Intro / Quick Summary
I am writing this post to let the people that are interested know that I am shifting focus from Starcraft to other things. I chose the words “shifting focus” rather than “retire” since retirement might suggest that I will no longer participate in any way for the rest of my life, while “shifting focus” is much less restrictive. That said, over the last 8 years or so I have pushed myself very hard to improve at Starcraft, and this is exactly what I now change; approximately one month ago I dropped my goals related to Starcraft which means that I now only play for enjoyment. I do enjoy competition, so perhaps occasionally I will play tournaments or even practise for enjoyment. However, it will be at a much smaller scale to ensure that it doesn't stand in the way of my new goals. This post will explain in much more depth, but to give some reasons for why I shift focus the three main reasons are as follows.
- Starcraft is not as exciting to me personally as it used to be. Not because I think the game has become less interesting, but rather because I have changed.
- The future for up and coming players in Starcraft is very uncertain with regard to tournaments next year.
- My main goal with SC were related to self development and I have achieved most of what I wanted. To continue this journey, it is natural for me now to change fields.
I am writing this gigantic post for those interested in my Starcraft journey as well as future plans. (If you’re not and just wanted a news update, feel free to drop out here and enjoy the rest of your day!). It is a bit ranty since my priority writing this was to convey accurate messages/information rather than making it concise/easy to read.
Tadpole Times - Growing up and getting into the game
I was originally planning on not writing any type of public retirement post since I wanted to be allowed to change my mind in an unbiased fashion without being affected by what I had written publicly previously. However, at this point I am fully comfortable and happy with this choice that I made a month ago and realized that I want to inform the lovely people that are curious and have been supporting me over the years; this is the least I can do. The rest of this post will describe my Starcraft journey and transition into what I will be doing next outside of Starcraft and why I decided to change path. For those of you who have read my guides in the past, you will not be surprised to hear that this is going to be a lot of text :p
Similar to many other people that delved deep into Starcraft I have been interested in games since a young age. Around the age of 6 I was playing both chess and Age of Empires 1. In chess I was very competitive, but playing AoE was a very different experience. Initially I would play it solo with a bunch of cheat-codes and playing around with the map editor. Later I would play it frequently together with my sister against the AI:s. Playing it evoked such strong emotions that I can still remember to this day; excitement for building up a more powerful civilization, fear of the opponent’s unknown strength and of the dark map full of lions that would attack your scouting workers, joy from just watching your workers collect resources and build things. AoE and chess were big highlights of my life at 6-10 years old and I would often find myself daydreaming about them. It’s worth noting that while I was a competitive person and loved competing through a battle over the chess board, this competition only lasted during each individual game; I was not interested in improving at chess or playing it professionally in the future. Instead my competitive spirit was limited to the duration of the game.
Around 13-15 year old I got into Aoe3 instead which allowed you to play online. At this point I started to appreciate the depth of strategy games; the deeper you go the more interesting they become. One day my sister got me Starcraft 2 Wings of Liberty. I loved how unique every unit was and the predictability of resources being located at a fixed location. Outside of chess this was also the first time I played 1v1, in AoE3 I would play primarily 3v3s. Over time I found a lovely group of people and we made a clan called “OpenClan” (OCL). We would play a bunch of 1v1 show matches with fun strategies. I still remember one game at the time that made my day: I timed out a drone scout to make a hatchery where the barracks is normally built. Then the idea was to cancel it and build a spawning pool with the creep there. It was basically an inefficient zergling rush but one that made it difficult for the opponent to wall the ramp due to the holes created by the spawning pool. Additionally, the pool will fairly quickly bleed out off of creep so you can quickly finish it off with zerglings to open the wall further and burst out some broodlings. My opponent tried to wall off but there were some holes in the wall that he failed to fix, as he saw the lings getting near he panicked and lifted his cc to try to wall with it, but there was still a hole in the wall and I ended up winning. It felt incredible to come up with such a crazy idea and to make it work; especially with a small live audience. This game summarizes my former playstyle fairly well.
