TL Mickey on sudden departure from ROX and new life in NA LCS: "I want to show what I’m capable of"

Among the countless pro players in the League scene, almost all players possess a certain charm that appeals to fans. Some achieve it with consistent but safe plays, while others are more keen to taking risks and making game-changing plays.

Mickey is an oddity in that regard. Though no one denies his skill, what made him notorious is his unbridled aggression and snapshot judgment.

In the mid lane, he is best described as a runaway train moving at an unstoppable speed. Even top players can’t seem to restrain him. However, his hyper aggressive style is a double-edged sword. Some fans look down on his plays for being too dependent on a singular play, mockingly stating that his plays are determined by the roll of dice.

It would be a mistake to assume that his high-risk, high-reward plays are the only thing that made him get through in the LCK. Considering his records, he has solid fundamentals to back his daring plays. A couple months ago, Mickey left his previous team, ROX Tigers; it was shocking news for fans, despite the player and the team terminating the contract on good terms.

Soon after, rumors about Mickey signing with Team Liquid were abound. Surely enough, TL made an official announcement, which gave us barely enough time to catch up with him before he flew to the US. We set up an interview in a cafe near Jamsil, east of Gangnam. Though the hours were slowly drawing into the night, Mickey appeared in a nifty shirt. It was difficult to gauge where to start, but once the conversation got going, our worries proved to be unfounded.


▲ Young-min "Mickey" Son

How have you been? It’s been awhile since you left ROX.

I’ve been contemplating quite a bit. I second-guessed myself about if it was right for me to leave the team and was very bummed out by the thought. Since I didn’t have much time to solo queue while on the team, I had some time to myself and dedicated it to solo queue. I didn’t seriously worry about things like retirement after leaving ROX. Whenever the topic came up, I didn’t take it seriously, thinking, “Oh, man… What should I do? Is retiring the only way?”

What prompted you to leave ROX? You don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty.

Right. I can’t talk about it in full details but what I want to say is that it had nothing to do with the supposed disharmony within the team — Couldn’t be further from the truth. I recently went to the stadium and met Sangyoon to cheer him on. There was neither friction in the team nor any health-related issues. That’s as much as I’m willing to say. I’ve been meaning to clear up many misunderstandings.

When did you receive an offer from Team Liquid?

I got the offer almost as soon as I left ROX — early July I think. We’ve been discussing ever since. I had other offers from various foreign teams like EU, LPL, and Turkey. However, I was more used to English compared to other languages and was privy to more news from NA, so I decided that the US would be a better fit.

Are you concerned at all about playing in NA for the first time?

I tend to live my life precariously. [laughs] I just thought I’d go to NA because I got an offer. Until a few days ago, I had absolutely no worries about going there. Then it suddenly hit me that I’ll have to get on a plane to fly thousands of miles from home. That’s when I started to feel apprehensive like, “Wait, am I really doing this?”

Since solitude is something that’s near and dear to my life in Korea, I don’t think isolation will be a big issue. I’ve always felt alone because I quit school earlier than most kids, so I don’t have a ton of friends. Additionally, most of my friends are at an age where they have to go into mandatory military service. I don’t have many people to see. Whenever I got vacation days in ROX, I played games in the teamhouse. I think the trend will continue in NA.

The contract is something that’s always worrisome for Korean players leaving to foreign leagues. Did you get any help with your contract?

Since my contract was in English, it was pretty hard. I asked my associate who’s been living in NA for a long time to translate and also got help from the former Afreeca executive office chief in that regard.

Are you personally close to any NA LCS players?

I’m pretty close to Team Envy’s LirA. I asked him about life in the US. I think it’s a relief that there are many Korean players in NA even though I don’t know them very well.

Are you concerned at all about communicating in English?

Luckily, I was very interested in English since I was in school. I won’t be able to fluently speak the language right away, but I’m not concerned too much.

You seem like a person who adapts to new environments quickly.

I mean, of course I’m concerned about being in a whole new place, but I intend to adjust as quickly as possible. I don’t view things in a negative light. Things will work out when I get there.

Have you been following the NA LCS?

Not regularly, but I did catch LirA’s matches from time to time.

What prior knowledge did you have regarding TL and what did you see in the team?

I knew they had good financial backings. [laughs] I heard they were sponsored by Disney.

I thought that was a joke about you and Piglet making up a “Disney meta”.

Right, but as far as I know, it’s true.

TL isn’t doing too well this split. What role do you think you should take on for the team?

First, I think fluid communication is key. I like to do macro plays, so I’ll have to talk to Korean players on the team to set up macro plays. Since the two Korean players speak good English, I think I can congeal with other members once I get to know the Korean players first. Winning is of the utmost importance.

Do you have any players you’ve been wanting to meet or play against in NA?

In Season 2, I was a big fan of RapidStar and Froggen. I thought Froggen was really good. I don’t know who will be better between him and me right now though. [laughs] I’m eager to meet him. I’ve also heard high praise for Bjergsen and can’t wait to see him in action.

Do you have anything to say to them?

I have a small wish that they’ll take to calling me “Maddest Mid NA.” I’m kidding of course, but I think it’ll be awesome if I have good results after saying these things. [laughs]

Did you have a goodbye party with your old teammates?

I couldn’t because the regular season was underway and they were too busy. I met them at the stadium and had a coffee with them.

You must have felt a little bummed out.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that way at all, but I understand things are hectic mid-split.

▲ Sadly, no extravagant farewell party for Mickey.

Are you concerned at all about the timing? You won’t have as much time to prove your mettle since it will be a while until the new regular play.

