Winter carries a special meaning for professional League players. They look back at the past year and make resolutions for the new one. In this cold weather, many of them will find themselves to have made many regrets as well... and today was one of the coldest days of this winter.
However, in this freezing weather, a special guest came with only short sleeves on. It was as if he was denying winter, much to the surprise of everyone present. That person was Lee “CuVee” Sung-jin, also known as the best top laner of 2017. As we ate pasta and spoke about his career; we were able to find out what kind of a person CuVee was.
Frankly, we were sometimes frustrated with his unpredictable actions and answers. He was being humble during moments when we thought that he would be bragging - plainly responding by saying “I was lucky, and I got carried by the others.” Even when talking about the times he lost, he said that he has no regrets. CuVee was a character who doesn't have a large ego, but he doesn't have a small one either; he was not arrogant when he did well and was not discouraged when his performance was bad, like an ascetic. It was like seeing ‘Kung Fu Panda’ in real life.
When the season starts, the professional players will need to survive in an immensely competitive environment. From his qualification round to winning Worlds, let’s have a look at how CuVee saw it all.
Q. It’s nice seeing you again after All-Stars has finished. How have you been?
I didn’t have a long vacation because of All-Stars. I rested at home until the next day and now I’m back at the team house, practicing.
Q. Do you have any fun or memorable tales from the All-Star Event?
Not much, except that Faker was a bit different from what I thought he would be like. Everybody panicked when he said that he lost his passport. When we found the passport in his own jacket, I thought that he was rather sloppy than perfect. I think he needs to be looked after a lot. (Laughs)
The other guys were how I thought they’d be. Gorilla supported the other people, just like his position. I’m kind of the lazy type and it was really convenient when he helped me out with all the little things.
Coach Han Sang-yong had an aura that was incomparable to anybody. I could feel that ‘fighter energy’ just being near him. Chan-yong (Ambition) is a deer compared to him.
Q. You said that you liked the American food when the others weren’t enjoying it that much. Which food stood out your mind this time?
The pasta and high-class steak I had at the ‘Cheesecake Factory’ was really good. Most food was a bit salty, and the other players didn’t like it. I think that salty food has depth in the taste. I had good meals. (Laughs)
Q. It looks like you’re having diverse experiences in foreign countries, being a pro gamer.
If I look at it that way, I actually don’t have many chances to go abroad. I think it’s good being a pro gamer and being able to go abroad to do many things like that.
Q. You’ve been to Worlds several times, but the All-Star Event was the first time for you. How did you feel?
When I was picked, I thought ‘Wow, I made it this far’. This could be the prime of my career. So I thought that I should enjoy myself while I can. The previous All-Star Events seemed somewhat relaxing.
But the atmosphere was so different since it became a national team competition. There wasn’t enough time to practice and the schedule was too tight, so it was far from relaxing. It was not long after Worlds and the KeSPA Cup, so it was really tiring.
Q. Let’s talk about the Worlds winner, Samsung Galaxy now. When did you think that you could win it all?
Frankly, I never thought it before the qualification match. When we defeated Longzhu at the quarterfinals, I thought we had a shot. Longzhu was really strong and the score 3:0 really meant something.
Q. SSG had been 1st place in regular splits, but people said that SSG was in a critical situation at Rift Rivals and during the postseasons. What helped you overcome those situations?
Everybody has the will to stand on higher ground. Many teams get discouraged when they lose or get cut off. We had a strong will, to win in the qualification round and go to Worlds. At Worlds, we set our minds on the finals since we had a hard time getting here. There were players that were exhausted, in both body and mind. Our coaches did their magic and we were able to compete to the end. We focused on our goal, saying “Let’s just concentrate on our goal”, and we became champions before we knew it.
I think we were lucky, with the meta and everything. But I think it was part of our own abilities to have grabbed such luck with our own hands.
Q. When some people were criticizing one player, you said ‘We are a team, and it’s not that person who was bad, the whole team was bad’. Do you think it’s possible to overcome one person’s slump as a team?
