Guillaume "Grrrr..." Patry is a foreign Brood War legend. The only non-Korean to ever win an Ongamenet StarLeague (OSL), what would become Korea's most prestigious individual league, he lived as a professional gamer in South Korea for around five years, before retiring in 2004. In this interview Grrrr... takes us through his BW career, from his time before going to Korea, his success in Korea and his eventual decline in the pro scene.
In 1998-1999, the period before you went to South Korea, you could be seen playing Zerg early on and then eventually switching to Protoss. Why did you switch to Protoss and were you rack-picking during the entire time, or did you stick with Protoss mainly?
I started out playing Zerg in tournaments. Until I came to Korea, I played zerg. Then when I arrived here, I felt that some maps strongly favored Protoss (such as island maps) so I played protoss on some maps and I randomed on other maps. Eventually I felt like protoss had become my best race, for lack of practice with the other two.
There were seemingly tournaments every single month during those first years.
Back in 2000 there were several tournaments that lasted only one day or a week-end. By 2001 nearly all the major tournaments lasted three months, so the atmosphere was very different then. We first had tournaments with hundreds of players and thousands of fan. Then, except for the finals, we were playing in tournaments that were broadcasted live on cable TV. We were in a small studio with a few other players, often with makeup on, and no fans around.
You won a number of tournaments prior to moving to Korea, and earned a lot of money relative to the time period, but you also had tournaments where you finished outside of the top three or even lower. Were you the best foreigner at the time? What was the level of the top Koreans at the time?
I can't say that I was the best foreigner, but back then some of the best players in practice did poorly in tournaments. It was the opposite for me, I played better under pressure. In 1999, the best players were not Korean. Around mid-2000, that's when Koreans started dominating Starcraft.
There's quite a bit of variance in Starcraft (i.e. a good pro almost never wins over 66% of his games against an other pro). I think that played a large part back then in who would win tournaments and who would get famous.
Which players stood out, either in practice or in tournaments, from that time period?
Fredrik "Slayer" Østervold, Miguel "Maynard" Bombach and Sven "sVEN" Myrdahl Opalic were some of the best players in 1999. Then when StarCraft became more popular in Korea, Kang "H.O.T.-Forever" Do kyung and Park "Reach" Jung Suk became the better players.
(From left to right: Grrrr..., Slayer and sVEN)
In interviews back then you frequently mentioned Maynard as the player you most liked to play against. Since he is not well known anymore, aside from in connection with the approach to work-transferring named after him, what can you tell us about Maynard the player? What was your relationship with him like?
He was the first player to understand the potential for exponentinal growth in Starcraft, and even though his execution wasn't as perfect as other players, he had a winning record against everyone. Making workers non-stop and transfering them to newly built expansions seems like a very obvious thing to do today, but in 1998-1999, it certainly wasn't.
Maynard was and still is a good friend, even though I don't play Starcraft with him anymore, we sometimes play poker against each other on Pokerstars.
When you moved to Korea in January of 2000 it was only five months later that you were able to become the champion of the first OSL tournament (the Hanaro OSL). How smooth was the transition in moving from Canada to Korea? Did you have your own place to live and practice?
Moving here was very easy for me. I never got homesick, I loved Korean food from the start and I found sponsors only a couple of months after I arrived here. I had my own place, but all I did there was sleep. I had interviews everyday and there were lots of tournaments. At night, I would go out and drink with friends. There was little time to practice.
In the final of that OSL you faced H.O.T-Forever, who was a well known player at the time, having previously won an SBS tournament over GARIMTO. Being as the final went the full five maps, with you winning 3:2, how competitive was it? How certain was it you'd win?
I wasn't well prepared for that tournament. I didn't know what to expect. H.O.T-Forever was a good opponent, but there were two that strongly favored protoss over zerg. I wish I had been more... mature/professional back then, more practice and less partying.
(Grrrr... moments after winning the Hanaro OSL in May of 2000)
What do you credit your victory to? Did you have a specific edge over the Koreans, or were you just another good player amongst the pack?
Being able to play a difference race certainly helped. Since two out of the five maps favored Protoss over Zerg, I had a significant advantage going into the finals. I am not a perfectionist, nor do I practice enough, but I have the ability to learn a new game faster than anybody I know. Eventually the other guys caught up and surpassed me, but I was given more opportunities than any other professional. I would often get seeded where other players had to qualify online.
