You want it to last forever, but nothing does. Esports players have to retire at some point and begin the next part of their journey.
In the early days, there weren’t many options for retired pros. All they could do is become a caster or join a coaching staff. Today, things aren’t much better, but at least there’s the option to stream.
In this corner, we go into the second act of the esports players’ careers. Pros-turned-streamers Lee “Wolf” Jae-wan and Lee “CuVee” Sung-jin joined Inven for a chat.
We’ve been seeing you often on stream. Other than that, how have you been?
CuVee: When I don’t stream, I just play around doing whatever I want. Most pro players do that — they usually play other games than LoL. Recently, I’ve gotten into playing Genshin. Compared to other games, I don’t need to spend that much money.
Wolf: I cast LCK when there are games and I also play other games a lot in my spare time. Recently, Inven asked me to cast Valorant, so I’ve been playing it. The reputation Valorant has in Korea isn’t that great, so I also had a biased opinion on the game, but when I actually played it, it was really fun. My FPS game skills are extremely low, but there are skills and all. My shots get pretty accurate.
I’m also playing Lost Ark. It takes about five hours just to do the daily routine. I’m really happy that I made a +25 weapon a couple of days ago.
You’ve both been active as streamers since retirement. Did you worry much about what you’ll do after retiring?
CuVee: I’m a very optimistic person so I didn’t worry at all. If anything were to cross my way, I was going to choose that and if nothing came along, I was going to do my military service. It was fortunate that I had a good chance to become a streamer.
Wolf: I was worried a bit, but it didn’t take long to get rid of that. I said in my retirement interview that the choices retired pro gamers usually have are coaching or streaming. If that doesn’t work out, we have to join the army. I thought I would try to open my path in broadcasting using my fame. I’m happy that I’ve been doing all that I wanted.
Why didn’t you choose to become a coach?
CuVee: Since I’ve been a player for a long time, I know how they work. It’s really hard. Since I worked really hard while I was a player, I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up and endure if I became a coach. As a streamer, I feel comfortable physically and mentally now.
Wolf: I have mental issues, both now and when I was as pro. I’m trying to stay as far away as possible from the competitive teams. I thought being outside would be more fun. I also have been seeing how the coaches work from very close. It looked really tiring. I feel that I don’t need to get into that scene right away.
The first thing I wanted to do was commentate. The players that recently retired have to have a great eye for the game. I wanted to show the fans what others don’t see.
Then do you ever consider becoming a coach?
Wolf: If life gets hard… You never know. Right now, as a streamer, I earn much less than when I was a player. I might consider coaching if they offer me around 500M KRW (~$440,000) after taxes. This offer would be hard to turn down as a rookie coach — it’ll be worth the hard work [Laughs]. But obviously, there weren’t any such offers.
CuVee: For me, I might consider it after my military service.
Have you ever thought of doing other things?
Wolf: I thought of running a business. One of the main ideas was opening a PC cafe. I wanted to try out some of the ideas that I had. But COVID-19 came along. I think it’ll be fun to stream in the PC cafe and hold events. There will be an area to make plastic models as well.
It’s kind of a “space business”. When I was a player, my hobby was making plastic models, but it was really hard since there wasn’t proper ventilation. I was spraying my models in the parks of apartments and it was quite tiring. Whatever that’s inconvenient for me could become a business. I think I’ll take a challenge after COVID-19.
CuVee: I’m pretty self-aware. I thought I didn’t have any abilities or experience to work in a different field, so I didn’t even think about it.
Why did you choose to stream on Twitch?
CuVee: This was rather simple. I’ve been streaming on Twitch since I was a player, so I just naturally chose it. I’m accustomed to the functions Twitch provides. “Watching LCK Together” was possible too.
Wolf: It’s the same reason for me. I also streamed on Twitch when I was a player. There were a lot of fans already on Twitch so it wasn’t easy for me to choose a different platform. I think players usually choose the platform they streamed on when they were active.
Are there any functions you want to be added?
Wolf: Now that someone actually asked, I can’t think of any. There was something that was inconvenient… It must have been something minor.
CuVee: There aren’t a lot of things that are uncomfortable. I really can’t stand it when something’s uncomfortable. Sometimes, there are server lags, but other than that, I don’t think there’s anything.
What are the pros and cons of being a streamer?
CuVee: The biggest con would be that the pay isn’t as high. Besides that, it’s really satisfying mentally and physically. Some people ask whether some bad viewers make it difficult, but I actually have fun fighting on Twitch chat [Laughs]. As much as I’m a top laner, I can’t just pass it by. So it’s rather enjoyable. I have a really high threshold for stress so my teammates really envied me for that when I was active. I was carefree.
Wolf: Although being a player was enjoyable, there were many parts where I struggled. So I say that I’m happy now. That I’m happy, there’s no one like me. It’s a life without winning or losing. Whatever I do, there isn’t a correct answer. Everything’s okay.
The cons would be the income. Compared to when I was a player, I make 1/5th or even 1/10th. There are quite a few retired players that struggle because of that.
Can we get more into the income? I think it would be helpful to the players that might follow.
CuVee: It’s hard to make 100M KRW (~$90K) as a streamer.
Wolf: The biggest difference is stability. As a player, you get paid the designated salary every month. Now, there’s a big gap since I make as much as I work. Some months, I might make none at all. This could be stressful.
What’s most important in being a streamer?
CuVee: I think the kind of career one had as a player is the most important. A player that was successful would be at least average whatever they do. Otherwise, the road would be rocky all the way, whatever it is.
Wolf: If you look at the LCK analyst desk or broadcasts that are related to the league, there aren’t that many people who weren’t successful as players. If they didn’t have good careers, it would be difficult with the income. There’s something I always say to the players that consider retirement: “Endure if it’s endurable. The only person that says they’re happy after retirement was me.”
