Jaedong - The Tyrant who hated to lose
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.
In the early hours of the morning, for Europeans, news broke out that Lee "Jaedong" Jae Dong had been signed by foreign giants Evil Geniuses, on a one year contract. One of Brood War's biggest ever names had made the leap from a KeSPA team to a foreign team. The Korean Zerg who went from being a young pup upsetting more established names, earning the nickname "The legend killer", to "The Tyrant" racking up five individual league titles from 2007-2010 through to the would-be foil in Flash's ascension to godhood, would now be wearing the dark blue of EG at international tournaments and in the Proleague.
Even the most modern of StarCraft fans have heard of the big accomplishments, perhaps they've heard of NaDa's record six individual league titles, or BoxeR's back-to-back OSL victories in the early 2000s which sparked the explosion of Korean esports, or Flash's epic 2010 which granted him the nickname God, and yet the fame of Jaedong's name is not as easily pinned down to a simple description of his accomplishments. Falling somewhere amongst all of the truly great players the dong painted his own unique masterpiece across a BW career spanning around seven years.
Five time individual league champion, one of four golden mouse winners (the award for winning three OSL titles), one of three players to win back-to-back OSL titles, WCG gold medalist, ProLeague champion, ProLeague MVP and back-to-back KeSPA player of the year award winner. This is the story of Lee Jae Dong, the Tyrant who hated to lose.
2006-2007 The birth of The Legend killer
"Jaedong's strength is his desire to win. I never was in the same team as him so it's a bit awkward, but when I talked to him in the waiting room he smiled. However, whenever he sits on the booth, his eyes change to those of a lion seeking prey."
When a 16 year old Jaedong joined KeSPA team Lecaf Oz in the Spring of 2006 there was little reason to imagine the world would shake from the force of his footsteps. The Oz team, which has been renamed in March of that year, were basement dwellers in the ProLeague, with the only star of note being OSL champion Protoss AnyTime.
Zerg was dominating the MSL, Korea's second most prestigious individual league, with the last three titles going to the swarm, and sAviOr was in peak form, dominating as no other Zerg had ever done before. But with sAviOr's dominance came the crushing inevitability that he would be a one-off, his tactical brilliance and ability to rise to the occasion seemed encoded in his DNA, not something the other Zergs could simply mimic with similar results.
Working his way up through the team
In the first round of the 2006 SKY ProLeague Jaedong managed a very respectable record, for a rookie, of six wins and five losses, establishing himself as the team's best Zerg. He won the rookie award for that round and in the next would take an even bigger step up, taking down the award for the most wins, going 11:1 over round two, and winning the MVP award. That blistering 91.67% win-rate came thanks to the young Zerg specialising in Oz's games on the map Arcadia II and honing his talents in the ZvZ mirror match-up, where nine of those wins were scored.
ZvZ was considered a coin-flip, usually decided by the smallest of margins, like a single zergling more built or a second of mutalisk/scourge micro. Even the mighty sAviOr had his troubles in ZvZ, losing an MSL to ChoJJa as a result of it. Jaedong's early aptitude for the match-up began to set the stage that perhaps here was a new kind of Zerg, something the world had not seen before. In the years to come he would do things in ZvZ nobody could have dared to dream of back in 2006.
In February of 2007 Jaedong was recognised with the Best New Player award at the second annual KeSPA (Korean e-Sports Association) awards. With opposing coaches now fully aware of his ZvZ excellence they would wisely choose to avoid pairing him with their Zergs, instead he would be thrown in with the league's Terrans. Jaedong responded by establishing ZvT as a monster match-up for him in its own right. Facing only two Zergs in the first round of the 2007 ProLeague Jaedong went 15:7, a 68.18% win-rate which established him as the rising star of the Korean scene.
With his career already marked with wins over all-time great names like iloveoov, NaDa, Reach and sAviOr, the young man from Kyungsang-Do was living up to the reputation of his people, who are considered to be more passion-fuelled than the denizens of Seoul, Korea's capital. His victories had earned him the nickname "The Legend Killer" and only his ZvP held him back from being an elite player across the board, though he still lacked any individual league success.