It's difficult for modern fans to gauge how significant your accomplishment was in winning the first OSL. On one hand you're the only foreign player to ever accomplish that feat, but on the other it was the very first OSL ever held, so the tradition of the tournament had not been established to the same degree as when one thinks of a modern day OSL, and there was much to be figured out in the game. What is your perspective on your win's place in history? Did winning it make you the clear-cut best player in the world?
I won Blizzard's open tournament before winning the OSL. Anyone who owned a copy of the game was allowed to participate. Basically they were selecting the top ranked players of the first two ladder seasons to make their world championship. People called me the world champion before I won the OSL, but I would say that Blizzard's tournament had a softer field than the OSL. Maybe because people could cheat to qualify for it (which was easy to do) or because people just got better in that time span (the OSL was six months after).
Nevertheless, the best players at the time competed in the OSL. However, you cannot compare the best players in the world in 2000 to the best players in 2012, it wouldn't be fair to do so. Any of today's pros, and probably anyone rated A+ or A on iccup, would have a ridiculous winning record if they were sent back in time 12 years and competed in the first OSL.
Did winning that OSL change the way the other Korean pros thought of you? Did you have a psychological advantage in subsequent matches? How receptive were the Korean populace to your win?
I don't think that tournament changed the way Korean pros thought of me, but it surely changed the way Koreans in general thought of me. The first OSL final was the second most viewed program on a cable TV channel after the football World Cup. Starcraft was not only super popular, it was super cool. I had people of all ages come up to me in public because I was a progamer. It was very gratifying at first.
There definetly was a psychological advantage. Even pros would choke aginst me, people just as good as me in practice. Koreans were, surprisingly, very receptive. I had anti-fans, people who were upset that the only non-Korean player in the tournament had won, but I can't say that I had more anti-fans than any other top player. There's a saying I heard back then "You haven't made it until you have an anti-fanclub". I'm probably translating it wrong, but you get the idea.
The rest of 2000 saw your results drop off. In the Ro8 of the next OSL you were eliminated, despite having defeated eventual runner-up SKELETON in the Ro16. Then, in the KBK #2 that Slayer famously you finished 5th-8th. How do you assess the rest of 2000? How did your lax practice regime and partying factor into your results?
I wasn't practicing enough in Korea. It didn't affect me until the second half of 2000. It didn't help that I sometimes showed up for tournaments hungover, with shaky hands. Everyone got better, Koreans and non-Koreans alike. That's inevitable. Everyone except me.
When I arrived in Korea, I had a six-pack from casually working out with my high school buddies. I ate healthily and I didn't drink. But you wouldn't believe how fast alcohol can turn a six-pack into fat. I was living an unhealthy lifestyle. I gained a lot of weight, but then I decided to sign-up at a gym (and actually go). Sometimes I fell asleep on the bench, tired from a night of drinking, but I was still going, and consequently I ended up drinking a lot less and started practicing a lot more. I didn't do interviews anymore, and there were no more tournaments other than the televised ones. I had a lot more time.
What was the atmosphere of your partying lifestyle like? Were you drinking with other pros? Celebrities? Did your OSL victory exacerbate your lifestyle in that respect?
I was partying with friends I'd met. I rarely drank with progamers. I had seen or met some celebrities while working, but I didn't really know any of them. I had a lot of friends, however, who were wannabe actors. They were young like me, and they knew a lot of people. Like me, they had a lot of free time. Being a Korean-speaking foreigner that was a bit famous surely facilitated my party lifestyle. The OSL was the main reason why people knew my name by far.
Based on my experiences, and what I've read and heard, Koreans, in general, seem quite shy about speaking in English, even if their level is quite passable, if it's a foreigner approaching them. There is also a quite distinct societal structure in place as respects how different types of personal relationships function, from friendly to family to work varieties. For a foreigner it can be difficult to understand concepts like formal and informal speech, since societies in the West have become significantly more relaxed on such matters over the last century or so.
With all of that said it appears that Koreans undergo a lot of pressure to confirm to their culture, and thus can come off as a little xenophobic in some respects, and perhaps are willing to forgive foreigners early on due to the foreigner "not knowing any better". Once you move beyond being simply a visiting foreigner I can imagine there must be a socetial impetus to become a proper member of Korean society. What can you say about that process and your experiences becoming a citizen, as opposed to a tourist?
What you just said is absolutly correct, I completly agreed with everything. Sometimes I meet foreigners who have been living in Korea for years and still don't know how to speak the language. I couldn't imagine myself living here if I couldn't speak Korean and understand Korean culture.
