Stork's silver path of courage
BW-2-SC2 is a feature which presents to the SC2 audience famous Brood War player who have moved now on to competitive StarCraft 2. Rather than leave modern fans lost in a jungle of stats and thousands of games this feature will present a coherent thread for the interested fan to follow to the heart of the story.
Most StarCraft2 fans have heard about the exploits of Flash and Jaedong, have heard tell of Bisu slaying sAviOr to revolutionise PvZ and perhaps even saw JangBi win the last ever OSL. Yet the tale of Stork is far well less known, and understandably so since he rarely won championships. This is that story writ large.
Song "Stork" Byung Goo is a Starleague champion, WCG gold medalist, former #1 ranked KeSPA player, Proleague champion, Proleague MVP, and has amassed an incredible and unique body of work spanning seven years of professional play. Yet he is also one of Brood War's most tragic figures, four times reaching the final of an OSL or MSL only to be sent home with the silver medal, twice with his heart broken on the finals stage of the World Cyber Games and overshadowed at every stage of his career by the unstoppable talents and successes of the other great players of his era.
The stories of his peers in the TaekBangLeeSsang (the quartet of great players from 2007 onwards, made up of Bisu, Stork, Flash and Jaedong) are relatively easy to write in comparison, as each has their periods of team or individual success neatly road-marked with championships and records broken or equalled. With Stork, though, one must adjust the parameters of success and zoom out to see his career from a greater scale, only then can the magnitude and unique nature of his successes be truly understood.
For all his critical moments of failure, days of heartbreak and times of self-doubt Stork has carved out a distinct place amongst BW's greatest ever players and can rightly be considered a legend, one of the best to ever play. His failures were numerous and well documented, coming in the most conspicuous of moments, and yet one cannot help but love and admire Stork for his perseverance, his daring and his heart. This knight-errant stood toe-to-toe with the game's monsters and, valiantly as he fought, paid the mortal price, yet found a way to put himself back together each time.
This is not a story filled with good times, champagne raining down upon the good, the lucky and the destined, but a story of hard work and persistence against all odds, and rather than a happy ending one is left simply to marvel and offer respect for the toil and tears endured by one man for his place amongst the pantheon of the greatest players in esports' hardest game, amongst the most difficult competitive scene ever known.
This is the story of Stork's silver path of courage, and the times he did battle with gods.
2005-2006 The early days - crowned a neo-king
Up until early 2005 Stork had been merely another Protoss player struggling unsuccessfully to qualify for individual leagues. That changed in February as he defeated fOru, the #19 ranked KeSPA player and fifth highest ranked Protoss at the time, in the final of the CYON Challenge League, earning himself a seed into the EVER2005 OSL. The OSL, or "the Starleague" as aficionados often referred to it, was the pinnacle of excellence in Korean Brood War, the most prestigious and important title any player could win individually.
fOru would go on to win the gold medal at that year's WCG but Stork's victory over him merely threw the 17 year old (according to Western age conventions) Protoss into the lion's den, where he would face time-worn veterans and championship-level opponents. In his OSL debut, in April, Stork faced a fearsome Ro16 (Round of 16) group: XellOs was the reigning WCG champion, YellOw the legendary 'King of Silver',who would figure in the context of Stork's later career, and Goodfriend would go on to reach the final of that very OSL.
Despite upsetting XellOs and reaching a three-way tie-breaker against YellOw and Goodfriend, the two players he had lost to, the young Protoss could do little to change his fortunes a second time around, losing out to both again. Still, he was competing with the best players in BW, finishing in the final 16, and this would not be his only chance to get acclimitised to the rarified air of the top.
Over the next eight months Stork reach the Ro16 twice more, but fell there both times. Each time he faced legenday names, losing to the likes of Reach, BoxeR and July, but there was still some heart to be taken from the campaigns, including a win over Iris. Following his second Ro16 appearance Stork had earned a top 30 KeSPA ranking, hovering around the very bottom of that top 30 until December, when he reached as high as #20.
Stork's third consecutive Ro16 appearance had come over the next month or so, and he had caught the eye of many in the scene. It was not only his individual league play which had earned him such attentions, as in the Proleague, Korean BW's team league, Stork had put up the most wins by a Protoss player in Round 2 and in doing so helped his team, Samsung KHAN, grab a playoff spot and eventually finish runners-up.
