“Don’t kick the ashes. Have you ever burned for someone in your life?”
- Quote from Ahn Do-hyeon’s poem, "너에게 묻는다"
If someone asks, “Have you ever been so passionate about something that it would burn you down?” I wonder how many people can confidently say “Yes”. Not everyone needs or even wants to live so passionately, but we must admit that those people who do live passionately influence us to move forward. I do not know why; it might be just a human instinct.
“I want to perform well for as long as I can. I want to know how I can be better at this game.”
Faker has a seemingly inexhaustible amount of passion within him; it’s just who he is. Maybe that’s why the way he talks and acts makes us move.
Born in 1996, he is still a young man. However, this year, he will be going into his 7th year as a pro player. In the LCK, there is no mid laner that is older than Faker. Pro gamers, who play and practice day and night, say that they usually get sick of games after their 3rd or 4th year. However, this veteran mid laner is still seeking out ways that he can get better at playing games.
“Yeah. That’s my ‘ultimate concern’. Every other minor worry is a small branch that is connected to that ‘ultimate concern’. I try to hold back my other desires. Well, I don’t have that many desires since I just love playing games. Although I do sometimes think about love, it’s not that high in my priorities.”
Then, besides games, what would be the most important for Faker? His answer was…
I knew that I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help but laugh. That answer literally meant that he has no other interest other than games - and though Faker is a person that only thinks about games, even he fails. For him, 2018 was a painful year. He did not get any titles and he did not get to any finals either. That isn’t to say he was lacking in passion this year. Results just did not follow and he eventually burned to ashes.
“It’s almost impossible to anticipate what will happen next year during the preseason practice. Although you might be good at first, a year is so long that it's hard to maintain that performance until the end. It was like that for me this year. Our scrim results were very good before the Spring Split. However, our performance gradually decreased once the split started.
*Notes: This interview was conducted on December 2018.
“After the Summer Split and Worlds Regional Qualifiers, I took a ‘complete’ rest. When we failed to get to Worlds in 2014, I practiced. This time, I only rested, without even watching any Worlds matches.”
"My mind became comfortable. I didn’t do anything special while I was resting, but I was in a very stabilized state.”
2018 was full of mental pains. “Currently I’m a 4th place mid laner.” - “I’m not that sure whether I can do better next time.” Those answers from Faker were shocking since he was always confident.
One of the most relieving things to hear might’ve been: “You can do it if you try hard”. However, there are things that can’t be done with effort alone. When people hit that wall and think, ‘I don’t have anything else I can do’, that might be one of the most unfortunate moments in life. In 2018, Faker might have confronted that same obstacle. Some even thought that his pro career might just hit a dead end.
“Now I’m not like that. I think it depends on how you deal with it. At that time, I was in a tough mental state because of our losing streak. But now, I think I can do well depending on how much effort I put in.”
“I think I was dealing with anxiety, and other negative feelings came up as well. I couldn’t fully recover from it while I was resting. However, after taking a break, those feelings became a catalyst for me to go further.”
“It somewhat bothers me when I hear someone else is currently the best since I have strong self-esteem. It makes me determined to become better. Although I do think there is a very good performing player in the LCK, I’ll never be behind compared to him. I shouldn’t be behind in performance.”
“I’m quite used to people saying that they want to be better than me. (laughs) Maybe because I heard it too much. I think that I’m a bit indifferent.”
Faker seemed like he could move further forward. He looked different compared to a few months ago. There must be many reasons behind why he can’t stop moving ahead. Among those myriad reasons though, one of the heaviest ones might be the name ‘Faker’ itself, and the weight that comes with it. Like SKT T1’s director, Oh Kyung-sik stated, Faker has become the highest paid player in the Korean sports scene.
“Among the esports players, I’m aware that I’m known worldwide. That’s probably why I’m getting paid a lot. It does put pressure on me. However, it also motivates me for sure. I think that I should perform up to that.”
“I heard that I’m going to be the team captain. That’s why I’ll have to take more responsibility. I want to set the tone. Frankly speaking, I’m not a person with leadership skills. So, I’m not going to point to a direction and lead, I’m simply going to do my own thing well. I think that will create a positive environment.
Faker has now become an ‘SKT man’ with after signing a long-term contract. It is said that this young man was ice cold with his decision as well.
“As I’ve said, I didn’t sign the contract right after my former contract was expired. I thought about my options while I was resting. After thinking it out, I chose SKT.”
“All the terms fit me well in general. I felt that SKT offered the best terms. I didn’t look at whether they were being real, or fake; I only focused on the terms and made my decision. Of course, the fact that SKT was a team that I’ve been with for a long time was considered as well. I exclude emotions when signing contracts.
Head coach kkOma, who has been his teammate for a long time, wasn’t taken into account.
