“If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” – Sun Tzu
Daigo Umehara once said that competitive gaming was his art. That it was the purest dilution of himself and how he interacted with the world. That there was no better representation of knowing who he was than watching him play a game of Street Fighter.
Style and self aren’t aspects a professional player thinks about. What they want to do is win, no matter what it takes. The usual way to do that is to either smash your head into a wall until you find something that works or have a team smash your head into a wall until you understand what it is you’re doing.
It is the dedication of victory and how we get to that point that tests the human limits. It requires nearly everything: Talent, dedication, work and sacrifice. And in the realm of competition, there is no guarantee of success. You must find the way to victory. Through that victory, you find the self. And once you find the self, you pit that self against the world.
For this first article in a multi-part series I focus on Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun. The greatest Champion to have ever played Starcraft 2. A player that had it all. By the time 2011 had ended, he had it all taken away from him.
Mvp was a player who encompassed nearly every strategic aspect of the game. We can split into two distinct eras. Pre 2012 and post 2012.
The pre 2012 era had Mvp first start off as a two base timing, attack-based player. What made him fundamentally different from the other players of that era was his ability to recognize and adopt winning strategies. From a purely speculative point of view, his games change before and after the peaks of two players: Jonathan “Jinro” Walsh and Lee “MarineKing” Jung Hoon.
Jinro was obsessed with making three base macro Terran a thing, and once he got it working, it was adopted and improved by Mvp. In the same sense, MarineKing tactically innovated the marine split. Although many focus on the tactical aspect of the change, perhaps the biggest change was the fundamental effects it had on the economy game. Mvp essentially combined these two innovations to a greater degree than either Jinro or Marineking had in their own games (as both also adopted each other’s styles).
In addition to his ability to adopt and refine other player’s strategies, he was also an incredible decision maker and mechanical player. In his multiple series against MarineKing, he dissected MarineKing’s base trade style TvT and stomped it into the ground, always deflecting the all out base trade while destroying MarineKing’s base. He showed his incredible mechanical skill against one of the best mechanical players of the time in Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung. Bomber had difficulty playing Mvp in long drawn out matches and in their Code S match they remained even the entire game, neither missing a single beat in the macro process.
On top of all of that, Mvp exacerbated the problem of figuring out how to beat him, as he had what I like to refer to as Jung “Rain” Yoon Jong syndrome — as Rain’s peak as a player always had him play to this style. This refers to a particular strategic mindset where you depend on your superior ability to defend everything. If you can defend everything without getting too far behind in a game, you will get to your ultimate late-game composition faster and then win the death fight in a clean manner as the opponent will have wasted resources and time trying to crack you before you get there. This essentially puts the opponent on a timer to end the game before you, as most are incapable of playing head-to-head against Mvp in the end game scenarios.
Mvp was the first player to show this predilection when he figured out that mass ghosts were unbeatable in TvZ and famously used it to defeat both Park “July” Sung Joon and Lim “NesTea” Jae Duk in his matches against them.
Finally, the last important distinction of his play style was his ability to make a death blow. For Mvp, it rarely got to this point as he was better than most of the entire competition. And those few who could beat him, such as Mun “MMA” Seong Won, did so emphatically before he could ever get back into the game. Yet there is specifically one game in the GSL Finals against Kim “TOP” Jung Hoon.
The map was Daybreak. It had been split 50/50 and both players were going mech. This was meant to be a long drawn out end game where the victor was decided by whoever could squeeze the most out of their resources. In the end, it was decided by Mvp’s tactical genius. He sacrificed scvs to create a larger army supply and then used it to make multiple ravens and drop ships. He then broke the turret wall with PDD’s and dropped thors and four nukes into TOP’s main and used that as a pivot point to attack and win the game.
So here we had a man who could do all ins, adopt strategies and refine them, who was mechanically superior to almost all of his competition, had better decision making than everyone, could play the late game better than everyone and was a tactical mastermind. It’s no surprise the Koreans named him Sleepy Jung. Most of the time when he played, it was a foregone conclusion on who would win, and he never did it in an exciting way like his peers MMA or Nestea.
Yet a man who could do nearly everything had everything taken away from him.
We now come to the post 2012 era. We’ve seen players from other games imitate what Mvp did in his 2011 era of dominance. A perfect player who stood above the rest. What made Mvp a legend and one of the most revered players to ever grace SC2 was his 2012 campaign.
