The Tyrant's journey home - Jaedong's road to his first real StarCraft 2 title
The story of Jaedong's long, hard road to his first significant StarCraft 2 title.
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Lee 'Jaedong' Jae Dong began the StarCraft2 chapter of his career in the bizarre position of carrying enormously high expectations and yet simultaneously having nothing to prove. Legions of rabid BroodWar (BW) fans salivated over the potential of what one of the greatest geniuses of their game might be able to do in its sequel, and yet the individual in question was already assured of a place in esports history as one of its greatest champions, even if he never won a single game of SC2.
After transferring to Evil Geniuses, the biggest name in foreign StarCraft2, the man once named "The Tyrant" and famed for his death stare, eerie ability to perform under pressure and lifting trophy after trophy, soon found his feet in BW's sequel and began to make deep runs in tournaments. The historical narrative stressed that this was where Jaedong should start to fill up a trophy cabinet in Alex Garfield's offices, yet the legendary Zerg of old found himself lacking again and again upon reaching the finals and semi-finals of tournaments.
When sOs ascended the top of the podium at the WCS Global Finals, Jaedong's blood smeared across his Woongjin jersey, Jaedong's fifth silver of the year propelled him simultaneously into the lead for the most money won in history, an accomplishment of great historical import, and prime position as the best player in the world not to have won a StarCraft2 tournament.
The man every BW professional feared and fan worshipped was now labelled a 'kong', someone cursed to pile up silver medals and heartbreak while others made off with golds and the glory. No long fit to truly bear the title of 'The Tyrant' and promising fans over and over that he would return to the top, Jaedong's journey finally reached the promised land yesterday. This is the story of one of BW's greatest winners tumultuous dredge through the wasteland of finals heartbreak, every loss propelling him further towards a seemingly looming retirement.
On December 8th 2013 the Tyrant returned.
The once and true king
Korean BW was a cut-throat world in which champions of one season quickly fell by the wayside come next. In 12 years of high level competition the two most important tournaments, the OnGameNet StarLeague (OSL) and MBCGame StarCraft League (MSL), had never been won more than three times by separately by any one individual, and never more than six times collectively by one man. All who competed in those leagues in the latter half of the 2000s chased the record of NaDa, the champion whose three titles in each league, and six in total, stood as the benchmark of competitive greatness.
Charging from the pack of four great players that marked Jaedong's era, the legendary TaekBangLeeSsang (Stork, Bisu, Flash and Jaedong), the young Zerg left his peers far behind, reaching five titles, three in the OSL and two in the MSL, while the others could only boast the same total between the three of them. Jaedong had won everything of significance in BW, titles across every league, even including wins in the WCG and the briefly established GOM league.
The full story of Jaedong's illustrious BW career can be read in this article, but for the purpose of this story it serves merely as a prelude to the inevitable transition into StarCraft2. Despite being the trailblazer of his generation, the last two years of BW saw Jaedong give up ground to Flash, who had ascended from mere great player to the god of BW, fitting of his moniker "The Ultimate Weapon".
Jaedong, once the game's most clutch winner, was relegated to seeing Flash hoist three gold medals in their last three finals played against each other. Despite continuing to show flashes of brilliance, with his continuing streak of reaching MSL finals and individual games that reminded of his time at the time, the king of the latter era of BW had been forced to surrender the crown to Flash.
The gradual shift to a new world
The last season of BW competition was the hybrid ProLeague, which featured the bizarre and off-putting system of having team matches between a matter of two Bo3s (Best-of-three series), one in BW and the other in SC2, with an Ace match decider in SC2, if required. With KeSPA wanting to ensure the BW greats didn't camp out the last season in BW, racking up easy wins, they enforced a system where if a player had played a game in BW, then next match he had to switch to SC2, and vice-versa.
This system threw the entire BW world off-kilter, as simultaneously practicing in both games increased the difficulty of remaining consistent in either. Jaedong found himself thrown to and fro, finishing the season with a sub-50% win-rate overall, for a player used to winning among the most wins in a series under the old system. Still, in SC2 he had won more games than he had lost and that was enough to garner him the MVP award, thanks in large part to being the only reliable Ace player for Team 8, winning six Ace games for a 66.67% win-rate in that respect.
