TAKING THE LEAP: Myungsik’s journey from Code S level StarCraft 2, to professional Overwatch
It's an interesting time to be a professional StarCraft 2 player in Korea. Last month, KeSPA announced the end of ProLeague, the staple Korean team league that had been running for over a decade. In tandem, four of Korea’s biggest teams announced the closure of their StarCraft 2 divisions. SKT, Samsung Galaxy, KT Rolster, and CJ Entus closed shop, while MVP announced a ‘wait and see’ attitude, hoping for some positive news in the coming announcement of WCS 2017. This week, it was announced that the Afreeca Freecs would be closing their SC2 roster as well, making Jin Air the only team who has committed to keeping their SC2 players (in fact they’ve publicly dedicated themselves to not only supporting the SC2 squad, but at the same level as they did this year).
Such announcements obviously put South Korean StarCraft 2 in an unfortunate spot. Many players find themselves freshly teamless, without a team house, and looking toward a shaky future. Although he was no longer a member, Park Ryung Woo, best known as Dark, chose to keep his SKT1 jacket on through the whole of Blizzcon, saying that he felt more comfortable in it. It’s a sad anecdote for the runner up to the StarCraft 2 World Championship, underscoring the sense of uncertainty surrounding Korean StarCraft 2.
For others though, the shake up of Korean StarCraft means an opportunity to explore new opportunities. One player taking a chance on something new is Dark’s former teammate and ex-SKT1 player, Kim Myung-Sik (best known by his player ID, Myungsik). Hot on the heels of the announcements of ProLeague’s and all of the team closures, Myungsik announced that he was switching to professional Overwatch and had joined the new team, First Heroic. Myungsik had been a professional StarCraft player since 2012 when he joined KT Rolster at the age of 18. Even now with the announcement of his switch to Overwatch, Myungsik played in the VSL team league this month, joining his former SKT1 teammates and carrying team ‘Yeoksam-dong’ to victory in the ace match. I was lucky enough to talk to Myungsik about his experience in esports thus far, and his future with Overwatch and StarCraft 2.
Something that many fans wanted me to ask about was Myungsik’s relationship with Flash, the Broodwar bonjwa. Rumours have circulated surrounding an incident where the famously placid Flash was driven to anger by his then teammate Myungsik, one of only a handful of times in his career where such emotions were raised. This ties into the stories that Myungsik can be very bad mannered while practicing on ladder. Such rumours came to a head after Jinair Greenwing’s Maru performed a celebration after besting Myungsik in a Proleague match. Maru, another famously tepid pro, rarely performs such ceremonies and many fans speculated that he was driven to do so in response to Myungsik’s BM on ladder.
I posed my questions on this matter in a jovial, teasing way and Myungsik was pleasantly good natured about it all. He assured me that any rumours surrounding his manners online were just that rumours. He also told me that it wasn’t his place to tell the story of the conflict with Flash. Myungsik did say that he learned not only from the happenings that took place while he was on KT Rolster, but from Flash’s advice as well.
It can be sensitive thing for him, so I cannot tell you the details
- Myungsik on the conflict between himself and Flash from years prior
We joked briefly about the idea that he’s the root cause of teams closing as well. There’s an unfortunate parallel between Myungsik leaving a team and that team closing its doors, obviously culminating with Myungsik leaving StarCraft 2 and Proleague ending. Myungsik told me that the players on Proleague teams were aware of its closure ahead of time, but was unable to give me an exact date. He speculates that the matchfixing scandals that were breaking news in late 2015/early 2016 were the biggest factor in Proleague’s closure. Many foreign fans were quick to blame the 2016 WCS system, which locked foreign tournaments to any Korean pros who didn’t have a residency visa to stay outside of Korea.
With the end of Proleague and the closure of so many teams, many players are faced with a difficult decision. Whether or not to continue their careers as professional StarCraft 2 players. Myungsik decided in September that the best path for him was to switch to Overwatch, a game that he expects will outlive StarCraft in Korea. He joined the amateur team ‘First Heroic’, an unproven organization where he’s taken the role of poster boy, player, and coach.
The team is still amateur team" he told me, ‘It is consisted of 6 amateur players and me. These friends will learn the real experiences of the gamer from me, and I will learn the game itself from the friends."
He agreed with me when I raised the idea that 2016 was his strongest year in StarCraft thus far, saying that if SC2’s environment would be the same as this year, he’d try to continue with the game. He says that he knows now how to practice and win.
The announcement of the Overwatch League at Blizzcon raised some interesting thoughts with Myungsik. Although he doesn’t blame SC2’s WCS for the closure of Proleague, he told me that he doesn’t have very much faith in Blizzard when it comes to esports. His expectations aren’t very high, telling me , "I don’t think that Blizzard managed StarCraft 2 well. So I don't expect (Overwatch) will be good". He’s approached the Official Overwatch League with cautious optimism.
Myungsik himself isn’t entirely sure of the role he wants to play yet in Overwatch. He said that he’s told his teammates about his life as a progamer, certainly inspiring the members to strive for the best. What role he’ll play in that though, seems unclear. Myungsik plays as the team’s tank, but he identifies sharing his experiences as a pro player as the most important role that he can fill right now. For now, it seems that the first tangible goal for him is to hit Grand Master (he is currently peaking at Masters).
Thinking longer term, Myungsik hopes that if First Heroic starts playing tournaments, playing hard, and climbing from the bottom of the scene, everything will come in due time. With success comes sponsors, a team house, and notoriety. At the time of writing, he tells me that he’s still provided with lodging and practice room from SKT1 while other First Heroic players practice from home.
No matter what role Myungsik plays in Overwatch, his goal is to be the best, saying that "The first goal (for the team) is getting a sponsor and to get into a league and the real goal is to be a best team in the world".
As for the game itself, Myungsik is at least satisfied. He is content with the balance of Overwatch’s heroes, telling me that it’s a different beast to balance a cast of heroes rather than SC2’s three races. He’s hopeful for the future of in-game features as well, mentioning the idea that it took time for Blizzard to implement features into SC2 so hopefully they’ll do so quicker with Overwatch. Myungsik told me that he played StarCraft for seven years, starting as an amateur. Now he hopes to play Overwatch for just as long.
To his foreign fans, Myungsik said that he intends to stream , both StarCraft 2 and Overwatch (when he feels comfortable with his skill). We’ve already seen that he’s willing and ready to play in SC2 tournaments when he’s able, conquering the VSL with his team ‘Yeoksam-dong’ this weekend. He said that he also intends to compete in the GSL next year. Myungsik has already begun stepping up his social media presence, streaming on Twitch, being active on Twitter, and branching out to Facebook. First Heroic too has begun the public search for sponsorship.
What lies ahead for Myungsik, and many of the Korean StarCraft pros, is uncertainty. But it isn’t all grim. There’s a strong vein of hope mixed in as well. Hope that’s fueled by a passion for esports, and a passion for StarCraft 2 and Overwatch.
Special thanks to Myungsik’s translator PoohSik, and to Yeonjoo Choi for working hard to translate the messages between myself and Myungsik.