My Life For StarCraft

I’ve been playing StarCraft for 22 years now and it’s hard to imagine something that could pull me away from this game.

My love for RTS games started when I was young.  I was introduced to Warcraft II and was just blown away by the fact you were controlling an army and building a city. That’s not a novel concept, but it was in real-time and incorporated violence and action. I got super into it—the mechanics and the fantasy level of it. It was really intriguing as a young guy.

Command & Conquer caught my attention after that, and then StarCraft came along. It was around that time that I got internet at my house and I could finally play the game against other people at home on Battle.net. Of course, this was Dial-up so when my mother picked up the phone I got disconnected.

I think my love for StarCraft endured because it had an actual playable multiplayer mode, unlike some of the other RTS games out there that simplified it, or it was just simply broken. StarCraft had all of these different units that had to be used depending on the situation; there’s this rhythm to the game, as well.

It requires quick reflexes, tactics, and strategy. Even some psychology. It really is the ultimate competitive game. It also helps that I prefer 1v1 games, so StarCraft and a lot of fighting games really appeal to me.

When I was growing up I played a lot of Marvel vs. Capcom, Soulcalibur, and Street Fighter. Arcades were popular at the time and they were simply the cabinets that my local arcade had. You were really beholden to what was around you.

But StarCraft, it has changed my life.

The most profound memory I have is when I decided to drop out of college and move to Korea to take the chance on this little esport that could. I know it’s not a memory from in-game, but it’s not something you forget, especially when it’s had the impact it has had on my life.

Little did I know that Tasteless, playing games in his attic in a room he shared with his brother, would get an opportunity to move across the world and start a career.

I’ve been in Seoul, Korea for about 12 years now and casting the game for about 15 years. I can’t tell you how fortunate I’ve been to be able to work on a single game for so long. Many of my colleagues have had to jump from game to game and I’ve just done StarCraft.

I chalk a lot of that up to the game itself. It may not be the biggest game or the biggest esport, but it certainly has the most die-hard fans.

When you have a game this old you get to see real stories that have developed over a decade. You get to see players rise and fall; different races or maps fall in and out of favor—Super Smash Bros. Melee and Counter Strike have this as well. As a commentator, it’s a privilege to be able to watch these stories get unpacked over time.

You see the players get injured in their hands or wrist or they have to go into the military and then they come back. You wonder how they’re going to do. Even now, we have this fascinating narrative in StarCraft II where non-Koreans are starting to play really well. There’s this whole power shift from Korea to Europe right now, it’s very exciting.

That’s the type of story that you don’t get when a game is young. So much of esports is trendy and money driven, for a lack of better words, so being an old game is one of StarCraft’s greatest assets. Similar to how Counter Strike has been around for so long and now you have some Swedish pros that are getting into their forties.

At this point, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to start talking about my co-host and best friend. Yes, it’s Artosis time.

We’ve known each other for a very long time, from when we competed against each other. But when we both came out to Korea we made a pact that we would be a package deal. To work exclusively with each other and that gave us a lot of advantages early on.

Many events will try to lowball you or try to pit you against the other talent. Being the package deal made it so much easier to sell ourselves. In Korea, we were also able to build on the GSL, which is the longest standing esports show. We made GSL the kind of show that we wanted to watch.

For me, StarCraft feels antithetical to what a lot of people think when they think gaming: that it’s an indoor activity that keeps you away from people. But in reality, I have friends all around the world because of StarCraft.

I can go to almost any country and meet up with someone that can show me around or find me a place to stay.

The game has also taught me a lot about the world—how to problem solve and how to think critically. I think a lot of games are programmed to let you win and push you through—StarCraft is just an incredibly unforgiving game. In 1v1 games, when you lose it is one hundred percent your fault.

You can complain about the race or the map or the balance, but in reality, it’s all on you. But that makes it all the more rewarding when you execute a strategy or build order you’ve been practicing for a while and it goes perfectly.

I think that’s why we have some of the most hardcore fans in esports. Because StarCraft is such a complex game, the more you delve into it the more you discover. I logged onto Battle.net the other night and there were 25,000 people playing StarCraft!

As a player, you start to learn more and more and then you start to empathize with the pros even more. You see players like Flash and you’re rooting for him because you admire his playstyle. Or maybe you’re a Protoss player and you want to see Bisu overcome Flash.

There’s so much opportunity for things like that. Rivalries that have developed over the years. Beautiful stories of players overcoming challenges and roadblocks in their careers. Hype moments like Mvp vs. Squirtle, or ByuN’s win at the 2016 GSL and subsequent BlizzCon victory, or Serral winning the Grand Finals in 2018, becoming the first non-Korean to win the World Championship.

People will look at those events like they were the glory years, but I look at them and see each year becoming more and more exciting. For there to be glory years of StarCraft things would have to not be happening right now.