The only individual league action the BW champion saw in the new game during this time was the MLG KeSPA Exhibition Tournament, where he defeated Leta and lost to fellow BW god Bisu. With KeSPA pros allowed to compete in GSL the decision was made to grant Jaedong a direct seed into Code S, the highest division of Korean competition and unanimously considered the most difficult competition in professional StarCraft2.
Unsurprisingly, this rookie season was rough on Jaedong, with a loss to former multiple time champion MC and to former multiple time finalist MarineKing seeing him eliminated from the Ro32 group he had been placed in. Dropping down to a match in Code A, which would determine if he could begin to qualify for the next season's Code S tournament, Jaedong was swiftly booted from even the second tier of Korean SC2, losing 0:2 to finale (now known as duckdeok).
Expectations build from all angles
Just as Jaedong had always been the benchmark against which Flash's one-time ailing BW career had always been compared, when the young Terran had failed to win more than a single title by late 2009, now Flash would become the SC2 yardstick for Jaedong's own struggles to be matched up against. While Jaedong had flunked his debut into the GSL Flash, who admittedly had not passed his own time in Code A, had gathered some early results, reaching the quarter-finals of the first SC2 OSL and finishing in the top four of the MLG Fall Championship.
A day after Flash's success overseas at MLG, Jaedong was announced as having signed to Evil Geniuses, widely considered the most wealthy team in the foreign StarCraft2 world. EG had a reputation for signing championship level players at the zenith of their careers, shortly after their victories, and then seeing them fade away in success, raking in huge salaries, endorsing products and yet rarely again gracing the podiums of the world's best SC2 tournaments.
With Jaedong, yet to achieve anything of note in SC2, the expectations were decidedly different from that reputation, as the opportunity to enter foreign tournaments seemed a certainty for the man who had competed for the vast majority of his BW career only in Korea. In the next season of Code A Jaedong had beaten two Zergs to reach the Ro24, one series from qualifying for Code S, but fell to Terran Hack 1:2. 2012 came to a close with nothing to show from SC2 for BW's neo-Zerg god.
2013 began with Jaedong attending a small promotional tournament run by one of EG's sponsors, the HyperX 10-Year Anniversary Tournament. Despite only being a six man tournament it did feature a few well known Korean players, including old school GSL champion MC. Jaedong was beaten by MC in the group stage, but in the Bo7 final he returned the favour, winning 4:2 to take a minor victory early in the year. The next season of Code A continued to be a problem phase, losing out 1:2 to Lure to drop early.
Flash continued to prove himself the best of the TBLS (TaekBangLeeSsang) in SC2, finishing runner-up at the MLG Winter Championship in the new expansion of SC2: Heart of the Swarm. If joining Wings of Liberty, the vanilla mode of StarCraft2, had seen Jaedong forced to catch-up more than two years of competition then HotS represented a change to apply his aptitude for gaming as even the great WoL players were forced to learn what was in some senses a new game.
"No one can always win, but when the results become worse, many gossips start to come out.
Even though the performance in game was not good, I try to keep my positive mind that I can overcome the hard times by myself. And that helped me to recover my condition very much. Actually I was so busy to think about myself, so I couldn't realize that myself is in a slump. I prepared for my next game as best as I can always, and that lead me to a highest place I could imagine."
-Jaedong, speaking in September of 2012 on overcoming slumps
The maiden voyage to Dreamhack
Jaedong made his first true overseas SC2 debut at Dreamhack Stockholm. At the Swedish event he took a blow early, losing to Swedish Protoss SaSe 1:2 in the second group stage, but after progressing the EG man won the next group stage and the first two series of the playoffs with only two maps given up along the way.
In his first foreign SC2 tournament Jaedong had reached the semi-final and the man he would face there was NaNiwa, a wildly controversial foreign player who had once been considered one of the best players in the world from any country, yet had not placed in the top four of a significant tournament in over 15 months. That NaNiwa was making his return to the top four at this event spelled that the Swede was in his own run of form. The two were not unfamiliar with each other, having practiced together in the EG-TL house, where Jaedong had beaten NaNiwa convincingly.
Taking the opening map of their Bo3 Jaedong could be forgiven for imagining practice results would an accurate guide of the two's match-up, presumably cruising to a series win and the first final of his career. Instead NaNiwa struck back with some vicious cheese to level the series. The final game was a thriller, NaNiwa holding at crucial moments to allow himself the chance to take the lead and finally push on through and kill Jaedong's dreams of the final. As as far as he had gone in Sweden, Jaedong returned home with a sickly feeling.
