On My Own Terms

The early portion of my StarCraft II career was littered with success. Everything was simple back then.

My life used to revolve around StarCraft and I didn’t have a care in the world. I placed highly at a bunch of tournaments and even won a pair in 2012. Maybe I was being naive or maybe it’s just a part of being young, but even when Heart of the Swarm rewrote all the rules, I never thought anything would change.

I think all that early success is a big part of why everything that came afterwards seems so dark.

Where the first three years of my career were defined by my triumphs, the years that followed were more about falling short than standing out. Life became more complicated, and when it came to StarCraft, nothing went my way.

Even 2015 WCS Premier Season 3, a tournament I should have fondly remembered as my first finals appearance in almost three years, became a nightmare I still can’t get out of my head.

One person can only handle so much disappointment, so I think it’s natural I started to consider retiring. I never went through with it, though. I didn’t want to bow out of the game at my lowest point.

Heading into 2018, I didn’t know what the future held for me, but I knew if my career was going to come to an end, it would be on my own terms.

The year didn’t take off as I would have liked. A pair of poor finishes in Leipzig and Katowice meant I’d have to slog through all three group stages if I wanted to achieve my goal and reach the bracket portion of WCS Austin.

It was a challenge from the very start.

The opening group is usually a cakewalk, but in Austin, mine featured two really talented players. I managed to advance and was rewarded with an easier path in the next round. I was relieved to be one of the final 32, but I was disappointed and worried to find my teammate uThermal standing in my way.

I won our first meeting but, since I lost my next match, he and I had to play again. uThermal knows my playstyle inside and out, so he’s not the kind of guy I wanted to play with my tournament life on the line. I started getting really nervous as he took control of the third game, but a late comeback meant I’d be the one coming back to play another day of StarCraft.

There were three players I really didn’t want to face in the Round of 16 and, while I got paired against one of them, I guess you could say I was a little fortunate because at least I got the one I considered most manageable, Neeb.

The first game got off to a rough start but after that, everything went my way. Game two was absolutely crazy, but I still took a 2-0 lead despite making one mistake after another. Five minutes of game time later and I was in the quarterfinals.

I was more comfortable going into the match against Snute, largely because, like uThermal, he’s my teammate and we know each other’s flaws. His reactive style has worked well for him over the years, but every time we play I feel like I have an easy time throwing him off with mind games.

I knew I had the psychological advantage the second he failed to stop my cannon rush in the opening game. When my probe scout blocked his hatchery two maps later, he was so upset that the match was pretty much decided then and there.

My semifinal started about two hours later, which meant I barely had any time to rest before taking on one of the best foreign Terrans, SpeCial.

He plays this chaotic style that always presses the issue and forces mistakes, so it wasn’t really a surprise when he took game one, especially since I wasn’t really confident against Terran.

If this had been any other tournament over the past few years I would have been discouraged and maybe crumbled, but not this time. I rebounded by winning one of the best games of the tournament on 16-Bit.

We fought so evenly throughout the second game that I knew I had a real shot at winning. I didn’t take my foot off the gas, and before I knew it I was onstage doing my winner’s interview.

There had only been a few people cheering for me when I played against Neeb, but now that I was heading to the finals, the crowd was going crazy. I didn’t know it at the time, but people online were reacting the exact same way.

I wasn’t playing to the crowd when I told Smix I didn’t have a chance against Serral. I genuinely believed I was going to get swept, which made it even more shocking when I somehow jumped out to a 2-1 lead.

Everyone in the venue was going nuts, but I was the most excited person in the room without a doubt. Looking back, I probably got a little too carried away, because I quickly lost my focus and ultimately lost.

But whereas I felt terrible after losing in the finals of WCS Premier in 2015, this time I was overjoyed to have finished in second place.

The overwhelming support I received in the following weeks was unlike anything I’ve experienced. I did interviews, got a few articles written about me and received kind words from every corner of the scene.

For the first time, I really felt like all my blood, sweat and tears were fully appreciated. I can’t put into words how amazing that felt. Even more thrilling was the fact that, for the first time in my career, I had a chance of realizing a dream of mine and qualifying for BlizzCon.

Though I ended up not making it, from that moment on I knew my career wasn’t the dead end I’d begun to fear it had become; I knew I had it in me to continue competing and to accomplish great things.

I’m back to playing on my own terms.

Image Credit: Carlton Beener for Blizzard Entertainment

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