Wheel of Fortune
Players are the product of their environment as much as their individual effort. This is a fact we selectively ignore for good reason. It’s easy to talk about systems and their role in developing skill, even easier to attribute success to a mystical conception of ‘talent’. These approaches are decidedly romantic. A system can be comprehended, rationalized, and taught to peers. It is something controllable and edifying. Talent is democratic, selective and ultimately inspiring. Meanwhile, circumstance can be cruel beyond words. Brackets are just as influential in determining placements as preparation. A bad batch of pasta can be the difference between a great group stage and spectator mode. The death of a family member might be the motivation or the despairing influence that decides an important match. We like to think personality is ours, but it’s only partially controllable. There are too many influences, too much happenstance to predict a player’s future.
Winrate55% vs. Terran60% vs. Protoss75% vs. Zerg
Earnings$56,936 USD in 2014
Like most players yoeFW.San began his career as Mister Anonymous, one more nobody struggling to become a known name within the narrow confines of the GSL. Back then fame and fortune weren’t as rigidly stratified, and anyone could earn accreditation within limitations. Of course, not all fame was equal or desirable. Initially San earned notoriety for being a clown. Not the type you see performing vaudeville routines at the Big Apple Circus, nor the licensed fool that populated the courts of yore. San was a jester who made us laugh for all the wrong reasons. Next to his clanmate LiveForever and SlayerS’LegalMind, San was justly considered the worst active player to ever reach Code S. During the early GSL seasons he was a fundamentally bad player, lacking the ability to read his opponent’s initiations and the mental sharpness to execute his own plans correctly. San was infamous for never reaching the lategame as he couldn’t last the 20 minutes required. Once he quizzically blocked his own nexus while trying to set up a basic forge fast expand; every other time, he finished the wall-off just to die to roaches.
After three seasons of embarrassment and snarky comments, no one was surprised to hear San voice thoughts about retirement. Mandatory service loomed in the background; Nestea smirked at the free win he guaranteed by picking the perceived deadbeat; Ensnare and Boxer waited in the wings after the initial match. No one realistically thought he could take on one, let alone three solid players. Technically San was not a pro gamer at all, just a hobbyist who had managed to squeeze his way into the hardest tournament in the world. Retirement would be better than what was likely to happen.
What actually happened left both players and audience members flabbergasted. San defeated Nestea in a legendary game on Shakuras Plateau that can only be described as amazing. Far from looking lost and helpless, the formerly hapless protoss was assured and in control. He warded off Nestea’s mutas, properly responded to the zerg’s army changes, sniped countless hatcheries, and battered the GSL champion into submission. He proceeded to beat Ensnare and Boxer in equally convincing sets, cementing belief that he was a changed man. From there he made one of the most improbable runs in GSL history, taking out TheWind and sC on his way to the Ro4. By the time MC finally ended his run, San was being acclaimed as one of the best protosses in Korea.
The HoSeo neophyte showed that in a game of imperfect information, protoss wasn’t merely frightening to face: it could also be exasperating to deal with. During those two magical months, San neatly avoided the ‘deathball or all-in’ dichotomy that plagued his brethren. Instead, he introduced what can only be accurately described as slopfest attrition. Geminating from the fact high templar could immediately storm units upon creation, San devised a playstyle that didn’t rely on colossi as the backbone of the army. This approach traded overwhelming firepower for staggered bursts of AoE damage, sheer army value for disposability, defensive-minded waiting for fast expansions and counterattacks. San’s conception of a protoss army was not a shimmering Faberge egg, complete in perfection but vulnerable to the slightest tap. It was a mess of shells brought in by the surf, their numbers multiplying after every wave. His opponents understood the XvP matchup as a game of patience where one instance decided the outcome. Deflect the strike, attack at the critical moment, delay the inevitable march, crush the enemy before he hits the point of no return. This methodology fell apart against San’s unique approach. Killing him in one blow was like wiping out the beach with a single stick swing.
San’s brief flash of brilliance provided a glimpse of what protoss would eventually become. His various uses of templar tech were a watershed moment in protoss theorycrafting, showcasing their superior flexibility over colossus-based builds. As the backbone of his army San deployed them offensively and defensively, in groups or on solo missions, behind his main army or behind enemy mineral lines. Dark templar, popularly used in ride-or-die strategies at the time, turned into an essential part of his mid-lategame harassment. In conjunction with warp prisms, San exploited his newfound mobility to tax his opponent’s multitasking; behind the smoke show and chaos, he slowly ate up the map’s resources with expansions everywhere. No matter how much San threw away he could always come back with more, allowing him to engage in true attrition warfare. Such an aggressive macro style for protoss was unheard of, yet the HoSeo prodigy had stumbled up the only possible way it could be sustained.