"I practiced with Jaedong in Korea quite a bit, and I lost like 0-8. He did this build a lot against me [...]"
-NaNiwa, following his win over Jaedong at Dreamhack Stockholm
Eight weeks later and Jaedong was back in Sweden for another Dreamhack tournament, this time the Summer event. Drawn into one of the hardest second group stages, along with Ret, goswser and elfi, the Korean Zerg blitzed the opposition to reach the third group stage without having lost a single map thus-far. In the third group stage a loss to fellow Korean Sting didn't prevent him from reaching another Dreamhack playoff bracket.
Jaedong's Ro16 opponent would be Stephano, heralded as the best foreign SC2 player of all time, but famously weakened in ZvZ. Jaedong dispatched him with a clean 2:0 and did likewise to LucifroN, another player in the mix for best foreigner. A semi-final draw with TaeJa, star Terran of Team Liquid, posed far less threat than it might have appeared on paper, and Jaedong reached the first real final of his StarCraft2 career. His opponent across the other side of the stage was StarDust, also a former BW pro, under the name M18M, but nothing but a top 12 finish at IEM VII Singapore in 2012 to show for his SC2 career to that point.
The format for the finals was Bo5 and Jaedong was heavily favoured to win, with StarDust2's run showing all the hallmarks of a once-in-a-career cinderella run. The Korean Protoss had even seemingly been given a finals spot by virtue of favourite Life losing to SjoW, a Swedish Terran who had not been relevant for more almost two years, somehow upsetting him. When StarDust2 dispatched the Swede to reach the final it was widely thought that Jaedong's first SC2 title was awaiting him.
Instead Sweden provided Jaedong with more bad memories, another close series going to his opponent when it mattered. The final went the full five games and the last, crucially, went in the favour of StarDust. The miracle had happened, the underdog had done it, and Jaedong was left to wonder why his ZvP was letting him down so often when it mattered.
Trying his hand in the US of A
With the backing of EG Jaedong entered the 2013 World Championship Series (WCS) competing in the American region. Progressing from his Challenger group (the equivalent of Code A) Jaedong would play the next season from the Premier league. At the end of June Jaedong headed to California for his first big SC2 event on American soil.
At the MLG Fall Championship Jaedong quickly made his way, without defeat in the fifth round of the winners bracket. There he ran up against KeSPA Protoss Dear, who defeated him in a 2:0 sweep. Beating out another KeSPA Protoss (Stats) 2:0 in the lower bracket Jaedong reached a rematch with the man who had eliminated him in Stockholm: NaNiwa. Rather than setting the record straight for the previous elimination, Jaedong found himself once more eliminated by the player some were starting to call the best foreigner in SC2. With elimination in 7th-8th people began to ask serious questions about Jaedong's ZvP.
"I think he is the best foreign Protoss. However, I should not have easily lost to him, but I got too nervous and did not have enough confidence in myself. At the end, I think that it was lack of practice."
-Jaedong, speaking after his loss to NaNiwa at MLG.
Not only was ZvP becoming an obvious weakness of the former BW champion, but his play at home in Korea, in the KeSPA ProLeague, was struggling to match the kind of success he was accruing overseas. Playing for EG-TL Jaedong could not finish the ProLeague season with even a 50% win-rate, while his BW rival Flash lead the league with 44 wins to his name.
Less than a month later, in the latter of July, Jaedong flew to Spain for Dreamhack Valencia. Again he charged through the group stages, this team making it out without a single loss. The early part of the bracket once more posed no threat, as he made short work of VortiX and JYP to reach the semi-final. As if scripted for maxmium drama the Zerg with the shaky ZvP found himself facing StarDust, the Protoss who had bested him in the previous Dreamhack final, who was in his path to the final.
"I was looking for a revenge and I really wanted to win. The last DreamHack's final has been in my mind before whenever I went to sleep."
-Jaedong, speaking after Dreamhack about his semi-final match-up vs. StarDust
When EG's Korean Zerg star pushed through another close series to this time eliminate StarDust and reach another final it seemed as if past demons had been exorcised. Even better, the finals opponent was not a Protoss, but rather a Korean Zerg: HyuN. Not only was Jaedong a ZvZ monster, but HyuN was also seeking a first SC2 title, having come up short only weeks prior at MLG. Jaedong took the opener and stood only two maps from the title. HyuN was to be the man who destiny favoured that day, winning his first SC2 title and forcing Jaedong to again leave without completing the job.
