Ryu remembers his career and chasing his brass ring: "Why wasn’t I able to win a single championship?"

 

During my last interview with Kim "Ssumday" Chan-ho, I heard that Yoo “Ryu” Sang-wook will start his mandatory military service in December and I couldn’t just let him join the army without a proper goodbye. Ryu was eager to meet up, saying he really didn’t have much to do since he’s been taking a break, doing nothing for the past 10 months.

 

Ryu and I sat down in a cafe and broke down his career. During the conversation, Ryu had a huge smile on his face, even when we discussed one of the most iconic moments in LoL history — the Zed duel against Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok. He mentioned that he didn’t want this to be the end and that he wanted to return as a coach after his service, so I'm not saying goodbye forever.

 

Good luck in the army, Ryu. Take care until we see you again on stage.

 



It’s been such a long time since we talked last. How have you been?

 

I’ve been doing alright. Recently, I was really bored, because I wasn’t doing anything. [Laughs]


You haven’t been streaming or anything?

 

I really haven't been doing anything. I've just been playing games alone.


You didn’t even have the chance to say that you’re retiring. You ARE retired, right?

 

Yes. Actually, I tried to get a team to play in as a player, but there weren’t any offers… I did get quite a few offers as a coach, though. I considered joining a team as a coach, but since I need to do my military service, I thought I should take care of that first. I was supposed to go in July, but it got delayed, and I’m going soon. I’m not that active on social media, but I still was going to say something before I go.


It seems that there are so many players, or former players that are going to the army recently. How does it feel seeing everyone go like this, including you?

 

When I saw other players go, I just thought, "I really need to go too". The players that were in KT with me all went, as well as inSec. I have to follow them as well. I heard that Duke is going the week after I go. It’s hard to postpone it any longer.


Have you talked with the people who went before you like Score?

 

I talked with Score last time over the phone. When he heard that I was going to the army, he just sighed and told me to cheer up [Laughs]. I guess there really was nothing to say besides that. He said that he’ll write to me at least once when I’m in my training period.


Did he mention how it is in the army as a former LoL player? I thought others would ask a lot about LoL.

 

He said that they don’t ask too much. Just once in a while. What I’m worried about is… They might ask me to play Zed 1v1... [Laughs]

 

 

I wanted to talk about that later… but since you mentioned it, let’s talk about that a bit. You have quite a long career and have played in several regions, so many fans know you well. But… you’re best known as… “the other Zed”. How does it feel now?

 

Obviously, at first, it didn’t feel that good. But after some time passed, I really didn’t mind. I played abroad for a long time and I didn’t communicate that much with Korean fans. So I thought it isn’t that bad — it’s not a positive moment for me, but the Korean fans remember me through that moment. [Laughs]


I saw inSec mention that moment in his stream… That you told him not to use Shen’s ult on you. Could you explain the situation as much as you remember?

 

I really don’t remember. It’s been such a long time. Honestly, I don’t think I told him to not use the Shen ult… I probably just said, “I think I got him”. [Laughs] (Did you see inSec say that in his stream?) Yeah, he said, “that bastard told me not to use Shen ult”. [Laughs]

 

"I was like, 'Please let me win just one championship’' But… It didn’t work out [Laughs]."


Do fans recognize you?

 

There were a few people. I was actually really surprised that people still recognize me. [Laughs] There were exactly two people who did recognize me since I've come back to Korea.


Let’s look back on your career. I guess you could divide it into three parts — when you were in the LCK, your days in the EU LCS, and the LCS. How did you first become a pro gamer?

 

I originally started playing “Chaos”, a similar MOBA custom game in Warcraft 3. I heard that StarTale was making a team, so I went with kkOma. I’m really thankful to kkOma because of that. I didn’t even reach level 30 when I first joined the team.


Did you know kkOma from when you were playing Chaos?

 

Actually, I wasn’t that close with him back then. I don’t remember that well… I think I started with Score and Mafa. I really liked playing games back then. I was really amazed that I could become a pro gamer and it felt really good that I could actually be paid to play games. Since I did something fun, I was really happy.

 


You played in KT and did quite well. Then you moved to Europe. How did you decide to go abroad?

 

I remember that I thought I’ll do my military service back then, after leaving KT. But I didn’t really want to go that way. At that time, many players were going abroad. So I wanted to see what I could do. I wanted to experience new things and learn English as well.


How was it in EU? Your results weren’t that good in the early days.