Named Rookie of the Year for 2005 by the coaches, he was also dubbed one of the 'Three Neo-Kings of Protoss', along with Anytime and Pusan. That showed the kind of expectations people had for his play, being as the previous generation to hold such a moniker, 'The three Kings of Protoss' (Reach, Kingdom and Nal_rA), had all been Starleague champions.
For 2006 his KeSPA ranking continued to rise, breaking the top 10 in April. That very same month Stork reached the Ro16 of both leagues, the OSL and MSL. In the MSL he defeated Pusan but lost to former champions Nal_rA and iloveoov, while in the OSL he found himself on the right side of the outcome of tie-breakers to reach the bracket play portion, which at the time had been changed to begin at the Ro16 instead of the now familiar quarter-finals. In the Ro16 Stork lost 0:2 to 'The Cowboy Zerg' ChoJJa, who was a former OSL finalist, the reigning MSL champion and would reach the final of this season's OSL. Stork's KeSPA ranking spiked to #7 the following month.
The next season of OSL and MSL were a washout and the KHAN Protoss failed to advance beyond the preliminary qualifiers, ending the year in a downward spiral, ranked 30th.
2007 The great year of the king without a crown
In the second quarter of 2007 Stork shined once more in the Proleague, posting an incredible 16:4 record (80%) to help KHAN reach first place. He finished the round with a six match winning streak, and won match point in the final against Oz. Stork was named both the regular season and finals MVP. Appearing back in the KeSPA top 30 rankings again, for the first time that year, Stork's individual league play was about to follow suit.
In the Summer's Daum OSL Stork stormed through the competition to reach heights far beyond the humble early successes of past years. Following a quarter-final win over Protoss legend Reach Stork fell to Iris 0:3 in the semi-final. After sweeping OSL rookie Flash 3:0 in the third place decider, for a better seed into next season's OSL, Stork saw GGPlay, one of the two players to defeat him in that campaign, take the title.
The strong individual play had been mirrored in the GOMTV MSL Season 2, which was held simultaneously, as despite being eliminated by three time MSL champion sAviOr in the Ro16 Stork managed to get new life in the tournament by winning a wildcard tournament to replace OversKy, who had been forced to forfeit his quarter-final spot to depart for the Air Force. With a second chance in hand Stork thrashed 910 3:0 to reach dual semi-finals for the season. There he faced FireBatHero, his Terran team-mate who had done him the favour of eliminating sAviOr in the previous round. Going up 2:0 Stork found himself forced to a deciding map where he emerged the victor, granting him a spot in the MSL final.
The first final - Battle of the best Protoss
In his first ever major individual league final Stork found himself facing Bisu, reigning champion of the MSL and widely considered the best Protoss player in the world. Stork came into the final with a slight edge in PvP winrate and the first four maps were a deadlock, leaving the series knotted at 2:2. Each time Bisu had taken a lead and each time Stork had squared up the score-line. The winner of the final map would take the title.
In the deciding map, of what would be called by many the greatest PvP series ever, Stork found himself wanting and Bisu walked away with a second MSL crown. Stork infamously forgot to research dragoon range during that deciding game, leaving a moment he and fans could agonise over for years to come, due to the close nature of the series.
When the KeSPA rankings were released for August, the rankings always being released at the end of the previous month despite the label, Stork had reached 3rd. That August he beat the likes of Anytime, July and free, before losing to Hwasin, to qualify for the World Cyber Games. Crucially he was the first Samsung KHAN player to qualify for the tournament, which was famously sponsored by Samsung. In the next month's ranking he would be placed at #2.
A second chance at glory
At the beginning of October, mere days before heading to Seattle, USA, for the WCG Grand Final, Stork found himself ranked #1 by KeSPA, becoming the first BW player in history to reach such a distinction without winning an individual league title. Representing Korea abroad he faltered for a moment in the group stage, losing to a Ukrainian Protoss called White-Ra, but defeated fellow Korean Hwasin 2:0 en route to the final.
There he met surprise finalist PJ, who had defeated sAviOr in the other half of the bracket, and the Korean Protoss upheld Korea's unbeaten streak of taking home the BW gold, beating the Chinese player 2:0. It wasn't an OSL or MSL gold, but it was a gold medal nonetheless. For a moment that year Stork stood atop the winner's podium and all was right in his world.
