Knee sat down with us after Red Bull Kumite, to talk about the return to offline play and his thoughts on the newest generation of Tekken players.
Jae-Min “Knee” Bae is still considered to be the greatest Tekken player of all time. Even at the age of 36, the 15 or so year veteran of the Tekken scene still finds his way into the top spots at top level competitions.
Such was the case at Red Bull Kumite 2021 where he reached the grand finals. Though Genki “Gen” Kumisaka bested him in the match, Knee’s presence in the grand finals is proof that age and many years of cutthroat competition have not slowed him down.
But even with his legacy still going strong, Knee recognizes that a new generation of top level Tekken players is on the rise. After all, he lost to Gen, who happens to be one of the youngest active players in the scene to date.
“Even though there’s a big age gap between me and the younger generation, I take every opportunity to show that I can still compete [with young players],” Knee told Esports.gg Americas Editor Dustin Steiner.
True enough, Knee’s run in Las Vegas is solid proof that he can definitely still hang with the best and brightest, no matter how many years he has on them. Sheer consistency and longevity like this is rarely ever seen in esports as a whole, which is a testament to just how great he is overall.
Gen himself put it in his own words: “He’s just one of those players that you see winning all the time, so me proving that it’s possible to defeat him is great.”
As mentioned, Knee’s career has been going strong for many years now. The man that would conquer all of Tekken got his start in 2004, with the release of the critically acclaimed Tekken 5. Although he wasn’t there during the heyday of Tekken Tag Tournament with the likes of Ryan Hart and eventual rival Son “qudans” Byung-moon, Knee’s reputation grew quickly as one of the best players from the Korean scene at this time.
But it wasn’t until the release of the Tekken 5 update called Dark Resurrection that Knee would really take South Korea by storm. Choosing Bryan as his main character, he would put his name right at the very top of the Korean competitive scene with his godlike execution and preternatural game sense.
In this golden age of Korean Tekken, Knee would carve his own path to international fame. He would participate in high level tournaments for Tekken 6 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 as well, where he would continue to improve his play and subsequently dominate his opponents..
Playing in the Modern Era
The dawn of Tekken 7 signaled the beginning of a new era for the franchise and its competitive scene, but as expected, Knee was there at the highest level. In fact, he was invited to participate in the first ever international tournament for the arcade version in 2015, reaching the grand finals only to lose to Daichi “Nobi” Nakayama. EVO 2016 was another silver medal finish for him, as he lost to compatriot Jinwoo “Saint” Choi.
His most disappointing result of this era, though, came at the Tekken World Tour finals in 2017. He faced elimination very early in the tournament, losing all three of his matches in the group stage. This was and still is an utterly shocking result even in retrospect given how successful Knee has been his whole career. Moreover, his appearance in the grand finals of REV Major 2017 was proof that he’d found his bearings that year.
But Knee, being the greatest of all time, would not suffer in mediocrity for long in Tekken 7. Beginning with EVO Japan 2018, he quickly regained his confidence by winning the whole thing against teammate Seong-ho “Chanel” Kang. He went into the Tekken World Tour finals that year as the top ranked player in the circuit. Knee found himself in yet another grand final confrontation at TWT 2018 — but lost to Jeong “Rangchu” Hyeon-ho in one of the most astonishing endings to the world championship competition to date.
2019 and Onwards
Nevertheless, it became crystal clear that Knee was back, and stronger than ever. By the end of 2018, Knee had placed no lower than third at 11 major tournaments, and had retaken his title as one of the very best in the world. His biggest challenge, however, was just waiting for him around the corner the next year.
That challenge was one Arslan “Arslan Ash” Siddique — one of the biggest breakout stories in all of esports in 2019. The young gun from Pakistan had Knee’s number at EVO Japan, where the veteran was unable to defend his title. Arslan would hound him yet again in their rematch at the grand finals of EVO 2019, thus denying Knee of his third ever EVO title.
And yet again, his goal of becoming Tekken World Tour champion would elude him as well. Soo-hoon “Ulsan” Lim thrashed Knee 3-0 in the lower bracket finals of TWT 2019, sending him hope disappointed once more.
The COVID-19 pandemic would hit soon thereafter, just four months after his defeat at Ulsan’s hands. Until Red Bull Kumite, Knee himself kept relatively quiet in the scene, but definitely did not miss a beat upon his return to offline play. Although he failed to capture the title in Vegas, Knee was elated at the chance to play others face to face again after so long.
“Offline events are much more dynamic. [Red Bull Kumite] was a big event, so [being back in an offline tournament] was really exciting,” said Knee.
A Legend Standing His Ground
He is, therefore, still one of the “gatekeepers” of Tekken, so to speak. Those that seek the title of King of Iron Fist will always have to consider Knee as the final boss, due to his genius-level understanding of the game and extreme versatility in terms of characters.
There truly is no one else that deserves the title of “master of Tekken” more than Knee does. With the ability to pick and choose who to play as at the highest level, he forces his rivals to stay on his toes.
“He actually used Devil Jin in some of the online tournaments [this year] against me, so I wasn’t surprised that he used Devil Jin offline,” said Gen after playing against Knee at Red Bull Kumite. “To me, seeing him switch from Steve to Devil Jin meant that I’d forced him to not want to use Steve. That’s vital when playing against Knee.”
And with Knee still being this good well into his late thirties, there’s no doubt that he will continue to be a force in the Tekken competitive scene until he decides to retire.
Until then, young up-and-comers like Gen continue to have him to look up to.