Snake.U: I will get back what was lost with my own hands.
This interview was originally posted by PentaQ. A copy of the original Chinese article can be found here on QQ.
After the second week of the LPL summer split, new Snake member U wrote a long blog post, full of both sorrow and self-encouragement.
Long before EDG won MSI, I had written an article on U, but that was just a half-finished, unpublishable thing, full of my own assumptions and rants, written on incomplete material. After I formally interviewed U, I delayed writing for a long time, perhaps for selfish reasons. I could think of too many words of praise, but I was afraid I’d get slapped.
As the summer split entered its third week, as I saw Snake’s opponents repeatedly ban Leblanc, I felt that U had somehow found his identity, and I hoped that U could move one step more towards his stated goal - to be the best midlaner in the LPL.
--- 1 ---
I’m ashamed to admit that before joining PentaQ I hadn’t heard of the name “U.” The first time was when EDG was already in the first round of the spring split playoffs.
After U, long off the battlefield, endured through four up-and-down, back-and-forth matches, he was relieved of his duties by PawN’s emergency rescue. EDG.U once again stripped the prefix from his ID, and as he left the stage, the cameraman did not even have the time to catch a glimpse of his departing back.
I couldn’t see his expression clearly, couldn’t guess his mood. I only knew that everyone’s attentions were focused on the haggard face of the Korean prodigy - in, the brave, invincible savior Pawn; out, U, bearing the blame. This was the reality in the audience’s eyes.
After that day’s matches, I wrote this description of U:
“From being the starting midlaner to warming the bench and then being ordered to step in at the last moment - in U’s eyes, this half year has been filled with hardships and endurance.
In the EDG vs. WE playoff set, PawN’s sudden illness put U, originally scheduled to be commentating the games, back on the main roster. An opportunity like this might have been considered a chance to ‘turn a new leaf,’ but for this shy, quiet, unconfident boy, it only filled his heart with fear.
He feared the fans; he feared his teammates; he feared himself. When WE tenaciously brought the series to 2-2, he did not even dare look up. With low-cast eyes, slightly pouting lips, arms held close, he stood in front of the camera like a boy willingly taking a punishment. Even if his heart were in turmoil, he still seemed resigned to his fate.”
This “highly subjective” account was my first impression of U. It’s very hard for me to summarize it with just one phrase, but to use U’s own words - perhaps it was an “encounter full of regret for not meeting you sooner.”
Luckily, I finally have the chance to write something for you, U - so it was a timely encounter.
--- 2 ---
Not long after taking the title of spring split champions, EDG rushed on to America to compete at MSI. After returning to China, U formally ended his contract with EDG and joined his new team, Snake.
During this time, I chatted intermittently with U over WeChat, and his “naturally tolerant” personality made him seem very easy-going. But gossip does not make an article, and a slew of accidents kept pushing back a formal interview.
Finally, after Snake beat King 2-0 to end the second week’s games, this impressively-performing new team gave all their players a day off and I finally had my chance to talk with U for more than an hour.
I’m not sure what kind of thoughts LOL players have on U, but during my brief conversation with U, “gay” was the consistent impression I got of him. This was really one-sided, so I purposefully designed some of my questions to come up with a better image of himself. It was very casual and it was this kind of “tacit understanding of each other” that made this interview very pleasant.
--- 3 ---
Unlike those many hot-blooded youths who “would give up school for their dreams,” U and his family came to an agreement. Only after successfully completing college did he explore the option of playing professionally - not only is this decision very logical, but it also shows that U is very fortunate.
Even in his second year of middle school, U had already gotten into MOBA-type games. The fun of playing Dynasty Warriors started U’s passion for video games. As for the origin of the ID “U”, it was because of the MOBA game DOTA - in DOTA, the announcement for five kills in a row would be “unstoppable.” “ I felt that sounded the coolest of the kill streak announcements.” Unstoppable - that was the goal U gave himself, and perhaps a kind of hope for his professional career.
From DOTA to LOL, this ID has stayed with him to this day. When asked about how he switched to playing LOL, U’s answer suggested some “unwillingness,” but also that it was almost fated.
“In high school I played DOTA, but in college, none of the internet cafes near my school had DOTA. They were all playing LOL, so as a result, I also could only play LOL.”
Switching from DOTA to LOL is common. After DOTA dominated China for many years, LOL suddenly appeared. Its “fresh style and cartoonish characters” contrasted with DOTA’s dark and heavy graphics, and its “simple, complete system to get started” caused many MOBA players to begin a new adventure.
His plentiful free time in college gave U a basic guarantee on his LOL improvement. “Professional players are gifted“ - this statement by Clearlove is appropriate here. Because of his high in-game rank, U often played with professionals and became familiar with them. Combined with his natural inclination towards professional play, entering into the professional circle after he graduated was simply a matter of course.
