The year was 2011. Twitch was still a niche company and streaming was a niche idea. Among that niche grew the desire to watch people playing competitive games and not for sheer aesthetic pleasure either. Viewers wanted memes and acts worthy of water cooler discussion, personalities boisterous and magnetic and rage-inducing, drama writ large. StarCraft 2 filled that need.
Among all of the stars present during the nascent years of SC2, the most prominent was Greg “IdrA” Fields. Even now, nearly six years later, IdrA is a player to be studied no matter the esport. He represented the best and the worst the West has to offer, and his career remains a case study that can offer valuable lessons. It was never the competition, or the Koreans, or even the meta that stopped IdrA from achieving more than he did. It was himself.
IdrA was known to be talented from the start. He wasn’t a prodigy in the mold of Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri, but he was good enough to maintain a sustainable life as a professional player. Whatever innate skill he possessed when he began playing Brood War, it was soon eclipsed by his competitive drive and work ethic. What was really impressive about IdrA during that time was his refusal to buckle in the face of public disapproval or Korean hegemony. He wanted to win at the highest levels possible, and he was willing to sweat blood for it. That is why he was one of the few foreigners to move to Korea during the age of Brood War and the only one to have survived the KeSPA training regime for a prolonged period of time. He had the winning combination of skill, talent, and work ethic to defy consensus and become a foreigner who could match Korean BW standards.
But he also had a startling Achilles heel. In 2009, in a match against Sun “F91” Yifeng, IdrA lost after training in the CJ house. Here is how he explained the loss:
“Raid assault is covered in narrow passages and high grounds and has a very short rush distance through the center, as well as high ground immediately outside the natural. it also has a total of two gas expos outside the mains and naturals, both of which are near impossible to defend vs drops. As such, if zerg lets terran get into the mid/long game in good shape, they are going to lose. With three hatch, the only real option is a three hat lurk ling all-in to try to abuse the back way. That’s quite risky in itself but he wasn’t even going three hat lair. However, the natural and main are very far apart. There is a cliff over the natural, and the main’s min line is backed up against water. This makes two hat muta exceptionally good. This means that an intelligent zerg will go two hatch, my build was designed to take advantage of that and so lost because he went three hatch. Going three hatch is utterly retarded for the reasons i just explained, so yes I did lose because he did something dumb.”
In the post Rekrul, explains how ridiculous the statement is, but basically it comes down to this: IdrA thinks he lost because the other player was dumb for not playing the proper way. In essence, he recognizes what the player did but because he could rationalize it as a suboptimal decision, he assumed no one else would do it again. To no one’s shock someone else did it again.
Many of IdrA’s biggest missteps in SC2 were a recreation of this moment, not in details but in theme. His rigid notions of what constituted “good” play and his inability to appreciate the game and its nuances beyond face value left him vulnerable to the unexpected and bizarre. At MLG Dallas 2011, IdrA was in a winning position against Chris “HuK” Loranger. With the inferior fighting force and economy, HuK made a Hail Mary play as he hallucinated an army and attacked in desperation. When IdrA saw the army, he left the game. If he had briefly considered the context of the match, he could have realized something was fishy. If he had simply let the battle play out, he would’ve won without understanding why. But he instantly assumed he had lost before realizing they were hallucinated.
Against Mun “MMA” Seong Won, IdrA left the game after MMA killed his own command center. IdrA didn’t know it, but he didn’t bother contesting it either — there was nothing he could do according to the praxis that dictated his decision-making. His final moment as a SC2 player came against Choi “Polt” Seong Hun in 2013 when they split the map on Daybreak in maxed out armies. IdrA then quit the game because the theoretical strength of Polt’s army was better than his.
This habit of resigning when things appeared sour was even more maddening when you listened to IdrA talk about SC2. Outside of his game, especially as a caster, one could appreciate his understanding and eloquence on the subject. He was a great analytical mind and disorienting for his critics. He knew SC2 wasn’t about perfect theory and perfect execution. He frequently pointed the fragility of high-level play, how people could make mistakes, and comebacks could be made capitalizing off of those mistakes. It was a strange dilemma to parse though. It made you wonder exactly what IdrA was thinking when he was in the booth. From his online personality and his interviews/podcasts/casts, it was clear that he knew the weaknesses of other players and their propensity to make mistakes. He was famous for trash talking the competition. In the actual game, it was the opposite. He almost just assumed that once the other player had a decisive advantage that they would play it out perfectly. Why bother fighting back?
Among all of the players I’ve watched, IdrA remains the best archetype of self-sabotage. You can dissect his strategy, tactics and execution, but those were minor things that could have been improved with time. But his biggest weakness — and the one he never got over — was defeating himself. At points he even admitted it was a weakness. But he never overcame it; his habit of choosing the map over the territory provided an inexhaustible well of plausible excuses as to why he lost. The details always changed, but the theme stayed the same: If the player had played correctly I’d have won, so I lost because I was better; if the other player had played correctly I’d have lost, so let’s surrender without delay. And while few pros suffer from such a crippling malady, IdrA’s problem is one that should be studied as it deals with the most fundamental problem of competition. Conquering oneself is the key to success, a lesson IdrA never learned.