There have been amazing players over the long history of Starcraft 2. Some players have been at the top for a long period of time, some were forgotten before any fans started to really know them. Among them, there are players like Won “PartinG” Lee-sak, who won his share of tournaments.
PartinG was a player that stuck in my mind for a long period of time. He was my god back in the days when I played Starcraft 2 as I was a Protoss player. His brilliant strategies followed by his keen macro sense taught me more than I needed. When he left the scene for a while, I stopped playing. When he was back, I was one of the first to be excited to have him back.
When he announced retirement last month, I decided to track him down. I wanted to give him a sendoff he deserves, and a chance for him to say more than what he wrote in his twitlonger announcement.
Early days of Won Lee-sak
When I was a boy, I was kind of a brat, you know, one of those kids that you want to smack once in a while. [Laughs] My mother was afraid that my brother and I might go astray, so it was her that actually made me start gaming. She bought us computers, one each. I still remember — back then, nobody really had two computers at home. At the time, the games that were popular were Starcraft, Diablo 2, and Get Amped.
My brother usually played Starcraft, and we mostly played those maps with unlimited resources — money maps. That was when I first started to fall into the game. I didn’t immediately think that I should become a pro gamer; I didn’t even know that was a job. The first time I found out that playing games for a living was possible was when my brother’s friend talked about BoxeR. You see, my brother’s name is Won Yo-han, and BoxeR’s name is Lim Yo-hwan. It’s really similar. That was the first time I realized BoxeR was an incredible person.
I think it was around 6th grade when I really started playing Starcraft. I mostly played Get Amped, but I was confident in my gaming skills, and I thought I was gifted in this area. One day, a friend challenged me to a Starcraft game. When I played Terran or Zerg, I lost, but when I played Protoss, I beat him. From that point, I went around, playing against the best kids from other schools, winning.
I really beat everyone, kids of my age, even those that were older than me. As much as I was always winning, people recommended that I should go pro. So I started to practice to become a pro gamer from about 8th grade. Looking back now, the 8th grade me didn’t know anything and was really cocky. All I thought was, ‘Since I’m the best, I can do it.’ I was arrogant and cocky like that. [Laughs]
Around that time, one of my friends said that there was this monster in his school. As much as I was extremely confident with myself, I thought I’d win, but I was completely demolished. That was the first time I felt that there is a world beyond my sight and that I was just a big fish in a little pond. I thought I was the best among those that are my age.
That’s how I started to look for ways to become better. I joined clans and guilds to learn how to practice and found out how much real gamers study about the game. About specific builds, macro, all-ins, etc. Until that point, I thought all-ins were the only strategy that existed. I thought the only thing that mattered was winning, so I mostly used semi-all-in builds.
The start of PartinG
The first time I actually experienced professional gaming life was when I joined eSTRO as a practice member. When I said that I was joining the team, everyone was opposed to it. They said that I’d just be doing chores and washing dishes, but I thought differently. I was confident, and I thought I would be recognized if I do my best and play well. Everyone else was right, and it was the first time I ever thought that my future was dark — at that young age.
So I ran away from the team house. I still remember meeting eyes with a fellow practice member when I was running away. I just said “Shh, please let me go”, and he just wished me good luck. After that, I tried out for another team. The coach of that team was Zeus (Jeon Tae-gyu). I didn’t pass the tryout and Zeus told me that my “hands were dirty”. What that meant was that I did meaningless stuff with my hands throughout the game, actions that didn’t really do anything. I had no fundamentals.
After failing the tryout, I told my mother that I wasn’t talented enough, and thought of giving up gaming. I thought maybe I could become a cook or something like that. One day, I saw my friends playing Starcraft 2, so I tagged along and played a bit. Before I even knew it, I was up in the global rankings — I only played for fun and hit 40th place. This made me think, ‘Then again, I might be talented after all.’ [Laughs]
I don’t think it was talent — since I played Starcraft so much, I was able to optimize my play in Starcraft 2 without realizing it. The game was rather new, and the builds weren’t really fixed at the time. My second chance to become a pro gamer started here, as Choya, the head coach of fOu (For Our Utopia), convinced me to start again. Since I was starting again, I practiced really hard, sleeping only 3-4 hours a day.
PartinG and WCG
I still remember that moment I won my first tournament. It was 2012, in China, a tournament called Battle.net World Championship Series. The moment I won, the roar of the crowd was amazing. It’s so long ago, so some of my memory is faded, but I still can feel the excitement of that stage. The prize money was $100K, but I didn’t even care about the prize money. Winning a title was much more important for me since all I thought of was becoming the best. I had been working my hardest for such a long time to do so.
