Lee “Kuro” Seo-haeng had his ups and downs over the eight years of his pro player career. Debuting in 2013, eight years of pro player career is definitely an amount of time where he earned his title of veteran. From IM, Najin, ROX Tigers, BLG, to kt Rolster, he’s been a staple name in LoL Esports, and is someone that would always be in the scene.
He had the choice to continue playing as a pro in 2021. In our conversation with Kuro, he gave Inven rather a simple reason why he decided to retire. He shared that he kept going forward as a pro gamer for eight years without a break, and wanted to spend some time as himself, not as the pro gamer, Kuro.
Based on his skills, career, and legacy, he’s someone that can proudly say, “I’ve done quite well in the scene”. Because of such, he shared that while there are some things he wishes that could’ve turned out differently, he has zero regrets about his retirement. While he seemed a bit nervous at the start of the interview, he calmly shared some of the highlight moments of his career, which includes facing Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok, his fun times during his ROX Tigers days, and various parts of his past.
How’ve you been doing after your retirement?
I’ve spent time thinking what I wanted to do. The first thing I wanted to do was to move out and live on my own, so I found a place and have moved out from my family home since. It’s really nice to not have anyone tell me what to do (laughter). It’s a bit tedious to throw out the garbage and recycle things on my own, but I think of all such things as just growing up.
The first thing I want to ask is, why did you decide to retire at this point in time?
I first seriously thought about retirement since the Summer split of this year. I’m not the type to talk about my worries with others, so after quietly thinking about it on my own, I was 80% sure with myself that I was going to retire after this year.
I imagined what it’d be like if I continued playing in 2021. It would mean that I’ll be doing my mandatory military service in 2022, and when I finish, I would be close to 30. While I have so many moments that I treasure as a pro gamer, I didn’t want to spend the entirety of my 20s as a pro gamer. The biggest reason why I retired was that I wanted to spend at least a year without the pro gamer title, and spend time on myself. People say that I’ll be more free after the military service, but personally, there’s a lot of pressure that comes when I hit 30.
You never told anyone close to you about your retirement?
That’s right. As I said earlier, I’m not usually the type to talk about my personal problems to others. Of course, I do talk about some things over a drink with friends. Before I officially announced my retirement, people have been asking me, “Hey, I heard you’re going to China? I heard a rumor about you joining a certain team?” (laughter).
What are some of the things you gained and lost during your time as a pro gamer?
Hmm… I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think I lost anything. I’m still friends with all my old friends, and there are so many things I gained as well. I was very lucky as well. I don’t want to think that I lost anything for myself, just because I spent most of my 20s in a fierce, competitive world. If I wasn’t a pro gamer, I would not have all my fans send so much support, and wouldn’t have made money. Also, I consider myself to be an introvert, but through my pro gamer days, I became extroverted, and I feel that it’s been a good change in my life.
Many other veteran players that are in your generation have also announced their retirement this year. How did you feel watching them retire?
It was sad to see all the players that I competed against back in the days retire, and it made me realize just how much time actually passed. Timing wise, it felt like it was the time for the new generation of pros to take over, and I want to tell all the retired pros that they’ve all done great work.
The message, “They’ve all done great work” feels heavier, coming from you.
Really? (Laughter). It’s a short message that’s a show of respect to my fellow generation of pros. Sometimes, people think that this profession is easy. While all professions come with their own set of trials and tribulations, being a pro gamer is incredibly stressful. Even when I try my hardest to not read the online community talk about me, I do end up hearing about them one way or another. I feel that you become a pseudo-public figure as a pro gamer, so the weight of people knowing your name is heavier than one can imagine.
How did you relieve all your stress in your pro gamer days?
I usually just met up with my friends. When I became really stressed out, I called my friends out for a drink, and ended up bawling my eyes out. Whether it’s the offseason or I had couple days off, I spent a lot of time with my friends.
Playing under so many different teams, is there a specific team that you enjoyed the most?
While I do remember every team I was part of, I feel that my golden days were when I was with the ROX Tigers. The community still talks about those days, but now, we’re all sick of them (laughter). I had the most fun playing the game on ROX, so that’s why I feel that I was at my peak then. Even still, I have treasurable moments with all the teams I was part of.
Can you talk about some of your former teammates that brought you positive influence, or those that you felt were very unique?
