Dreamhack Open: Austin Interviews
TL's staff writer banjoe was in Austin for a few days and managed to catch up with some players at DreamHack. Using a similar line of questioning for each interview, he attempted a more conversational approach with less emphasis on the game itself and more on the players as people. The interviews were all recorded via smart phone, and transcribed with minor edits for clarity. All balance whine is to be taken with a grain of snarkiness.
Click a pro's photo to see their interview.
So to start things off, I know you may be frustrated with your performance, and balance in general, so if you have anything to say about balance just go ahead and get it out of the way.
I think the game is balanced, actually. I like it, there are a few changes coning soon, but I don’t think it’ll be too big of a problem. They want to change the liberator, which in the late game is kind of OP, but you don’t usually let terrans get to the late game, so overall I think the game is balanced right now. I don’t think they need any patch. Maybe they should patch the phoenix.
But if you did think that there were problems, do you feel confident in your ability to express feedback to blizzard?
Yeah sure, I do it regularly to David, directly.
You have the hotline to David Kim?
Yeah, I spam him a lot. But right now, I don’t have any problems, except maybe phoenix as I said, they’re too cost efficient. I didn’t have too many problems with protoss recently, but every time I play versus phoenix it’s so frustrating because they counter mutas, and in the meantime it’s a cost efficient unit that’s always paying off. It’s a scout, it’s drone kills, it’s everything.
So you’re pretty well known as a player that likes to have interesting strategies sometimes, and be a little bit unique in some respects. How do you practice and prepare strategies that are little bit unique compared to other people?
Usually I just play online cups, and if I play some noobs, sorry, no offense, if I play some bad players, I’m just trying to do something, I just improvise, and if it works, I check it, and I can do this and this and this, and maybe it might work, so this is how I make new strategies. I just test it on bad players, and then better players, and better, and then it works.
So you practice in that respect with online cups, how else do you practice?
Ladder, mostly ladder. I don’t play customs too much because it’s kind of hard to find guys who want to play customs instead of playing ladder because ladder is so good to play. So overall it’s mostly ladder. And online cups of course. For me it’s 50//50 about amount of games. If there is an online cup you play at least 10 games, if it’s ladder you play at least 10 games, so you play 5, 6, 8 hours.
Alright let’s shift away from the game a bit and talk about Bly as a person. What is the story of Bly becoming a progamer?
I was young, I was like 15 years old, it was 2004, I started to drive with my friends to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, to play in tournaments for Warcraft 3. I didn’t have internet at this time so we would just practice with each other and go to LANs. Then in 2 years I got internet and I just instantly started to play really good because i had passion. And 3 months after I got internet I got a team, I became a progamer, I got a salary, I drove to a few tournaments, then I started to play way better and better and better. I got WCG high rankings, and after I qualified for WCG China in 2009, it was an awesome experience. So I flew to China, I played really well. I lost in the group stage but I lost to the top 2 Chinese players, who were like Koreans in StarCraft 2. And after WarCraft 3 I switched to StarCraft 2 because I liked it and I saw that everybody was switching, and why not, I’m still young, and it worked out pretty good.
You’ve been a progamer for a while now, then. Do you see yourself keeping up with it? Three to five years from now, where do you see yourself?
I’m not going to play for even three years. I’m too old for this, I’m 27 years old. I already feel like it’s hard to play when you've played like 15,000 games. And those young guys, kids, 17, 14 years old, they’re playing pretty good and, I feel like I might have passion for a year or two maybe, but I doubt above three years.
How did you do school once you became a progamer?
I always did good. School and uni, I did perfectly. I never studied too hard, it was always easy for me. All the studying, even at school, even at uni, it was always easy.
So you completed university?
What did you study?
Audit and accounting.
Would you imagine yourself going int-?
What do you think you’ll do when you’re done with progaming then?
I didn’t decide yet but I’m thinking about studying a bit more about marketing because I see the market in e-sports, and it’s really cool, and maybe I can study it and maybe I can find my place in the world I love and where I have a passion. I would like to enjoy my job.
So you said that you practice maybe 5- 8 hours a day. What else do you do to take up the other time in the day? Do you have any interests or hobbies?
I watch series, I watch movies, play other games, spend time with my girlfriend. You have to spend some time always, so yeah.
Do you have any specific types of series or movies that you watch?
A lot of TV shows, like Game of Thrones, Person of Interest, Big Bang Theory, Flash, like half of the popular TV shows right now, Vikings, a lot.
Where are you living right now?
Ukraine, Zhytomyr [I/N: Sorry I couldn’t quite hear/understand the name], my hometown.
Have you always lived there as a progamer?
Most of the time, it was a team house a few times. We had the team house in Acer, the team house was close to Munich, one time i lived here for 3 months, one time for 6 weeks, so overall it went quite well. Oh, and one time I lived in Germany for like 6 months, I had a relationship here so yeah it was complicated.
How would you compare living in a team house to living by yourself in terms of practice?
Actually living in a team house is really hard. It’s really hard to practice so much. I could keep up with this for like a month, 15 hours just playing playing playing playing, eat, sleep, and play, repeat. One month, then my brain just explodes, it’s so hard. Because when I went home after the team house, I stopped playing for like 2 months, I didn’t play at all. I didn’t want to. I was so bored by this because it was so much. It stopped being interesting and it started to be boring. When it starts to be boring you lose passion, when you lose passion you don’t play as good.
How about a fun question now to wrap things up. If your family was kidnapped by pirates, which three progamers would you choose to rescue them and why?
iNcontroL, he’s a pro caster, but still, you know why. Rotterdam is weak, I beat him in arm wrestling so no. I don’t know, maybe...Who is strong from progaming? There is like nobody!
Everybody says sLivko
Ah ok, he’s not a progamer anymore, but yeah, sLivko for sure. iNcontroL and sLivko is a good team already, I don’t need anyone else.
(And banjoe drops the ball) Ok so let’s do some sponsor shout outs, but be creative with them.
I don’t have sponsors, so Blyonfire.
Any other shout outs then?
Thanks to my fans for cheering for me, I got so much on twitter like #blyonfire. I”m trying, I am really trying guys. I failed you this tournament. I played really bad, but I’ll try to improve at DreamHack Tours. I qualified here, I have Cham in the first round, second round is Harstem vs Jim. I will prepare for both my opponents really good and I will really try to do my best, I have really good chances, actually I am in one of my best shapes for like the past year but I couldn’t show it at this tournament, I will try to show it at Tours.
Thank you very much Bly!
I’m going to give you some time to balance whine as much as you can, to get it out of the way before the rest of the interview.
Yeah, I don’t really have too much to whine about these days. Maybe protoss is OP?
How do you feel about your ability to communicate your opinions on balance with Blizzard?
I don’t talk to them that much. I mean, if I was David Kim listening to the foreigner scene, I would have a very hard time wondering what the fuck consensus is. We all whine about different stuff. I think him listening to the Koreans is good. Don’t get me wrong—the Koreans are whiny pieces of shit. I mean, people really underestimate how much whining the Koreans do. They go “Oh, they’re perfect players, they never complain, #nowhine”. It’s completely contrary. But apparently they have a system where the KeSPA players give one report, based on an average of everyone’s opinions. I like that, and if Blizzard switches to that it might be better.
For example the cannon buff idea. Personally, I think it was one of the most retarded, out of touch ideas they could have done. It doesn’t do shit, except nerf the cool baneling drop stuff and buffing turtle mass air. It wasn’t fixing the mutalisk problem really, but nerfing all the cool stuff. This change really frustrated me, so I’m happy that they’re not going with it, and I hope David Kim listens to the Koreans more. I don’t think I have a good understanding [of the game]; for example I’m losing a lot in PvT because I’m trash at that matchup. Maybe I can give some good advice about what to change in PvZ because I’m good at that, but in general I don’t feel like I can give good advice to David, and I feel that’s the same for a lot of the players who aren’t at the top level.
Do you feel like the feedback given by pros is heard? Are you content with how that’s being handled?
That’s the thing I don’t get. I haven’t ever talked to David Kim except for during the beta of Legacy of the Void to complain about lurkers, which got nerfed. Since then, I haven’t talked to him at all. I just feel like he’s going through reddit, seeing what shit is upvoted, and saying “yeah, we’re going to look into that”. He’s not even listening to pro players, he’s listening to the community as a whole. And I don’t want to be a dick, but I almost never go on reddit, see the top rated post on balance, and say “yeah, this guy is right”. Most people have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. It’s less true for the pros, but obviously David Kim has a tough job.
You still sound a little frustrated then?
Apparently the thing they have with the Koreans is a bit stricter, but that’s because the Korean culture is less bullshit, and also because there’s an actual organisation behind it. The feedback with foreign pros though is non-existent, so maybe they can improve that a lot. Then again, we’re shit compared to the Koreans, so maybe he won’t listen to us.
In your daily practice schedule then, how long do you spend watching Korean VODs?
It depends. I don’t study VODs all the time, but sometimes I just need a new gameplan. Then, it’s only studying VODs, until it’s time to put it all into practice. It’s kind of like learning guitar—a lot of music theory for a while, and then practice. Never the two at the same time.
