So instead I choose to write this as a personal letter of good bye, to the community I've always cared the most about: Teamliquid. It's been my favorite site ever since I discovered it, from the beginning of my SC/BW days til the end of my SC2 career. It is no overstatement that my results have been poor for a very long time, and there comes a point in time where you just have to admit defeat.
I once read "Winners never quit, quitters never win" on MaD'FroGs SC/BW profile on an old swedish starcraft page, and ever since I've always had that quote in mind in whatever competition i've engaged in. At times when I've felt hopeless, or when I haven't had the motivation to practice, I used to remember that quote and tell myself the exact lines "Quitters never win" and decide to keep on struggling. But the last year or so, I've come to realize that the quote really has two meanings to it. It is true that winners never quit, and thus quitters never win, but that also means in the long run (at least to me) that if you're not winning; It's time to quit.
The thought of retiring was never really an option, not until I read the post about Jinro's retirement and his own personal statement. I am by no means trying to leech of his retirement post by mentioning this, but what I read in the post had a big impact on me. The way I interprented it, Jinro struggled with motivation due to finally reaching his goal of becoming a pro-gamer in Korea, and before he had the shot to join Team Liquid as a SC2-progamer, he had already given up on the dream of being a SC/BW progamer(Anyone feel free to correct me if I've interprented this wrong). I myself feel that I can identify with this, on a much much smaller scale in terms of success of course, but nonetheless, it spoke to me.
If you read my blog about my "journey as a progamer" this might sound like I'm repeating myself but I'll write about it anyhow. I too wanted to become a SC/BW progamer when I was younger, but I also had a very strong urge to finish school and proceed to the university. As time passed I let my childhood dream go, and I progressed into a more "normal" life, meaning I focused on my studies and finally went to university at the age of 19, leaving SC/BW and the dreams attached to it behind. Starcraft 2 and it's explosion did however manage to pull me back into the world of e-sports, and thus my dream of becoming a progamer re-ignited. I did in some ways succeed this time, but I always had this thought in the back of my head telling me "It's too late".
I'm not going to argue for or against how valid it is for me to label myself as a "progamer". It can certainly be discussed if I ever truly was one, but for the sake of this letter I'll keep using the term. For a couple of things are sure:
A) I did recieve economic compensation for playing Starcraft II
B) I had an organisation who paid for my trips, hotels, and also supplied me with gear.
C) I did devote all the free time I had to practice (while in school) and whenever I was playing fulltime I was pretty much treating it as a full-time job (meaning an average of 8 hours a day devoted to SC2)
Now, upon joining Team Dignitas I didn't, at least at the time, feel satisfied. Looking back at it, maybe I was, I can't tell for sure. As always, it might just be another excuse for not living up to expectations. What I do know is that the feeling of finally "living the life of a progamer" was there, once I started going to international events such as IEM, MLG, Assembly, but even the fact that I was paid to fly all over Sweden attending smaller national events, or bigger, such as Dreamhack. I found myself in situations, that to me, were surreal. I shook SlayerS_`BoxeR`s hand at MLG Anaheim, of course because I'm a huge fan, but also, at the same time as a fellow player attending the same tournament. I found myself sitting next to the legendary [ReD]NaDa at Assembly, both warming up for the same tournament, both getting ready to play in the group stages. That, to me, was so surreal, because both NaDa and BoxeR were Terrans I looked up to as gods when I was young teenager. I had folders named "BoxeR" and "NaDa" in my SC/BW replay map, filled with their replays. I also looked on countless of their vods, and FPVods. In fact, NaDas first FPVod against SiR_Soni is probably the reason I started spamming like a mad man. Countless examples can be mentioned, for example, sitting down talking with Grubby, one player to another, was also extremely surreal. Even though I didn't follow Wc3 at all, I knew one thing, and that was that Grubby was freaking good at Wc3 and pretty damn huge in e-sports.
Worth mentioning is that none these experiences were really "surreal" when they actually happened, they felt natural, I felt like I was one of them. The feeling usually took place whenever I'd come home from an event and return to my every day life, or when I'd watch a big tournament from home, from a stream. I'd see these guys that I had met and talked with, now playing on the big stages, I'd see how much the fans supported them, and sometimes I'd just get struck with sort of a "Holy crap I can't believe I get to be around and hang out with these people like I'm one of them" feeling.
Maybe that truly was the problem, maybe not, in the end, one thing is still for certain, I did not manage to achieve any significant results. For most of my progaming life, I had attended university while playing, I always rationalized with this in mind, thinking if I only play fulltime I can be as good or even better as these guys. But the fact that I did do these things at the same time, also made me feel like I never truly belonged there, or that I had already "missed my shot". It was like I was living on borrowed time, and I was doing something I should've been doing two or three years ago. The fact of the matter was, I had already finished 50 % of my Uni education, I was turning 21, and later 22 years old, and giving it all up to go all in on progaming was as tempting as it was scary.
