How I Started
This is a really long story and goes back to when I was little. I won’t give the full version because 14 years of history is just too much – but like many people, when I was young I aspired to be a “pro gamer,” except for the fact that there was no such thing as pro gaming in 1998. I wanted to be really good and I always followed my cousin around because he was playing with the best in the world. I managed to get onto [i’m]’s training team after three tries when I was 11 years old, and Nazgul was my favorite player. Liquid probably hadn’t even been conceived at that point. My cousin and our other good friend (Mog, known later as Proxa) were on the main team [i’m], and I felt like it was a huge accomplishment. Later on, my cousin and I founded the team [Crew] on USEast and I got my first real ‘leadership’ experience.
Fast forward to high school... I was probably one of the better USA players, but not quite good enough to get to get to the finals. Before there were online qualifiers there were offline local qualifiers which fed into offline regionals which fed into the offline final. Only the winner of each regional advanced to the final, and Froz (the best American player) lived in LA and I faced him in the regional finals in 2005 and 2006, so I never earned my trip. In 2007 I made 13th on the ladder, in which the top 8 would go to the offline event.
When I was a senior in high school I had to quit SC for about 9 months because my grades were terrible and I got really seriously into Academic Decathlon so I promised my coach that I would quit SC until after state. When I came back, all my teammates in LighT had improved so much that I felt demotivated to try to catch up. I started asking myself what I could do to help the team, so I started organizing clanwars since we had a ton of really active players and there were no matches for us to play in aside from WGTCL. After that I became the leader of the team and we became the #1 ranked team on the WGTour clanwar ladder and were able to rise up to Division 1 of WGTCL and BWCL (the first American team to ever make it that far in BWCL… and the first American team since iNcontroL’s 88 to make it to WGTCL Division 1. I had a lot of free time and I wanted to help out with the clan leagues so I joined WGTour as a CL admin.
While I was a CL admin, I noticed that there were no tournaments for the NA scene besides WCG, so I organized War of the States for American players – it was quite a success [Read: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=48096］. I started hosting tournaments pretty regularly at that point, and I discovered that I enjoyed doing it quite a bit and I pretty much stopped trying to play competitively at that point and became an “admin.”
In order to continue helping the US Scene, I created BWUSA.org and the Yankee League… a league for only American teams. BWUSA was a pretty cool niche community site that unfortunately didn’t grow too much, it was under constant attack from hackers and eventually I just shut it down. Yankee League ran for three seasons and was a lot of fun!
Back in 2008, live streaming didn’t exist and we broadcasted every Yankee League match via internet radio. I was actually full time admining/casting at this point, and this was at the height of pioneers like Diggity and Psyonic_Reaver, who were just starting English-language casting. [Read: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/search.php?q=yankee league for USA BW history]
When I transferred to UC San Diego at the end of 07 I heard about their annual Winter Games Fest in 08 and saw that it had a Starcraft tournament. I felt like the shit because I was a B- level player and fuck if I would lose to some random college kids. I waltzed into the tournament thinking it would be a breeze, and ended up losing to a Korean kid in the semi finals. I remember watching him warm up before our match and seeing how fast he was and thinking to myself, “shit there are people here who know how to play.”
The next year, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t underestimate them. I had made some friendships the previous year and was playing pretty regularly with the UCSD SC players (I founded the UCSD Starcraft facebook group, which would become the first ever collegiate SC club).
Funny side story… Day9 helped me practice for the tournament and he talked about our sorta theory-craft discussion on his second ever podcast [Read: http://www.teamliquid.net/staff/zatic/Day0002-BuildingTriggers.mp3 @ 9 minutes for history!]
Anyway, I lost in the semi finals again, but afterwards I got together all the UCSD guys and asked if they were interested in competing against other UC schools. This is how the UCPL was founded. [Read: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=86330］. Interestingly enough, the UCPL was announced two days before the CSL, hyaa [Jan 19th, Jan 21st]!
After the first season CSL, the league was going in a not-very-good direction and I offered to help out, the end goal was to grow the UCPL slowly to incorporate all colleges, so it made sense to join forces. The CSL as we know it was born (lovingly called the CSL+ at the time).