They weren’t letting people into the convention hall at BlizzCon for Serral’s victory. StarCraft: Remastered is consistently a top ten game in PC Bangs in Korea. There’s so much going on for StarCraft and now ESL is producing the next three years of StarCraft II.

The years haven’t been without their setbacks, though. Life’s match fixing was unfortunate, but it’s not a unique problem to gaming. I think it’s certainly easier in gaming because you’re not putting a lot at risk besides your pride.

KESPA teams disbanding was a setback in a lot of people’s minds, but I don’t think it was as big a deal as it was made out to be. Early on, the internet wasn’t very good so team houses were necessary and operated like PC Bangs.

In reality, players don’t want to live in a house with a bunch of other dudes. We have faster internet now, so we can play from home. I think that’s one of the main reasons we shifted away from those team houses.

StarCraft is a resilient scene that has survived this long and will continue to do so. There were tournaments before Blizzard’s involvement in the scene and there will be tournaments now that they’re gone. Look at Valve, they’re notoriously hands-off and there have always been Counter Strike tournaments.

As long as people love the game there will be people forming teams and traveling to LANs to compete.

Some of the hardest things to deal with the past few years have been the deaths in the StarCraft scene. I knew John (TotalBiscuit) pretty well and he was on the circuit with me early on in the MLG, IPL, and DreamHack days.

I remember hearing he got cancer and thought: “I bet he’s going to beat it.”

When you hear about people getting cancer that young you assume they’ll beat it. I thought he was going to beat it, but it just kept getting worse…

I found out on Twitter. John was shockingly young when he passed, and it was a huge blow to the scene. He was such a big supporter of the game. He had an incredible life, but I never feel that’s good enough. Just imagine what else he could have done.

Then we lost Geoff (iNcontrol). He just got short of breath and died. I was casting at the time and I wasn’t notified until the final cast had ended. It was just… unbelievable. I was closer to Geoff—having travelled around the world with him doing shows, entertaining people and evangelizing about StarCraft.

People just don’t drop dead at 33. It was a horrifying thing that really makes you remember what’s important in life. You get caught up in your own bullshit and then something like that happens and it forces you to recalibrate what really matters to you. I’ve grieved and dealt with his death, but it’s too young for someone to pass. For both of them.

If I died tomorrow I wouldn’t want someone to say: “He lived a good life, it’s okay.”

No, screw that. I wanted more. I wasn’t done. They both deserved more time. Geoff had so much more he wanted to do. He was even trying to get into stand-up comedy.

We lost two veteran commentators in a short period of time who brought a lot of character and personality and legitimacy to the game. It was really fucked up, to be honest.

But we soldiered on. Something the StarCraft franchise does really well. People often look at games or esports as fleeting. I don’t look at it like that. It’s a very long-term thing for me.

People often will ask me about the future of StarCraft. I feel like I need to talk about the two games separately—I just completed the first StarCraft cast of 2020 in a studio and it was filled up with a loud crowd. I hope that as time goes on, I’ll be able to help bring more global attention to StarCraft with my casting. It’s something I think Korea has always lagged behind in, grabbing global attention, but they’re getting better at it now.

StarCraft II is a bit more challenging. The games have a different history. StarCraft II started with Blizzard wanting to exert control over the game. I think they made some major missteps in their decisions for WCS and how they did a lot of things.

The game itself is fine. We’ll just have to see how ESL does it. The thing to remember, though, is that these companies like ESL and DreamHack, they grew up playing Counter Strike and StarCraft and have a lot of reverence for these games.

I think the big question for the future is if people are okay with the unit set in StarCraft II right now. The game went through three different expansions over the course of about seven years. StarCraft really only had one major patch in its lifetime about six months after the game came out.

Both games are in good shape right now, though. It also helps that there aren’t really any other RTS games out there to compete in. So if you like RTS games, StarCraft is pretty much it.

I said at the beginning of this piece that it’s hard to imagine anything tearing me away from StarCraft. That’s not completely true. If another RTS game came out that was really good, and I mean really good, I’d have to take a look at it. But for now, I see myself working on this game for the next five to ten years, or more.

I’ve been fortunate to have a very stable job in esports when many of the jobs are unstable. StarCraft isn’t just a game here in Korea, it’s a culture. League of Legends is like that here, too. They’re not going away any time soon.

Still, I chose a job for myself that is pretty obscure and not one I think a lot of people could do. It was a hard thing to do: moving to the other side of the world and embedding myself in a scene. I think I’m pretty tenacious, and I’m confident that if I tried something else I would be able to succeed.

I don’t work a 9-5 job, I live in a cool city, and I get to talk about my favorite game franchise for a living. I’ve had the privilege of casting almost every major match that’s been played. I’ve been able to follow pros on their careers and watch them rise and fall and leave for other paths in their lives.

It’s an amazing thing to be able to do and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.

Jeff Yabumoto assisted in the creation of this article.

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