I was very much worried about that. I think it’s fortuitous and I’m grateful that TL made an offer. The timing made things difficult for me, but I quickly accepted the offer. More concerns came up after I made my decision though.

What are your thoughts on the fans’ perception of your play style?

I’m fully aware of how fans perceive my plays. I didn’t want to simply change my style; instead, I want to upgrade it. That’s why I decided to transfer. During my career, though my teams have changed, not all the teammates have. I think that’s how my style took hold. I want to get a fresh start.

What’s your take on your nickname, “dice”, emphasizing the somewhat RNG nature of your fluctuating performance?

It’s a love-hate relationship. I didn’t think much of that nickname at first, but it started to bother me in the middle. Now I think fans have a love-hate relationship with me too. When I hard carried the team, fans would call me “Roll-6 Mickey”, whereas they mocked me for being “Roll-1 Mickey” when I quietly did my job. Fan reception was so polarizing that I felt like I had to do at least 3-people’s worth of work to get accepted. I thought to myself, “Why couldn’t I just hold my end of the bargain and be called ‘Roll-3 Mickey’ or something?” That said, I’m thankful for all the expectations people have for me, and I plan to live up to those.

League players are known for their competitive nature. How did it affect you?

At the time, I cried alone like a loser after coming to the teamhouse. I was so mad and lost sleep over how I could’ve done better to win. Faker is my role model, and I beat myself up for not being able to play like he does. I have very high standards for myself, so every loss was on me. I was solely concentrated on winning by staying up late to practice.

Piglet, whom you’ll be playing side by side with, is also second to none when it comes to competitive nature. How do you think you two will synergize?

That’s the plan. I actually knew him from a long time ago. When he was on SKT T1, I was dazzled by his provocative remarks, which left a deep impression on me. I often thought highly of him and was impressed.

▲ "I'm the crazy competitive spirit around here."

Throughout your LCK career, do you remember any particular support or gifts you’ve received from fans?

I got many birthday presents back when I was with Afreeca Freecs. Most of them were made by the fans themselves. I remember seeing various types of cakes including pan cakes and cupcakes. I also keenly remember the one made in the shape of Mickey Mouse. I want to thank them for everything as well as for their love this year. It’s hard to forget those homemade gifts.

Is it too far out to say you draw energy from fans?

I used to care a lot about how others see me and took in every word, whether it was positive or negative. I also feel blessed right now for the fans’ undivided attention and love. I have nothing else to say to them other than thank you. I mean it from the bottom of my heart.

Do you have any shoutouts to give to players and staffs?

First off, a huge thanks to coach Jeong Je-seung. He’s been very good to me and is such a sweet person. I’m not good at expressing my emotions, so I often lash out. I’m sorry about my behavior, but, at the same time, he’s my #1 person I have to repay my debt to once I become successful. I hope he can continue his success on KT Rolster. I would also like to thank the coaching staff in ROX for taking care of me all this time. They might be stern on the outside, but I could sense that they had my best interests at heart.

I’d like to show my gratitude for the former Afreeca executive office chief for helping me transition to ROX. I still keep in touch with the old Anarchy players, and they’re like family to me. I would especially like to thank Sangyoon for going through tough times for three years with me. He’s been there for me whenever I came up short. Also, a big thanks to SeongHwan. I know I’ve picked on him a lot. He has the potential to go places but is just too nice and can’t bear to see others in trouble. Since he tries to help people every chance he gets and goes down with them, I often harshly criticized him. What’s amazing is that he’s never snapped at me. I love his somewhat goody-goody personality. I’m sorry for speaking to him that way, and I only wish him the best.

I thought Shy would be intimidating, but he listened to my personal issues and anchored me on the team. I want to thank him for that. Key and Lindarang are so much fun to be around with my type of humor. I’m grateful that they’re doing well. I have so many people to thank that I can’t say all of them here.

I noticed you kept coming up with more people to feel grateful for?

[laughs] You got me. I started with those near me and work my way up. I also like to express my appreciation for reporter Changsik Son for always giving me good information. I shouldn’t forget to thank BJRunner on Afreeca TV, though, since he’s been kind to me despite his busy schedule. Lastly, I have another message for Sangyoon hyung: “You’re an excellent League player. Don’t you ever lose confidence even if things don’t always work out. You’re a really, really splendid pro gamer.” Please put that in bold.

You may be put in this split for a warm-up. Are you confident?

I’ve always had confidence. How can I win if I fear other players? You have to keep thinking that you’ll always come out on top even though you are behind in terms of skills. With this mindset from my debut, I was never afraid of my opponents whether it was Faker or any other player. My confidence may have no basis, but I think it’s better to have than to lack it.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I recently made a post on Facebook but couldn’t say everything I wanted to say because my writing isn’t very good. I can answer questions with no problem, but it wasn’t easy writing down my thoughts alone. People don’t read if it gets too long, so I think I couldn’t say much. Fortunately, this interview allowed me to say those unspoken thoughts. Thank you so much.

Any personal goals for your endeavors in NA?

I’d like to become a player from LCK that will make people proud. I also want to show what I’m capable of in NA — do things I couldn’t show in LCK. I’m quite sad to leave LCK like this, especially since it’s not the highest point in terms of my reputation and circumstances. I embrace the fans’ words urging me to strive better. Those words compel me to push myself harder. Having said that, I do prefer the carrot over the stick because I’m a little thirsty for compliments right now. When I go to NA, I’ll prove to fans that what they saw of me in Korea is only a small part of what I can achieve.

▲ The best of luck for Mickey's new chapter in NA!

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