So aside from VODs then, what else do you do for daily practice?
Ladder, custom games, depending on my mood. There’s nothing really special that I do. For Dreamhack, you need to be good at every matchup. For Tours, I’ll obviously have prepared some custom games vs terran [PtitDrogo is playing Bunny in the Ro.32]. But usually, you try to see where you lose most often, and then practice that area. For example, I’ve been practicing PvZ but in very specific situations, and now I’m incredibly confident in the matchup in general. PvP is a bit random, I’ll practice that on ladder, and hopefully there aren’t too many good terrans in this tournament, so my weakness in that area isn’t going to hit me too hard.
Shifting away from you as a player, let’s talk about you as a person. What’s the story of PtitDrogo turning from a young man into a progamer?
I started playing Starcraft 2 when it came out. For 4 or 5 years of high school, I played it rather casually. Sometimes I’d play five games a week, then some League of Legends, but I had a slow but steady increase into GM top 50. When I finished high school though, I thought that I wanted to do this full time because I think I can really improve. At the time, I had very little sleep all the time because school was shitty, and then I couldn’t really play and be efficient. It was very hard in that environment, especially because I was living at home, always tired. So I went into the mYinsanity gaming house not as part of the team, but as someone paying to be there, and within two months, everything that I’d expected had happened. I could practice with good players, and I just copied Lilbow, who at the time was on the way to be the best. One and a half months later, I qualified for WCS by beating purely zerg.
After that, I was off air a bit and couldn’t really do anytime. Obviously if you were following the scene hardcore you’d have seen my name, see me losing online, but especially as I failed to qualify for WCS twice in a row, it was a lot of playing and not being that motivated, so doing dumb stuff like watching anime. I don’t really do that anymore, I have more stuff to do these days. Eventually, I went to Homestory Cup, had a really good performance there. At the end of HotS, especially in PvZ, I was one of the best, and I was still one of the top Europeans. When Legacy started, I had a really hard time getting started. I went to Korea, but even my Dreamhack after Korea sucked [DH Winter].
I’m a guy who spent one year in the mYi gaming house. Behind every player that’s good now, there’s always a period where they were an up-and-comer going to tournaments all over the place, which was the case for me. After getting out of Switzerland, I was living with DnS and Lilbow for some months in Paris, and then we went to our current apartment in Poitiers. So far, it’s been a blast, and I hope to be able to do this for a while.
How do you think you’ve changed as a person since becoming a progamer
To be perfectly frank, I don’t think I’ve changed that much. In general, especially in Legacy, I think I’ve become a bit more salty towards the game. When the stakes are higher, we have a tendency to take things more personally. It’s hard for me to judge how I’ve changed—maybe you should ask Lilbow or DnS how I’ve changed over the years.
You said that back in high school, things weren’t going so well. What did you mean by that?
Usually when people say things like that, it’s because they got bullied. That wasn’t really the case for me.I had some really good friends in high school, but I really just hated every class, I was that guy who just sleeps during all the classes, I wasn’t listening to anything. Sometime, when people at school in Europe, or Sweden and Germany, say “oh yeah, I have 6 hours of school today, I got out at 2pm. But for me, I’d get up at 7, go to school at 7:30, and at minimum be back at home at 6. So it was a lot of school every day for things I didn’t care about. I wasn’t depressed, but it was still very shitty. I’d sleep very little. My life right after, when I could sleep well every night and not do shit that I didn’t want to was an incredible change. In the first month after I left school, I was so thankful to be able to play full time that it genuinely helped me improve a lot.
You said that you weren’t studying anything that you were interested in. Is there something academically that you were interested in that you just didn’t get to study, or did you just find school very boring?
I was doing engineering studies, but I wasn’t good at maths or physics; I was kind of good at explaining engineering stuff when it was just explaining how stuff works, but still academically there wasn’t a lot of stuff I liked. The only thing I liked was music; in my high school exam I nearly got a perfect score in music, and it was the only class that I looked forward to. I actually looked into it, but usually the only people studying it are those who’ve been playing an instrument since they were really young. In music theory, I wasn’t really good enough to pretend to go into it any further. I either had to become successful in a band, or be really good at music theory and play in an orchestra. I wasn’t particularly good at either, but I like music by itself so I still play violin a little. I’m pretty bad at that, but I’m quite good at guitar. I’m trying to learn violin but I don’t think I have the time. Maybe one day when I leave Starcraft music is one of the things I’ll look into, but I think it’s too competitive, so I don’t think I’ll be able to take that seriously.
Isn’t Starcraft just as competitive
Yeah, but I’ve played Starcraft for five years. Going into music would mean that I would have years of struggle to get into something, and for that you need a lot of patience. I’m not sure if I have quite that much patience for music.
You said that if eventually you stop being a progamer that would be something you consider, but where do you really see yourself three to five years from now?
I’m going to try to be a progamer for as long as possible. I feel that more than ever progamers have a lot of opportunity to transition out, but still be in the esports world. For that, you need to be outspoken and popular in the community. I’ll see if I have that status. In the international scene, probably not, but in the French scene, maybe I could still do something esports related. Right now, I’m just trying to be the best I can.
Aside from music, do you have any interests outside Starcraft?
Every hobby I have is gaming related. I play a lot of Rocket League, some Civilisation. All my friends like to play games. Outside of that, I lose a lot of my time on the internet, reading reddit. I like it; I do what I want. Sometimes what you want isn’t what’s depicted in Hollywood movies, but I still really enjoy it.
A couple fun questions now. If your family was captured by pirates, which three progamers would you pick to rescue them and why?
sLivko, cause he’s buff as fuck. NonY because he can run really fast. The last one’s a bit tricky. Who’s that really scary progamer? [Thinks] I don’t know, let’s just pick DnS and throw him to the pirates as a sacrifice.
This will go up on TeamLiquid, but feel free to smacktalk anyone in the scene as much as you want.
People usually get really salty about smacktalk in public, whereas in private everyone smacktalks usually.
Really? So what do they normally say? You don’t have to give any names.
Well, everyone is shit and can only do X thing. It’s pretty much always going to be two things. If you didn’t win anything, then you’re shit. Or if you’ve won an event, then you’re shit but you only won that event because of [insert reason]. For me, it’s really easy to shittalk me. Like, “Drogo only won when protoss was so fucking OP!”. All in all, it’s just esports. There’s no one I hate, it’s all just shittalk. The only person I would shittalk all the time is FireCake, because he’s a really evil human being. Actually, evil is the wrong word; he’s stupid and obnoxious; malicious is probably better. Evil is too hard, he’s malicious. He actually does stuff that’s really bad. All the insults, all the lies he kept telling everybody. I’m still waiting for a big apology, that’s why I’m a bit salty about FireCake. But right now, it’s good. A lot of his mistakes are in the past, but I’d still like an apology for that.
Do you have any fun stories from the time you spent in the mYi house?
At one point it was only me and Petraeus in the house. The difference between us two was so funny; it was always something I felt bad about. Petraeus would always wake up on time, watch one episode of his TV show, cook one of his vegetarian meals, then go ladder and practice for the entire day. Then, he’d cook another meal, watch another show, then go to sleep. Perfect Korean. I would have a weird schedule where I’d stay awake for 30 hours, then go to sleep for 15 hours or more. I’d wake up and eat a salami sandwich, then I’d have nothing to eat because I couldn’t cook at the time. I’d just have some nutella until I’d fall asleep.
I’d insult myself so much “How could you live like that! Come on!”. My desk was messy, his was clean, and it was funny to see the difference. To be fair, he got results before me—he went quite far in WCS. There were a lot of fun things in the mYi house, but that’s the only thing that’s in my mind at the moment.
So, you said that you don’t cook very well?
Now I do. I have to cook now, I’m decent. At the time, I was too lazy because I didn’t even bother to try. I actually eat really healthy now—I’m five months Nutella-free. I try to have a lot of rice and pasta, meat and vegetables and fruit.
Have you had any good food in Austin yet?
Yeah, this morning we went to a bar for some Cuban-Texan stuff. American food is so good, but after a while you realise there’s a lot of meat and grease. I couldn’t finish it; I guess that it’s good that I couldn’t finish it.
Thank you for doing this interview; it’s been fun to get to know you a bit more. Finally, you have to do sponsor shoutouts, but I want you to be creative instead of just reading it off your jersey.
You’re asking for a lot here! [Imitates the advert] G2A! BEST VIDEO GAME STORE EVER! Esports clothing as well, for all of your clothing needs. Pretty much everyone’s on there. And Logitech for making the most awesome keyboard. They make very good headsets, and good mice as well. Go buy their stuff.
First up, how do you feel about the game as far as balance goes?
I think balance wise we’re in a pretty decent spot. But I think design wise there are some things that could be better. For example, PvZ I think is an extremely boring matchup the way it’s played right now. Phoenix immortal archon against lurker hydra into brood lord, or just ling bane into brood lord. I think it’s pretty bad design wise. I wish it was a little bit different, maybe some more stalker play. I think the stalker is a very fun unit, but for PvT and PvP I don’t think we have that much to complain. I think balance wise in general there is not much to complain, just some things that I think could be more fun, just lacking some options for Protoss.
