One of Park ‘DongRaeGu’ Soo Ho’s fans revealed last week that DongRaeGu had already begun military service in South Korea. DongRaeGu is one of the most decorated players in StarCraft II history and made the cut for my list of the 15 greatest players of all time back in April 2015, when I first wrote the list. He’s had numerous placings: First in GSL, second in OSL, second in BlizzCup Finals and numerous other top finishes in international events. And all of this after he had refused the call to be a pro gamer.
In the very beginning of SC2, legendary Brood War player Lim ‘BoxeR’ Yo-Hwan was making a team. He had an incredible eye for talent and he believed the future of SC2 in the coming years was to be written by two players: Mun “MMA” Seong Won and DongRaeGu. MMA answered the call and joined SlayerS. DongRaeGu did not. SC2 was young and he wasn’t sure if it was worth the risk.
MVP manager Choi Yoon-Sang was not so easily denied. Manager Choi came to have a huge reputation in esports as he was later responsible for the recruitment of the MVP teams that went on to be known as Samsung White and Samsung Blue and got the personnel that recruited MVP’s Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storms teams. All of these teams went on to be champions in their respective games.
Back then, Choi was a nobody. But he recognized DongRaeGu for what he was: A player with incredible talent. Choi swore to DongRaeGu that if he should fail, Choi would pay for tutors to get DongRaeGu into university.
“It took me three months to persuade him to join,” Choi said in 2011. “He wanted to study more than playing a game so I kept telling him, ‘Let’s just do it together for only one year.’ I poached him by saying that if he doesn’t get a success I will give him private tutors to send him off to university.”
DongRaeGu and MMA’s careers were intrinsically linked in the beginning. Both became the stars of their teams and they eventually fought in the GSTL May Finals, they met in the final match and fought to the bitter end. It was MMA’s incredible multitasking and intelligence against DongRaeGu’s refined explosive strength. MMA came out the victory, but the next time they met DongRaeGu won in the team league.
They then met against at MLG Anaheim and once again MMA was the victor. DongRaeGu refused to back down, and the next time they met was at MLG Providence, which DongRaeGu won. They had met four times and split it half-half. Their rivalry ended on the largest stage possible in the BlizzCup 2011 Finals. MMA won the first three games of the best-of-seven series in a stomp. DongRaeGu fired back with three different strategies to keep MMA off the back foot and even the score 3-3.
The final game was intense as the two of them fought tooth and nail for every expansion, every fight, every mineral. Both players refused to let up on the other, resulting in a critical economic crisis for DongRaeGu and a military crisis for MMA. At the game’s apex, DongRaeGu bore down on MMA’s production in one final battle. MMA, in turn, snuck three siege tanks past the forces of DongRaeGu and killed DongRaeGu’s last mining expansion. MMA used the rest of the army and reinforcements to hold on. If DongRaeGu broke through and sat on the production, he won. If MMA held the line, it was his. MMA held, and though DongRaeGu lost that finals, it went down in history as one of the great finals in SC2.
By mid 2012, he was on top of the world. DongRaeGu had won the GSL Finals and was acclaimed as one of, if not the best, Zerg in the world. The ID itself, DongRaeGu, was the name of the district he had come from in Busan. And Busan in turn acknowledged him as their representative in the game and had given him a badge to attach to his uniform.
That love for his city was what eventually crushed DongRaeGu. For the first time, both the GSL and GSTL Finals were to be hosted in Busan, and nothing mattered to DongRaeGu more than representing his hometown. But he lost in the semifinals of both, and those losses marked the end of DongRaeGu as the best Zerg in Korea. He was never the same: Never quite as happy, never quite as exuberant, never quite as skilled. He had two good runs left in him, as he made it to the finals of both the OSL and Iron Squid.
But he lost in both. The first to Jung “Rain” Yoon Jong, one of the all-time greatest Protoss players, and the other to Lee “Life” Seung Hyun, the second greatest SC2 player of all time. The second was especially painful as he was up 3-0 in the grand finals and was reverse swept. That was the end of his prime.
Nearly two years later, DongRaeGu went on one mad last dash to the top. He was now teamless. He refused to join a Kespa team because he had a taste for freedom and travel and could give up neither to be imprisoned inside. At the very end of 2014 DongRaeGu did what “ByuN” Hyun Woo is doing now. He waged a one-man campaign against the entire system, but there was a difference. In ByuN’s case, SC2 in Korea was the weakest it had ever been. DongRaeGu challenged the system at the very height of its power. And he won one Red Bull and defeated Lee “Flash” Young Ho in peak condition to make it to his quarterfinals before finally losing out to Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung.
Among all of the things DongRaeGu has done in his career — Win a GSL, fight MMA, win IEM, win MLG — there is one thing you should take away from all of his list of accomplishments and games: DongRaeGu was a God Slayer.
In three different eras, he played some of the best players at the peaks of their strength and won. At the beginning of 2012, Lim “NesTea” Jae Duk was still the best Zerg in the world. But DongRaeGu challenged him at the peak of his strength in GSL and in a legendary set he slayed him in ritual combat to become the best Zerg in the world. In 2013, INnoVation was at the peak of his mechanical strength and arguably the strongest level of mechanics ever seen in the game besides Eo “soO” Yoon Su. INnoVation was invincible in ZvT. Only two other Zergs had ever beaten him during that time: Kim “Soulkey” Min Chul and Lee “Curious” Won Pyo. Soulkey relied on doing early damage or all-ins. Curious won one game by superior strategic play.
DongRaeGu did the opposite. He fought INnoVation in the prime of his powers in the style that made him invincible. He fought him at the very point no one else ever could (to the point that Blizzard nerfed INnoVation’s style not long after DongRaeGu played him). He fought the greatest at the time; he dragged INnoVation down from his throne and he slit his throat. Before that game, INnoVation was a god. After that game, he was still the best Terran in the world, but a mortal. One that had been slain.
He did it one last time against Flash. Flash had come off the best streak of his SC2 career with a huge winning streak in Proleague and a win at IEM Toronto. He had come back and in the elimination match of GSL round of 16, he faced DongRaeGu. This time, DongRaeGu didn’t fight the God head on. He went around. In Game 2, he abused his sim city for a quick win and in game three he completely out read Flash’s early to mid game aggression and ended Flash’s hype train of 2014.
That is who DongRaeGu is; that is the man of Busan and that is what I will remember him most for. DongRaeGu ends his SC2 career as he goes on to the military. So the question is, was it all worth it? Should he have continued to ignore the call and study?
The answer is in the lack of announcement. The reason anyone even knows DongRaeGu is in the military is because a fan posted about it. DongRaeGu, just like MMA, is not done. Should SC2 survive in the next two years, he will also come back and remind the world once more that this is his game. This is where he stands.
Photos courtesy of Major League Gaming