On the afternoon of the 25th (KST), I suddenly received a message from Lee 'Wolf' Jae-wan. During our last interview, we promised to have grilled clams in the Winter. I predicted that it would be about those grilled clams, and my prediction was on point.
Wolf's journey was dramatic, but harsh. After debuting as a pro League of Legends player with Najin in 2012, he dipped his toes with CTU and joined SKT T1 S in 2013. It was the birth of the Bang-Wolf Bot duo that we all love and remember. Since then, with many LCK titles and two consecutive World Championships, he joined Turkey's Supermassive in 2018 for his next step in his pro career. Up to this point, we can safely say that his journey as a pro to be 'dramatic'.
However, behind his notable career, his friendly smile and appearance, how much do we actually know about him? He has been fighting his personal battles behind closed doors, all because he didn't want to make anyone worry. It was finally time for him to shed light on the 'harsh' aspects of his journey. There was a reason why he wanted to sit down for a conversation not over coffees at a cafe, but over shots of soju and good seafood.
We spotted Wolf with his T1 Winter jacket on. Was he wearing it because it was the team that he was on the longest? Perhaps... Perhaps he was rejoining the team? It turns out that he only had that one Winter jacket. And with it, the clanging of shot glasses and the interview with a friendly smile across the table has started.
It’s been a while. How’ve you been?
I’ve been living the dream. I ate and slept whenever I wanted, and did only the things that I wanted to do in Korea.
Unfortunately, you’ve failed to make it to Worlds this year with Supermassive. Can you share how you felt this year?
It was so close. We were very close to winning. Although, I’m happy with my in-game performance and my lifestyle this year, I’m not happy with the results, so it’s definitely a year with regrets.
You wanted grilled clams tonight. How come?
Grilled clams… It’s kind of hard to enjoy it on a regular basis. If it’s sushi or meat, then I can have it on my own but… This dish kind of reminds me of how adults sit down to talk over glasses of soju.
So did you want to do an adult-like interview? Maybe I should stop recording...
(Chuckle) Yes. Although I’m only 24 years old, I still want to act like an adult sometimes. We could’ve just ordered coffee at a cafe, but I wanted this interview to be more serious and personal.
Okay. We’ve gathered here to have more of a serious conversation, and everything is ready. It’s your turn to tell your story.
I’ve thought about this over and over again. I’ve even once had a change of heart couple hundred times a day, and that’s on whether or not I should continue to play as a pro. Long story short, I’ve decided to retire as a pro. I’m here to say that I think my time is over.
What made you decide to retire?
The next thing I’m about to say is unknown to practically everyone. Only Coach kkOma, the manager, and a couple close people know about this. I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot continue as a pro because of my mental illness.
Recently, there was a pro that retired because of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Is it the case for you as well?
It’s similar. I have 4 mental disorders. At first, I couldn’t even imagine that I had them. First, I have depression, but these days, a lot of people deal with it, so I’m not too worried about it. Other than that, I have adjustment disorder, anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. I found out about them in 2017, so it’s been a while.
So it’s during your SKT days. As far as I know, there was a psychologist with the team, so you must’ve vaguely known about your conditions.
I think it started in 2016. Whenever I was playing, I felt like I wanted to throw up, but I just thought that I was really nervous. However, things got worse in 2017. Whether or not we’d win or lose a match, I’d immediately go throw up right after. After that, if I felt better, I went to do interviews and what not.
I’ve been regularly going to the hospital, and at the time, I was told that I have light adjustment disorder and anxiety. Since then, I’ve told the team and I had consulting sessions every week with a psychologist. I was told that things will only get better if I step away from this environment.
A year has passed, and when I went on a vacation at the end of 2017 and briefly stepped away from the life of a pro, things got a little better towards the beginning of 2018. However, not long after that, the panic attacks became really severe. Fans probably only knew that I was just unhealthy. At the time, not only did I go throw up, I started to have panic attacks when I was unplugging my keyboard, so I went under the desk, and vomited, cried, and tremble like crazy for over 10 minutes. The coaching staff came to get me after I'd calmed down, and that continued for months.
The team was gracious enough and allowed me to recuperate after Rift Rivals. Fortunately, Effort played really well in my place as well. When 2019 started, I thought that going overseas would perhaps make all this better, so I looked into teams overseas. However, I was dealing with the same symptoms in Turkey… and when I came back to Korea, when I thought about returning as pro next year, I came to the conclusion that there’s just simply no way that I can continue.
If I was retiring due to decline in my in-game skills, I would feel much better, but I feel really bad that it’s not the case. I have to take care of my health first.
You’ve teased your retirement for many years and kept your fans on your toes. Although you’ve never explicitly said it, things must’ve been really bad, so you must've had a lot on your mind. However, at the time, did you see possibilities of improvement in your condition?
Yes, I thought that things would get better if I was in a better mental state. I’ve actually researched a lot on the reason behind my panic disorder. For example, was it the fan reaction, my in-game performance, or pressure from my organization? In the end, I did find the reason, and it turns out that my panic disorder gets really bad when I’m working hard, but becomes better when I’m relaxing. I was dumbfounded.