“When I sign contracts, I consider everything before I make a decision. Still, it’s hard to always be in a rational state, so my feelings do change from time to time. But one thing’s for sure - those feelings are not that high in my priorities.”
Faker usually deals with his concerns on his own.
“I’m not a person that shares my concerns with others. I try to find the answer alone. Even if I feel negative emotions, I don’t reveal my feelings. I simply alleviate it by myself.”
So, how does he cope with that anxiety and loneliness that only the people on the top can feel? We were able to hear some answers besides ‘reading books’.
“Meditating and stretching."
“I don’t have any books to read, and when I don’t have anything to do, I close my eyes; then I would find inner peace. It’s not some kind of special meditation where you create an environment with no sounds or do deep breathing. (Laughs)”
There have been many changes to SKT at the end of this year. There is Faker, who stayed, but there also are people who left like Bang and Wolf. These three had been together for the past 4 years. Faker usually doesn’t feel emotional about parting, so it felt strange to hear him say that he was emotional about it.
Faker, who we thought would always be rational and levelheaded, has changed. It is said that people can change when they experience great pain; Faker was in pain throughout the year 2018. Perhaps that is why he has become more sensitive and sentimental than he was before.
“I was rather indifferent because I had those experience early on. I’ve grown used to my teammates leaving me now that I’ve been in pro gaming for some time. But to be honest, when I said that last farewell… I did feel a bit emotional. It has gotten to a point where it feels natural now, though.”
“Rather than this being a special case, I think I’ve become a little bit… emotionally sensitive this year.”
The vacant places have been filled with new people. It feels awkward and shaky. The teamwork within SKT T1 didn’t seem to go well like in the match against DAMWON Gaming in the KeSPA Cup Quarterfinals. However, Faker continued to keep a careful yet unfaltering hope for SKT T1 in 2019.
“Great changes have been made after the 2018 season ended. When I first heard the news, I thought that many things are going to take place next year. I thought it would be alright since our new members had name value and play well.”
“Yes, I expect there to be a change in the scores. Aside from the scores, I think there will be change within the team - in different ways - since our members changed a lot.”
“There are times where our team members disagree since we are still in the middle of working on our teamwork. But I think we will work it out soon. I think individual abilities are more important than anything else. I expect things will go well next year.”
The strangest new member Faker picked was Teddy.
“I didn’t know Teddy’s personality well in the beginning… He’s very loud, which was unexpected (Laughs). As for the other members, they are what I expected so there was nothing particular about them.”
To Faker, the year 2019 is more important than any of the past years. Their scores weren’t that great in the year 2014, but there weren’t many skeptics criticizing Faker back then. At the time, he was just a young player who had only played for 2 years and hadn’t even turned 20 yet. But not anymore. If one considers his military service, he is now entering the later phase of his pro gaming career, and there is more skepticism growing about his abilities.
Confucius once said, ‘If you want to decide the future, study the past.’ Faker holding up the trophy, Faker crying in front of the monitor with the memo pad turned on, Faker who couldn’t do anything in 2018 -- wouldn’t all those Fakers be a solution to him?
“I think next year will be truly important. How my scores weren’t good this year is one of the reasons, but I got a message from myself. ‘From now on, I won’t do it like this, but try to do well by changing a bit next year.’ So I think the year 2019 will be a critical one. I can’t go into detail, but it’d be easier if you think that I will be trying harder by fixing what I did wrong and trying to remember what I did well.”
“Even though I said I will bring back the title China has taken from us in 2019, my final goal is not winning against China. My real goal is for our team to display outstanding performance. I think winning against China is something subsidiary. If we can just do it like this, it will naturally come next. I don’t think there’s anything that has changed about China. They seem similar to how they used to be before… Although I’m not sure.”
Some are naturally talented, some are pure hard-workers. Nevertheless, they say that the best of the best are those who simply enjoy what they do. But I don’t believe this. Those who are talented, hard-working, and know how to have fun become the very best. Faker has all three. Even if he decides to retire at this very moment, he’ll still be remembered as the GOAT for a very long time.
“I’m a competitive person; I don’t like losing. I think this might be a motivator for me to keep on working hard. When I don’t get good results, I do feel concern about the criticism. However, normally I don’t.”
“One of the reasons might be that I have fun playing LoL more than others. It can’t be compared to my past, but I’m still having fun. I can’t think of any other reason besides that.”
“I haven’t been thinking about the future yet. I’ll think about my future in the future. I’m going to face what is in front of me; for now, that is what I have to do.”
The reason why people slip down from the top is that they no longer enjoy it. The current ‘Faker’ isn’t the same as his 18-year-old ‘gojeonpa’ self. However, he is having fun and facing reality. He is still more passionate than anyone else; he can still blaze brightly.