The Importance of Local Heroes in StarCraft

ACL Melbourne and Blizzcon 2015

Locally and internationally: Starcraft inspires its fans

 

As I write this, Australian Starcraft player Probe is currently flying back from Germany, having represented Oceania at DreamHack Leipzig. The last time he was at DreamHack he didn’t make it out of the group stage but still managed to take a map off Parting: one of the world’s best Korean Protoss players. This time he dominated the group stage, defeated Team Liquid’s TLO in an incredible Bo3 series, and made it to the round of 16.

 

This kind of narrative is exactly what makes me love Starcraft esports in Oceania: A local hero surpasses his previous efforts, stamps his name on the international stage, and carries the hopes and pride of Oceanic Starcraft players and fans along with him.

 

Starcraft as a game has always understood the need for heroes in its narrative. The campaigns revolve around the stories of its heroes amidst a universe-spanning conflict. But that need does not stop at the in-game campaign: there is an importance in any competitive discipline for heroes and Starcraft esports are no different.

 

Heroes are those players we cheer for, whose efforts in the competitive scene ignite our passion for the game as both players and spectators. We can live our Starcraft dreams vicariously through them as they pour their every effort into pushing to realise their dreams. We mirror their emotional highs and lows while we watch them on streams, at LANs, via Barcrafts. To speak metaphorically: if the game is the body, and the fans are the heart – then the heroes are the soul which elevate Starcraft beyond being ‘just another RTS’.

 

Passion in its purest form

 

We need those heroes. Not just on a global level, but on a regional and local level. To fans they often become more than just competitors: they become symbols of the scene itself.

 

They become an icon we can point to and say “This is why I watch Starcraft. These players’ games showcase what makes Starcraft fun and amazing to me.” I will personally never forget the highs and lows of ACL Melbourne as players from all over Oceania fought for pride and results: the clutch holds, the amazing turnarounds, the unexpected strategies and sudden upsets. Who could forget NXZ’s amazing split of his mutalisk flock against an opponent’s fungals at a crucial in-game moment, dodging every single one? Here at a Melbourne LAN I got to see the kind of exciting narratives and events which some fans might mistakenly think only happen at international events such as WCS Premier.

 

Beyond that, our local heroes are also a goal for rising stars in the scene to point at and say “This is the player I want to take down. I’m going to train hard enough that I may overtake them.” They act as a benchmark which players can use to determine their own improvement. For Exile5’s PiG, defeating KingkOng – the bane of every zerg player at that time – to reach WCS Premier was a moment he may never forget and stood as an important milestone in his career. Likewise when NXZ defeated PiG to reach WCS Premier. The scene thrives on the rise of new heroes, on the excitement of knowing that there is going to be one hell of a fight at every important qualifier – and that maybe, just maybe, a new hero will come out of nowhere to surprise us all.

 

The successes of our heroes, accompanied by the support of their fans, can even serve as a public demonstration of the scene’s popularity that Starcraft esports organisations can highlight to interested sponsors.

 

Without heroes, and without an environment that can create those heroes, a local Starcraft scene can easily stagnate.

 

PiG - The face of a man who justed dropped the base

When our heroes perform well on the world stage

 

Part of our admiration for these players, as fans and spectators, stem from the fact that Starcraft progaming heroes are largely self-made. It is their dedication and passion for the game which pushes them ever closer to the limits of human reflex and in-game crisis management under pressure.

 

That being said, our heroes do not exist in a vacuum. They need an environment which gives them their shots at glory, their chance to rise again if they fall: the chance to build a long-term narrative around their career. By way of example, I will highlight Iaguz – the Gimli Terran – who so often crushes through Oceanic qualifiers like his namesake goes through goblins in the mines of Moria. I don’t want to imagine a world where there are no events for him to play in – and for other players to try and stop his onslaught through their own skill and determination. And yet, before the WCS rules changed to include more events and travel benefits, many of us felt a profound sense of regret when Iaguz had to forfeit his spot at Dreamhack Stockholm due to a lack of sponsorship for his travel and accommodation expenses.

 

Our heroes need to be supported so that their efforts can be translated into glory on the competitive stage. But even then, if their achievements are not lauded, applauded, and given all due recognition far and wide, it is all too easy for their efforts to go entirely unnoticed – or at the very least under-appreciated. Under such circumstances even the most obsessed and dedicated player can lose their passion over time.

 

As fans of the game, we need to do what we can to act as a cheer squad for our pro-level, and even semi-pro, Starcraft competitors. We need to let them know that we appreciate and admire their passion and dedication. Even the most stoic and self-contained player would gain some benefit from knowing they have fans cheering them on. And we need to let the organisations which support these players know that we appreciate their support.

