Kim "Fenix" Jae-hun has been active in NA for quite a while, but isn't that familiar to the Korean fans. His career was a bit different from other Korean players. Most Korean players that go to NA take a while to think and find what’s best for them or are scouted to an NA team. Fenix, however, just happened to drift into NA.
While talking to him, the phrase he used the most was 'somewhat' and ‘I happened to’. Always smiling, he never lost his calm. It seemed like he was born to be a relaxed character. Fenix was a simple man with an optimistic mindset. If he was my brother, I would likely be worried about him day and night.
Echo Fox delivered very good results during the last Spring Split. Although his performance wasn’t as outstanding as Huni’s, Fenix delivered impressive performance throughout the season. Thanks to Fenix and his team’s efforts, Echo Fox was able to reach the playoffs, though they lost to Team Liquid at the semi finals. After the season was over, Fenix flew back to Korea to take a break, and we had a chance to meet up with him.
Q. Nice to meet you. How have you been doing since the season ended?
I didn’t have any plans for after the season. I just thought ‘I did my best so I deserve some rest’ after the season was over. So once it ended, I just rested at home without thinking. I played LoL to just enjoy playing normal games rather than for practice, and spent time playing other games that I wasn’t able to play. Frankly, I didn’t think it was ‘practice’. (Laughs)
Q. How do you normally rest? When you really can rest with no worries.
Normally, I travel with my girlfriend or go out and have fun. My girlfriend is also a Korean who lives in the US. Other than that, I just play other games.
Q. Not many players talk about their girlfriends during interviews.
Well, now I have an American mindset so I don’t mind at all. (Laughs) If I have a girlfriend, I have one, if I don’t, I don’t. No big deal. (Laughs)
Q. Looking back at last season, your team was on a winning streak but wasn’t able to keep it up after the mid-season. Do you have any regrets?
It was really regretful. The most regretful part was around when we were preparing for last season. We concentrated too much on the meta at the time. During that period, having a top carry was quite viable, so concentrating on Huni worked.
But as the season went on, the meta changed, and again, the tank top lane meta came about. After that, the meta completely changed and the bottom duo needed to carry. The problem was that our bottom lane wasn’t ready for that and we started to stumble. I’m not blaming anyone since my own performance wasn’t that good either. It’s just that we were slow in adapting to the changed meta and the team’s performance declined from mid season.
Q. What was the hardest part for you personally during the season?
Around the mid season, I lost a lot of confidence. We kept losing in scrims and in matches too. When that continued, I wasn’t able to do what I was capable of. Usually, I was confident of my own prowess even if we lose, so I was able to console myself and do well again, but since we lost no matter what I did, I started to lose that confidence in myself. It was a hard time for the team; the atmosphere was bad as well.
Q. It wasn’t the best, but Echo Fox finished the season with an acceptable result. Do you have any worries or problems to solve at this point?
If I go to game communities like reddit, many people say that I’m strong in the regular season and weak in big matches. Actually, I’ve never thought that I was like that, but since the results support that theory, I started to think ‘am I really?’ I think it’s time to regain my self-confidence.
Q. Do you often read Reddit or game community sites?
I only read when I win. (Laughs) I don’t when we lose.
Q. That’s probably the same for everybody. (Laughs) How are your teammates?
They’re well balanced. If everyone has a strong personality, the team becomes somewhat weird, and even if everybody has a mild personality, that’s also strange, but we have a good mix of strong and mild personalities. The bottom lane players mostly have quite mild personalities.
Q. Then whose personality is the strongest?
Umm… The jungle? (Laughs) From bottom to top, they get stronger. (Laughs)
Q. You joined the team this season from GCU. All teammates are new to you except for Dardoch. What was your first impression of them?
Speaking of only my first impression, I thought it would be difficult to get close to Adrian. You know, it’s hard to get close to people who don’t talk much. But now that I’ve gotten to know him well, he is rather goofy.
Huni seemed like an entertainer. But when we play the game together, he becomes really serious and really concentrates on the game. And he’s very strict with himself. Like the LCK style? Maybe that’s because he used to be in SKT T1. He was really different from what I imagined.
Q. How is Huni’s everyday life? Is it different from what fans think?
He’s just like what fans think. He’s witty, energetic, and knows how to keep the people around him happy. Huni’s like the moodmaker of the team.
Q. Let’s go back in time now. What kind of a person was Kim Jae-hun before he became a pro gamer?
Before I became a pro gamer, I was a person who did a lot of everything. I studied a lot, played a lot, and even ate a lot. I really did a lot of everything and came to think, what do I like the most, and do well? That turned out to be gaming. I started gaming quite early; I used to watch my uncle play games from when I was like 5 years old. My uncle probably was playing Warcraft II at that time.
Q. You decided to become a pro gamer by yourself. Have you ever regretted becoming a pro gamer?
Sometimes when my friends who went to college talk about parties at school, I start to think of that. I’ve never had such experiences, so I don’t know what it’s like, or how fun it is. I probably won’t ever know. That’s something I need to give up on because of my choice. From time to time, I get envious of that ‘normal’ life.
Q. Then when did you actually start your pro gaming life? And what made you go to NA?
It all started in 2013. I graduated high school and joined Jin Air. How I went to NA is rather funny when I actually think about it; there was a project to make a pro team in NA so I happened to apply with some friends from Invengers. After a while, we were all scattered and only two were left.