Despite being eliminated from the Ro16 of the next MSL by sAviOr 2:1, strong individual form continued to mark Stork's play as he finished top of his Ro16 group in the EVER2007 OSL. In the quarter-final he defeated Flash 2:1 and in the semi-final he gained his revenge over Bisu by sweeping his MSL foe 3:0 to reach the first OSL final of his career. Stork's opponent in the final would be Jaedong, a Zerg playing in the first OSL of his career and who Stork had beaten in the Ro16.
Even though he'd lost to Jaedong 1:2 at the International e-Sports Festival (IEF) in August Stork came into the final tipped as the favourite. Jaedong was the rookie still caught up in the lights of his first Starleague appearance, while Stork had reached the previous season's semi-final and just competed in an MSL final. It is too easy for readers to see the name Jaedong and think of what the Zerg became, but the context of the day sheds light on why Stork was favoured.
Jaedong came into the final without having shown any proficiency against Protoss, a loss against Stork in the Ro16 and a win over Jaehoon to qualify for the OSL being the only times he had been matched up against a Protoss player. His win-rate vP was 57.50% for 2007, while Stork sat at a PvZ win-rate of 64.44% for the year. Even taking into account the IEF loss Stork was 4:2 overall in their lifetime series. All eyes were on Stork, who was back to being the #2 ranked KeSPA player, to claim his first title and dash the hopes of the would-be Zerg royal roader.
The second final - The turning of the tide
"Playing on a big stage like the finals, due to the nervousness, I might not be able to showcase the best of my abilities, I'll practice hard and prepare."The finals began well, while he had been playing catch-up every step of the way in his MSL final here Stork went up 1:0 after Persona, the same map he had defeated Jaedong on in their Ro16 match. In the second map of the series Jaedong brilliantly executed the famous "ee han timing", seizing a single window of opportunity to attack Stork's base with mutalisks and scourage, mere moments before Stork could hit the critical mass of corsairs needed to neutralise the Zerg's air units.
-Stork before the EVER2007 OSL final.
Jaedong hit the timing window in awe-inspiring fashion, turned the map to his favour and never looked back. The next two maps went to Jaedong also and just like that Stork found himself on the wrong side of history once more, forced to watch another player lift the trophy. Stork's second finals run had yielded a second silver medal. Little could anyone have known at the time that the Zerg who had downed him would go on to win the third most individual titles in BW history
While his OSL story had unfolded Stork had continued to perform at the highest level in team play, finishing Proleague Round 1 play with a 15:6 record (71.43%), including a nine game winning streak. Despite having been thwarted in his efforts to win an individual league title Stork had far and away the most consistent BW player of the year. His win-rate in KeSPA matches had been an astonishing 67.8%, he'd been a stud in both rounds of the Proleague, he'd won the first round as the team's regular season and finals MVP, reached two individual league finals, reached a total of three semi-finals and won the WCG gold medal.
Such large scale successes could not overcome the lack of a title though, and thus player of the year went to Jaedong. Still, Stork was able to win the best Protoss player KeSPA award, beating out two win MSL winner Bisu. Stork had arrived as a championship-level contender, now expectations were for him to take the next step, into the winner's circle.
2008 - Still fighting
2008 began with a regaining of the KeSPA #1 spot, and only the OSL to look forward to, being as the MSL preliminaries had not been a success for Stork. It would be many months before he would make another appearance in an MSL. With Stork's strong all-around 2007 and Bisu's two MSL titles in three consecutive finals appearances the two Protoss players had been, and would continue, battling back and forth for the top spot in the KeSPA rankings as the months went by.
The first big competitive test of the year for Stork was in the service of his team, as they reached the Proleague grand final in February. Losing there to Jaedong's Hwaseung Oz Stork lost his map to Anytime and the team fell 1:4 overall.
Over the month Stork made his way through the group stages of two tournaments, the Bacchus OSL and XNote GOMTV Star Invitational, in blistering form, losing only a single map out of six across both group stages. The latter tournament was the first to be organised outside of the OSL and MSL which stood a legitimate chance of becoming a third major individual league, and players treated it as such.
