A small digression: In Korea, military service is considered one of the four duties of every (male) South Korean - in addition, education, work and the payment of taxes are also part of those requirements. Every Korean can volunteer from the age of 18, but the official age of conscription is between 20 and 30 years. The duration of military service varies within the armed forces, but at least 18 months are currently expected.
For a long time it was believed that after compulsory military service it was not possible to return to the old strength before said conscription. Many of the once retired pros did not even try again. Those who came back to try their luck again often failed because of their own expectations. There are certainly many reasons for this, I will briefly discuss this at the end of the article. So let's have a look at the "successes" of the former cadets.
Before we can deal with success or failure, we need to take a look at the parameters that have been used in the selection. First of all, I took a look at the Aligulac prize money list and drew a line under $100,000 (Sorry Cure, $96,000 is unfortunately not enough). Then I checked which of these players had already completed their military service and then went back to the mouse and keyboard. Surprisingly, the number of "real" returnees was much smaller than expected.
In total, 48 Koreans have so far exceeded the magic limit of $ 100,000 in prize money. Only 17 of the 48 candidates have not retired yet (Rogue, Maru, Dark, INnoVation, TY, sOs, soO, Stats, Zest, PartinG, ByuN, Solar, Dear, Trap, aLive, Patience, Creator). Another 24 pros are currently doing their military service or did not even try to make it to the top of the world (Classic, Mvp, herO, NesTea, Leenock, HyuN, Rain, Jaedong, GuMiho, MarineKing, TRUE, viOLet, ForGG, Soulkey, PuMa, Hydra, jjakji, StarDust, San, ByuL, Fruitdealer, Losira, as well as the special case Life & YoDa). Some of them have played a few online cups or tried streaming, but only a few of them have made it their business to play for titles again. That leaves only seven players who have dared or made it back into progaming.
Unsuccessful returnees (Polt & HerO)
"Captain America" went about its civic duties in 2016 and started streaming again in mid-2019. This year he played several ESL Open Cups and also participated in the IEM Katowice, where he went down without a sound. Almost as unsuccessful was the former Team Liquid Protoss HerO, who also started to play in one or the other online tournaments in 2019 and even won an ESL Open Cup this year. Beyond that, however, hardly anything worth mentioning came together.
Code S is the Limit (Bomber, MMA, MC)
Bomber qualified for a Code S twice after his military service (GSL 2019 Season 3, GSL 2020 Season 1). Apart from these two successes, there was hardly anything countable in the last 1.5 years - about the ASUS ROG in Finland we best keep completely silent. Already some years ago MMA made a short comeback. In the first months of 2018 he was a bit more active and had his last matches in the GSL 2018 Season 3. Also for the BossToss, 2019 was only enough for a short intermezzo in the Korean top class (GSL 2019 Season 1), moreover even a MC had to admit defeat to the current level in the pro scene.
Hope (Taeja, DongRaeGu)
Taeja has made a passable return so far, having returned last summer, he has been able to participate in three consecutive GSLs (GSL 2019 Season 3, GSL 2020 Season 1 &2) and even made it into the Top16 once. A playoff participation at HSC 20 completes the picture. DongRaeGu also has three GSL seasons (GSL 2019 Season 2, GSL 2020 Season 1&2) and in the current season a playoff placement seems to be in the realm of possibility. As another notable success he can present a 13th-16th place at TSL 5.
Special cases (Dream, Armani)
The attentive reader will have noticed that one name was missing from the enumeration - Dream. Although the Terran has had a successful year 2015 (two 2nd places in the SSL and one semi-final in the Kespa Cup), he is still below the $100,000 prize money threshold. Although the time after his military service has been quite successful so far (3x GSL Code S, 1x GSL Supertournament 9th-16th), he might not really fit into the list of successful players.
An actual further development can be seen by Armani. The Zerg is with his 24 years very young for the fact that he has already finished his military service. Since then he shows that he has the necessary potential to have a good run in a tournament. Four GSL participations in a row and solid placements at the IEM Katowice and the GSL Super Tournament give hope.
Difficulties for returnees
A variety of reasons can be found why return is so difficult or will not even be considered. In no specific order I see the following points as the reasons for the lack of success:
- Lack of interest.
- Start into a "more normal" life
- Social pressure
- Too great a backlog / further development of the general level
- Slower reactions
- Job as streamer / personality / castor etc.
Despite almost ten years of StarCraft 2, no former champion has yet managed to earn a relevant title again or at least come close. So there must be some truth in the claim that the"military killed the video game star".