Three Dreamhack top four finishes consecutively, twice in a row losing in the finals. One of BW's greatest winners was falling at the last hurdles to seemingly any and everyone. It would have been quite another thing if his losses had come to champions at the peak of their powers, but Jaedong was losing out to players who had not won titles in the past few years and who were making their reputations off the back of his own.
"I am sorry to my fans for finishing second place twice in a row. I want to show myself progressively getting better and I am spending all my time outside of tournaments on maintaining my condition and practicing. I really want to do well and I believe that I can be the best. I would appreciate it if my fans would believe and follow me."
-Jaedong, speaking after Dreamhack Valencia
A week later it was off to China for IEM VIII Shanghai. Hopes of success in a new tournament circuit were short-lived, as crucial ZvP losses to HerO and MC, both in three maps, eliminated him from his Ro16 group. As fellow EG Zerg Revival took the title Jaedong faced even more pressure to deliver, both for his fans and the organisation who was banking on him becoming a champion in the foreign tournament circuit.
August began with another trip stateside, competing in the offline portion of the second season of WCS America. Winning two 2:0 series over Ryung and Oz put Jaedong into the bracket of eight players that would play down to the title. The quarter-final opponent Jim might not have looked fearsome on paper, but he had beaten Jaedong in the online Challenger league group for the first season. That proved relevant once more, as Jim pushed Jaedong to five games before finally relenting and sending the EG Zerg through to the semi-final of another tournament.
Another Zerg graced the server in the semi-final, foreign star Scarlett. Jaedong's ZvZ did not fail him, again winning out a close five map series. In the fifth map the player known for his uncanny ability to sense when to go for the throat in BW gambled with a six pool, catching his foreign opponent off-guard to take the decider. In his third SC2 final Jaedong would face the Terran Polt. For the first time, perhaps, Jaedong was not a favourite heading in, as Polt had won MLG a month prior. It mattered not, the outcome was the same: a loss for Jaedong and yet another silver to add to his collection.
Upping the stakes
One positive to come out of that WCS America run was that it qualified Jaedong into the final for the season, to be held in Cologne, Germany. All the questions leveled against his ZvP seemed to be moot as the tournament unfolded. Jaedong progressed from his group with ZvP series wins over recent OSL runner-up Rain and tournament veteran MC. In the quarter-final he faced another Protoss, with another change for revenge, as his third playoff series against NaNiwa was set. This time Jaedong put one in the win column, slaying the Swede 3:1 to reach the semi-final. There it was a case of yet more Protoss, defeating IEM Katowice champion First in a clean sweep to reach another final.
"Honestly, there isn’t a player of whom I am afraid. Even if I went up against INnoVation, I could play my games with utmost confidence. That is my biggest strength."
-Jaedong, speaking ahead of the WCS Season 2 Final.
Just as with the WCS America final Jaedong found himself squaring off against a Terran, but this time his chances looked good. His opponent would be Bomber, another player famed for coming up short deep in tournaments, regardless of his level to that point. It had been two years since Bomber had won a tournament. With that said, the Korean Terran had reached the semi-final of WCS Korean Season 2, so he was considered to be in a renaissance period. Just as the WCS AM final had not been close, with Polt sweeping it 4:0, so Bomber repeated history, sweeping Jaedong 4:0 to take the season title. Fans were already beginning to say Jaedong would never win an SC2 title, even labeling him 'JaeKong'.
September was another Dreamhack in another location, this time Romania. Dreamhack Bucharest saw Jaedong again navigate the group stages, reaching the playoffs as he had always done. His Ro16 opponent was sOs, GSL semi-finalist from earlier in the one and one of the world's best PvZ players. If the WCS S2 finals had been supposed to be proof that Jaedong's ZvP was no longer a weak point, then sOs suggested otherwise, coming from a map down to win the series 2:1 and eliminate Jaedong outside of the top eight of a Dreamhack for the first time.
In the third season of WCS America Jaedong suffered no defeats in the group stages, reaching the quarter-finals with only a single map loss. Escaping a tough 3:2 series against Hack put him into a ZvZ against ByuL in the semi-final. ZvZ had been a point of safety and comfort for Jaedong all year long, when his ZvT and ZvP match-ups had suffered moments, however long they may be, of fragility he could always rely on ZvZ, much as in BW, to carry him through. For the second straight WCS America season his semi-final ZvZ series went to five games, but this time Jaedong was not the one to escape into the final.
