For male Korean nationals, military service is compulsory. For esports pro gamers, especially, pausing your career for two years is a huge amount of time, and therefore the timing of the enlistment is something everyone thinks about.
For one very familiar League of Legends name, the compulsory service just ended. Bae “Bengi” Seong-woong, the legendary jungler for SK Telecom T1 (now known as T1), with three Worlds titles under his belt, enlisted in the military on January 28, 2019. After a year and seven months of service, he was discharged on September 4, 2020.
Since the last time Inven spoke to him, Bengi has lost quite a bit of weight, compared to his player/coaching days, and now looked like he had grown into a fine young man. While he doesn’t have any future plans detailed out, he wanted to have this interview with Inven in order to say hello to all the fans that have eagerly awaited the end of his conscription.
From fun army stories to his thoughts about the uncertain future, here’s what the legendary jungler had to say.
It’s been a while since you had a chance to say hello to your fans. Can you tell us what you’ve been up to?
I was actually discharged two weeks earlier than my original discharge date. Due to COVID-19, I couldn’t really go out much, so I just stayed home and played a lot of games. It’s been roughly a year and a half since I played League, so my in-game skills have deteriorated a lot. Not only did the game become a lot harder, but it’s also been a while since I actually touched a PC, so it all felt very foreign to me. I thought to myself, “This isn’t how I remembered what it was like…”
There are a lot of fans that are wondering what your military life was like. Where were you assigned? Looking back at your military life, what kind of a soldier was Bengi?
I was an infantryman in the mortar squad. However, I ended up cutting grass throughout most of my time. I think I’ve cut all kinds of grass, and no, it’s not because I was a jungler [laughter]. Our base was a reserve forces base, and since things could’ve been wearisome if people recognized me, I was tasked with cutting grass to avoid such problems.
Mowing grass isn’t something to be proud of but I can say that I’m very good at it. I’ve mowed all the grass at my training grounds. Right before I got discharged, I do remember repeating, “Back in my days, the grass was never that tall”.
In the military, especially in Korea, there’s a special relationship between the junior and the senior military officers. As once a junior and a senior officer, what kind of a person were you?
While I don’t think that I led a model military life, I don’t think I was too shabby of a senior officer. I treated the other soldiers well enough for them to not talk behind my back. They say that if you do well in the military, you stay in touch with your junior and senior officers, so I’ll have to see if I get contacted.
As a former League of Legends player, there must’ve been a lot of times where you had to play with your senior and junior officers. Is that true?
Whenever I got a leave from the base, I ended up playing a lot of LoL to please them. My seniors would say, “I came to play with a pro gamer, but he’s not as good as I thought”. They also blamed me a lot for a lot of our game losses. To be honest, I felt victimized, because the people I played with weren’t that good.
When I did play with my seniors, I only played champions that were fun. I was forced to play with them, to begin with, so rather than tryharding, I just wanted to have fun. In terms of solo queue, even though I decayed to Platinum, I couldn’t duo with my seniors, so I just played a lot of flex queue or normal games with them.
Did you watch the LCK during your time? What kind of thoughts ran through your head when you were watching?
I watched a lot of games up until last year’s Worlds. This year, I only watched major matches. The players have changed a lot compared to when I was a pro. I could really feel that a lot of time had passed since then. Many players that I played with or against have disappeared, and there are a lot of new faces in the scene.
Whenever I watch players like Faker, Fly, GorillA, and Smeb, I really wish for them to do well. As a retired pro gamer, I want to see the players that I played with do well.
SK Telecom went through a lot of changes during your service. Not only did they change their name to T1, but a lot of players have also left and joined.
While T1 looks a little shaky right now, I’m very glad to see everyone doing well. Faker and Clozer both started for the team, and it’s something that I resonate with because that also happened to me as well. I just wish both of them to do well.
Do you keep in touch with your former teammates? Some names I can think of are Wolf, who’s now a streamer on Twitch, and Bang, who’s with Evil Geniuses in NA.
Bang contacted me to congratulate me on the discharge. Since I did my time earlier than him, I told him that he’s going to suffer quite a bit as well later on. During one of my first vacation days from the military, I remember getting some food with Wolf. Truth be told, I’m usually not the type to contact others first, so there aren’t that many players that I stay in touch with.
Now that you’ve been discharged, can you share some of your plans for the future? Are you looking to come back to the LoL esports scene? Or perhaps as a content creator/streamer?
I did give it a lot of thought into it, but I don’t have a definite answer yet. I’m going to spend more time thinking about it.
Before this interview, you actually streamed to say hello to your fans. Does that mean that you’re potentially looking to stream?
Streaming takes up a lot of your energy. After my quick livestream, I felt very lethargic, because I had to constantly talk. I had people helping me, so while there weren’t any awkward silent moments, I think it’s going to be a lot harder if I’m streaming by myself, so it’s not going to be easy. I have a lot of respect for streamers. Especially Wolf… I don’t know if I can do the same.
How much thought have you given on returning to the LoL scene as a player or coach?
I haven’t thought of it. I’m not too keen on returning as a coach. The LoL scene requires a lot of work and effort, so I didn’t think about returning to the scene, let alone my potential role.
Hmm… There’s always the potential for you to return to school. What are your thoughts on college life?
When I was a pro gamer, I decided that if I ended up retiring before the age of 23, I was going to go to college. After hitting 23, I remember not thinking about college, because in my head, 23 was the maximum age where I could do my military service and still go to college.
What about running a business? You’re a retired pro gamer, so wouldn’t opening a PC Bang attract a lot of customers? I think the customers would love to be served drinks by “God’s Right Hand”.
Afreeca Freecs actually opened up PC Bangs under pro gamers’ names. I did hear a lot of talk about PC Bangs as well because I’m a retired pro. However, right now, I don’t know if it’s even possible to open one right now because of COVID-19.
I’m still freshly discharged, so if I end up finding something I want to do, I’ll comfortably contemplate doing it. The pandemic got worse at the moment, so for now, I’m just going to stay home. Actually, the army base seems a lot safer at the moment. It kind of feels like I’ve stepped into the danger zone.
There’s always going to be fans that will want to meet you. How will you be communicating with them?
I’m not sure, but for now, I’ll be using my personal social media account to say hello. My friends made me that account, and if something major happens, or if there’s an occasion to meet with the fans, I’ll be using that account.
By friends, do you mean your old high school friends?
That’s right. They’re my neighborhood friends, and while I couldn’t regularly stay in touch with them when I was a pro gamer, I was able to after I retired.
For all the fans that have been eagerly waiting for news about you, what would you like to say to them?
It’s been a year and seven months since I went to serve in the military, and three to four years since I retired as a pro gamer. Even still, I want to thank all the fans from the bottom of my heart for not forgetting about me. I’ve yet to decide on what I want to do in the future, but I’ll continue to put a lot of effort into making my fans proud.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports