DBLTAP video editor Kyu Lee had the chance to speak to former professional CS:GO player Seon-ho "xeta" Son, who spent much of his career with MVP PK and TYLOO before retiring to become a professional Valorant player.
The interview was conducted in Korean and has been translated to English.
DBLTAP: CS:GO is very unpopular in South Korea, Matter of fact, the tactical FPS genre is not popular at all. What made you want to play CS:GO and pursue a career in CS:GO?
Seon-ho "xeta" Son: I played a lot of different games like Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends. I started to play CS:GO seriously after watching NiP vs Fnatic in IEM Katowice 2015. Both were the best teams at the time and watching the game gave me so much joy and motivation to play the game. I began to play the game, got better while I enjoyed playing, and thought that maybe I should pursue the career of a professional gamer.
DBLTAP: In 2004, Valve made a notorious decision to charge 15 dollars per month for every computer in PC Bangs in Korea, and it killed the Korean CS scene. How much of an impact did it have?
SHS: When I was playing with MVP PK, I asked my teammates (solo and glow) and a coach, Termi, about the incident. They were pioneers playing Counter-Strike way before the PC Bang incident in 2004 and shared a very interesting story. According to them, the tactical FPS was very dominant and popular. Back then. Half of the people would play Starcraft and the other half would either play Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six before the PC Bang incident in 2004. After the incident, PC Bang banned Valve games and Counter-Strike, and literally, no one has been playing Counter-Strike in PC Bangs since then. The Korean FPS scene took a different direction from the world, with games like Sudden Attack and Special Force, which are kind of similar but very different from Counter-Strike.
DBLTAP: During your time in MVP PK, the team was the second-best Asian team after Tyloo. Your team was qualified to play S-Tier Tournaments like IEM Chicago, IEM Sydney, and ESL One: Cologne 2019. Since Asia had the lowest seed, your team had to face the best teams in the world every time. How was the experience playing against some of the world’s best teams and what did you learn?
SHS: Knowing that Korea has a little to no community of Counter-Strike, all we could do to improve was to watch tapes of different teams in the world and analyze them. Analyze their strength, how they operate during early, mid, and late rounds, their talent levels, and discuss what we can adapt, change and implement in order to survive in Asia and the world. Since it’s almost impossible to find scrims, we had a lot of team talks and through the simulations, we’ve managed to implement strategies and add more play styles on our own.
DBLTAP: What is the real solution for Asian teams to improve their talents and close the gap?
SHS: Compared to many different countries, Korea and China have PC Bangs as a part of a culture. Koreans, especially younger generations, like to play in a PC Bang with friends rather than playing at home. So utilizing that unique culture is the key to the success of Counter-Strike in Asia.
In Korea, the Counter-Strike scene is nearly dead. Even though Valve released Steam PC Cafe Service, it’s a rare sight to see someone play CS:GO in a PC Bang. In Korea, If you want to play somewhat competitively, you need to join the Chinese platform just to get some matches. This prevents Koreans from communicating in their native tongues. Without the understanding of basic communication, improving one’s mechanical skills is not an option.
DBLTAP: How was your time in Tyloo? What was the difference between MVP PK and Tyloo?
SHS: When I began to play in Tyloo, I noticed that Chinese players have better mechanical skills and aim than Korean players. I also noticed that MVP PK had more of team structure and systemic designed plays that Tyloo. I felt like Korean players were more concerned about the team discipline if that makes sense.
DBLTAP: You were benched by Tyloo in April. What really happened there? Was it just because of COVID-19 or something else?
SHS: COVID-19 did play a major role in the decision making for sure. However, communication played a big factor as well. I wanted to bring my experience and in-game knowledge into Tyloo’s system. But building a new system takes time and requires much feedbacks in order to achieve the desired result, but the language barrier really took a toll on me and other players as well. I can communicate in English in CS:GO terms but Tyloo players couldn't really communicate in English. I tried my best to learn Chinese but didn't have enough time. If Tyloo had more means to help me communicate better, either have a translator or someone to help me, I think we could have better results than what we had. Since COVID-19, I couldn't travel to China so direct feedback wasn’t an option for us, which resulted in me parting away from Tyloo. Lastly, Valorant played another factor for me.
DBLTAP: What made you switch to Valorant?
SHS: I saw the possibility of Valorant in Korea. Yes, there is a problem with Vanguard in Korea and to be honest, I’m not sure whether Valorant will succeed in Korea. But what I do know is that PC Bangs will back Valorant, and Riot Games will continue to support in order for Valorant to have a good foot in Korea. I already see more people play Valorant than CS:GO for sure. Some big-name streamers in Korea mainly play Valorant. All of these convinced me to have a positive outlook for this game.