Having lost in the group stage of his first individual league appearance, the GOMTV MSL Season 1, Jaedong first began his campaign to become a top individual league player with a win outside of the OSL and MSL, the two biggest leagues. In August he won the International e-Sports Festival, beating MSL champion GoRush and top Protoss Stork along the way to a $20,000 payday.
The first final - A waltz up the royal road
In the last few months of 2007 Jaedong began his first significant OSL campaign. In the Ro16 he was able to go 2:1, beating three time OSL champion NaDa, but losing to Stork. In the quarter-final and semi-final he continued to lean heavily on his excellent ZvT, taking out Light and UpMagic with only a single map loss over the two series.
Jaedong had reached the final and was in position to walk the royal road, the term given to players who win the OSL in their debut season of qualifying, if he could win the next Bo5 series. His problem was that facing him across the other side of the stage would be Stork, the second best Protoss in the game. Jaedong would have to overcome his biggest weakness, his ZvP, if he was to win the OSL.
History now recognises Jaedong as one of the very best ZvP players ever, with legendary results to back that reputation up, but at the time he was not a consistent top player in the match-up. In July's OnGameNet Star Challenge he had humiliatingly lost a Bo5 final to Rock, someone who was essentially a jobber in the BW world, for anyone who gets the wrestling reference. Jaedong had beaten Stork in the IEF but in the group stage Stork had handed him a loss and after the KHAN Protoss' heart-breakingly close five map loss in the previous season's MSL final this OSL was widely considered to be Stork's time to shine.
Stork had been in the semi-final of the previous season's OSL, the final of the previous season's MSL, was the #2 ranked KeSPA player and was sitting on a scary 64.44% win-rate in PvZ for the year. In comparison Jaedong had a 57.50% win-rate in ZvP and had the group stage loss against Stork as the only map he had played against a Protoss in that season's OSL.
The opening map of the final was Persona, the same map Stork had won in their Ro16 meeting. Stork took it down once more and was up 1:0 on the OSL rookie. The second map of the series, Katrina, would become the stuff of legend. Jaedong found himself in the position of being mere moments from Stork reaching the critical mass of corsairs, Protoss' air-to-air unit, to neutralise his mutalisks and scourge, Zerg's air units. Taking decisive action Jaedong executed the famous "ee han timing" attack, hitting the closing air superiority timing window to perfection and, as it has now famously been dubbed, turning the tide in his favour.
The series had been levelled, Stork had been seconds from going up 2:0 and now found himself with a fight on his hands. The tide had not only turned in that one map, but in the series and Jaedong's ZvP in general. The 17 year old Zerg never looked back, taking the next two maps and the OSL title. Nine months earlier sAviOr had fallen, but now Zerg had a new champion in its midst.
Individual league success was backed up by sustained excellence in the ProLeague, going 13:6 in round two for a 68.42% win-rate. In the space of a single year Jaedong had established himself as a top tier team league player and now an individual league champion.
2008 The arrival of Flash and the first fall
Jaedong had not been the only young star to rise up in 2007, the rest of the TaekBangLeeSsang (Bisu, Stork, Flash and Jaedong) had all made their mark. Bisu had won two MSL titles and appeared in three consecutive finals, Stork had appeared in an OSL and MSL final and Flash had reached the semi-finals of his first OSL and the quarter-finals of the next. Despite being lowest on the totem pole of the four, at the time, it would be the latter who would provide Jaedong with his first real hurdle to climb amongst the elite players.
GOM had begun to introduce a new series of individual leagues, which would run alongside the traditional big two of the OSL and MSL. With three leagues running Jaedong found himself in quite the peculiar situation in February of 2008, scheduled to face Flash in all three individual league quarter-finals, over a span of less than two weeks. Thus began the LeeSsangRok (Korean fan terminology meaning "Two-Lees-war, since the two players have the last name "Lee") which would become the defining rivalry of Jaedong's career.