The CSL took off and even though Starcraft was dying, we were having fun and I was able to feel competitive again. UCSD took 2nd place in Season 2, and finally managed to win the CSL in Season 3 (taking down Duke in the finals). It was the culmination of so many months of practice, team dinners, and stress. I cried with my co-captain Luke after we won. Sadly, there were no prizes and no live event!
[WATCH: http://blip.tv/day9tv/college-starleague-finals-ucsd-vs-duke-game-2-3680007 me vs DukeNukem, now known as coL.RSVP]
[WATCH: http://blip.tv/day9tv/college-starleague-finals-ucsd-vs-duke-game-7-3680256 ACE match: Jaeyun vs Nony]
With the release of Starcraft 2, I was one of the founding members of GosuCoaching, along with Louder and iNcontroL. This was the first ever coaching website for gaming (as far as I know), and we were the first ever pseudo ‘community’ site built for Starcraft 2. Again, my big motivation was doing something for the American scene. There were no weekly tournaments on the NA server – ZOTAC and the ESL cups were primarily European and even in BW Zotac cups were held at 14 CET, which no Americans can realistically play.
I started hosting the GosuCoaching Weekly and the GosuCoaching “Gold Gamers” tournament for low level players in which they would win an hour of coaching each week. The GosuCoaching Weeklies, along with the ICCUP Grand Prix events were the first recurring events for Starcraft 2 on NA, and the first since the ZOTAC. [READ: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=125125］
The GosuCoaching weeklies were a nightmare, for me. I ran each tournament by hand, and many of them had between 300-500 players. Each player would email me with the score and their replay and I would have to go through the bracket and report their game by hand. Binarybeast was coded in Flash at the time (you can’t ctrl+F in flash). I don’t think people fully appreciate tournament services like Playhem that offer an automated and relatively smooth experience. Doing these large tournaments manually took up 100% of my focus for an entire night.
I also started helping scheduling and billing for GosuCoaching, but that wasn’t really my thing. Anywho, there was some GosuCoaching drama and Louder stepped down and the website was bought by a man named Russell Pfister.
After the sale, I received a phone call from Russ and he introduced himself to me. I was really impressed that he took the time to do that and talk to me about GosuCoaching and what I did. Funnily enough, I remember pitching the GosuCoaching Weeklies and Russell saying that he wasn’t really interested in events but merely wanted to run the site to maybe one day make his money back. After a few weeks, I got another call from Russell saying that we had extra money and if I wanted to start up with the Weekly tournaments again, which I did.
My friend Jeremy (hero of eSports) offered me 2k in prize money to host a tournament, so I created the Tour of Duty tournament. We streamed it on GosuCoaching and the numbers were over 1k for each broadcast (which was pretty huge back then). After that tournament, Twitch stepped up hugely and offered us a sponsorship. Russell called me and said “think of a tournament to do, you’ll have a 10k prize pool.” I wanted to do a team league, and GosuCoaching Premiere League was created.
[READ: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=170650 Tour of Duty]
[READ: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=179677 GCPL]
In January 2011 Russell invited me to meet in person at a new office to talk about ANOTHER project, something huge and very secret. I went to what would become the NASL studio for the first time. There was nothing but Russell, Duncan (other co-founder), and myself. He asked me if I wanted to run a $100,000 tournament and of course I said yes. We discussed the name, the format, and everything and from there… the NASL was pretty much born!
Russell is one of the brightest and most inspirational people I know. I’m really thankful for basically giving me the opportunity to do what I love and earn a living doing so. The best thing is that this vision was so ahead of its time. There was no such thing as a big prize pool event outside the GSL. There was no broadcasting model, no EU rebroadcast, none of that existed prior to us. I’d like to think that the NASL is at least in part responsible for the eSports that’s been developed in the last two years, and Russell is the main guy who drove that growth. I don’t think he gets enough credit.
NASL Season 1 was rough. It involved myself, Russell, Duncan, one editor, and one production helper along with our two casters Gretorp and iNcontroL. I spent many days and nights at the office, I worked probably 14-15 hours a day for the majority of the season earning barely enough money to live (luckily I lived at home so had little expenses and was taking a year off after graduating college). I believed in the idea and killed myself to make it happen. The Season 1 finals was exhausting to no degree, only topped by the Season 2 finals (coming later). I almost died multiple times trying to drive home after each day and falling asleep at the wheel. But we pulled it off and despite all the problems of Season 1, we ended on such a high note and had earned our stripes, so to speak.
yes... that's an ESPORTS tie
Season 1 made everything else possible, it showed that our dream could be made a reality.
