Brood War for the soul - Episode 2

Episode 1 of Brood War for the soul looks at Jaedong's impossible ZvT MSL win, ChoJJa's persistence and EffOrt's unlikely comeback victory.

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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 so 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.

Nothing is impossible

"There are many things that seem impossible only so long as one does not attempt them."

-André Gide (Autumn Leaves)

The NATE MSL final, held on the 23rd of January 2010, was set to be the greatest BW final in history. For the first time in an OSL or MSL, Jaedong and Flash would meet on the biggest stage. They were clearly the two best players, each multiple time individual league champions, and yet Jaedong came in as an overwhelming underdog. Despite being the reigning two time KeSPA player of the year, winner of the golden mouse and a four time individual league champion, Jaedong faced one of the most intimidating opponents of all time, seemingly in their absolute peak prime.

At the end of 2009, Jaedong had lost to Flash 0:2 in the quarter-final of the EVER OSL and Flash had gone on to roll over everyone else in the tournament and secure his second OSL title. In the past the two had been close rivals, with Jaedong winning out in most of the more important scenarios. Now, Flash seemed a monster the likes of which BW had not seen since names like iloveoov and sAviOr had been rampaging around the landscape at the peak of their form. Prior to the final, Flash had just had recorded a 22 game TvT winning streak, the longest in history; his ELO was beyond anyone else in the game's history and in TvZ, the match-up Jaedong would play him in, Flash was sitting on a record of 26:4 (86.67%) over the past three and a half months.

Flash was so scary in TvZ that he had not lost two maps in a row to a single Zerg player over that span of time. His career life-time win-rate in the match-up was a godlike 70.27%. Jaedong's recent form? The man who had been 2009's best player had played only seven Terrans over the same time period as Flash's 24:6 win-rate, going an underwhelming 4:3 (57.14%). To say Flash was the heavy favourite would be an understatement, even just from the perspective of the racial match-up and recent form.

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Then there came the map pool, which all agreed heavily favoured the Terran in TvZ. Great players can overcome map imbalances, but when the best Zerg has to face the best Terran of all time, with him seemingly playing at the highest level of any player in history, then it becomes quite the problem. As if the context were not already slanted enough in Flash's favour, the four great bonjwas of BW history (BoxeR, NaDa, iloveoov and sAviOr) were polled as to who they thought would win. Three of them, all but NaDa, picked Flash to take the title. EffOrt and Stork, top players at the time, also picked Flash as the eventual victor.

When the final was played, none of the above mattered. Jaedong played one of the great ZvT series in history, defeating Flash 3:1 and even taking a crucial game on Odd-Eye, the map considered the most imbalanced against Zerg and which Jaedong and thumbed down to ensure he didn't have to play twice. After the infamous power outage at the end of game three, Flash was the one who mentally broke and Jaedong left the studio that day with his fifth individual league title, elevating him past sAviOr, the most successful Zerg in history to that point.

Everyone had said it was impossible, but Jaedong never stopped looking for a way to succeed, and succeed he did.

Every dog has its day

Professional Korean BW was so competitive that all but the greatest players in history found it an enormous struggle to reach even one or two individual league finals. If a player were fortunate enough to reach a final, then he knew that if he lost there and then that he might never again see that stage again, such was the pressure surrounding those affairs. Those who lost in finals more than once were typically considered losers, labeled as those who broke under pressure and couldn't rise to the moment.

Yet among such seemingly cursed individuals, we find stories of persistence and resilience which can inspire us in our own challenges. Sometimes a player has the talent but reaches the final at the same time as a great player in peak form, making his loss almost inevitable. What's important for such a player is that he continues to keep working, knowing that if he keeps putting himself in a position to succeed, then sooner or later it may well happen.

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A case worth mentioning is story of ChoJJa. ChoJJa had toiled away for years as one of the best Zerg players in the scene, but in an area in which the only Zerg winning individual titles was July. In early 2003, ChoJJa had reached the finals of both of the individual leagues, only to find himself facing NaDa in each. This was NaDa at his absolute peak, a player who would go on to tear off four titles in the span of less than a year. NaDa had already won the KPGA Tour, the predecessor to the MSL, twice in a row coming into these finals. The first final, the 4th KPGA Tour, was close, with ChoJJa narrowly losing 2:3, but then he was swept 3:0 in the OSL final.

Lesser players might have been broken for their rest of their careers suffering such losses, especially in such quick succession. ChoJJa continued to plug away though. More than two years later, he was able to finish third in the UZOO MSL. The following season, he repeated his feat from the previous season of reaching the upper bracket final. The same as the previous season, his opponent there was the mighty sAviOr. The previous season sAviOr had beaten him 3:2, but this time ChoJJa reached the fifth set and won, putting him through to the final.

This was sAviOr heading into full on godmode, and if ChoJJa's win over the reigning MSL champion in the upper bracket had given him confindence he would take the final, then seeing sAviOr 3:0 iloveoov, the previous dominant great player 3:0, to go 5:0 over him in total over that tournament, had to put a little uncertainty into "The cowboy Zerg". Despite facing a player in blistering form, who had only narrowly bested already, ChoJJa came out on the 14th of January 2006 and put on the performance of his life. Winning 3:1, he never trailed in the series and conclusively took his first ever individual league title.

Next to sAviOr's legacy, ChoJJa's seems barely worth mentioning, but after years of disappointment and feeling that he had gotten his opportunities at the wrong time, ChoJJa got his golden moment in the sun.

Even the lowest among us can make a difference

"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."