WCG was a great tournament too. It was also in China. I’ve been there twice and won Gold once and Bronze once. In 2012, I was the only Korean to have won a medal, so one of the higher-ups came to me and thanked me. I was extremely happy then. Everything was going so well. So many fans came to me and asked for my autograph. Since that was such a good memory, I went again in the next year as well.
When I went to WCG that year, there was also another tournament called IPL that was held in Las Vegas. I chose WCG since I remembered watching Starcraft 1 players win WCG when I was younger. They looked so cool, and WCG meant so much more to me. In all WCGs, Korea won in Starcraft, every year. I wanted to be a part of that, a part of history, another runner in the relay that passes on the baton. The prize money didn’t mean anything to me. Winning in WCG was much bigger than winning in other international competitions.
I won the Bronze medal in 2013, and I still had a great time. At the time, there were Korean players from other games as well. One day, we all gathered in the lobby, just hanging out together and communicating with each other. As gamers, we seldom have the chance to talk to players from other games, and this was one of them. This was so interesting for me. I talked with Warcraft players, Dota players, all of them. We really didn’t know each other, and it wasn’t that we’d be meeting up often, but we purely cheered for one another. It was a great experience.
WCG was the Olympics of esports. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more competitions like this — in the future, I hope more esports tournaments are held with several different events put together like WCG. Next year, esports will be an official event at Asian Games. I believe the experience will be similar to what I had back in ‘12 and ‘13.
I hope Starcraft and Starcraft 2 are included in future WCGs. If they say it isn’t popular enough, well, they’d be right. [Laughs] WCG is like the only competition that feels like the Olympics. Maybe Korean players excelled before, but there are so many players in the world that are really good right now, like Serral from Finland or Reynor from Italy. If Korea dominated up to now, I think it’ll be much closer now. Warcraft is still there as a pillar of WCG. I hope they add Starcraft 2 again.
Being a pro gamer
When I was trying out to become a Starcraft player, I didn’t have any fundamentals, so it was difficult. Even when I was a practice member, no one really taught me what to do or what not to do. It would have been much better if there was someone to guide me like they did when I played Starcraft 2.
When I was in T1, coach iloveoov (Choi Yeon-seong) was watching me play, and he said, “You would have been a great player in Starcraft 1 too.” I was moved by that comment, and it stuck in my mind. I still had regrets about that. If I could go back in time and start again with what I learned in Starcraft 2, I would have been a much better player.
I’m really jealous about the League of Legends players nowadays. Aside from its popularity, the infrastructure is really good. There are academies and organizations where they teach from A to Z properly. Back in the days of Starcraft 1, we had to watch and learn on our own. There are so many more ways to become a good player in League of Legends now.
I never regretted becoming a pro player. There are many people that are struck with reality, falling short of their dreams, but I took my favorite thing as my occupation, earned a lot of money, and gained attention from so many fans. Just that is such a great thing to me. I got more wealth and fame than I deserved as well. It surely wasn’t easy, but it was all worth it.
If I were to be born again, I’d probably become a pro gamer again. If not, I’d become either a professional athlete or… You might laugh if you hear this, but something like a rapper. [Laughs] I really like being in the center of everyone’s attention. I had that in this scene, and I know how good it feels. After I experienced that, nothing is quite the same — life gets boring.
One thing I was the most jealous of about the Starcraft 1 players was that everyone recognizes them when they go out. People like BoxeR or iloveoov… There are people recognizing them wherever they go. That was one of the reasons I became a pro gamer. I wanted to gain that attention, I wanted to be recognized like them, but there weren’t that many that recognized me up to now. [Laughs]
Attempting to transition and returning to SC2
That was one of the reasons I once attempted to become a League of Legends player. I didn’t gain the recognition I wanted as a Starcraft 2 player, so I thought, maybe in League of Legends… When I first said that I’ll be switching games, everyone just told me to stop trying and go to the army. I still insisted on transitioning, but I just couldn’t get good enough.
The highest I got was Diamond 1 and it wasn’t enough. It was pretty high, but I thought anyone could hit Diamond 1. You know, Diamond 1 isn’t that high in Starcraft 2. Anyways, as a pro gamer, it didn’t meet the standards I set for myself. After I stopped trying to make it as a LoL pro, I even tried to become an Arena of Valor pro too.
It was all a waste of time for me. One day, during all of that fiasco, I looked at my bank account and saw that I only had about 4M KRW (~3,400 USD) left. That was when I realized things were going wrong. I even had depression symptoms, so a lot of friends worried about me. There was one friend in particular that came to live with me when I was having a hard time. He asked me when I was the happiest.
That hit my head hard. After all that I’ve been through, I was the happiest when I was a Starcraft 2 pro player. That’s how I decided to return. When I did, I found out that I achieved what I did only because there were fans that supported me. Fans came to my stream and supported me again, and this was a huge source of motivation.
