The cliche that history is “written by the winners” has never really sit well with me. Think about Chinese historian Sima Qian, who was castrated and then went against societal norms of not committing suicide to finish the Shiji. The Shiji is now cited as one of the most important historical texts in Chinese civilization.
It’s not that history is written by the winners; it’s written by those who can remember and those who survive. In the same sense, it is time to write my own history to address how foreigners in StarCraft 2 are being misrepresented as to what they did in the overall history and legacy of the game. Many often cite the belief that foreigners had close to zero chance against Koreans in the entirety of SC2. That is not the case. Yes, Korea was by and large had the most dominant region in the SC2 scene, and foreigners weren’t anywhere close. But they always had it in them to beat Koreans, especially in weekender tournaments.
That is why I never got hyped about foreigners beating a Korean. Part of that is because I don’t think about or get invested in regionalism. But mainly it was because on some level, I expected them to be capable of it. They could beat the Koreans — and at times should have and did so despite how they are remembered now. As SC2 history has been slowly morphed and changed and mis-remembered, now is a good time to redeem the foreigners. They weren’t close to the Koreans, they weren’t the greatest, but they could compete and win games.
Much like now, if you were a great player or you ran into a Korean having a bad day and you played your game, you could win series against some of the best of the bunch. Players like Tobias “ShoWTimE” Sieber beating “Byun” Hyun Woo is only surprising if you forget the the runs of previous foreigners. It’s not that it hasn’t happened before, it has. ShoWTimE, in my estimation, is among the top foreigners; there have been multiple times where a top foreigner has beaten the best Korean players.
This series of articles will focus on players who did have historic runs, who did make it top the top eight or higher while beating Korean players. I will focus on the years of 2013-2015 as many recognize the earlier foreigners as having success against the top Koreans.
Jeffrey “SjoW” Brusi defeats Lee “Life” Seung Hyun
By the time DreamHack Summer 2013 came around, SjoW already had one foot out the door. He wasn’t practicing nearly as much; he wasn’t on anyone’s radar as a player to look out for among the foreigners and even less so among the Koreans. Perhaps the only Korean who would have remembered him at all was Choi “Bomber” Ji Sung, who had played SjoW in a very close match at MLG in Wings of Liberty and praised his TvT at a Code S level.
if Bomber did remember, it doesn’t seem like he passed that knowledge on to Life. This matchup is already a bigger upset than ShoWTimE vs. Byun. ByuN might be a top player now, but Life is in my estimation the second greatest player of all time, the most talented zerg in SC2. In addition to that Byun already proved he was mortal after losing to Joo “Zest” Sung Wook, Baek “Dear” Dong Jun and Kim “Classic” Doh Woo.
In comparison, Life at that point had only lost Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung at the peak of his powers. Life was the clear best ZvT player in the world. No one was even talking about Sjow. But when they met Sjow won and he did it straight up without any gimmicks, he just played a standard game and did what the greatest Terran players besides INnoVation could not and beat Life.
Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi
NaNiwa is the most controversial foreigner to have ever played. He is also one of the greatest, and in my estimation the second best in SC2 history. And even then, he has qualities that outmatched Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri and in some ways even surpassed the French phenom. In the last peak of his career in 2013, he ran at the sun. He made it to Blizzcon in an era with no region lock, where international tournaments were plentiful to everyone and teams kept sending out as many Koreans as they could to these tournaments.
He had multiple incredible runs: Second at DH Stockholm, top four at MLG Spring Championship, top eight at WCS Season 2 Finals and second at IEM New York.
At DreamHack Stockholm he beat Jang “MC” Min Chul, Jung “YugiOh” Seung Il and Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong before losing out to Lee “Leenock” Dong Nyoung. MC was a top 10 Protoss player, YugiOh was a top 10 Zerg player, and Jaedong was the second best Zerg of that year in the world. Naniwa’s run here is completely underrated and another run that was forgotten in the sands of time.
The same thing happened at MLG Spring, where he got fourth by beating Choi “TheStC” Yun Sik, Jaedong and Baek “Dear” Dong Jun. TheStC was a decent Terran, but he was playing in form that tournament. Jaedong was an incredible player to beat, and Dear was a top 10 Protoss in results, but in potential he could have easily been a top five Protoss. Naniwa’s victory over him at the time was underrated because Dear had already proven that in pure potential, he was already there. He had qualified through the KeSPA qualifiers and that potential proved true as he came to dominate the end of the year.
At WCS Season 2 finals, Naniwa was placed into a group of death with Kim “duckdeok” Kyeong Deok, Yun “TaeJa” Young Seo and INnoVation. Many people have argued that Byun now is stronger than INnoVation was then. I disagree. Despite losing that OSL and getting fourth, in my estimation he was the best player at WCS Season 2 Finals. Here is a way to think about it. INnoVation played in a time where there were the most Korean pro players in Korea. ByuN played in a time with the least. ByuN had lost 3 series to Protoss players. INnoVation had lost one, just Won “PartinG” Lee Sak. His loss at OSL also came at the hands of Cho “Maru” Seong Ju, who prepared one of the best best-of-seven series of all time. At the same time, INnoVation was the ace player for his team in Proleague and was still carrying them to playoffs.