With the playoffs of both taking place simultaneously Stork navigated his way through both to the final. In the GSI he swept Sea and Iris and in the OSL Best and Luxury fell to his Protoss might. His opponent in the finals of both tournaments would be the 15 year old Terran phenom Flash. The youngster had made his name the previous year by cheesing Bisu out of the Daum OSL, then going on to lose to the eventual champion GGPlay after attempting greedy 14CC builds at the wrong moments. Most vitally: Flash had been beaten in both of the previous OSLs by Stork.
"Flash suggested we should practice together. So we practiced and I think I gained a lot from it."
-Stork prior to the GOMTV Star Invitational final.
Coming into the GOMTV Star Invitational final Stork held a dominant 6:1 record over Flash in maps and had won two series over him, including a Bo5. One of those map wins had even come in the Ro16 of the very OSL they would be competing in the final of in two weeks. Stork had even been practicing against Flash, since each had the other race in their GSI semi-final, so the experience edge should definitely have been on Stork's side. Once more history seemed to favour Stork, and once more he found himself opposite a fresh-faced youngster making his first finals appearance. Just as with Jaedong it's key to note that until this point in time Flash was not a decisive monster known for making clutch plays at the right times, far from it. In a preview for the final on TeamLiquid one of the writers explained that "Flash has historically not been great under pressure, and he tends to lose confidence and go for all in strats once he starts losing." One of the writers even predicted Stork would win 3:0
The third final - TvP revolutionised
Two themes carried over into this final from Stork's previous two finals. Firstly, the series was back-and-forth with him behind a map continuously, eventually pushing matters to a deciding map. Secondly, it was unexpectedly brilliant play from his opponent which sealed the deal and put a mark on the series for history to remember. In the OSL it had been Jaedong's ee han timing and now it was Flash's Double Armory build, which countered Stork's carrier usage and accounted for all three of Flash's map wins. Another young player who had not yet been recognised for their vP brilliance had denied Stork a title.
Unlike past losses Stork had little time to sit around licking his wounds, with the more prestigious OSL final against the same opponent only two weeks away. With the two having played so much recently, and with the outcome of Flash's revolutionary vP build emblazoned on everyone's minds the young Terran decided to up the ante with some mind-games (the term Koreans use for psychological warfare which tries to deceive the enemy or force him to play a specific way).
In an interview Flash proclaimed "I am going to beat you by 'anti-carrier build' strategy", to which Stork responded "I already analyzed your strategy. I am going to break you". The stakes were higher than ever, Stork was playing a fourth individual league final in less than a year and Flash had to rematch an opponent he had narrowly defeated two weeks prior.
The fourth final - Blown off the stage in record time
"I expected Stork rise to the bait for my psychological warfare. So he naturally did it."
-Flash after the 2008 Bacchus OSL final.
Flash's mind-games worked, as rather than employ the promised anti-carrier builds the Terran came out with three aggressive early game strategies, including a cheese to finish off his bewildered Protoss opponent. Stork had not only been humiliated in a sweep by his young foe, but in a record 15 minutes, the fastest OSL final in history.
In the next OSL Stork reached the Ro16 but was beaten in PvP by team-mate JangBi and Best. In the first season of the GOM Classic, the tournament following on the from the GSI, Stork reached the quarter-final but lost another PvP series, this time to BackHo. A welcome respite came in the form of June's Blizzard WorldWide Invitational in Paris, France. Stork was one of the four Korean invites in the eight man tournament, which also featured four well known foreigners. Stork won the tournament without a series loss, beating all three of the other Koreans along the way.
Back in Korea, after months of wavering around the top four in the KeSPA rankings Stork fell to 8th at the beginning of August. In the team league though he continued to find success, leading KHAN to a victory over Sparkyz in the final and posting a 12:8 record (60%) overall. Playing in the Korean WCG qualifier he ran through everyone until meeting Jaedong in the final, losing 0:2 but claiming one of the three Grand Final spots.
Ranked 3rd in KesPA and finally back in MSL action Stork defeated reigning champion fOrGG 2:1 in the Ro16 to make it an all Protoss final four. There he faced KaL, who he had lost to in the Ro32 group, and was narrowly edged in a five map series to miss making his second MSL final.
