When it comes competition, a metaphor commonly used is war. It is an apt comparison if only in the sense that competition is the battle between multiple parties to reach the ultimate goal: Victory.
So then what is the condition for defeat? Is it losing a tournament, losing multiple tournaments or perhaps losing them all? There is only one way to truly lose in competition, and that is to surrender.
If you still have the passion, the drive, the will to win, then you should never give up, no matter the conditions, no matter how bleak the situation looks or how stacked the odds might be. That is the only failing. Critics, fans, players and teams can mock or belittle you, but so long as you get back up, the game isn’t over. Everyone eventually retires, but there is a difference between retiring after hitting your first snag and retiring after you’ve done everything in your power to achieve what you wanted. That is the difference between having your story be a someone who bows down in your first fight or goes out standing in your last.
One such player is Jung “YugiOh” Seung Il in StarCraft 2. At the beginning of 2013, the World Championship Series system was announced. With not enough money in Korea and the pro player pool effectively doubling in size, many high-profile players left Korea to play in the easier regions. YugiOh was not one of them. As a player, he was the definition of below average. He had spent his first two years as a gatekeeper into Code A, and his entire career is riddled with middling and mediocre results.
But he had joined ROOT Gaming, which had given him the option to play in WCS if he wanted. His decision was to stay in Korea, even if the smart option would have been to leave. Every other player who had the choice left. Everyone but YugiOh. He was the one who stayed behind because leaving would be tantamount to surrender. Better to stand his ground and keep fighting for the only dream he believed was worth fighting for; the dream of being the best by beating the best. He eventually failed, but that drive to be the best against overwhelming odds and financial security is what made him such a pure expression of competitive spirit.
Kim “duckdeok” Kyeong Deok was another. His career was seen as a complete joke. Known for all-ining and being a code B player at best, he left Korea to play in WCS EU, where he was routinely mocked in forums as a runner and a subpar player. He was a player who should have retired multiple times. He was a victim of the Werra scandal. He was a below average player who met heavy derision in both Korea and the West. He was a player with little to no salary and had to pay for his flights to play. When he eventually did win WCS EU, he burst into tears at finally achieving something in his career, though many community members thought it was a dull narrative. Blizzard seemed to agree, as when he played at Blizzcon, he was shunted to the secondary stream where no one but online viewers could watch him play the final matches of his career — where he upset one of the best players of the year and nearly did it again. He failed, but for those few watching, for those few who understood the pains and struggles he had to fight, his story would be remembered as one of enduring perseverance.
Perhaps the two best players who exemplify the never say die attitude are Mun “MMA” Seong Won and Song “Stork” Byung Goo. MMA was chased out of Korea, as the entire community had turned against him because Lim “Boxer” Yo-Hwan’s wife called him a cancer over a player-team dispute and blamed him for the dissolution of SlayerS. On top of that, better players had entered the field once KeSPA moved to SC2 and his preferred style of play was nerfed. MMA was a man who could never forget the feeling of playing at the Blizzcon finals and he swore that he’d make it back in an interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields.
Words are just words, but MMA ground his way back and three years after his prime found himself in the Blizzcon finals. When he eventually did return to Korea, he was still able to get to the semifinals of a Global StarCraft II League event. This was a man who didn’t know the meaning of surrender. He had broken the rules and forced a comeback the likes of which have yet to be seen since in SC2. And though he has gone to the military, he has sworn that as long as SC2 is alive, he will be back.
The last especially noteworthy StarCraft player was Stork. In Brood War, he is often mentioned among the greats — yet always below them. After all, he played in an era with Lee “Flash” Young-Ho, Kim “Bisu Taek-Yong and Lee “Jaedong” Jae-Dong: The three greatest players in Brood War’s history and the three greatest players of their race. Yet Stork played them in their primes. He was also a brilliant player, but in the end, he was just a great player and they were gods. And in every final, he’d choke. Unable to deal with the pressure, unable to defeat the greatest of the era, he’d crumble. But he got back up repeatedly. He refused to stop until he had his own title, until he could prove that even for just one tournament he could win. He eventually did.
His StarCraft 2 career was a bigger mess. Among Bisu, Jaedong and Flash, his start was by far the worst. He had lost everything. He had nothing good to show. He had to rebuild the game from scratch. Bisu had his adoring fans and he’d eventually return to Brood War. Jaedong had an incredible year in 2013. Flash was still a Proleague monster and always highly ranked among the best Terrans in the world at various times up until his retirement.
Stork had none of that. He was failing constantly. There was no hope for him. None of the SC2 fans ever got behind Stork the way they did Jaedong or Flash. Yet he persevered. Again he refused to give up. And despite his horrendous condition, he kept getting up. Even Flash noted that there was a kind of crazy desperate energy in the way Stork won games. As if it wasn’t skill, but some pure diluted raw will that was forcing him to win games. And now after all these years, when so many have retired, so many have given up, Stork remains strong. And even in LotV, the third expansion of SC2 and the fourth iteration Stork has played, he still hasn’t given up. In one last final performance, he defeated Lee “INnoVation” Shin-Hyung in a best-of-five and found himself in the Code S this year.
Some of these players were all time greats like MMA and Stork. Others were relative nobodies like YugiOh and duckdeok. Yet they all had that drive, that burning spirit that told them to never give up despite the odds no matter how deep the hole, no matter the circumstances.
In League of Legends, a player who exemplifies that attitude is Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou. Rated as one of the great AD Carry players in the West, he was always a little too hot to handle. His personality issues and team clashes often made him the scapegoat of public lambasting. At the same time, despite the near universal praise of his skill, he had never won a playoff series. Yet despite the failures, he seemed like a man who wanted to win above else. He had multiple offers to leave EU at the beginning of this year. Like many, he was given the offer between a larger paycheck or a chance at glory. Despite raving for months about getting to a NA team, he inevitably chose H2K.
That potential never happened, and after unsuccessful — to say the least — stints with H2K and Origen, it looked like his fire had finally burnt out. But at the very end, he was given one more chance. H2K needed a substitute ADC at the end of this split, and though FORG1VEN hadn’t played in weeks, he took up the call again and on Tuesday finally won his first playoff series against Fnatic with hopes for an elusive berth in the League of Legends World Championship still alive.
There are two players in particular who have the same qualities in Counter-Strike: Danylo “Zeus” Teslenko and Kevin “Ex6TenZ” Droolans. Zeus was recently part of one of the all-time great lineups in Natus Vincere but was replaced with Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. This after he swore that he wouldn’t retire before he finally got a major victory.
So now he is at a crossroads. Being from the CIS region, his options are limited as to teams he can join and what he can do. This is his crucible, and the coming weeks will tell us just how much he still wants it. Will he take a back seat? Or will he do what Ex6Tenz is doing now?
This is a man who has failed nearly every Major he has attended and has been booted from every French roster that could have helped him at one. Yet he still hasn’t given up. He is still grinding and has accepted that if he has to develop an entire team in LDLC, he will do so. Given what I know about CS:GO, that is a promise. It takes one to two years to build up a team, yet he is still willing to take on that challenge. That is the mark of strength: To never give up no matter how dim a situation looks.
No matter how humiliating the loss or how crushing the circumstances, there is only one way a player can truly be defeated. So long as you keep striving for more, keep striving to win, keep striving to find a way, the game will not end. In competition, like in life, the only failing is to surrender.
Cover photo courtesy of Riot Games.