Doing something he loves and receiving more generous wages than most of his peers - for a young man who had just left campus for the real world, this kind of life is more than satisfactory. But, as dreams become reality, we often realize those dreams are not as we expected.
--- 4 ---
“Before, I played for my own happiness and thought I was pretty good. At the time, I imagined that since playing professionally would just be gaming all day, it would be fun. But once I joined and had to tediously stare at a monitor and play one game all day, I felt it was really annoying and pointless, and I realized that professional gaming wasn’t as fun as I’d imagined. You had to practice every day, and if your skill level decreased or you couldn’t make a name for yourself, no one would remember you. That kind of price has an impact on your entire being. It’s a high-risk, high-reward profession.”
When I mentioned his first team, LM, U sighed slowly, and then smiled self-depreciatingly.
In those days when professional LOL teams were springing up everywhere, Wuxi’s local team, LM, opened the first door for U. Even though they were a new team and their five players were inexperienced new faces, at big tournaments like WCG, LM could still fight with momentum and strength against LPL teams. From those experiences U and his teammates caught a glimpse of the future - “if we just practiced a few more months, we could definitely make it.”
But even as the five young men were getting excited and preparing to make it big, some unreasonable actions by LM’s management derailed their plans. Combined with the fact that the industry had no rules and there were only empty promises and no serious commitment, not only was the team’s future in doubt, but also those of its players.
The lack of matches to participate in was LM’s greatest embarrassment. To a bunch of young people gambling on making it big on the future, this kind of life was basically a slow suicide. Leaving the team was a reluctant but logical decision.
“When I wanted to switch organizations, my boss and I couldn’t come to an agreement. So my boss locked me in a dark room and threatened that he would cut off one of my fingers. So I could only repeat, okay, I’ll stay, I’ll stay.”
You can almost imagine - U, a suffering look on his face, knees on the ground, both hands tightly pressed against a table. Out of the darkness looms a big guy with a sharp knife burning with killing intent, a cigarette clenched in the corner of his mouth, solemnly muttering: “Left hand or right hand.” This kind of scene, straight out of some gangster movie, shook U’s confidence.
“Gangster Bro” might have left a strong impression, but he was not much of a deterrent. Unwilling to “stray from the right path,” U made his desperate “escape” on the way back from a match. Running without daring to look back, forgetting his experiences at LM, wistfully hanging on to the future, U could only move forward without stopping in hopes of finding his way again.
--- 5 ---
LM’s moment of fame has come and gone, but in the midst of chaos it brought U a new beginning. A “promising newcomer” was the impression LM.U left in everyone’s minds, and it also became his calling card as he departed LM for new battlefields.
It was also at that time that today’s EDG dynasty began to form. Their manager Sanshao approached U, who had just left his team. Perhaps because of his experience with the rise and fall of one professional team, but U was extremely wary of the temptation. However, U still accepted Sanshao’s invitation: “After all, I didn’t have to sign a contract at the start.”
U, “without high expectations,” began to entertain himself by playing solo queue in an entirely new environment, until one day, Namei, sporting a haircut of long bangs and carrying a bag, suddenly appeared at his door. The arrival of “China’s number one ADC” shocked and awed this “promising newcomer.” Although his expression was calm, if no one were around U would have gaped and sighed, “Oh my fucking god, this can’t be Namei!”
Namei’s arrival signified the beginning of EDG’s journey, and following him were the even more famous Clearlove and Fzzf (at the time, Koro1 could not be called a star). EDG’s slowly-growing lineup could be called “luxurious.” There was no time to regret; U primarily felt stressed because practicing with a bunch of “big names” was something he had never dreamed of. During this time, U’s skill increased astronomically, but most importantly, EDG.U slowly began to understand what it meant to be a professional player.
“Even though I was playing professionally for LM, it never felt like a career - it was like playing ranked as usual. On EDG I learned that this game was a five-man game; one person winning was useless. From those four, I learned a lot - learned how to overcome my own weaknesses, how to work as a team, how to improve.”
This highly controversial new team seemed to practically cut their way into the Season 4 World Championships. To U, that was a moment of his dreams, and perhaps, a dream-shattering moment.
EDG at the time had already displayed extraordinary strength in the domestic competitive scene, but the usual practices of media exposure almost destroyed this young team. Interviews, photo shoots, interviews, photo shoots - this was the work EDG faced most often each day before the championships. It’s hard to balance the demands of being a part of a esports organization and being a player, but there was no doubt that the massive hype and publicity had an impact on the five young men.
“I remember that well! We woke up at 4AM to catch a plane to Shenzhen - there wasn’t any time to practice.”
