At the recent World Championship Series UK London finals, we got the chance to catch up with Dan 'Artosis' Stemkoski and Nick 'Tasteless' Plott to get their thoughts on London, why Boxer will never change race, the up-and-coming Sons of Starcaft documentary and much more. Editor's note: if you are unfamiliar with the Starcraft II scene, check out the glossary at the end of the article for an explanation of certain terms.
GameSpot UK: Welcome to London guys, what do you think of it?
Tasteless: We loved it. It’s a really nice place; the people have been so sweet and friendly to us. Very expensive though.
Artosis:A lot of the time England has a bad reputation for its food but I’ve loved every meal while I’ve been here. It’s been a lot of fun.
GSUK: Have you had a chance to see the sights?
A: I saw so much because I brought my wife and daughter for a vacation. I visited London Bridge, Tower of London, Shakespeare’s Globe, Stone Henge, The Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, I can’t remember it all I’ve seen so much. I think I could drive a tour bus by now!
GSUK: I’m sure you were coming into this with low expectations. Now it’s all over, what did you think of the UK players?
T:I was impressed, there’s a good community out here. The players all seem to know each other which we can relate to from competing in Starcraft 1 where all the American players sort of knew each other. There are some very skilled players and I enjoyed seeing how the metagame operates differently here than it does in Korea.
A: The top 4 players I would name, BlinG, DeMusliM, JonnyREcco and Ziktomini, are top end players as far as outside of Korea goes. I feel like they all have unbelievable potential, even the players right below them. I’d say the fifth best [player] in the country is definitely Ourk. He is not on the same level right now but he could absolutely get there, he has really solid play. We’ve been very impressed by how good the UK players are and how much potential there is if these players work really hard.
GSUK: It’s good to see some lesser known players getting some of the spotlight--are there any up and coming players in Korea that you would like to point out?
T: I like to watch how Code A and Code S filter stuff out. There are a lot of players we could talk about that we hear are really good. The way I view it is, who has actually made it through the system? They have proven themselves then. Symbol is the guy I’m excited about right now. We’ve heard about him, he’s in Code S and he’s kicking ass.
A: For me, I’ve said this name a lot but YongHwa. I feel he’s been one of the best Protoss players in the entire world for a year now. He’s in Code B still, but he played in team league recently and crushed a bunch of players with astoundingly good play. I’ve had faith in him for a long time. He is a top-end, world-class player who has not made it through yet. When he does, it’s going to be like Squirtle where he just busts on the scene.
A: Sting is obviously really good. I picked NsHS to win the GSTL (Global Starcraft II Team League), although they ended up losing to TSL. NsHS is raising some of the best players in the entire world, it’s insane. Their roster is the deepest roster, they don’t have lots of champions yet but they are raising the best players overall. They are all so broadly skilled, not just at specific things. It’s almost as if it’s not just talented players but it’s just the team that’s working best.
T: They foster good players.
GSUK: Do you think something in the system should change to make sure more of these great players make it through out of Code B into Code A and Code S?
T: That’s the challenge they have to face. We could say “oh this guy is really good but he’s in Code B” but that’s why we have the system. If you are in Code B, that’s tough, but your job is to get into Code A, that’s how you get the recognition. I really love the infrastructure the GSL (Global Starcraft II League) has that allows us to give these guys rank. I feel like if we highlight people in Code B it takes away from those who have qualified. We knew Symbol was good and it’s cool he’s here now, we know YongHwa is good but he’s still in Code B. That’s how we have some kind of measurement that works. A lot of other people in the Starcraft scene are like “he’s better but this guy cheesed” or “he had an easy bracket”. I’m most interested in who wins.
A: That makes sense and I agree with so much of that. What I love is how hard it is to get in for some of these players, they haven’t proven themselves yet, exactly. For instance, Squirtle; how long did it take for him to get into Code S? We knew he was one of the best Protoss in the world for over a year. He was floundering in Code A forever. I don’t know if it was known as much elsewhere but in Korea everyone knew he was a powder keg waiting to explode. That’s what’s happening to the top Code B players that can’t get in, like YongHwa. Eventually he will get in and then he’s going to skyrocket up to the top. I like how that rewards the player that never gives up and stays passionate and hardworking. It’s like a test for these players and I love to see who can pass the test.
