Interview With Flash: Built on Consistency, the 'God of StarCraft'

There is a saying that even "luck counts towards an individual's skills." Although it's far from logical, many gamers often agree with it. 

When asked about comparing himself to other professional gamers, Young-Ho "Flash" Lee would always respond with, "I'm more constant and consistent in whatever I'm doing." When asked about his previous success in many of the tournaments that he has won, he would always say, "I was lucky." However, this player continued to consecutively get "lucky" on 3 important stages. 

StarCraft is a game in which the players aren't in full control and can't do whatever he or she desires. You have to build appropriate structures depending on scouting results, and the terrain in which your army fights also carries a big RNG factor. As for Flash, however, he slowly removed the RNG factors from his gameplay and slowly approached "perfection". He predicts what kind of build the enemy will utilize and counteracts appropriately. He's reached a point of skill that most gamers will have a hard time understanding. 

He's a gamer that has played StarCraft for over 10 years... what is this "consistency" that he always talks about?

Q. You should be able to catch a break now that the Season 4 of ASL and WEGL has come to an end. How have you been?

I took a break in Busan for a while before coming back to stream. I'm also planning to visit Japan at the end of November. I'll prepare for the next league starting in December.

Q. We saw you preparing for tournaments through your personal stream. It feels like you're just as busy as when you spent time as a professional way back when. 

In regards to having to both stream and prepare for tournaments at the same time, it is indeed busy. However, I'm still granted a lot more free time in comparison to the time I spent as a pro. Now, during the offseason, I have a lot of time for myself.

Q. Continuing from OSL-MSL, you have won perhaps the biggest tournament, ASL, 3 times in a row. As a retired pro, it's completely understandable to back away from the scene and take a break. What drives you to constantly take on that challenge?

When I competed in the first season of ASL, I dropped out at the quarterfinals. On top of that, I lost with a score of 0-3. It left a mark on my pride as a player. And so, as a result, I started putting in a lot more effort. After taking my first victory at an ASL tournament, I tasted the sweetness of victory again, and it drove me to want more.

I wanted to go on a three consecutive win streak at the tournament. Whatever the case might've been, there was always something that motivated me.

Q. There was speculation among fans that while your skills are rising, other players' are falling. As a professional who played back in the day, what're your opinions on today's competition in the StarCraft scene?

In my opinion, I think the competition is a lot more fierce than before. There were strong players long ago, sure, but there are just as many strong players today. AfreecaTV has the 'ace players' of every team. 

Back then, when I played for 'kt Rolster', I had a winrate of 90% during practice - even on stage. But now, I'm having a hard time keeping a winrate of 70%. I'm at the point of getting "used to" losing now.

Many people have the impression that I'm a very strong player, especially because I've won the ASL 3 times. But in truth, I was just lucky. If you only look at the results, I have 3 wins, but most of those wins were taken by a small margin. In season 2 and 3, I barely won 3-2 against Jaedong and Minchul. I never felt that I was better than them.

Q. How did you feel once you took 3 wins in a row?

Amazing. If you set a goal for yourself, it's a real burden until you achieve it. But now, I have no burdens whatsoever. I'm not going to grow complacent or lazy as a result of it, but it really feels good accomplishing a small "dream" that I've had. 

Q. At the Finals of ASL Season 4, I heard that you had nothing on your mind aside from becoming No.1. What is constantly motivating you to shoot for victory?

The biggest motivator is, of course, my fans. Both my fans and anti-fans focus on every little move that I make. My fans also become stressed from defending me from all the haters. Whenever I win, the haters would say, "Flash makes StarCraft boring by always winning." But when I lose, they would say, "Flash is washed up and should retire." I receive a lot of support, but at the same time, I receive a lot of flak, no matter what I do. 

So now, I'm trying my best to take pride in all my fans. To the haters, I want them to be able to say, "Then cheer for your player and help him win." So I'm constantly trying my best. When I lost in the semifinals of WEGL, my name became the most searched word on Naver(Biggest Korean site). Then it made me think again - that I'm in a position where "I can't lose."

