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On a cold winter day, we visited kt Rolster’s training center. Our purpose was to meet Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong. We were a bit nervous because there weren’t many chances to interview Mata and we had heard of how straightforward his style of talking was.
However, after seeing Mata smiling brightly at us as we approached, sniffling our noses in the cold, our nervousness seemed to dissipate into the chilly air. He may have just been smiling because of the ice cream we brought, though. We headed towards a nearby café, and congratulated him on winning the KeSPA Cup.
Mata is already in his 6th year, but we could see that he was very dedicated with every word and phrase he spoke. He still was very competitive and wanted to become better. Mata answered with maturity, and sometimes with some jokes during the interview. We also were able to hear about “The Legendary Mata Shotcalling” as well.
Below is the interview with the veteran professional gamer, “Mata”.
Q. Hello, Mata! I think it’s been a very long since you had a personal interview. Please say hello to our readers.
Hi, this is Cho “Mata” Se-hyeong of kt Rolster. I think the last interview I had was early last year, and maybe this is the first time with Inven. It’s really been a long time [since my last interview].
Q. Yes, I believe it is your first time with us, it makes us nervous (laughs). So it’s your first interview in almost two years now; I think there should be a lot to talk about. Shall we talk about your team first? It was a big issue when you returned to the LCK in the 2017 season. We’d like to hear about your return.
If I stayed in China for another year, I would have been active in China for more than half of my 5-year career. I thought that I would be remembered as an LPL player, so I wanted to play in Korea and I wanted to have good results. Of course money was important, but I wanted to win more. If I prioritized money, I would have stayed in China. While I was thinking that I wanted to win, a chance opened up to play with Hyeok-kyu (Deft) and I came back to Korea.
Q. So did you talk with Deft before the season about playing together on the same team?
Not exactly, but we did say that if it happened it would be good. We talked about it when Deft’s contract expired with EDG. We said that being on the same team would be fun, preferably in Korea.
So after that, and after my contract expired as well, I naturally came to kt Rolster where I could play together with Deft.
Q. You were able to know all the members of kt Rolster before you joined. How did you feel when you first knew who would be playing with you?
At the time of my contract, I knew all the members. I think it was half-half. The familiarity was good; on the other hand, I thought that we needed to practice to establish good teamwork quickly. I hadn’t played with Kyung-ho (Smeb) and Dong-bin (Score) before, but I had known Deft and Won-seok (PawN) for a long time. We weren’t on the same team, but we played in the same league.
Q. The career of each player has been amazing. Everybody has a long career. However, there were many fans worrying about your styles colliding with each other, and that actually was the case sometimes.
We can’t agree on everything while practicing. I think setting up teamwork is more important than deciding who is right or wrong. We didn’t fight with each other as much as fans thought (laughs). You know, when we play, we have to make quick decisions. We had trouble agreeing on those situations but there was no problem when we gave each other feedback afterwards.
There were a few times we didn’t agree on some situations during competitions. The most memorable match was against SKT T1, I think it was the 3rd set. We played Gragas, Graves, Jayce, Ashe, and Braum. We were 5 on 4 near the top lane inhibitor. I thought we would win if we just hit the nexus, but everyone thought differently and started stalling. We lost afterwards.
Q. Now, with a whole season behind you, how is the teamwork?
We still have to build on it more. Now that the KeSPA Cup is over, we feel that we are making improvements. Not just agreeing with each others’ opinions, but with the macro and our points of view on the game as well. We still have a long way to go, but we’ve made a lot of improvements.
Q. The biggest regret you have is not being able to go to Worlds. What did you talk about after losing to Samsung Galaxy, and how were you personally?
We had many chances to go to Worlds, but we missed out on all those chances. We are professionals who have to deliver good performance, so when we failed [to reach Worlds], people thought that the team may dissolve; everyone had a hard time.
I had a hard time personally as well. I didn’t have anyone to blame, since we lost because I wasn’t good enough, but still, I was depressed. The team wasn’t disassembled, but coach Lee Ji-hoon resigned. It hurts to see that. I feel very sorry and thankful to him. He was the one who went through the most trouble. Does this sound too depressing? (Laughs) The team was held together; our coach sacrificed himself for us.
