Despite how many countless pro gamers build their own playstyles in order to earn the title of champion, only a select few get to take the trophy home. As pros build their careers, they are often sorted into two categories: players who have won championships and those who have not. Once the status quo solidifies, it’s extremely rare to see players who have never won tournaments joining the ranks of champions.
Since his debut at the age of thirteen, Tae Yang “TY” Jun has been playing StarCraft professionally for ten years. TY has never won a major tournament and has been criticized for being a pro who isn’t particularly good except with harassing plays. Since he failed to secure major achievements over the ten years of his career, the general consensus was was that he had clear limitations on what he can do. Then came 2017 and he reached a turning point; In three short months, TY managed to achieve the biggest honor he could as a pro gamer not once, but twice. Truly the epitome of a late-bloomer if I’ve ever seen one.
Ten years of effort finally paying off
TY won both WESG and the IEM World Championship, securing over $300,000 in prize money in 2017. After ten years of hard work, those trophies must hold special meaning to him.
“I’ve played professionally for ten years without winning any major tournaments. About five years into my career, I came to believe that I’d never win one because many people around me expected me to continue the trend and retire as a run-of-the-mill pro gamer. I trained harder to prove everyone wrong and show that I can succeed as a late bloomer. I’m delighted that my work has paid off and pride myself in my own achievement.”
TY told Inven that WESG was a major turning point. To push himself to the limit, he left everything and practiced two months prior to the event. As one of two Korean representatives in the Group Stage(the other one being Seong Ju "Maru" Cho), he matched 80% of the training hours to Maru. Ji Hoon “jjakji” Jung, TY’s former kt Rolster teammate, helped him as his main practice partner.
“Unlike my usual practice routines, I locked myself in my house and concentrated on my training. I had a single goal on my mind – winning the tournament. I practiced the same way I prepared for the Proleague finals. I guess my hard work paid off. I deemed Maru to be the most threatening player and dedicated 80% of my practice time to TvT matchups. jjakji helped me practice by playing about ten games a day with me. I owe him for that.”
I wondered how a pro gamer, who is accustomed to the structured training regimen of gaming teams, can effectively practice at home. When asked about the subject, he answered: “Unlike trainees and amateurs who need a structured practice environment because they have much to learn by watching, seasoned veterans are better off practicing in a more lax environment due to their distinct playstyles that come with experience.” Perhaps TY had a point because he proceeded to take home the IEM World Championship trophy shortly after winning WESG.
“I was ecstatic. I wanted to kiss my trophy the same way Zest did to his, but the trophy ended up being much heavier than I expected. So, I reflected some of those feelings in my face. It came out like a forced smile. [laughs]”
Overcoming the slump and developing his own style
Like most other pro gamers, TY has also gone through a number of rough patches. As the most experienced active pro gamer, how did he overcome those obstacles?
“It was probably back in 2015. Ever since ‘the-player-who-must-not-be-named’ signed on, I had no place in the team because a single Proleague match has four starting players, which makes me the fifth wheel. My individual league performance deteriorated, and I continued to feel lost. I made up my mind about quitting pro gaming mid-season and decided to give my everything in the remaining matches. Funny thing is that I no longer felt nervous when I went into the booth. I think that’s how I first learned to stay calm in tournaments. With a clear mind, I could start to play my games.”
Despite realizing how to keep cool under pressure, TY did recently run into an extremely stressful situation - the last game of the WESG grand finals against Maru with $200,000 on the line.
“Having one game with so much at stake certainly made me anxious. Then I started thinking. ‘Everyone gets nervous under these circumstances. Since Maru must be nervous too, the first one to make a mistake will lose. Let’s not make mistakes.’ That’s the mantra I recited going into Game 7. Maru made a critical mistake of stepping on my mines, and I was able to comfortably close out the series.”
Throughout the ten years of his career, beginning with the original StarCraft and transitioning into the sequel, TY’s playstyle has remained surprisingly constant – a player who’s good at harassing. However, harassing the enemy only took him so far, as he didn’t have the foundation and macro to back it up. He often got a huge lead by harassing, only to have the opponent catch up in the late game. After countless trials and errors, he finally found his choice of weapon: solidarity. These days, it’s easy to spot TY’s signature tempo and solid plays.
“I used to feel overwhelmed by the opponent’s plays. I constantly worried about other players countering my build, and that anxiety took a huge toll on my performance. I lost many matches, especially when I was considering retirement. After learning how to let go of that pressure, I just focused on my plays and had better results. My new mindset became like ‘if the other player counters my build, I may lose. If he doesn’t, I win.’ Even when I did get countered, I was able to keep my composure and frequently come back.”
From a sheltered gamer life to living out in the wild
Despite having played within structured teams for years, TY is now teamless and has to deal with day-to-day operations by himself. He confessed that he had difficulties adjusting to the more free lifestyle. Fortunately, he was quick to adapt to living the teamless life. He also mentioned that being without a team taught him to be more efficient in training.
“Coaching staff used to manage pretty much everything about my life. I now have to deal with everything by myself. It’s a daunting task, but I see it as a learning experience. I’m happy that I can set my own course. I used to be overambitious and applied for every tournament I could find. But it ruined my routine, as well as my performance at those events. These days, I can practice efficiently by only choosing tournaments that I want to participate and can do well in.”
TY has started to dabble in streaming since going teamless. For someone who loves interacting with the fans, he said he wants to expand his fanbase through his stream. Still, he doesn’t let streaming get in the way of practice.
“I can’t really practice in my streams, knowing that my fans are watching my plays. You know how you get self-conscious if someone watches you. That’s why I don’t consider streaming as practice; it’s more like a warm-up session where I can communicate with my fans. I think it depends on the person. There are people who can practice on stream, but I’m not one of them.”
The seasoned veteran’s next challenge
Among current active StarCraft 2 pro players, no one is more experienced than TY. As a seasoned veteran and a late bloomer, he wished to send this message to players who are conflicted about not doing as well as they used to.
“Sometimes you’re in a rut, and, other times, you may play well. When players experience a slump for an extended period of time, most of them consider retiring because it makes them compare themselves to others around their age. Whenever you feel that way, I hope you can trust yourselves enough to push yourself harder. I think you’ll see better results. Please don’t give up so easily.”
Even though he has accomplished more than any player can hope for, TY said he still has a long ways to go. I asked him about the kind of player he wants to be. His answer was simple; pros prove themselves with results and earn corresponding prize as a byproduct. Put like a true professional.
“If you ask people about the best StarCraft player, most of them would think of Flash. I want to do better so that people think of me as the best StarCraft 2 player. The SC2 player who has won the most prize money is currently MC. I want to replace him during the rest of my career. That way, I’ll be very proud of myself for deciding to pursue pro gaming as my profession.”
He added that he was happy to see the scene’s recent growth. Evidently, there is a bright future ahead for SC2 as long as there’s a stage where players can participate and as long as there are players like TY who continue to push the boundaries. He concluded the interview by expressing gratitude to many people.
“I’d like to thank Blizzard and the many broadcasting staff members who tirelessly work to invigorate the SC2 league. Lastly, I’m very grateful to my fans who sent me kind words about my recent victories. I know I didn’t get to interact with my fans due to practice schedules, but I promise to continue my career while interacting more actively.”
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