I’ve thought long and hard about what made that miracle year possible. Was it his clutch, his tenacity, his genius? It was all of that, but the real underpinning of all of that was his personality.
Mvp was incredibly self-reflective and honest about who he was and what he could do. He never bullshitted about his own skill or his losses. When I look back at the events of Mvp’s career, there are two moments that stand to mind of what kind of man Mvp was.
The first was his loss to MMA in the GSL Finals. MMA used aggressive cheesy builds and he could have chalked it up to being unlucky (as many other finalists had). Instead he recognized his faults and realized MMA had outplayed him on a strategic level before the games had even started in pure preparation. MMA had known what Mvp was going to do and he used that fact to win the GSL. Mvp took that weakness and made it his strength.
The second was the realization of what his injuries were going to do to him. Practice caused him severe pain, which in turn meant less practice. This meant he was further behind his opponents both in understanding of the game and in mechanics. Before 2012 had started, Mvp understood that he was already among the weaker players in the GSL. The injuries had done their work as he not only lost the edge of mechanical skill but was overtaken by the new class of players that had come in.
“The fact is that my neck condition is really severe. Because of the pains in my spine, sometimes my arm will go numb (T/N: Like paralysis numb) too,” Mvp said in an interview at that time. “My shoulders feel terrible. Sometimes, I can’t even pick up the mouse.”
Others could have coasted and used their injuries as an excuse; Mvp was different. He was under a clock. The longer the injuries went on, the worse the gap between him and everyone else would become, both in execution and strategic knowledge. Day by day he was becoming more anachronistic, and his two greatest weapons, superior mechanics and gameplay knowledge, were gone.
What do you do when all you have left is a refusal to give up, your experience, a strong mind and a broken body?
Mvp dragged out everything he had left in that 2012 year and in retrospect is the greatest miracle run ever seen in SC2. His 2012 GSL Season 2 run was a master class of psychological warfare, series preparation and clutch. In that run he played Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi, Won “PartinG” Lee Sak and Park “Squirtle” Hyun Woo.
Against Naniwa, he won with pure psychological warfare. He won the initial game by using a counter composition to Naniwa’s deathball and then all-ined him multiples times to take the win. Against Parting, he improvised the first two base scv pull against the colossus army and surprised Parting. He then ran it home with a 1-1-1 build that destroyed Parting’s mentality.
Against both Naniwa and Parting the odds I’d have given were 50/50 for Naniwa and 65/45 for Parting. Against Squirtle I’d have given Squirtle the chances of Squirtle winning were near ninety percent. Mvp had already used every trick in the book to get past Parting and Naniwa. Squirtle had the best minds of Protoss and Bomber to practice against. Mvp had a broken back and was playing in his worst matchup.
To explain the enormity of the task in relation to the modern day, we need only look at Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin vs. “ByuN” Hyun Woo in the recent GSL finals. ByuN was the favorite going into the final based off of play alone. He had a great standard style that answered everything sOs could have potentially thrown at him. PvT was also sOs’ worst matchup. There were only two mitigating factors that could give you an argument as to why sOs could win. The first was that he was known as SC’s big-game player. He had won two Blizzcons and a winner-take-all IEM World Championship. Under pressure, he was one of the greats of SC2. At the same time he had the entire KeSPA organization backing him and some of the greatest minds preparing for ByuN.
I had ByuN favored 60-40. In the end, it was a blowout as ByuN destroyed sOs 4-1. The most clutch player with the greatest minds of the entire KeSPA organization with weeks to prepare could not find an answer to ByuN.
In Mvp vs. Squirtle, it was the opposite. Squirtle’s best matchup was PvT. Mvp’s worst matchup was TvP. Mvp had only played TvP to get to the finals so he could no longer surprise Squirtle with the 11/11 all-in that he used to sneak by both Parting and Naniwa. Squirtle had the best Protoss minds on his side and great practice partners. Mvp’s practice was punctuated by bouts of extreme pain.
Yet Mvp did what the entire KeSPA organization with the one of the greatest clutch players of all time could not. He won the finals off of his preparation, tenacity and grit alone. If you played a 100-game series between Squirtle and Mvp at the time, Squirtle would likely win 96 of them. But Mvp only needed to win four. The right four.
