The runtime of pro gamers for League of Legends is fairly short.
It may be different for each player, but in general, they tend to think of retiring once their age goes past their mid 20’s. Of course, there are players who still continue to show top performance even after. However, the majority of players choose to end their pro gaming life or change their path to that of a mentor once they reach that age.
It often feels like time passes in the blink of an eye, and before we know it, we stand at the end of our run. When a pro player decides to accept that end, it can seem almost cruel, as they usually have to admit that they are not as good as they used to be. It can be especially hard on esports players; although it is called retirement, the majority of them are still quite young when they make that decision.
‘Have I fallen behind even this player now?’
“I’d feel ashamed whenever that thought came around. When I can feel that I’m falling behind opponent players. I’ve been practicing, pouring everything into it, for just one game; it just feels like everything I’ve done until now was denied.”
Jae-Wan ‘Wolf’ Lee spoke after a long time of painful reflection, responding to a question about whether he considered retiring. Actually, there have been a lot of rumors going around about his retirement prior to the trading window closing this year. It was understandable. After all, he lost in the competition for the starting spot against Sang-Ho ‘Effort’ Lee, and the plan to change his role to jungler fell apart. Along with the unfortunate decline of his health, it just seemed that retirement was the next logical step.
“I’ve been thinking that I would like to have left the scene while I was getting applauded at the very beginning of my pro gaming career. The year 2016 would have been the best if I were to say which moment. In fact, anyone would agree that the year 2017 was the season where I didn’t do well. That was the period when I put in less effort than the others. That is why I tried my best this year so that I wouldn’t have any regrets left.
There were reasons behind the decision to change my role to a jungler. My main role used to be a jungler back in my amateur days, and I usually played jungler a lot. Back then, things weren’t going great for our team, and Coach kkOma asked me if I wanted to try playing jungler. And we had some scrims where I got good results.
I could have played well, and I thought I would play well. I would arrive earlier than anyone else to practice in solo ranked games, go into practice after I eat, and go to sleep after practicing until 5 or 6 in the morning even though the team’s practice time was only until 2 in the morning. I would watch game play clips when I’m about to go to sleep in bed, and I would even think of my jungle routes in my dreams.”
However, Wolf’s plan to change in roles did not amount to much. He could not show any particular strengths in the actual matches he played in. It was a regrettable result because his scrim results were great, and he practiced very hard.
“I still think that I would have done much better only if I could have practiced for one more week, or played in a later match than I was supposed to. I would have truly done better only if a little more time was given to me…
But my team was in a situation where they couldn’t give me many chances back then. I feel so sorry about that. My coach would also mention it many times when we are out having drinks or met separately. He was sorry; he’d have given me more chances if things were going better for us.”
With the lackluster results of his role change, the decline of his abilities as a support, and the team going through hard times, this was the most difficult time in Wolf’s career. It was clear that his mental state was taking a beating. Whenever the team would face defeat, Wolf would occasionally be caught on camera, crying inside their booth.
Wolf is a player who has been a pro gamer for 6 years now. He may have had many a glorious victory, but that certainly doesn’t lower the number of losses he’s experienced. For many veteran players, they keep their strength steady by letting go of the bitterness of loss and focusing on the next game. This is a tactic that Wolf is surely aware of, as a veteran himself, so why does he continue to struggle to let go of his defeat?
“SKT T1 was different. It was the team that always won until the year 2016 and 2017, and the one thing we all considered important was, ‘not getting used to losing’. I thought that the moment I got used to it was the moment I would fall behind. So I would become sad, angry, and bitter for each game lost.
To be honest, instead of thinking that my team shouldn’t lose, I would focus more on thinking that I need to do better. My team’s victory came first, but I also wanted to do well myself even if things weren’t going great for us. I would still get stressed if I wasn’t satisfied with my gameplay, even if my team won.
However, there were moments… situations I’ve experienced a hundred, a thousand times and knew what I should do in my head, but my judgment or controls started to come out a bit slow. I would immediately feel that I made a mistake after the game ended or that situation ended. So I would try to do better, but I still keep making similar mistakes.
When you lose, all the things you’ve tried during practice become nothing. I’ve been working hard for that one game on that one day, but it amounts to nothing. I found that very upsetting and it made me angry…”
Wolf seemed a bit emotional but kept going on calmly.
I was somewhat relieved though since Wolf has a new start coming for him. He will be leaving SKT T1 to go to a foreign land, and will play in a new team in a foreign league. He cannot keep showing himself emotionally shaken. He expressed his desire to calmly play once more. He said he wants to deliver gameplay that he himself could feel satisfied with by pushing himself over the edge one more time. He will not run; this is the time for him to prove himself once more.
"The golden era of a pro gamer is short. It always feels like a new generation is taking over when we see older players outplayed by the new players. However, there are still players who maintain their prowess - players such as are Se-Hyeong ‘Mata’ Cho and Beom-Hyeon ‘GorillA’ Kang. I don’t want to become a person for whom people think retirement is unquestionable. If I retire right now, in the fans’ hearts I would become a person who did not try hard and did not even take proper care of my body.
I want to try very hard one more time with great players in a new environment. I am going to try my best in an environment where I can’t use health or effort as excuses. If I feel that I can’t do it even after trying like that…
Won’t that truly be the moment I should retire?”
Wolf is leaving our side. He was together with SKT T1 during their best moments, which were also the best moments of the LCK. No one can guarantee whether we will see him again on an international stage or not. No one knows if we will hear news of his retirement when next year’s trading window comes around.
Wolf, who said he wanted to leave in the midst of applause, made up his mind to stay in the esports scene. He promised himself he would continue the fight against himself even in a place where he is far and out of view from of his fans. I don’t think the road signs left for Wolf point to only one path. He has said that his efforts have often seemed to become meaningless, but doesn’t his determination to play again regardless of the results hold significant meaning?
"I wanted to say thank you so much. They [the fans] were a great help whenever I was going through tough times. All of the many messages and letters I got via Twitter, Facebook, and the front desk really comforted me.
Honestly, I didn’t really get the fandom. Who am I - for this person to pay so much attention to me, using their resources and time to support me? I’ve never been a fan of someone else so I didn’t know that feeling before, but I think I understand a bit now whenever things are hard on me and I would take out the letters my fans sent me to read. And they gave me more reasons to keep playing as a pro gamer.
Actually, the relationship between the players and fans is very one-way; fans do so many things for us but all we can do is thank them like an annual event. I don’t want to be thought of like that by the people who support me. I will make sure I show them me doing my best.”
A managing editor who can do more things than you think.