Attempting to reach GM
Around this time I also discovered the exciting pro scene and learned Starcraft lingo such as “mechanics”. This is when my competitive drive started. I decided that I wanted to reach GM level. I was bored in school which was too easy at the time, so I thought it would be good to give myself a challenge to stay active. I thought it might take a while, maybe up to a year but I was confident that I would succeed. I felt pretty close at the time as a mid master player (master was the top 2% at the time). For a year I played more than previously and started playing competitively on the ladder. In the first 3 or so months I made progress and got pretty close, but after that I ended up not improving at all for 9 entire months. Some periods I even got worse. My confidence was shattered. I hated it. This was probably the first time in life that I really wanted something, put my heart into it and failed miserably.
Fortunately, I did not lose my fighting spirit. I did not want to accept that I lacked the talent to reach GM level, so I tried to find errors in my training. Also, extremely fortunate was that around this time I saw Day9 (who I looked up to a lot) recommend a book called “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin. As I started reading I got more and more eager. I realised that my main problem was my mindset. The competitive mindset that I had adopted was my old chess competitive mindset of focusing on winning every single ladder game rather than focusing on understanding my current skills and how to develop them in order to win at some point in the future. This means utilising important tools such as what Josh Waitzkin called “Investing in loss” which with an example in Starcraft could be to accept that you will lose a lot for a few weeks after you stop using f2 while learning how to use control groups. It sounds obvious to me now, but I also understand where the bad mentality came from. Growing up, many parents and school will reward skill rather than improvement. Additionally, many people use skills to build up our self esteem, or ego, especially when it comes to things that we are good at and care about. This past ego of mine likely made it difficult for me to see my flaws and focus on improving rather than winning. I still remember how a chess coach once told me when I was maybe 9 years old that my main problem is that I always try to win, and at the time I thought that it was a really stupid thing to say. Reading the chapter about investing in loss finally made me remember and understand this comment.
I am so happy that I failed in my attempt to reach GM because having to fight through it and reading this book made me a much better person, both in terms of efficiency but also for my self esteem. I quickly became obsessed with the idea of mastering improvement. I realized that this is an extraordinary life skill that will allow me to do anything once I start focusing on something else than Starcraft, similarly to how Josh Waitzkin quickly mastered Tai Chi Chuan after leaving chess. Up until this point I had set the goal of GM because I wanted to play better Starcraft, but now the main focus became personal development.
Starcraft is the ultimate competition for Personal Development
Starcraft is in my opinion the ultimate competition for personal development. It has a wide variety of potential skills that can make you a good player; for example smart strategies, fast mechanics, consistency and focus, hidden information mind games, the dueling aspects of noticing the other person's strengths and weaknesses and controlling the game into a game-state where your strengths and weaknesses are superior to your opponents strengths and weaknesses, aggression, defense, the list goes on. Because of this, I believe that talent becomes unimportant, especially compared to other competitions like for example chess or running where genetics play a more obvious role.
In Starcraft there are pretty much no coaches which means that money and connections are also not important. We are typically alone in this competition which makes it more fair. Even our parents rarely support our gaming until you start making significant money. This also means that everyone in the Starcraft community is here because they really like the game, which is lovely. This is very different to for example chess where kids as young as 3 years old get lessons from their enthusiastic parents.
Another reason for Starcraft being a great practice ground for personal development is that you have an objective performance metric. This is also true in running and chess, not not in school or at a job and even for some sports which require judges (such as figure skating I believe). This is extremely crucial, because we are terribly biased when it comes to comparing our own methods to someone else’s; after all we might follow our own methods because we believe in them, and without an objective performance metric that tells us that we are doing poorly, why would we make changes when we believe in what we are doing? This objective performance metric not only helps us swap bad practices for good ones, but if we take a moment to investigate why we believed that something bad was good, that can improve our general understanding and reduce our biases. This would be impossible without an objective performance metric.
Yet another aspect that makes Starcraft such a good practice ground for personal improvement is that it is challenging in a mental health kind of way. There’s luck involved due to the hidden information, and a single small mistake can make you instantly lose any game. On top of that failure happens repeatedly for most people, losing games, tournaments and even failing to reach the dream of playing full time which happens to the vast majority of the people that try. Who has not experienced ladder anxiety, frustration, high stress or self loathing to name a few. Overcoming these in a challenging situation leads to beautiful growth.