Q. Would you like to say anything to coach Lee Ji-hoon?
I really don’t know how to say this; let’s never meet again? (Laughs) Just kidding. You have a lot of experience and you’re very qualified. I think you’ll be successful wherever you are, so we’ll have to meet again soon.
Q. It was a difficult year for you, and I think winning the KeSPA Cup was a big comfort for you.
It wasn’t winning a whole competition that comforted me, it was just the fact that we were winning. There were many troubling things going on within the team. I think the KeSPA Cup was a process of us overcoming those troubles. So I think it was a very important competition. If the practice wasn’t good enough, I thought that I might not be able to stay on the team. If I didn’t make improvements, I probably needed to follow in the footsteps of our coach (laughs).
Q. Was it that your performance was good while practicing for the KeSPA Cup?
I don’t think that’s a matter that I can discuss; but I’m probably still here because I was good, I guess (Laughs).
Q. You said that kt Rolster maintained the roster due to coach Lee Ji-hoon’s sacrifice, but on the other hand, players could have left. What do you think kept everyone on the team?
That, I don’t know. I didn’t have any contact with any other teams, personally. It wasn’t only me, everyone thought ‘Let’s try hard for next year.’ We all resolved to do next year all that we weren’t able to do this year. We didn’t only show bad performance all year, we had both bad and good performances.
The bad performance was because our teamwork wasn’t fully at its prime yet, so we thought that that’s all we needed to work on. We wanted to show that we aren’t a bad team. I know that people say that we are weak at team fights and that we’re bad late in the game. We practiced a lot keeping that in mind, after not being able to go to Worlds, and preparing for KeSPA Cup.
Q. Let’s talk about some old stuff now. You’ve been seen practicing with a memo that says ‘No Worlds → Retirement’ on the wall. Everyone knows Mata as a player who is very competitive. What do you think of that?
Yes, I think I am very competitive. I’m probably one of the most competitive players of all. In our team, Smeb is similar to me. As for the others, I don’t really know. They don’t express themselves that much. Of course, I always want to win. I’ve been in the scene for 5 years already, but I still have that desire to win more than ever, in solo, in practice, and in team games as well.
Q. You’re a veteran now; it’s your 6th year already next month. Time really flies. What do you think has changed in the environment compared to the past?
First, I’m old now. Everybody’s young. There are many talented players. When I had my debut, I was one of the youngest, but now, everybody debuts as a teenager. That bothers me a bit; it makes me think that I’m aging (Laughs). I think that there aren’t many left above me, career-wise or age-wise. I heard that Park “Shy” Sang-myeon retired not long ago, and I can’t deny that my retirement is approaching as well.
Q. You’re talking about age; do you feel that you’re not performing as well, physically?
No, actually I think my physical state is better than before. People say that their bodies can’t do what their minds want, but I don’t think I’m that old. I think I should be all right until 27-28. When I see the young players, I see that some of them have awesome micro control, but aren’t good because of the lack of experience. If I put it in better words, they will become very good with experience, and if I’m being forward, they’re not good now.
Q. Do you have any advice to give to rookies and amateur players?
I don’t think that I set a good role model for them, so I don’t know what to say (Laughs). I can’t say that you’ll have good results if you practice hard. There are more players who don’t have good results even though they practice really hard, and for a long time. I want to give realistic advice: you need to make your whole day into LoL, not just the game, but your everyday life into LoL.
You see, like when you see someone who studies really hard, you see them reading notes and studying constantly; even when they eat or if they’re walking around or on transportation. It’s the same with LoL. You need to look up videos whenever you have time and think of LoL while eating and so on. What I did was talk about LoL when going to the team house, and watch LoL videos until I fell asleep. That’s how I end my day always, up to now; practice all day, and fall asleep watching LoL videos.
Also, I think it’s good to be curious about things. I think there aren’t many who are curious regarding all the little things. They say that it’s just their personality, but I think to be good, being active in everything is important. There should be someone who’s really good near them so they can bother that person and ask stuff constantly. I ask everything, until the others treat me as a pest (Laughs).
Q. Talent and effort. Which do you think is more important in playing games?
I don’t know how to describe talent; gaming sense? It’s a vague concept. Anyways, talent is really important. Of course putting a lot of effort in is important as well, but talent is the base. Don’t your readers put a lot of effort in games, too? Sorry, I’m just joking (Laughs).