Q. Aside from StarCraft, is there a game that you would like to play?

I play League of Legends from time to time. But I don't want to stream myself playing it. It's a game that I strictly treat as a hobby. A lot of players are playing PUBG, but personally, for myself, I find that game to be too hectic. I mean, I can play that game if I really set my mind to it, but people around me tell me, "Don't play PUBG on stream. Your fans won't like that. Even when everyone leaves for PUBG, you of all people should maintain your position and stay dedicated to StarCraft." Even my anti-fans don't like it when I play other games. 

Q. But also, recently, you've lost at the OGN WEGL. What's the difference between a major tournament and a rather, more "minor" tournament?

All the results are based on my skills. I think winning the ASL 3 times in a row put a lot of bias onto the fans. People that watch my streams know. 

When you watch me play, whether a tournament game or even when I'm just practicing, you'd think that I won't be capable of winning such tournaments - but I did well at ASL. But of course, Kim Minchul and Kim Jeongwoo were fantastic with their units.

Q. Looking back at the ASL and WEGL, you only lost to Zerg. Is there a certain advantage that races have over others?

For me, yes. 

Personally, I have an easier time playing against a Zerg player over a Protoss one. As a Terran player, I have to prepare at least 9 different builds ahead of time before playing against a Protoss. A Zerg probably feels just as frustrated when playing against a Terran. On the contrary, for a Protoss player, you only need to prepare about 5 builds when playing against a Terran - only 5 for Terran to Zerg as well.

But when I came to AfreecaTV, I was astonished by how strong the Zerg players are here. We don't have too many Zerg streamers - about 5-6, but they're all truly top-class. When practicing against them, I couldn't find an opening.

Q. Jaedong once said while streaming, "It's not Terran that's OP, it's Flash. Whoever says otherwise will be blocked from my stream." Doesn't it feel bad when people point fingers at the race despite all the effort that you've put in to make it work like that?

I'm a bit taken back when people claim that Terran is "broken" even when I lose. Other than that, when I win, I don't really mind. Back when I first came to AfreecaTV, no one mentioned a single thing about Terran being broken... but starting November of last year, the opinions regarding the race jumped up dramatically. Back then, there was a time when Boseong won against Taekyong 3-0. Then, Boseong made a comment on stream, saying that "Terran seems really strong." 

He later confessed that the reason why he said this was because he felt sorry for Taekyong at the time. He also gave me an apology, saying that he didn't expect such a comment to start a large debate. 

But nowadays, that debate has died down a bit in the AfreecaTV scene. Since I lose to Minchul from time to time, some fans have been telling me that "I'm fighting alone amongst the Zerg," so I don't pay attention to people's remarks on Terran. And also, during ASL season 3 and 4, I was the only Terran player in the semifinals. If I didn't compete in the tournament, the winner would've been a different race. Also, there are more Protoss+Zerg fans than there are Terran... that is probably why that opinion started trending.

Q. Are there plays that can only be seen on the pro scene? Plays that aren't common in regular play?

When I was playing against Cho Iljang, I did a proxy with the barracks during the 1st set. On the map, 'Crossing Field', I played approximately 100 games against Zerg... but it was my very first time having to build a barracks on that spot. It was a build that I specifically prepared for Iljang.

Another example could be how I maneuver my bionics on the map, 'Fight Spirit'. At the time, Iljang was blocking my 2nd base expansion with lurkers. He also had overlords in that area and had taken complete vision. If he sees me moving towards his base, however, he would've had no choice but to recall his mutalisks back to base. It would've been impossible for me to secure the base expansion had the mutalisks stayed there to defend it. But I made Iljang nervous with the movements of my units. I took full advantage of that psychological warfare. This kind of "mental fight" exists between pros in professional matches. 

Q. The opponents that you have played and will play against are also very famous in the SC scene. To keep up and widen the gap between you and the other players, what do you do?

I always emphasize the importance of "consistency". I only take about 3 days off in a month. I don't just mindlessly play the game over and over again, instead, I consistently play the game to keep my hands familiar with the game... I also consistently "think" about the game. The difference between a player that consistently practices and someone who doesn't is actually quite big. A person that just plays once in a while will never be able to beat me. 

