Michael Jordan, Ryne Sandberg, Mario Lemieux. And PraY. The link to these four players is that they’ve all come out of retirement at least once in their careers.
Although he wasn’t away from the scene as long as the other players listed above, Kim “PraY” Jong-in had a break from professional League of Legends after the end of 2018 LCK Summer Split. Since then, he had announced retirement last April. However, he overturned his retirement and joined kt Rolster. It would have been a hard decision to make, yet PraY decided to come back to the pro gaming scene.
We had a chance to talk to PraY after his comeback. We didn't have any small talk; we just dove in straight to what we were the most curious about. He was eager to speak about his thoughts on retirement, why he joined KT, and how he thinks it would be like to return.
Now you have a new title. Can you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Kim “PraY” Jong-in, who had announced retirement after a short break but came back to join kt Rolster.
It wouldn’t have been an easy decision. How did you come to pick this path?
Originally, I really meant it when I said I’ll retire. But KT came to me often, caring for me and reaching out to me to return, so many times. I did think it could be fun to play with the current members, but my fear was bigger. Every time KT came to me, I tried to postpone my decision. They did come to me often, but I think if they didn’t come to me that last time, I wouldn’t have returned.
How did they reach out?
We would talk while walking along the Han River… (So they tried to get you sentimental?) They always came around dinnertime and nighttime, saying that they need me. Since people tend to get sentimental at night, I got the thought, ‘It really could be good if I return’. I guess I got persuaded by them because of that. (Laughs)
The players you’re already close with could have been another reason as well. Like Smeb or Bdd.
There are those two players that I’m close with already, so when they first contacted me, I thought it could be interesting and fun. However, that didn’t beat the fear I had. After taking a break for a while, I must have started to think that I want to perform on stage again.
So when KT continued to come for me, I made my mind. I’ve been away for about 6 months; I think the next 6 months would go in no time as well. As much as I returned, I’ll be doing my best, putting in my best efforts. I came back thinking I want to show good performance.
What were you so afraid of?
When I said I was retiring, I said that last year was so difficult and tiring. During the break, I thought that I never want to experience that tiring and exhausting feeling again. It’s a bit complex, but that was the short version. I didn’t want to endure the stress of being a pro gamer.
Then was the reason you picked KT that they showed sincerity by reaching out several times? There must have been other offers.
I think they came over more than ten times… When I was just living my daily unemployed life, I had no thoughts about coming back, but when someone comes and talks to me about that, I tend to get swayed. Since they came over so many times, convincing me that I can do well, so I started to think, ‘Huh? Can I really?’ I guess that’s what won me over.
Was there something they said that swayed you the most?
It was always late when I met them, and as much as it was late, I was kind of sentimental. In the earlier meet-ups, I would get swayed, but after I get home, have a good night’s sleep… By the morning, I would be thinking I shouldn’t do it. (Laughs) On the day I signed with KT, the head of the office came determined, telling me to say either yes or no. I got the feeling that it was the last time they’re visiting me, so I said yes.
The results for KT last spring wasn’t very good compared to their reputation. Was there any pressure on that?
Of course, there was. The spring results weren’t that good and there are always those high expectations for the ‘summer KT’. What they did was that they kept placing confidence in me, that I would do well. They also said that since KT’s results in spring were so bad, I would have nothing to lose. When I started to think about it, I thought that there’s no reason that I wouldn’t be able to end up in the top three.
Then are you confident to end in the top three this summer?
They always say aim high. I’m aiming for Worlds. Everybody dreams the most dramatic moments… It would be best if we can go straight to Worlds by winning Summer, but it would be more dramatic if we go through the regionals, and I’m dreaming that. I joined the team thinking that we could make that dramatic dream come true.
When you announced retirement, you turned down all interview requests, so we weren’t able to hear your thoughts. We’re curious about your thoughts back then.
I turned down all interviews and all other requests like analyst desks, events, etc. There were some interesting requests, but the reason I turned them all down was that I would be walking the path away from a pro gamer if I didn’t. I thought I was at a fork in a road; if I were to do an interview on my retirement, it would be final. Well, yeah, I did announce retirement. (Laughs) But there was a part of me that still wanted to be a pro gamer.
It was a good choice. How did the people around you react when you said that you’re coming back?
Everyone’s saying that I made a good decision, or that they’re happy to see me again. Close friends or my family were extremely happy with my decision. On the other hand, the players I’ve played with reacted rather calmly. They were just like, ‘oh, you’re coming back?’ (Laughs)
I like making people happy. After I overturned my decision to retire, it made me happy thinking it would be a good surprise to many people, making them happy.
How long has it been since you moved to the kt Rolster team house?
I moved in on Monday, and it’s been three days since we started practicing together. I was living a comfy life without needing to set my alarm clock, but now I’m back to a tiring life that needs to set one. (Laughs)
You’re back together with Smeb and Bdd, whom you’ve played with before.
It’s been really long since I’ve played with Smeb. He’s not the Smeb he used to be, and I’m not the PraY I used to be. We’ve all changed. We were kids back then, but now we’ve aged a bit. Matured. Back then, we thought we should just enjoy what we’re doing, but now, there are things we’re obligated to do.