In a simplified context, it was a battle of Heart and Mind. My heart wanted to just let it all go and try it out, my mind told me not to, it was too risky, and very stupid given the situation I was in. Playing full time meant risking my "safety net" that I had in attending Uni, and it might also have meant giving up something that would assure me a safe future.
However, after considering an serious attempt at fulltime, for a loooong time (Six months or so) my heart finally won over my mind, and I decided to pause my uni studies (again, 50 % in to the education) and go fulltime. This was March 2012. Now, one key argument that made me do this was this; No matter how things went in regards to success, if I do this, at least I can look back to things, say 10 or 20 years from now, and say "I tried". I basically went fulltime, in order to prevent myself from ever second doubting myself, I did it so that even if it failed, at least I could tell myself that I made an honest attempt to make it work.
Looking at reality, it was a stupid, stupid move. And I'm not talking in retrospect here, It was a seriously stupid move even if I couldn't know the outcome of it yet, because I had nothing secured, I was too impatient, and decided it's either now or never. I basically went fultime without any financial security at all, with no promises of a raise in salary, with a shitty computer that could barely handle 200/200 battles. It was basically my almost two years urge of going fulltime overriding my mind, and I simply told myself "It'll work out in one way or another". Knowing it was incredibly naive to say so. But to give myself some credit, I did at least secure a spot at my university, meaning I could return after 6 or 12 months, not having to start over or re-apply. And also,I had a budget worked out that would last me at least 4 months, if I just restricted my money to food, rent, phone bill and other necessary supplies like hygiene products etc. This budget was pretty much my savings from prize money and other small stuff like streaming, doing sponsor stuff, etc.
I will admit at the time, I was very angry with Dignitas for not helping me out financially. But looking back at it, with a much broader view and with the results in hand, they had already given me all the financial help I could ask for even when I wasn't playing full time, and asking for another 6 months or 12 months of help with nothing to show for it, was just me being too egoistic and selfcentered. Today I fully understand why they chose not to, and looking at Dignitas as a whole, they are still an awesome team, and I do not wish them any bad publicity at all.
However, the period of March 2012 til September 2012 was without a doubt the most stressful, mentally draining, and painful time of my life as of yet.
It started off good, I felt a clear improvement after only a month or so of playing fulltime. But a month or so after my decision to go fulltime, my budget already started to crack. This was due to a couple of reasons. One of them was where, due to messing up a technicality, me and my roommate were forced to pay double rent when we moved to a new appartment. We had to pay the coming months rent for our old and new appartment. Usually this is avoided by telling your landlord that you want to be released from the contract, but this needs to be done 3 months prior in order to avoid paying the last months rent. We missed it with one day, due to us forgetting that a third person, who lived there before, was still registrated on the appartment and thus he had to approve of giving up the appartment as well. Secondly, when we were moving our stuff, we unknowingly parked the moving truck in a zone which was forbidden on weekends (again, we fucked up) and we were fined a pretty hefty sum of money. And thirdly, 500$ of what I had accounted for in my budget had not been paid out to me yet (Story of e-sports...) and it was due months ago.
All in all, all of the above had me struggling to even afford rent, month by month. Instead of having to worry about practice, I had to worry about how the hell I would be able to afford to pay next months rent, and this problem was starting to arise in the middle of May already. Luckiley, due to having extremely forgiving parents, they decided to help me out when they heard about the situation. But still, the beating my pride took when I had to come begging my Mom and Dad for money to pay rent, was unreal. I felt pretty shitty to say the least, especially knowing it was entirely my own fault for ending up in a situation like this. Especially knowing that I, technically an adult, 22 years old, set aside my education in pursuit of a progaming career, and ended up flat broke.
I sat down with my Mom and Dad, who for the last two years have been extremely supportive of what I do, and basically told them I'll do anything you tell me to do. I told em I'll get a job, I'll go back to school, because I knew as an adult I have responsibilities and I never wanted to put my parents in a situation where they have to pay out of their own pocket to suppor their adult son. What was so awesome was that they pretty much said "If you feel that this (progaming) is what you want to do, then we'll fully support it and help you out".
The relief of hearing that was immense, but still, letting my parents fund my attempt of making it big in progaming was just something I couldn't live with. I had to live with it for now, because I couldn't resume University until September, but I told em that was it. I said, I'll continue doing this from May til the end of August, if it's still not working out, I'll resume school, and that's that.
And you all know the facts of the story, I wasn't able to perform well during the summer either. Despite having nothing to worry about than practice. I practiced and practiced, but kept failing harder and harder. The final drop came when the WCS Sweden qualifications ran. There were 8 spots up for grabs, and, another 8 spots had already been filled through invites. I should have been able to qualify with ease, because basically top 8 of Sweden (With the exception of SaSe and Naniwa) had already qualified. Yet I kept losing one or two rounds away from qualification to complete nobodies. The only exception being the last qualifier, where I fell in the final round, 1-2 to Ai.Seiplo, who then went on to place third at WCS Sweden.
