Japan is renowned for their well-developed and unique entertainment industry of animation, video games, and music. However, esports has been excluded from Japan’s list for a good number of years. People say that the country lacks the infrastructure and interest in this field of entertainment.
Despite esports’ the lack of popularity in Japan, there is a player in the Japanese esports scene that has earned a good deal of recognition. His name is Jeon “Dara” Jung-hoon. This Korean player started his pro career in the Japanese LoL team named Rampage (currently named PENTAGRAM). At that time, he was just a rookie, but the performance he showed in the LJL instantly solidified his reputation as one of the best players in the league. As a Support, he became famous for his warm and considerate personality on and off the rift; this was one of the many reasons why he gained such a big fanbase in Japan.
“I first dreamed of being a pro gamer when I was a high school senior. Before that, I just kept on playing games. After I made a concrete goal, I tried finding numerous paths and found out about Chunnam Techno University. I got entry to the school and started in the department of esports. I did have a chance to coach in China, but I really wanted to be a pro gamer. Fortunately, the school and the LJL team Rampage made an MOU. That’s how I first got the chance to become a pro and the start was in Japan.”
Dara was quite shocked when he first arrived in Japan. They did name it a ‘pro team’, but ironically there were absolutely nothing for the players. Despite the harsh environment, he managed to throw in his best efforts; Dara clearly knew that this path was his lifelong dream. He believed that he would someday improve and get the chance to compete in international tournaments.
“I’m reminded of my first experience in Japan. I didn’t have a place to sleep, so I had to live in a shared house near a university. It was a single room with a fridge, bed, and a wooden desk. I didn’t have a computer at that time. That’s why I only watched replays in the lobby using public wi-fi. After 3 weeks, I finally got my computer. However, it was just a business laptop. I also remember my debut. It took place in a small internet cafe. There were about 50 people in the place. In 2015, we had to use the NA or KR sever since the Japanese server didn’t exist. “
It was indeed a poor environment for a pro gamer. Still, Dara managed to proceed with his career. During his time in Rampage, he led the team to 3 LJL trophies in 2 and a half years. The team also got the chance to perform in international events such as All-stars, the StarLadder i-League, MSI, and Worlds. When he moved his team to Burning Core in 2018, he performed as a playing-coach; he again proved his talents by promoting the team to the 1st division.
However, Burning Core suddenly made an announcement that Dara had officially retired from the League scene. He soon said that he was traumatized and disappointed by the LJL. In October of 2017, Dara’s contract ended and he spoke with the team staff, saying that he wanted move to a different team. After his statement, the Rampage staff decided to steal his foreigner residence card.
“What I posted on my SNS is true. I’m still afraid to even think about my former team, Rampage. At that point, I had severe headaches so I had to have medicines. Also, I would often bleed from my nose. After I moved to Burning Core, those unpleasant memories kept on bothering me and eventually I found that I had a hard time maintaining my everyday life. The biggest thing was that I totally lost interest in LoL.”
Regardless of his transfer, a lot of Japanese fans still supported Dara. His new team, Burning Core was off to a good start, having been promoted to the 1st division. That is why a lot of people thought that Dara’s retirement was rather a hasty decision. However, Dara seemed to have more to say regarding his departure from the scene.
“I had to withstand so many things while I was in Rampage; the incident related to my residence card acted as a catalyst. I was so disappointed with Rampage as well as Riot Japan. Rampage wasn’t even a ‘professional’ team in the first place. My room, which was so hard to get, was always full of trash and cockroaches. Still, I was able to withstand everything. But the more serious problem came from the staff.
The Rampage staff was so rude and ignorant. They sometimes proudly talked about how they would yell at restaurant and convenience store employees. I had to be part of that and laugh because I didn’t want to ruin the team atmosphere. I truly regret what I did at that time.
The staff would speak inappropriately when talking about a teammate’s girlfriend. They insulted fans and the sponsor as well. Also, the team never sent me to the hospital when I was sick; I had to suffer in my room just waiting to get better.”
Some of Dara’s stories were too shocking to reveal in this article. We were able to indirectly feel what he had to withstand in his 2 and a half year experience in Japan. He did seem rather calm during the interview, but it wasn't hard to sense the pain and sorrow hidden inside his voice.
“I was basically right beside them, so I had to see and feel everything they did. When I told them that I wanted to move to another team, their behavior completely flipped. I realized that now I’m like one of those employees they constantly yelled at. From that point on, I was treated as an outsider. When I visited the Rampage house to get my stuff in December, they told me “If you want to leave the team, give us your residence card.” The only thing on my mind the thought of running away. I wasn’t able to stand the pressure and eventually had to give my card away.
There were problems in their team management as well. Come to think of it, my contract was wrong in the first place. They gave me a version that was only in Japanese, so I asked whether there was a Korean contract. The answer was “no”. I had to officially request for a Korean translation of it. If I didn’t ask for it, I would have never known what was actually in my contract. I can’t talk about the specifics, but there were numerous problems regarding financial issues such as my monthly wage and incentives.”
Since there are not a lot of players performing in the LJL, players usually move teams frequently. However, Dara stayed as the Support for Rampage for 2 and a half years. We were curious about what made him stay in Rampage for such a long time.
“I tried to withstand everything because Rampage was the team that was closest to performing in international tournaments. The best players in Japan were on the team and we managed to win numerous LJL trophies. Also, I couldn’t let down my fans since some remembered me as Rampage “Dara”. I knew that if I went to another team, a lot of Rampage fans would be disappointed. “
We found out that Dara was also disappointed with Riot Japan’s management and how they dealt with his issue. He told that he did not recieve any support from them during his life in Japan.
