Kang-Jae “Envy” Lee doesn’t normally talk about this topic. He’s always refused to answer questions about it in other interviews, but today he’s making an exception—“Maybe for the first and last time,” he tells me.
The Toronto Defiant have just ended a rough Stage 2 on a good note, with a clean 4-0 over the Paris Eternal. Perhaps Envy is feeling heartened by the scoreline and the promise of an upcoming break, or maybe he just wants to get it out there, on the record, so people will stop asking. In any case, today he’s talking about them—his tattoos.
They’re somewhat understated, but difficult not to notice. Covering the knuckles of his mouse hand are five small theater masks stylized to look like clowns, each depicting a different emotion. I hadn’t planned to discuss them with him, but during our conversation my attention kept returning to the markings on his fingers as they rested in his lap, smiling and frowning up at me by turns.
Every tattoo has a story behind it; here is Envy’s.
“My childhood wasn’t the greatest, family-wise,” he explained, self-consciously fidgeting with his inked fingers. “My parents were separated, and I lived with my dad. I wasn’t the perfect kid either, and there was a lot going on, with my dad’s depression... and I always tried to smile, even though sometimes I got really scared or sad. I had to hide my feelings a lot.”
At some point, Envy wanted to change—he wanted to be himself—so he got the tattoos. “Whenever I look at them, it reminds me of all the memories I have and how I have to follow the path that I chose,” he said. “I have to be confident in being myself.”
Although there are plenty of young players in the Overwatch League who are prone to strong emotions, none of them approach it in quite the same way that Envy does. Almost as much as skill, his intensity has allowed him to take a unique and even nebulous path to where he is now.
Envy began his career as part of Korean organization Rhinos Gaming, where he played alongside other Overwatch League staples like Jun-Ho “Fury” Kim and Sang-Beom “Munchkin” Byeon, but it wasn’t until he was invited to join Team Immortals in 2017—becoming one of the first major Korean imports to North America—that his career really took off.
“I originally played DPS, but Immortals asked me to play off-tank, which was a little tricky for me, but interesting, because it felt like I was playing the game for the first time again,” Envy said. “It felt kind of like when you play an RPG game and you delete your character to make a new one.”
When Immortals became the Los Angeles Valiant, Envy was part of the roster at the start of the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. He played with them for two stages before departing on mutual terms, but has remained friends with several of his former teammates—especially the two Frenchmen, Terence “Soon” Tarlier and Benjamin “Unkoe” Chevasson, who have also since joined other teams.
“We stayed in apartments that each had three people,” Envy recalled. “The other Korean players said we should all live together, but I said we shouldn’t do that because we would never learn English that way. I ended up living with Soon and Unkoe, which is how I got to be close friends with them.”
Envy returned to Korea following his departure from the Valiant, where he joined Meta Bellum for Contenders Korea Season 2, helping them achieve a semifinal finish. There was plenty of speculation around the nature of his departure and the fact that he was returning to Contenders, but Envy said that the break helped him more than anything else.
“Most people might think that going from the Overwatch League to Contenders would be demoralizing, but for me it wasn’t anything like that,” he said. “There’s no bad feelings between me and LA Valiant—it was just a mutual agreement that we had a problem with communication, so I left. They offered to trade me to another team, but I refused because I wanted to go back to Korea and rest up a bit. In a way, I was just getting ready for this season.”
Envy was one of the first players announced by the Toronto Defiant, one of eight expansion teams that joined the Overwatch League for 2019, and he became the team captain due to his experience. The roster was built around him, making him one of its most important parts.
Perhaps it’s a testament to Envy’s candor that he was almost too honest when I asked him about captaining the Defiant, and the team’s translator, Yoon, took a moment to double-check if he wanted his answer to be relayed.
Envy glanced at me, then looked back at Yoon and nodded.
“Frankly, the whole ‘captain’ thing is kind of heavy on my shoulders, the whole concept of it,” he said. “My opinion is that a team captain should be a mental pillar for the team, and you have to stay strong no matter the circumstance, but I still have some emotional ups and downs. Maybe I’m just not ready to be a good captain yet.”
Despite Envy’s concerns about his ability to lead the team, it’s the role he’s been given, a balancing act he needs to master to help the Defiant turn a corner after their rocky Stage 2. The sudden retirement of Do-Hyung “Stellar” Lee and subsequent addition of rookie Jin "Im37" Hong was a big speedbump, but once the lineup settles, Toronto has the potential of meeting the expectations set by their strong Stage 1 debut.
As for Envy himself, his motivations haven’t changed since he first became a pro gamer. Something that has stayed consistent throughout his career has been his desire to always be the best version of himself—it’s in his nature, in the reminders to be confident and to never hide that are tattooed to his skin. It’s the same mentality that has driven him since he first arrived in the US in 2017.
“Moving forward, I’d love to focus more on my own play so that I can show more of my skill level and surprise people,” he said. “I just want to be better.”