GSUK: We see you on stream all the time but what else does working GOMTV entail for you?
T: We do a lot. We review our shows--not every single show, but we have a bunch of professionals outside GOM who watch our stuff, friends who don’t play games, professional sports casters etc. We have a group of people that we’ve assembled privately that watch our stuff to give us feedback and mentor us. Our casts are a little different from your normal casts. We started out thinking “how can we compete with other SC2 shows that are out there?”, so we tried to incorporate humour while still making it an analytical sports show. We meet about 2 hours every time beforehand to talk about what we’re going to cast and go over previous stuff. Dan might say to me “hey yesterday I noticed when it was down time we could have done this or that” and I might say “in the height of the moment I think we should have focussed on this”. We spend a lot of time, there’s a lot of work, we don’t just show up and do it.
A: Specifically at GOM, we don’t go into the office or anything but we’re always talking to the people that run it. Making sure they see the foreigner’s* perspective of what’s going on. We highlight players that are doing really well in the foreign scene that they may want to consider for certain seeds. Our relationship functions similar to that of a consultant.
T: We have mechanisms set up so we have constant feedback on our casts and even though we aren’t in the office we are in constant communication with GOM.
GSUK: What are your thoughts on Mana winning DreamHack then qualifying for TSL4 after having been a little quiet on the big tournament results for a while?
A: When I switched from Zerg to Protoss I’d been considering it for a bit but I didn’t like the way Protoss was approaching Terran vs Protoss. Nothing fit the style I like to play. It was through Mana playing, I think at Dreamhack, where he would go gate-robo-gate* and get an observer to scout what was going on and play smartly instead of just doing stupid random all-ins. I saw it and thought, “There’s a build that works, I’m doing it, I’m switching to Protoss”. For me it was no surprise that Mana did really really well. He played extremely smartly, this is a guy we know from Starcraft 1. I played him in so many tournaments in Starcraft and so many practice games. I’m not surprised he did that well, he’s a very talented young player. He’s on a burner right now; he’s going to keep it up as long as he keeps working hard.
T: Mana’s the guy I actually competed with in USA vs Poland in [the original] Starcraft. I actually got really lucky and Dark Templer* rushed in game 3 and won; I went 2-1 against him. Ever since I’ve watched his games he’s been great so I’m not shocked to see his success.
GSUK: What are your thoughts on the current balance in Terran vs Zerg and Boxer's comment that he may switch race with Heart of the Swarm?
A: I think Boxer's comment was more tongue-in-cheek. He’s never going to switch races, he’s the Terran Emperor.
T: He’s branded as Terran.
A: Just business wise and even his style, Zerg doesn’t fit him at all, he’s the least mechanical top end player in the world. He’s going to stay with Terran, it’s what he is, it’s who he is. If he was ever going to change he’d fit Protoss better than Zerg. As far as balance goes, it’s just a momentary thing. This happens after every single patch where one race feels slighted and has a hard match up. I see where the Terran players are coming from. We saw it here with DeMusliM where he was feeling he had to do a lot of greedy builds and that they could be punished easily and yeah, that is how that turned out. It will normalise over time. I don’t think increasing Queen range to five from three is something that breaks an entire match up forever.
T: (in reference to DeMusliM vs JonnyRecco in the lower bracket finals) Four marines is an astounding number to have at around the nine minute marker having not lost any up until that point.
A: It’ll get figured out eventually.
GSUK: Do you think the release of Heart of the Swarm and the transition over of the KeSPA players will change the lack of popularity of Starcraft II in Korea?
T: Put simply, it will change everything.
A: The KeSPA players are the big names for the most part. We had some switch over and some fans with them but as everyone famous and popular comes over, so will the fans. It’s not a problem; SC2 will be big in Korea.
GSUK: Tasteless, a lot of people are wondering what you are hoping to get from signing with the eSports Management Group. EGiNcontroL recently commented that you are already one of the most ruthless negotiators.
