With StarCraft II's 10th anniversary in mind, TL.net's Wax decided to catch-up with his favorite progamer Serral to talk about his beginnings as a twelve-year-old StarCraft II player, reminisce about the days when he was just a regular ol' Jaedong fan, and how he definitely wasn't crying after he won BlizzCon 2018.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
Wax: How old were you when StarCraft 2 came out, and what were you doing around that time?
Serral: I was probably around twelve years old? I think so, around 12. I was playing Brood War back then and studying in primary school, but other than that I wasn't doing much.
And you got into Brood War because of your brother [former progamer Protosser]?
Yeah, because my brother picked up the game. I mean, I didn't really play, I just played arcade games, but I still played the game, I guess.
How did you end up playing Brood War back then? At that time it was already an old-ass game, so I wonder how some kids started playing
Well, I don't know. He just found a video of a tournament, I think it was the World Cyber Games? It was one of the Stork games, I can't remember who he was playing against. And it was like "what's that game," then he remembered that we have the game as well.
I mean, we had the game way before already, but we never really played it. But then we just remembered we actually had this game, and we just kind of picked it up from there.
Did your dad just find it in the bargain bin somewhere?
Our dad got a lot of games from one of his friends, so we had like million of different games, like Xbox games, some PC games as well. But he got a lot them.
I don't think Blizzard is going to ban you now. Was it a pirated copy of BW? That game was super easy to pirate.
Uhhh... It might have been, yeah. *laughs*.
So, when SC2 came out, it was just a natural transition? And that's when you started really playing 1v1? Or did you start off by playing arcade games and other modes.
I didn't really play any other games in SC2, only the one-on-one mode. Obviously I played some one-on-one on Brood War—I mean, I was playing arcade, it was more like 50/50, but I was pretty bad at it. But SC2 I was only playing one-on-one's from the start.
How soon did you realize you were good at the game?
Well, I mean, I don't know, how do you know that? *laughs* I don't think I was amazing, my first tournament—I'm just looking at my Aligulac, I lost all three matches. Can't be too good then.
Well, you have to know you're some kind of good to even try to compete at something like the WCG Finnish nationals.
Yeah, I guess. But these aren't the first events actually, now that I'm looking. Like, I think I played like five events before this, it was more like Finnish LAN's, where you brought your own PC. But, I mean, there was the StarCraft2.fi, they had all the Finnish ladder players there, and I was top 20 there all the time. So I knew that I was at least top 20 in Finland, right?
It was a pretty big turning point for your career when you finished school and were able to go full-time. How long did you know you wanted to give full-time progaming a shot?
Pretty early, I would say. Like, probably when my brother already took one year off from school, that was around the time I knew I wanted to do that as well.
Is having more time the biggest advantage of going full-time?
Yeah, I guess. I don't think I'm putting too much more time in now than I was when I was in school, I'd say I'm putting in a bit more. But it's just that you can actually focus 100% on what you are doing, and it makes it a lot easier. But when there are two things you are balancing around, it's a bit of a mess always.
Were you a big fan of StarCraft early on? I mean not as a competitor, but just someone who really liked following the scene.
Yeah, I used to follow a lot, I considered myself a pretty big fan. I wouldn't say I watched all of the games, but we did wake up a lot of the time at pretty early times to watch the Korean events. Not necessarily GSL, but just any of them really. Yeah, we were pretty big fans.
Who were your early favorites? Nestea, DRG?
SC2 honestly... TLO was probably the first guy that I liked. When he was random I liked him a lot—I wasn't the same race always. But honestly, I feel like when I had idols, they were probably Jaedong and Savior. Way before, those are Brood War times. And obviously when Jaedong came to SC2 I was a big fan of him.
So those are the people that come to mind. I don't think I was really a big Nestea fan or anything, obviously I watched a lot of his games. But it isn't like I was a massive fan or anything.
How about DRG?
Yeah, same thing. I watched a lot of his games, but it wasn't like he was my biggest idol or anything.
DRG is going to be so sad to hear that, he said he watched your games to relearn StarCraft when he came back from the military.
Jaedong was my biggest idol back then, so it's fine.
You actually got to play Jaedong a couple of times. Back when you were young, you played him at a couple of DreamHacks.
Yeah, I took a photo of him after I lost to him once.
After you lost, you just went up to him and asked "hey, can I take a selfie?"
It wasn't a selfie, but whatever.
But it was with him.
Yeah, it was with him.
It wasn't like you took a picture of him, and you weren't even in the frame.
No, no, I had a photographer, obviously. Even back then I didn't take photos of myself. I had a paid photographer obviously.
That's called a selfie, you know.
No it's not, a selfie is when take a photo of yourself.
Ehhh, I think the meaning has changed these days. Anyway, what was it like playing Jaedong at that time?
I don't know, it didn't really feel like much? Just a normal game.
But you asked for a photo. How many pros have you asked for a photo from?
Uhhh, maybe he's the only one? I'm not sure. Well I can't remember anymore, but I mean, it was in a way, it was nice to play against him most likely. I think I won a map as well back then, at least one of the times.
You think you played worse?
No, no no. Probably played better. Isn't that how it works?
It wasn't really anything, it wasn't like a big match for me or anything special, because it was just a match like any other.
What are your favorite SC2 memories that don't involve you?
There was this one game where Jaedong did this strategy, against Dear, where he went burrow Roaches, and unburrowed all the stuff right under [his units] and that was very memorable for me.
That's also Jaedong's favorite moment from SC2!
That's an absolutely bomber I think.
What's the word?
Let's go with banger.
A banger is a song, though.
It can be a moment as well, if selfie can be just a photo where you're in.
Do you also look back on your own games? For instance, Jaedong says he watches that moment from BlizzCon.
