Realizing the dream
I was a senior in high school. I traveled from Jeju Island to Seoul, just to see my classmate’s match, who was a pro gamer at the time. His tag is Miso and he played for Jin Air Greenwings at the time. He was in NA the last time I heard from him a few years ago, but I didn’t keep in touch with him, so I’m not sure how he’s doing at the moment, nor if he’s even alive. Anyways, because of him, I was really able to absorb the atmosphere at the Yongsan stadium that day.
At the time, I wasn’t even good at the game. I hit Platinum 5 the year before, and that was when I first got the idea of becoming a pro. I was very naive in thinking that as long as I played a lot, I could become a pro player. Sometime later, I started duo queueing with my friend who was also looking to go pro, and a year later, I hit Diamond 1, so I applied for an amateur team. And that team was Prime.
"My friend really wanted to continue his pro career, but he was told to bring a top laner along. [...] That’s how I went to China. I was 20 years old."
After we failed to qualify for the 2014 LCK Summer, I had some personal time to think about what I’m going to do next. My original plan was to give up, go back to Jeju and study again. But then, a friend of mine at Prime brought up the possibility of playing in China.
My friend really wanted to continue his pro career, but he was told to bring a top laner along. He told me that I was the one he could rely on and continue playing, and asked me to come with him. Eventually, over many discussions, I was convinced. That’s how I went to China. I was 20 years old.
Tough obstacles in China
The thing I remember the most about my life in China is that I really grinded solo queue. I remember always being high on the ladder. Even though I couldn’t play stage games, I still got paid, so I was satisfied. I was signed for three years, and I got paid roughly 1,500,000 KRW (approx. $1,250) monthly. That’s right. Three years. Again, I was a very naive kid, but it allowed me to learn just how scary contracts can be. Since then, I never signed a multi-year deal with a team.
My first year in China was the toughest time of my life. I had a falling out with the friend I went to China with, and because he left China, I was left all alone. I was the only Korean player in my team house. For about two months, I really didn’t say a word, to the point where people thought I forgot how to speak. I think I was 21 at the time, and it really was tough. Still, such days made me the person I am, because life was never as tough as it was back then.
"I was lost for words. At the time I received the call, I was with coach Museong, Rascal, and Aiming. After I hung up, I cried so much out of anger."
I re-signed at the end of the 2016 season, and the negotiations went very well. I received a very good salary, so I became very content again with how things were. At the time, things were a bit complicated internally. There were four players on the team, and while the other Chinese top laner was pretty good, their mid-jungle was weak, so the two spots were filled by Korean imports.
So naturally, there was no spot for me on the starting roster. I didn’t even scrim, let alone be listed on the roster. Still, I was signed under great conditions, so I didn’t really complain. The problem came when I was on vacation. I got a call when I was back in Korea, saying that I was getting paid too much for someone that’s not even listed on the roster.
I replied, “I didn’t choose to do all that. The negotiated salary was based on trying to fit each other’s needs, so why are you backing out on your word? What is it that you want from me?”
The team’s reply was this. Let’s say that my yearly salary was around 20,000,000 KRW (approx. $16,673]. They asked if 2,000,000 KRW was okay. So naturally, I thought they were going to cut that amount. However, they wanted to only pay me 2,000,000 KRW, which is one-tenth of my negotiated salary. I was lost for words. At the time I received the call, I was with coach Museong, Rascal, and Aiming. After I hung up, I cried so much out of anger.
Returning to the LCK
After unexpectedly becoming unemployed, I went to try out for different teams with Rascal, as we agreed to join a team that’ll accept us both. We were both top laners, but we got along really well and thought we could help each other grow inside the game. That help outweighed the pressure of starting for the team. I wasn’t exactly at my healthiest at the time, so if I got sick, I knew I had a friend I could rely on to play better than I do.
I think my health issues came from all the stress. I feel that a lot of that stress got bottled up in China. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t anything serious, but rather a mix of minor illnesses. I recently got an MRI done, and the doctor said that while my body wasn’t in great condition, there was nothing majorly wrong. Anyways, that’s how I joined Longzhu Gaming [which rebranded to Kingzone DragonX in 2018 — Ed.] in May 2017.
LCK was doing very well internationally in 2016-2017. The league was untouchable. On the other hand, I wasn’t even on the starting roster in the LPL. I was practically a nobody who had experience in the tier 2 league in China. Obviously, I had doubts about whether or not I’ll perform well. On the other hand, my bot lane was Pray-GorillA, so I had hopes that things would work out one way or another.
I didn’t realize this at the time, but I think that Pray and GorillA really fit my needs very well. I’m the type to hoard all the jungle camps, but not once did they ever complain about my playstyle. For a whole year and a half. I feel that I was only able to play well because they also did as well.
My prime as a pro player was in the 2018 LCK Spring. The game was very easy back then. Whatever I did just worked out for me, and that lasted for a few weeks. In that period of time, I was really able to do whatever I wanted. The game was so fun for me at the time, that I still vividly remember those days. I even asked myself how the game became like that for me.
For example, if I was playing against Gangplank, it’s good to force him to use his ult, as it allows my bot lane to play more aggressively. So if I took action to force his hand, the enemy ended up using his ult. How fun do you think the game would be if it played out the way you thought it would in your head?
Around the time my contract ended with Kingzone, I was contacted by SKT. Someone from the org even came to see me to discuss details. I’m the type of person to sign a contract on the spot. I knew that bad deals could be scary, but at the same time, I feel that it’s also not good for the team to delay any player signing. That’s why I ended up signing the day I met with SKT.