"It was unfortunate that, yes, I did lose. But I'm not the kind of player that carries a lot of emotional baggage from my previous games, and I forget losses pretty quickly. I don't feel much right now."
-Jaedong, speaking after his loss to ByuL at WCS America S2
Where in Season 2 Jaedong had gone to the Season final and put up a dazzling run to, for a while, make fans forget his struggles against Protoss, losing the opener at the Season 3 finals to Genius 1:2 put him in a tough situation. When a resurgent MMA, who had won the European crown that season, put him away in two it seemed as if perhaps Jaedong's time to secure a title was coming to an end. Protoss ruled the world, with Dear taking down the Korean and Finals S3 titles, a bad omen for a Zerg who still had questions to answer about his own match-up against the offspring of Aiur.
The biggest event of the year looms large
The WCS Global Finals would be the biggest event of the year, on paper at least. $100,000 for first prize and the 16 players set based on WCS points aggregated from the year's tournament circuit. Jaedong's efforts, both in WCS America and other tournaments, had qualified him in third place, above all of the players who had eliminated him from tournaments that year. Still, this was a tournament of champions and Dear, the most recent champion of two of the biggest tournaments, was the betting man's favourite for the crown. If Jaedong could win his opening series he would have to slay that monster, else fall victim as all other Zergs had in recent times.
The opener was no mean feat though, as Mvp, the player with the most GSL titles in SC2 history, was in the way of a quarter-final spot for Jaedong. Mvp might have seemed largely irrelevant on the global stage at this point, having put up no significant results during year save winning the European WCS S1 title and finishing top four at the S1 finals in the first half of the year. That had been enough put Mvp into the Global Finals, but the last of those results had been back in June, five months prior.
The true threat from Mvp was not his form, but rather his reputation as the most brilliantly devious planner of Bo5 series. Somehow the Incredible Miracle Terran could prove his team's name sake against seemingly anyone in that format. Jaedong put that threat to rest swiftly, sweeping the series 3:0. One GSL champion had fallen and now the EG Zerg would have to face the hottest player in the world, the aforementioned Dear.
There had never been a scarier opponent for Jaedong to face in his career. Dear had not only won the WCS Korea and S3 titles, in the space of less than a month no less, but had done so by crushing elite tier Korean Zergs in both finals. The latter had been particularly stomach-churning for Zergs around the world, as Soulkey, widely considered the best Zerg all year, had reached the final off the back of his own excellence in the match-up, beating Oz and Trap 3:0 each.
The S3 final match-up of Soulkey vs. Dear should have been a thriller for the ages, the best ZvP player against the best PvZ. Instead Dear eviscerated the Woongjin man's soul, sweeping him 4:0 in ruthlessly unforgiving fashion. This was the scale of the task facing Jaedong merely to reach the semi-finals. In his worst match-up he would be required to beat the best player in the world, who was not only the best player in that match-up, but who had shown no signs of being figured out by even the best Zergs.
Slaying the Protoss god-king
If Jaedong was daunted by the task he didn't show it, opening the series up by snatching the first map win. Dear came right back, as expected, and took the next two maps to reach series point. Unlike many of his tournament eliminations in 2013, there would be no shame in being sent home here, a map win in a series against Dear was more than many of Korea's finest Zergs had managed. Jaedong was more resilient that could have been known though, he showcased power-play and map control to level the series and force a decider.
At eight minutes Dear decided to commit to a seven gateway blink all-in attack. Jaedong began rushing units out, knowing an attack from the Protoss would be imminent. Jaedong had burrow and made use it to set-up an ambush for the blink stalkers and sentries. Choosing the perfect moment to unburrow he melted the sentries quickly. Dear used micro to blink back his stalkers, but Jaedong push on with his roaches and took the engagement, the game and the series. Jaedong had slain the king of PvZ and the best player in the world slumped back in his seat as EG's silver king advanced to the semi-finals.
"It wasn't my plan to play with such a strategy. It was an improvised move at that point in time. To counteract what my opponent was doing, that entertaining scene was produced, and based on the results, that move led to the victory, and so I'm really pleased with that. Because of that game, I felt once again the tremendous roar and cheers of the fans, and it became an unforgettable moment."