 

 

ACL Melbourne: playing out the group stages

Spectators and Competitors completely engaged at ACL Melbourne

 

If you happen to be relatively new to the Oceanic Starcraft esports scene, like I was at the start of 2014, you might be wondering who exactly are our heroes right now at the start of Legacy of the Void?

Truth is, many of them are too humble to claim the title. Some would go out of their way to self-deprecate and dispute the accolade. So the rest of this article will be spent highlighting those players who I can point to, as a proud spectator of the OSC and WCS, and tell others in our region “I feel bloody proud to cheer these players on!”

 

A brief caveat regarding the below list and the honourable mentions:

There are many talented Starcraft players living in the region who are just one breakthrough performance away from playing on the world stage. If I were to include all of those, we’d be here for days. So for now, I’m going to focus on those with strong results in the past year or currently active players with solid recent results and enduring legacies in the scene.

That being said, there are others who I’ve no doubt failed to mention, thanks to my comparatively recent entry to the Oceanic scene as an eSports fan. The truth is, everyone who pours their heart and soul into competitive Starcraft deserves recognition.

Don’t worry, you can all tell me who else should have also been here. Sometimes, the notion of a hero can be very subjective, and this is but one person’s listing after all!

Please share your own picks in the comments!

 

Race-Zerg

===FOR THE SWARM: The Zerg Heroes===

 

Zerg players have dominated the Oceanic scene for a long time. Part of that has been due to Zerg mechanics being somewhat better suited for high-ping, high latency scenarios compared to the other two races. Part of that may well be due to the successes of past Zerg heroes such as mOOnGLaDe. And while the Terrans and Protoss players are starting to catch up in recent times, the number of names in this section compared to the other races simply highlights that this is still a region where the Zerg truly swarm even as we enter Legacy of the Void.

 

Honorable mentions: Alopex, Law, DemiLove, MightyKiwi, Crimson, Vaisravana, Fenner

 

 

PiG casting pic

—Jared ‘x5 PiG’ Krensel: The Charisma of SEA—

 

PiG had his breakout performances in 2013, when he won ACL Melbourne and the first ever OSC Grand Finals. He first reached WCS Challenger in 2014 and in 2015 reached Ro16 in the WCS America Season 1 Premier League.

He has been  one of the ‘gatekeepers’ of past WCS Challenger brackets, but has recently become better known for his educational streams and activity as a caster and analyst at IEM and WCS events. His on-stream charm has won him just as many fans as his gameplay has.

What makes PiG a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? His unwavering dedication to good sportsmanship, his strong tournament results, and his willingness to help nurture other players’ abilities through coaching and educational videos/streams.

 

---Ryan 'SLCN NXZ' Jones: The Underdog---

—Ryan ‘SLCN NXZ’ Jones: The Underdog—

 

NXZ was one of those players you could never count out. On a good day he was equal to the Oceanic scene’s best players, like when he defeated mOOnGLaDe at ACL Brisbane in 2013. However, for a long time, he didn’t quite get the results to decisively stamp his name on the scene. That all changed in the WCS Season 2 Qualifiers in 2015 where he busted through a sea of powerful Zerg players to reach WCS Premier.

Since then he has shown that he continues to have the skill to take series off the Oceanic scene’s best players, and his recent form in the David Filth League and other online events show that 2016 is likely to be another good year for him.

What makes NXZ a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? His unwavering dedication to self-improvement even in the face of sledging and periods of inconsistent results. His faith in his own abilities paid off in a classic underdog story and serves as an example to all up-and-comers: work hard and you CAN topple the current champions from their throne.

 

PSISTORM EnDerr

—Caviar Napoleon ‘PSI EnDerr’ Marquises-Acampado: The Curse-Breaker—

EnDerr has, and I am almost certain of this, been labouring under some kind of supernatural curse. Up until recently, almost every chance he had to showcase his tremendous skill and talent has been stymied by technical or bureaucratic blockades: from equipment failing right before a match starts, to loss of internet connectivity, and even having visa applications declined – EnDerr has seen every heartbreaking permutation of potentially career-killing scenarios. And yet he remains one of the scariest Zerg players in the SEA scene.

He was the first of only two SEA players thus far to take a map off Parting – one of Korea’s scarier Protoss progamers. He came third at the 7th e-Sports World Championship in 2015, has been a WCS Challenger, won the recent AfreecaTV LotV Open, and has consistently shown over time that he is more than capable of defeating every single player who appears on this list. He is also one of the friendliest and hard-working players you could speak to, and this was recognised when PSISTORM recruited him.

What makes EnDerr a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? Despite all the accursed bad luck, he has never given up on the dream of taking his rightful place on the Premier stage of WCS. Eventually, the curse will break, and EnDerr will get the chance he has worked so hard for. In the meanwhile he quietly continues to improve and expand his horizons.