Many times? I do watch like some games like once, but I don't go back to like two years old games anymore. But I mean, I do watch VOD's.
Which one do you think you've watched the most of yourself?
Honestly, probably the game I played against NaNiwa in one of the WCS tournaments, in maybe 2015? I think it was like one of the first ones.
That's a really obscure match to rewatch.
It was a nice 2-0 win, and there's also first person view there, so watching your own first person was nice I think.
Yeah, I mean, it was a group stage game, but what does that matter. It's still a match. It was probably just because it was the first bigger ones. I mean, it wasn't like a big match or anything, but it was still like... 2015 was probably the first time I was in WCS Premier league at least.
That one is probably the one that I watched the most, but I haven't watched it in like the last two years.
What about a match the fans might think are more notable, like maybe the comeback game against Reynor at WCS Montreal?
No, I never watched that game, I don't think I watched it even once.
What about BlizzCon 2018?
I don't think there were many very memorable games, but I have watched some of them. But I don't think there were any very cool moments or very special games.
Well, what makes a game memorable to you then?
I don't know. *laughs. I don't know, hard to say.
Can you look back on those kinds of moments with perspective now? Or are you still too much in the present with your career now?
I would to say it's a bit too much in the process right now, to think about that. I'll prolly think that way after I'm done with playing.
You don't get the feeling of 'I achieved my goal, my dream,' some sense of fulfillment or accomplishment?
No, I mean... there's a sense of accomplishment. But I still want to win more for sure.
But that's just winning for the sake of winning. No larger...
It's ALWAYS just for the sake of winning.
A lot of people remark about your disinterested demeanor when you win. What was so different about BlizzCon 2018 that caused such a emotional reaction?
Well, didn't I already tell you? It was very hot there, I was sweating. I was probably very happy as well, don't get me wrong. But I was still slightly sweating. It got very hot there, no lying.
Are you sure it wasn't tears of joy at winning $200,000?
Yeah, I mean, maybe a couple, but I think it was...
I think the sweat, maybe a couple, two tears coming out. But the rest of the water drops were just sweat. Does that sound fair?
Ehhh, I guess people can take your word for it, or not.
So how's the game feel these days? Is it still fun? Does it feel like a job?
I would say that I find it still fun. Otherwise I don't think I would be doing it if I didn't find it fun. But obviously sometimes I get a bit fed up with it, I would say. But mainly I'm pretty motivated, and having at least some kind of fun with it.
What parts do you get fed up with?
I don't know, it's a lot of repeating, not much really changes, there's a lot of repeating honestly.
Players like Dark have said it's been years since the game became a job.
Well, Dark's a free soul. He does WHATEVER he wants. He doesn't repeat the same moves.
Maybe that's what keeps him interested in the game. You think you'll ever get to that point?
Well I think if that happens it's not a very good thing, and the motivation probably wouldn't stay for too long. But, that could happen, but it hasn't really happened to me at least yet. Obviously I consider it my job, and I feel kind of a need to do well, and that also adds motivation to practice for me.
Have you started thinking about the future?
It's still a decently long way off. I haven't thought about it too much, but obviously I know my next move after I'm done, because there aren't too many options. I'm going to go to military after I'm done playing. Then I have one year of time to think about what I'm going to do after that.
What was your favorite meta to play Zerg in?
At the start of Legacy I had very much fun. The ling-lurker style, it was EXTREMELY fun. I remember loving ZvP so much, it reminded me of Brood War. But then the ling-lurker didn't actually end up working. That was so much fun, I won IeSF, the event in Korea with the ling-lurker.
What was fun about it?
It wasn't, I don't know, it was just units running everywhere all the time, it was extremely fun.
But you've been able to play ling-bane forever...
[annoyed noise] I'm not talking about patrolling units in my main base. I'm talking about making units do some damage actually.
Yeah... but all those ling and baneling runbys...
Ah, doesn't happen anymore, there's always defenses in place. But the ling-lurker style was sooo much fun, in ZvP especially. I just made 10 lurkers defending with spore lines, constantly trying to do attacks and ling runbys. I think I was just very happy we got lurker, a unit from BW, and I liked to use that unit. And it really felt like playing BW at one point, because like in BW ZvP, you could just take the expansions from the corners, have a couple of lurkers defend, and run units everywhere.
You have a lot of BW nostalgia for someone who didn't play competitively.
What do you mean? I have one-base lurkers builds, I was the master of lurker builds back then already.
You sound like a boomer.
Maybe I'm a boomer.
Do you feel like one of the older players now? That your hands are slowing down? 22-years-old would have been ancient in the old KeSPA Brood War days.
I don't think I see myself being any slower, but I do feel like sometimes I feel like I can't do everything that I want, I don't have the speed. But I think that has always been the case, because you can't always do everything in the game you want, and I need to prioritize sometimes.
Do you notice the kids getting faster?
Yeah, I mean, Reynor and Clem are pretty fast, so you can see that you need to be pretty fast to keep up with them for sure.
So you feel like the old man?
Nooo, absolutely not.
Alright, looking back on 10 years of StarCraft II... What do you think?
I mean it's 10 good years of playing a very fun RTS game. And I don't get any nostalgia vibes or anything... It's been the best 10 years of my life.
Could you say something vague and generally positive so people feel good? Like something your hero TLO would say. You know, like:
"The game is in a better place than it's ever been, and now we have three more years of guaranteed support from ESL and Blizzard. There's a great future ahead for StarCraft II, and thanks for being the best fans in the world!"
Well, I guess my problem is that I don't think that far when I'm answering a question like that.
Do you approve of what I said? We'll just run with that.
Sounds about right.
You can follow Serral and ENCE on Twitter at @ENCE_Serral and @ENCE.