How do you feel about your ability to voice that feedback, through Blizzard, and also the community’s ability to voice feedback
I think the giving feedback part is fine, but sometimes I feel like they don’t really use the feedback as well as they could or should. They seem a bit too reliant on moods in the community. So if the community is spamming “oh, Zerg is so broken” one day, we’ll really see that the team listens to it, even though maybe they shouldn’t really be listening to the community as much but more to the top KeSPA players, maybe not even to Europeans or NA top players, but really just to the top players. Of course it’s always good to have an opinion on all levels, you don’t want to completely fuck over the gold players and the platinum players, but when it comes to balance then I think it’s important to listen to the top. Design wise, I think it’s good to listen to gold, platinum, and all the lower leagues as well. And then, the European pros.
You seem to have a lot of faith in the top Korean pros to really know what they’re doing. Do you study a lot of Korean pros as you practice?
I think anyone with a brain is studying the best players. I think every good player studies the other players, even Koreans themselves look at the other Koreans to see what did they do different. So you just look at good players, obviously top Europeans, but if I get to pick between watching a game of Zest and a game of PtitDrogo, that’s not a very difficult choice to make of course, I’ll be watching Zest.
Relative to the amount that you study the game as a whole, would you say that most of it is the Koreans
And so how much of that makes up your practice on a daily basis?
It depends a bit. If it’s really good matches then it’s more time because I’ll watch live, and otherwise I’ll watch on youtube on like 2x speed, or I’ll watch on Twitch and kind of skip through. But I mean a GSL finals I’ll be watching live, so then it’ll be like 4 hours or 3 hours or whatever it is. I like to play 6, 7 hours of pure games, and the rest is spent studying. And I think i’m one of the only players who plays quite a bit against the AI just to test build orders. I do that quite a bit, I like watching my own replays from the day before. I think in general i spend like maybe 10 to 11, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less, something like this a day on StarCraft.
Ok, so shifting away from the game, tell us the story of how you went from normal Kevin to progamer Kevin.
Pretty funny, I think I was 16 when the game came out, I came back from a holiday in Norway, and the game came out either the day before my birthday, or on my birthday, so I had the game when I came home from my holiday in Norway. I arrived on my birthday, and I had the game as well and started playing. I played Warcraft 3 before that, so I knew about the esports scene and I knew I kinda wanted to be good at StarCraft so I just played a lot. I kinda neglected school—high school that was—so my grades weren’t the best, but still good enough. I did my final exams in high school, and at the same time I already was considering taking a gap year to play StarCraft full time, and then I went to DreamHack Summer in 2012 where I beat ThorZaIN, which I guess was a pretty big achievement because he won the DreamHack before that. I got Round of 16, but in a group with Mana, Bly, Naugrim I think it was, so it was like a decent result for a European, especially because I was a complete no-name at that point. And then I got very lucky, I think, and I got picked up by Fnatic. I had a few other team offers as well actually, but I think Fnatic really helped me, sent me to a lot of events even though I don’t really think I was deserving of being sent there. But because Fnatic was such a powerhouse name, just a household name, a real powerhouse, they were able to get me in tournaments, and I got a lot of experience, and I guess that’s just kinda how it went.
What led you to consider taking a gap year for StarCraft anyways?
I really liked the game and I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to study. So it was more of trying to push the big decisions away a year, and I guess StarCraft was just going to fill that up. Yeah that gap year kind of extended itself into, four? No, I’m starting my fourth year, this is three years and seven months.
So how do you think you’ve changed as a person over that time?
I think I became more mature, naturally, it’s been 4 years since I started. I think I’m, personally, pretty much the same. I’ve always been very spontaneous, I would say I’m pretty open, easy to talk to. I don’t really get angry very fast. I don’t like to confront people, in a lot of things. I think I got a bit better with that. I’m a, I think the term is a “yes man,” so someone that would say yes to almost everything in order to avoid conflict. I think I’m getting better at saying no, not as much of a pushover anymore. I guess that’s kind of what esports helped me with. I got interested in a lot of different topics. Before I really wasn’t that interested in school, mainly in games. Now I’m not that interested in other games, I really like playing StarCraft, but I’m not that interested in playing video games in general, before I played like Dota, WarCraft 3, Smash, like 6 games at the same time. And now I’m kinda just focused on StarCraft, and I like to learn about other things. Right now I’m kind of interested in neuroscience so I read a few books about that. I got into meditation a few months back, so just a lot of different things. You have quite a bit of time to spend, and I like to spend it reading about stuff, most of the time just reading articles online. I think that’s something definitely that started in the past 2 years or something.
It seems like you’ve done a fair amount of self-reflection in your time as a progamer to realize that you’re interested in stuff like neuroscience or meditation. In that self-reflection, have you been able to identify more about yourself that would help you improve? So like strengths and weaknesses within and outside the game that helped you develop yourself?
It’s very difficult to say. Maybe my discipline got a bit better so that might help me practice, but I don’t feel like I learned some magic tricks by being able to meditate for 15 minutes a day. I don’t think I have changed much over the years now when I practice. I think I play more against the computer now and I watch my replays a bit more. But in general, I’ve always been a guy that plays a lot of custom games, I don’t really like ladder for practice. That has remained the same over the years, actually. I don’t think I changed much StarCraft wise over the years.
You said you’re pretty content with the progamer lifestyle as it is right now and you’re travelling a lot, going to a lot of tournaments and doing pretty well recently. Where do you see yourself in 3 to 5 years from now?
Three to five years? It’s sort of difficult I’ve actually been thinking a lot about it, and I’m really not that sure. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for me to stay in the esports industry, but I don't really have a big interest in video games in general. I like playing StarCraft and i like the people in StarCraft, but I feel like there’s a lot of nice people everywhere so I think staying for people is a really dumb reason to stay somewhere to pick a job or a school. I really like to study, but when I speak to old buddies from school they all say that studying is killing them, or like it’s really boring, or it would be very difficult for me to do that. And I really didn’t anticipate that I was going to be out of it for four years and I have no clue if I would go back to studying what my mindset would be toward it. I feel very motivated to study now, like I’m gonna study for fucking like 6 hours a day, but I guess after one or two weeks sometimes that doesn’t go that well anymore. I feel like it’s very difficult to predict what I’m going to do. But that’s fine, you don’t always need to have a plan. So far my life has worked out pretty well. I think in general I’m pretty lucky in life, so let’s hope that streak of luck continues.
I think the fact that you still seem pretty curious intellectually is probably good if you do want to go back to studying. Would you say that you have identified anybody as a role model? And in what ways?
Grubby. I think he is a role model competitor. He is hungry, extremely hungry for victory, when he competed. Now he’s a caster of course, but whenever I would speak with him, I actually was very close to him I must admit, so I might be a little biased, but even before I knew him he always was someone to look up to. Of course I’m Dutch, just like him, so I guess that kinda helped as well. But he was just really hungry as a competitor, he does everything to win, but he is fair. I think he’s extremely nice, he’s very kind to fans, I have nothing but positive words for him. And the way he always opened himself toward me I think has been truly magnificent, the way he treated me even when I wasn’t useful to him in any way. I don’t think I’ve ever really been very useful to him in any way, but ever since I started playing StarCraft in 2010 I think, early 2011 he basically took some kind of mentor role over me and always helped me and helped me in contract negotiations.
He helped me make decisions within StarCraft and outside of StarCraft, just as a person, what to do. And I must admit that I kinda lost contact after he switched to Heroes, out of sight out of mind? Which I’m pretty sad about, I really wish that didn’t happen. I used to talk a lot with him, spend a lot of time at his house, I would camp with him maybe one month a year or something like that. I really knew him well, and he is someone I definitely look up to. One of the criticisms he used to get was that he was fake, I guess, or not the same on camera as he was off camera. I think this is the dumbest criticism you can give someone. Of course the’re going to be different on camera than off camera, I actually always thought that he was a lot funnier off camera because he could let loose a bit, because he always was extremely professional, it felt like. If there’s one thing that I’m not as much as him, that I didn’t really copy off him, it’s his professionalism, he’s always very strict, he never would make an inappropriate joke. I think I’ve been caught more than once doing that. I think that’s the only thing that I didn’t copy from him, but everything else that I basically know about StarCraft, the game, the mindset towards the game, mindset towards tournaments, and how to prepare for anything, he basically taught me everything. So I’m really thankful for that. He’s definitely, I wouldn’t say an idol, but he’s definitely a good role model.
That’s really cool to hear. (banjoe was out of the loop) Are you still staying in Korea?