Additionally, with Starcraft you are likely going to need to learn self control and being proactive to work on flaws that you don’t feel like and avoid procrastinating knowing that unlike with studies or a job you don’t have any official assignments, deadlines or work hours.
Finally, due to the nature of the game with high stress and intense focus for hours on end over many years, maintaining a strong health is important. This is of course an important life skill for the rest of life.
Continuing after the initial defeat and University days
Now that we understand my new motivation for Starcraft, explaining the rest of my journey should be fairly straightforward, even though it’s been an additional 8 or so years. For the most part of these last 8 years, Starcraft has been a side hobby where I tried to push my boundaries to grow as a person, with high school and university studies taking priority. However, this was very fluent and my interest and ambition in Starcraft changed a lot over these 8 years.
Fairly soon after reading The Art of Learning I made GM, although funnily enough I don’t remember which race I was playing at the time (protoss / random). In Sweden it is common to take a gap year before university to explore your interests and follow dreams, in fact I believe that 28 out of 30 people in my high school class did just that. (That static was extreme though and does not represent Sweden as a whole.) I was of course tempted to do this with playing Starcraft full time, but I knew that my chances to reach a professional level in just a year as a low GM were very slim. My parents were also against it so this fact did not help persuade them. I accepted my reality and started my engineering physics studies at university ready to drop Starcraft and shift my focus fully to the studies. After all I saw Starcraft primarily as a tool for self improvement so switching out this tool was acceptable. This went well in the first semester where many students were very dedicated to studies, but I quickly became eager for more challenges as the second semester turned out to be very easy. At the same time I had started playing more Starcraft again and realized that I also have a strong love for playing the game itself. It was time to start pursuing that again.
Since it was not crucial for me to actually become the number one player but rather strive to be, I was fine making it even more challenging by also studying at an engineering school at the same time. Similarly, playing random did not help my chances but I enjoyed it and it was a bonus challenge that I enjoyed. This continued for 3 or so years when I eventually took on another challenge, learning Chinese and doing an exchange semester in China where I was not able to play Starcraft for 4-5 months. This was mostly motivated by the fact that I was worried that focusing so much on Starcraft would give me a very narrow world view, even though I see it as very general. I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone and meet new people and do something completely different. I also wanted to put my idea of “general learning skills” to the test by studying Chinese, since I was terrible even at Spanish in middle and high school. Clearly, if I can’t learn Chinese that means that Starcraft was not the ultimate “general life skill learning platform” after all. Also I wanted to eat delicious food :p. While I could not play SC in China, I did spend a lot of time on two other SC related tasks; namely theorising an optimal hotkey layout for SC (see my youtube video if interested)
+ Show Spoiler +
I also wrote a program that tells who barcodes are by parsing the replay. I have kept this program as a secret competitive advantage until this very post. I will probably continue working on it and perhaps publish it. It was at around 30-50% accuracy mostly just looking at weird details of how the camera was moved.
As I came back from China I got increasingly unhappy with my situation. The constant pulls of attention between studies and Starcraft became harder to motivate as my mmr stopped improving and the time until graduation got closer. As I started pursuing SC again after the first university semester I felt like while I don’t have the luxury of playing full-time that I wanted as a gap year, I do have 5 entire years until graduation which with proper training could be even better. As this time was now down to 2 years I had made very little progress in terms of mmr I felt compelled to either give up on the dream of reaching professional level or to ramp up on the SC training. I chose the latter. In the last 9 months or so I have also been playing pretty much full-time as that was something that I wanted to experience even if I knew my chances were slim. It was a great experience to play it full time and I learnt a lot about motivation and focus since when you work pretty much non-stop on something for months the motivation and focus that you used to take for granted easily starts falling off. Controlling my interests and having the ability to work really hard was one of the aspects of self improvement so this was something I wanted to explore.