Season 2 was really difficult because I was in grad school in DC at the time, so I was basically trying to juggle working with Fnatic, running the NASL tournament, and taking 5 grad classes at the same time. The Season 2 finals were right before my own finals. I skipped the last week of school to go to LA to help set up the event. Season 2 was at least twice the size of Season 1, but we only had about 10 people really working to set it up. Russell was up in the rafters working on projectors, I was crawling under the stage to set up all the networking for the HoN computers and our player booths. We were able to put on the event successfully, except for the lack of people in the audience. The first two days were pretty abysmal and were some of the most depressing of my life. Luckily the final day made up for it because we had about 1,000 people come and the final was pretty awesome. Overall, for that entire 7 day period I probably slept 10 hours total, I flew back to DC and had to take a final that evening (international trade economics), which I pretty much bombed because I missed half the class and didn’t have time to study at all. After that I had to write three 30 page papers and went almost another whole week without sleeping. Definitely can’t do full time eSports and grad school at the same time, so I opted for the former.
I’ve reached a point where in order to take the CSL where it needs to go I need to put 100% of my effort into it. For the past year I’ve been splitting my attention to three different projects and it has taken a huge toll on me mentally, physically, and financially (I funded the entire CSL and LighT from my pocket including spending all my personal savings and student loans). The crossroads for me was the AZUBU sponsorship offer. In order for me to make sure the league would be successful, I had to devote myself to it – and so I arrived at this place. I decided that I wouldn’t be able to make sure I did a good job at NASL anymore and decided to step away rather than try to half ass it while still pushing forward with the CSL. And here we are.
Building the NASL was one of the most difficult, rewarding, and exciting times in my life and I feel confident that even though I am stepping away, NASL will continue to improve and grow, and that we can still find lots of ways to cooperate in the future. I’m super thankful to Russell for giving me an opportunity to pursue a dream, for supporting me every step of the way, and for teaching me how to be a better leader and manager. I still have a lot of room for growth but I feel like I’m on the right path.
My Real Life
A big part of my life in gaming can be explained by my life outside gaming. I haven’t shared many of my experiences with very many people but I feel like now would be a good time, commemorating the beginning of such a big new chapter in my life. I’ve just been reflecting on my life (plus I’m turning 25 soon: more on that later) and everything I’ve been through to reach this point.
As a kid I was surrounded by drugs, my parents used, their friends used, my brother got into it at a really young age and got progressively more involved as he grew older. My parents would take me with them most weekends to get togethers that mostly involved partying and drug use, and for the most part I was left in a room by myself for most of the nights. I had one movie (The Crow) that I watched over and over and over again because that’s pretty much all I had to do. When Starcraft came out in 1997 (I was 10), it was like a godsend because I would then spend a majority of my weekends at my cousin’s house. We would wake up at 5am and played throughout the day.
My parents weren’t supportive of Starcraft at all and actively tried to stop me from playing. They’d do things like disconnect the internet, try to take my computer away, and once my dad even broke the cd right in front of my face and said I would never play again. I remember the last conversation I had with my brother, I was playing a ladder game and he was trying to tell me to not play so much. He was getting really into it, and whenever he was really animated he’d start foaming at the mouth, and I could tell he was even though I was playing. He told me that I needed to expand my horizons and ‘get out’ in the world, make sure I didn’t end up the way he did, and to stay in school. I wonder what he would say now if he could see me and all the things this game has been able to do for me. Today I’ve traveled the world because of this game, been able to make a living from it, and have made a lot of lifelong friends because of it.
I didn’t have a desk back then, it was just a wooden plank on top of two boxes. We would always write messages to each other on it. He wrote “see you soon.” I didn’t read it until after he left. I also didn’t see him again. Whenever my grandpa came to the US, he would hug me really tightly before he left and my dad would always say, “you know he hugs you like that because he’s old and he thinks he may never see you again.” My brother hugged me like that the last night I saw him, but at the time I didn’t notice.
