The size of fighting game eSports has been growing year by year. More than 4.75 million viewers watched the Evolution Championship Series (EVO), the best fighting games festival, on ESPN in July. The Capcom Pro Tour will also be held in a grand size in the coming December.
And here in South Korea, there is a player who leads the worldwide fighting game eSports stage. His name is Seon Woo Lee, a Street Fighter 5 player who goes by the nickname “Life is infiltration”. He started his career in the year of 2009 and claimed countless victories and became No. 1 the Street Fighter scene. His fabulous playstyle without ups and downs for years made him the most globally notable player in the fighting game event.
However, he also had to face slumps just like any other top player. He had a couple failures, such as being eliminated early in the 2017 EVO as the defending champion, something that he had never experienced before. However, he did not despair. He overcame the slump by claiming victory at the 2017 Manila Cup, part of the Capcom Pro Tour, with Juri, the Korean character that is considered one of the weakest characters in Street Fighter 5; he displayed his patriotism with a Taegeukgi (Korean national flag) ceremony right after the victory. During an interview, he said that he wanted to give hope to players who are fond of Korean characters.
Although fighting game eSports is still small in South Korea, it may not be the case in the future thanks to pro gamers who dedicate themselves to fighting games such as Seon Woo Lee. With such patriotism and aspiration, the fighting game pro Seon Woo Lee said, “the prosperity of fighting games depends on everyone’s effort”.
Q. Please introduce yourself to the readers.
Hello. I am Seon Woo “Infiltration” Lee, a fighting game pro, mainly specialized in Street Fighter 5.
Q. Would you elaborate on the meaning of your nickname?
I loved this stealth action game called Metal Gear Solid when I was young, and I got this nickname from it. I know, it sounds a bit cringey now. I used to have ‘Life is~’ in front of whatever I liked to nickname. In fact, I had no idea this name would last this long. People keep calling me ‘Infiltration’ worldwide so that’s why I keep using it now.
Q. You have recently married and became a man with everything one would want in life. How have you been nowadays?
It’s been 3 months since our marriage on June. The preparation was pretty tough, but it was a satisfying result and we’re enjoying our married life.
Q. Although you achieved a somewhat disappointing result in the 2017 EVO, you claimed victory in the Street Fighter 5 event in the Manila Cup 2017 in the Philippines. How did you feel about it?
It was a very meaningful competition for me. The Manila Cup was the ranking tournament in Asia, part of the Capcom Pro Tour. I was lacking points to enter the finals of the Capcom Pro Tour and that’s why I needed to win the match. I earned lots of points from winning that match.
Now, I’m in a situation where I could possibly enter the finals of the Capcom Pro Tour depending on my effort. Moreover, it was more meaningful that I managed to win with the Korean character Juri.
Q. As you just mentioned, it became quite viral since you won with Korean character Juri. Is there any reason you chose her when she is considered not a mainstream character?
My main character, Nash, got nerfed too heavily and I had to find a new one suited to my playstyle. That was Juri. However, she is known as one of the weakest characters. As a pro gamer, I was worried about whether I should persist with her when I didn’t have solid results in the tournaments. But, I also wanted to show that the strength of a character does not affect my skills.
Also, it’s sort of cool to play a character who is from the same country as the player. Unlike the US and Japan, there are not many Korean characters, so I became more fond of Juri. I also wanted to give hope to those who like and play Korean characters just like me.
Q. You seem to be quite a patriot since you chose a Korean character and did the Taegeukgi ceremony in the tournaments.
Though I got captured on camera many times during the Taegeukgi ceremony, I didn’t intentionally bring the flag along to the tournament. Someone furtively passed me the flag when I won the game; I think the hosting party prepares a flag for the winner in advance. And then I happily put the flag around my bag to show that a Korean player is doing really well internationally. I am also proud of myself as a Korean pro gamer. My country is known to be powerful in eSports worldwide. I feel great to be a part of it.
Q. Is there a secret to playing well with not only non-mainstream characters, but others in general?
I tend to think a lot about games because I just love them so much. I always do image training. I have to admit that I cannot have as many practices as I used to, because of my role as a husband and with the tournaments being overseas. Thanks to the wide character pool, I can show my skills to some extent after a couple of practices rounds that I have image-trained.