I feel that there was at least one unique personality on each team that I was a part of. While I can’t mention specific names, top laners were usually the unique ones. Apart from top laners, Hojin from ROX was very unique. He’s a type of person that I’ve never met before I joined ROX. He’s a very kind soul, and takes care of others very well. We still talk regularly to this day, and I feel he’s still a very unique person. It’s really hard to explain how unique he is, so you have to live with him to find out.
In terms of those that positively influenced my life, they were Jeong “NoFe” No-chul and Choi “iloveoov” Yeon-sung. NoFe, alongside Kim “SSONG” Sang-soo, he’s someone that taught me so many different aspects about the game that I didn’t know.
I had a lot of internal things that weighed heavily on my mind and pressured me, and iloveoov is someone that helped me deal with such things very well. Since my ROX days, I had this trauma with SKT and Faker, but iloveoov helped me a lot in dealing with such. Because of his help, I beat Faker quite a bit in 2017.
They say that pro players are stubborn to a certain extent. Were you stubborn?
I don’t think I was stubborn. There are times where I became stubborn about the game itself, but I usually found middle ground with my team. Whenever I was trying to figure out the meta with each patch, I usually accepted what others told me quite well.
The most stubborn player that I met has to be Jang “MaRin” Gyeong-hwan. In terms of being stubborn, he’s definitely at the top of the list. He’s unyielding in how he views the game, and even others tell him about how broken a new champion is, he beats all of the new champs with his own champion pool, so there isn’t anything we can say to him to change his mind.
When people rate you as a player, they say that you’re a very balanced player. Others also stated that you had a certain skill cap as a player. Thoughts?
I agree. That’s one of the things I regret. I feel that if I worked even just a little bit harder in my early days as a pro, I feel that I could’ve broken my own boundaries. It’s a hard problem to solve.
Is there anything that you hope to be reformed in the scene, for the next generation of players?
The prize pool. The scene definitely became immensely bigger than before, but not the prize pool. While the player salaries definitely increased from before, I hope to see the prize money go up as well. I feel that compared to the money that players can earn from big tournaments like Worlds, the LCK prize pool is considerably small.
What’s the most memorable match in your eight-year long career?
Hmm… It’s hard to pick one. I remember all the matches that I played in, and I treasure them all very much.
On the flip side, what about the match that left you with the most regret?
There is only one. Most people assume that the match was at Worlds, but they’re wrong. It was the ‘IT ENJOY NLB Summer 2014 finals’ against SKT T1. I played Orianna, while Faker was playing Yasuo, and I was in a one vs one scenario against him. I was 100% sure that I’d solo kill him, and because I was so sure I’d win, I made a mistake and used my Q (Command: Attack) too short, so I got solo killed by him.
I think my trauma with Faker and SKT T1 started at that point. If I successfully solo killed Yasuo back then, I think my life would’ve changed a lot.
Source: NiceGameTV Youtube
Can you tell us more about that ‘Faker trauma’?
I faced him countless times. At some point in time, I feel like I was losing matches because of one wrong move. That’s when I feel that trauma was developed. I played against him and SKT quite a bit in many high-stakes matches as well, but because of the trauma and the pressure that came with those matches, I didn’t play as well as I could’ve. Such things weighed down on my mind for a long time.
Lastly, is there any advice that you can give to the next generation of players that are following your footsteps?
The biggest thing I regret is, “What if I worked a little bit harder?” It’s not like I didn’t hear this sentence in my player days, but I hope that my story will positively influence other players (laughter).
It’s really hard to work hard. To work hard is very subjective, so when you ask yourself, “Did you work hard?”, if you answer “Yes” without a moment of hesitation, others will agree that you’re a hard working player. If you’re that player, I think that you won’t have any regrets when you retire.
Choosing to become a pro gamer is one of the best choices I made in my life. As a pro gamer, I was incredibly happy. I hope that players will give it their all with a sense of responsibility as a pro. There’s gold waiting at the end of the road, so constantly remind yourself of what it means to be a pro. I hope that there won’t be any controversy that gives flack to all the pro gamers from one or two players making a mistake. In that sense, take example of Faker’s career, as he’s a prime example of how every pro gamer should act.
Also, is there anything you’d like to say to the fans, who’s been the prime motivation for you as a pro player?
I always say this, but I wouldn’t be here without the fans. I really wanted to meet with my fans this year, but because of COVID, I couldn’t. If the pandemic situation becomes better next year, I’ll make sure to host a fan meet, even if it means spending money out of my pocket. Please take care of your health until then. While the pro gamer Kuro will no longer be in the scene, I’ll be communicating with the fans through streaming or through Youtube.
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