Browsing TLPD a few days ago I noticed that there are currently only 3 players at their all-time ELO rating high -not counting new players without a registered peak yet-, which debatably signals them 3 being in the best form of their carreers. Appropriately enough, one of them is terran (Flash, with a rating of 2331), one of them is zerg (by.hero, 2132) and one of them is protoss (Kal, 2218). Now since this third player, STX SouL's Kal (a.k.a. Goojila) happens to be my favourite progamer, I realized that this occasion, as a special point in any player's career, and his very person are worthy of this somewhat special spot, my 1001th post on TL.
So here it is, let me tell you a little more about this gem of a progamer, and show you why I think he is one of the most likeable characters in pro gaming, and why is he one of the most dangerous possible opponents for all his challengers.
"Kal is (...) a gem of a player who among the handful of new generation Protosses has perfected the blend of finesse, misinformation and mechanical strength to produce undeniably consistent and powerful results." /thedeadhaji/
Kim Ku Hyun is a well-known figure of the korean Starcraft scene, it's been more than 3 years since he was drafted to the team STX Soul, and he hasnt been avoiding the spotlights for long either. He started his carreer off with a dismal 2-13 record, including a 10 game losing streak in mostly offline preliminaries, but what has pushed several new players into eternal inferiority or straight-up retirement didnt hurt Kal, he bounced back fast and strong, scoring several wins in the 2006 Winter MST offline prelims, only to be stopped short of qualifying by an other rising protoss of the time, JangBi.
Came 2007, and he slowly became a regular of the STX PL lineups, and during the end of the year he finally started qualifying for individual leagues too, which seeing his total record of 53W-32L (62,4%) in 2007 was more than well deserved.
His run ending with a silver medal in the 2008 GOMTV MSL Season 4 is history now, and nothing short of impressive, only losing 1-3 to Jaedong himself in a great finals, in which he was probably the only player around that time (along with Flash) to push the rising Tyrant (who has just won his first OSL gold at the end of 2007) to his limits. Kal then went on to dominate the scene in 2008 as one of the 6 Protoss Dragons, whose story has been told several times, so I shouldnt cover it now.
Now a seasoned and respected player, Kal continues to show good results, actually reaching a new ELO peak just recently by easily dismantling a Protoss superstar of a past era, Air Force ACE's Park Jung Suk, [Ooops]Reach, then adding a good 15 points to it by 2-0ing his MST group, defeating Crazy-Hydra and go.go. But instead of a more detailed, dry and lengthy history lesson let us now concentrate on Kim Ku Hyun's person, playing style, skills and abilities in this game we all love, all the aspects (the heralded 'faces' ) that make him one of the most unique and likeable players currently in the scene.
"Looks like Kal has managed to break this! Kal might be able to break this [contain] just with Scouts!" /Diggity/
First of all, the entertainer, because Kal, above all, plays entertaining Starcraft. He can execute cookie-cutter strategies flawlessly as well, but his true spirit shines when he gets lost in microing a battle instead of flawless macro, when he decides to cheese an opponent, when he dismantles an incoming cheesy all-in with one hand (see his recent MST game versus go.go, all 3 minutes of it), when he decides to pull out some Scouts to break a terran contain and turn a lost game around, or when he morphs his first DTs into a Dark Archon just to help TL's strategy section in the debate whether it is the answer to the metagame shift in recent PvZ or not. All in all he is widely accepted as one of the most creative active players.
Not only is he producing entertaining games again and again, but interestingly enough, his subtle changes in play seem to force his opponents to pick unusual routes too, or just to play to the best of their abilities in trying to defeat him. I think the finest example of this is his legendary clash with fOrGG in the Arena MSL. First they met in the round of 32, where ForGG, the cookie-cutter timing attack monster decided to pull a Deep 6 -one of the most elaborate, technically difficult in execution and most timing-dependent cheeses in Starcraft- versus him on Tiamat, resulting in a beautiful game:
(Even if you decide to skip watching the entire game now, I strongly suggest watching the beautiful push, defense and just endless battle from 16:00 on in the video)
And this was just the beginning, as they met again in the quarter-finals of the same MSL, and battled it out in what is considered by many to be one of the greatest best-of-fives in Starcraft history. It starts off with one of my favourite games of all time, game 1 on Colosseum:
If you haven't seen this series yet, go watch it now. To read how it played out, i recommend thedeadhaji's awesome writeup on it: [MSL] The Circus Show - ro8 Kal vs ForGG
I cannot help but feel that at the time their series was clearly the catalyst to ForGG ending up taking the Arena MSL, and helped him present his most creative and strongest play yet (dismantling Jaedong 3-0 in the finals).