You may not be a specialist with one character, but if you play various characters, it can come in handy if you happen to face a counter in a tournament. I also think that is a great merit to have as a pro player: being able to play many characters in a tournament.
Q. Wouldn’t you have a problem in terms of skills if you mainly focus on image training?
I agree with that opinion. That’s why I try to practice whenever I have some free time overseas. I try to do my best in enhancing my skills by practicing actual games and applying what I have thought of during image training.
Q. Who do you think are the mainstream characters in Street Fighter currently?
The Middle Eastern character Rashid is quite strong and popular, and Akuma, the character used by Tokido when he claimed victory in the 2017 EVO, is strong too. Also, Balrog and Ibuki are quite powerful and many people are trying to become specialists with them.
Q. What was the main reason you started a fighting game career?
I enjoyed playing Street Fighter 4 in 2009. It didn’t have any lag and it almost gave me the feeling of being in an arcade, even though it was just an online game. I then started playing the game seriously as I was able to play it at home. The title became viral and many tournaments appeared, and I realized that there was this whole new world when I entered the tournament. I had a feeling that I could life off of this. That’s how I started my career in the year of 2010, and became who I am right now.
Q. Not only tournaments, but you also stream quite actively. It seems that you value communication with your fans.
In truth, I am usually depicted as a serious and quiet person in the media. But, I’m actually looking for an environment full of entertaining and raucous content, just like in my personal streaming. Foreign viewers like to watch my skills and I can stream quietly, but Korean viewers want something communicative, entertaining and fun to watch. Many viewers like to watch my true self and I am doing my best to run an interesting but not excessive stream.
Q. 32 is not a small number for a Korean pro gamer. What is the secret to maintaining your skills despite your age?
There is no difficulty born from my age. As a matter of fact, I think other PC game players are too young. I have never thought of myself as old. In fact, I am part of the younger generation. I believe that you can still continue your career into your 40s and 50s as long as you maintain your health.
For example, Umehara, the legendary player in Japan, is nearly in his 40s. The skills of players like him are just tremendous. I haven’t thought of myself deteriorating in terms of reaction time and health yet. For fighting games, it does not mean that you need no skill. You need precise controls and quick reactions.
Q. Who do you think is your rival?
Although there are many skilled players, I consider Tokido in Japan my rival. I personally like him and his mindset seems similar to mine, so I respect him and also want to outmatch him one day.
Q. What is your mindset as a pro gamer in the fighting games scene, which is quite minor in South Korea?
In my opinion, a fighting game pro is a person who desires to change the fighting game eSports. Players with such a mindset get sponsors quicker. It is a minor genre after all. I like to be called a pro gamer, but a sponsored player as well. That’s why I tend to promote Street Fighter 5 a lot.
Whenever I have a chance to say it, I do tell people that fighting games are fun to play and also say they should watch some even if they don’t play them. I just want them to know that there are people like me who put lots of effort into this industry. I would also like to show that the game called Street Fighter, which has been around for more than 30 years, is still prosperous.
Q. The Street Fighter tournaments are usually held overseas, which may be troublesome to you.
Indeed. You need to sleep a lot in order to get used to the time difference. It’s not easy to adapt to foreign foods as well. The first thing you have in mind as soon as you return to your homeland is food. It takes more than 12 hours on plane when you go overseas, and even it took more than 26 hours to fly to South America. It always becomes a physical burden whenever I enter a tournament. Even so, I am always encouraged and appreciated by fans who watch on media and also by the casters.
Q. The fighting game eSports in South Korea is still small. How can we broaden the stage of fighting game eSports in South Korea?
I have watched the progression of fighting game eSports since the year of 2009. There are tens of tournaments related to the Capcom Pro Tour, but not many people are aware of this. I think this is the reason why Capcom released Street Fighter 5 quicker than they originally planned, as a Joker card. Street Fighter 5 is more intuitive than the previous title and has a quick tempo, and I believe that the title has potential to become an eSport.