On February 14th Jaedong beat Flash 3:1 in the quarter-final of the GOMTV MSL Season 4, coming from one map down to win three in a row and take the series. This helped established what would become a famous trademark of Jaedong's career: a series win of a loss followed by three straight wins, dubbed "The Lee Jae Dong score". He had done the same to Stork in their OSL final, but now he would repeat the feat to set it in people's mind as a signature Jaedong outcome. First blood had gone to Jaedong, but Flash had scored a slight moral victory in being the first to ever hand Jaedong a loss on his home map of Katrina.
Jaedong had no time to enjoy first blood in the emerging rivalry, as the next day he played the first map of their quarter-final in the Bacchus OSL. Flash won the first map and when the series resumed seven days later the young Terran took the series, winning 2:1 and with the deciding map being Katrina again. Jaedong's domination of Katrina had been thwarted twice in a row, with the latter showcasing Flash's now infamous mech build. The pair were one for one in series against each other, the decider would be in the GOMTV Star Invitational on February 25th. In this series Jaedong would win Katrina but lose the series.
The second final - Riding the Lee Jae Dong score to a second title
Eliminated from two of the three individual leagues, Jaedong had to watch Flash win both of them, defeating Stork in the finals of each, to leap ahead of him in terms of titles. Jaedong was still in the MSL though, and there set about his own legendary work. In the semi-final he defeated Mind, the previous season's champion, 3:1 with another Lee Jae Dong score (loss-win-win-win) to reach his first MSL final. His opponent in the final, which took place on March eighth, was Kal, a young Protoss player. Once more Jaedong would need to prove himself in ZvP to take down a title.
As if following a movie script Jaedong delivered another Lee Jae Dong score and took the MSL title, finding himself in the bizarre scenario of being the champion of one of the individual leagues and yet considered, by fans, to be in the shadow of Flash for the moment. KTF's young Terran had the spotlight and Jaedong would need to slay him in head-to-head combat to wrest it back towards himself.
Critically Jaedong continued to rack up acclaim, winning three trophies at the KeSPA awards that month: Best Winning Percentage, Best Zerg and Player of the Year.
The third final - April showers lead to a slump
If Flash had temporarily set back Jaedong's meteoric rise then April and May would ensure he was pushed further back, experiencing his first significant slump. In the EVER OSL he was eliminated in the Ro24, losing in ZvP to BackHo. His defense of his MSL title seemed to be his chance to retain his top spot, beating Bisu twice in the group stage and charging through to the Bo5 stage of the tournament, the quarter-finals and beyond.
After beating perennial MSL quarter-finalist Hwasin 3:1 in the quarter-final, with a Lee Jae Dong score no less, the Oz Zerg smashed Protoss Much 3:0 in the semi-final to reach back-to-back MSL finals. This time there was no protoss awaiting him, instead he would have the chance to play his beloved ZvT. The opponent was fOrGG, a Terran from his own team, but the map pool was decidedly Terran-favoured. His team-mate had just beaten up Flash in the other semi-final and his "timing attack" style was the gimmick on which he'd ridden to a final.
In the final Jaedong found himself shocked and humiliated, drubbed in a clean 3:0 sweep by his team-mate. For the first time Jaedong had tasted failure in the final of an individual league, and for the first time in a Bo5 series.
The fourth final - Revenge in the LeeSsangRok
While his MSL campaign had fallen apart at the final stage Jaedong had been running through the first season of the GOMTV Classic, and had reached its final prior to his MSL final. His opponent in the final would be Flash, marking only the second time they had faced off in a Bo5. The previous meeting had been the start of Jaedong's LWWW signature scores, with Flash then beating him in the two following Bo3s. The final was billed as the #1 player in the world against the #2 player, everyone was expecting fireworks and high level play from both.
Those expectations proved far from reality, with Jaedong smashing Flash in a 3:0 sweep, at times finishing games purely with early mutalisks. Jaedong had restored his dignity in the LeeSsangRok and taken another individual league title. That victory didn't mark an overall return to the top spot though, in fact a deeper fall was yet to come.
