"Before Faker, there was BoxeR."
Korea has a long history of esports, being successful in many different events. In the beginning, there were players like Shin “Honest” Joo-young, Lee “Ssamjang” Gi-seok, Kim “rainbow[roka]” Tae-hyeong, Bong “SKELTON” Joon-gu, etc, who first introduced the profession, “professional gamer” to Korea. The esports stars dominated the media in no time and swept in like a hurricane among the young generations. The PC cafe businesses were massively popular and Starcraft became like a folk game. Pro gamers became idols among youngsters.
Former Starcraft pro gamer and current streamer/poker player Lim “BoxeR” Yo-hwan is known as a very special figure even among the early pro gamers. What made him so special is not only about his career but the fact that he ‘laid the groundwork’ for modern esports. BoxeR attended various TV shows and cultural events, being the center of the establishment of the Korean Air Force Game team to promote a positive image of the esports scene. In 2004, he contributed to the creation of SK Telecom T1, introducing a solid esports organization in Korea. If there wasn’t BoxeR’s effort to change how people recognized esports, people may have thought a lot less of pro gamers and it could have become an event of the minority.
Now BoxeR is living as a pro poker player, T1’s streamer, and as the father of two daughters. Inven Global managed to speak to BoxeR, who was still working hard to keep his streams enjoyable and to stay healthy. How have you been, legend?
Hello! It’s been a long time. Would you like to say hi to the fans?
Hi! This is Lim Yo-hwan, a pro poker player slash streamer. It’s nice to say hi through this interview.
We’d like to hear about how you’ve been doing. What have you been up to recently?
I’ve been stuck at home for ten weeks due to the coronavirus as if I was imprisoned. There wasn’t much to do for that time so I started to play League of Legends. I’ve been to work at a pub I opened for about a week starting from May… But now I’m back to quarantine.
A picture of your daughter happily sitting on top of you was posted in the communities. Do you feel the pressure of being the head of the household?
Only those who are in my shoes feel the weight… The cost of being happy with my family.
You’ve been active as a streamer with T1 recently, wearing a shirt that says “My dream is to become a T1 Trainee”. Many fans were delighted. How did you end up wearing it?
Because of my age, I don’t take a game lightly, whatever game it is that I start. I thought I should have a goal to motivate myself, so I should have one whatever it is. I wore the trainee shirt since I’ve never been a trainee as a member of T1.
Is there a goal that you’d like to achieve as a “Trainee”?
The first goal is to hit Gold in the near future. Taking it to the far future, my goal is to hit Challenger one day.
How does LoL suit you? Is there anything that’s still difficult?
As it’s an 11-year-old game, the entry barrier is extremely high. Maybe it would be similar to those who start Starcraft now for the first time. Another part would be that since it’s a team game, your mentality has to be in a very healthy state.
How did it feel playing with the T1 pro players?
I felt that if someone s**ts faster than those who clean it up, even pros can’t do much (Laughs).
How does it feel watching the many young gamers who do their best practicing as a pro gamer?
I get a bit nostalgic, thinking of my old days. On the other hand, there’s a part of me that thinks ‘if only I was born later so that I can challenge them…’ There are so many things that I feel happy by just watching them.
Many legends of SKT such as you and Wolf are returning to T1 as content creators. How did you return to T1 as a creator, and how does it feel seeing the legends coming back?
It’s a positive direction for T1 as a brand, stepping over the line of just being a team. It’s the proper way for esports to leap to the next level. As a former member of T1, I wanted to be a part of that leap.
BoxeR meeting Faker also drew a lot of attention. Fans named that moment, “the encounter of the Creator and the owner”. How was Faker in the Creator’s eyes?
I think Faker’s still an unstained player. He knows nothing but the game, gets angry when he loses… It’s not easy to maintain that mindset when someone is in such a position. You can tell by simply seeing him trying to avoid playing with me (Laughs).
In many ways, Faker is currently writing new legendary tales. Of all people, YOU would feel differently about him.
There should be a certain kind of responsibility and sense of duty that he feels at that position. It comes naturally along with being loved by so many fans. I used to prepare the matches thinking I have to repay them for the love. Wouldn’t it mean a lot more to Faker?
It’s been a long time. Compared to when you were active as a player, what do you think has changed in the esports scene? What hasn’t?
I usually focus on just one thing, so I wasn’t able to look around the esports scenes much. Still, I know that there are so many esports organizations around the world now. The scale is much, much bigger and their salaries… Esports is also being considered as a proper event in the Asian Games and the Olympics. I think it’s grown incomparably much more than when I was active.
How about you? What has changed with you from then and what hasn’t changed?
What hasn’t changed is that I’m still a professional player. What has changed is that I no longer use my mechanics (pro gamer) and now try to outsmart (pro poker player) my opponent.
SK Telecom T1 which started with you is now the most influential esports organization in the world. How do you feel?
I never knew that all the effort I put in during my days would come back after it hit the ceiling like this. Wow! Of course, I don’t hold any shares, though (Laughs). If the younger generations do well, I would be remembered for longer, right?
You’ve been doing so many things, starting from being “the emperor” in Starcraft, transitioning to a poker player, attending award ceremonies and events at the blue hose, shooting ads and broadcasts… If there’s anything that you haven’t achieved that you wanted to?
I’ve aged so much without myself noticing… I don’t remember. Did I get the Golden Mouse Award?
What was the best moment of your esports career?
I would like to say it hasn’t come yet. If esports becomes an official event in the Olympics, I would like to say then is the best moment.
We’re curious about your future plans. Is there something you’ve been planning to do or any goals to reach?
I want to keep streaming and still be active widely as a poker player so that poker becomes kind of a “2nd esport”.
Like you or Faker who are recognized as legends, there could be more young prospects who could succeed that recognition. Do you have any advice to give to those players?
You can gain wealth and fame by excelling at a game and becoming a pro, but if you want to become a legend, never forget the fans.
Thank you so much for the interview. Any last comments for the fans?
It’s been such a long time since I’ve interviewed with Inven. Old memories come back like a flashback. Thank you, everyone, for your support. Please watch out for the coronavirus and stay healthy!
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.