-J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings)

For the Winners League portion of the 2011 Proleague, there was little question that KT Rolster were the overwhelming favourites to take the title. Champions of both the last Proleague season and Winners League, they had dominated the two rounds of Winners League, going a combined 16:2 in series, including 9:0 over the latter round. Flash had been carrying them early, recording a ludicrous 18:2 record over round four, but he was no longer the only threat in the all-kill format. KT looked especially unstoppable thanks to the emergence of Stats, a Protoss player who had improved from a 9:6 round four to a very impressive 12:3 round five performance.

SKT, on the other hand, had struggled during the all-kill portion of that year's Proleague. Despite Bisu smashing round four with 20:4 in his own games, including a number of all-kills, the team had only managed to go 5:4 for the round. In the next round they'd again repeated 5:4 and Bisu had begun to cool off considerably. By they had struggled through the playoffs to reach the final, Bisu was sat at only 9:6 for round five and the playoffs combined. To make matters worse, Stats had all-killed them during round five, leaving them facing two players (Flash and Stats) who could potentially beat them all on their own, while SKT's biggest name was no longer in beastmode.

As the April 9th 2011 final got underway, Coach Park sent out s2, a Zerg player who was sitting on a record of 5:4 for WL. His first opponent would be Action, a Zerg who was 9:6 in round five and seemed to be in improving form. s2 defeated him to secure the first win for SKT. KT sent out Crazy-Hydra, another Zerg player in promising form, having all-killed MBC Hero in round five. s2 again showed himself to be more formidable than his reputation suggested, defeating another KT Zerg and putting SKT up 2:0. With Bisu, Fantasy and Best waiting on the bench, s2 had done more than enough to give SKT a chance to win the title, but he wasn't finished yet.

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KT sent out Stats, their top performer from the previous round and the man who had all-killed SKT already that season. Stats was 7:1 against Zergs in WL, winning his first seven games in a row. He would surely end s2's nice run and begin KT's winning streak, knowing he had Flash awaiting in case they needed a closer. s2 had other ideas, canceling lair and going for a hydralisk-speed zergling bust. Stats did not scout it and found himself unable to hold, forced to type out and grant victory to s2.

Somehow, SKT's little known Zerg had put his team at match point, giving them up to four chances to secure the Winners League trophy. In the next game KT sent out Flash and the god of BW of course took out s2, but Bisu was able to defeat Flash in the following game and win the series for SKT. s2 was named MVP of the final and a player who would have been considered a nobody the day before, had won an MVP title in a final series featuring names like Flash, Bisu and Fantasy.

The universe holds nothing against you

"The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent."

-Carl Sagan

Heading into the Korean Air OSL final, EffOrt was facing a daunting task, going up against Flash. Flash was the champion of the previous season and had made both finals of the individual leagues twice in a row now. Only a god tier ZvT performance from Jaedong had denied Flash the MSL title, so EffOrt knew he faced a seemingly impossible talk. Flash had gone 7:1 in the OSL that season, winning all of his playoff series in sweepts. EffOrt had finished 1:2 in his group, losing his first two games and being lucky enough to get a tie-breaker due to the results of others.

In the tie-breaker, where one player had to win twice, EffOrt three times won the first game only to lose the second. The first time he beat go.go and then lost to Shine, the next time he beat Shine and then lost to go.go, finally he again beat Shine but lost to go.go. In the fourth set of tie-breakers, he finally managed to persevere and defeat both opponents, securing himself a playoff spot. Able to win all of his playoff series also undefeated, as Flash had done, he made the first individual league final of his career.

The previous year, EffOrt had been a hotly touted rising star, at one point putting together an incredible 25:3 streak in Proleague, the third best streak of all time, to that point in time. This was 2010 though, and those days seemed a long time ago, at least in the fast-paced world of competitive BW. With Flash sat on two OSL titles already, a third victory would secure him the golden mouse award. Fans and pundits seemed certain they were to witness the coronation of Flash, EffOrt seemed little more than the sacrifical lamb to the greatness of Flash's career.

That attitude can be seen reflected in the introductions the two players were given. Flash arrived in a full sized jet, being driven into the hangar where the final was being hosted and walking down steps to arrive at the stage. EffOrt was merely lowered down on a platform, almost reminiscent of the cow being lowered into the raptor enclosure in Jurassic Park. All expected EffOrt's blood to stain the wall at the end of this encounter, now there was merely the formality of the games being played.

In the first game, EffOrt seemed to be in a good initial position, sniping two of Flash's Valykries in the first skirmish of any sort, only for the game to be paused and the referees to rule that Flash was having monitor problems and decide that the game out be replayed. In the replay EffOrt found himself behind a key point and decided to take the risk of going for drops to get back in the game, but Flash's incredible intuition told him such an attack might be coming and he was ready to handle it, swinging the game in the Terran's favour and eventually he would be up 1:0.

EffOrt took a slight lead in the second game but Flash against seemed on point in every possible regard, again the monster Terran took the game and was at map point already. In the third game EffOrt finally got a lead he could make stick, defeating Flash's bio and getting a little luck with Flash finally being off in timing. The fourth game was an attempted cheese by Flash to end the series, but it was EffOrt with the star sense this time, spotting it with an overlord. EffOrt secured the win and had reached the deciding set, where finally he could contend for the title.

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Flash decided to go for the incredibly ballsy move of 14ccing, going command center first. EffOrt sent lings over and Flash's attempt to block off his base with SCVs failed him, allowing EffOrt's lings into the base and the game to effectively be decided right there. EffOrt had done it, he'd defeated Flash from 0:2 down to win the Korean Air OSL.

Everyone of significance would have told you that EffOrt stood no chance against Flash in the final, but when the games were played all the hype and context in the world couldn't prevent EffOrt's successful plays from taking the series. The universe didn't care who won that series, it only recognised the player who made the most correct decisions and executed the right manoeuvres.

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

Episode 1

Photo credit; Fighterforum, FOMOS, NeverGG

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