[Note: This interview was conducted on November 17th.]
"An interview? I've never been interviewed, other than in post-match interviews.”
It was a surprising remark coming from SKT T1’s support, Jaewan “Wolf” Lee, sitting across me at a cafe in Ilsan. For any pro player who has been active in the scene for more than five years, an interview is almost like a rite of passage. Wolf is a player who needs no introduction, so it was hard to believe it took two consecutive Worlds victories for him to get a solo interview.
"I don’t think I’ve been interviewed since joining SKT. Part of it is because the org declines requests when we have an upcoming match, but still. The last interview I gave was a group interview with my previous team. It’s sad, but I understand why reporters would want to interview players that would generate more interest." Tinges of disappointment could be detected in Wolf's laugh, and I felt bad for not asking him for an interview sooner.
Players often clench up in interviews because they feel pressured to select their words carefully; most take some time before they start speaking their mind. Wolf was amiable and enthusiastic from the get-go, however. He was a highly social individual who loved people and enjoyed attention.
"I don’t like playing support, and I rarely play support in solo queue. In other games, I usually like to play DPS. Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of support [laughs]. I want people to always notice me.”
If support wasn’t your cup of tea, why did you choose to play it? I asked.
"Ever since I reached the top of Korean solo queue back when I was a 10th-grader, I wanted to go pro. Then I realized that there weren’t many good amateur supports. I asked Najin e-mFire support Woochul "Vinylcat" Kang for advice, and he was positive about my chances, so I joined Najin e-mFire as a substitute support.”
Taking first place on the Korean solo queue ladder is a trophy in itself; it's probably the best badge an amateur looking to go pro could ever hope to have. There is no better proof of one's capability to go up against anyone and hold one's own. Why didn't you debut as a midlaner then? I asked. Wolf responsed that the competition was too fierce, citing Faker and Fly as examples.
Wolf recounted his school years. "I asked all ten of my teachers to let me sleep in class because I wanted to practice LoL all night to become a professional gamer [laughs]. After I told them about my passion, six of the ten said it was okay for me to sleep in class. I still remember my English teacher always greeting me "progamer" whenever we met."
"There were those who did not agree to letting me sleep, however. I tried hard to stay awake in those classes, but I could not help it most of the time. Eventually a disciplinary board was opened, and my parents were called in. I was mortified.”
Wolf’s parents were not thrilled to hear about their son pursuing a career in gaming. He told me his mother was adamantly against it. "My mother hated the idea. Even though I wasn’t a particularly good student, she wanted me to focus on my studies and get a job. I made her cry. My father, though, was really open. I promised I would pursue gaming for a year and see where it goes."
"Jungseok 'Reach' Park, then head coach of Najin, was a big part of my becoming a pro player. He came to my house to persuade my parents. He told them about my potential, Worlds' prize money, among other things.” Parents usually end up caving in to their children’s demands, and so was the case for Wolf. Despite his mother's tears, he had finally become a professional gamer.
Wolf cheerfully bragged that now his mother likes his career path more than his father. She happily tells people about his success and even gets him to autograph stuff for fans. “I’ve invited my mother and aunts to every finals. They used to have no interest in games, but since I’ve been doing great, they make placards for me and wear shirts with my face on them. That’s very nice of them.”
I asked Wolf what his parents thought about this year’s Worlds' increased prize money.
"I told her about the prize pool increase, but she already knew about it. She keeps up with all sorts of things in the scene, even rumors such as Faker’s salary and how Mata is doing in China. She even knows things that I’m not even aware of. I think it’s pretty amazing [laughs]."
"My mother has a heart condition. I gave her my credit card so she can go to nice restaurants and pay hospital bills. She still doesn’t like to use my credit card, but I wish she would and get better. I think she feels that the money I earn is too precious to spend. So I assure her by saying my money isn't hard-earned, that I just sit at a desk and move my fingers a bit and get paid. That she should spend it however she wants.”
Returning to talking about the game, I asked how Wolf dealt with burnout. His response was realistic and candid. "To be honest, I was able to continue pushing myself due to the numbers in my bank account. Also, there’s pride involved - I want to meet fans in my best form. Playing better allows me to do things I want to do. I have to keep improving, keep doing well, so I can keep close to my fans."
"I want to be an honest person. I’m not sure saying these things will help my career. I guess that’s just me. I want people to see the real me.” Wolf flashed another hearty smile.
"I’m glad that I’m being more recognized this year than the last, but players like GorillA and CoreJJ also are playing very well. I always have so many doubts. Sometimes I think I clearly was the best support this year, but then I think, maybe GorillA was better? I always feel anxious. I can't help it."
I wondered when Wolf was the happiest as a player.
"It's a really tough question...people may say I’m spoiled, but I don’t recall being that happy. There weren’t many memorable moments. I guess I’m the happiest now? I was pretty happy when I won my first LCK, Worlds, Korea eSports Awards, and this year’s Worlds, but I’m not sure when I was the happiest.”
"I feel like I'm wearing a mask. I want to be Jaewan Lee, but I’m wearing a mask called ‘Wolf’. I don’t think I’m cut out to be a progamer. If I quit being a pro player, I’d like to explore other options in eSports such as commentator, caster, reporter, or counselor. Or maybe I'd leave eSports and try to become a literature teacher, which was my dream before I got into gaming."
Was being a professional gamer all he wanted to do with his youth, or was there something else? Wolf seemed to have a lot on his mind. He achieved so much as a professional gamer. Perhaps now would be the right time to turn the page, turn a new corner.
"If SKT is the earth, then I think I’m like the moon. Sure, you can’t see the moon during the day, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The moon is always there and plays an important role for the earth. I hope people think of me like that. There are many shiny suns out there, but I’m here, too, playing my part in a quieter way from a darker sky.”
Interview conducted by Inven Haao