While we were preparing for the Mid-Season Cup, there was a phone call from someone saying that he read Wolf’s retirement interview well. Kim “Frozen” Tae-il wanted to have a deep conversation. From that, I realized that it had been quite a few years since Frozen showed remarkable performances in IM and Longzhu Gaming.
When a player that I was used to seeing regularly goes to a far region, I felt mixed emotions. If the region isn’t one of the major leagues like the LPL, LCS, or LEC, I can’t help but worry. There had been plenty of players that had to wrap up their careers in a wild-card region without being able to make a big difference. The players and fans would also feel the concerns.
After moving to Turkey, Frozen was still doing well. He won the championship and was selected as the best mid laner. The blue and yellow jersey looked like a perfect fit. Fans were relieved from the news from far away. However, the bright light was visible from afar, but the shadows it cast were concealed. It seemed that Frozen kept many things to himself for a long time.
It was a pity that we weren’t able to have a drink as I listened to him talk about the past, now, and life. What did Frozen have in mind, keep to himself, and endure for the past six years, and why did he make this important decision?
Hello. It feels that we should have grilled clams and soju doing this interview. First, how about introducing yourself?
Hi, I’m Kim “Frozen” Tae-il, pro… gamer? (Laughs)
You showed that you were well by coaching a team named WAF. How did you come to coach that team?
After my contract in Mexico was over, I came back to Korea. I was quite struggling mentally at that time. It was the hardest time in my pro gaming career. I wasn’t able to concentrate in my work. It’s not that I didn’t work hard; I did my best but it felt that if I continued on like this, I would be wrecked. So I talked with the team and terminated my contract.
As soon as I returned to Korea, Crash called me. He said that he’s taking a challenge to reach Challengers Korea from a third division team and asked if I can join as the mid laner. I told him that I’ll think about it. At that time, my will to stay as a player was only about 10%.
I was quarantined since I just got back to Korea, and practice was online so I thought it would be alright. I thought of this as my last chance and played scrims together with them. The other players did really well, and it seemed that we could win everything if we continued like this. However, as I practiced alone, it came to me that I really can’t keep going. Every single game was painful, regardless of winning or losing. It was really stressful playing games with the purpose of practicing again. I was really confused. This started in Mexico, but I guess it exploded in Korea.
I personally really hate being a nuisance in any way to my teammates, whether it’s in-game or out of the game, but it felt that I would disturb them if I went on. I would have been unsatisfied even if we did really well, making others uncomfortable. So after a few days, I told them, “I’m really sorry, but I don’t think I can continue.”
I could have just played scrims without practicing alone, but I always think that I should be in my best condition if I’m actually going to do it. I thought playing scrims without practicing in solo queue isn’t proper practice. So I came to decide that I shouldn’t be a pro player anymore.
However, I was very sorry to leave the team like that. There was another mid laner other than me and I had considered becoming a coach before, so I suggested that I’ll coach the team. That was how it all started. The players really liked it.
It was a sudden decision, but it would feel quite different coaching a small team, watching them grow. It could feel like starting from the bottom again with several players with a lot of experience as well.
Right. There are quite a few players in the team that has been to Worlds besides me, but they’re all starting again, battling against amateur players from the third division.
My teammates were desperate. They’ve been to Worlds, and they could manage to find a team, but they weren’t able to. They had let go of a lot, so they wanted to start again from Challengers Korea. I felt sincerity from their behavior.
You said that there were several players that had been abroad in several countries. Were there many things to sympathize with?
There was a lot. One of the reasons those players, as well as I, had to play abroad in so many countries was that we wanted to play in Korea but weren’t able to. At that time, we weren’t good enough.
We acknowledged that and went abroad. Everyone gathered again with the same thought, that we want to play in Korea. Since everyone has that thought, I was able to feel that sincerity in all the small plays. Now, I’m just very happy that I’m here with them.
There could be names that fans would recognize already, but I want to have our names known again, in a better shape.
Do you think the coaching role suits you?
I’ve always thought that I’m obligated to coach even when I was a player. But even now, it’s not quite relevant to say that I’m coaching. We’ve only been practicing online and I actually don’t know what a coach should do. I’m just doing what I think I should do.
One thing for sure is that I really like what I’m doing now. Obviously, it could be different when it comes to harder situations, but for now, if they like me, I’ll keep coaching.
Alright, let’s get down to why you called me in the first place. What went through your mind while deciding to retire?
I originally really enjoyed playing solo queue. Even on my days off, playing solo ranked was my way of taking a break. But starting this February, I started to dislike playing solo queue and I started to become fed up with playing games. I had two thoughts back then: ‘I should quit now’ and ‘No, this is just because I’m washed out’.
However, the stress coming from playing solo queue became bigger and bigger up to now. It felt that I was clinging on to playing even though I was really sick of it. As that continued, I was sure that it was time to stop. I got to a point where I was just enjoying the game in itself, it was alright, but if it was practicing or grinding to raise my LP, I wanted to throw the mouse.