Over in the OSL he had also made a deep run. Beating Bisu in the quarter-final and Best in the semi-final, from one map down, Stork found himself facing royal roader Fantasy in the final. In his third OSL finals appearance Stork once again met an opponent making their finals debut, and for the second time one making their very first OSL appearance entirely
The fifth final - The SKT T1 all-kill
"There's something I said before moving on to the Bacchus finals. I said that if I didn't win the title, I would probably never make it to the finals ever again."Heading into the November final Stork had a 62.96% win-rate against Terran for the year, while Fantasy came in with a 63.64% win-rate against Protoss. The young Terran also had the benefit of being a team-mate of Bisu and Best, the players Stork had defeated in his playoff run so far, and both were Protoss players, ensuring he would be fully prepared in TvP come the final. Stork had more pressure on him than ever before, by making the final he had become only the fourth player in history to reach three OSL finals, and the only without a title. OGN commentator Kim Carry was famous for predicting outcomes incorrectly, leading to the legend of the "Kim Carrier Curse", and he predicted Stork would be the champion.
-Stork after winning his semi-final against Best in the 2008 Incruit OSL.
Stork got off to his best finals start ever, winning the first two maps. Only one map away from clutching the coveted OSL trophy he found himself pushed back by Fantasy, who took the next two to send it to a fifth and final map. Twice before Stork had faced deciding maps and both times he had fallen. Everyone awaited the inevitable choke, the moment when Stork would panic and make a vital mistake, sending the title across the other side of the stage. Instead this would be the best day of his life.
Sending out a probe to fake a proxy Stork forced Fantasy to build his barracks, after which Stork stole his gas. With his factory delayed Fantasy fast expands with marines and a bunker, but a micro error allows Stork's dragoons to kill the first tank he gets out. Fantasy tries to harass with vultures but they have no effect and when the Terran moves out with his army into the middle of the map Stork quickly gains the supply lead. The game sees Stork pushing Fantasy back and wisely pulling back at the right moments, to protect his lead and not risk forcing a less than secure win.
When Stork's final push comes his face shows no signs of what is about to come, as he destroys Fantasy's army and pushes on through to his main base the crowd erupts in roars of joy. When Fantasy GGs Stork smiles the smile of a man who has been so close so many times before only to have his heartbroken, relieved as much as he is happy.
For the first time it is Stork who gets the champagne bath from his team-mates, gets hurled into the air in celebration and receives the StarLeague trophy and cheque for first place. He had broken the Kim Carry curse. Whether it was just leftover champagne or whether they were real tears Stork's face was pure emotion as he kissed the trophy and paper streamed down from the rafters onto him. On that day the 20 year old Stork became a StarLeague champion
His words in the post-game interview sum up his initial reaction as he says "It was so awkward actually. I didn't know what to do when I won."
"The losses from Jaedong and Flash helped so much, however the biggest inspiration came from last OSL with July. When I saw July play, I was so jealous. How can someone make his opponents tremble in fear like that? How can someone who isn't at his prime like he used to be so good at mindgames? I had to learn because Flash and Jaedong taught me mindgames is what wins leagues, not how perfect your plays are."Mere days after securing his first title Stork is off to Germany for the 2008 WCG Grand Final, as the defending champion no less. In the quarter-finals he defeats Jaedong 2:1 and from there makes it all the way to the final. His opponent in the final is Luxury, who Stork had beaten 3:1 in their semi-final in the Bacchus OSL early in the year. Luxury wins the final 2:0 and Stork is handed his first silver medal on the WCG Grand Final stage, the more things change... At the IEF Stork reaches the final only to lose to Bisu 1:2 there. In the Ro16 of the second GOM Classic season BackHo again hands him a defeat to eliminate him. In spite of all of this setbacks Stork reaches #1 in the KeSPA rankings for December, escaping the stigma of being a #1 ranked player without a major title. Another year ended with Stork having put up incredibly consistent numbers, made deep individual league runs and helped his team in the Proleague.
-Stork after winning the 2008 Incruit OSL.
From July to the end of November Stork's numbers were highly impressive, going 41:18 (69,49%), reaching over 60% in all match-ups and hitting a stellar 17:3 (85%) in PvT.
The Six Dragons and the Golden age of Protoss
The time of Stork being one of the 'Neo-Kings of Protoss' had long since passed and he now found himself a member of a different Protoss group: The Six Dragons. Composed of Stork, Bisu, JangBi, KaL, free and Best, these six Protoss players collectively dominated the Korean BW scene for the last few months of 2008 and the first few of 2009, the first time Protoss as a race had ever been the dominant force in BW. Most notably this was the rare moment in the game's history when PvZ win-rates went into the Protoss' favour.
