Brood War for the soul - Episode 1

Episode 1 of Brood War for the soul explores NaDa's golden return, sAviOr's unique career, GGPlay's miracle OSL win and JangBi's final crowning glory.

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"Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you."

-Joseph Campbell

'Brood War for the soul' is a series which seeks to provide uplifting and inspirational stories, via the medium of famous games from the Korean professional BW scene and its competitors. The more I've delved deeply into different competitive disciplines, from eSports titles to traditional sports and beyond, the more I've found it useful to adopt the perspective of Miyamoto Musashi, legendary Japanese swordsman and philosopher, when he said that "if you know the Way broadly you will see it in everything."

That is to say that games, even those seemingly played for fun, can be a metaphor for life itself. In this series, readers can find shortcuts to some of the most wonderful moments contained within 12 years of professional BW.

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"Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

There's always been something beautiful to me about the tragedy of the past-his-prime elite sportsman. Knowing now exactly what it takes to win, his body can rarely deliver the performance he knows is necessary to ascend to the top of the competitive mountain again and taste ultimate success. These sportsmen often fight harder than ever in their final years, battling for one last chance at success, even if their struggles often see them only come close and fall to the newer breed of elite competitor.

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In November of 2006, Lee 'NaDa' Yoon Yeol, the greatest BW player in history, found himself facing such a chance to secure one last glorious moment, and with more significance surrounding it than ever before in his illustrious and prolific career. To understand the context of that moment, we must go back to July of 2005. On the 18th of that month, it was reported that NaDa's father had been killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver.

Earlier that year, NaDa had finished runner-up in the You Are the Golf King MSL and won his second OSL title in the IOPS OSL, avenging his finals loss to GoRush in former in the the semi-finals of the latter. In the subsequent OSL, he had finished his run in the Ro16, falling out at the very beginning of the month. When the disaster of his father's passing struck, NaDa was immediately removed from the Pantech & Curitel Curriors A team, to give him time to grieve and come to terms with his loss.

Only two weeks after his father's death, NaDa posted his now infamous "letter to the sky", in which he addressed his father, including a section which contained a promise:

"yes i have to wake up again...

having no practice now is killing me...

if i go back to seoul...

practice hard... so no one can beat me...

and for sure... i will dedicate all those winnings and honors to ..

my father...

i..

im going back ...

dont worry...

im going back to the real nada...

so

remember

i will take care of my family dad.."

Despite such moving words, NaDa's game was the worst it had ever been. The greatest champion in BW history, winner of a record five major titles, found himself unable to qualify for the next three MSL seasons and three OSL seasons. sAviOr's ZvT style had arrived and NaDa's famous SK Terran style was no longer the solution to facing the Zergs of the day. This kind of slump was one which top pro-gamers simply didn't return from it. It appeared as if NaDa's words to his father would become merely a heart-felt gesture he could not manifest into a tangible result. The cut-throat world of competitive BW had no place for sympathetic stories, when a player fell off, he was soon replaced by numerous talents, all vying for the crown.

During his slump, NaDa's Proleague win-rate fell to around 50% and it generally appeared that the world had seen the last of the great NaDa. Even qualifying for an individual league would have been news at this point, nevermind making a deep run. In late 2006 things began to change, NaDa began to win games. Reaching the Ro16 of both leagues, he finished at that point in the MSL, but continued on to a resurgent run in the OSL. After defeating GoodFriend in a 3:0 sweep in the semi-final, he found himself in the final of the Shinhan Bank OSL Season 2.

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The significance of the final, merely in BW context, was huge. If he could successfully take home the title, he would become the first player in history to win three OSL titles, which would grant him the first ever golden mouse trophy. BoxeR had failed four times to accomplish such a feat in the finals and July had fallen in his first attempt, only two OSLs ago. By now, NaDa's last title had been 20 months prior, a lifetime in competitive BW career lengths. What's more, the peak of NaDa's play had been from 2002 to early 2003, when he had won four major titles. Since then he had made a number of finals, only to lose most of them to newer star names.

Opposite NaDa in the final was Anytime, the Protoss player who had slain BoxeR in the Emperor's final attempt at a golden mouse. That victory had come in the same month as this final would be played in, November, meaning it fell in line with the famous "Legend of the Fall". The legend said that a Protoss player would rise up in the fall of the year and win an OSL title. The problem being that it was no mere legend, it had become such a popular storyline that the tournament would actively tweak the map pool around that time to allow Protoss players a more favourable pool of maps, and thus a better chance at fulfilling the prophecy.

Numerous times already the legend had been fulfilled, now NaDa seemed the ideal great player to be the fall guy for another outing of a popular storyline. Anytime had not only slain BoxeR in that OSL past, he had beaten Midas, then considered the best TvP player, in the semi-final in a full five game series. The maps even looked dangerous for NaDa, as the first and fifth would be Tau Cross, a map he had lost to Protoss player TT in the opening game of their Ro16 match.