My failed attempt to qualify for WCS Sweden basically marked the event of possible events to qualify for before the month of September began, and I just knew, the moment I lost to Seiplo, that this was it, this was the end. There was nothing, at least in my opinion, that could motivate me to keep pushing. I had tried the fulltime approach, I had failed, gone broke, and eventually ended up being financially supported by my parents to keep my appartment and being able to have simple things such as you know.. food.
It was both relieving and saddening, because deep down inside I wanted to keep trying, but my mind kept telling me to get my shit together. After all, it's not like I didn't have any other options (that some people might not have) I did have access to a good education, I did have access to financial security as long as I kept studying. I just couldn't neglect that any longer.
Therefor, as of September 2012, I've practically been retired from SC2. I'm not saying I wont jump on and play a few games on the ladder, but i'm definitely saying I'll never pursue a career of progaming again. In fact, the few times I have tried to play out of enjoyment after September, It's given me nothing. The problem I've always had is that if I'm going to do something, I need to be good at it, otherwise it's not fun. And whenever I jump on battle.net now, play a ladder game, and realize how rusty and bad I am from a two months hiatus, I get discouraged and It's simply not fun to play.
I'm now back at University, and I intend to finish my education with top grades from here on. I've made it my new competitive goal to simply "pwn" school, because I never really gave that an honest shot either due to SC2 taking up all the free time I had.
I've regained my financial security and studying actually feels fun and rewarding again, and even if things went really bad and horrible for a while, I'm never going to say that I regret the decision of going full time. It was something I HAD to do, yes it ended up in pain and suffering for the most part, but it also gave me closure. I can now look back on progaming and say I tried it out, I got to be part of it all, and now I'm done with it. I will (hopefully) never be that guy who says "Well I could've been a superstar once if I just focused on practicing rather than school, but I chose not to" Because I tried, and it didn't work out.
To bring some sort of summary to this mess of a text I'll say a couple of things about Progaming and e-Sports:
- It is not and while not be for a long time, at all glamorous. A lot of organizations focus on "what's in" right now and once your game is not "in" you're shit out of luck if you're not among the top 10, top 15 or so in the foreign community.
- E-sport as a business is very shaky, unpredictable and lacks structure, which sucks for those trying to earn a living off it. You can never be 100 % sure of that your prize money will be paid in time, or even paid at all, in fact, some horrible examples show that players sometimes are screwed over for tens of thousands of dollars. You can't even rest assured that your so called "salaray" will be paid out in time, and sometimes it's being delayed by months. Is this purely the fault of tournament organizers and e-sport teams? No. A lot of it is also sponsors not fulfilling their part of the deal, aka, they are really fucking slow on paying out the financial means at times, and sometimes, they just don't pay out at all.
- Due to lack of any structure like a player union and stuff like that, you can't really enforce anything with sanctions. Few, if any players, have the finanical means to actually sue a company or a sponsor, and even if they were to sue them, International business law is a major clusterfuck, especially when it stretches across ALL the continents, so the likehood of this ever going to a real trial in whatever country is very small, and the likehood of you getting any financial compensation for being screwed over, is even smaller.
- The players are most of the times a very young and naive group of people, being bossed around by people with real life experience in their 30s or 40s. This clearly creates unjust situations where younger people are being used or screwed over because they simply lack real life experience or any business experience, in comparison to the people running the teams and events. And they have no organized body that can help them regulate these unjust situations, i.e. they have no one else to turn to.
- While all of the above things are very negative in tone, being part of e-sports and actually playing games as a profession, is something I'll always remember and cheerish for the rest of my life. It's been an awesome ride, I've met a lot of great people, travelled a lot of countries, and had some amazing experiences. None of these would've been had if it wasn't for progaming.
- There are some fucking brilliant people out there who truly want esports to succeed and who live and breathe for this to happen. All kudos to them, and if I may say anything, please realise that most of these people do it for no pay at all or very shitty pay. Support them as much as you can, help them out, write their sponsors and tell them how awesome they are, pay 10$ for a three day experience of awesome Starcraft II once in a while, it does make a difference.
- E-sports can make it big, it has a long way to go, but there's signs everywhere that it is possible. Whenever you trash on players, casters, tournaments, keep in mind that they do this for the love of the scene, and they are all truley devoted and skilled at what they do. Some more encouragement from time to time would make their hard efforts seem a little bit more worth their while, I promise.
Finally if you are considering a progaming career I have one advice
- If you truly want to become a progamer, don't let this discourage you, in fact, I would love to see more people making a serious attempt at it. If you truly want something in your life, you should always go ahead and just try it. My only advice is make sure you are not in between things when you decide to do this. The optimal time to aim for a progaming career would be before college/uni studies, and or before you've gone too far in your work career. Progaming is most suitable for the really young, lets say from ages 15-19, where you don't have the same responsibilties or commitments as someone in their mid or late 20s.
And with this I bid you goodbye, beloved Starcraft community. I wish you all the best and I might still drop in at times, maybe I'll even get really nostalgic and write about a funny story at an event or so I am sure of one thing, my competitive career within e-sports is done, and it's given me a lot of valueable and fun experiences that I'll always carry with me for the rest of my life.
All the best!
P.S. I've not proof-read this, sal sal please.