The real slump
In the next OSL Jaedong fell to a Protoss, Tyson, in the preliminaries, failing to qualify. He managed to restore his ZvP for the Korean WCG qualifier though, beating three of the best Protoss there in free, BeSt and Stork, to win a spot in the Grand Final in Cologne, Germany. From there on Protoss would foil Jaedong at seemingly every turn for the rest of the year, ensuring he won nothing else.
In the ClubDay Online MSL Ro16 he fell to free 1:2, at the WCG Grand Finals it was Stork defeating him by the same score in the quarter-finals, to eliminate him without a medal, and in the Ro32 of the GOM Classic Season 2 the unknown Tempest shocked the world by making three straight significant three map losses to a Protoss. 2008 had ended on a sour note for the Oz Zerg, titles had been won but key losses to Flash and Protoss had taken some of the shine off his second year as a top player.
2009 Returning to glory in the OSL
While the MSL had been Jaedong's playground for the last three seasons, winning a title, reaching the finals twice in a row and making the playoffs for three seasons straight, he had failed to win a series in the OSL since his breakout debut victory at the end of 2007. That would change in the first OSL seasons of 2009.
In February Jaedong was eliminated from an all-Terran Lost Saga MSL group, including a loss to Flash, but at the end of the month managed to navigate his OSL group and reach the bracket stage. Before he could begin his playoff run he would face-off in an exhibition match which had fans around the world salivating: the GOM Classic special match against Bisu. Jaedong was the champion of the first season, Bisu was the champion of the second and the two had yet to establish a series rivalry in the way each had against the other members of the TBLS (Stork and Flash), so every fan excitedly awaited the possibilities of a Bo5 between the two.
-The two players were asked to rate each other prior to the match
Jaedong was the best Zerg of his generation and Bisu was the man who had revolutionised PvZ, making it a trademark best match-up. The series seemed destined to go down as one of the all-time great Bo5s, with each player taking their turn to unload on the other and the score reading 2:2 after four maps. The decider could have been a thriller for the ages, but instead some sloppy hold position micro by Bisu allowed Jaedong to get a ling into his base and from there it was a routine victory for Jaedong, leaving fans feeling blue-balled and at least a little letdown. Jaedong had taken the victory on paper, but his opponent's mistake had robbed him of a little of the shine.
OSL success mixed with Winner's League heartache
In the Batoo OSL Jaedong's March began well, beating Stork 2:1 in the quarter-final. In the Winner's League sub-section of ProLeague, which uses an all-kill format, Jaedong's Oz were in the semi-final and on the 22nd of March he won the match for his team, all-killing Flash's KTF MagicNs 4:0. On March 27th he played his OSL semi-final against hero and rinsed him out 3:0 to reach the final.
The very next day it was back to the team league, playing the final of the Winner's League season. The day began with a movie script-like feel as Jaedong won the first three maps in a row, he was on the verge of a second consecutive all-kill and could grant his team the title with a win against sKyHigh. Instead, Jaedong was taken down by sKyHigh and the Terran went on to reverse-sweep Oz, denying Jaedong and his team-mates the title.
In the OSL final he was facing the previous season's runner-up: SKT T1's Fantasy. Coached by iloveoov, one of the game's greatest ever TvZ players and minds, Fantasy had beaten that season's MSL champion, Luxury, in the quarter-final and team-mate Bisu 3:0 in the semi-final. Having narrowly lost to Stork in the Incruit OSL in the previous season Fantasy was hungry for an individual league title.
The fifth final - Returning from the brink against Mech
Fantasy looked to be a man possessed with a desire to overcome the previous season's failure, taking the first two maps off the back of some at-the-time revolutionary mech play, builds co-authored by iloveoov's devious mind. Only once in the history of the OSL final had anyone come back from 0:2 down to win the title, GGPlay's legendary return against Iris. Jaedong was on the ropes but something inside him would not give up.
