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[Herald Interview] World’s No. 1 Tekken player vows to keep playing until 100 trophies

From being dirt-poor in his 20s to overcoming wrist pains in his 30s, the living legend is a fighter through and through

Knee at the Evolution Championship Series 2019 - Tekken 7 (AfreecaTV)
Knee at the Evolution Championship Series 2019 - Tekken 7 (AfreecaTV)

A falling apple prompts a young Isaac Newton to develop laws of gravity. Greek philosopher Archimedes figures out volume and density while taking a bath. For geniuses, every detail is a source of inspiration.

For Tekken genius Bae Jae-min, also known as “Knee,” his inspiration for developing a killer combo move came from a frivolous skill that baffled other players over why it even existed.

The “taunt” skill is a trademark move of Bryan Fury, a character from Tekken, a 3D hand-to-hand fighting game developed and published by a Japanese game developer Bandai Namco. The gameplay system includes blocks, throws, escapes, and ground fighting.

When Bryan launches a taunt, he throws a knee kick and flips a middle finger at his opponent. For 15 frames or 0.25 seconds, the opponent’s guard is neutralized and becomes defenseless.

While others focused on the skill’s provocative function, Knee developed the unblockable starter into a full combo. To execute the combo, a player has to launch the next attack exactly at the 15th frame, not a single frame later. Knee can use the notoriously difficult technique at any time he wishes, even showing off the technique three times straight in competitions.

“To learn the playstyle of Bryan, I was watching videos of other players, then I saw a Japanese user Hameko utilizing the taunt skill to mess up the opponent’s rhythm. I thought it was cool, gave it a twist and developed it into my own skill,” Knee said.

Having played Tekken since his childhood, the 35-year-old South Korean has bagged 67 domestic and international trophies, claiming his latest trophy from AfreecaTV’s Tekken League Season 4 Day 5 held this month.

AfreecaTV, the nation’s biggest livestreaming platform, has been holding the Tekken league since 2017 and runs its own professional Tekken team comprised of renowned players including CherryBerryMango. Knee is a partner broadcasting jockey, or BJ, at AfreecaTV and broadcasts exclusively on the platform.

Now, the living legend has become the Jedi of Tekken.

“Based on years of experience, I can tell what opponents have in mind just by watching their moves. It’s not 100 percent accurate, but I can read their minds and customize my playstyle,” Knee said.

“One day, when I was a teenager, I was playing Tekken with a man, sitting side by side at a game room in the neighborhood. I beat him again and again until the guy kind of got worked up and chewed me out. Guess I played too smart,” he quipped, laughing. 

Bae Jae-min, also known as “Knee” (AfreecaTV)
Bae Jae-min, also known as “Knee” (AfreecaTV)

Every night on AfreecaTV, the world’s No. 1 Tekken player broadcasts live how he slaughters challengers after challengers and bestows lessons upon them. However, there was a time when the Tekken guru was just a humble student and got beaten 30 times in a row to sensei “Borami.”

“Borami is the one who brought me from the game room in the neighborhood and guided me to the bigger stage. He taught me patterns and playstyle I didn’t know of. I was young and he was like my older brother. But it has been some time since we lost contact. I want to know how he’s living, but there’s no way to reach him,” Knee said.

Knee is currently inducted on Korea Esports Hall of Fame and considered by many as the greatest Tekken player of all time, but the journey to get there hasn’t been easy.

According to Knee, Tekken is still a minor game and is impossible to make a living out of it. Until his early 30s, Knee seriously considered calling it quits, as prize money just wasn’t enough to make a decent living.

Knee moved to Seoul in his early 20s without financial support from his parents, saying he was “dirt-poor” and had a lot of painful memories about money. After being discharged from Korea’s compulsory military service, he didn’t know what to do.

“Everyone around me was getting a job, but I was lost because I had been playing Tekken for my whole life. It was really stressful when my relatives asked about my future (in holiday family gatherings). I even thought that I was living my life wrong,” Knee said.

Then a turnaround came in June 2017, when Tekken 7 was launched on Steam, a global digital platform where users can purchase and install PC games. The launch on the global platform immediately put a spotlight on Tekken and prompted a new influx of users, who flocked to AfreecaTV to watch Knee’s gameplay.

“In 2015, I earned $10,000. In 18 months from June 2017 to December 2018, my revenue from AfreecaTV donations and YouTube proceedings were a little more than $100,000 combined,” Knee said, adding that his AfreecaTV viewers even once spiked to 16,000. 

Knee plays Bryan Fury (left) and knocks out his opponent. (Knee YouTube screenshot)
Knee plays Bryan Fury (left) and knocks out his opponent. (Knee YouTube screenshot)

However, Knee recently developed wrist pains after playing countless rounds of Tekken. Despite having to wear wrist bands to quell the chronic pain, Knee says he never thought about retiring yet.

“I’m still in the game because I love the crowd and the catharsis when I lift trophies. My goal is to win competitions I haven’t conquered yet and take 100 trophies,” Knee said.

By Kim Byung-wook (