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The opener did in fact go to Anytime, but NaDa fought back to take the next two and go up one game from elimination. If he could just win out on Arcadia 2, then the golden mouse would be his. The problem was that Anytime had won Arcadia 2 twice in his series against Midas, and would again here, forcing a decider. Now NaDa would have to win on Tau Cross, something he had been unable to do in the opener, else he would fall victim to the Legend of the Fall. Would Anytime emerge the victor and claim his second OSL title over a legendary Terran name?

In the fifth game, the key turning point was a decision to tech switch to Carriers for the Protoss player. NaDa caught it with a scan and was able to finish the game before the first carrier could even arrive. NaDa had somehow returned from the depths of competitive hell, six individual leagues without qualification, overcoming the death of a dear loved one and won the OSL. The first player to ever win three OSL titles, he ran up and seized his golden mouse trophy.

His promise to his father had been fulfilled, his letter to the sky had not been in vain. The real NaDa had returned and now he had a trophy to dedicate to his father. NaDa would never win another major title in his BW career.

Embrace what makes you different, become the person only you can be.

Ma 'sAviOr' Jae Yoon may be a reviled figure in Korean eSports now, due to his involvement in a match-fixing ring towards the end of his competitive career, but his story is one of the most inspirational that scene has ever produced. Possessed of significantly weaker APM and mechanics than the average top BW player, sAviOr was ever fighting an uphill battle in a game which heavily rewarded fast fingers and the ability to heavily multi-task. To win under such circumstances, one had to be that much smarter and more efficient that one's enemies.

What's worse, sAviOr played a Zerg, a race which had been famous for playing the role of "always the bridesmaid, never the bride", losing out in numerous key finals, as the career of YellOw had evidenced. When sAviOr rose up, in the middle of 2005, there had been one great Zerg champion, July, and that player had won thanks to incredible APM and irreproducible aggression. While other Zergs might have, in vain, tried to copy the formula of July's success, sAviOr set about not only creating his own unique style of play, but in doing so revolutionised the entire approach to playing Zerg.

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Where Zergs had previously been food for Terrans, now sAviOr used every unit to its very limits, getting more out of a lurker or a mutalisk timing than seemingly anyone else could. Other Zergs might look for timings in which to attack with whatever units they could scrape together, while sAviOr thought entirely outside of the box and instead looked for solutions to slow down the enemy or fool him with feints of less units than he might be expecting. The masterful, almost chess-like, approach that sAviOr brought was not only unseen, it was near unbeatable at its height. Learn more about his style of play in this incredible article.

The Zerg who had changed the game would appear in five straight MSL finals, a feat never replicated, and won three titles in doing so. Adding an OSL title at the end of his MSL run, sAviOr was declared the first ever "bonjwa", a great player standing above all others at his peak. No player ever won more MSL titles than sAvior or appeared in more MSL finals.

Asked, in an interview, for advice he would give to newer players, his answer explained his entire approach to his career, succinctly:

"Anyone can try. 'I try hard, but why doesn’t it work for me?' types of thinking don’t get you anywhere. If you don’t have good results there is a reason for it. Take full advantage of your individuality, and with it surpass your competitors."

Never give up, no matter the odds

Kim 'GGPlay' Joon Yung was an unlikely OSL champion if ever there were one. The Zerg player had never even reached the Ro8 of an OSL, typically falling out in the Ro16, whether that be in a group stage or bracket format. In the Daum OSL of 2007, GGPlay began a remarkable run after reaching that elusive Ro8 for the first time. Defeating Hwasin, a solid individual league Terran, he faced Flash in the semi-final. Flash was a rookie making his debut into the OSL, yet had defeated MSL champion Bisu and reached all the way into the final four. Flash showed his rookie and GGPlay was able to escape a five game series 3:2, after having been down 1:2 to the youngster.

In the final, GGPlay would face IriS, a Terran player who had placed third in the previous OSL and whose time had seeming come to be crowned a champion. In that previous OSL, it had only been the incredible ZvT mastery of sAviOr that had stopped IriS, and only in a deciding fifth game at that. Having overcome sAviOr 2:1 in the Ro8 of this OSL, IriS had smashed top Protoss player Stork in a 3:0 sweep in the semi-final and now looked set to take the OSL title.

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The first two games went the way of the Terran favourite. History sat on his side, no player had ever returned from an 0:2 deficit to win an OSL final. Players had leveled the series at 2:2 before, but to win three games in a row had simply been too much of an ask for even some of the great players of history. GGPlay completed the first part of the task, winning two straight maps to force a decider, now he battled not only IriS but the weight of history itself. Just as past players to reach this point had found, the game seemed headed their opponent's way. IriS was winning the game, poised to finish the game with crucial attacks and claim the crown.

GGPlay reached down somewhere deep and pulled out some of the most perfect defiler play ever seen in competive BW history. The defiler was a unit which allowed the Zerg to spread Dark Swarm, under which his ground units could not be damaged by ranged units, such as the Terran's Marines and Tanks. Casting these Dark Swarms at exactly the right moments and in exactly the right places, GGPlay was able to hold off the attacks and seize victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat. GGPlay had become the first player in history to win an OSL from an 0:2 hole. He would never go on to win another competitive title or reach another individual league final, but in that one moment, GGPlay accomplished something that should have been impossible.