All the cleverness in the world couldn’t save him from Blizzard though. With the removal of the Khaydarin Amulet upgrade, the balance team did the ultimate hatchet job to San’s method and his budding career. San had refined his particular brand of PvX largely because it played to his strengths, but even more because it hid his weaknesses. His cancer style gave him the necessary economic edge to offset his mediocre army control; his newfound expertise in PvZ and PvT buttressed his still-mournful PvP. Suffice to say, patch 1.3 brought Ragnarok into San’s little domain. In the span of four months, he went from being the successor of MC to a virtual phantom. He dropped out of Code S in GSL May, shortly followed by a shocking Code A loss to Sheth in GSL July. His losses were more humiliating than anything his worst critics anticipated. San had dedicated so much time to honing his templar style, he lost any grasp on how to play PvT and PvZ without them. The clumsy, pitiful San of old reared his ugly head as he vainly tried to switch back to the more acceptable colossus builds. Every time he tried to micro his army, he inevitably fumbled; lone colossus wandered alone across the map like bewildered cattle. With failure came doubt, and doubt soon turned into conviction. Clearly he was a gimmick all along, people whispered. Any competent pro could spam storms on demand with 5 bases and 50,000 zealots as backup. If he really was a genius, he would have adapted. He would’ve found another way.
Post-GSL July, the New Star HoSeo player retreated into the shadows and out of popular consciousness. He was rightly dismissed as a championship contender in all aspects, and soon the community fixated upon other promising protoss stars. San turned to the budding online scene for consolation and became a king outside of the booth, acting as NSH’s bedrock in team leagues. Yet while many aspiring stars used similar wins to catapult themselves into the limelight, San only found failure and frustration. Qualifiers turned out to be the one online challenge he couldn’t ace with impunity. The few times he found LAN success, he quickly succumbed to stage pressure. His OSL run led to a nice pat on the back and nothing more; 7 fruitless attempts to re-enter GSL finally paid off in Season 5, where he was promptly kicked out by Happy; his showings at MLG Fall Championship and IPL 5 were encouraging and nothing more. San, the former poster child of hope, appeared to be doomed to a lifetime of mediocrity.
Fast-forward two years and ManZenith has completely flipped the script. Even since edging out Sen in TeSL Season 2, San has incrementally fulfilled the potential he showed so long ago. First he followed up that victory with two silver medals at Assembly Summer and IEM Singapore, then seized his first premier gold with a 4-0 victory over Dear at Assembly Winter. Currently he is a perennial threat in WCS Europe, where he’s reached the semifinals three times in a row. Widely acknowledged as one of the best protosses outside of Korea, San is a perpetual contender in any tournament he attends.
How did San get his groove back? As in most things, location matters. Competition in Europe is less fierce than in Korea, and a Ro4 finish still brings in decent money. At worst he faces fellow Koreans who left the homeland for greener grass, players weaker than the top-tier back home; at best, he receives a favorable bracket against foreigners. Leaving home has also relieved him of the mental burden that plagued his results for years. His incessant failures to get into GSL, plus the intensity of Korean competition, had created a mental roadblock that had slowly seeped into his other results. San needed to shake off that corroding influence before he could make a serious championship run.
Most importantly, San can now utilize his old style without the debilitating attachment. Due to impracticality and a general shift in strategies, San’s innovations largely died with him during the WoL era. Certain ideas were experimented with piecemeal, scattered in various builds here and there. Those advances would never be fully refined and integrated into a single player’s style (PartinG came the closest, but BL/infestor would force him down the path of the Soul Train). In HotS, everything that San used to do is now commonly accepted. Meanwhile, San realized that he couldn’t afford to be narrow-minded. While the old patch deleted his style and ruined any hopes of riding its success, he was equally responsible for allowing that success to hypnotize him. So the veteran wised up and starting stealing from the best. During his first major triumphs, he reached the finals using precise gateway attacks. Those gateway + MSC timings were nothing unique. They had been used plenty of times on the Korean ladder and were gradually gaining popularity at the highest level of play. The novelty was how quickly San incorporated them into his overall bag of tricks. San 1.0 would’ve ignored the possibility, too engrossed in his proven method. San 2.0 chose to be proactive, and has been rewarded with a substantially expanded repertoire. Like a sponge he absorbs strategies and holds onto them until the proper time. Oracle builds, phoenix builds, 2 base immortal all-ins, San has an answer for anything the opponent can throw at him.
San is not the best player attending Blizzcon. San is not close to being the best protoss attending Blizzcon. Hell, you can’t argue that he’s even the best Korean outside WCS KR going to the event. Past jjakji he is a strict underdog, fortunate enough to get an easy opponent first but likely to lose in the second round. It’s a story San is intimately familiar with by now. He’s been a small fry for most of his career and he knows what comes with that: the halfhearted cheers after a win, the stoic indifference after a loss, the shrinking feeling of being where you don’t belong. He also remembers what it’s like to topple giants.