The high school gamer with a $250,000 (300000000 Korean Won) salary: FLASH
“About 1000000 won pocket money per month, mostly spent on meat.”
KeSPA just released their newest player rank and lists. The rank 1 player in April 2010 is Flash from KT.
This player was born in 1992, age 18. He is in the third grade of Seoul Digital High School. Three years ago, in 2007, he joined KTF MagicNs as a progamer.
We saw this player in the KT practice room. The practice room has a different atmosphere than a practice area for a soccer or baseball team. 20 some computers line the walls, and it doesn’t have the feel of a practice room for a progamer, but rather just a PC Café. Our scheduled interview time was 4pm, just after lunch. For reference, lunchtime for KT progamers is from 3pm to 4pm.
“I just finished eating lunch. I had a steak. I need to have at least one meal a day with some meat. I love eating meat so much that it drives me crazy. It helps keep my strength up too.”
Just how did this high schooler who still hasn’t taken off his 10-gen [T/N: term used to refuse to teenagers, growing up under influence of HOT, etc. (at least that’s how I understood it feel free to correct me)] T-shirt ascend to the top rank of the professional world?
Q: We really want to know how you became a progamer. How did you start the path to becoming a progamer?
-The first time I encountered Starcraft was when I was in elementary school. From a brother I learned about this game. But when I was just getting addicted, my parents said we can’t have a computer in the house, and for a long time wouldn’t buy one. When we finally bought a computer, I was already in middle school. Only then did I start playing Starcraft a lot.
Q: Did your parents worry that you would become addicted?
-Of course they were very concerned. But this game was just too interesting. Even after cram school, when I get home at 11pm I would still play. There’s a 10 minute break in cram school, and I would always run to a PC Bang and play a round. I used mealtimes for Starcraft too. I think it’s because I love Starcraft so much that I became better and better. It seems I played 3-5 hours every day.
The summer break that changed his life
During the summer break of his first middle school year, Flash decided to become a progamer, and he told his parents “I want to use a month of my break to go to Seoul and live in a practice house, and officially begin studying Starcraft.”
“In the beginning, my parents strongly opposed me. I begged them and said ‘I will get progamer status in a month. If I can’t, I’ll give it up.’ My parents accepted this condition. But even though I promised this, I was unsure if I could do it.”
And so, from his home in Daejoon, he used this summer break to move to Seoul and began his life practicing. Miraculously, he successfully achieved progamer status in a month. The speed at which his abilities increased was astonishing. But on the day he achieved his progamer status, he was stopped in the Ro4 of the offline prelims. But his parents decided that he could attain success as a progamer. In 2007, in the third year of middle school, he joined KTF MagicNs. He was only 15.
Even though Flash managed to get pro status and join KTF in only a month, it doesn’t mean it’s easy to become a progamer. Right now, there are still countless kids with progamer dreams training in practice houses. Even in KT, there are on average 5-10 kids with progamer dreams who’ll come to be tested every day. The other teams are about the same.
Q: We’ve heard that progamers regularly go through immense practice schedules. How long do you practice on average?
-Progamers all live in dorms close to the practice house. We get up at 10:30, and get to the practice house after breakfast at around 11. Because of this, we wait till 3pm before eating lunch. From 4pm-8pm, we continue practicing, and then it’s dinner time. Players on the A team have free time after this, and we can choose to practice or not, but most people will stay to practice until 11pm.
This approximates to 10 hours of practice per day, which is around 3600 hours per year. Flash joined the team 3 years ago, and before that, he would practice for 5-8 hours a day, so he has spent over 10000 hours on Starcraft.
The 10000-hour rule
We are suddenly reminded of the “10000-hour rule.” Someone said it in a book: To achieve world-class mastery in a disciple, at least 10000 hours are required. [T/N: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book)］
Q: Is it tiring practicing 10+ hours a day?
-You need to manage yourself well. To maintain my health and strength, I need to eat 6 kinds of supplements right now. Ginsengs, vitamins, and other stuff too. I also have a pretty healthy body to start with, otherwise I’m sure I would get sick often.
Q: Is long-term Starcraft more damaging to the body? Even more difficult than studying?
-There are some pretty difficult times, but I still think it’s fun.
Q: Do you have weekends?
