At the moment of transition, Inven met with Han “Peanut” Wang-ho as he embarked on a new challenge after parting ways with his former team, Gen.G. After a tumultuous year in 2023, Peanut made the decision to part ways with Gen.G, a team that held a special place in his heart. Spending a significant three out of nine years of his career with the team marked an unprecedented long-term commitment for him. Departing from Gen.G in 2019 with a sense of regret, he returned and accomplished an LCK three-peat.
Reflecting on the conclusion of the 2023 season, Peanut decided that he needed change. Recognizing the necessity for substantial transformations to elevate his performance, he made the decision to explore new opportunities. While he couldn't reveal the exact details of his destination on that day, Peanut shared a glimpse of information for his fans. Let's delve into Peanut's thoughts on the stories of 2023 and the anticipation for 2024.
※ This interview was conducted before the official announcement of Peanut joining Hanwha Life Esports.
The 2023 season has concluded. Considering the disappointment at Worlds, it must not have been an easy period for you. How have you been?
In my years as a pro gamer, I've learned that regardless of how a season concludes, there are always remaining opportunities to come. It's essential to swiftly process the results, keeping in mind the chances that lie ahead. Even with this mindset, it was challenging. I recovered for a while, but when I watched the Worlds games, it still was hard. I still watched it all, though. I felt a mix of envy and genuine congratulations for the competing teams. They were all teams we had faced in competition, and witnessing their performances made me appreciate them more.
How does this season compare to others? Given the high expectations, the sense of disappointment might be more profound.
Being the first seed did add an extra layer of pressure, and initially, our practice sessions were promising. It wasn't just about winning or losing in scrims; the content of the games, both when we won and lost, felt positive. Consequently, we entered the competition believing we could perform well.
However, as we progressed, it became increasingly difficult, leading to the unsatisfactory result. While skill plays a significant role, there's a certain aspect that's hard to articulate. As a player, it’s just regretful. That’s probably the best way of putting it. I thought this Worlds was one of the best chances I had, and it’s regretful that I wasn’t able to seize it.
What was the most regretful part when you looked back after it was all over? You should have thought about the reason you lost.
We knew the champions that were OP, and we thought of how to deal with them. The worst part was our match against Bilibili Gaming. The first game was a chance we were willing to take. For example, the opponent hadn’t played Kalista, so we took the chance. We were well aware that the Kalista-Renata Glasc bot duo was OP, but we decided that it was worth the chance. It was just the first game; if we were wrong, we could simply change it in game 2.
Early in game 1, it was alright, but as it transitioned to the mid and late game, it became so much more difficult. I thought we did very well in the early game, but the teamfight angles weren’t good. Given how well we did in the early game, not being able to win in the mid-late game made us feel that it was impossible to win in this condition. We should have changed our plans well in game 2, but that didn’t work out well either. We just gave up all the OP champions.
Starting with a 2-0 disadvantage put us in a mentally taxing situation. Despite the unfavorable circumstances, we managed to catch up in games 3 and 4, but in the last game, where we had an advantage, ended in a close defeat. While there were opportunities to win in game 5, and some moments were regrettable, the bigger disappointment stemmed from conceding the first two games too easily.
You mentioned that it's advisable to quickly process and move on after the season ends. How do you cope with the pain of elimination?
Reflecting on the season allows me to identify areas for improvement. I ask myself if I can become better and, if I believe in positive changes, I try to overcome the setbacks with that mindset. Once the season concludes, there's not much to do immediately. While some may choose to forget about the game, travel, or make plans, I find it challenging to divert my focus so easily. So, I look back, consider what was lacking, and ponder what needs to change for the upcoming year.
Despite the disappointment, the past year has been quite successful for you. Winning the LCK and achieving a three-peat is no small feat, especially after significant roster changes.
The reason I can say that I'll recover from this situation stems from the achievements we made before. We won the LCK twice this year, and once last year. Even when we were eliminated from Worlds last year, I felt a sense of relief since we won the LCK summer. None of my teammates had won an LCK championship before so that slightly put my mind at ease.
