When we met Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho at a studio for an interview to conclude his long career, he was smiling the whole time and asked for the interview to be not too gloomy. We want to show Smeb’s fun and bright side — just how the fans remember him.
“I’ve been very busy, preparing to stream. Since I live with my family, I can’t stream at home, so I have to get a new house, I need to set up the lights and PC, get a Youtube editor — there are a lot of things to do.
There’s a small studio near my home, so I’ll be renting that place for streaming. It’ll be like going back and forth for work. The people around me, like the guys from ROX, all left home and went far away to be independent, but I was afraid that I would live too carelessly. That’s why I found a place near my home.”
The ROX days: “I wanted to beat [SKT]. I wanted to destroy them, no matter what”
It’s been eight years. In 2013, Smeb started his pro gaming career at the age of 18 and went through the usual ups and downs as every pro player does. He was an average player for two years after his debut in Incredible Miracle. While he was impactful from time to time, his weaknesses were still aplenty. What changed the tide was joining ROX Tigers in 2015 — a move that ushered Smeb’s golden days.
“I started my pro gaming career in IM and spent two years there. At that time, I was an inconsistent top laner who didn’t perform well in competitions and wasn’t that high on solo queue. When people would see my ID in solo queue, my team’s morale would go down. It felt that they were saying, “What? Smeb? Sh*t.” I thought something needed to change, that I can’t leave it this way. So I started to play on an alternate account that no one knew.
The nickname I used at that time was Park Bong-choon (박봉춘). I hit 3rd on solo queue. After that, people started to say, “Who’s Park Bong-choon? It’s good to play with him. He carries the team.” Once people find out that Park Bong-choon was actually me, they started to look at me differently.
"When people would see my ID in solo queue, my team’s morale would go down. It felt that they were saying, 'What? Smeb? Sh*t.'"
Oh, Park Bong-choon isn’t a real name [Laughs]. I have an older brother and I really liked doing what he does from when I was really young. I learned a lot about gaming from him as well. He used to play World of Warcraft and his nickname there was Park Bong-choon. Even to this day, I don’t know what it means. I just followed him. It sounds friendly, so fans liked it. I really like it too.
Anyways, after leaving IM, I went to SKT for a tryout. While I was trying out, Kuro contacted me. He said that he’ll be gathering people in such and such way and asked what I thought about it. Frankly, I really gave it a lot of thought. I was in the middle of a tryout and back then, I wasn’t that close with Kuro. But the team sounded really great, so I went there.
At first, there was some pressure. I was the last one to join. They said that neither of them was as good, but I was the worst and the youngest. That put a lot of pressure on me, but there was something that relieved me of that pressure. When our team was first formed, we had to play in promotions/relegations. In that series, I carried the team and we were promoted. After that, I was recognized by my teammates and I was able to melt into the team properly. That was the beginning.
That year was my third year as a pro player. Usually, it’s the prime of a pro gamer. Most of the players gather experience up to the second year and start showing up from the third year. During the first two years, the good top laners felt like the sky to me. Like Shy or Flame. But as I collected the first-ever pentakill as a top laner, I thought ‘I’m pretty good now’.
"I sometimes think, ‘Why did I do that? Why didn’t I go to SKT? I was too young back then.’ But if I were to go back, I’d probably make the same choice."
So many things happened while I was in ROX Tigers. Bad stuff too. But I don’t think I struggled as much as others think I did. It was rather quite fun. Maybe it was because we were quite good then. Things kept happening to us, and resolving those issues felt fun and interesting to us.
“What should we do? What could we do? Let’s just practice in PC bang.” Or there was a time when hot water didn’t come out in the team house. Everyone just washed up with ice-cold water -- it was freezing. Once, there was something really smelly when everyone was trying to sleep. Those moments feel fun now. They are one of the reasons that we got closer to each other.
What if I had chosen SKT instead of ROX? I thought of that a lot [Laughs]. I got more offers later on as well. They contacted me after the ROX members were scattered, but you know, I had that feeling. I wanted to beat them. I wanted to destroy them, no matter what. After all, I had lost to SKT so many times. That’s the reason I chose KT.
As for now, I sometimes think, ‘Why did I do that? Why didn’t I go to SKT? I was too young back then.’ But if I were to go back, I’d probably make the same choice. My desire to beat them was too big. If I did go to SKT, I might have lived a wealthier life. It still comes to mind from time to time. It comes to me in my dreams as well. I was quite young back then.”
The darkest timeline: “There were a lot of problems back then, things that I couldn’t even list up properly.”
It was a great prime for Smeb but darkness came to him just a swell and the 2019 season in kt Rolster was his lowest point. After the 2018 season, kt Rolster changed the roster completely, keeping only Smeb and Score. Yet all the revamp brought was kt’s worst results in the franchise history, with a struggling Smeb in the top lane.
“Actually, I was quite confident before the start of 2019. I thought whoever came to our team, we could get along well and we could do well. But we weren’t able to. There were a lot of problems back then, things that I couldn’t even list up properly. There were a lot of things that I could blame if I wanted to.
"I wasn’t shaken up by those things, but the people around me were. People like the players around me, coaches, or my parents."
Mostly, the synergy wasn’t good. The coaching staff and players didn’t get along well and the players didn’t get along well either. I think there were a lot of problems in that regard. But for me, I made this conclusion. I didn’t do well, and I lacked a lot. That’s how I concluded the year 2019.
One thing is that I was confident in the amount of practice. I think that practicing also refers to thinking about the game and doing research on the game, not only playing the game in itself. One of the reasons that people said that I didn’t practice enough was that I didn’t play solo queue that much. I’ve always thought solo queue isn’t everything. Even in my prime, I wasn’t good because I played a lot of solo queue.