-Jaedong, speaking about the decision to use burrow to ambush his opponent.
In a tournament stacked with star Koreans Jaedong would find no respite, his semi-final opponent was Maru. Maru, aged only 16, was the OSL champion of that Summer and was playing in his fourth major semi-final of 2013. The player who had stopped young Maru in his previous two semi-finals had been none other than Dear, so one could easily imagine the Prime Terran ecstatic that Jaedong had done what he could not, eliminating Dear from the competition. Maru's previous two playoff runs had also seen him fail to face Zergs in any series, so scouting information would be difficult for Jaedong to come by.
Polt had smashed him, Bomber had crushed him and now Jaedong faced another Korean Terran, this one in even scarier form, for a spot in the final of the year's biggest event. Fears associated with those two Bo7 series losses to Korean Terrans seemed to have no impact on the proceedings though, as Jaedong again lifted his form to match the world's best, winning in four games and moving in to the final. Jaedong was potentially four maps from winning $100,000 and his first real SC2 title.
Every good story repeats key themes at the right moments and the story of Jaedong's 2013 was no different, as the opponent in the final would be Korean Protoss master sOs. Not only was sOs one of the best Korean Protoss, he was one of the best PvZ players, he was the team-mate and practice partner of the best Korean ZvP player (Soulkey) and he was one of the best players of 2013 not to have won a significant title. The two names at the top of the list in 2013 for great players without a title would now do battle for the biggest title of the year, possibly StarCraft history.
It should perhaps have been a good omen for Jaedong that just making the final had moved him past fatal1ty to become the all-time leader for prize money won in the history of esports. If he had beaten Dear why couldn't he beat sOs? The Woongjin Protoss had beaten him in a Bo3 back at Dreamhack Bucharest, but the same Protoss had also lost Bo5 series to Soulkey and Curious that year. By virtue of most of sOs' games being shown off-stream most of the fans at the event were actively behind Jaedong, believing and willing him on to the title that seemed ever so close at last. The storyline was set, the stage awaited and history lay before him, ready to be written.
Mind-games rule the world
If Dear had won his titles with flawless decision-making, reminiscent of the Jaedong title runs of BW, then sOs' strength in the final would be mindgames. It's considered an integral component of elite level StarCraft that the nature of Bo5 and Bo7 series, with so many games to be played, allows the best players to not only execute their best strategies, but also engage in psychological warfare on their opponents. Use of a particular strategy will suggest and even tempt out a specific response, a dynamic which the best players can use to seemingly force their opponents in making incorrect guesses and setting themselves up for losses from the planning stage onwards.
sOs was a conductor in Anaheim and Jaedong was his orchestra. When the Korean Protoss found himself trapped on three bases, with Jaedong on five and trading back bases every time the Protoss pushed out, it seemed as if Jaedong was flawlessly headed to an opening game victory. Less than 10 minutes later and sOs had won the game, Jaedong's banked money being useless due to not using up his ultra army to allow him to instantly switch heavily into mutas. sOs had struck first blood, thanks to patience and expert reading of the game.
In that first frustrating loss Jaedong had seen sOs pull off a cannon rush early which he'd been able to react to just in time. Assuming his opponent wouldn't try the same again sOs uses that conceptual hole to pull off another cannon rush, forcing the cancellation of the hatchery. This time around Jaedong found himself much further before than in the first game. Suddenly Jaedong was heading down the road of being down 0:2. Before the in-game timer could even reach 17 minutes Jaedong found that as exactly the scenario facing him.
Despite striking back in the third game, to at least keep himself in the series, Jaedong found himself once more at the mercy of sOs' warped Protoss genius. The Korean Protoss seemingly threw feints out in every game, trying to elicit specific reactions from his Zerg opponent, while allowing himself the opportunity read correctly which attack to select. In the fourth game it was an immortal and zealot push that finished the game in almost no time at all. sOs was winning the finals purely with his mind. Even the casters were struggling to keep up with the flow of the games, not being able to read what sOs was doing themselves, even with full vision of both players' bases.
Game five saw Jaedong unable to respond to the way his opponent was reading and redefining the match-up, sOs seized victory and Jaedong suffered the largest failure of his professional StarCraft2 career. The story was supposed to end here with a victory, to make all the finals losses of the year just a delay of the ultimate euphoria of winning the biggest event of the year, against a field stacked with elite caliber Korean opponents. Instead sOs had taken up a holiday home inside Jaedong's mind, trashed the place and left with the trophy.