As a result, the tournaments became more exposed to the public thanks to the new title. SPIRITZERO, the team in charge of casting, put in their effort, and so did the players. You can notice the number of Korean comments increased when you watch international tournaments online. If the game continues with this high quality, I believe that, although it may not be a major event, I will be able to tell people that Street Fighter is a strong and established part of eSports.
Q. Many people still consider Street Fighter to be one of the games you enjoy only at an arcade. How can we change their perception?
I think it is important to expose the title frequently in the media. The Street Fighter that is sometimes broadcasted on public media is Street Fighter 2. It is frequently broadcasted because the title is simple and fun, and is nostalgic for many people. That is why it is important to expose the new title Street Fighter 5, which can also be played on PC, in the media to continuously attempt to change people’s perception.
If the title is seen more often in media, people who know Street Fighter will realize that the series has continued to release. I hope that there will be many chances to give the game more exposure.
Q. What is the merit of Street Fighter from your perspective?
Clear intuition is the biggest merit. Of course, it becomes harder as you progress, but it’s relatively simple. In particular, the boundary between pros and amateurs became narrow in Street Fighter 5. In Street Fighter 4, there weren’t many matches where a player could turn the game around, and pros never lost against amateurs. Now, the damage cap became much higher, which can lead to overturns, and sometimes pros lose against amateurs. It became much more tense and exciting.
Q. Wouldn’t the match result be determined by luck if the boundary between pros and amateurs becomes narrow?
The element of luck became somewhat severe to be honest. Legendary players often lose against unpopular players. Pro players are beginning to get worried about this, but the game will become more complicated as the new season is implemented and the new system and characters are added. I think it’s just a matter of time before this issue is resolved.
I may get cussed-out by current pro players, but I believe that it’s best to invest some time and adjust yourself to the current circumstances. Of course, I swear instantly when I face the same issue (laugh).
Q. Although Street Fighter 5 is less difficult than the previous title, it is still known to have a high entry barrier. What do you think is the best way to lower this barrier?
The game needs to be created in a way that makes people want to play. The game became simpler, and you would realize that it is, in fact, easy and fun to play, but getting people to actually start the game is difficult. That’s why Capcom tried to increase the exposure of the game as much as possible by opening many tournaments. If the tournament is fun to watch even if viewers don’t know much about the game, and it tells the viewers of the stories between players, they will eventually buy the game and play it themselves. The strategy of continuously showing content and inducing viewers is not something that we players can do. It is the job of the company and broadcasting studios. I believe that it will be fine with many people already working on it.
Also, existing players who are known as ‘stagnant water’ should change their mind as well. The player pool will never become wider if they disdain and try to dominate new players. It is important to widen the player pool by educating them first. Lastly, new players should keep in mind that fighting games are difficult. It is necessary to acknowledge the difference between two groups and adjust the balance together. An active community is a must in order to do so. And that’s the hardest part, but I’m sure it will be done within the next couple years.
The trend is that people tend to switch to the next game frequently because there are just too many fun games. And that may be the reason why people do not play one game for long. However, you need to invest some time in fighting games. When you acknowledge this and begin the game, I believe that existing players will gladly accept and help new ones. The player pool will be larger when everyone’s working together.
Q. You received the Korean eSports Award with the highest score last year. What’s your goal this year?
My goal had always been the same until last year. It was to do my best, enhance my career, and be awarded. I believed that, by doing so, people would notice that a player called Infiltration is putting his best effort into fighting games. The ultimate goal was to have more people interested in fighting games.
However, it changed when I became a husband. The goal now is to produce solid results and live a stable life for a happy family. To do that, what I need right now is to get enough points in order to enter the finals of the Capcom Pro Tour. I would like to enter the finals and get some respectable results.
Q. Please share some final words with Street Fighter players.
I didn’t have good results due to various reasons this year. I was frustrated with myself. But, I managed to overcome that and claim a meaningful victory, and having this interview after that was really good. If I may ask a favor to Korean fans, I would like you to value the players from your country.
I often watch the tournament chat room, and I see many comments saying “I knew it, there’s no way Korea can beat Japan or the US” when a Korean player loses. It just breaks my heart. Players, who dedicate themselves for the tournament, actually become more encouraged and tend to show better performances if you praise them. We’ll do our best, so please give us praise instead of criticism. We’ll reply with excellent results.