Naniwa beat this monster straight up. He also beat duckdeok, the WCS EU Champion, a top 10 Protoss player in the world and someone who had beaten Naniwa at WCS EU.
His last great run of that year was at IEM New York. He twice beat Kim “Hack” Young Il, a deceptively tough Terran player who had a very specific style. He then beat Kang “San” Cho Won, who was a playing at a Top 10 Protoss level that year, and Ko “HyuN” Seok Hyun, who was at a top-five Zerg level that year before losing to Life in the finals.
Afterward he had a much less successful DreamHack Winter 2013 run, but he still beat Leenock and Hyun — both top 10 zergs.
These are all incredible runs, especially because many of his wins were best-of-fives. Very few foreigners in the history of SC2 have won a best-of-five against a top Korean player, but Naniwa did it time and time again.
Cao “Jim” Jinhui
Jim is one of the most underhyped and underrated foreigners. WCS NA in 2013 is an underrated tournament, as that first year it was open to numerous Korean players. Jim had to construct his entire style around having to play in 200+ ping conditions if he wanted to play online so he was forced to construct an entire style based on the fact he could never use storm accurately. This was how his signature phoenix-colossus style came into being.
At WCS NA Season 2 he beat Yang “Alicia” Joon Sik Choi, “CranK” Jae Won and Han “aLive” Lee Seok. aLive in particular was good that year. He was a top 10 Terran and good enough to qualify for Blizzcon.
But the run no one remembers or understands was at IEM Shenzhen in 2014. There he was stuck in a group with Taeja and Life. Taeja was the best Terran player. Life went on to win Blizzcon. Jim’s victory was one of the most criminally underrated foreigner victories of all time by beating Taeja and Life.
People remember the foreign players of yesteryear, but this for me was one of the greatest upsets ever: An incredible win that has almost never been repeated in foreigner history. Hell, most of the great Korean players couldn’t beat that combination of players at that time.
Jens “Snute” Aasgaard
Snute is another foreigner I’ve considered to be underrated by foreigner fans. This is because unlike Ilyes “Stephano” Satourior or Greg “idra” Fields, he doesn’t have the personality that attracts people. He’s also never won any of the large tournaments and has a problem choking once he gets to the latter stages of one.
But pound for pound, player for player, he’s beaten some of the best Koreans in the world. At WCS NA, he beat Crank, Alicia and Lim “NesTea” Jae Duk. At Homestory Cup VII, he beat HyuN in the playoffs and took second. He won Seatstory Cup by beating HyuN twice. He started 2014 by beating HyuN and Song “HerO” Hyeon Deok at DreamHack Bucharest, especially impressive because HerO was still in form and went on to win IEM Cologne.
Snute didn’t place well at HSC IX, but he beat Taeja and Song “Stork” Byung Goo. Taeja was extremely strong in 2013-2014, and even players like Life had an extremely difficult time beating him. Stork was a solidified Code S player. At IEM Shenzhen, he made the quarterfinals by beating Stork again and beating Yoo “True” Ki Sung, a legitimate top 10 Zerg bordering on the top five at that time.
At Gfinity G3, he beat both Jung “jjakji” Ji Hoon and Mun “MMA” Seong Won. Both were considered very strong players, and while jjakji was much more up and down on any given day, MMA was a legit top 10 Terran in the world.
IEM Toronto was a big tournament result for Snute. Despite placing in the top eight, no other Zerg player in the world except Eo “soO” Yoon Su could have done what he did at that tournament. He beat Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin once and Kim “herO” Joon Ho twice. sOs was an extremely tricky Protoss player and in the top five. HerO was another top five Protoss and one of the best PvZ players in the world. He then nearly eliminated Lee “Flash” Young Ho in one of those rare peaks where Flash was one of the best Terrans in the world.
And the great final run against Koreans that Snute had was at IEM Shenzhen where he beat both Kim “Classic” Doh Woo and Jung “Rain” Yoon Jong. This is even more impressive than his IEM Toronto run. When ShoWTimE beat Byun, Byun had already shown weakness by losing in the KeSPA Cup. Classic also lost at KeSPA Cup, but unlike Byun it was in PvT rather than PvZ. His PvZ form was still incredible. Rain had not only won GSL, but he also won Homestory Cup. Both players were the best PvZ players in the entire world. No Zerg in Korea had found a way to beat either of them.
Snute found a way. In the very height of their PvZ powers, he beat both of them, and he did it at a tournament where multiple other great Korean Protosses were in attendance. They had a scrimmage after each loss trying to find a way to beat Snute. Their collective intelligence lost, and Snute was the victor. There are plenty of great foreigners who have won more tournaments than Snute, but none of them could have replicated what Snute did here: To beat the two best PvZ players at the height of their powers.