After I found out, as a pro gamer that needs to be diligent and competitive, I thought that I’d just be a nuisance to everyone else. I really hate to say it but… it’s time for me to retire. It’s hard to talk about things like this, and there would’ve been chaos if any of it got leaked to the public.
It’s unfortunate that the retirement isn’t for the reasons you want it to be.
It sucks. It really sucks. What really sucks is that, even now, I don’t think I’m bad. If I wasn’t diagnosed with such disorders, I wanted to prove myself for a couple more years, and be remembered for something greater.
As I’m hearing about it, I don’t think you’re the only one suffering from the same problems. Do you ever talk about this with other pros?
I don’t know. I’m the type of person that’s usually closed off, so I’ve only talked about all this with close people around me. I don't think a lot of pros know about this as well.
Nevertheless, it must’ve been a hard decision to make. Did you get any advice from others around you?
Yes. Whether it was kkOma, my manager, or PoohManDu… they’ve all said, “It’s right to stop if it’s too hard, but are you sure you won’t be left with regrets?” Those words struck me real deep, because I really want to keep playing.
However, my panic disorder started to creep into my daily life. It would creep up whenever I'd have mood swings. It was time that I brought up my retirement plans to my parents as well. Things continued to the point where I, Lee Jae-wan, as a person, would really end up dying. To be honest, I was looking for a new team a couple days ago, but when I’d have panic attacks, two to three times a week… I knew I couldn't continue.
After you had made your decision, what did you hear from close people around you?
I haven’t told anyone yet. I know that my heart will sway and have a change of heart if I told others first and hear their reactions, so I wanted to make my decision in retirement first, then explain to people around me.
Let’s change the mood a little bit and take a trip down memory lane. You’ve been a pro League of Legends player for 8 years, so is there a particular moment that you vividly remember?
This may seem very odd, but it was right before becoming a pro. Since I’ve been thinking about retirement a lot, I’ve been remembering the times when I first started. I was playing at a PC Cafe on my birthday, and three teams contacted me. They were from Najin, IM, and SKT, a team that Reapered was newly creating at the time.
At the time, IM was closest to my place, and I ended up talking in a car full of other players at IM. Looking back at it now, it was pretty funny in the way they wanted to scout me. After that, I followed Reapered and joined SKT. At the time, Bengi was the Jungler that was supposed to join the team, but ended up going to another team, so I suddenly ended up as the Jungler. Then, H0R0 joined the team, and I ended up having to fight for the starting position as a Jungler or Support, when I was originally brought on the team as the starting Support. I ended up going to Najin because I didn’t want to compete for the starting spot. It was such a dynamic month in my life. It was a completely new world for me, and it was fun.
Although you’ve been in many teams, you’ll always be remembered as SKT Wolf. How do you remember 2018, your last year with the team?
As a pro, I’ve always wanted to walk away when people clapped for me. If I became terrible at the game, I wanted to just walk away without regrets. In that sense, I feel bad that not only did I not play in many matches, but I’ve played terribly as well, so I feel sorry towards the fans. On the other hand, I feel that I gave it my all, given my conditions and that I couldn’t talk to anybody else about this.
Any other moments that you remember?
Before Bengi went to the army for his mandatory service, we’ve all ate and drank at Caster Jun’s restaurant. At the time, I didn’t know how to drink, and when Caster Jun gave me a glass of soju bomb, I got pretty drunk after two glasses. Then, I caught Bengi and said, “You can’t go out like this”, and even ended up crying. I even have photos. After that, I came back, and ended up vomiting and eventually at the ER… Back then, I was really bad with alcohol.
You have a lot of fans overseas. They love how happy you are, and Sjokz even said that she thoroughly enjoyed interviewing you.
Yup. I even took a photo with her, and the one thing that always came to my mind was… she’s really bad with her makeup (laughter). This is a compliment by the way. What I mean is that I think she’d look good even without make up.
I remember exchanging my keyboard and mouse with Aphromoo at MSI. Other players didn’t like the gear I used, so I’ve only used it in the LCK, and as always, I’ve brought it to MSI. I apologized to Aphromoo for the gear, but he just said, “It’s okay. The best players use this gear”. He was cool about it.
Also, I remember Mithy, who was with G2 Esports at the time. After our match, we’ve messaged each other for months and talked about draft. However, after I’ve started playing worse, I became hesitant in messaging him. If possible, I’d love to talk to him again.
Are there any achievements that you think is especially noteworthy? Whether it’s career or lifestyle… Isn’t buying a building a huge achievement?
Of course. Becoming a building owner is a huge achievement (laughter). I’m also an attention freak, and I’m proud of the fact that a lot of people got to know me, the fact that my name is being talked about somewhere in the world, and that looking at something can remind people of me.
On the other hand, what would you like to have achieved, but couldn’t?
I’m still like a kid thinking about this, but I regret that I couldn’t hold the title, ‘The best in the world’. I wanted people to think and say, ‘Support = Wolf’, but it sucks that I have to call it quits here.
You were once a world champion, so you were technically the best Support in the world, but I guess it all comes down to personal satisfaction.