Before the ASL season 4 Finals, I took a 4-day break from my stream. And just like when I was a professional player, I practiced with other pros. 

Q. Regarding the gameplay, I'm curious about just how far you take your practice. Do you focus on the importance of even the most minor details?

Countless minor details. I'm a player that puts a lot of focus on efficiently managing resources - even if it means I'm saving just a single digit amount of gas. You might find this underwhelming and barely effective... but in actual practice, the difference becomes huge. How should I explain this... the "rhythm" of the game? Strictly managing your resources can also change the outcome of the game.

Also, the early-ambush builds that I use need to be calculated second by second. The time of the enemy scout arriving at my base to the time of my marines reaching his; everything needs to be perfect. If not, you could end up losing the match by the tiniest margin. That's why those kinds of builds are hard to utilize in professional play, and that is also why I'm always nervous to use them for myself atop the stage. A single mistake can set you far back.

I also prepare builds that are specifically tailored to certain players - something that I come up with after analyzing a player's habits. I actually prepared a certain card for Iljang... but it was a shame that I couldn't show it on stage. Most Zerg players stack their lurkers on top of the hill on 'Fighting Spirit', but Iljang doesn't. So I was planning to utilize the medics' 'Blind' ability to neutralize them. I had actually finalized the upgrade for that ability... but I didn't have enough mana to actually use it. At the very beginning of the SC: Remastered scene, a fan of mine recommended that I try a medic build that utilizes Blind. Including this one, I have many other builds that I really want to showcase on stage. 

Q. In StarCraft, there isn't a single "superior" build. As for your opponents, they are probably preparing many different kinds of tactics to use against you. How will you prepare to counteract their strategy?

Macro-wise, I always think to myself that I'm ahead of my opponents. Then, I choose between these two: either play the game out my usual way or play to counter the enemies' build. 

Also, my playing conditions are a huge part in my performance on stage. When I'm feeling good, I always make the right decisions - I feel invincible. But there are a lot of times where I don't, and everything goes wrong. 

But there is something that I'm very quick with compared to the other players. Against Taekyong, I lost a match in the semifinals. At the time, it felt as if it was impossible for me to win. But after the game, an idea came to my head. I talked about this new idea on stream and actually won using that exact build. Whenever I lose a match, the first thing that I always think about is "why" I lost. I've probably seen less than 10 replays of games that I've lost - because I think about it as soon as the game ends. And strangely enough, as soon as I lost, a new build came to my mind. I thought, "next time, I'll do this." The winrate with the build is also above 90%. 

Q. Fewer players are utilizing builds specifically prepared for you. 

They still do. However, there are a lot of moments where I correctly predict that the enemy has prepared a "surprise" build for me. Even during the ASL, whenever I thought, "Hmm... I should send a scout over there," there was always something there. I'm not saying this to sound humble, but I think I'm truly lucky. Of course, skills are also important, but I think luck contributes about 30%~50% towards a victory. 

Q. Because of your perfectionist playstyle, and how you win so much, many fans complain that your matches aren't fun. As a viewer, what should I focus on to get the most out of your matches on stage and/or stream? 

When I'm playing against a Zerg player, I'm extremely aggressive. My viewers know that now too. I can confidently say that out of all the Terran players, I play the most aggressively when facing a Zerg. I endlessly send marines. My Terran vs. Zerg matchups will definitely entertain you. Back then, I used to play with a lot of siege tanks, so people might have the impression that I'm a defensive player. But for those that watch my stream on AfreecaTV, they know. 

Against a Protoss player, if I play the way I usually play, I never win. That's why I always commit to a timed rush. So as a result, a lot of fans should find it interesting to see me attack at an unpredictable timing. My match with Taekyong during the semifinals also showed this.

Q. People are now saying that "there is no one that can beat Flash." Can you give us a word about your future in the StarCraft League?

To be honest, it's unpredictable - I lost to Minchul very recently. Also, there is another "lucky" factor that is constantly playing in my favor. Every season, there are certain players that constantly beat me in practice. But during tournaments, I somehow always avoid being matched up against them. I'm not saying that I'm scared to face them in the ASL; I'm fully confident, but you can still say that I avoided hard matchups. 