 

At first, it was really difficult. Communicating was really hard… My English wasn’t that good in the first place, and the European pronunciation was different from what I used to hear. It was really hard. After I got used to the environment and got closer to the other players, the results started to get better.


As you said, you reached two consecutive World Championships and even made it to the semifinals in 2016. Would you say it was because the communication got better?

 

I guess I could say yes. The communication got better, I got closer with the other players, and I really worked hard. I still keep in touch with some of the players once in a while — like when someone wins a championship.

 


After reaching the semifinals at Worlds, you went to NA.

 

After my contract expired, I was looking for a team to join, and I decided to go to the team that offered the best conditions. I wanted to see how life is in NA because I heard that sights are amazing in the States.


How did the transition go from Phoenix1 to 100 Thieves? I know that Phoenix1 didn’t get franchised.

 

Pr0lly was in 100 Thieves. He was a coach when I was in H2K, and the offer wasn’t bad. To come to think of it, everything was quite perfect. There were a lot of people there that I knew well — pr0lly, Meteos, and even Ssumday. It felt comfortable, and they were all great players.

 

"I was close with all the players when I was in the LCK, but if I have to pick one, I would have to say Score. He was the guy that I could speak my mind comfortably. He’s a good listener."


About half of your career was with pr0lly. How is he?

 

Really? I just realized that! [Laughs] He works really hard, has an awesome personality, and is a great coach. When we need to work hard, he motivates us well, and when we’re having fun, he enjoys along. I think we were on the same team for four-five years. He was a big help when I first went abroad and was adapting to the environment.


You also reached Worlds in 100 Thieves.

 

In that year, we really didn’t do that well in the summer, but it feels that other teams were worse. (Weren’t you in 2nd place?) We did end up in 2nd place, but there were “issues”. There was a roster change… It really didn’t feel that we did that well. Up to the spring, we were pretty good, but we got worse with the issues. Fortunately for us, other teams didn’t do that well so the results were pretty good. I think if we didn’t change the roster and practiced together, we could have done better.


After Worlds, Bang joined your team and you transitioned to a coach. But you returned to a coach, went to the academy team… It was a challenging year.

 

When Bang joined our team, my transition to a coach was already fixed. The situation that year was kind of funny. I started as a coach, and when the team’s results weren’t that good, I returned as a player, and then went to the academy team… It was quite interesting and kind of funny.


It was a long career. Listening to you, a lot of things happened. One thing I noticed was that you weren’t able to win any championships...

 

That’s the most regretful for me. The finals in Korea were regretful… I could have gone to the finals in the EU, and the finals in the LCS was also really regretful as well.

 

 

Was it that you wanted to win a championship so you tried to play longer?

 

I really did think that. I was like, "Please let me win just one championship" But… It didn’t work out [Laughs]. I really could have done it, but I was always one or two steps shy of the championship.


Which were the most regretful finals?

 

I would have to say the one in Korea. I should have won that [Laughs]. I mean, all the finals were quite regretful, but the one in the LCK was really… We won two games first but lost the remaining games. If we stayed calm, we probably would have won. We did think that we nearly won, but we stayed tense. We still did lose [Laughs].


Talking to you, it feels that you’re always really positive and laugh a lot. Were you always like that as a player too?

 

Well, not always. When we start to give feedback, I get really serious.


You’ve been in three of the major regions and met many different players. Were there any players that stick in your mind?

 

There are quite a few in a negative way [Laughs]. I can’t tell you that, but thinking of a positive memory, there was Vander. I was close with him back then, and he had a very fun personality. You know, there’s always that one friend that everyone makes fun of, and Vander was cool with it and played along.

 

In NA, I had fun with Aphromoo. To come to think of it, I think I was close with the support players. Aphromoo’s way of saying things was really funny. He was really the mood maker of the team. He’s really a big part of my memories in 100 Thieves.

 

I was close with all the players when I was in the LCK, but if I have to pick one, I would have to say Score. He was the guy that I could speak my mind comfortably. He’s a good listener. He doesn’t give that good answers though [Laughs].

 

"One thing that would be regretful was falling apart from my original friends, from before I was a pro gamer."


I know that you’re really close with Ssumday and Arrow as well. I remember that you went on a trip with them.

 

We went on several trips and went to a lot of good restaurants together. I wasn’t that close with other Korean players; it was somewhat more difficult getting close with them. When Ssumday, Arrow, and I meet up, we kind of have difficulties in making decisions. We usually struggle with making decisions, and most of the time, Ssumday gets fed up and says “Let’s just go” [Laughs]. We’ve known each other for such a long time so we relied on each other as much as we were far from home.