U appeared particularly agitated upon saying this, and from it I could understand the great attention EDG received and their ensuing weariness. Maybe it was a subtle change in mentality, a lack of understanding of foreign teams, or even a little overconfidence that led to EDG’s disappointing performance in the Season 4 World Championships.
After returning home, EDG began the biggest roster change in the team’s history. To be honest, though, even before Worlds, this change had been lurking in the team.
--- 6 ---
In the spring of 2015, LPL was brewing its own huge changes - an army of Koreans poured into China like a rising tide. EDG also entered the fray and came out with the two most famous and most talented, PawN and Deft. As a result, U and Namei had to “disappear.” Being well-known and with more connections than U, Namei managed to remain on the LPL stage as a member of Star Horn Royal Club. But what cards did U have to play? And with a year’s contract left on him and having failed to win sufficient recognition despite devoting himself to gaming after graduation, U felt burdened with indecisiveness.
“I had a thousand conflicting feelings but there was nothing I could do, so I could only continue to adjust and endure.”
“If you had improved to PawN’s level or even exceeded him, would you have gotten the chance to switch out with him?”
“Impossible - even if I had been better than him, I still wouldn’t have played. That was the reality.”
For a world-class team like SKT, it’s normal to end up with many substitutes. But where SKT differs from Chinese teams is that they use two sets of players with completely different styles (in the summer split, EDG also began to try this method), whereas for Chinese teams like EDG their so-called “substitutes” are really just out of the game.
It’s completely understandable for an organization to make changes in order to improve the team and to win even more championships, and from the club’s point of view, this is always a beneficial and harmless maneuver. But from the player’s perspective, of course it’s hard to accept.
Retiring, swapping roles, becoming a shredded pork bun tycoon - U has considered them all, but never really decided to pursue any of them. Perhaps he was always a little bit unwilling to resign himself to his fate, quietly waiting for his chance - this was the U of the first half of the year.
--- 7 ---
It must be said that putting aside any personal opinions, EDG’s decision was quite successful from a performance standpoint: from taking the LPL championship once again to winning MSI, EDG was undoubtedly the most spectacular team in the world this first half of the year.
Speaking of the kings of MSI, whenever I see that last triumphant championship photo, I cannot help but sigh a bit - for this photo that had “nothing to do with U” became his last public appearance with his team as a member of EDG.
After coming back to China, getting off the plane, and going to Snake’s headquarters, everything seemed to be happening suddenly, but also strangely reasonably.
“Wasn’t this exactly the turnaround you’d been waiting for?”
“To be honest, during our half-month at MSI, I didn’t even touch the computer - I just slept all day. Then right after I got back, I immediately came to Snake’s base and started practice the next day, because then there were only about three days until the start of the summer split. At the time, I was basically braindead when it came to playing LOL.”
I had initially thought that U would be ecstatic over being transferred to Snake. Compared to those players relegated to “substitute” status who slowly faded out of memory, U was lucky; at least he had waited out those dark days and found light. But U instead described his feelings upon joining Snake as being “under a mountain of pressure.” Having not played for so long, accumulating sad feelings in his heart, being in an unfamiliar environment, he felt as though he were surrounded by danger.
Even on the day of his interview and having played for Snake for two weeks, U still didn’t know the address of his new gaming house. With no way to order takeout, U quipped that he could only make ramen for himself.
“When you’re taking a break, you should go out and walk around, exercise a bit.”
“Oh, I don’t dare go out - if I go have fun for a day I’ll come back and go 0-8, so I don’t dare rest.”
Before this I’d heard a few people’s evaluations of U: arrogant and young were the two words used most. I can’t say that I thoroughly understood U from one interview, but from my perspective, this boy who always inadvertently revealed his own lack of confidence just wanted to win with all his heart.
“LPL’s number one midlaner!” - this is the goal U has laid down for himself.
For once you enter the game, there is only victory or defeat. If you do not seek victory, then what kind of professional are you? If you are not eager to win, then what are you doing with your youth?
--- 8 ---
I remember now that after EDG’s narrow victory to defend their championship in the spring split playoffs - the first time I saw U - PentaQ’s team had the chance to visit their newly constructed base.
“Who do you want to interview the most?”
“U,” I said.
“And if U doesn’t come?” my colleague asked.
Luckily, U still appeared in front of us with the other members of EDG, walking behind his team, thin body slouching, face a little gaunt, I couldn’t help but think of that unbridled gangster of a lad written by Kazuya Minekura.
After they sat down, Koro1 and Meiko carefully and quietly answered our questions. Off to the side, U inspected the water bottles on the table with great interest.
Interacting through a computer and in person are not very similar. The U standing in front of me now felt optimistic, mature. Faced with my “not too polite” questions, U’s answers were straightforward and honest. And it was at that opportunity that I got U’s WeChat and had the opportunity for this interview.
Because in the end, there is always something left to say.