Over three years ago, a certain article about elephants caused a huge uproar in the community because of its cold, hard hitting message: "The competition thus far has been a farce." Not only did it claim that SC2's beloved champions would be replaced in time, it even declared them lazy, spoiled and unmotivated. When KeSPA and its teams would switch to SC2, they would inevitably dominate the scene sooner or later. Legends like Flash, Jaedong and Bisu would ride their talent to more championships even in a different game; KeSPA's assembly line would not be stopped. Fast forward to 2014 and you will realize that the elephant-prophecy hasn't been entirely wrong. Even though Brood War's greatest players haven't reached the same heights in StarCraft II, the Korean scene is now under KeSPA's control. 29 of the 32 professionals in Code S were members of a KeSPA team when Season 3 began. Teams that formerly refused to submit to KeSPA's rule have now been integrated into their institution. The eSports Federation (eSF) has disbanded and its dispersed members all follow new morals. All is perfect in the world of KeSPA.
Winrate60% vs. Terran67% vs. Protoss70% vs. Zerg
Earnings$120,371 USD in 2014
The aftermath of KeSPA's switch can be felt in every corner of the SC2 scene. A hugely defining and iconic moment in recent years was its conflict with eSF. It was a clash between the old guard and the new. The traditionally pure, relentless, almost fanatic pursuit of perfection and sovereignty against the wild, free and independent quest for a balanced and joyful pro-gaming life. eSF is no more; the old ways proved to be the potent and efficient. They rested on their laurels and failed to adjust their methods to sustain their dwindling lead, a concept that is unknown to KeSPA. Nothing short of perfection is good enough and it can only be achieved with structured diligence.
The existence of players as dominant as sAviOr and Flash is something that Brood War's younger sibling has lacked so far. There is an ongoing debate about whether Mvp should be regarded as its first and only bonjwa, but he is the only example that springs to mind of a player that was dominant enough in his prime to be considered. The game has never been more figured out than it is now and the metagame's evolution has slowed since Mvp's era. The best players of today have a good chance of sustaining their dominance by sharpening their skills without fear of being shaken by a shift in the metagame. There's a number of great players that could establish reigns that may last longer than we've seen before in StarCraft II. KT_Zest sits at the very of top of the world at that list.
He stands out as a symbol of KeSPA's triumph more so than anyone else. After living a rather quiet life in Brood War as Wooki, one of Flash's Proleague sidekicks, Zest has taken the opportunities given to him and transcended his former self. He is now a man whose playstyle is defined by an array of metronomic builds and strategies, all thoroughly tested and equipped with mapped out responses to almost anything. In that way, he is similar to Flash in Brood War. The Ultimate Weapon was known for all around bulletproof play, and Zest has taken a page out of his book in SC2. His plans seem to unfold before his eyes automatically; every little thing he does is meaningful and intelligent. Outside the game he appears as a calm, handsome and confident person. Where others may possess the odd one of these qualities, nobody combines them with such genuineness as Zest. If the ideal for every player is to be surgically precise and untouchable while making it look entirely effortless and natural, then Zest is now the one closest to fulfilling it. His trust in KeSPA and their methods is what has taken him to these heights.
"I’ve played a lot of matches recently so my style’s been exposed a lot. ... But still, I went with the thought that “even if you do anticipate my moves, I’m still going to go for it.”"Ever since he first made his name in StarCraft II, protoss from all over the world have looked to him to learn how to improve. It makes perfect sense, Zest is a great example to follow. He is stable, confident, intelligent and anyone can tune into his games and learn something new almost every single time. How to respond in certain situations, how to perfectly execute a build, how to manage a game. Zest rarely strays from the norm, but why would he? He has shaped the norm; he is its flag bearer. What he does becomes the norm. What he deems the best choice of strategy for a certain map, a certain opponent, a certain matchup, ultimately ends up being accepted as the standard not long after. Don't be surprised if Zest showcases only a very limited amount of builds, as he did at IEM Toronto. His play has stronger, deeper rooted foundations than anyone else's and he is very well aware of it. Zest takes what is given to him, polishes it and showcases its final form. He is more than confident to trust his most basic skills and most practiced strategies to beat anyone in the world.
A lot of other players have shown promise or the potential to become the sort of player Zest is now. But all had their own hurdles to overcome, hurdles that Zest does not seem to know. Some players struggle to keep up with his execution mechanically while some don't have the decision-making required to make the choices he makes. Others lack the confidence to assert themselves like him, or take self-belief too far. It is often simple to identify and admire a player's multitasking, mechanics, decision-making, showmanship, confidence, attention to detail. That identification is a lot more difficult with Zest. He stands for none of these, and yet all of them at once. He is not a mechanical monster like Jaedong or Flash, he is not a flashy, creative or crazy player like Bomber, Life or sOs, but his knowledge of the game could fill an archive and his consistency in making the most of it is unrivaled. The reason why Zest is without a doubt the best player of 2014 is his ability to take these elements and forge an appropriate weapon for any situation. The essence of what makes him the best is none of them on their own, but a carefully honed and constantly improved equilibrium of every aspect of StarCraft II.
"For human beings, the desires never end. My role model is my teammate and friend, Flash. I want to grab at least somewhere around six championships just like him."Results naturally followed for Zest. Someone like him does not need to struggle for achievements. He crowned himself the best player in the world by winning GSL Season 1, GSL's Global Championship, Proleague (all-killing SKT in the Round 1 Playoffs) and KeSPA Cup. He reached at least the quarterfinals of every tournament he attended this year. Zest did all of this with the entire world's eyes on him and his games. Yet he remains almost predictably conservative in his play as he only equips himself with the most refined builds available. It doesn't matter if his "style" is figured out because he does not play with style. Instead he applies his strategies with the best execution on earth, elevating him beyond all but a select handful of the very best players in the world.
After a year of such extraordinary brilliance, there can only be one satisfying conclusion for Zest. His quest for perfection can only end one way. The elephant in the room, KeSPA's triumph over eSF and the organization's ideals all culminate in one event. Zest represents their superiority like nobody else. He is a symbol of their power, their dominance and deep rooted tradition. No player has been able to rule SC2 as others did in Brood War, but if Zest keeps performing the way he has in 2014, then he will inevitably follow in their footsteps. More than that, he will pioneer a new kind of authority that this game has not yet witnessed.
If Zest wins Blizzcon, he writes the defining chapter of a long ascension to power. Not only will he complete his grand procession in 2014, but the old guard and their ways and values will finally be proven right for making him the player and man he is today. A new, old world order will be declared and Zest will stand at its very top, as its greatest accomplishment in StarCraft II, as the undisputed best player in the world.