"We don’t have a lot of mainstream.
We don’t go with the mainstream.
We’re a different stream on this team."
— Larry Johnson, New York Knicks.
We don’t go with the mainstream.
We’re a different stream on this team."
— Larry Johnson, New York Knicks.
TeamLiquid: Final Edits
It's pretty simple: Style.
Group style = CULTURE.
"When a man and a woman have a child, they have a little human being rather than a bird, a fish, or an alligator. Their genetic code dictates this. When an American man and an American woman have a child, they have a little American. The reason for this is not genetic; it is because a different code—the Culture Code—is at work."
— Clotaire Rapaille, The Culture Code.
That's right, I'm dropping serious literature on ya'll. Maynard the drones and save the hatcheries!
As Dr. Rapaille illustrates, Team Culture will absolutely, definitely, invariably affect each individual player's performance. You cannot escape the atmosphere in which you learn and practice the game. (not to mention eat, sleep and breathe).
I'll bet you anything, even my Adidas Adicolor Black Series 2s (Keith Harings, Size 11), that a player from here:
is never going to have the same attitude as a guy from here:
A team's culture is formed by a lot of factors: tradition, history, the coach, the team ace, the sponsor, and the players themselves. Some teams have a dominant personality as coach. For other, their ace player brings the leadership and sets the tone. And we must not overlook the effect that sponsorship status has on team culture.
Enough foreplay. (No, seriously, stop. Take it out.) We'll discuss each team:
(In alphabetical order)
One would expect a team of actual military men to be disciplined, sharp, expertly trained and highly skilled. Unfortunately, this ain't Top Gun. This team consists of elderly players, many whom would have been retired under any other circumstance (HOT-forever actually was). Instead, we have a group of senior citizens who are just enjoying the fact that they get to play StarCraft instead of digging foxholes with shovels in the cold of winter, huddling around a pack of ramen while trying to avoid frostbite at the 38th parallel. Between staring down progamers at OnGameNet studios and staring down North Korean soldiers across the DMZ, it's an easy choice. So we have a relaxed, uncompetitive atmosphere here. Don't forget that training hours are reduced as well. Add that to the fact that the Ace coach has no idea what he's doing (he's just a career military man who was assigned to be coach), and there is a real lack of urgency on this team. Nobody is going to be here permanently anyways.
Except for the Boxer Corollary: Wherever Boxer goes, he brings fire. Boxer is always driven by competition, always works hard, and is always fun to watch. There are signs that Prometheus might be successful at lighting that fire under his teammates. He might bring them to a level of intensity where even if they can't make the playoffs, Ace can at least be mid-table competitive and avoid being a total joke. It will be interesting to see what happens: can the force of Boxer's personality overcome the retirement home atmosphere?
Let me introduce you to the CJ Face: (-_-) When Savior hurts some poor Terran's soul: (-_-) When ForU hurt Androide's pride: (-_-) When DarkElf dominates the Dual Tournament: (-_-) When Darkelf goes 0-3 in OSL: (-_-) You get the picture. At CJ industries, reserved, disciplined and independent gosus roll off the line, guaranteed Three Laws Safe and with warranty.
This culture settled in through two series of events. First, CJ aces have traditionally been reserved and collected—even outside the game—when they met fans and especially when cameras are around. Imagine yourself as a new practice partner in the Entus house. The team's veteran leader is Xellos, who started the CJ Face. The team's undisputed ace is CUBAN GANGSTER, who perfected the CJ Face, wearing it like an assassin's mask. You look up to them, live, and practice with them all day. What kind of attitude do you think you will develop? Second, all the previous CJ players who didn't quite wear The Face were, through coincidence, sold to other teams, taking their personalities with them. TheMarine's happy-go-lucky smile, Nal_Ra's intellectual cool, and Midas' awkward shyness all ended up with other teams. (GoRush, however, was and still is very -_-)
The key to the CJ Face, however, is that Entus is consistently one of the best 1v1 teams in the world. If you stay emotionless as you lose, you're just a spineless bum. But if you stay emotionless as you dominate, then you're a cold hearted motherfucker whose daily business is homicide. A proud tradition started by Xellos that continues through Savior and Iris. CJ's team culture is a big reason why it constantly produces Top-5 Kespa aces, and why it will always be a feared team in Proleague.
The problem with E-stro is that it struggles with irrelevance. Simply put, E-stro has not mattered in a long time. For too many consecutive seasons, E-stro has failed to be of any importance in the Proleague and in both individual leagues. The ingredients are there: Cool, Eliza, Tester, and UpMagic is not a bad young lineup. But when you have been insignificant for years, it's a harder habit to shake than Tina Yuzuki.
