Volamel's Viewpoint: The Duality of Prodigies
The germination of esports talent in Seoul, South Korea happens at a very young age. Many children grow up watching their favorite progamers on television, just as you might follow your favorite sports team at a young age. It instills a sense of motivation, an aspiration to become weighed evenly with your role model. Think of it as a dream to meet Michael Jordan on the court or Sergei Fyodorov on the ice, something you can only achieve through elbow grease and hard work. These are some of the same hopes and dreams that go through the minds of Korea’s youth. These progamers are worshiped as idols in the eyes of their fans, whether it is Starcraft or the newest game on the block — Overwatch, the love of games drive thousands to attend tournament finals.
Some aspiring progamers start in their early teens and go on to become world champions at an incredibly young age. Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong debuted at age 16, Lee “Flash” Young Ho won a world championship at age 15, Lee “Faker” Sang Hyeok won his first League of Legends World Championship at 17 and now Lee “Whoru” Seung Joon has followed in their footsteps and won OGN’s APEX Season 2 at age 15.
Instead of studying for midterms or worrying about who you might take to the Homecoming dance, these maestros of the mouse and keyboard spend their days studying the old masters of the game or innovating and honing their craft. With how young some of these prodigies surface in Korea, the easiest comparison of them all, is between Flash and Whoru. With Lunatic-Hai’s win at the APEX Season 2 grand finals, the question arises: is Whoru the next young esports phenom from Korea? To compare the Genji prodigy to the Terran overlord, we have to travel back in time to when Flash first started his professional career.
For StarCraft, we had legends established throughout the years, one of which cemented his legacy as a god of the game and arguably the best player to ever play the game. Flash’s debut came at age 14 at the Daum OSL and was the youngest programer to be televised at the time. Before he was in contention for becoming the best player of all time, he was somewhat disliked. Flash eliminated fan favorite, Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong during the Daum OSL with aggressive early game rushes and gimmicks.
Flash would ultimately take home fourth place in his first tournament, ever. He would, however, complete a total metamorphosis later in life becoming a highly cerebral and a economic focused player. A legend in his own right, Choi “iloveoov” Yun Sung spoke about Flash’s mentality and what makes him so dominant as a Starcraft player :
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“I think Flash has the ideal mindset as a pro gamer that I’ve been thinking about. There aren’t many players who set strategic moves, and in the case of Flash, I think he’s looking about 10 games ahead.”
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From early on in his career, Flash was able to stand up with some of the “would be” legends of the game with strong showings versus Lim “BoxeR” Yo Hwan, Bisu, and Ma “sAviOr” Jae Yoon. In contrast, we can look at how Whoru does compared to his peers. For example, we can take a look at RunAway’s Kim “Haksal” Hyo Jong — they both provide the same role for their respective team, but Whoru seems to have an uncanny sense for when to use his resources. Whether it is using his dash to clean up kills or the timing on unsheathing Genji’s Dragon Blade, Whoru goes relatively unpunished with his actions.
Even with a quick eye test, you can tell that Whoru is a disgustingly talented player. Seemingly coming directly from the Korean online ladder, Whoru was supposed to be part of an eight-man roster which included retired player’s Geum “dean” Dong geun and Lee “LeeTaeJun” Tae Jun. After their early departure, this forced Lunatic-Hai to lean more heavily on their young star, Whoru.
The circumstance Lunatic-Hai was faced with could not be more beneficial for them, as the metagame transitioned into an aggressive dive-focused meta, which played directly into Whoru’s wheelhouse. Knowing he did not play up to his potential, Whoru spoke in an interview with Inven Global after Lunatic-Hai’s APEX Season 2 win and talked about evaluating his own play with humility :
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“I honestly didn’t expect an MVP award. I also died a lot, and I’m not really satisfied with my performance today. But I’m still happy I won the award.”
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At his peak, Flash had some of the most dominant win/loss ratios that Starcraft has ever seen and potentially will ever see. At his peak, from around 2009-2011, he held an astounding 74% win rate over all races — that's against Zerg, Protoss, and in the mirror matchup versus Terran. There is some merit to why people refer to Flash as “God Young Ho”, which is a play on words with his Korean name and referring to him as a god of the game. Now, if we take a look at Whoru over APEX Season 2, as a whole, he holds a 69% win/loss ratio with a 0.68 kill/death ratio. Specifically talking about that statistic in context, his kill/death ratio is within the top 10% of players, the average kill/death ratio is approximately 0.31. Even more impressive is that Whoru is good for one kill a minute and then some. Whoru runs up a total of 1.29 kills a minute, which is in the top 15% of players and is +29% over the average of 0.95 kills a minute.
With some of the statistical analysis in mind, we can start peak under the veil and see how similar these two players are. Both started young, had strong breakout performances and exude some other worldly “star sense” which allows them to be steps ahead of their opponents. To seal the deal on any doubt in your mind, in his first grand finals performance, Whoru not only won first place, but was also crowned Most Valuable Player alongside teammate, Ryu “RyuJeHong” Je Hong.
As this specific Lunatic-Hai roster’s first appearance as a team, winning the largest and most competitive league in the scene is amazing and should be applauded, but can it continue? More importantly, can Whoru find success outside of a Genji favored meta? Whoru has set himself up for success and is on the fast-track to becoming one of Overwatch’s greatest players. He has an amazing team and support staff around him and has started programming at a very young age. The comparison to Flash is not unjust, but needs more data points to give a more definitive answer but, I can leave you with this tantalizing anecdote — Whoru has the potential to meet Flash in terms of skill and prowess. All of these questions and more will be addressed during APEX Season 3, where Whoru and Lunatic-Hai look to not only defend their title but to help Whoru meet his full potential.
Written by: @Volamel
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, OGN, Lunatic-Hai and Liquipedia.
Statistics from Winston’s Lab.com