I run a lot of simulations in my head and watch VODs. I think while I go to sleep and when I think of something, I get up and turn on my computer to try what I thought in practice mode. The source of my performance wasn’t from solo queue. For example, if I want to play a certain champion that I didn’t play that much, it’s more helpful to see a VOD of a person who played that champion 100 times rather than to practice and play the champion 100 times myself.
So I wasn’t shaken up by those things, but the people around me were. People like the players around me, coaches, or my parents. They kept pressuring me to play solo queue, which stressed me out. Besides that, it wasn’t that hard dealing with how the public evaluated me since I believed I had my own way that would be hard to understand for them.”
Measuring talent: “One thing for sure is that I was the most talented among [ROX players]”
Smeb’s comment about studying the game raised one question. Wouldn’t this be possibly if the player was mechanically talented? Granted, mechanical prowess is a given fundamental to all pro gamers but some stand out in this field, and Smeb has long been seen as one such player.
“I think I am quite talented. I was good at games even before I became a pro gamer. I needed to be better than anyone around me, the best player at school, and so on. I thought that there was no one more talented than me in gaming when I started my pro gaming career. However, I realized after two years in IM that the people here are those who had the exact same thought. I wasn’t anything.
But interestingly, I was convinced that I was quite talented after joining ROX Tigers. Yes, I was a talented player [Laughs]. After I was fully convinced, we did really well. Who made me think that you ask? My teammates…? One thing for sure is that I was the most talented among them. I can say that for sure. Everyone else really worked hard. Especially GorillA. I’d say the next most talented would be Kuro?
There was a limit to Kuro’s talent, though, but I had immeasurable talent compared to him [Laughs]. Oh, Peanut is also quite similar to me. He’s doing well now, and I think he’ll continue to do well in the future too. He’s already a veteran in the LCK. He’ll do well.”
Facing retirement: “[Kuro and GorillA] retiring affected me a lot.”
After the 2020 season, GorillA and Kuro both decided to retire, and soon, the only former ROX Tigers member to remain active besides Smeb was Peanut. It was after talking to GorillA and Kuro that Smeb first seriously considered ending his career.
“When Hojin or PraY retired, it didn’t hit me that hard. I just thought, ‘Oh, they retired’. This year, it was completely different. It really struck me. After the season was over, I was talking with GorillA and Kuro about 2021, and they said that they’re both retiring.
GorillA’s been saying that every year. He was always groaning and complaining, that he can’t play anymore because he’s too old and that he’ll be retiring. He was doing the same thing, so I just thought ‘This again’, but he really meant it this time. Kuro was too. So I came to think that it was time. Those two retiring affected me a lot.
"I looked around a lot in foreign countries, but there weren’t any offers that were as significant as I expected."
There are several more things that made my mind about retirement. First, there weren’t that many offers from LCK teams. After franchising, they weren’t that willing to sign the old players. I think they all prefer prospects and rookies. There are a lot of players that are suddenly out of a job. All these people will be looking to become streamers, coaches, cast members… I have to be competing again even after I retired from pro play [Laughs].
Anyway, I looked around a lot in foreign countries, but there weren’t any offers that were as significant as I expected. It was a bummer. I’ve only played in the LCK, so I wanted to try playing in a foreign team, but things didn’t work out as I planned. So that was one reason I decided to retire.
The biggest reason is that I have to join the army and do my mandatory military service. Before I do, I wanted to take on a new challenge, and that was streaming. I streamed from time to time when I was a player and the fans really liked it. So I thought I might have what it takes to be a streamer.
But I thought it would be way too late to start streaming after being released from the army. So I decided to stream until I do join the army. I could say that this is the biggest reason that I decided to retire. After returning from the army, I could also be a coach, so I thought becoming a streamer was something I had to do before it. I’ll see how streaming goes and decide when to join the army — if it goes well, I’ll go as late as possible [Laughs]. If not, I’ll go early.
While I was a player, I thought I would never become a head coach or a coach. It looked too tiresome. But as I neared the end of my career, I thought that I have the talent in doing things like that. In the 2019 season, most of my teammates were younger than me. While we were living together, they followed me well and I found out that I was capable of organizing things or making them understand. This made me change my mind about not wanting to become a coach.”
Smeb also didn’t expect the 2020 LCK Summer Split to be his last season. He still said that it was a satisfactory season. He kept all the resolutions he had while taking a break for half a year, and he could confidently tell anyone that he really worked hard when he was back as a player. With a successful end, Smeb will be starting the second stage of his life as a streamer.
“In the last season, I really worked hard, with the mindset that I had in the beginning. One of the reasons I was able to show good performances was from my hard work. I did work hard before as well, but I can confidently say that I worked my hardest in the last season. I’m satisfied. I restored my self-esteem while I was taking a break, so I don’t have any regrets about retiring.
I think I’ll concentrate on my streams now. I want to show myself to the fans more. Another big reason I returned in the summer was because of the support all the fans sent me. It was unfortunate that I wasn’t able to meet them at LoL Park because of COVID-19, and I wasn’t able to show much besides my performances on stage. So I want to communicate with the fans and show them a lot of fun stuff. It hasn’t been long since I retired, so I’m still quite good. Please come watch my streams.
I’ve always been saying thank you, but this is how I really feel. The biggest motivation for me as a pro gamer was the cheering of all of you fans. This is for sure. I’d like to say thank you again for all your cheering and support. Thank you for all your love. I’ll come back with a new me soon!”