DBLTAP: Do you think Valorant can lead the FPS market in Korea? Despite the hype, the inception of Valorant’s hasn’t been great. What does Valorant need to do in order to succeed in Korea?
SHS: Yes, I believe Valorant can lead the market in Korea. The last Korean CS:GO team, MVP PK, retired from CS:GO to pursue a career in Valorant already. I have a plan to recruit and start a team to compete against them. I hope this move will fuel more players to play Valorant and create a competitive market.
When I first encountered this game, I knew that you can approach this game with CS:GO concept. But at the same time, skills and abilities kind of deny the CS:GO way of approaching the game. I have a feeling this aspect of the game can draw more people to this game as it can close the gap between new players who aren't familiar with the tactical FPS and those with experience. Also, this game's mechanics and abilities are a good challenge for higher-tier players as well. Lastly, I believe this game has an easier entry barrier than CS:GO.
Riot Games have far more impact than Valve in Korea. After I watched the teaser for Valorant, I was under the impression that Riot Games really wants to have a good foot in the Korean market
DBLTAP: Like you said earlier, your former team, MVP PK, retired from CS:GO to pursue Valorant. How do you see this move?
SHS: I believe it’s a positive move for both Valorant scene and the team as well. More competition and players will bring fresh ideas to approach the game and competition provides a place to learn from one another. New players can learn and experience the tactical side of the game and inspire them to get better which will develop talents. This is a very positive change for the scene and having a bigger competition and community always brings the fun.
DBLTAP: What are some detailed differences between CS:GO and Valorant?
SHS: Other than gameplay, I think Valorant’s graphic feels very cartoonish and I’m a little worried about it. But flipside, Koreans are kind of used to playing Overwatch so I hope that takes care of the graphic issue.
DBLTAP: What is your verdict on Valorant? Do you think Valorant have what it takes to take over CS:GO?
SHS: I don't think Valorant will take over CS:GO anytime soon. Valorant is a very new game that still has to fix many bugs and glitches. Also engine-wise, it feels a bit awkward from time to time. Maybe I’m just used to playing CS:GO. The funny thing is that I thought CS:GO was a stupid game and worse than 1.6, when I first played. But like I said earlier in the interview, watching IEM Katowice 2015 changed me. CS:GO became a monster of its genre and very successful esports and felt the game became way better than its start. So as long as Valorant takes their time to develop, I think it can become a good game and successful esports.
DBLTAP: Which FPS games do you think have the brightest future?
SHS: CS:GO is the bse of the tactical FPS and I believe it will continue to have a long history. Developers of the CS:GO really listen and want to take care of their audiences by updating maps and other stuff. They know how to add interesting dynamics to the game. Valorant just started and creating an esports scene takes time. As long as they don’t push it, they should be ok.
DBLTAP: XigN is the last Korean CS:GO player and currently playing at BTRG. Do you have any recommendations for him?
SHS: Both XigN and I are very sad that we can’t play in Korea under the Korean Organization. It’s impossible to find a Korean sponsor in CS:GO anymore and the situation is extremely sad. Despite all, XigN still thinks that CS:GO is the most perfect game and wants to give his best playing the game. He doesn’t want to leave the game with regret. If he feels that he has no desire and passion to play CS:GO, I want to tell him that Valorant is a good alternate option for him to pursue.
DBLTAP: What can Valve do to keep their players? What can Valve do to attract more players to play CS:GO?
SHS: In NA and Europe, there are still so many talented players who want to play competitive CS at the highest level but there aren’t enough spots available. So you either sacrifice your talent and potential to play in a lower-tier team or just wait to have a spot to open and I believe those who can't wait are transitioning to play Valorant. I think Valve needs to attract and invest in the Asian market. Recently Snappi and Smooya almost joined TIGER and I imagine what could've happened if the deal went down. It could’ve brought so much attention and investment opportunities to the Asian market. It could’ve fueled CS:GO scene without borders. If the Asian scene develops, Valve can launch a league similar to League of Legends, having regional leagues in South America, NA, Europe, and Asia and Oceania. Currently CS:GO tournaments are happening all over the world with very little break time in between, which causes the so many burnouts we see now. Perhaps having a regional league and having a Dota TI(The International) Type of tournament is a solution to the problem. If this ideal league happens, I’d happily come back to play CS:GO. I think this move could attract a lot of former CS:GO pros who moved to other games.