A highlight of the incredible defiler play:

The full series:

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It's never too late to turn it all around

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In 2008, Heo 'JangBi' Yeong Moo had risen to become one of the elite Protoss players in the game and one of the best players in the world. After his five game semi-final loss to fellow Protoss Kal in the GOMTV MSL Season 4 semi-final, he had returned two MSLs later to defeat the same player and reach the final of the ClubDay Online MSL. There, he fell victim to Bisu, already a two time champion, who defeated him 3:1 to take his third MSL title. A couple of months later and JangBi again triumphed in a key PvP match, beating free 3:0 in the semi-final of the GOMTV TG Sambo-Intel Classic Season 2, only to again fall to Bisu 3:1 in the same match-up, seeing another title go over to the other Protoss.

Less than two months later, after making his second straight MSL final, JangBi was handed a third 1:3 finals loss, this time by Zerg Luxury, to see him denied three straight titles in a 4-5 month time span. JangBi was a monster in PvT, yet he had somehow peaked during the era when Zergs and Protoss dominated the scene, meaning his talents were wasted in the biggest of moments. Some would have said that his time would come, that if he kept competing then eventually he'd get the right bracket draw. Instead, he entered a deep slump. Poor performance in the ProLeague, for his team Samsung KHAN, was followed up with an inability to qualify for individual leagues.

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The slump reached its worst over 2010 and the early part of 2011. JangBi seemed destined to remain one of the losers of BW history, a trophy cabinet filled with only silver medals and memories of regret. In the preliminaries of the Jin Air OSL, he made it to the final of his group, only to lose to soO, now a famous SC2 player. When Zerg player HoGiL retired, it gave JangBi a second chance, albeit a very slim one, to qualify for the main OSL tournament. A 12 player Wildcard tournament was held for HoGiL's spot. Defeating the likes of ZerO, Leta and Classic, JangBi emerged victorious from the Bo1 structured single-elimination bracket. This was the first bright spot in a long time for the player and his fans.

In the Ro24 group stage, JangBi found himself drawn in a group with two Zergs and a Protoss, meaning he would get no chance to play PvT. Despite this, his continued to progress in first place. The Ro16 saw him lose his first two games, yet miraculously reach a tie-breaker by virtue of winning his final game and the right permutation of results having occured amongst the other players. In the tie-breaker JangBi won both games and moved on to the bracket stage for the first time in seemingly forever. His Ro8 reward for one of the most strenuous Ro8 runs in OSL history was a match-up with Flash, the six time individual league champion and the greatest player in the game's history.

Flash was unbeatable for Protoss players in BoX series, only Zergs had bested him in his previous bracket runs of recent memory. The opening map went the way of the Ultimate Weapon and the two would reconvene two weeks later to play the remaining map(s) of the series. The JangBi who had been beaten in the first map was not the JangBi who turned up on the 26th of August. Defeating Flash in epic games, including wonderful use of his patented precision psi-storms, JangBi had killed the God of StarCraft, moving into the semi-final. There, he met the very same soO who had eliminated him in the prelims. Rolling over the Zerg in a 3:0 revenge stomp, JangBi had somehow reached the final of an OSL for the first time in his career.

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As if the story had not been dramatic enough, his opponent was Fantasy, Terran champion of the previous OSL and a four time OSL finalist. What's more, Fantasy had smashed Stork, JangBi's team-mate, in a 3:0 sweep in that final, using surprise tactics that the Protoss could not adapt to in the moment. This was set to be Fantasy's chance to seize back-to-back OSL titles, following in the footsteps of BoxeR as only the second Terran player to ever accomplish such a feat.

JangBi was more than game in the final, even going up 2:1, but Fantasy brought it level and sent the series to a deciding game. In the game, JangBi was in deep trouble, confined to a base on the left hand side of the map and needing to hold against the onslaught of the Terran Revolutionist. JangBi took the gamble of investing heavily into Carriers and was miraculously able to micro them to come back into the game, push out and eventually overwhelm Fantasy. After three finals lossed, JangBi had won an OSL title and escaped his destiny as a loser.

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In the following OSL, JangBi again reached the final, repeating the feat he had managed in the MSL around 2009, only to find himself facing Fantasy again. Again, people expected Fantasy to take the title, again JangBi defied their expectations. This time, winning 3:1, the score that had haunted him for his first three finals appearances, JangBi took the title and became only the third player in history, and the first Protoss, to ever win back-to-back OSL titles. Bisu had won MSL titles but no OSL, Stork had been to the OSL finals four times and only come away a winner once. Somehow, JangBi had come in at the end of his career, indeed the very end of competitive BW, and won the last two OSL titles to accomplish something those two great Protoss players had been unable to.

The deciding fifth map vs. Fantasy in the Jin Air OSL final:

BW for the soul will return in the future with more uplifting and inspirational stories.

Photo credits: fighterforum, daily e-sports, FOMOS, whereismymind

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