No, I ended that at the end of last year, so I just stayed there in the offseason basically. I just went to play on the Korean server, come back to Europe, and own some face. But it didn’t go too well the first three months I was back, I think the first two tournaments, actually the first tournament was HomeStory Cup and I went 0-4 in the group stage, I was like alright, 3 months of Korea, like 13 hours a day playing, fuck my life. But I managed to win GPL, so I was really happy about that. And it’s actually funny, because I was talking with MaNa about it at HomeStory Cup, because I was pretty bummed out after I lost. And MaNa came up to me like “hey, don’t worry too much, when I went to Korea after three months,” I think it was in 2012 or 2013 he said, he went to the good, the good house tournament, and he went 0-4 against ThorZaIN and another guy, and he said “and I’d never lost to them before I went to Korea, but after that I did really well” and I think he won DreamHack either after that or he said some other tournament and he had a really good stretch and he said “just keep playing, and you’ll see it in two or three months.” And that talk really helped me, I felt like, so I’m thankful to MaNa for that. And it did pay out in the end I guess because I won GPL. Yeah, so I’m now staying in the Netherlands to answer your question.
Alright, so that’s the answer to how staying in Korea influenced your game, but was there anything about the experience in Korea that you can take away as a person, maybe just travel experience or funny stories from the team house or something like that?
Oh there’s so many funny stories. I was in the Sbenu team house by the way, in case people don’t know, so there was me, aLive, Bomber, MMA, SGW, DRGLing, at the start there was DongRaeGu himself as well, Leenock, jjakji, Keen, Legend, and Billowy and Super. They acquired Super and they traded Billowy and jjakji, something like this. So there’s lots of guys, and the first few days it was like Korean holiday when I was there, and it was just me and MMA in the house basically. And MMA wasn’t really used to me being there, and he scared really fast. And he’ll start screaming like ahh, [Korean word for fuck], like really loud. I think the first day I went outside, we had like a little balcony in our practice house, we had two houses, the living house and the practice house. And in the practice house we had a balcony, where people would like dump their trash or whatever, I think that’s what we used it for, I never really went there, so I just went to check it out because I’d never been there. And he went to dump the trash, and we grabbed the door handle at the same time and I opened it and he sees me and goes just completely white and falls on the floor and starts like screaming in Korean [fuck], and then after like 2 minutes of constantly screaming he’s like “oh, I thought you were ghost.” This happened like five or six times in the first week, where he’d just fall onto the floor whenever he saw me, and even after that sometimes we’d pass around the corner, he was so extremely scared. And as his defensive mechanism against this, he’d try to scare other people as well. So he’d hide in the dark behind doors to scare people, so a lot of the time either MMA was screaming or someone else was screaming because MMA was trying to scare them. Especially jjakji got a lot of shit.
Then there was, I guess the fire chicken story was pretty funny. There’s a meal, or like a dish you can order in Korea called fire chicken, which is chicken but it’s really spicy, pretty spicy. So the third day, me Leenock, MMA, Bomber, I guess, we were the only guys there. And they were like hey, do you want to try fire chicken? I’m like, yeah sure, I guess, and they’re like alright, we’ll pick like the easiest one. The lowest level of spice. The funny thing about fire chicken is that, once it’s in your mouth, there’s nothing really wrong but while you’re eating it it’s all okay. But the moment you stop eating, your mouth goes fucking mental. So I was sitting there with the fire chicken and they were there looking with anticipation and I was like “oh it's not that bad,” and they’re like “oh, ok” and then I finish like “holy shit” and then you put more fire chicken in your mouth so it’s like a never-ending cycle of putting fire chicken in your mouth so you don’t feel it. And at the end it’s like you’re mouth’s fucking burning. And it didn’t end there. The next day I wake up and my stomach feels like hell, so bad, so I go to the toilet and I stay in the toilet for like 1.5 hours, the rest of the day I think I spent like 5 or 6 hours on the toilet, it was so bad, I was constantly texting MMA like “oh my ass is so bad,” he’s fucking laughing. I’m like “I’m never eating fire chicken again,” and he’s like “oh ok, never fire chicken again.”
The next week Leenock comes up to me, he presses me on my shoulder like “oh, Kevin, maybe fire chicken time?” And I’m like “oh fuck off,” and they all start laughing you know like “ah, can’t handle the fire chicken,” I’m like alright let’s go, fire chicken. So this is a recurring theme and in the end I think we ate fire chicken like 12 or 13 times or something. We ate it like the last four days that I was there. Fire chicken every day. I got a lot better against it. The funny part was that they never experienced what I had, like my stomach always went bad the day after, the first day was like 5 hours on the toilet, the second time was 2 hours on the toilet, and it went down and down and down, and finally was the day we flew to HomeStory with me MC, Ryung, and MMA. And I was like alright, tomorrow we have a flight, so maybe no fire chicken, and he’s “no no we gotta eat fire chicken, it’ll be fun,” and they’re all trying to poke fun at me because I’ve been having a tough time the past 2 months. We eat fire chicken, actually everything is okay, I wake up and this is the only time there’s nothing in my stomach, and I go to MMA’s room to tell him like “hey man, my stomach is fucking great,” and I see him in his bed, laying in the fetal position he’s like “oh, my stomach, so bad, so bad,” and I’m like “are you joking? Or are you for real?” and he’s like “no, so bad, so bad.” And then we went to the subway station and we arrived and he’s like “oh my God toilet, need toilet,” and he stays there for 45 minutes and we missed 5 subways or something and we almost missed our plane. And he kept texting me on KakaoTalk he’s like “oh, ass on fire, can’t walk.” There were quite a few stories like this, but don’t want to tell stories all the time. It was really funny.
I guess another pretty fun thing was we played football like every other week basically, and the first few weeks we played against Samsung and KT. That was really fun, it was quite, well not against Samsung, Samsung really sucked at football, like they didn’t have any good players. I guess Reality was okay, and BrAvO is pretty big, so it was difficult to get him off the ball. KT was alright, we basically played against Samsung like 4 times, and against KT like once or twice, and we won all the matches except against Samsung the final one. And that’s where I earned my nickname “Iron Man,” tall, hard to get of the ball. I played football when I was younger, I played for like 14 or 15 years so I was pretty decent, and most of them sucked pretty bad. It was a lot of fun, and then me TRUE and MMA would also play football at MMA’s football club every Monday, it was really fun, it was one of the things I really enjoyed. I didn’t really do team sports anymore at home, and I really was considering it, I really enjoyed it.
I really appreciate all the stories you’ve told, so to wrap this up, it’s time for sponsor shout outs, but be creative.
I’m not gonna do all my sponsor shout outs, I’m just gonna thank Invasion e-Sports for sending me, everyone’s been very very helpful, solid management, and they’re a bunch of cool guys in general, and girls, if there are any, I think we have one girl in our team. Thanks to them. Thanks to my parents, for always supporting me through tough times. It’s pretty funny actually, let me tell you. My parents really try to follow everything I do. Especially my dad, is pretty hand with everything, he reads TeamLiquid, and he wakes up earlier than me, so if there’s news on TeamLiquid that happened in the night or in America or something, he’ll be the one to tell me, like “hey Kev, you know they changed the map pool?” and I’m like “what?” and he’s like “yeah, they changed the Frozen Temple” and I’m like “oh, alright, thanks Dad.” Stuff like that, and also, they’re not sure Twitter works exactly.
Basically I’m logged in on the laptop that my dad uses all the time in my own Twitter, and my dad one time thought that he could send me a private message through Twitter, but instead what he did, he just sent out a tweet to the world saying, “hey good job son, good luck tomorrow,” and tagged myself in it you know, from my own account. So a bunch of people were like ‘’oh, talking to yourself?” And he still favorites every single tweet that I tweet myself, so if you see myself favorite my own tweets it’s probably my dad. And I guess he knows now, if he reads this interview, which he probably will because it’s gonna be on TeamLiquid. But yeah it's my way of knowing that he’s following me, he’s reading my Twitter, and he always sends me texts. So really a big shout out to him. And all my friends and stuff, and thanks to you for doing the interview.
Thank you, Harstem!
Get all the balance whining you want out of the way
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck Protoss! And Zerg.
Is that it?
Alright. So when you are frustrated with the game, what kind of channels exist for players to voice their feedback to Blizzard, how frequently do you do it, and how effective do you think it is?
I’m not one of the lucky ones that has the hotline to David Kim. I guess I gotta get better before that happens. I don’t know when they give it to you.
You know it exists, is that what you’re saying?
I think it does, I assume it does. I assume some people get to talk directly to David. Other than that it’s just, if you can like start a thread somewhere, start a discussion that a lot of people seem to agree with, that might work. Maybe. But I’m just one voice amongst hundreds, so whatever.
Ok, and so obviously the feedback you put together is going to be the accumulation of lots of practice. What is your practice schedule like?
I’m very undisciplined, so my practice schedule is whenever I feel like it. Which is hopefully enough.
So day to day what else do you do, what’s in your schedule?
I pretty much live at my computer so Hearthstone, and any other game that seems fun
And where are you living right now?
So do you play on KR?
Yeah I play almost all on Korea.
Would you be able to tell how the meta game maybe differs from server to server?
