South Korea is an exceptional country with regards to cybersport. It was always this way — there is Korea, and then there is the rest of the world. Jokes about how Bronze Korea is better than Challenger NA, and so on. There is a reason behind this — an average Korean player is incomparably better than any other ordinary player. It comes from their mindset and their incredible dedication. The other important reason is that Korea has an official e-Sports Association, KeSPA. It gives a baseline and funding for all Korean players, thus making esports a viable job for anyone who plays well enough and wants to dedicate their life to it.
Korean approach to StarCraft
Koreans are famous for winning almost every tournament they participate in, but in the end, it’s not about winning. It’s just a different universe for them, an approach to gaming that originates from the unique Asian mindset. Most foreigners who play to win don’t spend as much of their time and energy practicing, breaking down every minor detail and trying to improve it.
Confucianism strongly influences everything in the East. In short, it can be described as striving to perfection, since everything can be perfected. It impacts the Korean approach to StarCraft as well. Playing not to win, but to improve. To compete not with your opponent, but with your past self. This way, just winning is not enough. With this approach, you don’t win as many games initially, but eventually, you become infinitely better.
Even though Korean players perform well above the average competitive level of other countries, some foreign players still manage to keep up with the standards. Every season, GSL Code S, a premier StarCraft II tournament, features a few European players. This year, SortOf, NoRegreT and Scarlett participated in Season 1, but only Scarlett has made it out of group stage. She also played in Season 2, along with SortOf, Zanster, and Elazer, but this time none of them got to Playoffs. Now, Season 3 is in full action mode, with round-of-32 coming to an end. Three foreigners have managed to get to Group Stage in Season 3.
Neeb is our favorite American Protoss. He won three WCS tournaments last year — like Serral this year. Neeb has also claimed a premier championship in 2016 KeSPA Cup, becoming the first non-Korean player to win an SCII tournament on Korean soil. He is a very consistent macro player but can show some dirty Protoss cheese if the need be.
Neeb is a strong player. Even though he hasn’t managed to win any Premier tournaments this year, his performance last year has exceeded all expectations. Some may say his peak was in the last two years, but this tournament will show if it is true or not. Koreans aren’t truly afraid to play against him, he is not Stephano, but he is still a mighty American that hits like a truck.
SpeCial (ex-MajOr) is a Terran player from Mexico. He hasn’t managed to get to the first place in any Premier tournaments, but he has consistently won at least one Major Regional LA tournament every year, more specifically, Copa América. He plays an aggressive style with constant drops throughout the course of the game, thus being a great example of classic Terran Bio play.
The Korean playstyle is unique. It is more aggressive and is focused on finding even the smallest mistakes of your opponent. They play like it’s a life or death scenario. SpeCial regularly practices in Korea, so he is well adapted to it. He is not guaranteed to win, but all the little things help greatly.
Last, but most definitely not least is Reynor. The young Italian Zerg made his first appearance on the pro scene at the age of eleven, and even though he hasn’t managed to win any Major tournaments yet, he is still a force to be reckoned with. His most recent achievement is taking down Classic and qualifying for this year’s GSL.
Reynor’s greatest advantage is his ability to adapt. This can be seen in his matchup with Classic, where he was initially defeated 2-0 and then made a comeback, steamrolling both Koreans in his bracket. He also played against SpeCial in WCS and beat him 3-0, although not without a struggle. Young players always have an advantage of a more fast and flexible mind, and this is very important when you have to play against people who constantly strive to improve, not just win.
It is always very entertaining to watch Koreans play versus foreigners. Scarlett regularly plays with Koreans and her specific playstyle makes it exciting to watch. Our current trio is not as innovative, but all three will undoubtedly show great games. Zest, Classic, Stats, herO, GuMiho, INnoVation, Rogue, Maru, Zest, ByuN – all of them held a GSL champion title at least once. Almost half of them have made it into the RO16 already, and this makes it even more likely for at least one foreigner to make it into the Playoffs.
Since all three play different races, this tournament will also be a great showcase of all matchups. Currently, StarCraft II is in a good shape balance-wise and the race distribution is roughly equal in this tournament. It will not necessarily be indicative of any balance issues since the Korean scene is vastly different from everything else, but it will still be a good way to spot potential issues.
Naturally, for more Korea versus the world, you can follow another big tournament – GSL vs The World. It features eight Koreans and eight foreigners and will take place in early August. Neeb and SpeCial will also participate in it, so if luck abandons them in Code S, they will have another chance.