soO: My Life as Sisyphus
When I first transitioned to StarCraft II, it wasn’t my choice. All the Brood War teams were forced to practice StarCraft II for the hybrid Proleague. At first I felt very rebellious at the notion, but I also thought it presented a real opportunity. There were already so many great players in StarCraft: Brood War that it was hard to see myself surpassing them, even after four years of experience. Gradually I started believing I could make it to the top in a new game.
I went through so much stress when I initially started. There were already many StarCraft II progamers, so there were a lot of builds and entire playstyles I had to learn. I didn't know anything about the game so I felt extremely lost at the beginning. It was very satisfying to get better as I put in effort and, although there were many times when I wanted to quit, I ultimately decided to tough it out and continued practicing hard. I thought I would be able to win a championship if I kept on working hard.
During this period there was a lot of turmoil within SK Telecom T1. Based off good results in a ranking match, the team trusted me enough to send me out in Proleague. My actual results were poor and they temporarily kicked me out. And there were times when I was hated by the fans. Once I was so stressed out that I BM’d my opponent and left a ladder game, with the screenshots ending up all over the StarCraft forums. Still, I told myself people would look upon me favorably if I continued to put in consistent effort and earned good results.
I owe my existence as a StarCraft 2 progamer to GSL: it means that much to me. I made it to the finals for the first time in late 2013 after beating Soulkey 3-0. I was so happy to have made my first finals I was euphoric, almost drunk on happiness. I felt pressured to create new builds though, and I wasted my time before the finals trying out too many different things. I ended up losing to Dear without putting up much of a fight, but at the time I was satisfied with second place.
The feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment were only halfhearted. During my struggles towards becoming good enough to reach the finals, many of my teammates quit StarCraft II. I often imagined leaving with them as I was very close with all of them and frankly, I didn't want to be part of SKT without my friends. But I eventually found that being with the new members was fun in its own right. In the end I was happy with them too.
I made it to the finals next season as well. I was very pleased but this time, I told myself I wouldn't make the same mistakes and that I would have good results if I used the preparation time efficiently. Yet I couldn’t help feeling intimidated by Zest; he was on top of his game in those days. Still, I was confident leading up to the match. My preparation went incredibly well and I put in a lot of practice. During the series I was so far ahead a few times, but unfortunately because of my hubris I was overtaken and finished second once again. On Yeonsu in particular I felt invincible. Even when I stubbornly insisted on only making mutalisk/corruptor and taking careless engagements, I thought the outcome was already decided. Whenever I daydream about the past, that match leaves me feeling so regretful. If I won back then, everything that followed might have changed.
I regained my focus and faced my next finals, a team kill against Classic. Honestly, I wasn't quite as close to Classic back then as I am now. I told myself I could play without reservations, be merciless and win no matter what. Unluckily, there was a Proleague match the day after the finals so it was difficult for either of us to get much practice. The final was obviously more important, so I didn't want to pay attention to the matches right after. But I got instructions from the team to participate in Proleague and focus solely on Proleague. In the end, Classic prepared so well that I couldn’t help but accept the results. This was the hardest loss yet. Getting second place for the third time was tough to accept mentally, and the fact that I was being nailed down as a Kong was terribly sad.
Every tournament seemed to follow the same tragic script. When I went to DreamHack Stockholm, I didn’t drop a single map until the finals. It finally felt like my opportunity to break the curse. No one seemed capable of stopping me and I had beaten Solar many times before. But once the finals began it was like something came over me. I collapsed in a 0-3 rout.
GSL Season 3 was just as bittersweet. Getting revenge on Zest in the semifinals remains one of my most vivid memories. I consider the victory one of my greatest matches and I still watch it sometimes to reminisce. This time I faced a Terran, INnoVation, in the finals. At the time I was confident in ZvT so I entered with great self-assurance. I got some advice from Soulkey that INnoVation was weak against roach/ling/bane builds and I went up 2-0 using them. I thought, “Oh, this time is really different. I could win this”. In hindsight I regret not getting advice for the next games as well. I got swept up by INnoVation’s superior planning and ended up in second place again. This time I really gave up on everything temporarily.
If anyone gets second place five times in a row they would understand what it does to you. Getting second place once didn’t affect me that much. To me it was a roadblock, a temporary hitch on my journey to winning a championship. But once it started piling up, the suffering increased tenfold. I began losing faith in my skills and my self-esteem plummeted. On top of that, it was distressing to become an object of mockery. Before, I believed becoming a good player alone was enough to garner respect from the fans. Instead I received their insults and pity. Soon I thought it was better to drop out quickly if the alternative was to suffer like that.
The only one who understood what I was going through was FanTaSy. FanTaSy had gotten second place four times in Brood War; he truly understood what I was feeling and I really appreciated his friendship through that period. We became even closer and FanTaSy was always supportive.
There were these videos called T1 Camera where they filmed daily life in T1. When I made it up to my first finals, FanTaSy mentioned that he had gotten four second places, and Rain and I were filmed making very mocking faces having heard that. But I ended up surpassing that record, and after that FanTaSy looked at me more fondly. Years later, he even attended my sixth finals against GuMiho. He assured me I would definitely win this time, but I lost which made me feel guilty for betraying his faith. So 2014 passed like that.
I was knocked out of the qualifiers right away in 2015. Simultaneously, the teammates I was close to from 2014 all left SKT T1. Both combined left an enormous void in their wake; It felt as if there was no purpose left for me to live on as a pro. At least there was Classic. He was my anchor during this time. We relied on each other, encouraged each other to do well and we were able to perform well in Proleague.