Every region kinda tends to play its own styles, they tend to emulate the top players, and the top players sorta do their own thing. Like how you’d see all the Chinese Protosses play the same, a lot of the German Protosses play the same, a lot of Euro Zergs are kinda similar in some respects. So what you watch in the GSL are what the Koreans are doing, and the Taiwanese, I have no idea what they are doing. Same goes for Taiwanese and Chinese actually, who are on Korea. Granted a barcode looks the same to me. So I have no idea who I’m playing against most of the time.
Have you been able to identify anything the Koreans are doing that makes them better than foreigners?
No clue. It's some mystical secret about their practice houses that us poor white people haven’t seem to understand yet.
When you practice, what goal are you working toward? Is it trying to close the perceived gap between foreigners and Koreans or is it mostly self-improvement?
I just try to be better, try to win things.
What would you identify as your strengths and weaknesses as a player?
I copy the Korean Terrans and they’re the best, so that’s one strength. I’m like every Terran ever! I do like to macro, and if you’re good at macro games, then you’re the most consistent. You don’t win tournaments by cheesing your whole way through, unless your MC, or you’re Has, maybe.
I don't know if Has can win a tournament.
He always wins the Taiwanese ones, he always does well in Taiwan. Outside of that, I don’t think so, but he does do well there.
As for weaknesses, like I said I’m undisciplined so I probably don’t practice as hard as I need to.
When players talk about certain players on the ladder who are up-and-coming, the first ones that come to mind are maybe Neeb and Guru right now
I wouldn’t really know because I don’t play Europe, I can’t from Sydney. That’s one of the things that’s weird about this tournament for me, is because I don’t play on Europe I’m gonna be playing Americans and Europeans I have no clue what that’s gonna be like
So have you done any kind of preparation for that?
I have no idea who I’m gonna play, so I can’t.
So you’ll just play like you normally do?
Yeah I’ll just try to bend the game to my will.
Just for fun I want you to smack talk anyone in the scene right now...or lots of people if you want
You should have told me this was gonna be that sort of interview…Uhh who am I gonna smack talk? Well I gotta play Huk in Tours, so I bet he’s weak, I bet he’s washed up, I bet he’s got old man hands, can’t grip his mouse anymore, and I’m gonna pole drive him into the fuckin ground.
To shift away from the game now a bit, I actually don’t know a whole lot about iaguz as a person and how you came to be a progamer. So would you mind telling the story of where you come from and where you are now
Once upon a time there was a younger man called Ethan Zugai. He hated everything except playing games, and he didn’t want to do anything but play games. I kind of wanted to be a progamer when I heard it as a concept, like fucking so many years ago, but I wasn’t good at any games that actually had a pro scene until StarCraft 2, because I’m an idiot. I just sorta kept playing StarCraft 2, I just kept getting a little bit better, a little bit better, the prize money started going up and up, and eventually it was just sort of enough that I’m like “ok let’s do this full time now.” I have no idea what I’m gonna do after I’m done with StarCraft, I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do before StarCraft, I sort of just worked in some crappy office as an office monkey. That’s sort of how I got into progaming.
So how have you maybe changed as a person since becoming a pro?
I like to think I’m a little bit smarter. I like to think if you can master one thing, the process that got you there is going to help you at whatever else you decide to master. I like to hope that’s fucking true, because I’m buggin after StarCraft if it’s not.
Whenever your time as a progamer is done, if you think you have gotten more intelligent, that’s probably true. I guess you said you probably don’t know what you want to do, but do you really not have any idea? Would you consider going back to school?
I’m probably going to have to. Like I said I got no idea.
Do you have any other hobbies or interest outside of StarCraft and other video games?
Playing lots of video games! Nothing that I’m going to be able to turn into a job. Uhh, complaining about things on the internet. That takes up a lot more time than it should. I dunno, I’m kind of boring outside of video games, I’m sorry. I don’t have some secret, like fishing hobby or something. Occasionally I watch movies but I don’t think that counts as a hobby.
If your family was kidnapped by Somalian pirates-
Oh shit, this got heavy.
Which three progamers would you take to rescue them and why?
Well the boring answer would be like NaDa, BoxeR, and StarDust just because they’ve got military experience. That’s the boring answer, but let’s get a good answer. Avilo, who else is a dickhead...avilo, Has, and...Has is nice but I just hate the way he plays. Avilo, Has and Ruff, and we’re gonna cock it up and all die in the attempt. I’m taking them out with me. It’s a suicide mission if ever there was one.
People have often called you the Gimli Terran, I’m sure you’ve heard it before. How do you feel about that?
I mean, it’s kind of funny.
So you don’t feel conscious about your appearance or your height?
I mean I do now, thanks for bringing it up
I was just curious, I don’t know if it bothered you.
No no no, actually it doesn’t bother me, it just makes me a little bit curious. I’m always confused when people compliment a beard. I mean I didn’t do anything. This just happened. If anything, it’s a negligence of proper facial hygiene.
I mean, you can rock it.
I mean I’m keeping it, but it just happened. I’m not gonna get rid of it any time soon, but that’s just one thing that confuses me. I don’t know why you’d compliment people on beards. People should be complimented on clean...You should be complimented, look at that tiny stubble! You actually put some effort in!
It’s because I’m young
Still, you did something!
Yeah I just asked because I figured if a player gets a nickname they don’t like, it’s gotta be hard to speak out against it.
Oh I can’t dream of telling people not to do it. It just happens.
You just roll with it, yeah. So I want to thank you for this interview but we have to do sponsor shout outs of course, but try to be creative with it.
I totally don’t actually know who sponsors me. I just joined this team and I haven’t the slightest clue. I don’t even know if we have sponsors, hold on.
Iaguz took off his jersey to read the back.
Alright here we go, have we got anyone? I wasn’t briefed, I meant to ask them, who do I sponsor shout out? Alright so just shout out to my new team, Nuovo Gaming. Sponsored by MetaThreads, I think? I’m not sure.
Yeah, well that’s cool. Any result you get for them is good.
So I would advise you all to Google Nuovo, look at their website, look at who sponsors them, buy everything from them that you can.
Thank you Iaguz!
Before we get the rest of the interview going, if you have anything to say about balance, just go ahead and get it all out there
I think balance is fine right now, I think all matchups are pretty even, maybe TvZ is a little favored for Terran, but that’s mostly in Korea. I think in foreignerland Terrans aren’t really that good
Alright, well you said the Koreans seem to be doing okay, so to what extent do you study Koreans when you practice?
I mostly just look at their builds and their reactions. They all have different playstyles so you can always pick a Korean that fits you the most and watch him. I watch all the Koreans pretty much.
And so how much of that makes up your practice compared to other kinds of practice?
Well I always start the day watching Proleague or individual league VODs and then I go into practice and test what I saw. Some things I like, some things I don’t like.
You seem pretty content with the balance so far, but when you do have issues with either balance or design, how do you feel about the channels available to communicate that to Blizzard?
Well after the summit they said they were decisive on being very open with the community and with the progamers. I personally haven’t given much feedback because I’ve been focused on practice instead of balance, but I know that other pros are always constantly giving feedback, and I think they listen to the pros.
So you prefer to just practice and not give feedback?
Yeah, pretty much.
Shifting away from the game a little bit, how did you become a progamer? What’s the story from when you were just a regular person to now a progamer?
It was before 2014 when they announced WCS, and they said there would be 2 spots for Latin America in premier league and 4 spots in Challenger, which was around $2000. I was aiming for Challenger, and that was around when I lost my job so I just started playing around 14 hours a day. I just jumped really fast in skill, and I ended up qualifying for Challenger over CatZ in a PC cafe because my internet was down. And then from challenger, I actually got into premier, I ended up travelling to California and ROOT invited me to live in their team house, and I’ve been there ever since.
I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what was your job before StarCraft?
I worked at a family restaurant as a bartender/cashier.
So was it the economy or something?
Yeah the family business ended up going down and they all moved to the US to start from zero pretty much.
So is bartending representative of one of your interests outside of StarCraft?
I mean I did it mostly because my family needed me, I’m not really a big fan of it. I’m not really sure what I like outside of video games. Something I’ve been deciding on for college still.
So do you plan on going to college at some point?
Does that mean within the next two, three, four, five years?
As soon as I have enough money I’ll go.
So you would just quit programing and go as soon as you have enough money?
Yeah I’ll try to play and study at the same time, and some players can do it you know, like Suppy and MaSa, so I figure if they can do it I can give it a shot. If not, I’ll just go study full time.
Do you have any idea of what you would like to study?
I’m not sure yet.
You mentioned that you were helping your family out as a bartender. What’s your family like?
Well my parents are divorced, my dad always lived in the US, I always lived with my mom in Brazil, we recently moved to the US, me and my mom and my brother, so we’re all there in Florida, I’m here in California so I go to visit them often. So that's nice. I haven’t gone to Brazil in like 2 years now, since I moved away from them.
Do you miss it?
Yeah, most of my family is there, so I do kind of miss it.
But do you like living in the ROOT house?
Yeah it’s very fun. It’s like one big family, everyone's very friendly there, we all take care of each other.