How would you sum up your career?

 

I would have to say my career is a career with regrets. Why wasn’t I able to win a single championship? [Laughs] Over seven-eight years… I didn’t win a single final. It’s unsatisfying. I’ve been to so many semifinals, but I was unable to win a final. [Laughs]


Did you get nervous when you were on bigger stages?

 

I didn’t really think I did, but the people around me, like the coaches, told me that I did. As for myself, I really didn’t feel that I was nervous. It must have shown from my plays. Well, but I’m not saying that we lost because of me and me being nervous [Laughs].


You’ll be heading to the army now. When you’re back, are you going to return to esports?

 

Yes. I want to return to the scene as a coach, but I have to endure a year and a half [Laughs]. But if I have the chance, I really want to be a coach. When I’m back from the army, I can’t be a player, I’d only be able to be a coach. I’d like to become a coach, and… Finally win a championship [Laughs]. Just once at least...

 

 

Did you enjoy coaching players while in 100 Thieves?

 

Even when I was a player, I enjoyed teaching others. During feedback, I often led the discussions. When I actually was coaching, it was difficult, but it was fun after I got used to it. But I don’t think I was that good at coaching, though. You know, the result says it all [Laughs].


What kind of player do you want to be remembered as?

 

I want to be remembered as a consistent player. Although I don’t have a championship, I want to be remembered as a consistently decent player.


What does LoL mean to you?

 

I feel really grateful towards LoL. It allowed me to become a pro gamer and it was really fun as well. I’m not completely satisfied with my career, but there aren’t any regrets that I became one. I’m really thankful.

 

"Once, two of my teammates had a huge argument. After the argument, one of them packed his computer up and took it to his room, and played World of Warcraft [Laughs]."


Would there be a champion that allowed you to become a pro gamer?

 

I would say Ahri. Ahri was fun to play, strong, and my results were quite good. Then there’s… Zed [Laughs], LeBlanc, Twisted Fate… I remember playing Ahri and Orianna really well in the LCK. In the LEC, I mostly played Ahri, Fizz, and LeBlanc. What I remember playing in the NA is Corki. To win there, I had to play champions like Corki and Azir, but I didn’t like playing Azir. For me, it was convenient to play Corki into Azir.


Looking back, do you have any regrets about things you weren’t able to experience because you became a pro gamer? Such as going to college or something like that?

 

There’s really nothing. I lived for almost 10 years doing what I really love. I made money through it, met a LOT of people all around the world, and went all around the world. As people know, I really like eating, so I ate many different kinds of food all over the world as well [Laughs]. One thing that would be regretful was falling apart from my original friends, from before I was a pro gamer.


You would have met a lot of them after coming back to Korea this year.

 

I met all the friends that I keep in touch with. I even went on a trip with them.


Didn’t they all complete their military service? They must tease you a lot!

 

[Laughs] Yeah. They’re all job hunting now.


Do you have any interesting stories during your career?

 

I think there are more negative stories than positive ones. I won’t tell the names since it could create a negative image for them. Once, two of my teammates had a huge argument. After the argument, one of them packed his computer up and took it to his room, and played World of Warcraft [Laughs]. There was an important match coming up, but he just disassembled his computer and took it to his room.

 

Another one would be when I was the assistant coach in 100 Thieves. We were on a losing streak, so we tried to change the atmosphere by my return as a player. I had to play there as a player, and when I was coached by my fellow coaches, it was really awkward. There was nothing to say when the players asked me why I’m not playing as I coached [Laughs].


What would be your most memorable match? Well… in a positive way.

 

Obviously, it would be that Zed mirror match, in a negative way [Laughs]. In a positive way, it was the most memorable when we beat CJ Blaze and Frost in order in the playoffs. They were really strong teams back then. That’s probably the first time I went to the finals. I felt really good that we beat a strong team in the playoffs.


Well, I think it’s time to wrap up. Do you have any final comments you’d like to deliver to the fans?

 

It was a pretty long career, and I’d like to thank the fans for being with me along the journey. There still are fans who leave emojis every day on my Discord channel [Laughs]. I’m so grateful. I seldom even say anything on that channel. And I’d also like to thank all the players, coaches, and management for all the support.

▲ Fans leaving emojis every day on Ryu's Discord channel

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