What other aspects do retired pros-gone-streamers need?
Wolf: One big thing is how well they can multitask. I saw some players stream and they just watch the game and don’t communicate. You have to know how to communicate.
CuVee: Top laners usually just see what’s in front of them, so it’s hard to multitask. I really mean it. I heard Nuguri just has his own screen locked in.
Wolf: Some top laners are just looking at the tower that’s in front of them, even when there’s a huge teamfight on the bot side. Don’t they get curious? It’s worth watching once in a while…
CuVee: When they fight, I, at least, watch.
Wolf: Supports usually have some time to look around and it’s quite fun watching others fight. If we lost but the fight was very close, we’d have to go in ASAP. It’s important to say that word, “Shucks” [Laughs].
Back to the main topic. How is your daily schedule?
CuVee: It’s always similar. There’s no specific time to get up. I wake up when I want to and turn on the stream. After streaming, I just do whatever I want to do. Like playing another game. I usually get up pretty late, but I’m up by the time the LCK starts.
Wolf: It’s the same with me. I usually get active around 2-4 p.m.. Last year, I used to wake up just before the LCK would start, but my voice didn’t come out right and it was hectic. So starting this year, I started to prepare earlier. After the LCK broadcast is over, I play other games with friends. Sometimes I watch Netflix or cook. It’s really good that I have my own time.
CuVee: When I was a player, I couldn't play games or go out the way I wanted to. It was really hard that I wasn’t able to play games other than LoL. The difficult things for usual people would be “I can’t travel” [Laughs]. Anyways, the free time as a player wasn’t actually that free.
Wolf: Although we say free time, it was just time to eat and rest. As a player, there’s only 1-2 hours of free time per day. And it’s not that we could go out during that time. It was just time to get organized. It was really short, so I gave it a lot of thought about what to do and ended up making plastic models 30 minutes a day. They didn’t say much about that.
One of the reasons that pro gamers’ careers are short is that it’s extremely hectic mentally.
Wolf: I didn’t know that when I was playing in Korea. Everybody did the same. But after going abroad for a year, I thought it’ll be hard to go back to that original life. When I was in Turkey, I just needed to concentrate on our practice time and they didn’t interfere with any other spare time. Whatever we did, we just needed to take responsibility for our actions.
CuVee: I think it differs by person how much they’re affected. Some people let go of themselves if they go to NA and some people fall in Korea because they’re too driven. I think it depends on their styles.
Wolf: I think the former SKT controlled this well. If our results in competition or scrims were too bad, kkOma would just get rid of evening scrims and have us just all play together. We played bowling or watched movies together. It was really helpful. If we had a losing mentality, scrims didn’t help at all.
Are there any new worries as a streamer?
CuVee: I only worry about what to eat every day [Laughs]. Oh. One more thing would be the army. Other than that, there’s none at all.
Wolf: There’s a simple thing. It’s about broadcasting. Would I be able to do this next year? Would I be able to broadcast MSI or Worlds? Things like that.
In 2018, they said that active players couldn’t broadcast separately and in 2019, they said players need to be completely retired to broadcast. When other leagues were franchised, all individual broadcasts were forbidden — only the LCK was open.
And up to now, the competitions that were held by Riot couldn’t be broadcasted separately. Competitions like MSI or Worlds.
As someone who broadcasts separately, I wish there were specific rules to it, whatever they might be. To me, it’s directly related to my livelihood. If they block it, I’d actually be worried about what I should do.
Don’t you worry about what kind of content you should create?
CuVee: Gen.G helps me a lot. They don’t even pressure me. There are a lot of passive players, and I think it’s comfortable being affiliated with an organization like this. I think it’ll be helpful for others this way too.
Wolf: Coming up with new content is something I enjoy. I did most of the things I thought of as a player last year. I thought I should focus on academy and retired players. And I was in competitions with both of them. Of that, RCK caught a lot of attention.
In broadcasting, OGN gave me a lot of help. Looking back, there are so many people that I’m thankful to. They looked after me a lot. I was really thankful for “Seoul Cyber University”. I signed a streamer contract with T1 and there are a lot of familiar faces here too. If I throw a random idea, they build up on that. Sometimes they give me suggestions first. It’s a really free atmosphere. I usually ignore all the limitations on my contract [Laughs].
How would you express your satisfaction as a streamer in numbers?
CuVee: I’d say 90. When I was a pro player, it was 100. For me, more than other stuff, the pay is important [Laughs]. I’m happy being a clown.
Wolf: Ditto for me. More than anything, I’m happy. That’s the most important. My income is alright, it’s not that I starve. I’m quite satisfied. I can live on this and sometimes I could do luxurious things. I’d say 90 to 95.
How do you see your future in the long run?
CuVee: I usually don’t think too much ahead. This comes from my experience. I didn’t dream of becoming a pro gamer and didn’t play to become one, but my life turned out this way, so well. I thought it might be worthless to plan a future. If I really have to plan my future, I think I’ll start when I’m in the army. I would have much more time there, right?
Wolf: Actually, there were offers for official broadcasts last year, but I wasn’t able to start because my mental health was more important. I’m worried if I could do well on that desk. It’s a position that needs much filtering. I’m sufficiently happy and busy right now. So I want to live like this for a while.
Lastly, a word to the fans?
CuVee: Thanks for everything. Please watch my stream and subscribe to my Youtube channel. And Gen.G fighting! In this interview, I’ll cheer for Gen.G more than Fredit BRION. After all, I AM a member of the Gen.G organization.
Wolf: I feel that I’ve been loved more than I deserved last year and this year. Thanks to you, I’ve been living well. Please continue to send all your love and I’ll keep creating enjoyable content.