Dec. 3 saw one of the most bizarre matches of StarCraft I can recall. It was up there with Johan “Naniwa” Lucchesi’s probe rush against Lim “NesTea” Jae-duk in 2011, a game which only lasted a minute; or the BroodWar epic featuring little known Protoss player eR43-Dunaj, which lasted north of three hours and which, fortunately for your sanity, is not easily discovered.
If you only watched the game without its external context, you might not get why it was bizarre. It was a standard protoss vs. zerg, and not even a particularly good one at that. You don’t really expect the bonjwa treatment from a showmatch tournament featuring names who dropped from their prime years ago.
Such was the reality of the situation at the ZOTAC Cup showmatch grand finals between Luo “Legend” Xian and Lim “Larva” Hong-gyu. The first was once among the best Chinese StarCraft players but one who never found true success in a game dominated by South Koreans. The second was once a lowest tier recruit in SK Telecom, and now a full-time streamer, embracing the showmanship and bravado of MMA icon Conor McGregor.
Legend had come into the show tournament expecting nothing, perhaps even humbled to be playing StarCraft on air once again, with talent such as Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Sean “Day9” Plott commentating his game. Larva, on the other hand, would have none of that. The Korean oozed confidence and arrogance. He was better — infinitely better — than his opponent and he was set to prove it the only way he knew how: with a smirk that can make anyone furious.
Larva and Legend had already met in the winners bracket final when the first insult to injury happened: Larva 2-0’d the Chinese using his off-race, terran, in a message meant to convey undoubted superiority. When the two were eventually matched again in the grand final, Larva switched back to zerg, baiting viewers to believe he had taken it seriously. They couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
After taking a 1-0 lead doing drone dances, Larva closed game 2 playing with one foot on his keyboard. He won game 3 so laid back in his chair, he resembled a couch potato in symbiotic link with all of his TV, chips and chronic back pain.
"Larva’s a showman, and historically, in Brood War, some people are showy but they can literally never back it up," Day9 stated during the broadcast. "Larva is spectacularly good, and that game was a great demonstration of it. That was just so much bravado!"
For Larva, this was another day entertaining his fan base. For Legend, it was humiliation, and neither him, nor Chinese fans, would stand quiet.
“How did I meet such a mentally ill person while going overseas to have a little fun [not sure if that’s what his metaphor means — translator],” a translation of Legend’s post reads. “What kind of enjoyment did you get from this, or did you do it for some mentally challenged fans? When I first knew you, I thought you got your results through hard work, and I respected that. But now I see that I was completely wrong. Even if you were to nuke me in game I would just laugh it off. Outside the game you act like a clown, this is the difference between you and a 1st place professional player. Trash…”
It wasn’t long before ZOTAC Cup intervened to mend fences, and the very next day Larva was banned from all future ZOTAC events.
“What Larva did in the match is very rude, Zotac will not stand for this,” the organizers wrote, and continued even stronger. “For the embarrassment Larva brought to Legend and his fans, Zotac will apologize to Legend and all the fans and media concerning this accident officially.”
It is here that, in pursuit of saving face and fluffing up hurt feelings, Zotac forgot that Larva did nothing wrong. Not even a single rule was broken.
It is crucial to understand that the essence of competition is to win. We compete to be first, to leave everyone else trailing, to prove ourselves superior. Competition can win us friends, strengthen our bodies, lift our spirits and entertain our audiences but in its core it’s all about the strive for victory and the pursuit for excellence. And once achieved, there’s no reason to hide that excellence — we’ve earned it.
For years I’ve watched a grinning Ronaldinho run circles around defenders because he can. I’m even old enough to remember Rene Higuita’s signature “scorpion kick” that must have been infuriating for strikers. When I want to show my friends why I love hockey, I play them this goal by San Joke Sharks’ Tomas Hertl, a cheeky between-the-legs shot, and the look of embarrassment on Martin Biron’s face. We’ve seen knife frags in CS:GO, “manner” mules in StarCraft, “bad manner” lethals in Hearthstone and the infamous "FirebatHero ceremonies" in BroodWar.
Larva defeated someone with his feet. So what?
This situation reminds me of a quote from Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. In one scene, the character of J. K. Simmons — a brutal and cynical music instructor — tells the story of how Charlie “Bird” Parker came to be one of the greatest jazz musicians in history.
“Parker’s a young kid, pretty good on the sax. Gets up to play at a cutting session, and he fucks it up. And [Jo] Jones nearly decapitates him for it. And he’s laughed off-stage. Cries himself to sleep that night, but the next morning, what does he do? He practices. And he practices and he practices with one goal in mind, never to be laughed at again. And a year later, he goes back to the Reno and he steps up on that stage, and plays the best motherfucking solo the world has ever heard.
Imagine if Jones just said, “Well, that’s okay, Charlie. That was all right. Good job.” And then Charlie thinks to himself, “Well, shit, I did do a pretty good job.” End of story. No Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy. But that’s just what the world wants now.”
In conclusion, we can hardly call this Zotac Cup real esports. It didn’t have real storylines. Legend is not going to return to contesting championships and Larva will never surpass the old masters of BroodWar regardless of how many tournaments he wins from now on. They are not going to become the Bird of StarCraft. But it was still competition and as such, these core philosophies still apply.
There are winners, who dictate history, and losers who choose how to accept it. No one’s obligated to bubble-wrap it all for your comfort. And isn’t a tournament organizer running in to plaster the emergency PR bandage like an overly attached mother perhaps even more humiliating?