Fighting back, game by game, he tied the series up at 2:2 and sent it to a decider. This was the second fifth map decider of Jaedong's career, and he would mark it with a victory. The Batoo OSL title had seemed all but lost and now had remarkably swung back to the Zerg, giving him his second OSL title. He had become the sixth player in OSL history to win multiple titles.
"I’m still tingling. Honestly when I was down 0-2, my mind was blank and I was just playing wherever my hands went. Once I gained focus again, I realized I was losing 0-2 and became fully conscious. My teammates and coaching staff came to my booth and encouraged me a lot. My teammates said because they helped me practice a lot, they believed that I would win. After that I gained a lot of confidence, and before the game I felt very tense and felt my body shudder. Once I played strongly, I won the 3rd set, and after that I was mentally focused. Also, as I thought about the people who suffered because of me, I focused in the 4th and 5th sets."
The days of ZvZ
In 2008 Jaedong had established himself as the king of ZvZ, running up an insane win-rate of 82.14% for the year. The match-up which so many complained was a coin-flip had become one-sided enough in his favour to be labelled JvZ by some. In the Summer of 2009 he would find himself facing Zerg at all the key points of the three individual leagues.
In the GOM Classic Season 3 Jaedong had beaten up some Protosses to reach the quarter-final against EffOrt. CJ's young Zerg was the new rising star of Zerg, having posted a sickeningly dominant 25:3 run earlier in the year. Here he would score a series win over Jaedong, eliminating the OSL champion 2:0. Around three weeks later Jaedong's Hwaseung Oz were in the final of the ProLeague, facing Bisu and Fantasy's SKT Telecom 1. They had reached the final on the back of Jaedong managing to win a super-ace match in the previous round against EffOrt, granting a little revenge and ensuring CJ Entus could only watch the final from the stands.
The finals would be a revenge affair for Fantasy though, as the Terran beat Jaedong in the opening match of day one to begin what was a 4:0 win for SKT. On the second day Jaedong lost to Hyuk in the second game of the series, but his team pulled it to an ace match. Facing Fantasy Jaedong had the chance to bring his team to another super-ace, this time for all the marbles. It wasn't to be though, Fantasy delivered another blow and SKT took the ProLeague crown.
A week later Jaedong faced Calm in the semi-final of the Avalon MSL. Calm showed off some strategical play worthy of the nickname "the Brain Zerg" he would later acquire, taking down "The Tyrant" 3:1 in the semi-final and eventually going on to the title. The very next day Jaedong faced Fantasy in the other league's semi-final, the 2009 Bacchus OSL. Fantasy was no doubt brimming with the confidence of his ProLeague wins, and imagining the previous season's OSL should have been his. Now was his chance to beat Jaedong straight up in a Bo5 and advance to a third straight OSL final, following in the footsteps of SKT T1 patriarch BoxeR.
The first map went Fantasy's way but beyond that it was a familiar story that played out, with Jaedong manifesting the second Lee Jae Dong score of his OSL career, winning 3:1. In the final he faced yet another Zerg match-up, this time YellOw[ArnC], a Zerg who had beaten him in the Ro16. Anyone hoping for a back-and-forth ZvZ series was sorely disappointed, Jaedong rammed home a 3:0 sweep and took his third OSL title, becoming the third player to ever win the OSL golden mouse for three titles. What's more he had become only the second player in history, following on from BoxeR, to win back-to-back OSL titles.
Despite his slumps Jaedong had established himself as the elite player of his generation, sat on three OSL titles, an MSL title, a ProLeague title and a GOM title. He not only lead his peers with four OSL/MSL titles, the others having three, two and one respectively, but his five OSL/MSL finals appearances also lead the pack. This looked set to be considered the Jaedong generation.
"In any given circumstance, he reads them all. He's not just good at playing the game... He knows how to win the game. What I mean by that is, he has a way to win even in the most desperate situation. He's not just GREAT at game (like the rest of the progamers), he KNOWS how to WIN the game. From the start to finish, everything he does is to WIN the game, heck, I don't even know how to describe this!