T: (Laughs) Because I’ve been casting for so long I’ve been my own agent for 8 years. I wouldn’t say I’m the most ruthless but I’ve had to negotiate a lot. It’s not going to impact my broadcasts at all because I’m going to continue to negotiate that. I want to do book deals, I want to endorse products, I want to see where else I can go. The book deals especially I’m excited about.
A: He’s a good writer.
T: I can’t promise what’s going to happen. I met these guys and told them that my only concern is that I don’t want to change anything I’m doing right now and they said that was fine. I vetted them; they’ve been taking care of the best poker players in the world. I think only two people have left their company out of the 60 they’ve covered in the past few years. There is a lot of stuff I can’t do personally because I’m casting, or being a nerd or having a drink with Dan. I want to have these new avenues, I’ve been working on a book with a friend for now and I want to write other books and get that stuff out there. Honestly, for me it’s great and for eSports it’s great. All is good.
GSUK: Most people know that you are having a documentary made about your lives. How has that been for you?
T: We’ve been really lucky, Jeff Alejos has been filming us for what? Eight months?
A: Eight months solid, but even before that he…
T: He’s got almost three years of data.
A: He was filming us off and on, then he got funding and it got bigger.
T: He’s been living out in Seoul. He’s filmed an entire GSL season, he’s filmed us in every continent we’ve casted in, he filmed us in the Philippines, Sweden, four MLG’s and two Blizzcons.
A: He’s in Seoul and he’s not done. It’s a wild experience having someone follow you around with a camera. It’s hard for friends and family to act normal.
T: Yeah, it’s ok for us because we’re comfortable in front of cameras. He’s shown me some of the stuff and I’ve been like “whoa!”.
A: The clips look good.
T: It’s funny because it’s about us. The guy has sacrificed more than a year of his life. We’ll see how it looks but we’re really excited about it.
A: I hope it puts me in a good light! (Laughs)
GSUK: Is there anything to look out for in particular?
T: There’s lots of funny stuff.
A: Yeah, lots of funny stuff. There’s a lot of emotional personal stuff too.
T: A lot of personal stuff about us.
A: He was there in the hospital the day after the baby was born. It was a little weird but really good.
T: He was there when my girlfriend had to leave Korea. It’s a lot of very personal stuff.
GSUK: You spend so much time working together being 'Tastosis'* does it ever impact your friendship?
A: I’d say a little bit, we do work together.
T: Say we’ve been on a plane all day then we have to cast all day. There might be some tension but our relationship is so good. Even if we butt heads, five minutes later it’s fine.
A: We’re best friends. But yeah, we’re together so much, it’s almost like we’ve transformed from best friends into brothers.
T: That’s a great way to put it.
A: There are arguments but we love each other and it doesn’t really matter.
T: Honestly, most of the time we just joke around. When you see us casting that’s how we are in real life. We joke around and have fun. We are in a lot of high pressure situations--for instance, at this event, we nailed it. But who knows if we are going to get the hits that they want, it can be a lot of pressure. Most of the time it’s pretty good.
A: We’re brothers now.
T: Yeah, family.
GSUK: What does the future look like?
A: Our careers are going great, eSports is going great.
T: We’re really ying and yang, we really balance each other out. It’s nice, you get a lot of Pro Gamers who are solo, even though they are on a team they are basically solo, lone-wolfing it.
A: Yeah, we’re two people who work together and help each other constantly. It’s one of the reasons we are where we are and it’s going to continue.
Metagame - the current trends and strategies being used by each race.
Code A/Code S - The top league in Korea, the GSL (Global Starcraft II League), is divided into three leagues. Code S contains the top players. Code A is for the players competing to get into Code S. Code B is an informal term for players competing to get into code A.
GSTL - The league of the GSL where competition is team-based, rather than individual-based.
GOMTV - the company that runs the GSL.
Foreigner - In the Starcraft scene, the term 'foreigner' refers to those outside Korea.
Gate-Robo-Gate - Refers to a way to play that allows the Protoss player to get an observer out early so they can easily find out what their opponent is doing.
Dark Templar - A powerful invisible unit that can only be detected if you're in possession of something that detect cloaked units.