The team has to carry the slump of a person. That person has to solve his problem himself, but the team has to help him. Somebody should give him advice or help him in different ways. (Q. Did you get helped that way?) I think I rode the bus all year, comfortably. Whenever I play, I think ‘I’ll do JUST my role only. Let’s just get carried’. (Laughs)
Q. The next season will be with the same members. What do you think is the reason to stay as a team again?
Everybody had their own thoughts, in a way. But we all thought that staying in the team would be the most stable. We also felt that if we stayed, we could do it again.
I played with other team players at the All-Star Event, I had trouble getting used to them, maybe because the team style is all different. I felt that my own team makes me comfortable the most. I think that I got used to it by playing with them for a long time.
Q. Confidence is a major characteristic of CuVee. When others avoid playing Camille, you made a bold decision, played her and earned yourself the nickname "ZZamille". All those nerfs could not be ignored though, how did you come to that decision?
Actually, many pieces of a puzzle came together for that pick. In that situation, all I could play was Camille. I personally didn’t think she was bad, too. While I was talking with the coaches, she came out. I think she was the best pick in that situation. Camille was good against Rumble so I played her at Worlds, too.
I thought Camille was like the ‘hidden OP’ champion since when I was on ‘The God of Mouth LoL’. So I tried to take advantage of her as much as possible.
Q. I remember you being confident saying “We’ll be winning more easily, the game might not be fun” from your interviews before at LCK broadcasts.
I was really confident when I said that. It was after beating Longzhu in the first round of the summer split. I thought that maybe that phrase was a bit unnecessary.
I do think it’s difficult to say such a thing. If confidence becomes excessive, it leads to being arrogant. But as a pro gamer, I can’t say that I’m not confident. I think that those statements were the process to finding ‘the line’ as a pro gamer.
Q. Negative reactions came after those statements when you lost a single match. Didn’t you hesitate to say such things after that?
No hesitation. I don’t really look at the reactions in the communities. I think I was able to win because of that. (Laughs) I’m satisfied with my past year.
Q. Crown became like ‘the symbol of effort’ in SSG, so the effort other players give doesn’t show much on the outside. How much do you practice?
When I first had my debut, I really put in a lot of effort. But if I practice too much, it’s tiring, physically, and it has a bad impact if there’s a match the day after. I found my own style of practicing by continuing to play when all goes well and resting when I’m having a hard time.
I didn’t over-practice during Worlds, either. The more I play on the China server, the more my mental breaks, so I focused on maintaining my condition, ending practice at a proper amount. At that time, Ardent Censer was the meta, and RNG understood that meta very well. I learned about the meta playing with RNG and concentrated on feedback.
Q. Now, let’s talk about ‘top laner CuVee’. You played nearly only Maokai last spring. Sometimes it’s hard for a tank to do something on its own, what mindset should you have in those situations?
Yes, there’s a limit to what a tank can do on its own. Especially in solo queue. In those situations, I try to buy time for the other teammates to grow. Sometimes, chances come in disadvantageous situations. For a tank to carry, the other lanes have to take half and half or more.
However, it’s hard to make such situations. I don’t get mad or anything when I’m the only player who does well, I just do my best with what I can do.
Q. People say that CuVee is good whether he plays Tank or DPS. Other top laners have a certain preference, how were you able to be good at both styles?
In a way, that can be my weakness; I don’t have a specific style. I think I became good at both styles because I played champions according to the meta. I used to be more of a DPS type, but I kind of lost my identity. I think that tank style needs a lot of effort. It doesn’t need that much skill with mechanics, but knowing how to act in certain situations is important.
Q. During the second game of the ‘LCK vs LPL’ All-Star match, you delivered an incredible performance, playing the role of a tank almost flawlessly.
It might’ve seen like I played incredibly, but it’s because both sides chose a team composition that has low DPS. That’s why I didn’t die. And amidst all that, the towers dealt a lot of damage. In the eyes of a spectator, it might’ve looked impressive, but all I did was to try and not die. I just played according to the pace of the game, and it just happened to turn out great. (Laughs)
Q. You have a very impressive solo-kill rate on stage. What’s your secret?
In order to pick up solo-kills on stage, everything needs to be ‘perfect’. There is a higher chance if it’s a ‘carry vs carry’ matchup, and I think I’ve been playing it very well.
One method is to call your jungler and secure a kill. Then, by using the level-difference as an advantage, you could get another one on your own. The most important part that you need to keep in mind, however, is to track your enemy’s cooldowns. After tracking the cooldowns and realizing that you’re at an advantage, go in and fight.