 

 

---Mack 'ROOT Petraeus' Smith: The Kid---

—Mack ‘ROOT Petraeus’ Smith: The Kid—

 

Petraeus is indisputably the best player out of New Zealand at present time. If he hadn’t been spending so much time in European and American Team Houses (mYinsanity & ROOT Gaming, respectively), training for and dominating WCS Premier in the past couple of seasons, we’d have seen his name all over Oceanic winner brackets.

‘The Kid’ AKA ‘Officer Patrenus’ is one of our region’s most successful players when it comes to tournament results, having most recently reached the Ro8 in Season 3 of WCS 2015. While we don’t get to see a lot of him in our region, it’s a point of pride that he is doing so well abroad. And when he does compete locally, he tends to dominate.

What makes Petraeus a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? He has carried the SEA banner abroad for a long time. More than that, he has held to the conviction that, with enough effort, his time in team houses overseas would eventually bring him the kind of international results we rarely get to see from Oceanic players. And that conviction paid dividends in 2015. Petraeus is an inspiration to Zerg players in our region.

 

 

Exile5 KingkOng

—Sam ‘x5 KingkOng’ Yu: The Final Boss of SEA—

 

KingkOng is one of those players who, even when out of practice, can dominate the brackets of an Oceanic tournament. When he IS in practice he is the Zerg terror of SEA.

For a long time, any major Oceanic event would see KingkOng in the finals, and frequently the victor. The sheer number of wins in major regional tournaments for the former STX SouL/Startale player living in Australia, such as ACL Pro circuits and Masters Cups, are a tribute to his skill at Starcraft.

Perhaps the only shadow on KingkOng’s career has been his WCS runs. A frequent Challenger League contender, he has had his WCS runs ended by PiG, MajOr, NesTea, and scheduling conflicts with his studies.

While he has put full-time practice on hold to complete his chef studies, his recent form – including a 3-1 victory over Samsung’s Armani in the OSC Global Finals and winning the ESL ANZ $1000 Summer Cup – show that he is not yet ready for retirement.

What makes KingkOng a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? In my opinion it is the impact his skill has left on the strategic landscape of our region. In some ways it can be argued that the mere presence of KingkOng as the final boss of regional events created a need for other players to increase their own skill levels to compete. And compete they did. The sheer desire to do better than this former Startale pro has seen many players step up their game exponentially, and our entire region has benefited from it. And KingkOng’s not done being the Final Boss yet.

 

Race-Terran

===STIM AND WIN: The Terran Heroes===

 

For a long time, the only Terran player to truly challenge the Zerg swarm in SEA was Iaguz. However, in recent times we have seen the rise of new Terran contenders – and if they continue to improve at the pace they are, we may yet witness a Terran Dominion in Oceania for Legacy of the Void.

 

Honourable mentions: Azure, Deth, PSiArc, Pox

 

Iaguz - The face of a man who took out MaNa 2-1

—Ethan ‘Iaguz’ Zugai: The Gimli Terran—

Iaguz is arguably the most consistent Starcraft progamer out of Oceania at this time. His frequent WCS Premier runs have certainly cemented his reputation as the best Terran to come out of our region.

Perhaps also the most shining example of a cheeky bastard the Starcraft scene has ever seen, Iaguz has won a lot of fans for simply being able to relax and be himself during high pressure events such as when flipping off the camera on the WCS Premier main stage.

What makes Iaguz a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? Despite competing in a scene where Zerg players have often seemed the most dominant, he has blazed a trail for all future Oceanic Terran players to follow. And while it has taken a while, we are now seeing a number of skilled Terran players stepping up to clear away some of the Zerg creep in Oceanic events. He’s also the only player I know who doesn’t suffer from the inhibitions of humility. The Gimli Terran knows he’s bloody good, and isn’t afraid to say so with the entire Starcraft world watching. You have to respect that.

 

---Sheldon 'fray Seither' Barrow: The Dark Horse---

—Sheldon ‘fray Seither’ Barrow: The Dark Horse [an artist’s impression]—

Seither came seemingly out of nowhere halfway through 2015 and started overtaking players in online brackets left and right. He was swiftly snatched up by Frenetic Array, who recognised his talent and potential, and since then has cemented his reputation as a Terran who could rival or even overtake Iaguz in skill.

Not a lot is known about Seither. We know that he’s based in Victoria and refuses outright to get a twitter account or give me a picture of himself (though he approved the use of the above artists impression). Results-wise, he has reached Grandmaster league several times prior to entering the competitive scene, and in the past 6 months has confidently taken the scalps of most of the region’s best players.

Most recently he was a hair’s breadth away from being our DreamHack Leipzig representative, until Probe halted his momentum in the qualifier finals. There is a strong feeling among those who have watched his games that we are viewing the rise of one of the next big names in Oceanic Starcraft.

