Cover image by zxk3
The Storm Zerg
by pubbanana (Guest Writer)
TeamLiquid: Final Edits
"Actual happiness looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamor of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Many people would describe Hong Jin Ho's career as tragic. Coming so close so many times only to be met with defeat can only be seen as heartbreaking to the thousands of people who cheer and adore him.
But this is not a tragedy.
This is a love story.
Because the game is his whole world, it reciprocates his love. His hands produce and position units that pour over into his opponent's defenses like a whirlwind. Slowly, his intense stare changes into an affectionate gaze as the game rewards him with a moment of meaning in a meaningless world.
No matter who types GG in this moment, he will experience a joy which is the essence of his existence as a progamer.
A joy because he created a storm.
This is the Storm Zerg. This is Hong Jin Ho.
“I want to be famous.”
For two years, the Terran Emperor Lim Yo Hwan existed in this world without a rival. It wouldn't be until 2 years later, in 1982, when Hong Jin Ho would be born in a small city in Daejeon known for it's cherry blossom festival. Without a father, his older brother and himself were raised by his mother. Long before he was [NC]...YellOw, long before the Lim Jin War, he was a boy with his father's face and his mother's ambition. However, he didn't share her visions for his future.
“I want to be famous.”
Studying and school weren't important to him. He was driven by different motivations. Though he has a warm personality, he can't be forced into something that he doesn't like. Likewise, he won't waste time on something he doesn't love.
When he first saw StarCraft in a PC room, his path in life took a sudden turn. Sacrificing everything, he walked down that different road in life that every progamer takes, but very few ever find the will or motivation to continue down. His mother thought he was out studying or cramming for school when he'd come home late at night. He was beaten when she found out what he had really been devoting his time to, but it didn't stop him. Nothing could. A genuine affinity had been formed. It was a bond that was never meant to be broken.
Risking his future and enduring his mother's disappointment, he left for Seoul to make it as a progamer.
“He looks like a thug.”
His life wasn't easy at this point. Living in an apartment with two other gamers, he practiced day and night and only lived off of one meal of ramen a day. Their winnings from local tournaments were barely enough to allow them to survive on their own.
Coach Song Ho Chang was having trouble sponsoring a pro team. He was in the middle of negotiations with an urban clothing company about sponsoring his team, but the deal fell through. They were barely making enough money to survive. Coach Song had to sell his car so that his kids would have a place to stay. By a stroke of good luck, he convinced a local PC room to offer their services to his team for free. Just as good things were beginning, the PC room closed it's doors and his team was once again left without a sponsor. Out of desperation, he went to the Gamei headquarters and pleaded with them to sponsor his team. While they didn't get an official sponsorship, they did get a place to stay and a PC room to use.
Soon, these two people with the strength to never accept the conditions as they were presented would cross paths.
“He looks like a thug.” was Coach Song's first impression of Jin Ho's appearance. Not expecting much of anything, he agreed to give him a test to be apart of the Gamei team. Though the result was less than spectacular (in that he lost every single game), it was the way that he lost that intrigued the coach. Particularly, in his games against the team ace Kim Jong Sung (SalMoSa), Coach Song noticed that Jin Ho had a kind of organization and sense for his units that he hadn't experienced in a player before.
Watching him lose, Coach Song was charmed by his play which could only have been born out of a pure devotion to the game. And with that, he recruited him. The first step towards a progamer was marked by the very action that signified his career – losing. It was then solidified by the very thing that had started him down this path in life – his love for the game.
“Drop! Drop! Drop!”
Hong Jin Ho had found something in Coach Song that had been missing in his own life. While he doesn't explicitly state it, his coach was a sort of father figure to him during their time together. Coach Song gave him lectures about maintaining the mindset of a professional. He also helped him change the way he dressed and presented himself. Jin Ho had matured with the help of his coach, for it was with this team that he became a man.
And it showed in his game. He swept the first 3 tournaments his coach signed him up for. While Coach Song was known for his passive coaching style, even he could not resist the spectacle that was developing into what is now known as the Storm Zerg. Cheering behind Jin Ho, he could be heard yelling out to his fleet of Overlords “Drop! Drop! Drop!”
During his next tournament, the first Gamei Open, he would lock eyes with a boy who would become his greatest rival and deny him victory again and again for the first time.
But not on that day. On that day, he would be the one watching Jin Ho grasp first place.
“You were made to do this.”
The Gamei team was once again coming under sponsor troubles. Despite this, Jin Ho continued to crawl his way through every preliminary round he could find. Sensing that something drastic was needed to help support the team, he switched his attention to 2v2 play. His decision paid off as he and SalMoSa swept several televised 2v2 tournaments. But their efforts were not enough. Despite their good intentions, the Gamei team lost sponsorship and Jin Ho was forced to part ways with the team that had raised him.
Coach Song had no worries. Jin Ho had impressed him with his performances, even in the televised leagues which new players generally don't fare well in due to nerves. But he was different. The stage was his home. For the little boy who wanted to be a star, doing what he loved in front of a crowd was a dream come true.
“You were made to do this.”
The coach's words would ring even more true months later when he would watch Jin Ho grasp the trophy in iTV's King of Rookies of tournament. His star was shining. There was no looking back at this point. The Storm Zerg had arrived.
"I even had to try my first kiss twice."
The year of 2001 was magical for the young Storm Zerg. While working under contract for any team that would house and feed him, he qualified for all three Starleagues. His hungry spirit was shown through his waves of Hydralisks and his bundles of Mutalisks that moved in a way that had never been seen before. It was almost cinematic to watch a Jin Ho army clash with the enemy from both land and air.
HanBit Soft Starleague Round of 8.
Coca Cola Starleague 2nd Place.
SKY Starleague 4th Place.
He had posted an impressive record and triumphed over an impressive number of veteran players in his first year as a progamer. The Storm Zerg was also responsible for the first case of distorted audio in a broadcasted match due to the hell-hollering of his female fanclub. In comparison with making it to the big leagues so early in his career, Jin Ho replies "I even had to try my first kiss twice".
"I never wanted to stay without Yo Hwan-hyung."
Lim Yo Hwan and Hong Jin Ho. Their fated meeting in the 2001 Coca Cola finals held no particular significance to either one of them at the time, but they have since come to realize that they were guiding an entire generation of progamers. He admits he held a shallow view of their rivalry back then, but has since understood his role as a veteran progamer and as a rival.
Jin Ho would find his next home in early 2002 with Yo Hwan on the Ideal Space (IS) proteam. Living together with Yo Hwan and being the veterans on the team, he saw how their personalities were polar opposite of each other. Yo Hwan would push the practice partners until they would beg him to stop. Jin Ho would push them until they asked him to stop. Though he teased him for it, Yo Hwan understood that his soft approach was needed to balance the otherwise brutal training sessions.
After the SKY 2002 Starleague, Yo Hwan's father had been angered by the fact that IS didn't provide his son with what he thought were "adequate" Protoss training partners. His contract with IS would expire a week later, and with that, he was gone. Though Jin Ho and Lee Yun Yeol were shaken, they still tried to keep IS together.
But, by December, Jin Ho had signed a deal with the KTF MagicNs. When asked why he was leaving IS when he was one of their main pillars of support, he simply said "I never wanted to stay without Yo Hwan-hyung."
"The title of 'King of Second Place' stops today."
Jin Ho's NC clan mates had crowned him the King of Second Place during his time with the Gamei team. Placing in the top 3 of over 10 tournaments, but never placing first had caught their attention. Though it was a title he didn't at all care for, it would follow him to his professional career and become his most distinguishing characteristic.
Coming close, but never finishing.
Losing to Lim Yo Hwan in the Coca-Cola finals and then to Prince of Zerg, Sung Hak Seung (MuMyung) in the KPGA Winner's Championship within months of each other had given him a strong desire to shed his second place image.
He set his sights on the KT OnGameNet King of Kings tournament.
Garimto, SlayerS_`BoxeR`, TheMarine, JinNam, V-Gundam – They were all ships sailing towards the same port.
And Hong Jin Ho was the storm that destroyed them.
Before the final match with Dynamo Terran Jo Jung Hyun (V-Gundam), he made his intentions very clear: "The title of 'King of Second Place' stops today."
V-Gundam's units looked almost pitiful. Forced to lift his last expansion and watch his remaining SCVs bunch together like a herd of cattle, the situation was hopeless. Jin Ho's Lurkers burrowed with a certain vigor, his Hydralisks attacked with an intimidation that he certainly had never seen until he encountered the ID of [NC]...YellOw.
Yet, Jin Ho looks oddly serene. Sweating from head to toe and presenting a vicious display of his skill, he watches his units with a sincere expression of a child. The constant affection exchanged between Jin Ho and his units produce but two simple letters:
And with that, the King of Second Place had grasped his first major trophy.
"When I wake up tomorrow, I don't want all of this to be a dream."
Was it really happening?
Hong Jin Ho vs Lim Yo Hwan. 2003 KTEC KPGA Winner's Championship.
"He's using such bizarre strategies."
The nightmares of the KPGA Tours.
The failure to advance to the finals in the Panasonic Starleague.
Even losing in special event games.
The King of Second Place.
The Yo Hwan Jinx.
His mind was clouded. The mental battle between himself and Lim Yo Hwan was almost more than he could handle.
"Everyone is expecting me to lose."
Last year, they were under the same roof, training for the same Starleague. This year, they're rivals again. Two boys who chased the same irresponsible dream are meeting in the finals once again. The real battle that is going on is invisible to the audience, for it is being held in their minds.
What is taking place is something very pure. Ambition, devotion, hope, all of it is being poured into the keyboard and the mouse. It is, in some ways, like witnessing the most selfless of all actions.
Because those who fall in love with themselves have no rivals.
On that day, Hong Jin Ho emerged as the winner. Overcoming the Yo Hwan Jinx and once again pushing aside the title of 'King of Second Place', he struggled to find words to describe his feelings.
"When I wake up tomorrow, I don't want all of this to be a dream."
For Jin Ho, it would prove to not just be a dream, though it may as well have been. In fact, it was only a taste of things to come. With a new team and a new victory, he would make his presence felt on a deeper level to all who would continue to cheer for him.
"He doesn't even keep one hour to himself."
Defeating his own team mate, Lee Yun Yeol, in the final of the GameTV Challenger Open Starleague after their return from ClikArena in France was just a glimpse of the Hong Jin Ho who wore the KTF uniform with a kind of pride that he didn't show before. Normally very sensitive about playing against members of his own team, he showed a zeal that was very unusual for him.
Hong Jin Ho, a man who prided himself on his compassion for others, was now showing a dear friend no mercy.
But it was in the most compassionate way. Rather than lose to someone due to his own useless pride, he would now rather give it everything he has. If he loses, he loses doing something that he loves. On the most basic principles of sport and the human character, he had found himself.
And as long as you and I are breathing in this world, he would work to make us proud of saying "I cheer for Hong Jin Ho."
He won the iTV StarCraft Ranking League and MBCGame's Big 4 Tour and placed 2nd in the TG Sambo MSL and the Olympus OSL. He also helped KTF reach 3rd place in both the MBCGame Proleague and the OGN EVER Proleague.