The incident pretty much destroyed my mom mentally. She already had a pretty severe case of bipolar disorder that was improperly diagnosed multiple times, which made her problem ten times worse, and this tipped her over the edge. My parents fought all the time, and my dad left for periods of several months at a time, leaving me to deal with a mom who was depressed, using drugs, and paranoid. My brother’s good friend Brian was around a lot at the time taking care of me. He was a really smart guy and was one of the first ones who really told me that I was smart, and made me think I was a smart person. I looked up to him a lot because he had done research with some professors and read a lot of books that I wanted to read. The last time I saw him he left me his copy of Siddhartha and told me to read it, and I did. I was only 13 and had no idea what it was about at the time, but I read it because he told me to. Some time midway through 9th grade I got a phone call that he died of an asthma attack caused by an overdose. The worse my family situation got, the more I just played games.
I really think that Starcraft is the reason I never got into drugs or other bad things, and is the reason I’m still alive. To this day I’ve never done a drug of any kind, I’ve never smoked, not even a cigarette. I could have easily, I was growing weed with my brother when I was 8 years old, and I knew about the cocaine that my mom kept in the bathroom ceiling at our old house. Everything was easily within reach and I knew how to do it, but I didn’t and I think Starcraft is one of the very big reasons.
My dad came back and in senior year my mom decided to leave. She moved away to San Diego and started using even heavier drugs. She had no money and would call me asking for money. One of my problems is that I’m really stubborn. I have it in me that I can do everything on my own and I have trouble asking for help. When I moved to San Diego for school (UCSD!!) I had almost nothing. I wasn’t really working at the time, except for part time at my high school in the breaks between school, and I was only making about $100 per month from Starcraft (writing news articles for SCForAll, which didn’t last too long). I started stealing food and textbooks so I could eat and study. In my second year at UCSD I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed and heading into the quarter I had literally $50 to my name. I went to steal a few textbooks and ended up getting caught. I even think I wrote a blog about it on TL (I did: http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/viewblog.php?topic_id=79394). Since then I haven’t stolen as much as an apple. My dad was pretty pissed, mostly because I could have easily asked him for money, he’s not rich but we’re pretty much upper middle class. I managed to get through the year and went to DC for an internship program and started owning up the CSL (lol).
Well around 2010 is when I guess you could say I was going ‘full time’ into eSports. I was managing Fnatic, which is pretty much a full time job and doing the GosuCoaching thing.
Aside from Starcraft, the only other activity that I’ve loved from the moment I first started is basketball. I started basketball just like I started Starcraft (because of my cousin Amir). My other cousin Sheryl was another big part of my life growing up because she was a basketball player when she was younger. She was really good at a time when there was no such thing as the WNBA and women’s basketball was even more of a niche sport than it is now. She even had a full scholarship offer to play college ball until she blew out her knees. But she always played and would take me to Venice to play and pretty much taught me a lot of what I know about the game.
Just like everyone else in my childhood, Sheryl was a drug user. She had her ups and downs but was doing pretty well, which made 2010 such a huge shock. She had gone through several instances of getting sober and relapsing but was doing great… she managed to land a job managing an apartment complex in Brentwood. At thanksgiving the year before, we went on a long walk and were just talking about old times and such, since I didn’t see her too often the older I got (due to college and what have you). She knew my living situation kinda sucked (living at my dad’s place where I wasn’t too happy and also a really long drive away from work at my high school) and she offered for me to come stay with her, I wouldn’t have to pay any rent and we’d have a blast and just watch NBA games all day. My dad pretty much nixed the idea and said that she was unstable and you never know if she’ll have another relapse or what. A few months later and boom, I’m tutoring a few kids after school and my dad calls me and said that Sheryl killed herself. A month later my grandma died of a heart failure in Iran and I wasn’t even able to get a visa to go to the funeral. Even so I never missed hosting a GosuCoaching Weekly tournament, I never missed a team match or failed to do my job.
