Shocking news greeted Heroes of the Storm fans on December 14th -- the HGC, the official esports league for Heroes of the Storm, would no longer be held in 2019. It’s natural that no tournaments are held when the popularity of the title falls short. However, the way that Blizzard announced the end of the HGC was quite shocking - not only because it came without warning, but also because it was very unlike Blizzard, who has a reputation as one of the best gaming companies in the world. Needless to say, this caused quite a bit of disappointment and anger. In just one announcement, Heroes of the Storm esports was wiped from the esports economy.
Numerous people who were dedicated to HotS esports lost their jobs in just one day. Gen.G Jae-Won ‘Rich’ Lee, who is known as the Faker in the HotS esports scene, also lost the chance to play on the stage. Rich confessed via his YouTube channel that he, “lost his job in just a day,” with a tone of regret, rage, and dejection in his voice.
Although he had to face this loss and frustration, Rich accepted the reality. In order to move forward, Rich has decided to overcome his despair. He has yet to decide the details of his new path; after all, he has not fully recovered from the shock. In the meantime, he is taking time to get refreshed so that he can be ready for the day he stands up. We had the chance to meet Rich as he contemplates his possibilities and hear him talk about how he felt and his future plans.
How have you been after your team disbanded?
Ever since the HGC cancellation announcement was made, I’ve been focusing on streaming and managing my YouTube channel. But I’m worried the results aren’t good despite the time and effort I put into them.
What was your first thought when you first heard the news about the HGC ending?
I first heard the news from Gclef’s analysis stream. His live Twitch stream was titled ‘HGC Discontinuation,’ which I couldn’t believe at first. But then I found out that it was all true after reading the announcement. It was like everything went dark and my mind just went white.I tried reaching out to my teammates but couldn’t because they were asleep. I was on my own, worrying for 3 hours until the rest of my teammates woke up, which was very strenuous. I didn’t want a solution - [I just wanted to] talk to people who were facing the same problem as I was. My teammates reacted the same when they finally got the news. They all lost their spirit, saying, “We’re doomed…”
There wasn’t any notification regarding the cancellation of the HGC prior to the announcement. How did the Gen.G coaches and staff react to this?
We were in the midst of preparing for the next year, talking about positive things. We were in the process of making team merchandise and uniforms for 2019, and everyone was perplexed when they were suddenly hit by the news of the HGC’s cancellation.
You revealed how distressed you were on your Youtube, saying “I woke up only to find I’ve lost my job.”
I wanted sympathy; Blizzard made this decision and I wanted people to know what situation that put me in. I also wanted to express my anger since I had a lot of hard feelings against Blizzard at that point, too.
▲ 'I woke up only to find I’ve lost my job' clip from Rich's YouTube channel (English/Russian subtitles).
Many criticized Blizzard for the sudden discontinuation of the tournament. As a HotS pro gamer and a player, what do you find most regretful about it?
There are many things I find regretful. If they were planning to discontinue the tournament, they should have let people know before BlizzCon or at least during BlizzCon. Also, they didn’t consider the problems that will be caused by the tournament ending; only pro gamers and amateur gamers were playing in higher elo ranked games. They can no longer play high elo ranked games due to the discontinuation. There are less than 200 Grand Master players. You won’t get queued up no matter how many hours you wait. Since it is hard to play ranked games now, it is just a matter of time before the rest of the players quit.
I also feel regret for the devs. They’ve been putting out patches, ignoring player feedback so far. They didn’t fix the queue system for the ranked game although it had many problems. The biggest regret would be the placement system. It was fixed now but it used to be a system where you were placed by getting high MMR through playing Quick Match not long ago. There were too many people who abused the system to get their placement but the devs never reset it. In the end, that’s how the ranked game set in. We needed a system where people could compete based on their actual ability but we didn’t get it.
Some people regard the fundamental fun of the game as the reason for the problem. Heroes of the Storm is a game where it’s hard for specific players to stand out compared to other games in the AOS genre.
It’s true that it is hard to stand out, but I think that’s how HotS was like since before. Recently, they’ve added a system that can make individual player’s stand out with the Talents that help individual scaling. I think that at this point, it’s more about external problems than the game itself.
I think it would have turned out better if only they had changed the profit structure. There were different ways to fix the profit problem like using crowdfunding, but Blizzard chose to create a structure where even they couldn’t make a lot of profit. There were many ways they could make a profit by selling limited edition skins for the tournament and motivating the Blizzard fans to collect them but I was sad to see that they couldn’t make any use of that.