-No. We can rest a day after a major game. Our break schedule is a bit different from the norm.
Q: Then it seems like you won’t even have time to see your girlfriend after becoming a progamer. Why do you need to maintain this intense practice schedule?
-We need to give up a lot. We need to give up everything that belongs to ourselves, only then can you becomes rank 1, 2. I too gave up everything before coming here. I haven’t even thought about getting a girlfriend. I don’t even see my friends often, only occasionally during holidays. Every day is practice.
Q: Isn’t that boring?
-Even so, I still really enjoy what I do. It’s hard to express in words the joy you get from a win. Especially when the fans cheer for me, that really makes me glad.
Last time in the KBS’s “Science Café,” tests showed that Flash’s brain activity and regions are different from normal people. What do you personally think is most important aspect of being a progamer?
-To be able to win games, you need everything to align. A desire for victory, confidence, mental conditioning are all important factors. When a live game begins, a lot of players get nervous. Whether or not you can, at this point, conquer the fears and perform like you do in practice becomes crucial. Because of so many factors affecting it, results would obviously vary. Also, varied strategies is also a strong foundation for winning.
The 0.1 seconds that decide a game
Q: Simply put, is Starcraft a game where you conquer the opponent’s territory?
-It’s hard for someone who doesn’t play to understand it. There are hundreds of basic strategies alone, and almost infinite variations in games. Here, fast reflexes become important. Decisions need to be made instantaneously. You need to analyze the situation and take action in less than 0.1 seconds. Faster than you can imagine. Those who play games know, it really is instantaneous. So people who do well in gaming are good at sports too.
Q: The graphics and images are very complex in the game, seems like you need good spatial judgment. Are you good at path finding in real life?
-I really am good at it. No matter how complex the route, I’ll remember it after taking it once.
Q: How do you remember?
-I just do. It would feel right.
Q: You are rivals with Jaedong.
-I think his abilities are just as strong as mine, if not stronger. Compared to Jaedong-hyung’s games, I would often exclaim ‘how did he do that?’ or ‘amazing mind games.’ I’ve learned a lot from him, and because of the competition, it catalyzed our improvements.
Q: What was your most difficult time as a progamer?
-Last year was the worst. Our team’s records weren’t great, and I needed to do it all myself. Sayings like “child parent” began circulating. [T/N: Basically means…KTFlash…Child labor Terran xD] No matter how good my individual record was, the team’s performance was bad, and I was unable to get the MVP award, which is tied closely to a team’s performance. Even though it was slightly painful, but looking on the bright side, our team is now number 1.
Annual salary 300000000 won, 1000000 won pocket money per month.
Q: What’s your salary?
-The income includes prize money from the leagues. On the low side, it’s about 250000000 won, and it can get up to 400000000 won on the high side. Last year I got about 300000000 won.
Q: How does a high schooler spend 300000000 won?
-I’m still young, so I just gave it all to my parents to manage. I just get pocket money.
Q: How much pocket money per month?
-I get 1000000 won every month, it’s mainly spent on food. I think there’s just too few opportunities to spend it, so I’ve started saving this money too.
Q: When are you the happiest?
-I’m happiest when I see the fans. I feel really cool then. It’s one of the reasons I play, if I play well, the fans are glad, and the fans are sad if I don’t play well.
Q: When do you think you’ll game until?
-Probably until I can’t play anymore. If I can’t do it anymore, I’ll give up myself, but I don’t want to hear other people say I’m not trying hard.
Not long ago you returned to KeSPA rank 1. [T/N: Again, 2 month old interview]
-You need luck too. Recently I’ve been very lucky. I think it’s the result of the combined efforts of everyone who support me.
His hands are very big. People with big hands have an advantage. He has calluses on one hand’s pinky. The calluses were from extensive practice. Finger injuries are an occupational hazard of a progamer.
He has been studying Go recently. Because there are a lot of similarities with Starcraft, his abilities are improving rapidly.
“My mind is full of thoughts about Starcraft. When I shower, when I eat, I would always be playing ‘imaginary games’ in my head. I think it’s very interesting. I think it’s because no one’s forcing me to play Starcraft, but rather I want to do it, is why I’ve done so well.”
Shindonga Magazine, 2010/04/01.