In the seven-game series, Mvp used six different builds and ordered them perfectly. In the first he adopted a standard hellion-marine build that he had never used before that caught Squirtle off guard. In the second, he played a normal game and capitalized on a bad positioning error that instantly made Mvp commit and win the game. In the third he used another standard strategy of a marine move out, but with a twist. Usually, they are made to contest tower control. Instead, he went around the watch tower, avoided Squirtle’s stalkers and did a base trade in which he won out. In the fourth, with everything under pressure, Mvp tried to close it out with another standard game he failed.
The last three are monstrous in their ordering. In the fifth, Mvp unveiled a strategy never before seen as he went split map 3/3 battlecruisers. He eventually lost the fight. In the sixth, he did a crazy two base all-in from the early days of his career that nearly pushed Squirtle over the cliff. And then finally he used the 11/11.
The genius of putting 11/11 on the last map was multifold. It was the only build in Mvp’s arsenal in which he could even the skill gap between him and Squirtle. It was on the map least likely for it to work. He hadn’t used it for the entire series thus far purposefully making Squirtle forget about its existence despite its integral role in eliminating both Naniwa and Parting. And finally, it was at game point. The sheer courage it took to put it all on the line in an all-in was massive and only served to increase the tension and pressure of the game.
Squirtle, despite all of that, held it off. But when all seemed lost, Mvp pulled out another miracle tactic as he abused Squirtle’s optimized Stalker pushouts, a move that was correct in every situation, but Mvp had created one in which it was the wrong move.
In pure clutch and preparation, no one has come close to Mvp’s domain even four years later after his last official game.
The last two pieces of his style to talk about is his innovation and his death blow mentality.
Broodlord/infestor is known as the most imbalanced meta in SC2’s history and some even blame it for the decline in SC2’s popularity. Whatever the case, the fact is it was a strategic dead end. Once you got to the deathball of broodlord/infestor the Zerg should have theoretically won if the game was even or slightly behind. Yet there was man who did find an answer. And he was Mvp (incidentally one of the reasons he created this answer was so his body wouldn’t hurt as much when playing). He had created Mech TvZ based off of hellion/banshee.
The crux of the problem with previous mech players were two fold. If Zerg made roaches, you needed tanks. If Zerg made mutalisks, you needed Thors. With the way production worked, Terran had to commit to one or another, whereas Zerg could leave it in a larvae bank and react to either. So if they saw tanks, they’d make mutalisks. If they saw thors, they’d make roaches. It was a coin toss, one loaded in the favor of the Zerg. But Mvp made the coin land on its side. He avoided the entire issue by going hellion/banshee, taking map control and getting 1/1 upgrades which allowed him to transition into one or the other depending on what he saw. Against broodlord/infestor he hit a crazy death blow timing in which he’d attack at the very moment the broodlords were morphing.
The question is how did he know? I suspect it was his incredible ability to read the game in a way that almost no other player has in SC2’s history. The only two other players who could instinctively read the state of the game at that high of a level are Yun “TaeJa” Young Seo and Lee “Life” Seung Hyun. You see this ability to read the game in all of Mvp’s comeback games.
The Mvp comeback game is a special phenomena that has never been reproduced. To understand why, here is a basic run down. The majority of SC2 games play out like this. Two players go into the ring and both have a set build and specific ways in which they want to play and win the game. Once the plan had lost or the preferred method of winning was lost, it was game over. For Mvp, it was just the beginning. Much like his out of game personality, his self-evaluation came to the fore. He could objectively and honestly read the entire situation and recognize his deficits and advantages. This nearly always culminated in one decisive blow where his advantages were maxed out and his opponent’s disadvantages were at it’s highest , In essence, he read the entire game to find a way in which he could get to one moment where his death blow ended the game.
And that is Mvp in the Post 2012 era, when everything had been taken from him and he was forced to reinvent his style. He had gone from the ultimate player to one that had to rely on experience, clutch, tenacity, innovation and self-reflection. No matter how low the odds or how bad things got, he could knew exactly who he was in relation to his opponent.
Perhaps that is why his games were the most emotive of any SC2 player’s. When we speak of Mvp, you don’t need to sell his personal history, you don’t need to share the same race or the same nation. When you saw Mvp play, you saw the core of his being. A hyper-competitive spirit coupled with incredible intelligence. A man who knew himself and knew his enemy and he should have lost all one hundred of those battles. Instead, he found a way within himself to win, no matter how unsightly the meta, how terrible the matchup, how broken his body. And that is why he will go down as one of the most beloved Champions in SC2’s history.
His games told his story. And his story was of a man who exceeded the limits of human potential to achieve greatness.
Cover photo: ESL, eslgaming.com