Sangmyeon "Shy" Park is already celebrating his sixth winter as a professional gamer. Though sometimes he got tired of the harsh, cold reality, he stayed for a good reason; it’s something he wanted to keep doing till the end.
As many have changed now, Shy had to change as well. He began to ignite the desire for a new season in his frozen mind, to avoid the painful winter of self-blame that he had to suffer through.
Many first-generation pro gamers of League of Legends are worrying about their retirement and new careers. From his perspective, Shy seems to have no other options except for being a professional gamer. He could not stand back because he wanted to be honest with himself till his final hour as a pro gamer.
During the interview, Shy mentioned that he was ashamed. From his frustration to a new start, I wondered what this feeling of shame that Shy felt was like.
"I often get shy because of my timid and introverted personality. I chose Shy as my nickname because it fits well with my personality, and it sounds nice." A lot of people are proud of their outgoing and confident figure. This kind of attitude is especially in high demand with professional gamers because competitive spirit and passion are a big virtue in the pro scene. But Shy exposed his inner side and showed that he actually listens to his inner voice.
I started out with a question about his (off-season) break in order to make him comfortable. I assumed Shy might lay down his burden during the off-season.
"Off-season came right after we were demoted from the promotion series, and the demotion was so overwhelming that it made me sick of looking at the League of Legends game itself. It was difficult to shake off the feeling of depression, and I drank a lot for a while. Though we have tasted the bitterness of losing in the semi-finals and the finals, we never experienced a demotion before. It was really hard to endure falling from the top."
Shy told me this was the toughest time of the season. Despite being the only relaxing time of the year for professional gamers, the burden of demotion was overwhelming. He could have put aside the idea of demotion with a new team’s offer. However, CJ's demotion made him even more perturbed, because he wanted to stay at CJ until the end.
"As I left CJ, I was caught up in all these indefinable feelings. I had an affection for the team and I wanted to retire as a CJ gamer. Even if I had to leave the team, I wanted to have a warm farewell. As I left, I was worried if I could really leave the team like this, and now I’m left with mixed up emotions."
Shy has been worried about his life as a pro gamer since 2015. In the 2015 LCK Spring playoffs, CJ had memorable moments against SKT T1. It wasn't easy to believe that a pro gamer, who achieved victory at the Summer season playoffs and the 2015 LoL KeSPA Cup finals, was thinking about his retirement.
"I thought I played well in the 2015 KeSPA Cup before the finals. I felt that I helped carry my team. I was confident. But I fell helplessly in the finals by encountering the opponent’s counter-picks. The whole of the finals was embarrassing. I couldn't even find a chance to fight properly, and that made me unable to forget. I kept blaming myself for losing. I really wanted to hide somewhere."
"I knew a lot of people out there blamed me, and I started to read the team's countenance. And even when the team had something to say to me, they were so careful to talk it over. I actually just wanted them to give me an honest comment, but they were worried that I might take it as a big hit. I was seriously considering retirement because I felt like I was at the edge of a cliff. I was ashamed to play again as a pro gamer."
Shy said that he was ashamed of his performance. There was no way to comfort himself in his harsh surroundings. Eventually, he decided to step down from the professional stage. By the end of 2015 and 2016, Shy thought about quitting his gamer career twice, but his retirement was not the answer he wanted. And again he listened to what his heart said.
"I always wanted to show good performances in CJ and I never wanted to end my professional career with a bad taste. I had doubts about whether I could go to the competition. I lost confidence at that moment. So I asked the team for some time, only until I was able to get back on my feet."
"Once, I thought I could be a coach, commentator, or streamer, but I still have the desire to be a professional gamer. I don't think I'll ever have as strong a feeling in any other field if I don’t have a good conclusion (as a gamer)."
"Not every coach or commentator had notable performances when they were playing as a professional gamer. However, they are certainly recognized in their field now. I think if you have desperate passion, you certainly could succeed regardless of the field you are involved in."
“Especially nowadays, I felt many things by watching Coach Changdong "TrAce" Yeo. I wanted to challenge myself in a new area after I have as much experience in professional gaming, as much as Coach Yeo. Though I've only met him as an opponent in the tournament, I was motivated to have good performances in my remaining career by looking at him."
Though he had put aside the idea of his retirement, it was hard to get back on the professional stage again after he declared a break. Despite the difficult situation, Head Coach Jungsuk "Reach" Park has helped Shy to become a professional gamer again.
"I'm thankful to Coach Park. It was the final set to decide the 2016 LCK champions against KT Rolster. I didn't want to play at that moment, but Coach told me to play this one time. I thought I wasn't prepared yet, but I was told that my name was already on the roster. Though the result was a defeat, I didn't feel regretful in my performance. I had no solid intention to play at that time but Coach made the opportunity. Since then, I tried hard once again and played for the tournament."
The joy of returning only lasted for a short period of time. Shy encountered a hard time with CJ's demotion. He was once at the top but now he faced a harsh reality by falling to the bottom. With the 2017 season ahead of him, his spirit towards being a professional gamer was about to freeze over again. However, there was a person who was able to keep Shy’s fire going.
"I've always been a good friend with Hyunjong "Onair" Kang. I often have dinner with him and talk about my troubles. After I left CJ, we met and he was very sad for me. He told me that I would not be able to get rid of the image of being a dishonorable fugitive. I think I was feeling that way too. But he was suddenly tearful in front of me during the conversation. I was convinced that Coach really cared about me. I thought I could put aside my doubts and work hard again under his supervision."
So, Shy built a new nest at ROX Tigers and began a fresh start with Head Coach Kang, who had been with Shy from his debut to his best moments. Shy continued, talking about the thoughts he had when he first started his career.
"I think at the beginning, I aimed at just thinking about League of Legends. I concentrated hard on victory and on the game itself. But looking back to two years ago, I lost that passion. I worried about things outside of the game a lot. It's quite hard to recover that mindset, but from now on I really want to immerse myself in the game."
This 2017 LCK will be a bloodbath for Shy, who will play amongst world class toplaners. He needs to survive in the midst of Worlds semi-finalists and finalists. How does he feel about having this upcoming LCK?
"In 2017, I'll put everything down and start again. I will accept any criticism with a clear and fresh mindset. When I was in the top lane in the past, I sometimes thought that I could obviously win against some players. So I focused on preparing for the fights with high-level players. But in 2017, I think there are no easy opponents. I have to be prepared for every game."
"My role in the team is to play good games, but I think there's something beyond the game. Coach Kang and the Director wanted me to sign on as a playing coach. I agreed with that and signed the contract as a playing coach in ROX Tigers. I want to make a well-formed team by working hard on playing games and also doing well as the eldest brother."
"The 2017 LCK season will not be easy for me. But I want to face it. I want to put aside the thoughts of retirement and changing careers until the end of my gamer life. LoL eSports has its own history. I want to be a professional gamer who is remembered by fans until the end."
Shy frankly said that his performance was a shame. The way to get rid of those feelings is just to give a performance that is satisfactory to himself. He chose to rise to the challenge again because he was ashamed, and he chose to remain so he could be a professional gamer that nobody could be ashamed of. In 2017, Shy will be facing a new challenge. Will he be able to come back to us with that same original passion and mindset he wanted to revive?
Photography by Chaerim "ttipi" Park