The six players accounted for three golds, three silvers, and 12 of the 20 semi-final spots in the OSL, MSL and GOM leagues across that time span. For four months five of them made up the top 10 ranked KeSPA players.
2009 - The decline
In the first season of individual leagues in 2009 Stork made valiant runs in both, only to fall in a familiar scenario: to one of the game's most talented players. In the Batoo OSL he escaped tie-breaks to lose to Jaedong, the eventual champion, 1:2 in the quarter-final. Over in the Lost Saga MSL Stork swept fOrGG 3:0 in the quarter-final only to face team-mate JangBi in the semi-final and find himself swept. JangBi made his third final in the last few months (two MSLs and one GOM) but would lose them all.
Those respectable runs were soon forgotten as in the third season of the GOM Classic, this time with significant teams's players not participating, Stork was dropped in the Ro64 by a relative unknown called MVP, despite going 1:0 up initially. In the next OSL and MSL he fell out in the Ro16 and Ro36 respectively, losing to players like type-b, Shine and Kwanro, who should have been far below his level.
As the year wore on his KeSPA rank continued to drop, seeing Stork near the bottom of the top 10. Towards the end of July Stork's KHAN fell early in the Proleague playoffs, with stork's impressive six win streak and 63.64% win-rate rendered meaningless as he lost the crucial super ace match (a single match to determine the winner of a match tied one series apiece) to CJ's EffOrt, eliminating KHAN.
A short revival of form occurred as Stork managed to once more qualify for the WCG Grand Finals, beating the likes of fantasy and Jaedong along the way to the qualifier of the final, where he lost to Bisu 0:2. At IEF Stork won his first ever title there as Bisu and EffOrt failed to get out of their group and he was left the easy task of mopping up foreigners en route to the win.
Off to Chengdu, China, for the WCG Grand Final Stork reached the third straight gold medal game of his career. His opponent would be Jaedong and after a full three map series it was the Zerg who left the stage with the gold medal, Stork consigned to tears and another silver medal for a second straight year.
While he had been eliminated from the MSL before the Ro16 again Stork managed to reach the bracket stage of the OSL for the first time since the first part of the year, even beating Flash in the group stage leading there. As if to show the level Stork's past individual league consistency had dropped to he lost to cheesy Zerg Shine 1:2 in the quarter-final.
The year ended with Stork ranked 10th by KeSPA and with his career on a seemingly inevitable downturn. Over the entire year he'd reached an MSL semi-final, two OSL quarter-finals, won the WCG silver medal and seen his team lose their place as Proleague contenders. The golden age of Protoss had been well and truly over for many months and now so, it seemed, was the winning era of Stork.
2010-2011 - The return
In the early part of 2010 Stork continued to qualify for leagues only to drop out early, falling the Ro16 of the Korean Air OSL and the Ro32 of the Hana Daetoo Securities MSL. Missing out on qualifying for the Bigfile MSL entirely his KeSPA ranking was down to 12th in July. Was this a slow and uneventful demise for the formerly elite Protoss player?
Proleague play had continued to be a source of good results, putting up a 63.16% win-rate over 38 maps played, and including a three kill in a winner's league game against Oz which had culminated in an ace match win over Jaedong. Being as KHAN were not contending for the title though it ultimately meant little.
In the Korean Air OSL Season 2 Stork came alive to reach the semi-finals, where the familiar opponent was Jaedong. Leading the series 2:1 Stork found himself in a deciding match after the fourth map. Pressured by Jaedong's trademark nose for blood Stork found himself lacking a cannon in a costly situation in the final map, ensuring Jaedong went on to the final and Stork merely exited in the semi-final. It had now been over 20 months since Stork had played in the final of an individual league.
At IEF the KHAN Protoss reached another final, only to lost 1:2 to Bisu again in familiar circumstances. The 2010 Bacchus OSL which began in December and ran through to the end of January 2011 marked the moment for Stork's last great run in the individual leagues, the last time he was able to raise his play to a level where he could contend for championships and dispense with the medium tier players which litter the road.
Continuing his tradition of winning tie-breaks he handled a relatively weak field of players, beating HiyA 2:1 in the quarter-final and Modesty 3:0 in the semi-final, to reach his fourth OSL final. The opponent was a familiar one, Fantasy, and amazingly Stork would go into yet another final, even after all this time as the favourite. Fantasy had himself collected only silvers from his two finals appearances and both were members of the infamous 'Kong line'.