This year was more difficult than last year. Two veterans left, and a rookie and almost rookie joined. I think we really did well by winning two championships in that situation. And now, I feel so relieved that we did win those championships. I’m able to think that I still can do well, thanks to those championships.
Now, you're leaving Gen.G after three shared championships. It was your first long-term contract, and a second try on the team. Gen.G should have a special place in your heart. How do you feel about this departure?
Reflecting on last year, I had similar thoughts after the season ended. I returned to Gen.G, and if we hadn't achieved good results, it would have been a significant issue. Despite some regrets, winning the LCK was comforting. While it's regrettable to part ways with Gen.G after this year, I am thankful to be leaving with the joy of giving fans three championships. It feels much more comfortable to leave this time. Fulfilling the promise made in 2019, even if belatedly, adds a positive note to the departure.
What have you gained during your two years with Gen.G?
I gained more confidence in myself, both as a person and as a player. Over these two years, I have progressed significantly, personally and skill-wise.
Your actions were quite memorable. Not only did you support the bot duo in-game, but you also took trips to Japan during the offseason.
We planned the trip before we won the finals. It was a decision made with the mindset that if we won, it would be great, and if we lost, I had my reasons for going. The first time I lost in the finals during my ROX Tigers days was an incredibly stressful experience. I experienced severe stress to the point of developing anemia and being rushed to the emergency room. Back then, the coach, the manager, and others took me on a trip. I didn't understand it at the time; I thought we were just going to get along. I was too young to realize they were taking care of me.
Recalling that, I planned the trip. I had already learned some of the language and had some experience, so I thought it would be safe. I might not be extremely mature, but I am more mature than them, right? [Laughs] That’s why we went together.
Now, looking at it from the opposite perspective, what do you think you contributed to Gen.G over the past two years?
I believe I contributed to creating an environment that made the game more comfortable. It's essential to alleviate personal pressure and approach the game with a positive mindset. I contributed pretty much to establishing that atmosphere in Gen.G.
In the early stages of my career as a pro gamer, I played the game more comfortably. I was young and didn't understand much, allowing me to adopt such an approach. However, from 2017 onwards, I felt the need to perform well, avoid mistakes, and restrict myself from certain things. Spending the 2020 season in the LPL made me realize that I needed to play the game more comfortably. As someone who can influence the team, I understood that by becoming comfortable first, I could better lead the team. I effectively utilized this mindset during my time with Nongshim RedForce and later with Gen.G.
Now you've left Gen.G after two meaningful years, embarking on a new challenge. First, what were your feelings when entering the transfer market?
I didn't have unilateral decision-making power about staying with the team, but if I stayed, I had to show more than what we did over the past two years, and that wasn't going to be easy. That was the biggest factor. Secondly, every season's end made me reflect on what was lacking and what needed to be added; this time, it was “change”. I judged that it was the right time for another change.
It wasn't just about changing members; it was about changing the team itself. I believed that, regardless of the team, I needed to bring about a transformation to perform better. It's a decision driven by my ambition as a pro gamer who wants to do better. I want to make it clear that it wasn't because I disliked Gen.G or the conditions were unfavorable.
The next destination is now intriguing. In this transfer market, there must have been several attractive offers. What was the focal point in making your decision?
I received offers from at least four teams. Thanks to that, I had a bit more room to make choices. Like all pro gamers, I had the thought of wanting to play for a team with ambition. I've won the championship three times in a row, but there's no reason not to aim for the fourth or fifth straight. I want to set winning as a goal, challenge it, and choose a team that can do it together.
Next year, which marks over a decade since your debut, is approaching. How do you feel about the number 10, which is a significant milestone?
I mentioned it a few times before; most of the pro gamers I've worked with have retired, so I felt that my end would eventually come. I couldn't help but think, 'I only have a few years left.' Recently, during a meal with Bae "Bang" Jun-sik, such thoughts came up. I mentioned that there might not be much time left even if I tried, and he told me that's not a good mindset to have. He said that thinking like that would eat away at me. His words made sense, so I started changing my perspective.