When I was practicing for the semifinals, I practiced with Yoonjong. I lost to a perfect score of 0-5. I was completely distraught and had lost all my confidence before heading to the semifinals stage. But when I arrived, everything played out in my favor. I also went through a lot of emotional difficulties when I constantly lost to Jeongwoo during practice before the Finals. 

Q. On December 5th, Taekyong will join the army (mandatory service). Fans have started to say that once a lot of the famous StarCraft figures get drafted, the SC scene will die out. 

I think it'll continue to thrive. SC was fine even before all of us came to AfreecaTV. While playing as a pro, I heard countless times about how "the SC scene won't hold up," and how "all the pro teams will disband." But at the time, none of the teams disbanded. The danger of the scene dying out will approach when no one says anything about the game - positive or negative. 

The SC scene is rising and falling repeatedly. One game that comes to mind is PUBG. Due to this game, even the most popular League of Legends streamers are having issues. But you can never be sure of how long PUBG will stay popular. In addition, if more "stories" or "drama" occurs in the SC scene, you never know how many people will return. If I lose another match, who knows, people might find it interesting. I won many games back in 2010... and many fans are probably rooting to have me fall from the top. But I can relate to that. When I'm watching traditional sports, I feel the same way. In my opinion, having people cheer when I lose is an important factor for the success of the SC scene.

▲ Kim Seunghyun's team took down Flash's (ASL Team-Battle)

Q. Many anticipated SC's popularity to jump up with the release of Remastered. However, many are saying that the popularity has actually gone down. 

In all honesty, I want to go back to the time before Remastered. During that time, all the streamers on AfreecaTV were doing well. All of us had the leisure to actively go against each other in team-battles. For me personally, however, my stream has been relatively the same - before and after the release of Remastered. 

When Remastered was first released, the servers were very unstable. As a result, many streamers started struggling to maintain viewers as they couldn't partake in team-battles. For many, winning team-battles with other streamers was important for them to maintain a healthy amount of viewers. Due to the problem with the servers, many streamers couldn't set up team-battles for 2-3 months. This was very detrimental to them. 

The server issues are gone now, but the damage has been done. Back then, viewers were spread among many streamers. Now, viewers are concentrated on only certain streamers. I'm sure Blizzard had run into an issue trying to stabilize it... but I think they were too slow in fixing the problem. As a StarCraft fan, I had high hopes for Remastered, but the disappointment was quite big. But luckily, team-battles have been getting popular again, and it has started rejuvenating the scene 

Q. You have been a part of the StarCraft scene for a very, very long time. You've been playing for over 10 years! What meaning does "StarCraft" have for you?

It's a game that I'm truly thankful for. If there was no SC, I wouldn't have become the person that I am now. I wouldn't have received the fans' love either. The game is very special to me.

Also, I'm very strict with what I like and what I dislike. Even when I'm watching a movie, I prefer to watch only certain genres, like thrillers. As a strategy-based game, StarCraft is the best that there is. Having that psychological fight with someone is still very entertaining. SC was a game that I enjoyed playing since I was young, and I always try my best to enjoy the game like I used to. 

Q. Is there anything else that you would like to add to the interview?

Thanks to the cheer and support of the fans, every day has become a joy for me. The only way to pay back the fans for what they have done for me is to win. That's what they enjoy seeing. Some of the anti-fans have also stopped giving me flak and have started pitying me. The only thing I can do is do my best... and showcase entertaining games. I would really like to ask the fans to continue to cheer for me. 

The culture within the SC scene has drastically changed from before. During the WEGL, Minchul played fantastically, but some people have completely stripped him of his glory by stating that "Zerg is just simply broken." I know some of my fans have been saying that to make me feel better, but I really don't like this approach. Sure, fans' approach towards the scene changes over time, but I think we should all aim to create a more mature culture for the SC scene. 

From now on, many other players will start winning tournaments. I would sincerely like to ask you to "look at the player, not his race."

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