E-Stro has not been remotely competitive since the AMD/Hexatron or Mercenary Army! days. They have simply been the sorriest team for more than five seasons of Proleague. In the same time period, this team has sent only one player to the past OSL and MSL. And once he got there UpMagic didn't make much of an impact anyway. E-stro: they just don't matter
This is a much larger problem than just wins and losses. For a season or two, Hanbit can be at the bottom of the standings, but they will always be relevant. For multiple seasons, Soul were walkovers in terms of wins and losses, but they still had players such as Hwasin, Jju, or Yooi, so fans would not forget about the team. (Having Tossgirl also helps). But E-Stro can't even maintain that basic level of relevance. When the fans forget you exists, then you get used to that, and begin to play like you don't matter. A big part of the blame must go to Coach Lee Ji-ho, who allowed his team to fade into obscurity.
More than any other team, E-stro desperately needs a new ace, a new star to emerge. They need somebody to take this team and shake it by the collar, saying, "This team is mine, follow my lead." All it takes is one ace to turn around a team (see: Anytime, Hwasin). Sadly, at the moment, no one on E-Stro seems ready for the job.
Hanbit carries itself with a quiet dignity. They are soft spoken and polite, but they will not back down from your punk ass. This is because Hanbit is a proud team that has an extensive and successful history. They may not seem like much now, but they once were the most elite team in progaming, and the power of that culture carries over even today.
Hanbit is the house from which emerged Reach, Sync, Clon, Garimto, HOT-Forever, and I'm sure I'm forgetting others (hi Wax, Pubbanana!). They have a longer history than most of the other teams (Hanbit Soft is the company that distributes Brood War in Korea.)
One reason behind Hanbit's success is Coach Lee Jae-Gyun, who is the only coach in the Proleague who insists on working alone, without assistant coaches. With that devotion, he puts his stamp on this team, and makes sure each player adopts to the Hanbit culture. Thanks to him, Hanbit always finds a way to be competitive. You look at the names on their roster, and you don't see how they could possibly be in playoff contention. But this is the team that won 2005 Season 1 Proleague with a roster of Junwi, HOT-Forever, Daezang, Autumn, Sunny, Silent_Control and Clon. I'm surprised I didn't find D22-Soso in that lineup. But that same roster would triumph again to become 2005 Proleague Grand Final Champions.
Hanbit are not backed by the richest of sponsors. They are not a flashy team, and they do not have superstars. But they have history, they have a strong coaching foundation, and they always have veteran leadership. They are quiet not because they are timid or because they are scared. They are quiet because they are fucking Hanbit Stars, and GGPlay and Free will make sure you know, one way or another. And when the current aces move on or retire, there will be the next batch of aces ready to continue the tradition. Hanbit may not look like much, but they know their history and will fiercely defend it. Underestimate them at your own peril.
Once upon a time, KTF was a constellation. Their roster was stacked with stars: Reach, Nal_Ra, Yellow, Sync, TheMarine, Chojja. Believe it or not, their results actually reflected their star power: KTF still holds the record for most consecutive Proleague wins (23). Back then, all of the stars were competitive, showing up in both major Starleagues. In the Proleagues, some combination of TheMarine/Reach/Yellow would autowin the 2v2, and when the game went to ace match there was the ever dependable closer, Nal_Ra. Sure, they never actually won a championship, but everybody believed that it was bound to happen for this elite team sooner or later.
Then, slowly but surely, something happened.
The culture gradually changed. Maybe it was the retirement of TheMarine. Maybe it was the repeated pain of constantly coming up short when it mattered. Maybe it was the jealousy of watching rivals SKT1 always win everything. (Somewhere along the way, Boxer:Yellow = SKT:KTF.) Quietly, the team lost their competitive fire. They finally dropped in the standings. After one last hurrah (2006 Shinhan Season 1 OSL), only Nal_Ra would manage to post consistent results in individual leagues. Yellow disappeared. Their coach, Jung Su-Young, got fired and KTF has since been through constant coaching instability. After buying stars and aces from other teams for so many years, KTF failed to raise a single credible rookie from within its own house (a drought only broken by the recent emergence of Flash). Rumors of the stars losing interest in the game have started to float around. The constellation has dimmed.
KTF is a good example of how much a team's culture can affect its performance. Once upon a time, KTF was giddy with victory. But they never made it past that final mountain. And now they are a shell of their former selves, in obvious need of rebuilding. What was once a great group of players has fallen into stupor, and it has had a clear effect on the competitive level of its players. As GoodFriend looks around the KTF practice room, he would like to have his career back. The others just look at him and say, "Get in line."
Lecaf's attitude is one of solid determination. The whole team is united in the pursuit of one goal: to become a true elite of the Proleagues. Sometimes, all it takes is a clear goal (and a dedicated effort to reach that goal) to set the tone for a team's culture.
Even though they have kept virtually the same roster, Lecaf gets better and better each season. They used to be an Anytime-only team. Then, two seasons ago, Anytime and Jaedong became Andre 3000 and Big Boi. This season, we witnessed the birth of the Anytime-Jaedong-ForGG chimera. With each step, the team has come to believe in their own selves more and more. This once was a team that would fight to avoid last place. Now they are a confident group patiently gathering enough playoff experience to bring home the big cheese.
Lecaf's culture is a product of two strong personalities: coach Cho and Anytime. Anytime is not a Boxer-type leader. He is quiet. But he is a determined player who leads his team by example. His success in the So1 OSL and his continued efforts afterwards has undoubtedly inspired his teammates and given them confidence. This was possible under the nurturing of Coach Cho, who has focused the entire team so that they work hard and work together.
Anytime and Coach Cho share a tight bond. After Anytime won So1 OSL, he struggled with complacency but coach was there to pick him up. They jumped into a car and drove through the night to see the sun rise on the east coast. It was an experience that really brought the two together. Having the team's ace and coach on the same page really stabilizes the team culture. Only Coach Joo – Boxer and Coach Cho Gyu-nam – Xellos can claim to share that kind of special relationship.
Because of its quiet determination, Lecaf will eventually find success. They might have to still make a few tweaks here or there, go through some more growing pains. But the foundation is strong, thanks to the strength of its culture. With this attitude, they have a good chance of growing into the status that befits their talent.
Ah... Hero. So young, so brash, so giddy. A team that always looks like it's having fun, never afraid to wear its emotions on the sleave. Hero's best players are barely legal, and they are the ones who set the mood for this gang. So when they fly, Hero giddily soars. When they dip, Hero crashes and burns. Despite having accumulated considerable experience, Hero is still a team that wins and loses in streaks, and that's how they like it. Because: who said you need the CJ Face to win games? If loud and brash is how they are, Hero is happy to ride that momentum and emotion to victory.
A unique thing about Hero's culture is that it is reflected throughout the players' gameplay. Everybody on this team plays aggressive. This is a remnant from July's days as Hero's only ace, and it has become something of a MBCgame tradition. Bisu does not give you any room to breathe. Pusan and Light expand aggressively, and engage aggressively. Sea would like for you to fasten your seatbelt and hold on tight. I don't know what kind of practice sessions happen in the Hero house, but I think it involves piranhas and cow blood. A 3-hatch based, rich-style Zerg has no chance in hell of emerging from Hero. No, all you get is (the Shadow of) July, Shark, and Saint. Because: why play the game if you're not going to attack?
Hero is louder than the other teams, their fans more obnoxious, and they play smashmouth Starcraft. This may make them seem un-composed or ill prepared, or it might expose weaknesses in their play, but Hero doesn't give a shit. They'll just keep sailing on, a rowdy and motley bunch, having fun as they continue to be the elite of the pro scene. Because "P.O.S." didn't stand for "Philosophers of Space," and "Hero" ain't just a cheesy Mariah Carey song.
Sparkyz is straight goofy, off the hook and in the wind. As the team of "The Joker" Zeus and "Fuck!-toss" Chalrenge, this team has no choice but to be crazy. Even the more reserved players, such as the Zerg twins or Bifrost, can randomly unleash the wildest ceremonies during the Proleague. By watching their Proleague antics and the "Real Progamer - KOR Team" documentary series, you can tell that this team just likes to have fun and goof around.
And lest we forget: the defining image of Sparkyz history is Cloud beating Chojja in game 7 of the 2005 Round 3 Proleague Finals. Having secured a 'gg' from his opponent, Cloud, the team's veteran and leader, smiles ear to ear, then leans back and puts his hands around his head - the 'getting a blowjob' pose. So do not expect this team to ever contain its instinct to celebrate. It creates a loose atmosphere that energizes the players and thrills the fans. Half the reason why I try to catch every Chalrenge game is simply because I don't know what he might do next.
On the other hand, you get the sense that Sparkyz might be too goofy, too flashy for their own good. OGN has barely missed out on the playoffs for three seasons now. This is an undoubtedly strong team, but one that never seems to be solid enough when the time comes to really stand ground. In the Proleagues, the ace match has long been the enemy of Sparkyz, who have consistently ended up on the wrong end of a 2-3 score.
Perhaps the playful team culture is holding them back. It's great that OGN is so loose and crazy, but all that flash means nothing if there's no substance to hold up the middle. A little discipline, a little tightening, could go a long way in terms of results for these entertainers.
The word that first comes to mind when I think of Samsung Khan is: "family." Maybe it's because of January, the only female coach in the Proleagues. Maybe it's because of cute and cuddly Stork, who reminds everybody of their little brother. Maybe it's because of the fatherly presence of Zerglee, an old school veteran (and 2v2 master) who offers critical leadership for the rest of the nest. In any case, Samsung's team culture is peaceful and domestic.
In describing Khan's culture, it is important to single out January. As noted before, she is the only female coach. This leads itself to feminine leadership, which is very different from what the other eleven teams experience. Imagine two scenarios (both based on real events): 1) The Proleague Finals, against SKT T1. In the deciding ace match, tied 3-3, your team's ace just lost to oov. You catch January crying backstage. How do you think this will affect your future will to succeed? 2) The Proleague Finals, against SKT T1. Down 2-3, Your two biggest stars just lost to Midas/Mumyung in a 2v2, securing defeat. Your coach. a big beefy guy, is not happy, and will yell at you back at the training house. How do you think this will affect your future will to succeed? Discuss.
Furthermore, (and this is much more important than her being a woman) January is the only coach who was once a progamer herself. That's right, no other head coach in the Proleagues has the actual experience of playing competitive Starcraft. January thus has a distinct advantage of understanding her players' needs. Samsung's training regimen is noted for being softer than other teams', as each player is left on their own to train as they see fit.
With Samsung as a sponsor, the leadership of Zerglee (noted 'people person' in the progaming scene - he's been around for a long time and he seems to be friends with most other pros) and Jju as the big brother, Khan enjoys a stability and serenity that most other teams can't afford. Knowing that he'll always have a warm nest to return to is what enables FireBatHero to unleash his inner dancing demon to the unsuspecting public, and still be secure with himself. But more importantly, it enables him (and his teammates) to play at his comfort level, with confidence and poise.
SK Telecom T1
Way way back in 2005, when hipster nation was arguing about Bloc Party vs Arcade Fire as the future of sound (I was saying M.I.A.), SKT T1 was renowned for having the most professional culture out of all the teams. They were pioneers in training methods, living and practice standards, and team structure. Whether it was using stopwatches to measure build order timings or being the first to bow to fans before and after matches, T1 was always setting the cultural standard for the rest of the league. Led by the Living Legend, T1 were the first team to carry themselves like professionals - Not some nerds playing video games, not celebrities, not social curiosities, but actual professional athletes. This culture (and a murderous Terran lineup) was instrumental for T1's Proleague success in 2005 and early 2006.
Then, Article 39 of the Korean Constitution came and ripped T1's heart out.
You would think that T1 could maintain some level of success without Boxer. After all, Boxer wasn't even the team's first or second ace by the time he joined the Air Force. SK Telecom still had a Gorilla, a Baby Bear, a Magician, and the Devil (and... a Rainbow). Not to mention Canata and Rumble in the wings. T1 also still had a master coach (Ju Hoon), an expert tactician (Afictionado), and the same support system that brought them all their previous success.
But do not underestimate the power of culture. This was the team that Boxer built. It doesn't matter how many times you saw "The Wizard of Oz" when you were little - in real life, that Tin Man isn't walking down no yellow brick road without a heart. This was some real Temple of Doom, "Kali Ma shakti de"-type shit. Only GoRush managed to stay competitive, as everybody else, even the mighty oov and Midas, slumped. The team then became desperate, adopting a silly "one individual league only" policy that further demoralized the players and sent T1 into a downward spiral.
How will T1 bounce back, regain their composure, and survive “Life Without Boxer?" T1 was the team that always boldly went where no one had gone before. But now, they are Worf, Data, and Reading Rainbow, on the bridge with no fucking clue what to do because Picard is away in some Cube having tea with the Borg Queen.
The definitive Soul moment came after Soul lost to Pantech EX in the 2005 Season 2 Proleague. Yooi came on stage, and through tears, said: "I'm sorry to disappoint our fans." While this was great drama, (and as much as I sympathized with Yooi) this scene illustrates Soul's problem: Their biggest moment in the sun was crying as losers on the big stage.