Being just unique and entertaining though wont get you far in professional starcraft (just ask BackHo or Chalrenge), but thankfully, there's a lot more to Kal:
"My 3 favourite progamers are Flash and Jaedong (...) and I also like Goojila. He plays a very creative game, and his games always have a lot of ideas and thoughts in it, I feel that, and so I like it." /Garimto/
Kal is a genius because he knows you can't fool around all the time, he excels in picking the right times to bring out a monstrous standard play, and knows when is he able to change up things, be it some mid-game adaptive or surprising deviation or planning games in advance. Kal is still considered a PvZ monster (though his record in this matchup has fallen back quite a bit lately from his famed 70%+ winrate), with the pleasant combination of prefectly executed builds, cheeses, brave army compositions and game-long focused and smart play with masterful lategame harass, timing-awareness and the obilogatory adaptive play and generally good game-sense.
His PL game against Jaedong on Colosseum II is a good example of this
Some even go as far as calling Kal the true revolutionist of the PvZ matchup instead of Bisu, and while this claim is obviously exaggerated, Kal did have the best PvZ of the dragons (29-10/ 74,4% winrate compared to Bisu's 21-13/61,7% in 2008). (Kal by the way also boasted a 71%+ PvZ record in 2007 as well)
Despite his outstanding PvZ, Kal was considered by most to be the weakest (or second weakest) of the dragons, and that is mainly due to his -at the time- inferior, below 50% PvP, that most of the time left him behind in head-to-head situations.
In mid-2008 Plexa wrote a great article about STX Soul, in which he predicted Kal to "shortly" strengthen his PvP, and become an all-round protoss superstar. (note how the article also predicts the rise of Calm)
And Kal did pick up his PvP, not that soon though, but by quite a notch!
In the Clubday MSL quarterfinals he defeated Stork, who was then on top of his PvP game (a mere week after the Dino-Toss walked over easily the PvP prodigy Best):
He currently has a 54,2% win-rate in the matchup, going 13-3 (that is 81%, folks) in 2009, only dropping a game each to Bisu, JangBi and BackHo. No wonder he is already the second highest ranked PvP player (according to TLPD detailed ELO) after Bisu (whose PvP is truly reminescent of Jaedong's ZvZ lately).
His PvT has always been strong, and it is currently at a 60%+ winrate, but he has always stayed below Bisu, Stork and JangBi in the PvT rankings, even with the KHAN players slumping badly lately.
With the promising results in his PvP as of late, his falling results in PvZ are quite a disappointment, actually making that aforementioned steady PvT the statistically best matchup of his, as this PvZ monster now only has a "measly" 57% winrate versus the swarm, and ironically enough, that matchup might be the one now keeping him from obtaining that predicted superstar status. (that 57% winrate is quite dismal if you consider he has been averaging around 72% throughout 2007 and 2008. His PvZ in 2009 is 13-19, which is only barely above 40%, with Just 2-1-ing him out of this years OSL prelims, though it could be as "high" as 13-13 too if he didnt meet JD 4 times and July twice.)
On the long run, it was still Kal to be shown the second most consistent of the dragons after Kim Taek Yong himself.
As an other recommended game, watch him tear apart Flash in the ace game of a KTF-STX match, presuming, scouting, then exploiting the flaws in his greedy build with a 3-pronged late DT attack on Destination:
"Kal cannot be killed!" /Nick "Tasteless" Plott/
What makes a certain play badass? In my eyes, it has to be something unorthodox, spectacular, involving high risk, and not ending in utter failure (that's why BackHo is not badass most of the time, while certainly entertaining). But as a player, Kal is more then someone just doing such moves. He has a cool and confident aura, he takes losses with dignity, but can surely enjoy a win. He often finds time to micro even situations not needing it, and that, and his choice of strategies give his play some unique elegance, even when it's bordering silly recklessness.
