Wolf Schröder is known for many different things, especially in the Korean community. While the general public may know him as a Budae-jjigae [A Korean dish which translates to Army stew in English] connoisseur and someone that loves Korea, much of the Western esports community know him as the veteran esports commentator, who's been casting various esports titles in Korea for over 10 years.
With the departure of Nicholas "LS" De Cesare from the LCK Global casting desk, Wolf was announced as the LCK's newest global color caster for the 2021 LCK season. Despite the heavy snowfall on the day of the conversation, Inven Global managed to trekked through the snow and met up with Wolf for a conversation that entailed various insight that he gained throughout his esports journey, his excitement for the upcoming LCK season, and of course, Budae-jjigae.
*In compliance with the local social distancing protocols regarding COVID-19, Inven Global took all safety measures to conduct this interview.
For those who don't know who you are , please introduce yourself.
My name is Wolf Schröder, an esports commentator that's been living in Korea since 2011. I've lived my whole adult life in Korea. I moved when I was 20. I love Korea, I love Korean esports.
I moved here to do StarCraft 2, then I moved to a lot of different games, but mostly SC2, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch. And now, I'm moving to League of Legends for the first time.
How does it feel to cast LCK?
I've always liked watching Korean LoL. It's the spiritual successor of Korean Brood War in terms of popularity, the sponsors, how much money there is behind it, the fans... It's old enough to have an extremely rich history. The only other long-standing tournament in Korea is probably the GSL.
I love long-standing esports like that. I feel very honored to be a part of that. And also there's a lot of pressure. I feel nervous about being able to live up to the legacy that PapaSmithy and MonteCristo, and even LS more recently, left as color commentators. But that pressure makes me feel excited and makes me want to work harder.
On entering LoL and preparing for the new game"I can't just walk in. I have to be really good."
You said you've spent months preparing for this role. Can you share some of your preparation?
I spent a lot of time watching old Korean LoL so I could immerse myself in remembering some of the iconic players over the years, because most of them are gone but I want to be able to reference them and compare players of today that could be similar to players in the past.
I also spent a lot of time playing the game and studying champions that I wasn't as familiar with. I know what a champion does, but I want to feel it and learn all the different champion interactions, how it is to move around the map as different champions, the right item builds... I feel that you don't necessarily have to play the game at a high level to be good as a commentator, but coming into a new game, I wanted to learn a lot of the interactions.
I've been studying drafts a lot: I studied drafts from other regions, I studied Worlds a lot, just to find strong trends that I can teach fans, but also to test what I feel is true, whether the players agree with me or not.
"It's one of the hardest things I've ever prepped for my entire career."
Does the preparation change per title, or is it more or less the same?
Every time I cast a new game, the prep feels really similar. It's mostly based on gathering info about trends and then studying storylines, past and present. In preparation for this gig, while I felt that the prep process has been more or less the same. However, the core difference was that all other games I've commentated were new, but LoL is a game that's been around for a long time, so it feels there's a lot of pressure to double and triple check everything I'm doing. It's one of the hardest things I've ever prepped for my entire career. I can't just walk in. I have to be really good.
It's blatantly evident that there are differences between English and Korean casting. Casting in Korean has more hype, shouting and screaming; they're hyping up the fans as if they are fans themselves. Meanwhile, English is more — compared to Korea — composed; it's more explanatory. You've been in Korea for so long. Do you think you're in that middle point?
I do kind of feel I'm in the gap between the English and Korean casting. I watch a lot of Korean commentary as well, especially Overwatch, because Korean casters have a different perspective. That's something I want to bring to this broadcast as well.
I kind of like being in the middle, but the English cast has its fun points too. English cast has its comedic moments; they make jokes during downtime that I don't know if Korean fans will be OK with. [laughs] They might not be OK with Atlus talking about Pokemon, you know? [laughs] But the western fans love it. We have a lot of freedom on the English cast.
On the meta and who won the off-season"[Canyon] could be the best player in the world."
What are your thoughts on the meta right now, are the new items overturned...
A lot of the new mythic items are pretty bloated in power. Galeforce in particular is one of those items that probably be changed at one point because it's used by everybody right now since mobility is so strong.
Junglers have a really strong hold of this meta right now and that's gonna give Canyon and DAMWON a huge advantage, not to mention Canyon is killing it in solo queue. He could be the best player in the world. It's hard to strongly and definitively say that factually, he is the best, but it gets harder and harder to argue against it with every game that goes by.
One of the most interesting things to look on day 1 as we go into drafts is how much of the KeSPA Cup meta will prevail in the LCK and how much teams playing safe and hiding stuff during the tournament in December.
"When [SANDBOX] draft, they have a clear theme, whereas lots of other teams are looking for comfort picks right now."
Have there been teams that impressed you in KeSPA Cup other than maybe DAMWON?