Reasons to shift focus
I’ve been very positive regarding my SC journey. So now let’s get into why I decided to stop pursuing SC. There’s many different reasons for this. The main one is probably that I don’t find it super exciting or interesting anymore. When I was younger my brain would be so eager to think about SC, my best ideas came to me in the shower while I was just resting, and because I was so excited for it my brain would process SC a lot during my rest and sleep time. Unfortunately I don’t have this type of passion anymore. I still love the game, but I don’t find it as exciting. I believe this is my main problem when it comes to improving, as I believe that this type of excitement is crucial for being interested and focused on something for 60+ hours a week, and being interested and focused is crucial for learning and shaping the brain to allow efficient learning. At least this is my novice understanding of the neuroscience of learning.
One natural explanation for why I lost excitement is simply the lack of novelty, the game does not change much and I have been focused on RTS games now for so many years. However, I actually wanted less patches and map rotations as I love digging really deep into something rather than having it change. I think the real culprit was actually poor dopamine management as I was not very aware of this. As an example, silly as it sounds, listening to music adds an extra layer of dopamine to your Starcraft training and this can over time cause you to lose excitement for Starcraft itself. On a more positive note, I also discovered more amazing things in life that are not connected to SC which inevitably will cause a distraction. I have a strong curiosity, and for example a few months ago while playing SC full time I for some reason read half a university book on agriculture because I was really excited to find a more environmentally sustainable practice for the future. Another example of a newer lovely “distraction” is my girlfriend which attracts my excitement and focus. I am also generally very excited about learning topics related to maths / physics / computer science which also ended up being things that I thought about in the shower instead of SC while playing SC full time.
At this point I want to clarify something. The above paragraphs make it sound like I failed because I could not play SC non-stop and be focused and excited. This is impossible for almost everyone, and a balanced lifestyle then always becomes important. Working too much is inefficient, but I think that the main reason for this is that working too much is correlated with losing interest and focus. This is not completely decided by the amount of time that you work; for example if you don’t have your mental and physical health in good condition, then 40 hours a week can be too much. Another example is if you are used to checking social media every 15 minutes this can cause a serious distraction and drain your dopamine which makes focus and interest on other things much harder. What is considered “work” also depends on how much you’re interested in the topic and activity; you might have no problem painting for 60 hours a week while being unable to study for 20 in a focused state. In other words, the amount of focused work that you can do depends on many factors, many of which you can control, either directly or over time by shaping your brain. Some people are successful in Starcraft while putting in minimum effort, maybe most notably Stephano at his prime. But the truth is that most people are not successful enough even putting in 40 hours a week; by definition only a few people in the world can be the best. With these beliefs, naturally I wanted to adapt my lifestyle so that I could maximize the amount of time into SC as well as interest and focus. It also makes it more enjoyable if I can achieve a higher focus and interest. Deep resting is also an important factor. We need both the activation of focused work and deep rest to allow efficient learning. A shower is an example of deep rest for me. That is why I mentioned that the fact that I was not subconsciously processing SC while taking showers was a big red flag for me, which I knew by the fact that I no longer had random unexpected eureka moments related to SC but instead related to other things. I also want to clarify that 60 hours of SC training for me would only mean playing maybe 30 of those at most, partly to avoid injuries but also because I was doing a lot of theorizing in the later stages especially. Exploring these concepts to learn how to work hard (especially in an optional setting without deadlines or pressure) and efficiently while enjoying it has been one of my major goals for self improvement that was part of this SC journey.
To recap, one reason that I decided to shift focus was that I was losing some interest which both made it less enjoyable and made my learning less efficient. Another big reason was the fact that I had just completed the DH Atlanta regional tournament. I am unlikely to achieve a level where I will qualify for anything else this year (for example HSC), and the only known big tournament next year is Katowice which I will not have enough points for. New tournaments for next year could be announced at any time, but knowing how Blizzard even failed to put in new maps for ages I would not be surprised if we will not see any announcements regarding future EPT circuits until after Katowice. In other words if I continue pursuing SC I would perhaps need to continue pushing myself for another 5 months without any reward, only to maybe have a negative announcement or just a continued lack of announcements. This combined with the fact that I am enjoying SC less simply makes it an unattractive option. And of course, there’s no guarantee that I will be successful even if I try for another year.
