Slingshot’s Andrew Kim visited the Team Liquid house and had an extensive conversation with Kim “Reignover” Ui-Jin about his career, pre-gaming interests and all the stops he had along the way.
Andrew Kim: Before you moved to Europe’s Fnatic, you were a member of Korea’s Incredible Miracle. Could you explain what the process of deciding that move was like?
Kim “Reignover” Ui-jin: I originally didn’t think about going abroad. After leaving IM, I took the entry test for SK Telecom T1. In the middle of that, Huni (Heo Seung-hun) made the decision to move to Fnatic. I was taking the final stage of the test at the gaming house. I failed to qualify, and as I was talking to Fnatic, Huni helped me out a lot. I’ve gotten close with him even before we took the SKT entry test together.
AK: Huni said that he was pushed out by MaRin, so does that mean you were competing against Blank for the jungling position?
KUJ: At the time, Bengi (Bae Seung-ung) was the starting jungler, as I was taking the test with Rush (Lee Yoon-jae) and Smeb (Song Kyung-ho), and Huni was taking the test for the top lane. I don’t remember exactly, but I don’t think there were tryouts for the mid lane. For support, Picaboo (Lee Jong-beom), and Fury (Lee Jin-yong) made it to the final round, and SKT dropped every one except for Picaboo.
AK: As you were playing with Huni, you two really tore it up, with you in particular being called the best jungler in EU at one point. Did you make the decision to move to NA with Huni as well?
KUJ: In Europe, I did well and ended the 2015 season on a good note. There were some issues regarding the contract with the team for 2016, and there were some good options in North America. I did want to play in NA, for a kind of change of environment. I moved because there was a good team to move with Huni.
AK: You won both the spring and summer split in 2015 as a member of Fnatic. Did you feel like you achieved all you can in Europe and moved to NA for a new challenge?
KUJ: That was a part of it. At the time, wanting to play in a new environment was because I felt like there wasn’t really anyone to compete against in the summer split of 2015, although I did have a lot of fun in the spring split. I guess I felt like I got into a rut. While I was feeling like that, I would watch NA games and noticed that the fans were much more passionate in videos and online communities. I did think that I wanted to compete there and chose to move while I was looking to sign with a new team.
AK: As you moved from region to region, do you have a personal motto or philosophy that you keep close to yourself?
KUJ: Rather than a motto, I have goals. The goal is to always do better than the last year. Playing better than last week. Constantly looking to improve.
AK: So not being satisfied, but to continue to improve?
KUJ: If I think back, I didn’t play well in 2015 in retrospect, and I feel like I didn’t perform well at parts in 2016. I feel like I’m going up one step at a time.
AK: You played in EU for a year, and now NA for a year. What are some of the differences you found between the two regions?
KUJ: They’re both the LCS and they both use mostly, but there are some differences in daily life. Other than that, there aren’t really much.
AK: What kind of differences in everyday life are there?
KUJ: I feel more comfortable in NA. The food fits my tastes better, and the weather is nicer. I guess there are some differences in personalities between European people and Americans. I also have an air conditioning unit, that’s something I didn’t have in Europe. There’s also a small difference in internet speeds, I guess.
AK: Was there anything you were looking forward to when you decided to move to NA with Huni?
KUJ: I thought that it would be more fun, more energetic to play in NA. We knew that we could do well if we moved together, and I think it was a lot of fun.
AK: Was there anything that really influenced your decision to move to NA?
KUJ: Nothing really turned my mind to it suddenly. The decision came to me naturally. As I was considering the move, if I had to point something out that swayed me to move to NA, it was that Fnatic didn’t agree to my requests for the 2016 season. I was interested in playing with Fnatic, and I don’t really think I made a ridiculous demand. I guess that.
AK: What were some of your requests? Do you feel you were pushing too hard on certain things?
KUJ: I don’t really think I pushed too hard. I think I was overall reasonable. After being rejected, there were other offers on the table from different EU teams, and NA teams. If I can’t play in my original team, I wanted to play in a NA team.
AK: To turn the clock backwards a bit, how did you decide to become a professional gamer?
KUJ: Of course I liked playing games, but it wasn’t like I was playing it all the time when I was younger. I think my interest in games was very average. I played games because it was fun. I got better than my friends. I played in solo queue with and against the pro players I saw on TV while also beating some of them, and I thought I could pursue this as a career. The thing that tipped the scale was because I wanted to help my mother, who’s been tirelessly working since my father passed away.
AK: Did you mother get worried about your career choice?