My darkhorse team for LCK this split is Liiv SANDBOX. They look really good, they have good ideas in drafts and their composition seems fleshed out. When they draft, they have a clear theme, whereas lots of other teams are looking for comfort picks right now. I'm really impressed by Croco. I think he's a strong jungler. (I have different opinions about Croco but I think we can skip it.) [laughter] I think he's got a lot of potential. If he irons out some of his weak points he can really good, especially in this meta where junglers are so important.
Now, I want you to give me your prediction on what the Spring split standings will look like at the end of the season. This isn't to be taken seriously, but it'll be curious to look back at the standings and see how much of your predictions stood correct by the end. (The following is Wolf's predictions on the Spring split standings).
1) DWG KIA
7) KT Rolster
Hmm.. I can see few arguments to be made on some teams on the list, but personally, the most curious one definitely has to be your take on Nongshim RedForce. Why did you place them 3rd, over T1?
Putting Nongshim Redforce over T1 may seem controversial at first glance, but T1 is too big of a question mark at the moment. We know they have veteran and fresh talent alike-- no one is questioning the roster they have built. The bigger question is how does it function together? Nongshim Redforce showed a ton of potential in KeSPA Cup and in general, very strong macro play. I am happy to be wrong about their power level relative to T1, but I can't put T1 above them without seeing any of their games.
In terms of the off-season stove league, which teams do you think came up as the big winners?
That's a hard question. DAMWON lost Nuguri, but got kkOma and Khan. They could've been ripped apart by five different teams. But they got to keep everyone but Nuguri and they got kkOma, so I like them a lot.
DRX definitely got the bad end of it. [laughs] They are gonna struggle for a little while. (I can make an argument for Hanwha). Yeah, Hanwha are trying to come back with Chovy as well. Afreeca is one of those that nobody really knows, [laughs] it's a bit hard to say, but I'm optimistic.
On what motivates the rookies vs. the veterans"Nobody's talking whether Chovy is the new Faker, because it's so much harder for him to be that now."
In those 10 years you've spent in Korea, you've watched countless pros and esports titles. Do you think some of the new blood, some of the rookies, are motivated by the same things that the veterans? Obviously, rookies of today entered esports when the market had grown...
That's a really good question. What I want to say is esports is so big now, it's so hyper-competitive to even be on a team, that to think you can be Faker, you have big dreams, right? To even be noticed, to be on an academy team, to maybe make it to the LCK... That's a huge ladder to climb. League was already huge when Faker had his crazy moment vs. Ryu. However, the standards were lower, as there weren't as many players and there wasn't a stable scene, and now it's a stable scene, the minimum salary has gone up, so many players are trying to be the best. And to get to the point to be a legend is so hard.
"Griffin was the best team, all their players were incredible. And then they split and they're still individually talented but if they stayed together they'd probably be legends forever."
One example — a tragedy — is the story of Griffin. Griffin was the best team, all their players were incredible. Then they split, and while they're still individually talented, if they stayed together, they'd probably be legends forever. And now, maybe they still can be, but it's harder. Everyone knows how good Chovy is but nobody's talking whether Chovy is the new Faker, because it's so much harder for him to be that now.
Compared to the past, nowadays, it's easier to become a pro, so there are more people trying to become it, which makes becoming a legend harder. Going from "guy thinks he's a hot shot top laner in solo queue" to becoming Flame... that Flame is so much harder now, if that makes sense.
Do you think their goals are still to become the best or has it been skewed to just be "become a pro and think of the next steps after"?
I think that's a pretty safe thing to say, many just want to get to a stable salary. Especially if you're almost making it and your mom and dad are like, "Is he going back to school? He's just playing solo queue". Many want to get to a stable salary so they can tell their mom like, "Look, I'm making more money now, and now I can give savings to the family and if I really make it — look at the numbers that are out there."
There's only so much you can prove to a team before you play a televised match.
On esports and mainstream media"The Olympics needs esports more than we need the Olympics."
Now that esports has gotten traction on mainstream media, how do you think it should be portrayed? What are some of the things traditional media is doing right or wrong?
The way that OGN portrayed and built SC2 and what they did with LoL Champions — making players superstars — I think that's the way we should portray esports to the world. Yes, we're commentating about players playing a video game on a computer, but making them walk out in these epic opening, showing these guys are essentially gods, they're celebrities, people look up to them. They are role models even. Making them superstars is the way I want to portray esports to everybody.
"I don't feel pressure that I'm not working in mainstream media, or 'Are we as big as the NFL or FIFA?'"
I think mainstream media will pick that up eventually, because right now, it picks up on gaming addiction. Eventually, the main topic of esports is, "How much money do they make?", because that's the people who still watch TV want to know, right? [laughs]
People also ask me "Does esports need to be in the Olympics before it's mainstream?" And to me, I feel like the Olympics needs esports more than we need the Olympics. We're so big already and we're only gonna get bigger. I don't feel pressure that I'm not working in mainstream media, or "Are we as big as the NFL or FIFA?" We don't need to compare ourselves to that.
On how to "make it" in esports casting"If you're even thinking "Maybe I should quit", it's probably not for you."
Just as people look up to pros and gets inspired, there will be people who are inspired you to become an esports commentator. Do you have any advice you can give them?