Let’s say that I get $5K per month, no, $10K per month as a pro gamer regardless of the result. Even so, I would be happier not getting all that if I don’t need to play games. It was that bad. Whatever I do, it feels that I would spend more money in the hospital. So I don’t regret my decision at all.
When you decided to retire, what held you back the most?
Obviously, the financial part made me hesitate the most. If I were to retire, it would be a lot different from when I was a player. After my career, money would be something that would be important, but I would easily give that up since I’m happy when I’m not playing games as practice. Even now, I’m coaching without being paid a single dollar.
Have you told old teammates? How did they react?
I asked for advice from Hirai (current KT head coach) and Micro (former DWG head coach). A pro gamer is an occupation that you have to earn as much as you can while you can still do it. They told me that it’s nearly impossible to do after time passes. They even almost talked me out of it.
However, I expressed quite clearly how I felt. That I was really stressed and that I wouldn’t regret my decision now. When I told them that, they agreed that it’s time to let go, since they know better than anybody about how much stress affects a pro gamer. Besides that, I didn’t tell many people that I’m retiring. I thought if I did, my thoughts would get more complicated than it is.
I didn’t know you were that stressed. So stress is one of the biggest reasons for a pro gamer to retire?
I’ve seen many pro gamers that suffer from stress. I can see it when other gamers are stressed as well. I can see that they’re sick of the game and that they’re stressed from playing the game. It’s hard to tell right away though, whether they’ve simply become lazy or if it’s so bad that they’re considering retirement. But you can tell right away if they’re losing passion for the game.
Frankly, I thought I would be active as a pro gamer until I’m 30 (Laughs). I started when I was 20, and now I’m 27. I had thought several times that I wanted to retire, but all those times were just simply because it was tiring at those moments. This time, it’s real.
How’s your health? I heard that you also went through depression.
Now that I’m not stressed, it feels that I’ve become healthier. Before, I was really depressed. I was diagnosed with depression and they even suggested that I should be hospitalized, but I said that I’ll try to overcome it. There had been several times that I was tired and stressed when worse happened but seeing myself here… I think I have a strong mentality.
You’ve been through many different things. You started in an LCK team, left your marks in the Turkish league, and, although short, also been in Mexico. How does it feel looking back?
I’ve never regretted all those decisions. It feels that time flew so fast… It still seems like just yesterday.
One of my long-term goals in my life was living alone somewhere quiet. It was too tiring in Korea. I had a slump, the competition was too fierce, and I lacked the ability to overcome that competition. It was when I was in Korea when I first thought of retiring. I was about to decide to retire when they contacted me from Turkey.
At that time, I thought that I should become the head of a snake rather than become the tail of a dragon, so I went to Turkey which was a wild-card region. What I thought there was, ‘If I don’t reach Worlds, I’ll retire’. I wouldn’t have any more excuses if I failed to reach Worlds. I made a promise to myself that I should try the hardest I can ever try.
I learned many things then. I learned about the ‘team game’ in Turkey. The coaching staff in Korea also gave me excellent guidance and advice, but maybe because I was too young, it didn’t really reach me. I didn’t realize then.
In Turkey, not many people taught me or told me what to do. I had to learn myself, study, and even teach my teammates. It was a role that was kind of like a playing coach. That made me better at the game.
Although it’s a league beneath the level of Korea, I became confident as I won. I was able to grow a lot that way and what grew the most was what I thought of a ‘team’. If I were in Korea, I would have played at least ten solo queue games, but in Turkey, I played about seven and used that time for my teammates.
In a way, you started and grew as a pro gamer in Korea and started to build your ability as a coach in Turkey. Whether or not you intended.
Yes. It was a chance for me to look back at myself. It was a benefit that I didn’t expect. I got involved in the draft, looked up and analyzed our opponents, and even counseled my teammates. If they looked down, I’d buy them dinner and talk to them. We were so close that they even discussed their family affairs to me. So every day was extremely busy. I still want to see my friends in Turkey. They’re not teammates anymore; they’re friends. They all said that they’ll treat me.
Back then, I once sent a message to Hirai, saying, “I’ve finally realized what you’ve been trying to tell me”. I was doing so many things that I thought of what he talked about.
In Turkey, you were voted as the best mid laner several times. That should have given you a lot of courage.
I never imagined that I would get cheered so much by so many fans. It made me feel that I got many things that I couldn’t get. I realized that hard work pays off.
On your social media, you had asked yourself if you’d been a better player if you stayed in Korea. Do you have an answer now?
I still don’t have the answer to that question. I just wanted to think about it; about if I would have been a better player if I stayed in Korea. I felt frustrated when I wasn’t able to have better ideas during feedback sessions with my teammates.