Can you elaborate on why it’s fun or why it’s a good family environment? Any fun stories maybe?
Everyone has their own personality, so Taylor, xKawaiian, he’s living there, he’s from team Exile5, he has his own personality, he’s like kind of whiny and loud, so we kind of mock him a bit for that. There’s Jim, we make a little bit of fun of him because he’s messy and dirty, he always leaves dishes on his desk, everyone has their own contrast with each other, so it ends up synergizing very well and giving good energy to the house. I’m not sure if there’s a particular story that I remember, otherwise I would tell it
How do you think the team house environment contributes to your practice?
I think it’s great, especially if you have people of the same race with you, you can discuss a lot of strategies, Dongwon [Hydra] and Catz, they discuss a lot of strategies, I feel it’s very beneficial to their play. Unfortunately there’s no Terran right there for now, but it’s still nice to have someone I can talk to, if I need some TvZ I can still talk to them. It’s very good for me as a player it helped me grow a lot.
You’ve seen growth within your own play, but how about as a person, how do you think you’ve grown since your time as a progamer?
Well I’ve travelled to many places, met a lot of people, different cultures, I feel like I’ve matured a lot as a person since I’ve started progaming. I think just travelling in general and giving your best in the game, it kind of, I don't’ know how to say it, but it contributes to your person as a whole.
Yeah, that makes sense. What kind of strengths and weaknesses do you think you have? As a person or as a player, or maybe how as a person affects you as a player?
I’m kind of lazy, so it’s always hard for me to start practicing, but i feel like when I start I just keep playing all day. But it’s hard to get motivation for me. One of my strengths though is that I always pick up fast, I think i’m a fast learner. So if I have someone to help me, I think I can learn better than other people
Why do you think it’s hard to find motivation?
It’s just the way I am, I always played many different video games. I could never focus on just one, I was constantly switching games, trying different things. I got bored really fast, and then suddenly I’m only playing StarCraft. That was a really big change for me.
When you say that you find it hard to get going, does that mean that you’re just messing with other games? What do you do that prevents you from practicing?
I’d say watching streams. I watch Starcraft, and I would say that I watch more than I play even, I’m always watching streams, VODs, tournaments. Sometimes I’ll play another game like CSGO, but that’s only once in a while. I Just watch a lot more than I practice and I think that’s not really good for me, since mechanics are more important than game knowledge I think.
So would you say that your mechanics are perhaps the weakest part of your play?
What is your biggest strength, then, in the game?
I think I have a lot of good builds, I know a lot of good reactions, like I see something and I kinda know how to react to it, if I’ve seen it before of course, I’d say that’s my biggest strength.
Ok, so maybe a fun question now. I know that obviously means a lot to you, so if your family were kidnapped by pirates, which 3 progamers would you take to save them and why?
I’d take Ethan right there, iaguz, he’s pretty scary looking and he has an axe. I’d take Hydra because I think he’s a good thinker, and he’d probably lead us well. And then probably xKawaiian because he would annoy them to death.
Well thank you for doing this interview, but to close it out we have to do sponsor shout outs, of course, but I want you to try to be creative with them, because nobody likes just reading off the jersey.
Hm, creative. Well thank you to Ttesports for giving us the best gear, thank you to esport gaming for helping us. We’re always doing tournaments with esport gaming so that's pretty fun. Every 2 or 3 months we organize a tournament for esport gaming so that's awesome. We might have a new one coming up soon, so that’s fun. It’s hard to be creative with this stuff
Yeah I’m sorry
It’s fine. I guess that’s pretty much it.
Are they your only sponsors?
We have more, but I don’t usually give them shout outs, because I always forget, I don't remember them all.
Well now is your chance
Well there is Meltdown, you know Meltdown, the bars. And I think that’s all. And Twitch of course. We’ve been partners with Twitch since the start.
Do you plan on streaming more? I guess you don't stream too much do you?
No, I’m not really big on being on streaming, but I’ve been planning on going back. I started streaming a few weeks back, I bought a new microphone, it was going well until DreamHack came up, and I started practicing, my family came over so I spent like 2 weeks with them. But when I go back I plan on streaming more, maybe three, four times a week.
Yeah, on Twitch
Alright, thank you Kelazhur!
Just to get it out of the way, you are free to balance whine as much as possible.
I think balance is actually pretty okay right now, it’s just in the foreigner scene I feel Protoss is a bit weaker than Zerg, because it’s just much harder to defend all-ins, and a lot of European Zergs are really good at executing those all-ins. But in the Korean scene it seems like Protoss is doing more than fine, so I guess I should just get better.
That’s a very grounded answer for a foreigner. So tell me about yourself as a player and a person.
I play Protoss, I’ve been playing for 2 and a half years, I’ve been taking StarCraft a little more seriously lately. I’ve been coming to a lot more tournaments, I stopped streaming so I can focus more on practicing and school, so it’s been going quite well lately. I haven’t competed in that many tournaments offline, so I’m still a bit nervous right now. But hopefully I'll be able to get at least to the round of 16 and just feel comfortable. Because the few tournaments I’ve been to offline the main problem was that I was never able to get my setup right, so everything always felt wrong, like my mouse movements, my keyboard. So this time i’m feeling confident, so I just go to the round of 32, so i’m just waiting for my opponent, but I feel good, even if I lose to somebody really good, I’m not gonna be too upset because I think I’ve gotta overcome this offline nerves, I guess, so I’m looking forward to it.
So what makes you feel confident?
I’ve been doing quite well on ladder, I feel like I can beat anybody in this tournament. Of course the players like Polt, Hydra, and Neeb are going to be the biggest challenge, but it’s still viable, plus it’s an offline tournament. We’re all humans, and to be honest, we’ve been all up for like 12 plus hours, we’re all tired, so maybe they will make some critical mistakes and I’ll get lucky or whatever. But yeah, mostly I’ve been doing well in practice and online, so hopefully I’ll be able to do well offline as well.
You mentioned that you’ve been focused on school and StarCraft lately, where are you at in your school career?
So I’m taking the second year in my college, I’m going for computer science. I’m taking a lot of classes, so it’s hard to balance StarCraft and college, but it’s been going alright. The next year I’ll be finishing college and transferring to university, so that’s where things will get tricky, doing the whole StarCraft 2 progaming career and university. But for now I have more than enough time to practice at least four hours a day.
So does that mean you want to try to maintain a balance between school and StarCraft, or is there going to be a point where you’re going to have to choose one or the other?
There should be a point and I will have to pick school or StarCraft, but it’s not coming any time soon. I’m planning on playing StarCraft at least 2 more years for sure, and maybe one of those years will be full time depending on how well I do, because there’s no real point to go full time when you're not competing too well, so I’m just trying to get as much offline experience as I can right now. So maybe next year I can take a year off and try to push myself to actually be getting top four every tournament, if possible.
So as it is right now with the divide between school and StarCraft, how is your daily schedule?
Usually I get up in the morning to go to school, and after I go to school I have to take a nap, because i go to bed at like 5 am. And then basically I just practice after i take a nap, until late at night basically, and then I just watch a movie and then I go to bed. That’s the usual PiLi day I guess.
What kind of practice are you doing?
It’s mostly ladder, sometimes I’ll do customs if I know my specific opponent. So I ask my friends, mostly EU players because I don’t want to practice with NA players because we hit each other a lot doing the tournaments and online qualifiers. But it’s mostly just going on Korea, ladder, do my best, analyzing my replays, play as much as I can, and trying to do the builds that are actually going to be efficient during tournaments.
How much do you study other pros, Korean pros?
I watch Korean StarCraft a lot. It’s been a struggle lately because the map pool for Proleague and GSL being changed with the ladder map pool. So it’s not that easy to study Korean games, but you can still get a lot of them, especially from players like Zest who just play so rock solid, and I feel like I copy his style in PvT a lot. But for the most part watching EU players play is way more efficient for me because I actually play the maps and the meta. Because the maps really dictate the meta for now, so watching EU players is like one of the best ways to study right now.
And so how much of that composes your time practicing?
I would say, if I would have to spend 5 hours on StarCraft a day, it would be like 3.5 hours playing, 30 minutes of watching replays, and 1 hour of watching VODs and stuff.
Moving away from the game again, you mentioned that you’re studying computer science in school. How long have you been interested in something like computer science.
Honestly not too long, basically when I went to college you just had to pick a major, so I just picked computer college because I’m kinda close to computers. And with this kind of degree I’ll be able to stay in esports hopefully. So that’s sort of the plan.
So you picked computer science more as a result of your interest in StarCraft. Did you have any other interests?
I’ve been playing a lot of sports. I’ve been somewhat semi-pro in tennis and boxing actually. I’ve been also playing other games like Dota, and I think I was pretty good, but unfortunately I quit before Dota 2 came out. I have a lot of small hobbies like reading and stuff, but I don’t think it’s worth mentioning.
No, it’s interesting, because most of the time we don’t really know anything about you aside from being a player. You said you did some tennis and boxing. What made you choose to focus on StarCraft instead of those.