Later the same August Jaedong finished top three at the Korean WCG qualifier, losing to Stork in the semi-final but grabbing a spot for the Grand Finals. In November he flew out to Chengdu, China, for his second crack at a WCG medal. The first had been ruined by Stork in the quarter-final, this time he came in as the world's best player and the favourite to leave with the gold around his neck. In the semi-finals he met Bisu in only the second series of their careers, beating the SKT T1 Protoss 2:0 to reach the gold medal game.
It was only fitting that there he found Stork, the Protoss he had beaten for his first title and the man who had denied him a chance at a medal in the previous WCG. Stork was in his third straight WCG gold medal game, having won in 2007 and lost in 2008. In a three map finals series Jaedong handed Stork yet another silver medal, adding a WCG title to his increasingly stacked list of career accomplishments. There was little doubt who would be winning the KeSPA Player of the year award for 2009.
Before the year closed out Jaedong faced Flash in the quarter-final of the EVER OSL. Flash had been slumping hard in individual leagues in 2009 but his play in the latter part of the year had been inspired, as he put together a monster TvT winning streak for the ages. On November 25th Flash took the first game, using the SK Terran style (Marine, Medic and science vessels) to overwhelm the Zerg. On Christmas day they met for the second map and this time Flash reminded fans of the days of BoxeR bunker rushing YellOw, taking Jaedong out with a well timed bunker rush. Jaedong had been eliminated from the OSL and in the beginning part of 2009 Flash would go on to take that title.
2010 - The final reign of the Tyrant before the coming of God
Elimination from the OSL left the MSL as Jaedong's only point of focus for individual league play. He trashed Protoss players Stats and Kal, the latter being a regular punching bag for him in individual leagues, 3:0 to reach the final of the NATE MSL. The opponent there would be Flash, who had made the finals of both leagues. For all the success of 2009 Jaedong came into the final as a heavy underdog, all eyes looking to Flash to take the title and ascend as a great player.
Flash had won the EVER OSL a week earlier, earning his second OSL title, and three (BoxeR, iloveoov and sAviOr) of the four bonjwas (the fan term for the players who had ruled the scene alone for a period of time - BoxeR, NaDa, iloveoov and sAviOr) had predicted the KT Terran would take the MSL crown as well, completing his destiny. From October 1st 2009 to January 22nd 2010, the day before the MSL final, Flash had gone 26:4 in TvZ, a mind-boggling 86.67% win-rate. Of those four map losses three had been single map losses in series Flash had gone on to win.
Flash had not lost two maps in a series against a Zerg since September 14th 2009, 131 days prior. Flash's life-time TvZ record at that point stood at 104:44, a godly 70.27% win-rate. Even the map pool was said to favour Flash, with some calling it one of the worst for ZvT ever, especially with the inclusion of Odd-Eye. From Jaedong's side of things there was no bright spot from which to summon hope, he had only played seven official maps against Terrans since October 1st, going 4:3 for 57.14%.
Jaedong was a four time OSL-MSL champion, the best player of his generation, and yet he went into the NATE MSL as an underdog, facing 'The Ultimate Weapon' in seemingly unbeatable form. Jaedong might have been the more accomplished player, but everyone considered Flash the best player in the world at that moment. Now was the Terran's time to take his first MSL crown, become the second, after NaDa, to win both leagues simultaneously and join the lineage of BW's Terran gods.
"Both players are at their prime now and everything they do is brilliant. But as of now Flash is unstoppable.
The sixth final - The Tyrant's last laugh
"I asked Jaedong if he ever gets nervous in games. He said, 'What's the point?'"
The immovable object of Flash was swept aside by the irresistable force of Jaedong in the opening map, Match Point. On the second map Flash utilised a beautifully timed d-matrix'd dropship attack to bring himself back and tie up the series 1:1. Prior to that attack Jaedong had looked to be in a strong position to win and take the 2:0 advantage, now he would have to face Flash on the famously poor ZvT ground of Odd-Eye, the map he had thumbed down to not have to play twice. It felt inevitable that this was the point where the thusfar valiant attempt would fall under the weight of Flash's onward march.