Perhaps even more impressive, Snute is one of the few players who has been fighting Blizzard his entire life. Snute mastered the bl/infestor style that got nerfed. He mastered the swarmhost style and that got nerfed. He mastered the onion peeling style to beat Classic and Rain and then LotV came out. He mastered the baneling style against Protoss and now there is another massive patch coming after Blizzcon. He has been forced to recreate his style multiple times against some of the best in the world, and he’s climbed his way back up each time. He may not have the draw of idra or the incredible victories of Stephano, but neither of them has his insane drive to reinvent himself time and time again to prove he’s the best. To keep getting back up each time you are ground down as the game itself is going against you.
When people lament how none of the great foreigners are left, players like Naniwa, idra and Stephano, I’m slightly filled with disgust. Snute was here all along. Where were all of you looking?
Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn
We’re finally to a player that wasn’t underrated or underhyped by the community. Scarlett is another foreigner to have great success against Koreans through the lifetime of HotS. At WCS NA season 2 she beat aLive and Revival. At WCS Season 2 Finals, she beat both MMA and Maru (though the Maru victory wasn’t as great as it could have been. Maru just blew himself up much like Kang “Solar” Min Soo did this past Blizzcon). She started rolling at Red Bull New York where she beat MC, Jo “Golden” Myeong Hwan and Bomber. MC is always a dangerous opponent. Golden wasn’t that great, but the Bomber win was good. The Bomber game was notable in particular as the two of them had multiple sets of great games.
At IEM Singapore she beat Cho “Dream” Joong Hyuk, a player who certainly had potential at times but never showed it until 2015. She also beat Bomber again in their rivalry that has since ended after region lock came to be.
One of her great runs was at Northcon 2013, where she beat Son “StarDust” Seok Hee, jjakji and Life. Life, in particular, was a great win as had re-discovered his form after slumping through the middle of 2013. All the wins were best-of-fives and she was incredibly close to winning the entire tournament against Jaedong.
Homestory Cup IX saw her beat Jo “Patience” Ji Hyun, Taeja, Stork and MMA. Patience is interesting as he was in good form that particular period, but never reached it again until this year. Stork was still a solid Protoss player and MMA was still someone you could put into the top 10 Terrans.
Her last notable run in HotS came at MLG Anaheim where she took fourth beating Shin “RagnaroK” Hee Bum, Park “DongRaeGu” Soo Ho, Life and Hyun. RagnaroK was interesting as he, like Dream, showed glimpses of something more, but it never came to fruition. Either way, he found his form at this tournament. The Life win wasn’t as great since this was during his hibernation period before he started to ramp up for Blizzcon. The Hyun and DongRaeGu wins were both legit, particularly DongRaeGu, as she switched to Protoss and used the Victor “Hitman” Lin to knock him out.
Yang “Sen” Chia Cheng and Patrick “Bunny” Brix
By the time HotS had started, Sen’s best days were behind him. He had shown a lot of great skill earlier throughout WoL, despite having many fewer chances to do so compared to other foreigners. Despite that, he showed what he was made of one last time as he won the 2014 Taiwan Open, the only foreigner to win a Premier. It helped that he had bracket luck, but he still beat both Bomber and Hyun to claim his title. Bomber was good as he was a top-10-to-top-five Terran through 2014.
Bunny did something similar in the same year by winning Gfinity G3 and beating Stardust and Hyun. Bunny’s run as a top foreigner player was always a strange one to me, because among all of the foreigner Terran players, he is the only one who could at some level emulate the mechanical styles of Maru and INnoVation. Unfortunately, both styles came with the weakness of relying almost solely on form, whereas someone like Bomber or MMA could still pull out wins even in weaker form.
A few other foreigners have beaten Koreans throughout this era, but none quite as notable as those mentioned above. A special shoutout goes to Ke “Has” Yu Feng for having a 41 percent win rate (both online and on lan) in games against Koreans despite having the worst mechanics of any pro player in the history of the game.
Hopefully, this was a good way to show that much like now in LotV, top foreigners could compete with — and beat — top Koreans. They made just as incredible upsets as ShoWTimE, Alex “Neeblet” Sunderhaft or Artur “Nerchio” Bloch. It wasn’t just those great early foreigners in WoL, but that there were great foreigner players that played in what many consider to be the worst eras from 2013-2015. They still achieved great things, played great games. Because nothing bugs me more than having history whitewashed as if all foreigners were bad, as if none of them could do anything well, that none of them ever pulled out incredible upsets that were awe inspiring. It’s even worse when those who want to support foreigners forget this in their rush to hype the next great upset. The victories of today are incredible, but if you forget the past glories of the great foreigners who did similar or greater feats, all it does is demean all of the effort and skill and dedication those players put into this game.
Cover photo: Screenshot