So I was originally born in Kazakhstan and 2.5 years ago I moved to America. So I moved here, I basically lost all my friends, and I didn’t speak any English, so making friends here was basically impossible because of my English barrier, so when I got home from school the only thing I had to do was play video games. So that’s where I started I guess, as I mentioned I started playing StarCraft 2.5 years ago, that’s exactly when I moved here, so that’s when I started playing a lot. And then once I got good, there was no way back. I was way into this game.
So you got better at StarCraft than you were at tennis or boxing?
Sort of yeah, and also because I moved, I didn’t have the same coach, and I didn’t want to go with it anymore.
What kind of reading do you do?
I usually read a lot of Russian literature. I’m not a big fan of reading English books because a lot of the words I just don’t understand, and I’m just too lazy to learn the vocabulary every time. So yeah, for the most part it’s just Russian literature.
But your English is very good for only having lived here 2.5 years.
Yeah, kinda, well because when you get thrown in a country with a language, you have to go to school and pass classes, and everybody speaks English everywhere, you’re kind of forced to learn it.
So reading wasn’t really a part of you learning English.
Well I had to read a lot in school, especially when taking classes like zoology, the words there are very complicated, so I had to constantly use the vocabulary to find the meaning of the words.
Where do you go to school?
Right now I go to Miramar College in San Diego.
Where do you plan on going after for university?
Probably to UCSD (University of California-San Diego)
Yeah I know they have a good computer science program so that’s probably a good choice. You said that you want to stay in esports, what do you mean by that?
For sure. I’m not 100% sure, but maybe tournament organizer, admin, maybe even commentator but probably not. I don't think I have the skills, but maybe for fun I’ll be doing that. But yeah mostly administering, helping players out, setting up and stuff, maybe that kind of thing. I didn’t really think about it yet.
So you said you’re going to try to focus on attending more offline events. I don’t know how many you’ve been to recently, but have you been able to travel a lot?
Not really, I went to IEM in Poland, and it was only on the back of qualifying. So right now there’s not that many LANs in North America, so you basically need to qualify for even you to be able to travel, so it’s basically all about me travelling. There are a few events like King of the North and Cheesedelphia, but it seems not worth it for me to travel from San Diego to there just to play an offline event. And it takes a lot of time and you get behind in college and stuff so it’s just simply not worth it. So I basically just need to qualify for all the big events.
How do you think you’ve grown as a person since you’ve become a progamer?
I think it helped me to manage my time much better, because I knew I had to do well in school as well as do well in school. So I started to waste time a lot less. I think that’s the main thing I got out of e-sports. I got to travel a lot, I got to do a lot of continent travelling alone, meeting friends and stuff, being less awkward when you meet someone.
So what do you think your strengths and weaknesses are as a person and as a player, and how do they maybe relate to one another? You mentioned good time management, but what else might there be?
As a player, when it comes down to playing like a best of 5 against an opponent that I know I’ll play in advance, I’m pretty good at studying people. Because when I compare EU players, they’re all clueless, like right now for example. DreamHack Tours is coming up, and I’ll be talking to a few players, like what do you think about your opponent? And they all say they are clueless, while I know every person’s account, I know where to watch their VODs, I know I’ll be able to study. It seems like most of the EU players never bother to actually study. I think being able to prepare good builds for certain opponents, even though they are much better than me, and taking a map off them is my strength. And as a person, I'm actually not sure, it’s hard to think of something. Probably just being passionate about the game, and even when you’re tilted and don't want to play this game, making yourself to play practice just for the love of the game.
And how about weaknesses?
Well when I play online tournaments a lot of the time I get too narrow-minded, and I always think of the opponent in a certain way. Because I study them sometimes, I’ll always think they’ll do the exact same thing for me. So if I see some sort of stalker opening, I’ll automatically assume it’ll be blink, because I saw the guy go blink, so I’ll just stop scouting for some reason, and then it’s actually like dark templar or something and I skipped the robo. That kind of stuff happens.
Just a fun question now. If your family was kidnapped by pirates, which three progamers would you pick to save them and why?
Harstem for sure, because he seems like he would be the kind of guy to find a way out of every situation. Second person would probably be HuK, because HuK seems like the kinda guy that knows what he’s doing, very confident and stuff. And probably PartinG, because PartinG doesn’t give a fuck, he would probably help us out.
You speak very fondly of those players, do you have any role models?
It used to be White-Ra when I started playing, because he was the only player that was releasing videos explaining his games in Russian, so I became a big fan of him. And he was also always mannered and his playstyle was fun to watch. As for now, basically any Korean protoss in a KeSPA team that plays well, I kinda look up to them and I copy their playstyles a lot. And for the foreigner scene, it’s always been Lilbow, and I think PtitDrogo and Harstem are good people to follow and try to learn from.
So thank you for doing the interview, but before we leave we have to do sponsor shout outs of course. But I want you to be creative.
Of course big shout out to my team PsiStorm Gaming for sending me here. They gave me enough mana for the storm so I could get here. That’s about it I guess. And thank you to my college I guess for understanding, and letting me not take my exams when I need to take them, and get them later. So they are very understanding with that, so that’s pretty cool.
Thank you PiLiPiLi!
I think it would be fun to start if you could just balance whine as much as you can, to get it out of the way before the rest of the interview.
The thing about protoss is that they can cheese and also play macro, or sit back all game and not really do anything but defend, and win the game kinda by default. It’s always been like that. People were complaining about the old swarm host, and then it was changed, but we haven’t seen any changes to protoss. They can still just sit back and defend all game long and max out. It’s true for terran as well, but at least terrans have liberators so they also sit back. Protoss is a joke.
About those concerns then: Blizzard seems like they’ve been a lot more open recently about connecting with players and people in the community. Could you explain a bit what the channels are for players to give feedback to Blizzard, how effective you feel it is and how frequently you do it?
I haven’t really given a whole lot of feedback regarding balance; I’ve tried to stay a bit quiet and see how things unfold. I’m usually vocal against some of the changes that don’t make sense, and if I feel like the changes are too ridiculous then I will definitely try to contact Blizzard in any way possible. But so far, the proposed changes haven’t seemed that extreme to me. The latest patch notes had quite a few weird changes that don’t really affect too many things; it was a bit of an awkward patch so I didn’t bother to give a lot of feedback because I don’t think it will go through to be honest. Some of the new things, like focussing so much on speed banshees or the photon cannon changes are strange. I don’t mind minor changes, but there’s a lot of stuff that people would really like the team to look into, like tankivacs, the mothership core in general and how protoss is so weak without it, how protoss usually has to open stargate. There are more important things than speed banshees and cannons.
In the most recent community feedback update, they said that they’re looking at immortal nerfs as a necessity due to pro player feedback, as well as potential colossus buffs and cyclone changes. How do you feel about those?
I think nerfing the immortal would be very good. I think that the disruptor and colossus feel better to play against. The colossus is a bit of a boring deathball unit, but at least there’s some micro involved with the disruptor. However, there aren’t that many counterplays available against the immortal, at least for zerg. You can try to trigger the auto-shield, send in a hydralisk maybe to get an early poke in to remove it for the next fight, but in general these counters to the immortal end up costing more than just doing nothing. Doing nothing is the better choice 99% of the time, and that’s not good. The only thing you can do against immortals is try to take as good of a fight as possible, but it’s almost only down to army strength. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of control involved in the engagement for either side. Obviously for protoss to stop some of these hydra / ling / bane timings, you need excellent forcefields, you need overcharges, you need to position your stuff very well. For zerg, there’s hydralisk and baneling positioning, but I feel like we could have a lot more depth to these fights if there were more high tier units involved—disruptors, colossi—and fewer immortals.
Is the perspective that you bring in primarily from your practice on EU, or do you also play on KR?
I don’t play on KR from Europe, but I played a bit there during my stay in China for WCS Shanghai. [The immortal issue] is the same experience on both servers.
So you wouldn’t say that the metagame is too different right now?
The metagame has actually shifted quite a bit, but in terms of regions I feel it’s not too different. Protoss are making some adjustments. For a while, for example, mass adept and two stargate phoenix was popular, but it started to get figured out, so protoss started to switch to single stargate play, mass immortal, two robo, and a more traditional style that we see today. That’s where it’s at today—single stargate, 5 or 7 phoenixes into double robo immortal.
When you practice, what’s your daily routine, from beginning to end?
It varies a bit. Sometimes I’ll play some customs, but I play a lot of ladder and online tournaments because it’s very good practice for Bo3 / Bo5 series, and people really try to win those online tournaments, so I end up playing a lot of them. A lot of my practice is actually just small weekly cups. It gives me a lot to think about. I spend a lot of time watching VODs, more so than practicing myself actually, and following results from competitions across the world. Every day I go to the aligulac match page to see if there’s a match that interests me, and try to find a VOD for it, so I usually watch almost everything that goes on, everything from KR and the online cups.
In these VOD analyses, how do you identify what your strengths and weaknesses are a player, and what would you say they are?