KUJ: She was very worried. I didn’t do well earlier on in my career, so she was very upset about it, but I worked hard whenever I thought about giving it up, and it worked out in the end.
AK: Was your mother even more apprehensive when you told her you were going overseas to play in a different region?
KUJ: My mother actually thought my going overseas was a good idea. I lived abroad for some time, and she thought that her son getting experience this way would be good. I think she was onboard about me going overseas.
AK: You’ve been a part of IM, Fnatic, Immortals, and now Liquid. As you moved from team to team, did you learn anything in particular?
KUJ: I keep learning things as a professional player about my own game play. As I moved teams, I just felt like I was accumulating a lot of experience. I met a lot of people too.
AK: As you were celebrated as one of the better junglers in EU and NA, did you ever find that attention to be a source of pressure for you?
KUJ: When I play the game, I don’t really play it with that pressure. I was doing very well and was having a lot of fun, so I was thankful for the fans who supported me. I always was confident in my skills to be able to perform no matter what.
AK: Assuming that Team Liquid does really well, qualifies for the Mid-Season Invitational or even worlds, would you feel compelled to tryout for a Korean team? What Korean team would you like to play with?
KUJ: Rather than pointing out a certain team, I want to play with my old teammates. I want to play with (Lee “KurO” Seo-haeng), Smeb, and Huni if I could. I think those three are the players that are playing right now. If I did get to play in Korea, I want to play with them. I think it’ll be fun to play with players I’m close to.
AK: If you didn’t become a pro player, what “traditional” career path do you think you would’ve gone for?
KUJ: When I was way younger, like grade school, I wanted to be a pastor. Around middle, high school, my mother is an interior designer so I was interested in that too. When I got into high school, I was kind of all over the place. I didn’t have a clear dream on what I wanted to do, and in the middle of that I wanted to become a pro gamer.
AK: When you say you wanted to become a pastor, does that mean you had a religious family member?
KUJ: Yes, my mother and father were protestants, and when I was a child I often went to church, and I think I had a stronger faith than most of the kids my age. When I lived in Saipan, my uncle was a pastor and I saw him often and learned from him, so I think I naturally gravitated in that direction.
AK: You mentioned in a past interview that you wanted to play on a team with Huni as the mid lane and you as the jungler. Did Huni tryout for mid lanes for different teams?
KUJ: We were definitely interested in playing together, and we talked about how Huni could be a solid mid laner with me as his jungler. We practiced that a lot while we were looking for a new team. In the process of that I moved to Liquid by myself, and Huni made it to SKT.
AK: Was Liquid only interested only in a jungler and not a top laner?
KUJ: With (Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin) on the roster, they couldn’t have too many imports.
AK: As Huni went to SKT, it must have come across as an unintended goodbye. What was the most disappointing thing about saying goodbye to a player who you worked with for a long time?
KUJ: It’s comfortable playing with him, and we work well together so it was great. He was like a younger brother and teammate, but as we separated I did have a feeling of emptiness. It’s just disappointing that he’s not here with me.
AK: For Korean players, the mandatory military service is always something that’s brought up. Are you concerned about that much?
KUJ: Of course I know I’ll have to do my service after I retire. I don’t know when that’ll be exactly, and it’s something Korean men have to prepare themselves, no matter how much I don’t want to go. I don’t really think about it too much, just that I’ll need to go when I do. I’m more focused on what I need to do now.
AK: A lot of Korean players are looking to go overseas recently. When you see these players go to other regions, do you have any concerns to advice you want to give them?
KUJ: I don’t really have the time to be concerned about other people, but if I had to give them any advice, I hope they get close to their teammates and if they work hard as they did in Korea, they’ll do well.
AK: You are a player that has a great success story since you moved to EU and NA. What is your secret to your success?
KUJ: I think my singular goal of getting along with my teammates, as well as working hard, did it. I think I had the advantage in that I was fluent in English, which really helped me compared to the other Korean players. I was also very lucky, since the players on my team were all very good. I also think that I worked even harder after I moved.
AK: The LCK is taking some time off in accordance of the Lunar New Year. Since NA doesn’t work off the same schedule, do you ever get homesick and want to meet your mother during the holidays? How do you overcome homesickness?
KUJ: I’m pretty used to being apart from my mother due to a long time of doing that, and we’re both happy enough by keeping in touch with one another. It’s not like I don’t see her all year; I go to see her every half year, so I’m doing OK on that front. When the game doesn’t work out, or when I’m not feeling great, I do want to take some time off. But that’s the same for everyone, that’s inevitable. I think work hard like all the other players and work through any homesickness.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games