Basically by the end of 2010, I’ve lost every person who really helped make me who I am today. The three key people in my childhood, who showed me both how to live and love and make the most of myself also showed me how not to live. So I played games and I became a hard worker. One of the biggest reasons I work so hard and try so hard to be the best person I can be is to pay them all back for what they did for me, I owe it to everyone who helped make me who I am.
I’m not a perfect person, I think most people in the community know that. I’ve been given hate for a lot of things, some deserved, and some not. But I hope what people see (hopefully) is that I learn from my mistakes and always try to make myself better. If I do something wrong I will fix it. I always learn and adapt and survive and grow, that’s what I learned from my childhood.
2011 and Beyond
Now we’re getting to modern times. This is when I made the full plunge and started with NASL. It has been incredibly difficult to juggle my real life with my work. My mom’s condition has never improved. She still relies on other’s to survive, and I don’t know if she’s using or not, I think sometimes she is and sometimes she isn’t. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world to watch someone you love waste away before your eyes and transform away from the person who you knew. Both physically and emotionally. Nobody can do anything either, I have to just sit and watch, and it’s incredibly painful. I told myself when I was in 9th grade that I didn’t think she would be alive in 10 years, and it’s almost been 10 years. I’m just praying every day that everything will end up working out alright.
One of the other big difficulties has been my grandpa and his failing health. I’ve had a really rocky relationship with him throughout my life. When things in my family started going wrong, he put a lot of blame on me. He wanted me to do things that I couldn’t do, and we had a big falling out, capped by me telling him that I didn’t believe in god (he was very religious). He disowned me and we didn’t speak at all for three years.
In 2011 though we saw each other again and it was awkward at first but we eventually repaired our relationship. My dad was telling me at the time that regardless of any problems that may have happened, I should make a real effort to fix my relationship with him; he was the only grandpa I had left. I wouldn’t want to have any regrets later on in my life if I left things the way they were, he said. I listened and I’m definitely glad I did. The past two years have been really tough; my grandpa had a litany of heart and other problems and was hospitalized for a big majority of the time. Since I’m pretty much the only family he had, I was helping my grandma a lot throughout the process and staying at the hospital to visit and do what I could.
There were a lot of days I left work or didn’t come in to go to the hospital when something bad happened. For some reason though regardless of anything it seemed like he always got better. Surgery after surgery he just held on and kept complaining to all the nurses at UCLA. By the end he probably knew every single nurse there by name. A few months ago though he finally gave out. It was very sad but at the same time I’m happy that I was able to help, especially in the last few months that were most difficult.
There are a lot of reasons why it’s been a very emotional year for me, and this happening on top of everything just made it even more.
How did it end here
The whole dream of the CSL was “live event with fans in a stadium cheering in the US.” CSL Season 4 was great, and that summer I said “we need to host LAN events.” If we didn’t do this, who knows what could have happened. That summer I laid out the framework for the regional LAN events and started mapping them out. I set a budget for them with absolutely no idea how to pay for it all, just a dream.
Our first event was supposed to be in November at UMBC. As November rolled closer though, the costs kept increasing far beyond what I was able to pay so I had to cancel it. We already had Texas worked out with the Rosens, who had an idea to have “a pro event on the side,” which eventually became the main event, Lone Star Clash. We had Princeton worked out. We needed another one. Shindigs, one of our head admins said, “can we do one at UCI.” So we went with that at the last minute. I have organized small local LAN events before, and I’ve helped out with the NASL, but never have I done something like this start to finish.
We wanted it to be good, to be big. To do that we needed production value. I got the production, luckily my uncle is a director and he has gear and knows people, so I went for it. Everything came out of my pocket, I spent my entire student loan to fund that event, the production, prize pool, paying travel stipends to all the teams. I learned how depressing it is to write checks after that event. On top of that, we had almost no setup time for the LAN, and Shindigs had to go to class Friday, so I was alone setting up in the ballroom for half the day until my uncle showed up, Shindigs got out of class, and a few volunteers came. We spent the entire day Friday setting up, going until about 1am when we got kicked out. We weren’t even ready. We had to get back in at 6am to continue, so we did… and through some kind of miracle we were up and running exactly at 10am when the doors opened. The stream worked and we were good to go. The LAN ran incredibly smoothly and I think the stream really appreciated the production quality.
