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The Dreams of a Younger INnoVation

Volamel 2018-12-27 03:34:15

We, as spectators, view esports through a very limited lens. Through insightful interviews, personal streams and social media, we can gain a glimpse of who these professional players are, but we’ll never really know them. You’ll never share the embarrassing memories from when you were younger. And you’ll seldom learn of the dreams they hold like cards close to their chest. Imagine that you’ve always known your favorite esports professional. You’ve never experienced a world -- an existence -- with them removed. Even reaching back to your farthest memories, albeit hazy and unclear, they are the constant. Imagine that this person is your sibling. This is the reality of 16-year-old South Korean League of Legends hopeful, Lee Min-Hyeong, better known as the AD Carry for KeG Seoul and trainee for SK Telecom T1, Gumayusi. He also happens to be the younger brother to one of the greatest Starcraft 2 players’ of all time, Lee "INnoVation" Shin-Hyung.   To give a scope to the massive shadow that Gumayusi stands in, his brother was the winner of WCS 2013 Season 1, has three Code S championships to his name and has 18 top 4 finishes in premier tournaments within the last six years. However, this has not deterred our young protagonist, if anything, it’s fueled him to move forward with competing. During his younger years, Gumayusi spent a good portion of time cheering on his older brother at events. He would travel to events, with his supportive father in-toe, and tire his arms by holding encouraging signs for his older brother playing on stage. In an interview with FOMOS, he revealed that watching his brother win championships spurred him to follow in his footsteps and pursue a career in esports. The starry-eyed younger brother to an esports legend first debuted to the world during the autumn of 2017.     The Korean e-Sports Games (KeG)  have always held prominence for Gumayusi and his family. INoVation competed in the first KeG in 2007. His 4th place finish in the Starcraft Broodwar category kickstarted his progaming career. Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Gumayusi participated in the KeG held in 2017 as apart of team Daejeon and placed top eight. This undoubtedly had the same effect on his career as he and his fellow teammate Choi "Ellim" El-Lim were signed in December of 2018 to SK Telecom T1 as trainees. 2018 proved to bear sweeter fruits as Gumayusi not only won the KeG Championship on team Seoul but he also represented South Korea at the IeSF 10th Esports World Championship and took home the gold medal going undefeated throughout the entire bracket. Gumayusi’s next test came late into the year as he and the returning roster for KeG Seoul entered the 2018 KeSPA Cup. Entering the event, KeG Seoul were easily the underdogs that everyone looked over. Even scoring a map win was considered a victory by many, but managing to capture a series win? That seemed out of the question. For a rookie team that would probably never play again to win against an established LCK team sounds laughable right?     Wrong. Not only did the Seoul local team score their first series win during KeSPA Cup 2018, but they reverse swept LCK representatives, Hanwha Life, 2-1, in the process. A professional team backed by a large corporation that placed 6th during LCK Summer lost to a rookie team with no coaching staff on hand at the event to help their players’ draft. To claim this as an upset is an understatement. This was a miracle. Traversing from viewer to victor, it was Gumayusi’s turn to take center stage and have his own winners interview. Brandon Valdes, English commentator for the KeSPA Cup weighed in after the shocking conclusion. “I can hardly believe it,” he said during the post-game wrap. “I was coming into this one saying how Hanwha Life, they’re so good. From the last year they pick up a nice little roster, this should be an easy one. And I don’t even feel like Hanwha Life underestimated [KeG Seoul] or played too fun or picked weird things. No, they just got outplayed.” While Gumayusi’s KeSPA Cup run was cut short by a stifling loss to DAMWON Gaming in the following round, the young AD Carry still managed to have a solid performance even catching the eye of some prominent community members. Current assistant coach for TSM, Ham "Lustboy" Jang-Sik took to Twitter to sing the praises of Gumayusi saying, “Gumayusi is actually pretty good [though]” and once told that he was a trainee for SKT T1 he responded with “[that's] a good pickup from SKT.” In his 2017 WCS Signature, INoVation talks about his own esports genesis. How his father introduced him to Starcraft. He talks about joining a professional team at the age of 16 and how he thought his skill was not up to the task to hold the weight of the moniker of “progamer.” But his following words strike a fundamental cord in work and how it pertains to growth. INoVation is often referred to as a machine or a robot due to his apparent lack of emotion and stoic nature, but this quote was one of the most human things I’ve ever read. “However, [teams] don’t recruit trainees because they are good,” INoVation unintentionally foreshadowed, “they pick them for their potential to improve.” This proved true as Gumayusi’s performance was solid all around, but there was so much to improve upon. Under the guidance of head coach Kim "kkOma" Jeong-Gyun and the coaching staff at SK Telecom, the young bot laner will have the best possible chance to succeed in League of Legends. Gumayusi is fighting against a familiar force that hinges on insurmountable. He faces a legacy spans nearly ten years and growing by each passing minute. Imagine the pressure and the expectations he faces not only from the broader esports community but from his own internal monologues. Walking the in the footsteps of giants is harrowing enough. Walking in the footsteps of a relative is downright terrifying. Each half-step is cross-examined within your own psyche on if you were even the one to create the footholds that you now traverse. While he is living out the dream of many esports hopefuls all across the world, Gumayusi has a looming shadow to escape. However, there is a case to be made that one can find solace in those very footholds. That if someone that shares a similar genetic makeup, a similar upbringing, a similar childhood can rise to such heights, then maybe he can too. These are truly the dreams and nightmares of a younger INnoVation.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of SK Telecom,, and Riot Games.

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