Moreover, in the past, many players retired, but now players like Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu or Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, who are older than me, are consistently doing well. They won Worlds last year and this year. Seeing them do well makes me believe that I can do the same. I'm doing well now, so why was I already thinking about retirement? So, I want to keep going as long as I can.
Speaking of which, after the Spring Split, you mentioned considering retirement around the age of 27-28. Has your perspective changed since then?
Yes, it's entirely different now. Back then, there were issues like military service. And I believed that pro gamers’ performances decline as they get older. However, looking around, players my age, like Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk, or even older, are doing well. Seeing that, I felt that I could do it. Obviously, the reason they survived was because they were good, but it seems that I’ve become one of them, so I want to keep doing well.
When you did think about retirement, what kind of life did you envision for yourself?
Our profession receives a lot of attention, and being a pro gamer is quite stimulating. On a small scale, there's solo queue, a bit larger, scrims, and then tournaments. Even in tournaments, there are regular leagues, playoffs, and finals. There's always competition and results, and it provides constant stimulation. However, thinking about retirement, I wondered if I could live without this stimulation and attention.
Initially, I thought that if I retired, I would go and find my own life without all this. But as I thought about it, I reached this conclusion. Sometimes, the excessive attention can be a bit burdensome, but ultimately, thanks to this attention, I've lived well. It's what has allowed me to live a good life. I don't think I can cut it off. So, after retiring as a pro gamer, I might come back to the LoL scene or stream.
Over these more than ten years, you've been playing LoL. When meeting veteran players, a common question is, when did LoL become tiresome for you?
It almost never happened. Whenever I'm asked this question, I always answer this way. LoL is continually being patched. LoL is never the same game. When the season ends, it undergoes significant changes; on a smaller scale, it changes every two weeks. So, there's no room to get tired. It feels like playing a new game every time.
Then, over the past nine years as a pro gamer, what was the most challenging thing or obstacle you had to overcome?
2019 was the climax. At that time, I had reached a certain high point and knew how to win, so I thought I wouldn't deteriorate much. That belief made me play more safely. The experience in the LPL changed that mindset. I learned to play the game more aggressively, throwing gambles into it.
It's as simple as that. Throw the dice, and if it doesn't work, you lose. But if it works, you definitely win. In the LPL, I acquired that mindset, and I tried to play like that during the LCK as well, with Nongshim RedForce and later with Gen.G. Some might argue that playing it safe was enough since we had a good team, but you can't always have a good team. If I try to play safe, my skills could deteriorate again, so I’m trying to maintain this aggressive approach to the game.
During this long time as a pro gamer, what has supported you the most?
Fan support has been enormous. The profession of a pro gamer, as mentioned earlier, receives a lot of attention. The upgraded version of that attention is support. Having fans who support and cheer for me is a tremendous source of strength. The fact that there are fans who support me greatly motivates me. I want to repay for that support, and the only way I can do that is through getting good results.
When I first became a pro gamer, my thoughts were simple. I wanted to be the best at this game. I just wanted to be the best at the game. To achieve that, I want to win. That thought still lingers. I still want to win more, and even though there will eventually be an end for me, until then, I want to leave behind a more decorated career. Not only in the jungle position but also as a pro gamer.
Do you have specific goals as you move forward?
I want to achieve what Faker achieved: win the championship ten times. And I want to hoist the Summoner’s Cup at Worlds at least once. Winning Worlds would truly be an enlightenment for me.
If you were to win the World Championship, do you think you would shed tears?
I think I would cry all day long. [Laughs]
Now it's time to conclude the interview. Any comments to your fans who are looking forward to your 2024?
I decided to take on a new challenge because I felt the need for change. I’ll see you all in Korea next year, on a team aiming for the championship. I will work hard to achieve it together. Please support us a lot. I hope everyone stays happy. Thank you.