Princeton was another rough one, mostly because of the venue limitations. Who knew that one of the most prestigious universities in the world didn’t have enough power to support a ballroom. We found out the hard way. Almost the entire room lost power and we had to run out to get 50-100ft extension cords and we started pulling power from the hallway and adjacent rooms. It cost me quite a bit extra but it all worked out in the end. Princeton was definitely our most attended event, and had the most excitement I think!
Some time earlier, this random kid named Aston approached me at MLG Orlando and said “we want to host a CSL LAN here, we got tons of money.” That turned into the CSL Grand Finals. The plan was to fly in the top 4 schools, have the all star tournament, have the Irvine production quality, and make it big. Everything was set and I started searching for funding. TwitchTV came up huge as a sponsor for the event (<333), and I was negotiating with another sponsor for a pretty large sum; they were hoping to plan the event around a new product release and were going to inject a big marketing bucket to it. We verbally agreed on this and I proceeded forward with the planning, paying for everything out of pocket along the way. The first problem happened when the sponsor pulled out three weeks before the event, saying that their tech department delayed the release of the new product and they wouldn’t have the marketing dollars until then. In one moment I lost 50% of the funding for the event. I was dying, that was the money needed to send the players over. I seriously thought about cancelling the event, I was so devastated and this all happened at the same time my grandpa died. Aston convinced me not to cancel it (<3). The second huge problem was with the university. We had the budget for production approved, but when it came time to make a deposit we got told at the last minute that payments would only be made on a NET30 post-event.
My uncle wasn’t the problem, but his crew and the gear aren’t related to me, without a 50% up front deposit we couldn’t secure them. Despite being very clear about this to the school, for some reason they changed their stance at the last moment. The production had to be cancelled.
Raidcall stepped up to sponsor the finals (big heroes), and we announced our fundraiser. The fundraiser from the community was one of the biggest reasons we were able to even have the event at all (ALSO: as a side note, we are still working a few of the raffle prizes such as the Day9 premium passes for donators, there’s an issue on the tech side that Twitch is trying to work out). Since we couldn’t get all the bells and whistles, I bought two capture cards so we could at least have something, and we’d just rent a few cameras locally and hook them up to capture cards on our streaming computer and be alright.
Fast forward… when setting up, nothing works. The capture cards cannot read the cameras. We tried different computers, different capture cards and nothing worked. Nobody could figure it out. Day9 was a real hero as well, he got on the phone and called everyone he knew who knew production to try to help us solve the problem, but nobody knew. Redbull’s production, TheGunrun, NASL’s people, nobody knew what the issues were. We were officially production-less.
Despite all that though, there was such an amazing vibe throughout the entire event. The 5th game between KawaiiRice and Ostojiy is probably the most memorable game of SC2 ever in my opinion, just because of how it all went down… KawaiiRice took a 2-0 lead, Ostojiy wins the next 2, and we’re at the 25 minute mark on Entombed Valley, with Ostojiy in a huge lead when suddenly the streaming computer dies just as a nuke lands and kills 15 broodlords and gets KawaiiRice back into the game.
We then switched over to casting from my laptop screen (I was obsing the game) like an old radio-cast from the 1950’s until we got a webcam set up and streamed the webcam view of my computer screen as Day9 casted it. That game was over an hour long and eventually KawaiiRice won (also happy about that). That was literally the whole process of the event in a nutshell: everything falling apart and somehow turning out great. That moment was actually like my entire life, with everything falling apart only to get pieced back together and turn out wonderfully.
And here we are
Now I’m on a new path. I’m very excited because I think there’s a real potential here to help make many thousands of people’s dreams come true, and that is what’s most important to me. It’s the reason I do all of this, the biggest reason I work so hard. Starcraft has made my dream come true, it’s gotten me through the most difficult years of my life and opened so many doors for me. In return, I’ve dedicated myself to working to give other people an opportunity to have doors opened, to have their dreams come true.
Regardless of what anyone says about me, or what preconceived notions people have about me, no amount of deterrence will change how grateful I am to be where I am today, and I definitely will not be giving up on my dream any time soon. I hope that this may help shed some light on me, and if anything hopefully it’s a good read. If I can inspire anyone else who might be going through a tough time, that would be great also.