What I also found regretful was the tournament prize. Notably, the gap between the prize money from 1st place to 8th is just too small in the Korean tournament. The prize money is even the same for 3rd place to 8th place. As a result, teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs just give up playing for the tournament in the middle of the season and don’t even practice. What kind of significance does such a tournament hold? I think pro gaming is a job that requires high risk but high return. A pro gamer makes a lot of money if they are good, and not so much if they are not.
Now that the HGC is gone, are there any pro gamers who continue to play Heroes of the Storm?
I’ve seen BlueB2tle play recently but he doesn’t play anymore because he couldn’t get queued up for a ranked game. I’ve been trying to play the game myself in order to create YouTube content but couldn’t because I don’t get queued for a game. Right now, the rank points for most of the Grand Master players remain the same. How people show up for the game is different as well; it’s not like it used to be.
You’ve been recognized as the best HotS player after winning in the HGC finals twice in a row. You must feel a lot of regret being forced to end your pro gaming when you are at the peak.
It just feels hollow having to end it like this even though there are so many things I wanted to do and strategies I’d prepared. I’ve worked on coordinating with the same team members for 2 years and my team could have continued getting good results since HotS isn’t a game with big meta changes, so I feel so sorry about that too.
There were times you weren’t very close to victory prior to joining MVP Black.
I was greatly disheartened since we kept losing even though I played well back then. I thought, ‘this is how hard it is for the pro gamers.’ Then I changed my thinking to, ‘We can win if I play well’ when I met a great team.
What was the happiest moment during your pro gaming career?
Obviously when we won. Winning at BlizzCon was my happiest moment. It wasn’t just about the prize money; I can’t forget that sensation I felt when we won. No thoughts were really in my head - I just felt great. I should let go of that now since I can’t do that anymore.
Gen.G Esports gained a lot of attention when they announced that they will not hesitate to support the players in developing their future career.
I don’t think there’s a reason for Gen.G to be responsible for the future of HotS players when they weren’t the ones who ended the tournament. Teams naturally disbanded because the tournament disappeared, but it makes no sense for Gen.G to be responsible for them. My teammates and I have no desire to depend on our team. We appreciate Gen.G offering to help, but we want to find out what we can do on our own. Gen.G is just offering us a choice and I think the rest is up to the players.
Can you tell us about your future plans?
To be frank, I haven’t decided yet. Right now, I want to keep streaming and managing my YouTube channel, although I’m still worried. I’m playing other games as well; if things turn out well, I could continue pro gaming for different titles. I think it’s better to have several possibilities rather than choosing just one path.
Many people asked me if I have any intention of returning if there’s a new HotS tournament. I don’t think I’ll be able to. Even if there’s a new tournament for HotS, I wouldn’t know how long it will last and how many pro gamers who played with me in the past will be still playing.
Could you tell us how you feel now about HotS?
My affection for Heroes of the Storm was great. I would play that game whenever I had time and I mainly streamed HotS. I had a strong desire to display my showmanship in the tournament and found great enjoyment whenever I improved. However, I think it will be hard to experience that anymore since there isn’t any tournament where I can show it. It’s even harder now that I can’t queue for a ranked game.
You’re known to have reached Challengers tier in League of Legends in the past; have you ever considered switching to League of Legends?
I might if things turn out great after streaming; if not, I won’t. I am considering every option I have; I’m trying different things. I’ve made it to Challengers in season 4 and now in Diamond. I get stressed a lot when I’m playing League of Legends. It’s better when I turn the stream off but it doesn’t when it’s on (Laughs). It’s much harder to keep your composure when playing League of Legends compared to playing Heroes of the Storm. I played in HotS comfortably since there isn’t really anyone toxic to me there but this isn’t so in League of Legends. But still, it would be nice to be in Challengers again. It feels like being a League of Legends Challenger player gives you life promise nowadays (Laughs). I do think that having such a career will be very helpful.
We’re very close to the end of the interview. Is there anything you’d like to tell your colleagues who worked in the HotS esports scene with you?
It’s a hard time for everyone right now but I think there could be a brighter future for us since we just escaped from a depressing situation. I hope things turn out well for everyone. I’ve learned from this experience that you should prepare for other major titles if you want to be a pro gamer.
Lastly, something for your fans?
Honestly, I think I got more attention than I should for the title. The tournament is gone but I still thank the fans for giving me their attention. If anyone wants to watch HotS clips, you can watch them on my YouTube channel.