What makes Seither a hero of Starcraft in my eyes?  He represents the ‘fresh blood’ everyone has been musing about and praying for in the context of Legacy of the Void: he is an icon of the ideal that a skilled and talented Grandmaster-level ladder player can transition smoothly to competitive play and start making a name for themselves as a championship contender. He is an inspiration for ladder heroes in our region to try out competitive tournament play.

 

 

Race-Protoss

===THEIR LIFE FOR AIUR: The Protoss Heroes===

 

The story of Protoss in SEA seems similar to that of the Terrans: often overshadowed by the sheer number of strong Zerg players. Some of the best-known Protoss players were retiring or had become semi-active when I became aware of the Starcraft scene in Oceania, so my personal knowledge of the history of Protoss in our region is limited.

 

Honourable mentions: Lobo, Pezz, Albion, Namakaye, Pigeon, Frustration.

 

Probe wins ACL Melbourne

—Sean ‘eCKo Probe’ Kempen: The Rocket League Protoss—

 

Probe has always been a skilled player, and a dangerous opponent in any tournament brackets.

Year Of Probe, or #YOP, has been something that was perpetually just over the horizon… until ACL Melbourne 2015, where #YOP truly began. After playing Rocket League at a sponsor booth instead of grinding out practice games, something seemed to click, and the relaxed Probe began playing some of the best Starcraft of his life to take the ACL Melbourne crown.

His form continued into 2016 when he placed second at the first DreamHack qualifiers of LotV. Fortune struck for the Protoss player when circumstances forced Iaguz to forfeit his place, and Probe was sent as our representative in Iaguz’ place. There in Stockholm, he became the second Oceanic player to take a map off the Korean progamer Parting. Then came the qualifiers for Dreamhack Leipzig. Probe once more powered through the brackets, but this time claimed the victory in a conclusive fashion, as if to say ‘Stockholm wasn’t a fluke. Just watch me at Leipzig!’

His narrative continues even now with his Leipzig successes, and #YOP continues on at full steam.  Despite that, Probe is also a contender for the title of ‘most humble and friendly player’ in Oceania – and through humility and hard work has gained a lot of fans. It’s difficult these days to spend much time in an Oceanic starcraft forum/shoutbox without seeing #YOP appear in conversation somewhere.

What makes Probe a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? He has struggled long and hard to reach where he is today – but now that he’s here he’s making the most of it. He is proof that Protoss players have a place at the top of Oceanic Starcraft in LotV and, like Iaguz has done for the Oceanic Terrans in HotS, I expect Probe will blaze a trail for future Protoss players to come. He has already started doing so with the ‘Probe PvZ Build‘, a strategy which he published a Team Liquid guide for – and which is becoming a nightmare on ladder for zerg players who come across the many players adopting it.

 

 

Blysk at ACL Melbourne

—Thomas ‘mYi Blysk’ Kopankiewicz: The Lightning Protoss—

 

Blysk is Polish for ‘flash’, and sometimes it seems that’s how fast his victories can come, with the player’s crisp timings and brutal all-ins.

As one of the Oceanic scene’s strongest Protoss, Blysk – like Iaguz, KingkOng, and PiG – has stood tall as one of the gatekeepers of WCS in our region, frequently making challenger league. His skill was recognised by the professional gaming team mYinsanity, and he has been their Oceanic representative for quite some time. However, much like it has for KingkOng, Premier league has thus far eluded Blysk’s grasp.

Despite that, Blysk’s name in a tournament bracket is a threat to any of the region’s top players. He is characterised by an unflappable ability to manage an in-game crisis under intense pressure without breaking. He’s also an incredibly friendly person, and easy to approach and chat with in a LAN environment.

What makes Blysk a hero of Starcraft in my eyes? Aside from his solid results, what most stands out is his dedication and unshakeable focus in a tournament setting. I still recall vividly the game at ACL Melbourne where, after an insane baneling bust from SLCN Law killed most of his workers, the ever-calm Blysk carefully and precisely engineered a hold and then managed to bring the game back into his favour to achieve victory. Even when he fell to Probe in the finals, in an intensely fought series, he took the second place with grace and dignity.

4 replies
  1. Vouldor
    Vouldor says:

    It was a great surprise to see a Australian player in last weekend’s Dreamhack.
    Keen to see more support for the Oceanic SC2 eSport scene, And get our players on the world stage.

    Reply
    • James O'Dwyer
      James O'Dwyer says:

      I won’t lie, I was excited as hell while I was watching Probe’s group stage matches live on JaKaTaK’s stream.
      Those games against TLO made my day. I might have startled my housemates with a victory yell. #YOP #SEAFighting!

      And beyond Probe’s epic run at DreamHack we’ve got so much Starcraft talent spread across Oceania that I think 2016 will be a good year for us fans 🙂

      Reply

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