Although I don't always agree with Korean culture and the values that a lot of Koreans share (especially older people), I consider myself bi-cultural. I've had the opportunity to be completely immersed into an environment where everyone was Korean and spoke only Korean. In Starcraft pro-teams, where people often looked up to me, and at TV studios, where everyone is always polite, so I never felt uncomfortable, I often felt privileged, due to being a foreigner. The same wouldn't be true for an exchange student or an English teacher, unfortunately.
In 2001's Hanbitsoft OSL you finished third overall. You lost a number of times to the eventual runner-up JinNam, but you beat some names who would go on to become very famous in the coming years: YellOw and Kingdom. Did this improved result, in comparison to the previous months, reflect a return to practice for you? Were players like YellOw and Kingdom well known as good players at the time? Could you tell that they would become top players in the future?
I got lucky to finish third in that tournament. I hadn't practiced for any of my games, once I even showed up and played a game on a map I had never seen before. Kingdom had been around for a very long time and, altough he was a strong player, he had never gotten a significant result. For that reason, I didn't think he would ever be famous. I was wrong. YellOw, however, sort of came out of nowhere and dominated the competition. I knew he would be a great player, even better than he already was.
For the rest of 2001 your only results of note were a Ro16 elimination from the SKY OSL and a 9th-12th finish at WCG, losing twice to Chinese player -ID-2000. What is there to be said about that period of time? Was there any point at which you were practicing a lot?
I didn't have any period of trying to practice a lot. I was young and I was making a big mistake that I regret to this day. If I could go back, I would work three times harder. I knew then that I would regret it, but still every night I chose to go out instead of practicing. Nobody was there to tell me not to, and I could have used a positive influence in my life. All my managers were either inexperienced, or they were college drop-outs that were stealing money from me. Things could have gone very differently if I had found a mentor or a manager that I respected, who I enjoyed working with.
While you never found success in the OSL again you did compete in the very first KPGA tour (the precursor to the MSL) and the players who eliminated you were BoxeR and YellOw, who ended up being finalists and were the strongest players of the era, also reaching the finals of an OSL and the WCG. How close were you in terms of competing with the Koreans at that point in time? How had the scene changed since the time you were on top?
Boxer was becoming a living legend, people thought he would be "the last star" Brood War would produce. No one ever imagined a computer game would stay popular for much longer, therefore people, including me, thought that progaming (at least Brood War progaming) would soon die. I wasn't as good as the top Korean pros anymore, altough Yellow was famous for losing almost every televised game he played against foreigners. Non-Korean players couldn't compete anymore with Koreans, myself included.
Since BoxeR was the dominant player of that era how would you describe his impact on the Korean pro scene?
Boxer is the first player who made people realize that, with exceptional execution, many new stategies were viable solutions. He was the most dedicated player; back then, when a player had some sucess in tournament, they would usually slack off and then go on a slump. That was never the case for Boxer, until he went to the army.
Your best moment later was your second place finish in the 1st GhemTV StarLeague, which was the third biggest televised league at the time in terms of prize money. What's interesting is that you defeated NaDa in the semi-final, and that was just around the time when he was on his meteoric rise to becoming the next bonjwa of BW, eventually making and winning three consecutive KPGA Tour titles. What can you say about that victory over such a great player?
NaDa was an amazing player at the time. I think that, playing so many tournaments and losing, I was due for a big result. If you think about it, even if I'm only 40% to win against the other pros, I'm bound win sometimes. Just not very often. I did prepare for that tournament. NaDa was one of the players who had the best work ethics, together with Boxer. It's no surprised they both dominated the progaming scene for so long.
The earliest period of competition in Korea, from 1999-2000, saw a lot of Zergs making up the top end of the scene, with extreme examples like 10 out of the 16 players in the Ro16 of the 2000 Freechal OSL being Zergs. Why was Zerg so prevalent at the time, and why was Terran not much of a factor prior to BoxeR?
Back then, maps weren't designed to be balanced. Or they weren't very good at it. Maps were designed to force players to make new strategies. Many of the maps were, unfortunatly, bad for Terran players.
When relaying the campfire story version of Grrrr...'s career people often point to the introduction of replays as something which affected your success, since then any unique strategy could be broken down and prepared for. Did that factor play a role?
I am not sure replays had anything to do with me not being able to stay at the top. However, as discussed earlier, I know what did.
Another rationalisation given for your decline is that the increasing importance of excellent mechanics is something which left you at a disadvantage, in comparison to the top Koreans. How good were your mechancis during your career?