“To be frank, I have no idea what Riot Japan is currently doing. The only time I met a person there was when I had an interview. It was organized because I had to make a statement about the residence card issue. The person said that “I believe you” and that was about it. They never talked about this issue again; I just had to simply watch them announce Rampage’s penalty. I thought that they would at least talk with me beforehand since I was the one who was involved.
I believe that the penalty wasn’t right. Just throwing a three month ban on the owner and manager didn’t really mean anything. While they were going through their penalty, I actually saw the manager sitting beside the players in a live stream. I was so shocked about the residence card issue. Afterwards, I had a hard time moving teams and a hard time getting in and out of Japan. I wondered, “If this occurred in a different sports scene, would this incident have ended with just a meaningless penalty?
The person from Riot Japan told me “I’ve heard about Rampage’s bad reputation and deeds.” Then why didn’t they do anything? They never tried to visit the team’s dormitory. If they really heard about the ‘bad reputation’, then why did they just stay still? They could have at least visited and heard our stories. If they did something in the first place, the residence card issue might have not even happened.”
After Dara’s retirement, Japanese fans started to stand up. That’s when Riot Japan rushed to announce their apology. However, the fans were still furious. They believed that the apology was just another ‘meaningless’ announcement. Meanwhile, PENTAGRAM (formerly Rampage) has not yet released an official statement regarding this issue.
“Riot Japan’s official apology wasn’t enough. They’ve never attempted to reach me and hear about the issue anyways. From my perspective, it felt like they were implying ‘we are sorry and it won’t happen again. Now you may leave’. I really believed that I did my best for the LJL’s improvement, but after going through all this… I felt so empty inside.
I still wanted to hear PENTAGRAM’s sincere apology. But they are not doing anything. Well, that could’ve been predicted, and now I’m not willing to accept their apology. You know what’s really ironic? The Pentagram staff and players still talk about me as if nothing happened. I’ve seen a player that I’ve not talked to since the incident, talking about me on TV.
Currently, I’m worried about whether the pentagram staff is up to something else. They might lie about what happened and make me the ‘bad guy’. There was a similar case in the LJL where a player was sacrificed because of malicious lies. I have so many things to say about PENTAGRAM. If they get to read this interview, they will act right away.”
Although Dara had a rough life in Japan, he said that his short experience in Burning Core was definitely something to remember. In January, thanks to the Burning Core staff, he finally got his lost residence card back. It turned out that the owner visited Riot Japan to explain the issue and requested that his card be returned.
Dara’s official retirement was on May 3rd, which was right before PENTAGRAM's MSI match. Naturally, fans started to speculate that he retired on that certain date on purpose. However, this was not true. In mid April, once Dara told the team beforehand that he would retire, the entire Burning Core staff burst into tears. This actually shook Dara, so he decided to go back to Korea to get some time to sort out his head. That’s why there was a short delay on his retirement date.
“I was so happy in Burning Core. A staff member cleaned and cooked for us. The manager was very considerate as well. I had the chance to get a massage once every week. When I was sick, the owner gave me a ride to the hospital. If you need to go to the hospital in Japan, you need to make a ‘hospital card’. As a matter of fact, that was the first time I made a hospital card because it was my first time that I even went to a hospital. It took 2 and a half years. I got along well with my teammates also. I had such a wonderful time there. I would like to once again show my gratitude to the entire Burning Core crew.
Unfortunately, I was just too traumatized to perform in the 1st division. It would have been nice to win against PENTAGRAM, but to imagine myself losing… I thought that I might really collapse. I did try to lead the team in and out of the rift but I truly didn’t want my current state to be a minus factor for the team.”
After hearing Dara’s stories, we wondered how Lee “Tussle” Moon-young was doing. In 2015, Tussle went to Japan with Dara; the two players led Rampage, showing quality performance. Once his contract ended in 2017, he moved to the LJL team Unsold Stuff and played there for one season. Tussle was also involved in the residence card issue and was on Riot Japan’s sanction list.
“Moon-young is doing fine. I’m not sure exactly what happened when he moved teams but we talked a lot after I retired. He was my companion and at the same time my friend whom I’ve spent the most time with. We talked about the happy, sad, and strenuous days we had in Rampage. I told him to prepare well for next split. Oh yeah, Evi reached out to me as well. He told me that I did my best in my pro gamer days, so I thanked him."
Dara left korea in his early 20s and made a huge contribution to Japanese esports. He improved a lot, but at the same time he had to make sacrifices. We asked Dara what his best and worst moments were during his time in Japan.
“The best was when I was chosen for All-stars. I was a foreigner, but I managed to get the Japanese fans’ recognition. Still, my goal was to perform well in international events; the team made it, but I wasn’t able to show my best talents (laughs). Sometimes I even regret going to Japan in the first place. If I was able to improve my solo queue rank a bit more and start my pro life in a different league, things might have been different.
If you are thinking of becoming an import player in another league, I wouldn’t recommend going to Japan. If you are confident in your talents and think that you’ve got good potential, try going to major leagues in China or Europe. The Japanese esports market is still in development and there are not enough players there to compete, so one day you might hit a wall. “
At the last part of our interview, we asked whether he would like to go back to the scene. However, Dara sounded resolute. He did not hesitate to answer; his last words sounded stronger than ever. We eventually weren’t able to hear positive answers... There was a heavy silence once he left the room.
“It’s going to be hard to go back to the pro scene. A large proportion of my Japanese fans said to give it another shot, but I think this is the end for me. They said that they’re going to be waiting for my return, but it just doesn’t get to me anymore. I’m going to take some rest and think about my next step, since I do have my military service left.
I received a lot of love from my fans and their support was too good for me. It was a great honor to be selected twice for All-stars. I would like to thank all my fans for supporting me even after I’ve retired. However, I believe that it will be hard for me to go back to the LJL. I am truly sorry. “