company.
KT Rolster and T1 are telecom rivals.
As a pro gamer, I was always a big fan of the ‘Telecom Wars’. I believe that our team needs to work hard to make sure that match is as exciting as it was back then.
As the matchup against Faker was met with much interest back then, you’ll now be facing him again in the ‘Telecom Wars’.
I didn’t really think about that when I joined KT this year. All the Korean teams look really strong this year, so I didn’t have a chance to think about such a detailed matchup. I’m just focused on my own gameplay.
Nowadays, what kind of good plays that mid laners make do you think are good?
When I watch the videos of various mid laners play, they do so many things that are just good. When I watch them, I sometimes learn what to do in certain situations. Right now, the meta is focused on team play, not mechanics, so I believe it’ll suit me well. In recent matches, the games are decided based on the champion matchup. The matchups don’t change, so I need to work on expanding my champion pool, and if that’s not enough, I need to rely on my mechanics to overcome any obstacles.
With recent changes to the Summoner’s Rift in the preseason, how do you predict the game will change?
I think there’s a higher priority on objectives now. Rather than just getting solo kills in lane, I think that the priority that you get in lane needs to transition into securing objectives. With Rift Herald spawning twice before Baron, you can get two towers for free, and with Dragon Soul, you become a lot more confident in teamfights.
If a team that’s behind gives up three dragons to the enemy team, the next dragon, Baron, and even the Elder dragon that will spawn after will put on a lot of pressure. So, although it’ll be okay to give up the first dragon, the dragons that spawn after will require teams to focus on teamfighting, rather than managing lanes. There’s too much at risk to give up dragons for free.
Depending on the dragon that spawns, the Rift itself will change along with it. I personally like the Cloud effect on the Rift, because whether you’re roaming or baiting the enemy, you get more move speed. You also have a higher chance of survivability because of the extra move speed as well. On the flip side, I don’t like the Infernal changes on the Rift, because there were many times where the enemy that’s supposed to die got away via the gaps in the walls.
The alcove in the top and bottom lane seems a bit awkward. When the enemy’s getting away to live, their routes were predictable, but the enemy can stall for time in the alcoves. However, as much as I can make predictions, I need to actually play on stage to figure things out. Things can turn out very different from scrims as to the actual matches.
We’re already nearing the end of the interview. This year’s FA market has been very hectic. In spite of that, what are KT’s realistic goals for this upcoming year?
If you look at other teams, they all look very strong. Even last year, people thought KT’s roster was stacked and predicted that they’ll do well, but it wasn’t the case, so no one knows for sure. However, our realistic goal for the next season is to get into playoffs. If we play better from there, we’ll be able to go to the finals and win the championship. However, it’s something we should worry about when we get there, so I can say that our initial goal is to make it to playoffs, and continue to aim higher from there.
Lastly, please feel free to say anything you want to the fans.
There are many that didn’t forget about me while I was playing in China. Some people even flew to China just to see me play. I want to thank every single one of them. Although my life in China was great, I really missed Korea. I really wanted to hold the LCK-style fan meet, because in China, only a number of fans were selected to participate in the fan meet. I now have a chance to meet with all of them in the country that I missed so much. The only way I can give back is to work hard, and produce good results with my team. I’ll make sure to make it a reality, so please continue to give your support.
Also, there are a lot of people that are fans of the team itself. Among them, there will be fans that liked or disliked me, but since we’re all now in the same boat, please cheer us all on. I’ll make sure to not taint KT Rolster’s name.
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Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports