When Jaedong won ASUS ROG Northcon on December 7th, 2013, it was supposed to be the completion of a cycle. His career had come full circle, and it was time for the Tyrant to reclaim his throne. He had spent 2013 cementing his legacy as the game's penultimate kong—his procession completed at that year's Blizzcon—, and his ascension appeared inevitable. Then, the calendar turned and he lost to ForGG in the Ro8 of his title defense. Then, he lost to eventual champion HerO at IEM Cologne. Then, Has happened. Regicide at the gates of his natural. His cycle was not to be completed.
Winrate52% vs. Terran58% vs. Protoss68% vs. Zerg
Earnings$54,428 USD in 2014
The rule of his predecessor would not last much longer however, as The Maestro experienced a significant slump the next year. The incumbent Jaedong took this opportunity with aplomb as he ended a brilliant year with his first title at EVER OSL 2007, while carrying his team to the only Proleague title in their history in Shinhan Bank Proleague Round 2 and in the Grand Finals. His dominance did not go unnoticed; in January of 2008, KeSPA named him the #1 Zerg, a title he'd hold on to for an incredible 43 months.
He wrote his legend in those three and a half years by becoming the greatest zerg in the game's history. He won six more championships during that time—GOMTV MSL 2008, GOMTV Classic S1 2008, Batoo OSL 2009, Bacchus OSL 2009, WCG 2009, and NATE MSL 2009—and earned countless individual achievements. He even became KeSPA's highest ever rated player at 3459.3 points, an 'objective' zenith in a sport of subtlety.
"Yes, slumps for me are rather infrequent. I believe it is the fruits of the hours of hard work I have accumulated for this game. If I practice hard, I have faith that one day it will show up in my results even if the effect is not instantaneous."
Who would have thought on that fateful night of the NATE MSL Finals against his eternal rival Flash that it was going to be Jaedong's last premier tournament title in Brood War? Everyone remembers the power outage, the excuses, the technology just isn't there yet, the regame and the outcome. It is one of the most enduring moments in our history, yet few associate it with Jaedong's decline—the beginning of the end for the Tyrant.
Yet like any great champion, he would fight, and he would lose. To his greatest rival, no less. He would lose to Flash in three consecutive finals, the last BW finals that Jaedong would ever reach again. At Hana Daetoo MSL, Bigfile MSL, and Korean Air OSL Season 2, he'd finish second best, a disappointment for a man so used to success. From the greatest zerg in the world, he became 2010's Kong.
"It's really been painful. In the past, I've been able to quickly put losses out of my mind, but this time has really been hard to forget. Now, it still occasionally crosses my mind, but I will continue practicing hard to rise again. If I had allowed myself to be overcome by defeat every time, the 'Tyrant' would never have existed. "
And it continued to get worse. 2011 was not his year as he'd fail to reach a single final. He was knocked out of each Ro4 he reached by two zergs, Hydra and ZerO, in a matchup where he was once unbeatable. His winrates in ZvP and ZvZ fell to ~50%. In August, his streak of zerg dominance ended when he fell behind those very same zergs in the KeSPA Rankings. Even his team was blighted by his recession: they failed to reach the playoffs in Shinhan Bank Proleague 2010-2011 before disbanding in November of that year. Too expensive for a star past his prime, he was forced to join a band of misfits on Team 8, a team primarily known for not being as bad as Air Force ACE. Finally, he had reached his nadir.
Then, on May 2nd, 2012, KeSPA announced it would begin its transition to Starcraft 2. They revealed that the next season of Proleague would feature both BW and SC2, and that they would cooperate with Blizzard and existing organizations in nurturing the young game's development. This was Jaedong's opportunity to reinvent himself and turn back time. There was no assurance that he'd flourish in the new game as much as the old, but The God of Destruction had a determination that manifested in a compulsion to be the best. It didn't matter how he was going to be reborn in this new world; he would take any lot he was cast and shape it in his likeness.
"After having played both games, I can see that there is no reason to assume that just because one player was very good in Brood War, he'd also be the best in SC2."
Unfortunately, he was not born into riches in this new life. While Team 8 surprised many by finishing the regular season in 3rd place, Jaedong only managed a 15-15 record (5-5 in BW, 10-10 in SC2). His team was shut out in the playoffs, losing 0-2, 0-2 to SKT T1 with Jaedong failing to win a game. His reputation preceded him, however, and he was donated a seed into Code S Season 4 2012. He made little of that charity; he lost 0-2 to MC and 1-2 to MarineKing to get knocked down to Code A immediately. The next season, Hack dropped him into the anonymous cesspool of Code B. His suffering from the end of Brood War endured.
A change was necessary, and he sprung to life in 2013 after signing with Evil Geniuses. EG presented him with a liberty that few KeSPA players had ever known—the freedom to travel and play in international tournaments—and it appeared to galvanize him. He attended his first foreign SC2 event in the largely forgotten HyperX 10 Year Anniversary tournament in Las Vegas, which he won against MC. He continued to travel throughout the year, attending Dreamhacks, MLGs, and IEMs. Everywhere he went, he was showered with applause and adoration for his reputation more than his play. Yet the success of his past life eluded him. He finished second in Dreamhack Summer, Dreamhack Valencia, WCS AM Season 2, the WCS Season 2 Finals, and Blizzcon. Once again, he had become the Kong.
Then, out of nowhere, as we all joked about Jaekong and his severed sheep, he won Northcon. As abruptly as he had announced his arrival, as reluctantly as he had fallen, he was a champion in SC2. He had come full circle: from Champion to Kong to Has-been in BW, then a Has-been to Kong, to Champion in SC2. The omens called for 2014 to be Jaedong's coronation. Instead, it was a year of chaos.
He reached the Ro4 at IEM Cologne, Dreamhack Summer and IEM Shenzhen. He failed to escape the Ro32 in WCS Season 1 and 2, and was a casualty of the Season 3 Group of Death. He won Lone Star Clash against Polt. He flopped in a tournament crafted from his dreams, the ZvZfest that was TWOP. He won WEC against Snute, after advancing from a KeSPA-less qualifier. Somehow, he qualified for Blizzcon. There was no grand scheme, no destiny, no architect. Only Jaedong and a future undetermined.
Perhaps there was a sense of anticipation for his reemergence as a title contender, especially among the astute who had noticed the cycle. Northcon was the inauguration that wasn't, and 2014 has proven that the Tyrant does not live by the rhythm of some ethereal force. He has been freed from the chains of expectations, and only he can determine what happens next. Perhaps he will return to Korea once his current contract ends and play in Proleague where his career began. Perhaps he will stay with Evil Geniuses and continue to tour the world as he prioritizes life experiences. Perhaps it will be something else entirely, a path unknown. One thing is certain: Jaedong will fight.
Jaedong is the paragon of perseverance, the saint of stubbornness. There is no mountain he is unwilling to climb, and there is no barrier he is unwilling to break. He has become a role model in a sit-down sport because of a work ethic incomparable. His life as a progamer has seemed like a bizarre loop, but it appears that the cycle has been broken. He is no longer the best player in the world, no longer a kong, no longer an invalid. He is just Jaedong, last year's Blizzcon runner up. And he knows that there is only one way to do better than that.