When I watch other VODs, it’s normally for inspiration, to copy and steal some things and use them myself, or I can watch a VOD of them losing to see what to watch out for, what went wrong and try to analyse the game. As for my strengths as a player, it’s usually been the defensive macro approach, trying to scout. My scouting hasn’t actually always been that great actually. Right now I feel like I’m very strong in macro ZvT, but ZvZ and ZvP are a little different nowadays, so I’m not too sure what my strengths and weaknesses are in those two matchups. Overall, throughout the years, it’s definitely been in macro and defensive play, so we’ll see if I can do something like that in ZvZ and ZvP. That’s the thing—you can’t actually macro that hard against protoss nowadays unless you play extremely well like Dark does. Doing that is a little difficult, and I’m not sure that I’m at that level yet. But I’m trying, because it looks really cool and I think it would suit me; it’s just a little difficult to get there.
Did you fly straight from Norway to here?
Not straight, quite a long trip, but I should be fine.
So you feel like your condition is pretty good, at least physically?
Yeah. If I had a string of terrans to play against, then I would probably be the champion I feel. My ZvT right now is nearly unstoppable. I dropped a few games in online tournaments, but in practice my winrate was 91% or so. Just a few players were able to beat me; I dropped some maps to MaSa, uThermal and Kelazhur—pretty good players. I’m extremely consistent in ZvT, and also the terrans now are either banned or missing, so there’s a lot of zerg and protoss here which concerns me a bit. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to put up a good result here this time, but I’ll be very happy if I make it to top 8. I’m a bit concerned about strong protoss players like Neeb, PtitDrogo, Harstem.
You’re generally very complimentary about your fellow players, but I’m actually interested to see if you’re willing to smacktalk anyone in the scene right now.
There’s a lot of good protoss players in PvZ, but there are also quite a few who aren’t as good in the other matchups, so there a lot of players who are anti-zerg specialists, and I’d like to see a few of those excel against terran as well. It feels like everytime a good PvZ toss comes up, they’re also bad against terran. I feel Neeb maybe the most well-rounded right now. It’s always cool to see players that are strong and capable of winning on good days, but I’m waiting for a protoss to really dominate the players of every race. Please show me, protoss players, show me what you’ve got! Just beat everyone instead of running into a terran and losing after beating five godly zergs.
To shift away from the game right now, could you tell us the story of how you became a pro?
I played Starcraft 2 a month after it came out. I started playing as a 2v2 player, just playing for fun but then I got more and more into the game. I was living a somewhat normal life at the time; I had a job, a girlfriend, and I was planning to start studies. I moved [to university], but I was still playing Starcraft. I don’t think university was for me, so I decided eventually just to quit and play Starcraft with the goal of becoming a progamer because the scene was really big at the time. There were figures like Stephano, Idra and HuK winning tournaments left and right, and I thought “wow, this is really cool, I want to be like those guys”. So basically I YOLO’d and quit university, lived off savings from work and went to a couple tournaments in Norway that had some prize money. I was able to earn a little there, and I gradually made the transition to living the pro lifestyle, moving into pro houses, going on a trip to Korea.
Eventually, after nine months of not making all that much, I was able to start winning a few tournaments here and there, and ultimately after winning HomeStory Cup and being a full time pro for almost a year, I was pretty sure that I could do this for a while. My level was pretty high, and I was really enjoying Starcraft at the time. So it kept snowballing from that point on.
How do you feel like you’ve changed as a person since becoming a pro
That’s interesting. Back then, I was very idealistic, I was looking up to all these people—Stephano, Idra. There was also a lot of resistance that I remember, a lot of BM from players. The better you get, the more BM you receive from them. Maybe they can feel that you’re getting close to their level. It’s kind of natural, and it’s scary because I feel the same thing right now! I’ve been getting increasingly salty over the years. Now that I’ve been at the top for a while, I can tell a lot of the time when I lose that I start feeling really salty about it. I find myself being a little resentful. I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I definitely take losing a lot harder now than I used to before, because the expectations are higher. Sometimes the pressure gets to me a little, pressure I didn’t have before. I just need to let go I guess.
As for how I’ve changed as a person, I feel a lot more relaxed, but also because also because I’ve been in [progaming] for a long time, I feel a little bit more pressure. If I don’t do well, I don’t know if I can justify doing this. So it’s kind of a mix. It’s tough to say how I’ve progressed as a whole, it’s tough to say because all I really do is stay inside and play video games. It’s difficult to measure anything, but financially it’s about the same, it works out. I’m able to live, I can pay for food and rent. Things haven’t changed all too much. I still enjoy myself, travelling, and it’s always nice meeting up with the crew playing games.
Where do you see yourself in a few years, if Starcraft 2 isn’t as popular as it is right now and perhaps goes away? Would you consider going back to university, or getting a job?
Probably university. I’m not sure exactly what though, and I’ve also been having some ideas about working in other fields. When I was really young, I wanted to be a game designer, and I feel that sometimes I have good ideas, but I know that on average it’s a really bad career path to go down. I’m not sure if I want to go there, compared to just going to university. We’ll see. I think it would be really cool to be a game designer, but it’s such a tough field that I’m not sure I’d get into it.
When you first went to university, was that what you were intending to do?
No, that was music—a different passion of mine. I played the piano when I was younger, and then I got into making music on a computer. But I decided that university was not for me. It was too theoretical and not enough practical stuff, not enough time to just do the craft. I thought it was better to keep it as a hobby. Maybe we’ll see if I can pursue some of my hobbies for work in the future.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
What’s that, things I don’t tell people about? Secret hobbies? Sometimes, I relax with a bit of Counter-Strike, some Hearthstone, but I don’t really play that a lot.
That’s OK, this is a safe space. TeamLiquid is a pretty receptive community.
Oh yeah, I’m sure. I wasn’t being that serious about protoss by the way!
How about a fun question. If your family was kidnapped by Somalian pirates, which three progamers would you take to rescue them, and why?
I would bring MC, just for being a badass. I’d bring sLivko, of course, for the muscles. And I’d need someone who’s smart, like a mad scientist. Let’s bring Dr Dario.
Do you live by yourself? Have you been to the TeamLiquid house?
Yeah, I live by myself. I was at the TL house for the Starcraft bootcamp last summer. It was Dario [TLO], Ret, Bunny and Harstem was there as well.
What was the Liquid dynamic like?
It was nice, we’d just get together at breakfast and eat, and just get started with the day. We’d talk a lot about the game, show each other the replays, and just synchronise. Eat dinner together, go outside. Mostly just talk about the game a lot.
No super fun or embarrassing stories then?
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time there, only two or three weeks. We’re pretty reasonable people, I don’t think anything too crazy happened.
So on nights like these, after finishing your games, what do you usually do?
Usually, all I do is just play. If I’m too tired, I’d watch some VODs, maybe streams, but there isn’t a whole lot to watch at night. If I stay up late, maybe I’ll watch some NA tournament, but usually I’ll just go to sleep and repeat the next day. Pretty much my whole life is just Starcraft, so there’s not much else going on for now. It always feels like there’s so little time before the next tournament, so I’ll just try to prepare for that. Even if there’s a whole month, it still feels like there’s no time at all. Improving and changing your play up doesn’t feel simple to me at all. I really need to work hard, and time just seems to fly by. Even if you do different things, or work on different things, most of the time it’s still sitting inside playing Starcraft.
I think that you mentioned that you enjoy travelling, but it sounds like you’re not doing a whole lot of the touristy things that you might want to.
I daydream about it sometimes, just going to the beach and relaxing; having a typical vacation, but when I’m actually travelling I can’t force myself to do it. It’s always all about the tournament. I think I don’t need anything like that as long as I’m at a Starcraft tournament, because all the people I know are here, and it’s all about meeting up with them.
Do you at least get to go out to some nice restaurants locally?
Yes, fortunately. There’s always good food. That’s one of the best things, going to restaurants with the people we know.
When did you arrive in Austin?
Last night. Or midnight today, rather. I had some Texas barbecue today actually. Grilled chicken, brisket, spicy spinach, mashed potatoes. It was so spicy, I had no idea spinach could be this spicy! It was really good.
We really appreciate you doing this interview, and to close it out I want to give you some time to do sponsor shoutouts; but be creative and entertaining.
Alright, but I just need to look at my HTC phone real quick, just to check something? It might be something about the awesome Alienware computer that I’m using. Hmm, what would Dario say? Something about my Razer gear, which feels amazing. I should check out the tournament brackets on a website hosted by Namecheap. Of course, if I want to chill out, I can listen to tunes on my HyperX headset! Good times; I actually do that a lot. That’s actually another guilty pleasure, even if it isn’t too embarrassing, just browsing for new tracks on Spotify. The HyperX headset actually sounds really good, it’s crisp and clear and fits nicely. There’s more, but I’m sure everyone’s already checked out teamliquidpro.com at this point and looked closely! And of course, if you’ve just come out of the shower and are looking for something comfortable to wear, you could go to Jinx.com and look for something there.
Thank you very much for your time Snute
Photos: Dreamhack, Helena Kristiansson
Photos: Dreamhack, Helena Kristiansson