I had my highs and lows, but really the secret to being at the top of any competitive game that has been out for more than one year is to practice hard with/against the best possible players. I didn't do that, so my APM sucked, my mechanics sucked. At my peak, 1999 to early 2000, my mechanics were, relativly speaking, excellent. Starcraft evolved a lot over the years.
(Very left: Grrrr..., very right: ElkY)
In an interview in 2004 you said "The oldest (professional) gamers are 23. And after that you just stop being good, for some reason. You're too slow." To what extent did age play a role in your retirement that year?
I retired because I didn't want to play Starcraft anymore, I had been playing because it was my job. In 2003 I started playing DotA and poker, so I retired from Starcraft. Looking back, 23 years old seems like a young age.
On a website profile back in 2000 you listed your ambition as "Earn $100,000 a year as a professional gamer". How satisfied are you with your BW career?
I was consider myself lucky to have won the tournaments that I won (I always won the ones with the bigger prize pool and lost first round in the smaller tournaments) and have the sponsors that I had. Nobody made any significant money back then. It's later that Korean corporations started getting involved with esports and progamers started making big money.
In a number of your answers in this interview you've appeared quite wistful when talking about periods of your career, displaying regret for not having practiced enough. If we imagine, taking in consideration that it's purely conjecture, you had practiced more, then what would have been different?
I would have been a lot more sucessful, at least that's what I like to believe. But I wouldn't have any regrets, which is even more important. I loved being a progamer when I was on top. But after I started losing, it was just a job, not gratifying at all. I was getting paid to show up to games, so I did.
When do you think the peak of esports was in Korea as respects BW?
The peak of BW esports in Korea was right before Blizzard announced Starcraft 2. This is what I believe happened. After Blizzard's announcement of Sc2, OGN's viewership ratings dropped dramatically. To counter/slow that drop, OGN announced that they would not broadcast Sc2 tournaments. OGN doesn't have the legal rights to host and broadcast BW tournaments without Blizzard's approval, so Blizzard sued OGN. Then, there was this esports assiciation, KeSPa, that many in the industry, gamers sponsors and tournament organizers alike, believe is a parasite to esports. So Blizzard tried to keep them from interferring with Starcraft 2. Unfortunately, KeSPa didn't back down and the two year long legal battle has greatly hurt esports and professional gamers in Korea.
When Westerners are describing Korean esports they will often throw out the highest end numbers, to wow the more naive, by quoting that BoxeR's fan-club has over a million members, or show photographs of the finals with the most crowd in attendance. On the other hand, others have told me that esports is more comparablet to professional wrestling like the WWE in the West, in that everyone knows of its existence, but it's mainly young people who care about it or follow it.
How would you describe esports for Westerners who have never visited Korea?
Esports would have been mainstream in Korea if it wasn't a completly new thing. By that I mean that, despite its popularity, it took corporate sponsors several years to start investing in it. Tournament organizers had no experience, managers didn't have a clue what they were doing. It takes years to build an infrastructure that established sports have had for decades. I believe that when a new game comes out, a game as popular as BW was, the true potential of esport will be reached. Then eSports will be mainstream,and maybe not just in korea but internationally.
Are there any players after your time as a player who stood out to you or impressed you with their approach to the game?
Obviously there's Flash, who understood every aspect of the game better than anyone else ever had. His execution was near perfect, and he completly dominated the game for longer than anyone else ever had.
(Left to right: Reach, Flash and Grrrr...)
The year after you moved to Korea the Frenchman ElkY did the same, having some success of his own. Since then he has become a poker pro and earned millions and millions from tournament winnings. Being as he is a friend of yours what would you say about ElkY?
ElkY was always a hard working person. We were room-mates when he first got sponsored by Pokerstars. I also played poker back then, but I was very addicted to DotA. Once, in the early days, I lent ElkY my entire bankroll for six months. I was happy: I had an excuse to play DotA all day. ElkY has now become one of the best and most sucessful tournament players the poker world has ever seen.
Being as you're a MOBA player, what do you think of League of Legends' popularity as an esport now?
LoL is extremely popular, but it isn't fun to watch for people who don't know how to play. I don't think it's a spectator friendly game. I believe FPS and RTS are better for esports.
What do you think of starcraft2 as a game?
I thnk it's a good game. I lot of its critics are mostly people who had extremely high expectations... because it's the sequel of the greatest RTS game ever made. But I don't play it. I enjoy MOBAs as a casual gamer. I don't enjoy playing RTS games casually.
The final words belong to you.
The few years I spent as a progamer in Korea are the most memorable of my entire life. I wish good luck to anyone who aspires to become a progamer.
(Photographs all courtesy of their respective owners)