Right. How the fans rate me is important, but this comes down to my personal satisfaction. I think that while I did some things better than other players, there are things that I was worse than others.
As you've probably heard from all the FA news, all the SKT teammates that you were with are finding their own path. You must feel very odd about retiring.
There definitely are regrets, because I think I can play a lot better. Bang, Faker, and kkOma are all continuing to aim to be the best, but it feels bad that I’m the only one retiring. The SKT squad that seemed like it would continue forever, is scattering off one by one. As time passes, Faker will seem more out of reach, and at that point, I wonder whether or not SKT will be the same SKT that we all knew. Although I will support everyone no matter what, I’m still left with a miserable feeling.
Faker’s the only OG member on SKT, I really do respect Faker as a pro player, and I have no doubt that he’ll continue to do well.
Is there anything that you've yet to tell to your former teammates?
This may sound very formal, so bare with me. First, the person I’d like to thank the most is kkOma. Since I’ve now retired, I won’t call him coach anymore, and he will be just a ‘hyung (Korean for older brother)’. He’s someone I’d like to thank on a very personal level. Next would be all my teammates. Not just SKT, but also those at Najin and Supermassive. Then, I’d like to thank the organization. From the manager, the support staff, and everyone else involved… they’ve worked really hard. Lastly, I’d like to thank the fans, and every personnel that’s involved in the scene.
Oh, I want to say something to all the online haters that leave hateful comments (laughter). I sometimes thought, “Did we really do something so terrible to receive all this hate?” Although there were some justified criticism, there were more times that were not.
What would you like to do, not as Wolf, but as Lee Jae-wan?
Nowadays, because I’m thinking so much about what I want and need to do, I only get about 3 to 4 hours of sleep. First, I want to live alone. I want to experience many new things in a new environment, and live life to the fullest. I’ve been living with my family while doing for these past two months, so I felt really useless. Since there were only expenses and no profit during this time, I became even more worried about the future.
I want to get back to doing the things that I’ve put off as well. I’ve recently started working out again, and I was really frustrated that I couldn’t do some of the things that I could do before. Overall, I want to live more independently.
From Wolf, the pro gamer, to Lee Jae-wan, a man with a healthy mind and body.
That’s right. I’m going to stream a lot as well. Also, this may sound like a plan far into the future, but I’ve always wanted to open my own PC Cafe. A PC Cafe with my name on the logo. I want to host events like ‘Beat the Boss’ and give out 100 hours of free PC Cafe time.
I’m curious. Are you going to cut your nails?
Not only my parents, but also everyone that saw my nails told me to cut it. I initially grew it to be more comfortable when I’m playing, but now, without my nails, there are certain difficulties I face in my daily life. For example, can you take off a sticker stuck to a box without nails? When you’re scratching an itch, it feels much better with nails. However, I’m used to short nails now. Now that I think about it, I had a good excuse to grow my nails when I was a pro, but I’ve lost that excuse. Let’s just say that it’s one of the things I regret from retirement.
Will you still be part of the LoL esports scene?
Of course. Retirement may sound grandiose on paper, but it’s really not. I can take a bit more time to recover and become a coach, or even become a caster after practicing the art. I know there will be many roads for my future. Even becoming a reporter isn’t out of the question. It actually sounds really great. I’ve actually thought a lot about becoming a reporter. When it’s time for interviews, popular players get called up by the reporters, but the others don’t get those opportunities, even if they have some things that they want to say. Although I can be the voice for those players, there wouldn’t be many hits on those articles right? (laughter)
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I really don’t know. I’d be 33 in 10 years…
<Viion: Wow, you’re only 33 in 10 years…? *sigh*>
I’m so sorry… Who knows. I could be the best PC Cafe owner in a certain area.
For your fans that will be sad to see you retire, did you prepare anything for them? Perhaps a fan meet?
I don’t have anything planned yet. Although I can cry… I only want to show the bright sides of myself. Although the fans will be very sad, I want to tell them exclusively through interviews or through my stream.
This conversation will hold more meaning than purely just retirement, because you’ve shared some of the problems that pros face, which were unbeknownst to the public. Through this interview, I hope it sheds light on some of the problems and helps the pros fight through them.
Right. I hope things become much better. I think the fans will have a lot to think about as well. That’s why I was contemplating whether or not I should talk about such topics, because I knew fans would get upset. However, the reason why I talked about such things in this interview is because… I hope it will get everyone thinking about the problems that pros face, and that we’re also human beings.
A lot of people will contact you about your retirement. Are you prepared for the aftermath?
Definitely. I’ve thought a lot about this for two months, and I’ve drawn many scenarios in how to deal with it in my head. I know I’ll be okay.
Then, as a pro player, this will be the last question you'll receive. Please send your final messages towards your fans.
Finally, I'd like to thank the fans that have continued to support me over the years. Although this may not sound genuine, I wholeheartedly believe that I was able to come all this way because of each and every one of you.
After I won Worlds in 2016, I've stated in an interview that I'm like a single gear in a clockwork. All the other gears that supported me are every one of my fans, so I'll continue to treasure all your support in the many days to come.
Although my time as Wolf, a pro gamer, has come to an end, my time as Lee Jae-wan is just beginning.
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