Honestly, I thought of it more as free travel to the US travel rather than thinking of it as joining a team. (Laughs) So I went to travel around and maybe become a bit better at English, but when we went to the US, the project was busted. So we didn’t know what to do and started playing solo queue, then Team Curse just bought my contract. That’s how I happened to join Team Curse and became a pro gamer.
Q. Then you went to the NA LCS all of a sudden. Did you ever think that you didn’t belong there?
I just went to the US for pleasure and found a job, yes. (Laughs) I was worried a bit. There wasn’t much of a choice for me because my contract was already sold. Now that I think of it, going to NA wasn’t a bad choice. My parents didn’t oppose my decision much. At first they didn’t approve of it since I had good grades; I think they had some regret there. However, after I really entered the pro scene, they were never opposed to it because they know that I like it and I’m doing it quite well.
Q. You’ve met many people now, and spent time with many different players. From 2013 up to now, who was the most helpful as a pro gamer?
I think it’s Gwang-jin (Piglet). I’ve been in several teams, but most of those teams didn’t have very good results. I got to join an NA LCS team, and when I joined Team Curse, there was a Worlds winner there.
His mindset was different. When I first met him, I thought ‘wow, this is what a pro gamer is’. He had a world championship title, and was treated better than the others but he practiced late into the night, when all the other teammates were sleeping. I was shocked after seeing that so I thought ‘That person’s really putting in so much effort even though he’s really good. How can I rest?’ So I changed my mindset completely.
I’m still keeping touch with him, and when I’m in the US, I see him nearly every day.
Q. Then do you not regret any of your decisions when you were in the NA LCS?
Of course I do. I was stupid early in my career, so I didn’t care much about the contracts. The first contract went wrong and the next one also wasn’t good. I wasn’t able to transfer to another team or anything. Now, Echo Fox is caring for that a lot, so it’s okay, but I do have regrets from back then; if I thought deeper on those contracts, I may have had better chances.
Q. When you were in GCU, you played with Madlife. He’s a quite well-known player. How was he?
Madlife is also exactly like how he is on TV. There’s something to him; it’s really hard to put it into words. There’s something about him, an atmosphere… An aura? Halo? Something like that. Fans don’t say Ma-men for nothing. He sticks out more, and light seems to gather around him. But when you talk to him, it all disappears. (Laughs) He’s rather sloppy.
Q. Then if you have something you really can’t say, let’s say a secret? Is there anybody you can talk to about it?
Umm… I think I’ll just talk to my hometown friends. If I say something within the scene and it becomes gossip, I’d be frustrated. (Laughs)
Q. Well…. I didn’t know you would have such a secret. It seems like you do have something. (Laughs) Now let’s talk about the future. As a pro gamer, do you have an ultimate goal that you want to achieve?
First of all, I want to go to the finals. And I really want to go to Worlds. Since I would be going there from NA, I don’t really think of winning it. (Laughs) Maybe I want to pass the group stage there.
As a player, I want to become a mid laner that can make the opponent afraid of me as soon as that person sees me; a player that can bring the pressure by just being there.
Q. Have you ever met such an opponent?
Up to 2016, I thought Bjergsen was like that. It felt like he was a perfect player up to that point. He didn’t go down on ganks and it felt like the opponent jungler was always nearby, he had perfect skillshots and managed the lane really well. But not now (Laughs). I don’t feel that from him anymore.
Q. If time goes, and it comes time for you to retire, what do you want to do?
I think I’ll try to start my own business. I’ve never thought of which area I’ll start in, but I always wanted to become a ‘Boss’ ever since I was young. I wanted to be the head of something, having some people working under me. But not like a restaurant boss and not something unrealistic like a millionaire CEO. I’ll be happy enough owning a small business.
I think it would be better if I work in the US. I have this feeling that it’ll be easier to make the company grow in the US than in Korea. (Laughs) And if I start up a business in Korea, I’ll probably employ only Koreans. There would be many different people from many countries that I can hire in US. I think LA or New York would be perfect. (Laughs)
Q. That’s the most unusual answer I’ve ever heard. You said that you had good grades when you were young. Which subject were you the best at?
I was really good at math. (Q. Were you a natural science student?) No, I was in liberal arts.
Q. That doesn’t seem to make sense.
I told you, I wanted to become a ‘boss’. (Laughs) So I wanted to learn business administration and became a liberal arts student. Still, I was strongest at math. My math grades were around the top not only in my school, but in the whole country. I got everything right or just one question wrong in mock tests. The other subjects weren’t as good though.
*Note: Korean high school education offers two different curriculum options: liberal arts and natural sciences, and usually the students who are good at math become natural science students.
Q. Then it wasn’t unusual for your parents to be opposed to you becoming a pro gamer at first. We’re nearly at the end of the interview now. On different community sites, many people talk about you. Is there anything you want to explain or clarify for them?
When I was in GCU, I didn’t play for a whole season. Many people talked a lot about that, and mainly, they were saying that I wasn’t good enough to play so I was benched. Actually, I agreed to be a sub member for that season with the team. There was no problem with my prowess. I really want to clear that up.
Q. Hmm… That doesn’t seem too appropriate to end the interview. Any last comments for the fans?
I read Reddit and Inven a lot. It really feels good when I see people cheer for Echo Fox. I’m very thankful to them; the team and I gain energy from that. I hope you continue to cheer for us and I’ll always do my best to respond with good results.
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