Q. Let’s talk about old times again. There are these legendary stories about Mata’s precise orders; the former Samsung players said that “Mata said to go three steps forward and I gained a kill”, or “Mata told me to use the ult somewhere and I got a kill”. We’d like to hear your side of the story.
I think back then, it was like that. I like telling others orders so they can understand more easily. If I do that nowadays, it’d just [be seen as] being nosy (Laughs).
Q. Many said that you had a different vision of the game. You were the one to make the term ‘fatigue macro’. Do you think you still have that ‘vision’?
I think I still have it. I’m probably still one of the best at macro. One of the top 3, I think. But I realized that I’m very weak at team fights since I always play like that. I’ve been playing like that for 5 years. I just found out this year; I remember a video from Worlds 2014. I played Nami and I was at vanguard, as if I was playing Alistar or something. I was shocked. I cursed myself after seeing that. I was too concentrated on talking so I wasn’t able to concentrate on my play.
Q. Did that make changes to Mata’s shotcalling in-game?
Many talk about shotcalling when talking about me, but I don’t really try to do the main shotcalling. I started shotcalling because the others didn’t speak up, so I got used to it. I talk less after coming to kt. I actually wanted to change myself of talking too much. I used to say useless things and sometimes wrong things. It’s a lot better now.
Did you see the Off the Records at Worlds? If there was something like that in the KeSPA Cup, you would realize that my talking has decreased a lot. I’m trying to become a calm and objective player now.
Q. It could make you better as a player since you can concentrate more on your own play.
I was stressed a lot before because I tried to see everything and wasn’t able to concentrate on myself. Everything didn’t always go as I thought. Even if I know something, it’s not like everyone always knows that. There’s limited time to explain everything, and I was concerned too much about all the little things. Now I’m different. I was able to put down many burdens.
For example, when I play with Smeb, I don’t really care if he is doing well or not. That part is for our coaches. What matters more is my own performance. When I was asked about my goal for this year, I answered “Winning and being able to do one man’s worth.” I’ll be concentrating more on my own play next season.
Q. It may be a bit early to discuss this, but we’d like to hear your thoughts about retirement. Being able to have see the bigger picture of the game could be a big advantage as a strategy coach.
I did think about retirement before. I reach those thoughts when I start questioning my skills as a player. It’s not just that I’m bad, but times when I think ‘Can I endure all this?’ This year, I had that thought around the spring season. Will I be able to overcome my flaws? I know what my flaws are; it’s just that they’re hard to fix after doing the same thing for 4 years.
I think I’m about halfway to fixing everything, while practicing for the KeSPA Cup. I’ll do the rest preparing for the next season. I know it won’t be easy, but I’m playing with a learning mind. It feels good that I’m improving, and while I’m amending the flaws, it doesn’t seem as hard as I thought it would be. So I want to play until I have what it takes to be a player.
I used to think that I wanted to be a coach, but I don’t think that I will. The treatment isn’t very good. I’m a bit poor with words, but when I say ‘treatment’, it’s not only money, but within the team; I’m not saying that our current coach is like that, but I think the coaches should take more credit than they do now. The glory and spotlight always go to the players. I think on that front, there’s still ways to go.
Q. Now, all the competitions of 2017 are over. What are your expectations for 2018?
It’s going to be my second year at kt. I think this will be the most important time of my career. If I don’t get good results… I don’t even want to think of it. I will win no matter what next year. It would be awesome if we win both the regular season and Worlds, but I think we need to win one of the regular seasons at least.
I won in the LCK as soon as I had my debut, but not after. Back then, I didn’t think of it as being that big of a deal, maybe because I was young. But to think of it now, I don’t have much of those moments. I really want to win another regular season.
Q. Thank you for the interview, do you have anything you want to say to your teammates or fans?
I want to tell my teammates that I want to reach our goals, cooperating with each other, so we won’t have any regrets like last year. And to the fans, I’ll show at least one man’s worth in my games and deliver good performances in team fights as well, so please continue to support, encourage, and criticize me. I always look at the comments or posts about me after games. It’s a good stimulant for me. Saying that I’m ugly is just being rude, so I’ll refute that (Laughs). I’ll try hard to provide better performance for next year, thank you.
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