Additionally, connecting back to my overall life goals and gaining perspective, it it good to initially work on improving at improving through general self development, but after 8 years of this it makes sense to shift focus from improving at improving to improving at useful skills. Of course the end goal is not just learning useful skills but actually applying them to do useful things, such as finding ways to improve the world. I should not spend all my life on the first step.
Looking forward to the future
Luckily, this shift is something that I look forward to. I am super excited about waking up and living in the moment and not optimizing my daily routine for SC. I am excited to just do new things without having to think about how it will affect SC, for example I will now go try out bouldering without having to worry about how I might injure my fingers which would have been devastating for SC. I am super excited to learn about computer science which I find very interesting and I can’t wait to optimize my programming “hotkeys”, perhaps with something like a CharaChorder as this was something that I really enjoyed in SC. I am overjoyed that I can pursue both new and old hobbies that I restricted myself from pursuing at the same time as SC because they would cause too much distraction or make my eyes tired etc. I am overjoyed to have more energy and time with my girlfriend. I am looking forward to meeting new people and hear about their views and stories. Having a normal salary after having lived very cheap for a long time will also be fun :p
My new main focus will be on the above, enjoying life, living more in the moment with less planning while pursuing computer science as well as allowing myself to have hobbies again. With a background in physics / maths / machine learning, I feel like with improved computer science skills I will obtain a very wide problem solving tool box. The way I see it, any problem can be solved with topic specific knowledge together with a combination of one of those 4. If you’ve read this far I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on the topic of what it takes to solve problems, as I might be biased to my own topics and interests.
Now you hopefully understand my journey and why I am shifting focus and what I am shifting focus to. Finally, I just want to touch on the more emotional side of the shift. I started this 8 year long journey with the official main goal being to improve at learning and become a better person. However, I also dreamt of becoming the best SC player. This was more of an emotional goal and desire. While I was never close to that, and it seemed unlikely it was always a future possibility in my mind which strengthened my fighting spirit and motivation. With my new shift this will become impossible and this is a pretty big emotional blow, both accepting that this dream will never become reality but also dealing with the feelings of failure related to this. I could have done better, and that hurts.
It helps to realize that with my lost interest I no longer see playing professionally as a dream anymore, and I also don’t see the overall journey as a failure. But as I have drilled these goals into my mind for years I still have emotions to process regarding this. For the most part I don’t see this as a failure though, I climbed high (#100 on aligulac) and the truth is that in order to become number one you have to defeat all of the dozens of pros that have been playing the game at a top level for sometimes over 10 years. Some of them have even been full time for over 10 years. With this in mind, it makes sense that as an up and coming player it’s extremely difficult to achieve the same in only 8 months of full time play which is a luxury already. New blood in the SC pro scene is very rare.
Highlights looking back
Finally, with the difficult text out of the way, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fun highlights of my journey.
- Playing fun customs games with my OCL clan.
- Winning my first real money (5$) at an SCV rush weekly (with a tempest rush that I created and used constantly 1-2 years before it started being known as the Rotti-build (I think he invented it also later independently) and another 1-2 years before it started being used in pro play. However, people missed out since it was so much better in the past with maps like King Sejong Station and long range against ground units.) My parents had to make a paypal account since I was underage, I was so excited.
- Finding role models like Day9 and feardragon have been great inspirations and lovely humble people. I love the way they interact with people and the cool projects they both do.
- Making GM (With every race, I can’t remember order but I think it was Protoss / Random -> Zerg -> Terran)
- Learning “The Core” hotkeys. This was difficult and I feel like I learnt a lot about how the brain learns as well as about myself. It is super satisfying to play with as well. At the same time it was painful to play with in the beginning (weeks, months). Improving it further was also super fun.
- Reaching 6k mmr with Random (It is rarely discussed that the ladder map veto system actually gives random players a disadvantage since other races can remove maps that are bad for them while vetoes for a random player are almost useless unless there’s 4 player maps in the pool that you might want a higher frequency of. However, a lot of people at high level don’t care about practising against random players so they sometimes do silly things or leave games instantly (while whining about it ofc), so random mmr is less impressive than it sounds.)
- Making some fun ICYFAR submissions, my favourite being this one: Shoutout to Pig for being hilarious and an awesome inspiration.
