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The IdrA archetype and what “fame” means in esports

Greg “IdrA” Fields was a unique character in the history of Starcraft 2. At the beginning, he was one of the best players in the game and unarguably a top three Zerg in the world for the first few months. He helped pioneer the defensive Zerg macro play that was considered strategically sacrosanct for the first two years of the game. As a personality, he was one of the most beloved and polarizing to have ever entered the scene. His honest attitude, quiet demeanor and methodical intelligence were matched by his disgust towards those he deemed to be playing the game wrong. His offline and online attitude were day and night and further added to his mystique, which created extreme fans and haters alike.

By mid-2013, it all came crashing down. He was no longer a contender or a good player, but the online rage continued. Idra ragequit an even game against Choi “Polt” Seong Hun in World Championship Series and posted this on Teamliquid:

“You’re all a bunch of fucks. It just so happens I get paid to treat you like it. it’s fucking awesome.”

When this eventually came to light, the SC2 fandom demanded blood, and IdrA was dropped from Evil Geniuses. It may have been one of the best things to ever happen to him. Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson noted in his retrospective video that IdrA was looking more and more miserable as his SC2 career went on, but he looked happier and healthier once it all ended.

IdrA archetypically embodies a struggle that every player and famous community member goes through. As a player and personality, he had everything he needed to succeed. He proved he had the drive back in Brood War, where he was one of the few foreign pros to move to and play in a Korean team house. His following in SC2 was massive. Even now, nearly four years later, fans bemoan how IdrA left the scene and clamor for his return. Once his playing career was over, he could have changed to a streaming life with possible casting options or pivoted into other esports roles.

But with all of that comes fame. In modern society, fame has been elevated to a kind of life goal. It is a social currency people believe elevates their status and importance in the world. What people seem to forget, or cannot conceptualize, is that fame comes with obvious downsides. When thousands of people gain the implicit permission to have public opinions about you, civility quickly evaporates. The masses judge you against an unreasonably high standard that no one can realistically match, spam hatred at you indiscriminately. When you finally depart, they quizzically wonder why.

It is a torrent of negative psychic emotion that can be crippling to the unprepared. It is exacerbated by the fact that we are more impressionable to hate and negative emotions than their counterparts. You might remember a compliment from a random passerby for a day or two, but you will remember a vitriolic message weeks or months later. On some intellectual level, it seemed IdrA understood that. He deliberately played up his role as a villain or anti-hero to entertain the public, and it worked — as long as the attitude was an aspect of a larger persona. But once he lost his ability to compete at the top level, and therefore the pillar that made his stoicism entertaining instead of annoying, he eventually imploded from the mounting pressure.

We’ve seen this in SC2 and other esports. Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi is a notorious example. In some ways, he was even more polarizing than IdrA. IdrA at least understood his appeal and exaggerated his judgmental crabbiness; by contrast, NaNiwa shrugged off any effort to become a “personality.” His sole goal was to be the best. Such an attitude didn’t leave much space for interpersonal experience or energy to conform to social norms. In similar fashion, he too was eventually driven out by the mass amount of community hatred combined with his slipping results. In a parallel fashion, he seems much happier now that he is no longer seriously competing.

A surprising example is Sean “Day[9]” Plott. He started his career in Brood War as a professional player but gained widespread appeal once he switched to casting and running his own show in SC2. Despite being nearly universally loved, a small contingent remained that couldn’t stand him. They generated so much spite and ill will that he couldn’t normally function if he had to deal with all of his own social media — he hired someone else to filter it out. Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou is another example from the League of Legends community who got undue amounts of hatred and has at times almost retired amid controversy.

A strange example of this phenomenon in Dota 2 is Jacky EternaLEnVy Mao. EternaLEnVy admired the way Bai “rOtk” Fan acted as a tank for his teammates out of game and took all of the flames from the community. Because of that, EternaLEnVy never speaks about the endless hatred or memes thrown his way; he deliberately acts as is a lightning rod for these attacks so his teammates don’t have to deal with it.

The amount of public vitriol isn’t restricted to disdainful opinion. In Counter-Strike, this sort of attention has escalated from hate mail into something worse. When Epitácio TACO de Melo was doing poorly on Luminosity, he and his mother received death threats. When Spencer “Hiko” Martin went to Brazil for ESL Pro League, the team had to hire bodyguards because of the amount of death threats he received.

The life of an esports player is complicated. Before the last couple of years, fame and monetary wealth were not realistic motivations to participate in the scene. Most of them entered because of their love of competition and the drive to prove that they were the best at what they did. As esports gets bigger with more sponsors and coverage, NBA teams entering and broadcasts on major TV channels, the more I think about IdrA’s career. If he had the choice between the fame, the money, the fans or a quiet life endlessly playing Brood War in a quiet room, which would he choose?

Most likely the latter, I think.

Cover photo courtesy of MLG


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