I came back at the end of 2018, and I felt that this scene was completely different. I used to be much better than some players that are active, but they were much higher above me now. It was a long way from where I restarted to the top, GSL. At first, I just thought I should be a streamer, but to gain viewers, I needed to be good, and to prove that I was good, I needed to do well in tournaments. I had to practice like I did before, maybe even harder than I did before.
What Starcraft means to PartinG
Starcraft is a game that made me who I am. There are no games that ever gave me this much joy. It could be because of my personality. In team games, you sometimes blame others, or others blame you and criticize you. For me, when I play games, the wins have to be because of me, if I play well, I should get praised, if I play bad, it should be me to blame. Whatever happens, it has to be all me. If Starcraft and LoL appeared at the same time, and if I had a choice to choose, I still would have played Starcraft. I love this game that much.
I want to say that Starcraft is art. A masterpiece. I prioritize the build order when I play. Since all pro players have great mechanics and fundamentals, the build is more important. I might sound arrogant when I say this, but when I find an incredible build, I think, ‘Yeah, I’m a genius.’ [Laughs] Fellow pro gamers often came to ask me about the build when I did.
I’m looking forward to the next hot RTS game. I heard that they’re making one in Frost Giant Studio. That’s one of the reasons I’ll be going to the army early next year. By the time I’m back, there just might be a new, really interesting RTS game. It would be best if it works out that way.
Even if it isn’t released, it would be very different how I feel, whether or not I have finished my mandatory military service. This was what FanTaSy (Jung Myeong-hoon) told me. He’s the head coach of Liiv SANDBOX’s challengers team right now. He told me I’d feel completely different, and that I’d have a much lighter mind. When I’m back, I hope I can become a player or a coach, anything so that I can return to the esports scene.
I did think that someday, this day would come. I still feel that I could play. I’m worried that the Starcraft 2 scene might be gone by the time I return. If I was back, and there was no place to come back to, it would be really sad. On the day I announced that I’m retiring, I was kind of heartbroken, and I had a very long walk, thinking back. There were so many fans that still remembered and cheered for me, commenting on my Twitter announcement.
I started playing this game when I was so young, and at last, I came to this point. I may not have been the best player, but I believe I contributed to raising at least one of the pillars that formed Starcraft 2 esports. When I saw all those comments piling up, I felt proud about the journey I had.
On the other hand, I am sorry to my fans. I may have won several tournaments, but the tournament I wanted to win the most was GSL. The reason GSL was important to me was that it was the first competition that made me reach this point, and because I thought GSL was the most significant competition in Korea. Remember in Starcraft 1? The most important thing was winning in Korea.
There’s something Rain (Jung Yoon-jong) always says to me: “Have you ever won GSL?” Obviously, he’s joking, but there’s nothing to say when he says that. [Laughs] I’m still someone who had a rather successful career, right? Even if I didn’t win GSL.
I always promised my fans that I’ll win GSL this time, I’ll win GSL this time. Looking back, if I worked just a bit harder… Maybe I should have said that I’d retire after I win GSL. That’s why I’m sorry to my fans, and I think it’s the biggest stain in my career.
When I was young, a rookie, I was asked what kind of player I wanted to be remembered as. Back then, my answer was a player that works hard. Now… It’s much more complicated than that. The thought that enters my mind the most was if I ever made my fans be ashamed of me. I’d like to say that I want to be remembered as a player that made his fans proud.
I hope some other RTS games get popular again one day, and I want to win the biggest competition in that game. Even if I have to do my military service, I won’t give up. Nowadays, the average age of a gamer is much higher than before. When I was young, people called players in their early mid-twenties washed up. It’s completely different now. My friend even said that one day, someone will be in their forties and still be active as a pro player.
iloveoov told me about the difference between a young gamer and an old gamer. Young gamers just play games like a robot, while older gamers get fixed more on reality, and have other thoughts about life. Obviously, there would be physical differences as well, and the learning speed will be completely different too. I haven’t felt that line between younger gamers and me yet — one day I might.
Starcraft gamers often worry about going to the army, that the scene might be dissolved when they’re back. Players that become coaches in other games are very limited, so that’s why I’m looking forward to a new RTS game.
I’m thankful to Inven Global for remembering me and calling me for an interview. I was deeply moved. You made me feel that I did well over my career.
More than anything, I want to thank all my fans. There are fans that drifted away and some that supported me until the end — I’m thankful to all of them. When the day comes that we meet again, I hope you become my fan again. I hope you don’t regret cheering for me, and I hope you see me become someone worth cheering for again. I may not have been grateful enough in the past, but now, I really feel that all the support and love you gave me was more than I deserved. Thank you.