The KTF team was making a good showing, but it was Jin Ho who was truly making a commotion. The MagicNs were known to have the longest and most strict practice routine at the time. Their coach, Jung Soo Yung, was a character all his own. Banning Han Woong Ryul (Oddysay) for telling a lie so that he could leave practice to go see a girlfriend, cursing at JinNam and JinSu and threatening to not let them participate in the Premier League, hitting players with baseball bats to help them concentrate, the list goes on. He was a true maniac about his player's discipline.
Yet, even he was amazed by Jin Ho's work ethic.
"He devotes himself entirely to the team. He doesn't even keep one hour to himself."
"After the games today in Daegu, I won't put the KTF uniform back on."
During the KT-KTF Premier League, Jin Ho would meet a ghost from his past. His former coach, Song Ho Chang, had finally found solid financial backing for his team and they were reborn as Toona SG. Lee Yun Yeol and Jin Ho both wasted no time in going back home to their old team.
"After the games today in Daegu, I won't put the KTF uniform back on." announced Jin Ho on his fan site.
However, it was a pact that would only last 4 months. Because of their relationship, both Coach Song and Jin Ho had overlooked the business end of their deal. It was doomed to fail from the start.
He was a man now. He wasn't the same kid who was struggling just to be able to eat by playing StarCraft. He was a superstar. This was his living. This was his life. To be able to continue his career, he needed money. Though it hurt both of them, Jin Ho eventually accepted KTF's invitation to return to the team with an increased salary. Lee Yun Yeol, who was unhappy at KTF, decided to stay with Toona. He had also taken a shine to Lee Byung Min (GoodFriend) and had hopes of leading the team to glory with him. Though there were salary problems due to Neowiz not being able nor having the knowledge to properly sponsor or market a progame team, they survived.
Though Coach Song was not a rich man, he had left Jin Ho with a most priceless gift.
"Today, I was just a Zerg."
The Lim Jin War. Lim Yo Hwan vs Hong Jin Ho. This is, without a doubt, the most glamorous match-up in progaming.
When these two are facing each other on the stage, they are the only two people in the world.
But within this world, there exists one small detail: Maps. Everyone always agrees that a match between Jin Ho and Yo Hwan will ultimately be decided by how well they prepared for the maps. In the TG Sambo MSL, Jin Ho had said that he was confident with every map and that he wasn't worried about them at all. The only thing that worried him was the fact that he was playing a student of Lim Yo Hwan.
In return, Yo Hwan says that he knows him better than anyone else and he can tell what strategies will or will not work against him. But, no matter what, if you ask each of them who their favorite opponent to beat is, they're going to say each other's name. This is why a Lim Jin War is such a special thing, and not just for the audience.
Ever Starleague 2004 Semi-Finals. Another Lim Jin War was beginning. The commentators gave their opinions about which player had better chances on which maps and prepared a little statistics fiesta for the viewers. The crowd was expecting the most epic event ever in the history of progaming.
But this Lim Jin War wasn't decided by maps. Three bunker rushes and it was done.
Jin Ho knew he would be criticized for not reacting to the bunker rushes and adjusting his strategy.
Yo Hwan knew he would be criticized for using a bunker rush three consecutive times.
On this day, like every day, there was a winner and a loser. But on this day, neither one of them were smiling.
With his world crumbling around him, Jin Ho ran away to a PC room to write a letter to his fans.
"Today, I wasn't Hong Jin Ho. Today, I wasn't the Storm Zerg. Today, I was just a Zerg."
The shards of those words cut through his fans like a knife. It was a tragic turn of events that no one saw coming.
But this was not a tragedy.
The most tragic thing that could happen to him would be if he were to stop trying.
To stop playing. To stop being the Storm Zerg. To stop hearing the cheers of his fans. To not play StarCraft.
No, this is not a tragedy.
This is a love story.
No matter how many times he fell, the number of times he got back up was always one more than that.
He'll win and he'll lose. That's what progamers do.
Because the game is his whole world, he'll live with his back against the wall until he experiences that certain joy which is the reason for him sitting on that stage.
The joy of creating a storm.