Overall, we’re still learning about each other. Since I’ve been away from the team game for six months, I’m a bit off. We’re trying to build synergy at the moment.
How’s the synergy with SnowFlower?
SnowFlower’s a cheerful guy. We’re building up synergy while practicing pleasantly. I was a bit worried about not having enough time to prepare for the season since I’ve joined the team so late, but I’ll be doing my best so that I wouldn’t leave any regrets on that matter.
Have you gotten close to Zenit and Gango?
I have a hard time getting close to people I don’t know. Especially, when they’re younger than I am. Since it hasn’t been long since I’ve joined, I didn’t have the chance to have long conversations; we’re just saying hi.
KT’s bot duo was criticized a lot last season, which could lay pressure on your comeback.
There was some pressure. Many people pointed out that bot lane was the problem, and I thought, ‘would it be any different if I were to join?’ I didn’t think I was a special person so I doubted that the team would be better if I were to join. But now that I’ve joined, it brings back old memories, and if we’re able to build up good teamwork, we’ll be able to bring back good results.
Were there any players that you were close to besides Smeb and Bdd?
I’ve talked to Score quite a few times, but besides him, no. There were players that I faced in competitions, but we weren’t close. Age is what I have in common with Score. (Laughs) It’s easier for me to talk to people who are older than me, and he’s the only older teammate. We’re getting along well.
Were there any offers from foreign teams?
After I announced retirement, no. As a matter of fact, it’s rather odd reaching out to me after I retire. When I said I was retiring, it partially meant that I don’t want to be listening to any offers; if I get offers, I would think that I want to be a pro gamer again. But since KT continued to contact me and care for me, I ended up here.
Then before that, did you ever consider going abroad?
My parents were very positive and supportive about me going abroad. They told me it would be a valuable experience when I age. So when I became an FA, I considered foreign teams a lot. After talking with a few teams, I wasn’t convinced. I thought that I still have a fear of living in a foreign country, alone.
Of course, if I were to bring good results and succeed in a foreign country, it would be good because I would be gaining foreign fans. However, I would be somewhat forgotten in Korea. If the results are bad, I would be forgotten in both that country and Korea as well. That was my biggest fear. I also tend not to attempt new things much.
The day before the announcement of your return, the title of your stream was 65. LCK summer starts on June 5th; people thought you were implying your return.
I heard about that. Honestly, I didn’t even know when summer started. I often watch Ambition’s streams, and he talked about the start of summer, so I knew then. When I don’t play games, I put in random numbers for the title. It was just a coincidence.
How did the viewers react when you said that you’re coming back?
Everybody’s so happy about it. I’ve heard so many thank you’s over the past few days. I want to pay back for their support by delivering performances that live up to their expectations.
It was a brief 6-month break, but you must have missed the fans.
During the time I was a pro gamer, I often met the fans and talked to them. It was something I was used to and took for granted. During the break, it was quite sad that there’s no such place to meet them. It felt good that if I’m back in the summer, I would be meeting them again.
Did you watch the competitions during your break?
I watched nearly all the matches. I don’t stream much when LCK or international competitions are on. The matches were really fun. I felt that they’re really good.
To come to think of it, it would be your first time performing in LoL Park.
Yes. LoL Park is an open booth; most international competitions are in open booths. When I attended international competitions in the past, I thought if the LCK also plays in open booths, it would make the players easier to adapt to the environment when going to international stages. It’s also good because you can feel the fans. Still, I think I need to be on that stage to really know how it feels. I would be so nervous in my first match there.
The meta changed a lot during your break.
I think supporters changed the most. As the support role changed, there were changes to the ADC as well. For example, Tahm Kenched was nerfed a lot, so not many ADCs without escape skills are appearing. And there’s the natural cycle of the champions; when I was pro, I knew all of it, of course, but now, there are new champions, champions that haven’t appeared much before, so I’m a bit confused. I’m trying to catch up with the meta ASAP.
What are your thoughts on Yuumi?
At first, Yuumi had bad evaluations, but she’s getting re-evaluated. Riot has buffed her, and even when people aren’t as skilled in playing her, she would be even better when people get used to playing. I think she can appear in competitions.
It’s a new challenge for you this season. Any goals?
As I said earlier, reaching Worlds is my goal. Back when I was in Kingzone, when Khan and Cuzz joined, I never thought that we would be able to reach Worlds. Well, we were Longzhu back then. Anyways, we got lucky and got to Worlds. No one could say it’s impossible this time as well. I wish I can deliver good performance and finish the season in a good mood.
Any goals for the long term? Maybe reaching 2,000 kills?
Not yet. I came back thinking I want to feel what it’s like being a pro gamer again. I would never know what would happen later on. I want to concentrate on what’s in front of me. (Do you plan to continue being a pro player after this season as well?) I wish I would have the option, but I don’t know yet. If I’m able to deliver good performances, I think I would want to continue playing.
Lastly, a word to the fans who welcome you much for coming back?
During my break, my retirement, I got a lot of messages that said: ‘I was always thinking, next time, I’ll go see him next time, but now I won’t be able to see you again…’ This time, it really could be the last time. Please come watch me play at LoL Park. (Laughs) I’ll do my best to bring good results and face the fans with a smiling face.
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.