In a way I got my wish. I finally earned a championship when I defeated Dark in the KeSPA Cup finals. For the first time I felt that this was why someone dreams of being a progamer. I thought, this was why I play StarCraft II. It was a great experience when I got my first championship; I even remember feeling good because I was trending on Twitter. I did feel guilty over taking out one of my teammates to do it, and I told Dark he would become a champion in the future. I was proud to see that he eventually did.
But I couldn’t get results after that.
I can’t remember what exactly I was thinking in the second half of 2015 and 2016. While the younger players were improving I was becoming indolent. I had lost motivation and was dropping out early in individual leagues. As friction started with the team my interest as a progamer dropped even more. I guess I thought I was getting old and wouldn’t be able to make it to the finals again. I was preparing for the future, concentrating only on Proleague and receiving my salary.
For some reason I didn’t completely give up on my dream. It probably had to do with dissatisfaction. Rain and Soulkey achieved results before I had, so I think they left without regrets. I had not won a tournament yet, so I decided to stay on because I really wanted one. However I was receiving a salary, so I needed to perform well in Proleague. I put in my best effort for Proleague and achieved an ~80% winrate. Even then management didn’t trust me, so that made it even harder. Then SKT disbanded, which forced me to reappraise my determination to continue as a progamer. I thought very hard about my plans for the future. I felt betrayed by the team, so I wanted to show them that I could still achieve good results without one. While everyone else was fussing about plans instead of practicing, I was the only one working hard. I think that’s why I was able to get good results in the first season.
When I first started streaming I had no idea fans were so eager to support me. I gained a lot more aid than I expected. Living expenses were quite a problem after the team disbanded, but the fans gave me a lot of donations. I feel so grateful to them because they helped me to continue as a progamer. There were almost no occasions to directly interact with the fans while I was on SKT, so it was hard to communicate with them or understand how they supported me. When I started working individually it seemed like my fan base had increased, and that revitalized me. I think it made me work harder. When I was a part of Proleague it was depressing because it felt like the fans were leaving, but it's always a good feeling to gain more fans.
I remember one particular match that rekindled my passion for the game. I watched Classic and Dark battle in the semifinals of SSL Season 2. I was so moved that I couldn’t wait to practice when I got back to the team house. It made me think, “Classic’s older than I am and he still plays so desperately. It’s no coincidence that he’s won tournaments.” That memory is still fresh in my mind. Watching it made me work hard again. I’ve put up decent results so far in 2017 and even managed to make it to two more finals. I really want to thank Classic. But I knocked him out on the way to both finals, so I feel a little sorry.
I met Stats, a good friend, in the first GSL finals of 2017. I was extremely confident; I practiced incomparably harder than I had in 2014. Yet two days before the finals I came down with a fever. I was doing fine in practice though, so I optimistically believed it wouldn’t be a problem. However, when I actually went on to the stage my reaction time slowed to the point that I was caught off guard by the oracles. Anyone who’s reading this might think I’m making up excuses, but I really regret overestimating myself. I think it's important to know the reasons why I lost, but it seems like the fans don't always view it that way. It might be uncomfortable to hear something like this, but it's my personal regret. I hope they understand where I’m coming from.
I made it to the finals again in Season 2. I usually lose to GuMiho so I wasn’t very confident, but I also think I was too complacent about preparing for mech. I prepared a lot against bio but ultimately I couldn’t find a solution to mech. I ended up disappointing my fans by losing without much of a struggle. The people who support me expect great things from me, so I feel sharp regret when I show myself being powerless.
In Season 3 I got into a group with three Zerg and one Protoss. I read people saying I was hindering Zerg from winning the tournament since I had to sacrifice other Zergs to advance. I couldn’t focus on preparing after hearing this. I thought maybe it really would be better if I dropped out; maybe I was standing in their way. As a pro I shouldn’t let such things affect me, but it felt like the games I played over the years were meaningless and my motivation cratered. I think my results reflected that. Of course, Dark and Rogue approached the games seriously and prepared well.
I’ve worked very hard in 2017. I can’t recall another time when I practiced as diligently as I have this year. That’s why I was able to reach the finals from the very start. I thought my momentum would be enough to win a tournament, but I guess it wasn’t in the end. I think Stats and GuMiho were even more desperate than I was and worked even harder. Their efforts need to be respected.
Even though I only got to second place I wanted some encouragement, but I only became a pariah which was agonizing. Of course there were people who congratulated me, but on an immediate level the criticism had a stronger impact. As for the fans cheering for me and wanting me to win because I've lost so many times... I want to repay you for your expectations, but there's nothing I can say besides “I'm sorry”. I feel you are the driving force that keeps me working hard at the game. It's not over yet so I still want to become a champion, if only to repay your kindness. The younger Zerg players are all so much better than I am, but I'll make something happen with my own style.
I was on a self-imposed break for some time, but since I have BlizzCon left, I’ll ignite my fighting spirit one last time. Currently I’m struggling hard in ZvT. I reviewed nearly all the Zerg players' ZvT VODs and tried to imitate them while focusing mostly on ZvT in practice. It seemed like it was making my results worse though. So now I think it would be better to try overcoming ZvT in my own particular fashion. That’s how I'm going to try preparing from now on. I’ll get myself ready until BlizzCon no matter what and I’ll show you a different side of myself. A career can be decided in a single moment. BlizzCon is my time to redeem my past mistakes.