I think imports have to be worthy of their pay and be better than other players no matter what. That way, there will be slots available for future imports as well. We need to look in the long run. I was able to go there through that. I think many Korean players developed this scene that way, and I want to take part in that.
What do you think would’ve happened if you had stayed in Korea?
(Laughs) Hmm… Well, you never know. To think of it very positively… I probably would’ve followed Hirai? But most likely, I would’ve wanted to try being in different teams without considering the team being strong or weak. I would have gone to a team that needs me and do my best.
Looking back at your rookie days, is there something you’d like to change?
I was way too stubborn. Especially about the picks. I was scolded often because of that. I was stubborn without any logic. Also, now that I think of it, just playing many games wasn’t efficient practice. I should have thought about many things when practicing; it wasn’t about the quantity, it was about quality. And resting when necessary.
So now, I’m sorry to my head coach at that time. He told me, ‘The coaching staff lacked ability. We could have taught you better.”
Which moment do you remember the most in your LoL pro gamer career?
First would be my debut. I remember being demolished miserably. I still remember it clearly since my debut was against Faker. He pounded me down and I saved that moment as my background wallpaper on my computer. I practiced looking at that every day for years, sleeping only three hours a day.
I once fell asleep while playing solo ranked. At that time, I played one game, washed my face to wake up, game, wash… My motto at that time was ‘go to bed the latest and wake up the earliest’. I thought my body has to be tired to succeed.
The second is when I first won the league championship in Turkey. The arena, that feeling when lifting the trophy… It was the first time I ever felt such an emotion. We won 3-0 against the team we weren’t able to beat a single time during the regular season. All the stress that was stacked for a whole year just dissolved and I was just purely happy.
As much as you set that moment as your background wallpaper, you would have had a desire for revenge for a long time. Now that you’re retiring, you won’t be able to face Faker again.
I’m totally fine. Really. I was never jealous of Faker. I always respected him and hoped the best for him. It was never necessary to worry about him. I’ve always been cheering for him.
If a player that dominated me got out of shape and lost his value, that hurts me. I always cheered for Crown and Faker, so I get angry when communities criticize them for no reason. I hope they endure it well in difficult times. Obviously, it feels good when they do well.
On the other hand, which was the saddest moment?
I don’t remember the exact date, but I think it was during the IM days. I crouched in front of the closet and cried my eyes out. Everyone was changing and I was just crying alone. I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t I win? Why can’t we win? Do I have no talent?’
I’m only competitive when it comes to games. I can make my peace with any other thing, but I can’t help but stay competitive about games.
That could probably affect your coaching style.
Probably (Laughs). I might be holding a whip in the future.
Your nickname was “Heart-God”, but I don’t want to write “the Heart stopped beating” even if it’s your retirement interview. What do you think would be a good compensation?
I always welcomed any nicknames. There were so many nicknames that fans gave me. “Appraiser”, “Faker of the relegation series”... They’re all good memories. Even in the current team, I joke to them, “Guys, I’m called the Faker of the relegation series. Trust me”.
It could be true if you wrote “the Heart stopped beating” but… Maybe you can say that “the Heart stopped as a pro gamer, but revived as a coach”. It’s a bit long, but it makes sense, right?
As Kim Tae-il, and as Frozen, what’s your wish?
As Frozen… Gaining many Korean fans…? (Laughs) There are a few, but since it’s been such a long time, they feel more like friends than fans. We’ve aged together and some are quite close. It’s been a long time since I went abroad, so I want to communicate with Korean fans in Korean. Am I too silly?
As Kim Tae-il, it could sound weird, but my dream is to not live long. I can’t stand loneliness. But one of my dreams is to live alone in a quiet place. School was noisy, team houses were noisy… I never had much ‘alone space’. I want to travel around to many places and settle at the final destination, and relax completely. But these dreams can change anytime.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
My goal is to become the best in what I do. I could keep coaching, or I could become a tutor at an academy. I could even just stream or do other things. Wherever I go, I want to work happily until I become the best.
Since I need to fulfill my military duty, I’m thinking about it. I’ll try coaching up to this year; if it suits me well, I’ll keep going. Otherwise, I’ll join the army. I might keep coaching until the army calls me in. After that, I’ll leave it to the future me. I’ve been planning ahead for so long in my life. I want to live just looking at the close-future plans for now.
Are there any people you want to thank?
First, I want to thank myself, for enduring up to now. Then I’d like to thank Hirai, Supreme, Micro. I’d also like to thank the players, reporters who helped me, and of course, my family and friends, thank you always.
Now a word to the fans who you wouldn’t be saying hello as a player anymore?
I don’t know how to start. Hello, this is “coach” Kim “Frozen” Tae-il. Thank you for reading this long interview. It’s been quite long since I’ve had such a long interview in Korea. I hope to see you soon, whether it’s the arena or anywhere.
Your journey isn’t over yet, right?
My heart still beats. (Laughs)
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