The hardest part about being a commentator is making it and getting recognized. Most people would just give up because they didn't get a gig. They tried to do some stuff, they worked really hard, but nobody noticed them, or someone who had more connection got the job they were training for. And I'm not saying you should quit school to be a caster, but if you really want to make it, you're gonna have a lot of bad times. There's gonna be times where you wanna give up, or get unlucky, or you're trying to make an event and nobody's even watching it. You think of all the work you put in and ask, "What am I even doing?"
"There's gonna be times where you wanna give up, or get unlucky, or you're trying to make an event and nobody's even watching it. You think of all the work you put in and ask, 'What am I even doing?'"
If you hit that point and give up there, you will never make it. If you really want to make it, you just have to keep going until you do. And there are so many commentators who've worked behind the scenes for years before they got their first big gig. Luckily for me, I started so early when esports was so new that I only did that for a year or two before I got to the big leagues.
You have to persevere. If you really want it, you can't quit. If you're even thinking "Maybe I should quit", it's probably not for you.
To persevere, you need a lot of passion. How do you keep yours?
When I was struggling in the early days, I looked to where I wanted to go — which was the GSL — I looked at the GSL production and what I was doing in my bedroom and I thought, "I need to make my show better". I just kept contacting people, contacted pro players, see if they wanted to play in a showmatch.
On the Wolf legacy: What he wants to leave behind"I want to teach new fans what there is to love about Korean esports."
Being such a veteran in the scene, do you still have goals?
That's a really good question, people ask me that a lot. "If you cast the finals of OWL, is that it? You climbed the mountain and can look down." No, not really. For me, my goal has always been to be happy with my casting.
So there hasn't been a day where you went, "I fucking nailed it?"
The funny thing is, on the days I've felt I nailed it, that's the days I get the most criticism. [laughs] I find that with my commentary, when I want to tell a story, hit a moment on the broadcast — I'm always ready for that. I have it all written out in my head. It never comes out the way I want but what I'm trying to say is I always listen back and think "It could've been better".
My goal is not to be the best LoL caster ever. The goal is to put on a good show for the fans and make them love the LCK. A lot of fans will be watching because DAMWON won Worlds, but I want to show there's more to Korea than DAMWON, more to its history than T1 and KT. I want to teach new fans what there is to love about Korean esports. If I succeed in that, then I go to the next goal. I don't have an end game like, "You know what, I did it."
"My goal is not to be the best LoL caster ever. The goal is to put on a good show for the fans and make them love the LCK."
Then, what kind of a legacy do you want to leave behind when you eventually see your exit from esports?
I want people to know me as the guy who told them the stories they didn't know, the stories they cared about. In OW, I got known for being very polarizing. There are many Korean pros in the OWL that came from APEX [the tournament series, not the game — Ed.] and Korean Contenders leading up to the OWL and I felt nobody was talking about where many of them were coming from, what they were good at, what were they famous for.
I want people to remember me as someone who told them things they didn't know about Korean players. Many might think I'm a Korean elitist or only care about Korean players, but that's my background, right? I've lived here my entire adult life. I'm not gonna pretend I know an EU player's story better, because I don't.
Closing words from a Budae-jjigae connoiseur"I know spam has a bad connotation in the West but it tastes great with the broth."
You know how there are a lot of bootcampers who come to Korea for a year or two. For those bootcampers, I want you to tell them why they should try budae-jjigae [A Korean delicacy which translates to 'Army Stew' - Ed].
[laughs] The first thing I want to say bootcampers is don't fall in the trap of staying in your hotel the entire time and ask your manager to order MacDonald's all the time. When you get the chance, do go out, see different things, explore, and DM me if you need help. [laughs]
Budae-jjigae is a dish you should definitely try because it's awesome. It's spicy but not unbearably spicy. It has ramyun noodles in it, because even people who've never traveled to Korea have at least tried ramyun. It has a lot of amazing meat in it, though I know spam has a bad connotation in the West, but it tastes great with the broth. (It's a great hangover food) It's amazing hangover food. That was the first time I tried it. They showed me the picture of Budae-jjigae and I was like "That looks gross". [laughs] In the picture there was like a raw ramyun pack with cheese on it and then a bunch of veggies and spam, beans... But when you cook it, it becomes this incredible stew.
I'm not doing a good job selling it now, but you should definitely try it. Look at my Instagram! Half my pictures are about Budae-jjigae. [laughs]
Lastly, is there anything that you’d like to say to our readers, or make any special shoutouts to the special people in your life?
Thanks to all the people that helped me in my journey in esports. You all know who you are, so I won’t say any names out on record. The boy I was when I moved here in 2011 and the man I am now in 2021 are two completely different people. I learned so much, I’ve seen so much esports, and through it, I’ve transformed a lot. I couldn’t have done it alone, so thank you to all those that helped me along the way. I’m very excited to start my journey in the LCK, and if you want to keep following me, please follow my socials.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports
Esports editor and journalist of 10+ years. Lives on black tea and corgi love.