The Hanged Man
by DarkLordOlli and Zealously
The StarCraft world has traditionally been split in two states. There's Korea, the "Mecca of eSports", where infrastructure in gaming is arguably leagues better than anywhere else. And then there's the rest of the world. In such a global and international scene, we address Koreans as Koreans and the rest of the world as foreigners. Korea has gaming figured out; institutions like KeSPA and their practice environments, as well as the big sponsorship deals they bring in, are unparalleled. Professional gaming took off in Korea before the rest of the world, and since then the greatest players in Starcraft have always come from Korea.
Winrate74% vs. Terran64% vs. Protoss66% vs. Zerg
Earnings$80,118 USD in 2014
There And Back Again - a Progamer's Tale
"The goal is always to stand at the highest spot"It's hard to imagine how the outside world must look for someone who grows up as an aspiring professional gamer in Korea. While their superstars, tournaments and practice environments inspire young gamers from all over the world to try their luck at one day winning a GSL, practicing with the very best in a gaming house, or participating in Proleague, what does the world look like from inside Korea? Someone from outside of Korea would have to make their name first to even have a chance at reaching the promised land. They have to work hard and compete at all kinds of international tournaments all over the world, bring home good results and get the world's attention. Only then might they have a chance at competing in Korea.
For someone like INnoVation, the view must be entirely different. He grew up in Korea and became a professional player at a very young age, taking the decision to become a progamer as early as in the seventh grade. He was born in the land of gaming opportunity, the high society of StarCraft. The outside world must have looked like a cruel, rough and uncivilized place to him, if he ever did have a peek at it (E/N: which, knowing Innovation, he likely didn't). Whether he was aware of his luck or not, he took the chance presented to him and turned it into a respectable, highly successful career. There was little doubt that he was the best player in the world at one point in SC2, a run which took him to a GSL Finals and the sequent WCS Season Finals in his homeland, the latter of which he won decisively. He was the integral player in STX' Proleague triumph and ruled the world with the iron fist of a machine.
"At first, I thought that one championship would be enough to be call myself a good player, and be called a good player by others. But after winning a championship, I didn't really feel anything, so I think I have to keep winning. "
Then STX disbanded. And suddenly INnoVation, the best player in the world, Proleague champion, GSL finalist and WCS Season champion, was left without a team. It's impossible to imagine that no big Korean team was interested in picking him up immediately. But in a shocking, ground-breaking move, he left the land of his triumph and turned away from his home, from KeSPA's practice environment and its high standards. A lot of eyes were opened when INnoVation joined Team Acer in September 2013. The king of Korea had decided that he wanted to refocus on competing outside of his home and embracing the international scene. Perhaps that was a sign of the changing times, perhaps it had been his dream to travel all along - who knows. Innovation's lips are, just as they have always been, sealed.
INnoVation took a step outside and a new world unfolded before his eyes. The foreign lands are vast and many adventures awaited a young, motivated INnoVation at the height of his career. Dreamhacks, IEMs, ASUS ROGs spread out before him, luring him in with their promise of easily won prize money and fans shouting his name. Online arenas like Acer's TeamStoryCup and Destiny I were now open to him as well. He had chosen a life in the wild and his strategies were going to be unveiled one way or another. Now he was finally free to play his heart out, play as much as he wanted, wherever he wanted. He was his own master, at least more so than he was under KeSPA's rule. The world was his for the taking. But just as he was about to reach for it... nothing happened. INnoVation quickly realized that it wasn't all clean and simple. Stagnation befell him and the player who had dominated Korea not too long ago was soon confronted with the harsh reality that the world he threw himself into might be a tougher place to compete in than he thought after all.
He won no foreign tournaments, there was no easy prize money, and no hordes of fans cheering his name. He had been labelled a machine before for his inhuman precision and flawlessness, but the community was now making jokes about his programming and software. Some went as far as calling him a hellbat-abuser. His best offline result under Acer was a top four finish at Dreamhack Bucharest. Online results kept stable for him, as he won Destiny I and two Dragon Invitationals, as well as performing admirably for Acer in ATC. But these surely were not the results he was hoping for when he left his home. The wild took its toll on INnoVation. Strong players had made the jump over to the international scene before him and had more experience in these offline settings, and it was no coincidence that players like TaeJa, HerO, San, Life and Jaedong were the ones eliminating him from weekend tournaments. Back at home, Korean Starcraft had moved on and other players had taken his throne and overcome him. Suddenly INnoVation was left alone in the wild, without the practice environment that forged him into a man of steel, without the same precision as before and without the glory, fame and money he had dreamed of.