- Defeating heromarine with a silly mothership rush (on ladder, he was barcoding so I didn’t know who it was until the next day when I saw the clip of his stream on reddit. His reaction was hilarious, jaw dropped completely. Unfortunately the clip is no longer available on Twitch.)
- Coaching a few hundred lessons. It was fascinating to meet so many people with different approaches to the game and I had a lot of fun discussing the game with them.
- Coaching for charity. I also decided to hold two week that I tried to fill with students and give all coaching income to charity. I managed to get it sponsored as well. Thank you to everyone who joined for that.
- Optimising build orders to the extreme, it started with improving the archon drop PvZ build that had been played almost every single game for 2 years at the time, which was phoenix -> oracle -> archon drop at 5:30-5:45 in a typical pro game. In less than an hours work, I was able to do it at 5:18 with a much faster 3rd as well by mining gas with 2 workers in gases instead of 3 (for a while) and lining things up perfectly. This made me realize there was a lot of available potential improvement to the builds used by the pros. Afterwards I made an adept glave rush on Harstem’s request. Which was basically what later became known as the Zest build but with 5 gateways and hitting harder. The reason we made it so hard hitting was that Zergs at the time didn’t know how to defend and usually ended up losing their 3rd to mass adept while roaches were busy chasing the shades every time. Interestingly, this build actually hits even harder if done right from a nexus first (either 4 or 5 gate version). Most importantly, I just had so much fun to do these optimizations, a lot of it is just very clean mathematics.
- Writing and recording videos for FrogBuildWeekly https://lotv.spawningtool.com/build/?name=&contributor=18649&sort_by=h&build_type=&difficulty=&patch=&mine=&fav=&is_tl= I had a lot of fun writing strategic guides about SC, and I am very proud of the result as well as it teaches starcraft mechanics in a fun way.
- Qualifying with Platinum Heroes for WTL (world team league). The qualifier was brutal with only 2 teams qualifying but we unexpectedly beat some good players. Personally I went 1-1 against Meomika in the semifinals and 2-0 against Vindicta and 1-1 against Arrogfire which I am happy with. HateMe and Rodzyn played very well. It was also exciting to score a team victory in the main event with a surprising 4-2 over team GP with my 2-0 over cham and Rodzyns 2-0 over Prince with beautiful PvP play. Their third player Ryung brought them the 2 points. I was also very happy that I got to present the sign that I prepared with a Chinese pun after a win against Firefly (including a frog mask of course) which got me the #1 victory celebration award.
- Continuously improving in the last few years, although very slowly. It gives me a strong sense of self efficacy.
- Performing well at Valencia with my peak earning 764$. I got knocked out by Elazer, I can’t complain about that result. I’m happy about this because I primarily focused on online play and the game itself rather than offline performance. Unlike many other players, I have a very optimised ergonomic setup at home so playing at a tournament venue is absolutely terrible for me. Therefore, I am proud that I was able to engineer an acceptable desk setup for the venue using various tools like books and extra mouse mats and a desk extension. I am also happy that I was able to perform well mentally, in a focused state despite the extreme noise levels and without too much nerves which I had struggled with in the past. This was my second offline event, at dreamhack Jönköping many years ago I got a strong headache from the noise and was in a terrible state to play so it was a huge improvement.
- Making friends and chatting with all kinds of people from all over the world. Thank you all. Special shoutout to HolyHit for being awesome and supportive https://www.twitch.tv/holyhit44
- Being part of lovely communities in SC such as Platinum Heroes, OCL, Drunken Outlaws. The SC AI making community seems lovely and very supportive as well, perhaps I will join you soon.
- Learning together with practice partners, and growing motivation together with close friends.
- Finally, thank you to the fans. As a mere rank 100 on Aligulac I am always surprised to learn that people follow and appreciate my games and support me with cheerful messages. Thank you for spreading positivity and love, you’re great.
If you shoot for the stars you might end up at some pretty cool places and meet some pretty cool people and learn a lot.
Just as a final outro, in case you actually made it this far, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. How did you spend your years between 15 - 25? How did you grow as a person? What are/were you planning for the future and why and how did that go?