If you try to make careful calculations while trying to get a solo-kill, it’ll never work, as it’ll be too late. You have to believe in your instincts and head straight in. Go in with the mindset of “even if I lose here, I’ll just beat him next time.” As a toplaner, once you give up a kill, it becomes very hard to make a comeback. But there is still the next game, right? (Laughs) The point I’m trying to make is that you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t do anything. If you want to win, you have to take risks.
Personally, for me, losing after attempting many different plays feels a lot better than winning without doing anything impactful.
Q. There was a big change in the rune system during the preseason. What’re your opinions regarding it?
I’m always positive towards change. These types of changes allow League of Legends to remain popular - which is also the reason why I’ve never been bored of this game. Also, the new rune system is a lot more convenient to set up. The current meta favors DPS-oriented champions, but it’s still the preseason, so it’s susceptible to change. Some adjustments need to be made in regards to balancing, but I’m sure everything will turn okay in the coming days.
I enjoy having diversity in champion picks. At that point, the fight between pros become an effort-based one. The player that practices with more champions are better than the one that doesn’t.
Q. Recently, professional toplaners have been saying some things about junglers… and it’s become a hot topic of debate. What do you think about the relationship between the toplaner and jungler?
Jungler is a role that you call for when you need it.
Q. Is there anything you want to say to Ambition?
I don’t care if he ganks for me. I just want him to continue playing at the level that he did at Worlds.
When Ambition decides to not come to top, he makes things happen elsewhere on the map. He never wastes his time. It might be difficult for me to lane without his help, but I can still endure it. Once, during practice, some feedback was given to me, saying I need to call for my jungler more.
Q. Some players believe that “a toplaner’s role is to push the lane and call for his or her jungler, and if the jungler doesn’t respond, it’s the junglers fault.” As a world champion toplaner, could you give us a word on what the truth is?
Whatever wins you the game. Personally, for me, I often don’t call for my jungler. I always try my best to solo-kill.
Q. Someone is blaming you during a game of Solo Queue! What will you do?
I will immediately block him and continue playing. Trying to argue with that person will just tire you out anyway; if it was a person that you could actually communicate with, he wouldn’t have said such things in the first place. In League, if you maintain a good mentality, you’ll always end up in a good rank, and if you begin a game by blocking out some of the rude players, you’ll always have a stable mentality. When a time comes where you need to communicate with the team, just trust your instincts and play! This is a good way to increase your personal skills as well, as you’ll collect knowledge regarding macro as you die.
When I’m split pushing, I communicate with my team through pings, and pings alone - and it is enough for me to do what I need to do.
Q. Back then, a picture of yours became a meme within the community. But now, you’re nicknamed “Zza-Hwang”. Can you give us a word in regards to your growth within the eSports scene?
LoL isn’t that old of a game, but within the scene, the only team/players that climbed from the very bottom to the very top are us. We began in 2015, and we were considered a weak team. The journey from there to here was definitely a difficult one. I’m actually very proud of it, too.
Looking back now, I don’t think I have any regrets in my career as a professional player. I always did my best during practice and on stage to not leave any [regrets]. The person that helped me the most with that was our head coach. He was there for me from the very beginning. He gave me a lot of advice inside and outside of the game, and I think that’s how I was able to get this far.
Q. Crown said in an interview that “CuVee doesn’t show his feelings openly, but rather, keeps them to himself. People like CuVee become extremely scary when they get angry. I've never seen him get really angry before, but I've seen him upset from time to time.” Whenever I saw you, however, you looked carefree and always bright.
I do get upset from time to time. But I don’t take it out on other people. I’m trying to live peacefully and optimistically. I have no concerns whatsoever. Even during an ongoing season, I’m just going to focus on what I need to do, and that only. If it goes badly, oh well. As a professional gamer, this kind of mindset is the best to have if you want to avoid getting stressed out.
Q.We’re at the end of the interview! Do you have any final words?
Some of us may have a rough start at the beginning of the 2018 Season, but no one will know how the final results will end up until the very end. I’m just hoping for a fun year. I’ll be doing my best.
Dinner time, that CuVee won't miss for the world!