His finesse and bravery in shuttle control has earned him the nickname Red Shuttle, as his shuttles' health is often in the red while he is still running around merrily with them above the enemy base, trying to find holes in the defenses and opportunities to harass. Those who play with fire are bound to get burnt, but Kal usually makes up for the cost of lost shuttles. Would you believe he actually said in an interview once that he isnt too fond of harassing, and only does it when he sees an opening?
Watch him "suicide" at least 5-6 shuttles above enemy forces in this game on Destination as he slowly but steadily crawls his way back to victory in a seemingly lost game against the then Samsung KHAN terran, now his STX teammate FrOzean.
Kal is generally not one to gg prematurely, or give up on a game in any way before all is lost, and that helps producing entertaining fights (where one can't help but sympathize with Kal's often self-induced underdog position) and sometimes surprising comebacks, as his smart and restless harass can easily upset someone relying too much on his macro to finish off an ostensibly won game. One of the finest examples of his endurance and fighting spirit lately was seen in his GOM S3 series against his teammate, the ZvP monster July.
I cannot embed GOMTV videos, so clicking this link below will take you to the GOMTV site where you can watch this awesome PvZ, the 3rd and deciding game in their clash on Outsider with the english cast of Tasteless and Daniel Lee:
At the start of that series (http://www.gomtv.net/videos/833) there's an amazing scene (you can also see some bad quality screenshots of it in this next oversized sub-section banner) that brings us right to the next face of Kim Ku Hyun:
"Kal is a really fun guy. He is really playful, but when he's serious, he is dead serious. I think that makes him a particularly charismatic hyung" /Fantasy/
At the beginning of the GOMTV series versus his teammate July, the players approach each other for the usual greeting of opponents, but they instead hug each other passionately and spin around a little playfully and laughing before they depart to their respective booths with pats on the backs. This touching and unique gesture shows not only great sportsmanship but actual friendship, and -together with the subsequent series- a huge amount of deep respect towards each other, all in all, two hugely sympathetic players.
Kal is said by many to be one of the friendliest -although somewhat shy- characters among pro-gamers, complimented by interviewers, and thanked often for practice sessions by members of STX and other teams as well.
Outside his team, he is friends with KT's Flash and SKT1's fantasy, as they were once in the same clan. Fantasy mentioned Flash to be his closest progamer friend, but the friendship of Kal and Fantasy is rumored too to be one of the strongest friendships in the SC scene.
+ Show Spoiler [bonus game] +
A bit above I already showed you how Kal treated his dear friend Flash on the terran's very birthday (as cruel as it sounds,but obviously any kind of "mercy" in play would have been disrespectful and not sportsman-like. In the winner's interviews Kal clearly expressed his worries for the young Flash's mood after losing twice for his team KTF on a special day.)
Here's a decent TvP, Fantasy versus Kal from a korean WCG qualifier, just two good friends playing a casual game of starcraft, still not quite the usual bnet BGH game
Here's a decent TvP, Fantasy versus Kal from a korean WCG qualifier, just two good friends playing a casual game of starcraft, still not quite the usual bnet BGH game
Not only is he there for his friends, but also for his team, STX Soul, the team that drafted him back in 2006. During these 3 years of loyal dedication, Kal has slowly evolved to become the team's Proleague ace, and he was the first STX member ever to reach the final of an individual starleague (the aforementioned GOMTV MSL Season 4). He aquired a steady 60% winrate in the 08-09 Proleague showing reliable play again and again, even in high pressure situations, for e.g. when STX was tied with Lecaf at 2-2, and he was chosen to face Lee Jae dong in the all-or-nothing ace game on Andromeda: + Show Spoiler +
where he showcases his trademark endurance coming back from a big deficit in a 25 minute macro game.
Great sportsmanship, nice personality, team loyalty and reliability make him a truly likeable character, even if somebody (for some reasons beyond my understanding) does not like his style of play.