Named after legendary Zerg player YellOw the Kong line, who famously appeared in five OSL/MSL finals and won none, was made up of the players who had reached many finals and always come away with the silver. Thus Fantasy with his two silvers, JangBi with his three and Stork with his three had all been seen as descendants of the line.
After winning his Incruit OSL title some said Stork had left the line but this match-up with Fantasy would provide the Terran with a chance to add another silver to Stork's resume, ensuring people still thought of him as a silver medal player. Naturally this theme became the major storyline heading into the final for both players.
In the TeamLiquid preview it read "Though there’s no one thing that's going to seal Fantasy's doom, the deck is stacked against him as Stork has a moderate edge in every department." Of the three writers offering predictions all three predicted a victory for Stork, with one even suggesting he would win 3:0.
"Happy to play against Fantasy. This time the finals maps really favor me. So I have a very good chance to win."
-Stork prior to the 2010 Bacchus OSL final.
On one side Stork had the psychological advantage of having beaten his opponent in the last final, had become the first Protoss to ever reach four OSL finals and was a former champion. On the other omens lurked that hinted perhaps this would be more challenging than even last time. Firstly, the final was to be held in Gwangju, the site of Stork's infamous 15 minute Bacchus OSL final sweep at the hands of Flash. Secondly, Stork was now 23 years old. Even NaDa, famed for his longevity, had only been 21 when he had captured his last OSL title in late 2006. Likewise July, whose third win came three years after his second, had been 21 at the time. While favoured, history was definitely not on Stork's side this time around.
The sixth final - Fantasy's revenge
The final was held on January 29th 2011 and rumour had it that Stork's girlfriend had broken up with him over the week prior to the event. In the final Stork found himself revisited by the nightmare of his last finals appearance in Gwangju, as Fantasy used aggressive and unorthodox play to catch him by surprise, keeping the Protoss off-guard and fighting to stay alive the whole time. Fantasy swept the series 3:0 and took his own OSL gold, ensuring Stork would forver be remembered as one of the Kong line
Somewhat fittingly, in light of his long success in similar fashion, Stork had been a dual league threat during his last run, beating Bisu and reaching the quarter-final of the PDPop MSL also. Once there though he fell 0:3 to ZerO. After hitting a high point of 4th in the KeSPA rankings, an impressive feat at his age, Stork fell to eventual champion Hydra 0:2 in the Ro16 of the ABC Mart MSL, his PvZ ever his weakest match-up.
In the Proleague Stork still put up respectable numbers, a 55.81% overall win-rate with a 13:3 run for one of the Winner's League weeks, but KHAN was in no position to accomplish anything and his results had little effect on matters. A three kill against Oz and a reverse all-kill against MBCgame in January had been the highlights of his team play that year, coming flush in the middle of his league runs.
For the rest of the year his rankings dropped and in the Jin Air OSL Ro16 he lost all three games. The year ended with a single silver, an MSL quarter-final appearance and nothing else to show for himself. The last ever OSL run of his career, in May of 2012, saw a Ro16 appearance but nothing more. In June, aged 23, Stork was ranked 3rd by KeSPA.
The mortal who dared defy the gods
The reason Stork's silver medal finishes in so many of his tournament runs sting so much is because the context of those times always painted him in favourable colours heading into those finals. With the exception of the second final he faced Flash in one could always find plenty of reasons to stack up on Stork's side of the scales and few tangible reasons as to why the opponent should somehow come through and win the title. Looking back from history's vantage point though one can see another story emerge entirely.
Four of the silver medals Stork racked up in his career (three OSL, an MSL and a WCG) came at the hands of three of the top six or seven players in BW history in the form of Flash, Jaedong and Bisu. More importantly one could make a strong case that each is the best player in the history of his race. What's more all three hold the ELO peak for their race vs. Protoss. In four of those finals Stork wasn't simply playing good players, he was facing the gods of their respective races. These were geniuses of the game.
After beating him in their MSL meeting Bisu went on to make a third consecutive MSL final, later made a fourth and won three MSL titles overall. Following their OSL final Jaedong would go on to appear in three more OSL finals, winning the golden mouse for three titles, and make five MSL finals, winning two. After sweeping him out of the Bacchus OSL final Flash became arguably the greatest player in BW history, reaching three more OSL finals and four MSL finals, winning three of each league in total across his career. All three collectively won all four seasons of GOM.