"It's almost like a lie. I've come in as runner up again, and everything I say now seems like an excuse. To be able to come in second in such a tournament, I even feel tempted to praise myself. But thinking it through, it still seems like such a pity, but I've always been very optimistic. I don't want to be too pessimistic as that would make me so tired. However, the results are what they are, and the local fans have said many nasty things about this, but if I take too much of it to heart, it would just make me stressed out wouldn't it? I don't really want to care too much about these."
-Jaedong, speaking after the WCS Global Finals in a Korean interview
One last tour of duty in Europe
The final two events of the year would be back in Europe, and there was still a chance to make something special happen in 2013. Dreamhack Winter could not boast the same kind of field that the WCS Season finals had, but it still contained a number of big names and a strong double elimination structure. Jaedong excelled in the group stage, winning all four series. In the upper bracket he faced off against INnoVation, the world's best TvZ player, and fell in a three map series.
"INnoVation is the hardest player for me, I could beat him, but I made too many mistakes. No player is hard for me."
-Jaedong, speaking on the hardest player for him at Dreamhack Winter.
The lower bracket saw a date with JYP, an EG team-mate. If Jaedong had bested Dear he should surely have expected to have a solid read on a man he'd played in practice numerous times. JYP was to put up his own surprise run, defeating Jaedong in three maps to eliminate him from Dreamhack Winter. There would be one last event in 2013 for the man once feared and worshipped as 'The Tyrant': ASUS ROG NorthCon.
The event had few expectations encircling it, the previous edition had been a train-wreck of delays and organisational failures, the player list could not match up to some of the monster events of the year and fans were almost emotionally exhausted from the excitement of so many major StarCraft2 tournaments. Jaedong won his group, gaining a little more revenge on StarDust, beating him 3:1, and scraping past fellow Zerg Nerchio. Protoss might have been his bane all year, but elfi was not going to stop him in the quarter-final, falling 1:3 to Jaedong's force.
Adding another name to the revenge list Jaedong beat out INnoVation 3:2 in their semi-final. With no Protoss left in the tournament, the best Korean TvZ player slain and the final ahead of him Jaedong could face only a Zerg. Multiple time event champion Life had fallen in the first semi-final, so Jaedong's finals opponet would be Scarlett.
The final moment to make it count for 2013
Renewing their acquaintance from that epic WCS America S2 semi-final, which had gone to five games, Jaedong and Scarlett were both poised to make history. If Jaedong won he'd finally have secured the SC2 title he'd sought all year, through finals losses galore. If Scarlett won she'd become the only foreigner in 2013 to win a title of note, in a year where Koreans truly had been unstoppable. Facing another opponent who had yet to win an international title in their career failure simply was not an option for Jaedong, lest he be forever labeled a kong and mocked mercilessly by anti-fans.
The structure for the final was Bo7 and after four games the series was tied up 2:2, as it had been in their WCS America Bo5. This time, of all times, Jaedong simply would not be denied. He took the next two games and the crown. It may have come at the end of the year, at one of the smaller events he had made deep runs in and without the fanfare of facing one of Korea's best players in the final, but Jaedong had finally finished a tournament as the last man standing.
The man with the most winnings in the history of esports had won another title the better part of four years removed from his last significant title victory. In those 42 months Jaedong's powers of indominable will had deserted him when he had needed them most, losing in eight finals before once more tasting the sweet succor of victory that, temporarily at least, soothes all aches. His journey had been an arduous one, his path ever uncertain, so riddled it was with pitfalls, but in the end Jaedong had once more claimed the title of champion. In that moment The Tyrant returned.
Winner of over $499,000 in prize money, three time OSL champion, two time MSL champion, GOM Classic Season 2 champion, WCG gold medalist and now StarCraft2 champion.
"I don't have a secret; I just practice and live like everybody else. I guess I put a lot of thought into self-improvement. I do everything that I can so I can focus during practice. I felt that a sound body was important to withstanding long hours of practice, so I started working out and eating healthy, on top of positive thinking. Most importantly, I continued these things without quitting. Thinking back, I never let up on those things, not even for a moment."
-Jaedong, during his BW career.
Photo Credits: eslphotos, Dreamhack, ghostclaw, silverfire, Helena Kristiansson, aceresport, NeverGG, Frederike Schmitt
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