After all this praise, one has to wonder: what keeps then Kal from becoming a superstar of the scene, from taking a single individual title or at least having more fans (or back in the day, not being considered the weakest of dragons)? The answer is every fan's least favourite aspect of Kal:
"On his good days, Kal is arguably the best Protoss on planet Earth. On his bad days, Rock would beat him in a best out of 5 series." /OneOther, Power Rank October 2008/
If we were to conduct a survey asking random people to describe Kal in one word, 'inconsistent' would surely give 'creative' a run for its money. Kal is known to be able to beat any player when in good shape, but he has proven, and continues to prove that he can lose in the most lackluster fashion to any B-teamer as well.
Here is an infamous game on Medusa, where he scouts Shine's 2-hatch hydra build with a smart (and maybe lucky) 2nd scouting probe, then proceeds to stubbornly stick to his corsair build and put only 3 cannons up in his natural, which get properly busted by the first wave of hydras, and Kal is forced to type out.
As I briefly mentioned above, he got eliminated from the current OSL without even making the group stages by losing 1-2 to a noname zerg, Just. Kal is 7-4 against Stork, but 0-4 against BackHo, 3-0 against sAviOr but 0-2 against Shark. His longest winning streak is only 6 games long. He doesn't slump because he's never truly on a roll. And one can hardly win a Starleague without ever being on a roll.
The consensus about Kim Ku Hyun seems to be clear: he is simply not champion material. His biggest victory to date remains that GOMTV MSL S4 silver.
Confident entertaining plays slip into stubbornness, bravery turns to recklessness, badass unit control is bittersweet when he's just dragging out a lost situation, and a decent PL performance is not enough to be remembered. Kal's style is sure hard to balance, and it's not something you'll ever see a Strategy Forum thread discuss in detail, because it's simply not by the book.
Is the "solution" to have his entertaining but somewhat negligent style withdrawn in favor of a more standard, cookie-cutter, but in turn, reliable play, just like how the young cheesy Flash slowly evolved into today's turtling monster, "glacier terran"? Would I still be a fan of his if he showed more consistent results, but less entertaining play or less or just even smaller smiles during and after games? The answer is clearly no. I'm hoping for both. As a fan, it's my duty to dream big, to insist that the entertaining, smart and enthusiastic play can overcome temporary imbalances, perfected build orders and mechanized game senses. And if it can, Kal is the player to do it.
Then again, insisting his losses all come from bad executions of otherwise awesome plays would be pretentious even from a die-hard biased fanboy like myself. Most of his losses are simply due to inconsistency, in the purest sense of the word, Kal sometimes trades all these faces for an absent-minded, tired and stubborn protoss. Due to him proving himself in several high-pressure situations too, we can't even say he's having nerve problem's like the TL favourite Sea[Shield] of MBC.
Kal just needs to get his act together.
Seeing him reach his ELO peak this week was somewhat surprising from the once MSL finalist, and (before the reign of Calm) the lone ace player of STX, both suggesting something has changed. We'll have to see if it's some statistical anomaly or the true sign of an overall more consistent play. This peak was reached with the combination of a steady PL performance (going 3-1 so far this round, only losing to Jaedong himself), and MSL qualifiers, and it still has the impact of the invididual and team leagues towards the end of last season: Kal is in good form. He has qualified for the current MSL - for the 6th season in a row now, in TLPD ELO he is currently the 7th ranked player overall, the 2nd protoss after Bisu.
While all this usually means nothing from him, here's to hoping that this time it does herald the start of his most succesful era yet.
+ Show Spoiler [disclaimers and thanks] +
I have been using TLPD's numbers on the 22th of October, before p4NDemic's recent additions to the database - hence the statistics are probably not a 100% precise or up to date, but this should be nothing major -, and also they obviously dont include PL or other event results since then.
For the banner and the sub-section graphics I've used pictures of NeverGG (nevergg.net) and pictures found on fomos.kr.
Huge props as usual to jon747 and nevake for all their uploading work, and thanks to GOMTV for making games freely availible online with english commentary on their site.
And thanks everyone who bothered to read it all the way through, it sure got longer then I expected it to be, and it required quite some work, I hope you enjoyed reading it.