Around the time of April or May 2004 I was living a normal American life, just starting off my first year at college living away from home. It was the first time I had ever lived away from home and it was insane how much my world changed when I started attending the University of Cincinnati. Then I got a casual MSN message from a good friend, Elky. He let me know that Hexatron had a spot open for a foreign protoss gamer and that if I wanted to I could come. Though I hadn't played starcraft seriously for a while because I was heavily into poker for almost a year by then, being a long time starcraft player and knowing how much I wanted to go back to Korea, I jumped at the opportunity.
I quit poker and began playing starcraft again hardcore and fully rationalized a dream to be a pro-gamer that is an inherent part of several of us starcraft players. I prepared for my trip by getting visa ready and talking it over with my parents (who were extremely supportive and I'm thankful for that). I envisioned my life on a pro-game team. A big appartment with several other gamers who all share the same dream and have insanely high talent levels in the best and most complicated strategy game ever made. I talked it over with the manager and he was supportive of me coming and welcomed me. There I sat on a beoing-747 imagining playing versus Boxer in leagues and wondering when my first TV match would be for proleague. I thought about the glamorous life for pro-gamers with tons of adoring fans recognizing you everywhere you go and asking for autographs. I couldn't wait to submerse myself into a whole new culture and a whole new lifestyle. The feeling of anticipation was far too pleasurable.
I got to Korea and settled in and got to know everyone on the team. Brian (Assem) the reserved and humble guy who is there to do his own thing, and doesn't care what you think. Peter (Legionnaire) the quirky australian who can lighten the mood of any situation and does some of the most un-orthodox stuff in games. Joel (Fester) the australian partier who much like Peter can always manage to crack a joke in any situation with his snapping crocodile wit. Jo-Jeon-Hyun (Gundam) the loud but very dedicated korean pro-gamer who was by far the most experienced on the team and is like a big brother to me. Kim-Kab-Yung (Lovedom) the loud and obnoxious Korean who even though he is one of the oldest on the team, he is by far the youngest at heart. An-Seok-Yeol (Siva) a guy who in public is extremely reserved but in the house he's a big joker and always messes with people/people mess with him. Kim-Dong-Jin (ArtOfTerran) was like Leonardo if our team was the ninja turtles, he was one of the few un-lazy koreans and he always tried to make sure stuff got done. Don-Wook (Shinya) is a pure gamer...he sleeps at alternating random schedules, goes to clan meetings in real life, doesn't mess with people and just stays to himself, but when he does talk he has a very respectable presence to him. Daniel Lee (SuperDaniel) was by far the most interesting person who I met when I came here...never in my life have I met a person who speaks and carries a very "tough guy" can't be f***ed with attitude but down deep on the inside he does care about people and wants to help them out.
The team had a lot of dynamic aspects to it with all the members contributing in their own ways and we had lots of fun together doing things like climbing that wretched mountain. We practiced, practiced, practiced, and practiced some more. Some people have posted on a forum "I was pretty sure Rekrul was going to Korea just for fun and to fill in a pro-gaming spot, not to take it serious." and my manager SuperDaniel sometimes has said "Dan I feel like you are here just to have fun at my expense and not taking pro-gaming seriously." Both of those statements are one hundred percent wrong. I take everything I do very seriously and I came to Korea with the intent/dream of becoming a StarLeague champion. Of course I knew the chances of that were slim-to-none, the dream was still there nevertheless. I was playing 15-30 games per day for a long time, probably an average of a little over than 20 games each day. My starcraft skill level increased DRASTICALLY. All you starcraft players reading this can only imagine how much better you would be if you lived with pro-gamers who constantly helped you with your game and you practiced so much more than you ever did in the past. Before I came to Korea I had always been a casual gamer, didn't play a lot...just for fun and I happened to get pretty good. But at that point in time in Korea I was playing not only for fun but also to "get good." I didn't go out and party very often at all because A. I didn't have a lot of money to blow and B. I wanted to succeed at starcraft.
And then the shit hit the fan.
I lost my first 2-3 courage tournaments, lost in the OnGameNet trials round 1 to Ogogo (1-2), lost in the MBC qualifiers second round to Reach (0-2), and found out I can't play in proleague until I win a tournament and get pro-gamer status. Thats not a big deal though...it's more expected than anything. But along with my first round of failures (learning experiences as well) the team in general was doing horrible. We had sponsor issues that were messing up some of the players' money and not one player on the team made it through the OGN trials and only one player, Jinsu, made it through MBC (but then lost round one to Boxer). Not to mention the team was getting dominated in the OGN team league because we couldn't win 1:1's to save our lives. Not only that but I had been in Korea around 3-4 months by that time and Peter hadn't played a single TV game since I had been there and Brian was getting crushed on TV non-stop. All of this was incredibly discouraging, but of course its no reason to lose all hope. There were still courage tournaments every month and OGN/MBC to play in every 3 months.
I was fully adapted to korean culture and life so the WOW-effect of entering a new country had worn off by then and I wanted more. I found a girlfriend and got pretty close to her. Mistake? No. Destructive for your gaming habits? Yes. I started going out and sneaking out often behind my manager's back without telling him. Of course he always advocates mass-practice even though there wouldn't be any leagues for 3 more months and just little courage tournaments for me, but I just didn't feel like gaming much at all at that time. Anyways, things with the girlfriend got kinda heavy and as I was going out a lot I found myself with not enough cash to last me much longer. So I did what any money hungry ex-poker addict would do....
"Elky 400$ loan on pokerstars please?"
The catch to this was that my manager banned poker from being played in our house. Before my time in Korea several of the team members including the manager got into poker because Elky was playing it and they were playing A LOT. SuperDaniel knew that this could only be distructive to the skill level of the team because it is so disctracting so he banned it. But, what could I do. I wanted to stay in Korea, there was no way I could make money off starcraft any time soon even if I dominated all the tournament qualifications...thats nothing, I was going out quite a bit and needed cash-flow. I knew it would detract from my starcraft playing quite a bit, but it's better than completely running out of money and having to go back so early. So I played poker only after practice hours. I was good at poker in the past and made money but when I started again this time something was different. I changed my style a little bit and lost all fear that I had in the past. I got really f***ing good. Once I started making a lot I began to play even during practice hours not only for the money but because of another reason....
I begin to look around myself and see the reality of the pro-gaming scene.
First of all, pro-gaming is not as big as you think. The VODS you watch of games, the stories you read about and hear about, and pictures you see of pro-gaming and backstage stuff can be really misleading. It was my impression before I came here and the impression of most non-korean starcraft players that pro-gaming is HUGE and people are playing/talking about starcraft everywhere and that its constantly everywhere in advertisement and such. Thats just not true....it is far smaller than you think. It is NOT mainstream. My manager always compared it to the WWF (WWE now?)...wrestling whatever in the USA. It's its own little niche and has its select die hard fans but other than that people don't really care. Don't get me wrong...it is big in the fact that so many koreans have atleast played it once in their lives and know about it, but several of you seem to think that you can go into a club and tell a chick your Game-i High and she will care. Nope. Most people that I've told or seen other people tell that they are pro-gamers were just like "Oh" and didn't really give a crap. They didn't freak out as if they were standing next to some movie star or superbowl winning quarterback. After a match in COEX mall gamers will be swarmed by a mob of little kids outside the game studios...but once they make it past them and into the rest of the mall walking out, very few people will blink twice unless its one of the top superstars like Boxer, iloveoov, Reach, Yellow. So if you want to come to Korea to be a progamer and get fame, don't.
Secondly, pro-gaming is harder than you think. They have since changed the regulations so that no amateur, only people with pro-gamer status can participate in MBC or OGN trials. Those used to be places where many up and coming amateurs would gain their pro-gamer status when they advanced to minor league or challenge league. So, if you come to Korea to be a pro-gamer now here is what you'll get. You will play one tournament each month against the top amateurs from the teams (who are very good). If you go 5-0 and kill five of them with no losses, you will finally get your pro-gamer status and be able to participate in the league qualifications. I've played in 5 of them I think and never made it all the way through. It will be tough for you to stay focused if you don't make it through in your first three times or so. Because if you haven't made it by then you'll delve into the other beauties of the country that is Korea and those distractions will make it that much harder. No discredit to Peter or Brian, they have a passion for the game and want to succeed, but they have both been here a very long time and have never made it into the challenge league or minor league (OGN/MBC) once. NOT ONCE! And those are only the first steps...making it into those leagues alone won't do much for you career-wise. You must continually succeed again and again and again to make it anywhere in pro-gaming. If you can't even make it past the first round time and time again...what the hell are you doing? Atleast they can play in pro-league and are having fun and getting a great experience in another culture...thats all that really matters...but life is not easy, sometimes you need to realize you gotta pack your bags and go back to the real world before you're old and broke with no education.