Instead Jaedong summoned the kind of monsterous killer instinct he had become famous for in major finals, outclassing Flash in all respects in one of the best maps of ZvT ever played. At a point where Jaedong was all but certain of winning and taking a 2:1 lead the lights suddenly went out in the venue, the power had gone out. Problems with the electric, caused by a heater, meant all of the computers had turned off along with everything else, it would now be up to the admins to decide how to proceed. After a lengthy discussion the decision was made to award the map to Jaedong, who with a very high certainty would have won it had it been played out.
Rather than just move on to the fourth map Flash's camp, made up of his father and coach, angrily debated back-and-forth over the decision and soon an hour had passed since the third map had finished. When the two players re-entered the server for the fourth map Flash was a mental wreck, immediately losing the map and the title in a build order loss which left the series finished on a low note. In a moment when Jaedong should have been hailed as a Zerg god, having overcome seemingly impossible odds to take the title, everyone was instead obsessed with argument over the controversial power outtage in the third game, somewhat tarnishing a great accomplishment.
Jaedong had been clutch, Jaedong had shown his killer instinct and Jaedong had continued to hold over Flash in Bo5 series, yet the full glory did not accompany the accomplishment, many felt the final would always have a question mark over it, from those who still maintained Flash could somehow have returned in the third map to those who say the delay and arguments prior to the fourth destroyed any chance he had of recomposing himself mentally. Nevertheless, the Tyrant reigned once more on a finals stage. Little could anyone have known it would be the last time.
With five OSL-MSL titles Jaedong was chasing NaDa, who had six, for the top spot in BW history, but the best player of his generation was about to be eclipsed in the span of less than a year and a half.
The rise of Flash and the skewing of the LeeSsangRok
In March in the Korean Air OSL Jaedong was eliminated in the Ro36 by Baby, a 15 year old Terran player, leaving the door open for Flash to storm through another OSL. Left once more to focus on the MSL Jaedong reached a semi-final rematch with Calm, who had beaten him in the Avalon MSL semi-final. This time Jaedong returned the favour, winning 3:1 to reach a fourth MSL final and his second in back-to-back fashion. His opponent there was of course Flash, who had continued to be a monster against anyone not called Jaedong. The KT Terran was in both finals for the second consecutive season, a feat never accomplished before. This time, though, it would be Jaedong who came in as the favourite.
Before we delve into the story of the Hana Daetoo Securities MSL final it's worth creating a point of context for BW history at the point in time it began. After overcoming the staggering odds of the previous season Jaedong had cemented himself as the best of his generation, his accomplishments were simply staggering, from the five individual league titles to the back-to-back OSL wins to the golden mouse. He had won individual league finals against all three races and was considered a master of all three match-ups.
For those who know the history of what followed it can be easy to forget just how fearsome Jaedong was up to this point in time. Jaedong was one of the most clutch players in BW history, if not the most clutch outright. Under the most pressure he seemed unwavering, finding the winning play even when it seemed not to exist. Prior to his Hana Daetoo Securities MSL final date with Flash Jaedong had only lost two Bo5s in his OSL and MSL playoff career. Counting Bo5s played in the playoffs of the OSL, MSL and GOM leagues he was 20:2 in series won, an otherworldly 90.90% win-rate.
In Bo3s he was scary too, having only lost six out of 20 series across the OSL, MSL and GOM playoffs, a 70.00% win-rate. Of those six Bo3 losses three had come at the hands of Flash, who had gone on to win all three of the leagues he had eliminated Jaedong from. Jaedong had made it to the playoff stages of the OSL, MSL and GOM leagues 13 times, winning the title five times and losing to the eventual champion on five of the other eight occasions.