See, Soul still suffers from a culture of losing. They are simply too used to not being good enough, to falling behind in the standings, to typing "gg" before their opponent. When Soul wins, they seem uncomfortable by the very fact that they were victorious, like some nerd who managed to get to second base with a girl but doesn't know what to do next. This is a problem, because Soul is Peter Parker after the bite.
In fact, Soul is a strong team that should be comfortable with winning. First of all, they got a sponsor; no more showing up to awards events in denim. Getting stable financial backing has led to an overall increase of player's ability. Most significantly, Hwasin has developed into a bona fide ace. Already a TvZ master (he is one of the few who pushed Savior to Level Two), Hwasin went up the mountain and returned with a striking TvT and TvP game to complement his bug spray. The continued development of Soo and Calm had Soul finally making the playoffs again.
Hwasin's quiet determination has the potential for Anytime-esque leadership. In fact, in many ways Soul is at the same place that Lecaf was a year ago: A new sponsor, a new ace, and some potential strong players on the roster waiting to blossom. Which is why it is all the more important for Soul to urgently shed its culture of losing and, as a whole, gain the confidence to kick ass and not be awkward about it. Success is out there for Soul. But not before learning to be comfortable with winning.
Near where I work, in Apku, Seoul, there's a bar called Monkey Beach. This place sells 10 dollar bottles of tequila and cocktails by the bucket. One summer day, I was there with some friends, who brought their own friends, then more friends joined... there were a lot of people. We had a good group going, half of whom I had never met before. Everybody was in high spirits - specifically Absolut and Jose Cuervo.
At a certain point that night, my brain decided that it wasn't worth it and went home early. My other body parts, especially my loins, came to the conclusion that the night was still young.
Anyway, I tell this story because me that night was kind of like WeMade. Without anybody upstairs, my body wasn't quite equipped to handle all of its responsibilities. A few good things happened (I made out with a random pretty girl / Rock won ODT), but more bad things happened (I threw up in the middle of the street / Nada began to slump), and worst of all, a couple of disastrous things happened (I lost my phone while wandering around my apartment building looking for my door / EX totally failed Proleague). A ship without a captain has no choice but to sink.
Fox's problem is that they are completely scattered and broken to pieces. As Pantech pulled out and the money ran dry, everybody couldn't help but worry about the future of the team. Without a strong leader, the players let the instability get the better of them. There was no way the kids could govern themselves. Unfortunately, Nada is not that leader. Genius as a player, tornado on the minimap, but within a team setting Nada does not have the tools to rally the troops. In the individual leagues, Nada has been the most inspirational player ever, but he has never made his teammates better.
But all hangovers end. WeMade has stepped in to sponsor this team. Fox is still a promising unit with many good pieces. Nada, Silver, and Rock is not a bad core to build around, and Nal_Keke has an awesome mustache. As the team settles into its new situation, stability will return and leadership will emerge in one form or another. Hopefully this new sponsor can be the jolt of coffee for Nada and friends, so that they wake up from my hangover and form a coherent organization once again.
When a group of strangers come together to accomplish a goal, sometimes it's not about who the group is; It's about how the group is.
Because when the group comes together poorly, the resulting culture can be the vilest poison, consuming talent and passion, bringing players down.
On the other hand, when each player positively affects each other, and one plus one starts to equal two, then three, then seventy billion, that is when sand becomes rock, flour becomes ravioli, and teams become champions.
PS: Disclaimer: I have no insider knowledge about pro teams. All of the statements I make are inferred by watching these teams compete and from articles on ESForce, Fighterforum, and fomos. Thus I know no more than the average fan. I am eager to see if TLnet's true insiders (Rek, Uhjoo, Storyteller) can add their insight or correct my errors.
 Well it looks like Casy has now moved to WeMade, less than a day after this post went up. THANKS GUYS, GREAT TIMING.
In terms of team culture, I don't think this will affect OGN much. Casy was quiet when he was at OGN; besides, Sparkyz went through half a season with Casy sitting at home anyways.
Casy's move will have a larger impact with WeMade, but again, he won't change that team's atmosphere. He's a talented and unique player, but he's not the leader type - maybe even less than Nada. However, his addition to the team could give them an extra spark and further help WeMade get its bearings back. Between getting a new sponsor and acquiring a new top level player, WeMade is grinning from ear to ear. They can't wait for their fresh new start.
PPPPPPS: Most of the images are self-explanatory, but the ones for Lecaf, Soul, and Samsung are a little tricky. Bonus points if you got all the references.