For many years, Chung-gon “Poongko” Lee has been a huge fan favorite in the FGC. Having already been a mainstay within the FGC in Korea for years, he rose to prominence after his mauling of Daigo Umehara at Evo 2011, and won the hearts of fans for his performance.
While he was unable to replicate his Evo 2011 performance this year, he still finished a respectable 25th at this year’s Evo. While there, we sat down with him for an interview that provided a lot of insight into the mind of The Machine.
Corey “Missing Person” Lanier: Poongko, congratulations on making top 32 at Evo. How do you feel about your performance this year?
Chung-gon “Poongko” Lee: I’m not very happy about it. I feel like I could’ve made top 8 if I had just won my last match in winners bracket. I was sent into losers bracket by a relatively unknown player named MoJoe — an R. Mika player from the United States. Then I also lost to Sako in losers bracket. Honestly, top 8 was my goal, and I didn’t meet that this year.
Missing Person: The MoJoe match is an interesting one to touch on. He came out of nowhere to beat you, and I thought that to be a huge upset. Do you feel like the level of play in Street Fighter V is at where it’s difficult for anyone to make it through a bracket now?
Poongko: When you compare it to the Street Fighter IV series, I had been playing that for seven years. So when you think about it, Street Fighter V is still relatively new. I’ve only been playing it for a year and a half. On top of that, I recently switched my main from Cammy to Kolin. So to start with, there’s already unfamiliarity for me with it being a new game. Right now, there’s players that get this game easily, and people that don’t. For me, it’s taking longer to adjust, so I need a bit of luck to do well in this game right now. I’m not saying you need to be lucky to win in SFV, but I’m not at a point in my play where I can rely solely on my skill to win.
But just beyond the general understanding of the game, you have to factor in my character switch. She’s new and hasn’t been fully studied yet. So I’m still trying to bring Kolin to her full potential. That’s making my results a little more volatile.
Missing Person: You had solid results with Cammy. However, you quickly changed over to Kolin when she was released. What attracted you to her? Did you see something similar to the gamble-heavy characters you played in SFIV, such as Seth?
Poongko: I initially played Cammy in SFV because I had somewhat of a history with her at the end of the SFIV era. Plus, there was no Seth in SFV, so it felt like the easier fit for me. But the thing was, I was not achieving the results I wanted to with her. On top of that, it was a new game, so naturally there were changes to her in SFV. When I switched to Kolin, I realized there was some fun stuff I could do with her, and she was fun to play. It wasn’t so much that she was like Seth, but the tech I saw on Twitter of her looked really fun. Regardless, I’m still looking at all the DLC characters, because I’m still in a character crisis.
Missing Person: If Capcom were to have you choose a character for them to create, what would be the perfect character style for Poongko?
Poongko: Since the mechanics are so different, I can’t expect someone from Street Fighter IV to come out and wow me. I would love for a character to come that has a lot of options, similar to the amount of options Seth had. Kolin fulfills that in a large way, but not 100%. She can be offensive, but can play defensive with her counters. While she does sort of fit my style, if a character like Seth came out with a plethora of options came out, I would change to them.
Missing Person: I’ve noticed that you are notorious for playing marathon sets. When I was at ArcadeStream, I would see you there until 3:00 AM playing casuals. On top of that, even at the salty suites at Evo, I rarely saw you get off a station. Most people would be in a fog playing so long. What keeps you focused on learning things over a marathon set?
Poongko: I used to play like that as a kid. By now, I’m used to playing marathon sets. If I put a lot of hours into a game, I enjoy playing it. If I can’t do that, then it’s clear that I don’t. It kind of becomes a cycle. If I become good at a game, I enjoy it more. If I play longer, I become good at the game. If I enjoy a game, I’ll play longer.
Missing Person: You became really interested in Tekken 7 when Akuma was released, and also made several top 8s in the game. Do you remain active playing Tekken?
Poongko: I honestly feel like I got lucky in those tournaments. Akuma hadn’t been released in the west, so people didn’t know how to fight him. Around that time, I used to play Tekken in arcades when I had free time. Now that it’s out on consoles, I like to toy around in training practicing combos. I usually do about a half an hour of practice, and I don’t play online too much.
But honestly, I really enjoy collaboration games. I played Capcom vs. SNK 2 when it was big. I also really enjoyed Street Fighter X Tekken and played a lot of Tekken characters in it. So when Akuma came out in Tekken 7 it felt similar to me.
Missing Person: As you said, you played CvS2, and were notorious for that and The King of Fighters in Korea. However, no one’s ever really seen you play The King of Fighters XIV. Did the game not strike your fancy, and if so, why?
Poongko: I played it a little in the beginning. However, everyone was training hard for Street Fighter V. If I had to focus on KOFXIV, I would have lost a lot of focus on SFV. It was simply a matter of how much effort I can give to one game.
Missing Person: Last year, you were on Team Secret. However now, you’re a free agent, and were at Evo thanks to r/Kappa. Are you looking to travel more and try and get another sponsor?
Poongko: r/Kappa cannot replace a sponsor fully, as they only send me out when they have the funds and want to send me out. I am definitely looking for a team. My goal is to travel to more tournaments in Asia. I didn’t have the greatest results last year, and this year hasn’t been the best either. I have more to prove.
Missing Person: I want to touch back on something that happened six years ago. You went to Shadowloo Showdown in Australia and beat Momochi. Then you came back to Korea to play in a Spirit Zero tournament, then faced Tokido in an exhibition at that event, whom you also beat. Then at Evo 2011, you faced Daigo in a memorable match. What was going through your mind during this sequence of events that found you destroying these Japanese killers?
Poongko: Did I face Tokido that year? I forgot.
Missing Person: You did, I was there. It was after you beat Infiltration in the Korean tournament before Evo.
Poongko: Oh yes, now I remember! When I went to Australia, I had chosen Seth because I had this feeling that the character had potential. That tournament was a chance for me to test it out in a major. I wasn’t confident at all. I was honestly pretty nervous. But as I went through the bracket, I started to relax and focus better. Once I started doing well, I realized I was right, that this character is good.
At Evo when I reached top 8, I had a runback with Daigo. He had beaten me at the GameStop exhibition in 2009. I realized I was playing against a legend at the top of his game. He had an overpowered character in Yun. I went to the bathroom and had an anxiety attack. It felt like I was dying! I felt like the only way I could overcome the anxiety was to overcompensate for it on stage. So I threw my belt and badge off, and chugged the Red Bull before I sat down to play. That showmanship helped me fight my anxiety. It worked out for me, obviously.
Missing Person: You talked about anxiety and nervousness. Does that still happen to you? If so, how do you deal with it now?
Poongko: In Street Fighter V, you have a lot of the old guard mixed with a lot of the new blood. The playerbase in these tournaments is huge now. Because of that, I do still get nervous. It’s not to the point where I have to overcompensate by being showy.
Honestly, the nerves never really go away for me. In order to combat that, I try to play a lot. I want to get the techniques so embedded into my muscle memory that it’s like breathing. You still breathe when you’re nervous, and you do it without thinking. I want it so that even if my mind messes with me in a match, my body will know what to do in a certain situation.
Missing Person: So “The Machine” is actually really fitting for you?
Poongko: That’s the way I want it to be.
Special thanks to Gerald “mintcheerios” Lee of Core-A Gaming for translation.