With all of that said it should be noted that Stork did fail in many key moments, and that is undoubtedly the key motif of his career. It's not that he had one or two unlucky moments, or just came up short at the wrong time, one can consistently see the theme running throughout his entire professional career. He finished runner-up in all but one of the finals he reached, he twice lost the gold medal game at the WCG and even lost all three Korean WCG qualifier finals.
If history and the numbers can tell us anything it is that Stork was painfully consistent in his performance: he simply wasn't as good as his best opponents.
Brood War's knight-errant
Viewed from today's vantage point I can only find admiration in my heart for Stork's efforts. Rather than appreciate him in spite of his failures I find his failures endear him to me even more, as I realise how impossibly stacked the odds seem now in his plight to become a champion. Yet he still managed to keep coming back, and eventually did reach his goal of becoming a champion.
What Stork lacked in overwhelming brilliance and nerves he had in heart, persistance and overall consistency. The sheer number of times he made deep runs into both leagues simultaneously, and across a number of years, is a testament to his ability to make the best of his situation. It's too much to paint Stork as a loser and someone who could have been this or that but never managed to, when you can look at Stork and instead see someone far more mortal than his esteemed champion peers, but who in spite of that managed to amass an incredible body of work across a long career.
Stork didn't have the meteroic rise of his peers, or the physical gifts they bore. Stork didn't have the tactical genius of a Flash, able to revolutionise aspects of his races play and overwhelm opponents with relentless macro. Stork wasn't blessed with the impossibly refined mechanical multi-tasking of Bisu, allowing that player to single-handidly reverse the most imbalanced match-up in the game. Stork couldn't develop the laser-like killer instinct of Jaedong, ever attuned to the present possibility of victory at all moments of the highest pressure games.
Instead Stork was just a very good player who elevated himself to the level of those players more frequently than anyone else during his era. He took his strengths, a solid base in all areas of the game, combined them with an intelligent approach and continued to pick himself up after each and every heartbreak. Even Stork's key strength, planning out his approach to a match, never encompassed the vital component of the ability to deceive the opponent with mind-games or intimidation.
"Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions."
-Aung Sang Suu Kyi
It could be said that true courage is when one enters into a situation where one doesn't know if they can win, and perhaps can not, and yet continues on regardless, because the quest is worth the risk of failure. In the grail romances of Medievil Europe it is often stated that the knights who sought the grail all entered the forest alone, apart from their fellow knights, and at the place where there woods were thickest and there was no path.
It was not simply the end goal which marked the quest, but the way in which one approached achieving that goal. This was a test of one's character and soul as much as merely the quest for a golden treasure. In following his own path the knight proved himself worthy of the grail, and this purity of intention and spirit is a key theme which runs throughout the mythology.
The unique route of Stork's silver path
Contrasted only against the rest of the TaekBangLeeSsang Stork's failures are magnified and his successes seem meagre, and yet viewed against the scope of his beginnings, his talent level and his personality one can but marvel at the sustained excellence of Stork's career. Nothing came easily for Stork, there was no tournament where the bracket draw opened up to usher him along an easy path to a trophy or furnished him with his best match-up all the way to the winner's circle, and yet the knight who is pure of heart would have it no other way in his quest.
-One of only two Protoss players to ever be the #1 ranked KeSPA player.
-The only Protoss to reach four OSL finals.
-2008 Incruit OSL champion.
-Three time OSL runner-up.
-GOMTV MSL Season 2 runner-up.
-GOMTV Star Invitational runner-up.
-2007 WCG gold medalist.
-2008 and 2009 WCG silver medalist.
-Proleague champion, MVP and Finals MVP.
-8x in the quarter-finals or better of OSLs.
-6x in the semi-finals or better of OSLs.
-17x in the OSL Ro16.
-13 consecutive OSL Ro16 appearances.
-Over $222,696 in prize money won.
-Reached the semi-finals or better of an OSL/MSL for five consecutive years.
-Ranked in the top 10 of KeSPA for at least one month for seven consecutive years.
-Ranked #1 by KeSPA for four months during his career.
(Photographs courtesy of their respective owners, including FOMOS, dailyesport and fighterforum)