Thirdly, there is no money in pro-gaming. The top 20-30 or so pro-gamers on the top teams get paid well and the top 10 get paid very well. But when I look around the Hexatron team I only see extremely negative effects of pro-gaming. All of these korean guys are atleast 21 years old, some going on 26 even. They are not making money. They are not becoming "famous" pro-gamers. They are not gaining any work experience. They are not being educated. The only thing they are good at is waking up really late, being kinda lazy, and practicing SC. I just sit there and wonder...so what happens after starcraft? These are smart kids but what the hell are they going to do when they are like 25-29 years old, haven't lived on their own, have no work experience, and no money? They going to get a job at the 7-11 and work a cash register the rest of their lives? This is the sad reality that is pro-gaming for the most part. The majority of the players on the majority of teams are like this. These days its just too hard to break through into the leagues if you're at the bottom. Starcraft has become much more simple than it was on the past. Everyone follows the same kind of strategical standards for the most part, the game is almost perfected in a strategical sense. There of course is still tons of room for innovation, that is the beauty of starcraft, but it's almost impossible to make yourself stand out as a gamer these days and rake in big cash because of it.
When I realized these three factors around 2 months ago, my desire to play starcraft went down the drain. What was my future? I don't have a realistic future in pro-gaming and even if I tried for it my hardest it would take atleast a year from now before I could have done anything with a big impact. Not only that but I would have to play many many many many games per day and I just don't enjoy that anymore so it's almost impossible. You cannot succeed at something unless you enjoy it. But Korea has done so much for me. My social habits have changed drastically for the better, I've begun to work out quite a bit to make my body much more healthy, I've immersed myself in a whole new culture and learned some of the language and met so many great people that I want to stay in contact with the rest of my life, and most importantly I've actually found a little bit of direction in life. Just because I don't like pro-gaming anymore doesn't mean I want to leave Korea. I'm incredibly lucky to have poker as a source of income, otherwise I wouldn't be able to stay here. My friend and I are going to move into our own appartment very soon. I'd like to live here in Korea for around 1-2 more years. My plan is to save up a lot of cash in poker to pay for college or to invest while going to a small language school around 2 hours per day to learn the Korean language and to continue working out to stay fit. One of the most fun parts of this experience is learning the korean language. It's really fun and challenging living in a place where you can only communicate with a language you don't even speak. My desire to learn the language is incredibly high. Perhaps after college in the states I could come back to Korea and do some business things and utilize my language skills, who knows.
So in the end (or new beginning as I think about it) I really do not care that I did not succeed in pro-gaming. The fact is I succeeded in life and I am extremely happy and have a plan. I am very thankful to several people who helped me through this experienced and got me started in a whole new life. Elky is the main person I have to thank...he helped me get here and has been a great friend throughout the whole process. My manager SuperDaniel always gave me motivating speeches when times were rough and always pressured me to go to the gym and work harder and harder if I was slacking. I mean of course SuperDaniel had invested interest in me, he needed me to succeed as a gamer so he could get some of the profit for being a manager...it's his job. But aside from that I still felt he cared just because he cared, not because he only wanted money in the future. I have to give him respect because of that, and I'd like to apologize to him because things didn't work out. He put a lot of effort into bringing me here, getting interviews, registering me for the leagues, and looking after me in general and I didn't repay it by succeeding as a gamer. I learned a lot from that man. I am also thankful for all my teammates just for the good times in general, how they helped my starcraft game, and all the times they called up and ordered food for me because I can't speak korean. I'm thankful for Peter and Brian who always had good spirits and had my back. I'm thankful for Joel because he taught me a lot about korea and was probably one of the main reasons my personality changed a little bit. There are several other people to thank as well. My ex-girlfriend who taught me a lot about Korea, many Korean friends...especially one named Gunwoo who is helping me a lot right now, and everyone else I associated with and failed to mention.
So, this marks the end of my pro-gaming career, but it doesn't mark the end of my starcraft career. I certainly won't play much at all but I will probably try to participate in WCG again. And I still might go to courage tournaments whenever I have time...because hey...if I'm lucky and make it through eventually I can then play in the OGN/MBC trials again. Kinda sucks that I didn't get one TV game, and it would be neat to get one still, but there is a 99.9999% chance that I never will. Pro-gaming is something you have to take incredibly serious in order to succeed, and I certainly won't be doing that. So I'll just treat the courage tournaments as more of a fun thing than anything. I offer myself to any foreigner who wants to come to Korea to try out pro-gaming despite all the bad things I said about it in this article. It's a great experience and you'll have no regrets. I think I can offer lots of advice about everything and help you out a little bit.
As for Hexatron, it is doing much better now. Sponsor issues have been pretty much cleared, and the team is doing very well in proleague. Spirits seem to be up a lot more these days and I wish the best of luck to every single person on the team.
My love for StarCraft will never die and I will always be around on forums and such.....but for now.....it's time for a change. Poker, studying Korean, and enjoying my youth is the next phase of my life.
Thank you for reading,