“Till I collapse I’m spillin’ these raps long as you feel ’em. Till the day that I drop you’ll never say that I’m not killing ’em” – Eminem, “‘Till I Collapse”
ESPN reported last month what many suspected, but most willingly refused to accept: Lee “Jaedong” Jae Dong was running out of time. Legendary for his ferocious commitment, his injuries from years of relentless practice had accumulated to the point of no return. Nevertheless he has pushed on, Afreeca Starleague Season 4 looks to be his last hurrah. Jaedong is considered a legend, one of the few Brood War pros whose name resounds regardless of what game you follow. His fame is surpassed only by his greatest rival, Lee “Flash” Young Ho.
But few esports enthusiasts in the modern day understand the enormity of this twilight phase. Jaedong is a character who had come straight out of a myth, and no story of Jaedong can be told without Flash. The two of them depended on each other as stepping stones to greatness. Flash could never have been the greatest of all time without Jaedong breathing down his neck, and Jaedong in turn could never have been a legend without Flash. Flash was the most dominant Brood War player of all time at the apex of BW’s competition. But he could only lay claim to the title of greatest esports player since he had to defeat Jaedong to earn those titles. Jaedong was such a monster in his prime, so overwhelming in his mechanical prowess and innovation, that he would be heralded as the greatest to ever touch the game — if Flash did not exist. At the height of their respective careers, every encounter represented a titanic clash that etched their names in history.
Flash and Jaedong were interconnected in a way I’ve almost never seen in an esports rivalry. Before they ever met in an official match, Jaedong knew there was something special about Flash:
“When I practiced against other good players…I was almost winning every game,” Jaedong said in a “Reflections” interview with duncan “Thorin” Shields. “But suddenly this player named Flash appeared, and when I practiced against him I got a completely different feeling.”
They traded series back and forth early in the rivalry. Jaedong won at GOMTV MSL S4 and Flash struck back in the 2008 Bacchus Starleague. Each pushed the other to elevate their game in a way no one else could. In the Nate MSL Finals, Jaedong defeated Flash and inadvertently provided the motivation of a player fans eventually called God.
“What really kick started me again was, before the NATE finals against Jaedong, when the head coaches did a separate interview and I was told that the head coach said ‘Flash has never overcome Jaedong.’ That’s when I lost it.” – Flash said during an AMA last year.
Flash ended up losing that match, but it motivated him to get out of the slump in which he found himself in 2009. He overcame Jaedong in every subsequent final at Hana Daetoo Securities MSL, Bigfile MSL and Korean Air OSL Season 2.
Despite how many times they played one another, the two opponents shared a deep level of respect and camaraderie. When asked about Jaedong on his stream, Flash said, “Right when I hit my peak with a WCG gold medal, I had the feeling that I finally won. The sixth championship after that was just another win. Jaedong didn’t do anything wrong. When I retired, even when Jaedong retired, I thought I was going to cry I kept wondering why we always had to fight each other.”
From Jaedong’s side, he said this to Thorin about the nature of their relationship, both in and out of competition: “Going through life and in these really important moments encountering this same person over and over, maybe it’s destiny. And I think that’s why I might’ve made that statement. Honestly I think it’s unlike anyone else, my connection to Flash.”
Soon after, both players were forcibly moved over to StarCraft 2. Both had good careers in the new game, though they never reached the same heights once achieved in Brood War. But after they retired from that game, the competitive drive could not be sated, and so they returned to Brood War. They met one more time in Afreeca Starleague Season 2 where Flash defeated Jaedong in a close 3-2 set.
For Jaedong, his career has been greatly influenced by Flash in a way no other singular force has. So when he sees Flash win ASL Season 2 and ASL Season 3, when he watches his bête noire and good friend advance through the round of 16 group stage this season, how can he willingly take it easy? He can’t. His greatest rival is spurring him on by example. Jaedong will not let something like an aching body stop him, no matter the cost.
And the cost is high. More than just physical problems (that could affect the rest of his life) is the looming spectre of military service. Lee “PuMa” Ho Joon once likened it to a death sentence. Mandatory service will prematurely end whatever esports aspirations any player has. There has been an entire generation of Brood War players who have gone into the military and come out again; among them, only a handful have ever had successful esports careers on the other side. Only Son “StarDust“ Seok Hee made a notable career after serving his time.
The clock is ticking for Jaedong. His body is breaking apart, his form is in the decline, and military service looms over him like the Sword of Damocles. But he cannot stop. He will not stop. His doctor’s warnings fall on deaf ears. How could he stop here with Flash waiting for him in the playoffs? Jaedong is in the twilight of his career and he knows that once military service starts, he will likely never have a chance to play at this level again.
His body may be teetering on the edge of collapse, but players have overcome such obstacles before. Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun made a miracle year in Starcraft 2 by making it to the GSL Finals twice with his injuries. While it is better in the long term for Jaedong put up his mouse, his competitive fire overrides all pragmatic concerns. Jaedong is a champion, the greatest rival to God, the greatest Zerg to ever play the game. He is a player who refused to quit and now, at the end of the career that defined his life, he will not go out with a whimper. He will rage against the dying of the light. For at least one more night, he will enter the arena as the Tyrant.