Although the spot on the team came with a lot of pressure, I focused only on the pros. As long as I performed well, I felt there would be a lot more pros than cons. I thought that I only needed to work hard, because that roster was stacked. Being personal friends with Clid just added to the list of pros, and the players who were on the roster at the time spoke very highly of head coach kkOma. That’s why I wanted to know what it was like to work with him.
Second failure in China, and DAMWON
It’s true that my experience in China the first time was tough, but when I got the offer from FunPlus Phoenix, I didn’t feel reluctant about their offer. Not only were they the defending world champions at the time, but returning to China felt like a homecoming. However, once I got there, things were not easy. I couldn’t even figure out whether the reason for us underperforming was my fault or my team’s. That’s why I just went with the flow. I didn’t even think about what I needed to do to overcome the situation. I just ended up playing a lot of games.
Finding direction is crucial in practice, but I didn’t know which direction I needed to go at the time. I think there were also communication issues because although I spent a long time in China, I still wasn’t fluent in the language. I only knew how to speak basic Mandarin, so naturally, communication was limited. Furthermore, I felt like as a player, I just underperformed that year. I’m not sure. It’s not something that has a clear-cut answer.
"I was getting old as well, so I felt that retirement was the right call. I didn’t even play League of Legends for two months. Still, kkOma kept contacting me."
That’s when I started thinking about retirement. After returning to the LCK in 2017, I promised myself that if I was a hindrance to the team, I’d retire. I figured that when my contract with FPX was done, I would just retire and stream.
Oddly enough, however, there were people who wanted to play with me, even though I really underperformed. My answer to them was always, “I’m sorry”. By pro player standards, I was getting old as well, so I felt that retirement was the right call. I didn’t even play League of Legends for two months. Still, kkOma kept contacting me to work together with him, and that’s how I joined DWG KIA.
My mindset on DWG KIA didn't change. As long as I did well, things would all be okay. I really sucked in the early days of practicing as a team. However, seeing my younger teammates work really hard and perform well really helped me. I even tried to eat, sleep, and practice like Canyon. Whether he went to take a break or practice, I’d be there with him. Even watching him play naturally boosted my gameplay as well. I felt that the only way I’d go was down, but I kept improving.
The improvement was also showing on stage as well. I realized that the right environment was crucial to my gameplay. It’s not to say that it was bad on FPX; it just didn’t fit me. I’m also not saying that the other teammates did not play well. It was my fault for not being able to adjust to that team’s atmosphere.
After I lost to EDG at the Worlds finals, I was obviously frustrated. It really sucked that we lost. However, we still had to do an interview, and the venue was also occupied by EDG, who was in a celebratory mood. I also had time before my flight back to Korea, so it felt like a waste to spend that time depressed. That’s why I suggested we close things out with a smile on our faces. Because there was not a single person who didn’t work hard in the process of finishing top 2. That mindset allowed us to accept the results pretty seamlessly.
I lost 2-3 at the finals of both Worlds and MSI in 2021. Your skill’s really tested on the big stage, but there’s definitely variance in how you feel that day, and also in best-of-5s. It was fascinating to think back on how I lost 2-3 both times, and even made me wonder if winning a championship is just decided by fate. With two 2-3 finals losses, can’t they just say that I came in 1.5th place?
Khan the pro, Khan the streamer
There were a lot of hurdles that I faced as a pro. I even developed anxiety issues in 2018, where if there was a pause in a match, I couldn’t breathe well. It really became bad in my last year. I felt like throwing up whenever there was a pause, so I even had to leave my seat at times. Even now, whenever I think about keywords related to the pause, I get this sick feeling in my gut. Thankfully, DWG KIA connected me to a hospital, so I go regularly for checkups.
Despite all this, except for when I thought about retirement before joining DWG KIA, I never wanted to throw in the towel. I never even thought about the two words, “Give up”, because I made a lot of money. I still remember being very happy when I first received my huge paycheck. It’s up there in being one of the happiest moments of my life.
One thing I do regret is not winning an international tournament. Earning titles associated with being the best top laner isn’t something I really wanted, I failed to earn the best title of them all, being a world champion. Everyone has different standards, but if finishing runner-up at Worlds is a noteworthy career milestone, then I hope everyone knows that I have a lot of runner-up titles. Still, not having an international title sucks.
One thing I learned while streaming these days is that streaming is very difficult. It’s hard to just focus on the game alone, but not only do I have to communicate with my viewers, but I also have to deal with ghosters and backseat gamers. It’s fascinating to watch other streamers deal with all this and still manage to climb. Experiencing the streamer life first hand made me realize just how great they are. There are other things that make this occupation hard, but I’m still having fun.
Even when I finish my military service, I want to continue streaming. It’s too late for me to start studying again, or to figure out what else I’m good at. Coaching is definitely out of the question because I don’t think the job really suits me. It’s dreadful to even think that I have to coach someone like myself. My dream is to become a full-time streamer. I’ll even invite ShowMaker and Canyon from time to time to get more viewers.
Sometimes, I think about what I’d be doing 10 years down the road. If I played as a pro for two more years, I’d be able to buy myself a building and live comfortably. However, that’s no longer a possibility, so maybe I’m destined to work my entire life. I think that 10 years down the road, I’ll be an old man with a gut, with a wife and kids who always complain because of how tough life is. I already have a gut, so I just have to become old. I don’t want to cause any trouble and want to live out my life quietly and peacefully.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports