When someone is asked who their favorite player is, the response is almost always different from person to person. Of course, there are bound to be people who share the same favorite player, but the reasoning behind why that person is their favorite can vary. One person may like a player because they’re friends, while another may like a player for his skill or because he’s playing for that fan’s favorite team.
For those who would pick Hong “Madlife” Min-ki as their favorite player, the reason is often the same: he proved that supports can carry. Before, supports were seen as mere ‘warding machines’, but Madlife changed that perception with his amazing Thresh and Blitzcrank plays. He revolutionized the support role. There were a great number of fans who started to play support after watching his highlights; to those fans, Madlife is a clear favorite.
But professional competitors do not run on fan favor alone. After leaving Gold Coin United, Madlife was active on personal streams and made a few appearances as a guest commentator. During this time, everyone has been looking forward to hearing what team he would be joining, but it turns out that he won’t be playing for any team ever again.
When we met Madlife for this interview, he didn’t look any different from his usual self. He had his glasses on, his hair trimmed neatly, and wore an awkward smile as he entered the studio, greeting us in his deep voice. He wasn’t a pro gamer anymore; he was just another ‘normal’ person. Maybe that’s why the air about him seemed somewhat different from before.
As this could be his last interview, we decided to look back at his career, from beginning to end. From MiG, to Azubu, then to CJ Entus, and finally Gold Coin United; we went through the most memorable moments of his career.
You’re retiring now and it seems like you have a lot on your mind. What was the main reason you made this decision?
After failing twice in a row at the play-ins last year, I had many thoughts like ‘you’re falling here again?’ After leaving the team, I prepared a lot while taking a break during the Spring Split. I thought I would do well again at the Summer Split. However, while I was preparing, I lost a lot of confidence and I also wasn’t sure if I’d be able to properly merge with the team if I joined a new one.
Actually, I’m really sorry to the fans. I promised to come back in the Summer Split, but I won’t be able to keep that promise.
You were looking for a team for quite a while.
The last season’s results affect the next season a lot. My results during the last season weren’t that good. I had many concerns; I looked for teams that could get good results or teams that could guarantee a future for me. I did get some offers from good teams but I wandered a bit because their offers didn’t meet my standards. I missed the timing to sign with a team so I just streamed during the spring.
I thought of the Turkey League as well. Of course, I also thought of Korea, China, NA, and the EU. There were a few teams that I talked to, but I think I wasn’t able to decide, even if I got good offers from good teams, because I was a bit greedy.
You must have shared your thoughts about retiring with the people around you. What advice did they give you?
I only told one person, the RNG head coach, Son “Kezman” Dae-young. I think other people will only know once this interview goes out. Kezman listened closely to me, even when he was busy.
I also met him once when I was taking a break in the spring. I talked to him about my concerns during that time, and he told me that I was standing at a crossroad. He advised me to think of my future rather than my life as a player, and he said that since a pro gamer’s career span is short, I should think of being a coach or a streamer. He wanted me to decide on one and concentrate on it. He also said that I could be good at commentating.
I was quite afraid of what might come next, but I gained a lot of confidence after talking to him. I was trying to reject the thought that it would be hard for me to continue my professional life, but after speaking with him, I became sure that I needed to put an end to it.
How do you think the others will react when they hear about your retirement?
Everyone’s pretty busy because of the Summer Split schedule. I’m thinking they won’t care a bit about me. (Laughs) I guess they might think what will be, will be. I’d just be thankful if they acknowledge me.
MiG was a first generation team of LoL esports. How did that team come together, and what was it like playing there?
I was kind of an outsider in that group. I used to play only normal games with a few friends. I was thinking of playing ranked games after getting 1,000 wins in normal games. While I was thinking that, I discovered a community website and I met Jang “Woong” Gun-woong. He asked me if I wanted to join his team for a competition because there was an extra spot on his team. Since I didn’t have much experience being in those sorts of groups, I worried a lot, but I thought that it wouldn’t be so bad to give it a shot, and so I got to take part in an offline competition called the WCG preliminaries.
I was the only ‘mutant’ that went to the scene wearing a hat. There was a long time window between the preliminaries and the finals and that’s when MiG came together. That was when coach Kang “OnAir” Hyun-jong came along. The whole system formed around that time.
It must have been a first time for you, living together with other players at that time. Was it difficult having to get used to the atmosphere?
It wasn’t that difficult because I played games with them, online, several times. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking at that time while playing games or living in general. I just went with the flow. Now, I can’t even imagine gathering and living in a small house to play games together. I think I was able to endure that environment because I didn’t have any thoughts in my head.
Still, it was a good experience. That could be one of the reasons things went well for me in 2012.
Since I went through hard times in the scene, I could act like an old man, being bossy and saying “Back in my day…’ (Laughs) I really won’t be able to do it again. Nowadays, if I tell anybody that I used to practice in that environment, they’d mock me.
After the team’s name changed to Azubu, you hit your prime. The first step of your professional life was quite good.
Well, first of all, I was really lucky. It felt like I was luckily taken in when they reached out. There were only good players in the team, and with Locodoco’s help we were able to scrim with foreign teams. Although it was a very small house, we had a place to practice with the help of Woong’s parents and we had a proper coach so we could have systematic training.
Of course, it was hard, and the future wasn’t certain. We gathered purely out of passion and we were helped a lot. Things went well, and Azubu stepped up for us. For the first time in my life, I received monthly wages and the practice environment became a lot better. Still, I can’t deny that the difficult times helped me get good results in Azubu. Thinking that way, I think my first step as a pro gamer was quite good.
You’re still close to the teammates from back then. Is it because you went through those hard times together?
Well, we did go through hard times together, and since all the members from that time do personal streams we know each others’ situation pretty well. They’re like people that have no jobs but are not out of work. The active pro players are too busy to contact often. Since we shared the same experience in the past, we can recall old times together and talk comfortably.
What was the MiG life like for Madlife?
I would say it was like a lottery. The lottery ticket that won me the jackpot. I used up all my luck back then so I won’t be able to win the lottery for the rest of life. (Laughs) I’ve been really unlucky when I buy one since that happened.
How do you feel wearing the old CJ uniform again?
I think it’s comfortable since I’m not wearing it to play games. In competitions, it felt like armor; maybe because I was nervous. I’m not that glad to see it.
The team’s name changed to CJ after Azubu and your results declined year after year. You must have a lot of regrets.
I was really sorry for that. I started from MiG, then it went to Azubu and to CJ. CJ is a big company so the treatment was the best. It would have been a good chance to gather more fame and wealth if I continued to get good results there. Come to think of it, I was very young back then; I could have listened to the coaches more carefully. I think I was a player that was hard to control, since I started to have more thoughts. Many good players appeared in the LCK so it was a hard time for me as well. It was like a season full of hardships.
Many players that you played with left and new players came.
Before 2016, there were many veteran players. I was like No.2 on the team. Maybe like Shy’s right-hand man? After Shy went on a break and many rookies came, I started to worry. I thought that if I stumbled, the team would be shaken up. Although our results weren’t that good, I think I tried harder than ever. I tried nearly as hard as I did when I was in MiG, but eventually, I was worn out. Compared to the effort I put in, our results were bad. We also drew a lot of ‘aggro’. (Laughs) After a few seasons of that repeating itself, it was really hard for me. It felt like I had the top-jungle on my left shoulder and the mid-jungle on my right shoulder.
Still, I had the most fun. The teammates were amazing and I found a new me during that season. There even was a player that was 10 years younger than me. Apparently, I won at MiG when that player was an elementary school student. Although it was the hardest time, it was the most fun. However, it seems I was suffering from the pressure as the seasons piled up.
You were the oldest and most experienced player on the team. Were you able to mature more as a person through that role?
I actually did my best to try and provide the others with what they needed, both inside and outside of the game. A lot of them were mischievous; they would respond to me saying, “Mamen.” I don’t think I’ll ever meet stranger people. Although it’s weird saying this with my own mouth, I think they really relied on the “Madlife” name value.
Also, there were disadvantages to this. Due to the big gap in age, the younger players were very conservative with their words when around me. Even if a player is a rookie, he is fully capable of spotting mistakes within another player’s plays. In those situations, the “rookie” needs to talk about it and give feedback. Even if a player is below another in terms of both age and experience, he needs to speak up; talk player to player, face to face. Refusing to listen to their feedback would just make me an egotistical guy with a closed mindset. I still understand why they couldn’t speak up to me; I probably would’ve done the same.
The age gap was very big, and it was difficult to work around that. It’s also one of the biggest reasons why I decided to retire… I wanted to continue to grow and improve as a player, but many different factors prevented me from doing that.
Do you miss the days when you were considered to be one of, if not the best player?
It felt great when I was constantly winning. However, if someone were to ask if I want to return to those days, I’d say no. As a matter of fact, I don’t ever want to go back to being a professional player. (Laughs) It’s too tiring. I just want to stream. I won’t stop my children from becoming pros if they really want to, but for me, I’m done.
You attended many All-Star events. How different was your first experience there compared to your most recent one?
In 2013, it felt like I was a Korean representative. The tournament at the time felt like a serious international one. I really tried my best to win. Also, fortunately, Thresh was the meta at the time; I think I did well. For me, it felt like the World Championship. After my first All-Star, the tournament started to feel more like a “fun” event to me. I started talking with the foreign players and visited many different tourist attractions. The All-Star event that was held in Barcelona was the last one that I attended.
You met a lot of foreign players during your career. Is there any memorable player?
I was like an outsider… my English wasn’t good and I was shy. I eventually got a grasp on how I should speak to the foreign players after hearing CloudTemplar talking to them. Then, in 2015, I had a sudden desire to speak and learn English. So I started using web translator programs and even attended a variety of events to speak with foreigners. That’s how I became close with Doublelift and Rekkles. I also tried speaking with the foreign media.
Out of all my experiences, my time with Doublelift was the most memorable. He would always break the ice and joke with me; I was comfortable around him. But whenever we played together, he always insisted on playing Vayne. (Laughs)
During your time in CJ, you had to say farewell to your teammates and coaches when they decided to leave.
It was like suddenly getting struck by a bolt of lightning. I thought that we’d stay together, but when everyone decided to take separate paths, it really hit me. After the announcement of their departure, I was stuck with the thought: “what will I do in the next split?”
But it was a relief -- actually, it was more of a sad thing -- that I was able to quickly adapt to the new environment. Maybe it was because I had experienced so many farewells throughout my career. It was unfortunate that we went our separate ways, but I had no choice but to quickly adapt -- because nothing is more important than getting positive results on-stage as a professional. I focused on work so that I could quickly forget about the whole event.
How would you describe your experience during your time in CJ Entus?
It was like climbing mountain after mountain…
The second mountain that I had to climb wasn’t as tall as the first one, but due to the exhaustion, the second mountain felt even higher. I felt pressured and cornered because of it, and at the same time, new talented players started joining the scene. In my early 20s, the head coach told me, “things will get harder for you when new talents start joining.” I didn’t think too much of what he said, but with time, I came to understand what he meant.
You moved teams to Gold Coin United. Not only was it an NA team, it was a challenger team. The experience must’ve been very unfamiliar to you.
After leaving CJ, everything felt distant and remote. The only things that I could depend on were articles and SNS. After some time, I was contacted by GCU, the team where Locodoco was the head coach. Although it was a challenger team, it had a lot of experienced players on its roster, so I joined, hoping that we could easily make it into the LCS. There were also many rumors in regards to NA franchising at the time, so I joined with high hopes.
As a 1st generation professional gamer, how was the experience of playing in a foreign league?
As a lot of people have already stated, it felt more comfortable when compared to the LCK. It was more laid back. The practice schedule wasn’t as strict, and I had more time to focus on myself as a person. We also had players who often went out to work out; working out almost felt mandatory. I gained a lot of ambition for self-development when I was over there.
One of the main reasons why I decided to go to NA was to learn English. Had I gotten better results there, things could’ve been so much better for me… but because things didn’t go too well, everything just felt vague. I stopped working out, and I learned English in an odd way. When we failed to make it into the LCS, I started using my workout hours for practice -- putting a lot more time into practice, like I used to in Korea.
How did your teammates react when you first joined the team?
They were in awe, but not as much as the players of 2016 CJ when they first played with me. The players of GCU were much more experienced; in a way, they were veterans -- we even had Santorin. However, we still had to go through the process of adjusting our communication and sharing our thoughts and views on the meta. Everyone was giving it their all; the team atmosphere was great as a result. It wasn’t bad at all.
However, with all that said, that team failed to make it into the LCS.
It was very disappointing. I was bummed about it. Also, there were rumors that even if we had won during the Summer Split, we might not have made it in. It was a very difficult time for me; it seemed like all the effort we put it had been in vain. I was even considering the option of switching teams. If our team had made it into the LCS, things would’ve been different. I may still be playing as a player in NA.
Gold Coin United was the last team before your retirement. What kind of a team was it?
Playing on that team was my first and last experience overseas. It was really different compared to playing in the All-Star. It was a great opportunity to meet foreign players and to learn about the culture there. I also made a lot of new and fun friends. It would’ve been a perfect team had we gotten better results. Some of us still stay in touch with each other -- I’ve also maintained a good relationship with the team owner. I also made a music video while I was on that team… it was my worst experience there. (Laughs) It was a team filled with ups and downs.
The team decided to finish the interview at a park near the Han River. Madlife was surprised that such an atmospheric place existed in Korea. He smiled, brightly. The subtle breeze travelling down the river, the soft touch of sunlight that barely reaches out from over the horizon, the stream of tourists who have gathered around the river for sight-seeing, and a couple of stray kittens patrolling the area. Madlife took it all in, and as a cat lover himself, the two kittens were an especially positive addition for Madlife. It was the type of scenery that he did not always get to appreciate during his career, but in that moment he was simply Min-ki; he could spare some time to take in the moment, and it was a peaceful one.
Let's talk about the present now. How have you been spending your days recently?
I haven't spent too much time traveling or anything like that. I did go to 'Ilsan' and 'Hongdae' to visit my old teammates.
For some reason, I still can't manage to find my way around those parts of the city. I'm really good at memorizing paths and maps in video games, but I always seem to get lost in real life. (Laughs) Maybe it's because there are no minimaps in real life. Pressing the 'M' button won't open up a map! (Laughs)
"real life scenery" is far more beautiful than in-game scenery. I always saw the world through video games; being amazed at how the graphics have improved over time. But looking at the river and climbing towers to take in the city scenery feels wonderful... it brings solace.
After returning to Korea from the US last year in September, for 4 months I just stayed home and barely did anything. Then I came to my senses and started looking for teams to join. I was going to play in the Spring Split, but unfortunately, those plans were canceled. Due to the long break, it felt like I was rusting. The comfort of playing in NA... it felt like my body became too used to that lifestyle.
The long break felt very unfamiliar to me. I kept feeling that I should be sitting at a computer, playing ranked games. The habits that I developed over time as a professional player linger in me still. Even now, taking a break and just resting feels very strange to me.
Also, I have a strange habit of calculating time through games. For example, if we are to order chicken here at the Han River, the chicken will arrive in about 5 Hearthstone games worth of time. I should go out more often, eh? (Laughs) Since I spend most of my life at home playing games, my mind and way of thinking have become drenched in it.
A lot of your past co-workers have found their own place in the esports scene -- like through coaching and commentating. And some of them have found big success because of their newfound passion. What do you feel when you see or hear about them? What do you want to do in the future?
I can actually somehow see and feel the difficult aspect of being a coach or commentator when watching them. I heard a lot about it from Kezman as well.
I feel like I wouldn't excel in any other areas of esports. I'm bad at taking care of myself, so how would I take care of countless other players as a coach? If I had a teammate like myself in a team, I'd get mad at him (Laughs).
I never even thought about the possibility of working as a caster. Although I have commentated as a guest in a couple of games in the past, I did it solely for the experience. I wanted to try new things; like how I went to NA. And since the matches that I commentated were official LCK matches, it was kind of scary. After casting, I would watch the VOD and review my comments on my own instead of asking others for tips. I had a lot of things that I had to fix. If I'm to become a caster in the future, I'd probably ask for a lot of advice from CloudTemplar.
Have you considered the option of streaming full time?
I'm thinking about it.
When I was working under CJ Entus, I didn't even think about the option of streaming. At the time, I simply thought that I'd become a coach or something similar when I retire. When I started wondering what I should do once I retire as a professional gamer, I started envying CloudTemplar. At first, it seemed like he was experiencing a lot of difficult times throughout his casting career, especially when I saw him doing a Lee Sin cosplay for the fans. Even today, when I visit his stream, I can feel the weight of his family sitting on his shoulders. (Laughs) Recently, a lot of ex-professional players gave me advice in regards to streaming. It seems alright.
Good work. You've gone through a lot of troubles throughout your career. The Madlife now is probably different to the Madlife of the past. If you were given the chance to meet your past self, what advice would you give him?
Although I'm no longer a player, I'm sure the people will still remember me as Madlife. It's more likely that when I run into a fan in the streets, he or she will ask me, "Aren't you Madlife?" instead of "Aren't you Min-Ki?" What I want to say is that I'm not gonna just disappear. Maybe I should change my real name. Last name to "Mad" and first name to "Life."
Normally, "good work" is said at the end of everything. So I don't want to tell myself that, not just yet.
I'd say this to my past self: "If you switch jobs from being a player to something else, it will be difficult for you to adapt to the new environment. So please keep up with your studies, be passionate about it like how you were passionate about gaming. Also, take advantage of what you are good at. I have faith that you will be able to make up for and refine what you are lacking in. Do your best, as you always have."
We're done recalling about the past and diving into the future. Do you have any last words?
A lot of people remember me as a player that revolutionized the support role. I'm very happy and satisfied that I'll be remembered as that player. Even until very recently, a lot of fans sent me fan letters, saying things like, "I've been your fan for many years, I've become a support main because of you," and "I started to play Blitzcrank thanks to you. I've been getting flamed because of it." (Laughs) Seeing my fans like that really fills me up with happiness. I was the player that changed the "image" of the support role back in the day, so please remember as such!
Thank you so much for having cheered for me when I was a player. But please remember that this isn't the end. I'll still be alive you know! So please look forward to what kind of path "Min-ki Hong" will walk in the future. I'll show myself from time to time through streaming and guest commentating, so please continue to cheer for me.
I'll see you all again, from a different position.