Just as moving abroad is a leap of faith, an abandoning of everything one has previously known in favor of new and entirely different experiences, returning to the patterns and the discipline of a Korean team such as SK Telecom signifies a homecoming for Innovation. Although going to Korea in this day and age is orders of magnitude less common than leaving, the Mekka of eSports still promises mastery of the game in exchange for unwavering dedication. In choosing to leave the land where he first rose to greatness, Innovation displayed a willingness to sacrifice the exact things that permitted his rise to power in the first place. And in choosing to return to Korea, he made it clear that nothing is more important than winning.
It is to that place, the place that more than any other place in the eSports world rewards dedication and unwavering will, that Innovation returned. He came back far less successful than we expected he would be when he first left for Acer, as a player whose potential was only partly realized during his time in the promised land. He returned to Korea without the trophies he no doubt believed he would come to have, as a player whose enormous potential had been left unfulfilled. A player who has spent so long meddling in what can only be seen as mediocrity by his own lofty standard likely still hungers for success. To someone craving success, Innovation seems to finally have made all the right choices. He joined the most storied team in all of eSports – one team of precious few to claim a legacy greater than any of its individual players – intending to make the final climb back to where he was before he left Korea. As SKT.Innovation, the prodigal son first set his eyes on the trophy that so narrowly eluded him in the middle of 2013 - the GSL trophy.
"I just keep getting the feeling that I dodged a bullet when I won the championship after the sixth map(laughs)"
Innovation made sacrifices when he left the safe and familiar environment of Korean teams, forgoing the discipline and the almost guaranteed top-level skill that follows a strict practice regimen. But in coming back to the birthplace of his career, he made sacrifices I would argue are even greater. It is common for the sheltered to never desire a journey to the other side, because they have never seen that other side with their own eyes and thus have no concept of what they are missing. But for a player like Innovation, whose ventures into the promised land of international travel and global fame opened a world previously unknown to the KeSPA-raised player, returning to his roots means abandoning all that he gained when he first joined Acer.
Sacrificing one's freedoms and pleasures in the pursuit of greatness is the mark of a determined athlete, and by willingly leaving everything that the foreign world has to offer, Innovation has proven that he too possesses such irreproachable determination. Just as in the story of the prodigal son returning home after indulging his cravings and desires in a distant land, Innovation's realizing that the greatness he sought lay in Korea was immediately rewarded. Mere days after his move to SKT was made public, he lifted the trophy that was so heart-breakingly torn away from him by Soulkey. In defeating his teammate soO - the brother who never once debated leaving his birthplace for greener pastures - Innovation had come full circle. He had suffered the most agonizing defeat imaginable and left the KeSPA culture in which he was raised, and only once he sacrificed what he had gained could he take the final step and become GSL champion.
Today, no one can say that Innovation didn't take the chance. He was once mocked and made fun of for his reticent demeanor, his seeming lack of interest in what the world outside his own mind and the game of Starcraft had to offer. Little has changed in the way he conducts himself, just as little in how he interacts with the fans. The change we perceive in Innovation is not a change in Lee Shin Hyung, but a revaluation of the mettle of his character. Of both his intelligence and his courage, and his unshakable commitment to his goals.
Innovation comes to Blizzcon not as the player whose coveted trophy was ripped from his fingertips, a player ever on the cusp of realizing potential that would continue to elude him. He doesn't come to Blizzcon as only a player born and raised within the confines of KeSPA's secluded environment, a player with no understanding of or interest in what lies within reach across the ocean.
Innovation comes to Blizzcon as the player who gave up on much of what made him into the man that once stood above far above his peers in order to seek greatness elsewhere. As the player who abandoned everything that decision gave him once it became clear that the greatness he desired could be found in only one place.. When Innovation walks on stage to face Hyun only days from now, it will be as a player who has seen and experienced all that Starcraft has to offer. As a man who has seen the best of both worlds and suffered the pains of those two wildly different realities, Innovation will no longer be considered the robot of old. He may still wear that persona, a persona we attached to him, but he has transcended that one-dimensional identity.
The changes Innovation has twice brought upon his career have cost him much. First he gave up on all the things that allowed him to reach the top in search of alluring riches and thrilling experiences. Then he parted ways with all that, returning to the very place he left with the ultimate goal of becoming something greater than he was, a more complete man. There is much to be said about Innovation, but I do not doubt that he has succeeded. In the end, those trials and changes will all have been worth it.