Jaedong had never lost the fifth game of a Bo5 series in his career, always finding a way to win when it mattered most. His ZvZ was the stuff of legend, his ZvT had just won him a title against all odds and his ZvP, which had once been a weak match-up for him, had never lost in a Bo5 series. Jaedong seemed like the ultimate player, the complete champion. If you had money you bet it on Jaedong, he would find a way to win.
The seventh final - The ascension of Flash
The build-up to the Hana Daetoo Securities MSL seemed to completely reverse the scenario of the previous season. Where for the NATE MSL final Flash came in having won the EVER OSL title a week earlier, taking out Movie with relative ease, and being heralded as the favourite for the MSL title, this time Flash came in as the underdog. In the Korean Air OSL final a week earlier everyone had been expecting Flash to win his third OSL title, back-to-back with his second in BoxeR fashion, and thus join the golden mouse club. Korean Air and OGN understood the significance of the situation and had Flash enter the finals arena in a jet, while his opponent was lowered on an elevator.
Rather than see Flash crowned the crowd saw him fall apart and be denied the golden mouse. After going up 2:0 Flash had repeated the horror stories of his past, attempting greedy 14CC economic builds and losing 2:3 to EffOrt's aggression. If Flash had lost to EffOrt, who had never made a final in his career prior to that, then what chance did he have against the same Jaedong who had bested him in his peak form only months earlier?
The odds seemed so stacked against Flash that TL forum legend Rekrul even announced he would be taking bets from Flash fans who wanted to bet on their Terran hero to win the title, thinking he was taking candy from a baby by giving them impossibly tempting odds of 1:1. In the end he had racked up $15,900 in bets on the line, a nice potential score even for a poker baller such as him.
When the finals got underway one can only imagine the chills and angst which must have racked the gambler's body. Flash had been practicing with EffOrt, his OSL foil, and came out with the same greedy 14CC strategy, except this time it worked. Jaedong was suddenly transformed into just another Zerg being rolled over by the might of Flash, unable to kill him in the early game and prevent him powering up to a killing timing attack blow. Flash steamrolled the Tyrant 3:0 and took his first MSL title. As Flash fanboys everywhere checked their paypal accounts, Jaedong fans were left to wonder what had happened to their hero, for the second time in his career he had been swept in the final of an MSL by a Terran.
Still the second best player in the world
Jaedong seemingly put aside the shock and disappointment of the MSL final and set to work on the next season of individual leagues. At the Korean WCG qualifier he took out EffOrt in the semi-final and then beaten Flash 2:1 in the final, restoring hope for fans that he could still beat the Ultimate Weapon. Both would be flying off to Los Angeles later in the year for the WCG, where Jaedong would be the defending champion.
In the MSL he reached the semi-final for a fourth straight season, this time facing TvZ specialist Light, who he had beaten 2:1 in the WCG qualifier quarter-final only days earlier. Light got the jump on him, going up 2:1, but then Jaedong resurrected his killer instinct to bring the series back and defend his flawless deciding map Bo5 record.
The legendary Jaedong death-stare was engaged and rather than roll over and die the Zerg Tyrant brought out his mutalisk mastery to great effect in the fourth map, even using queens to infest a command center. Jaedong was a whirl of in-game rage and now the series was headed to a fifth map, where Light's dreams died just like all others who had faced Jaedong in a Bo5 decider. Jaedong had reached his third consecutive MSL final, and his fifth overall. With Flash having won the other semi-final the MSL would see a third straight LeeSsangRok for the title.
"I don't have a secret; I just practice and live like everybody else. I guess I put a lot of thought into self-improvement. I do everything that I can so I can focus during practice. I felt that a sound body was important to withstanding long hours of practice, so I started working out and eating healthy, on top of positive thinking. Most importantly, I continued these things without quitting. Thinking back, I never let up on those things, not even for a moment."
In the OSL he performed a similar feat of comeback magic, overcoming a 2:1 deficit against a Stork who seemed destined to finally overcome Jaedong in a big moment. Instead the Zerg brought the series to a fifth map and there closed things out, leaving Stork with his own could-have, should-have sob story like all the others. In the other semi-final Flash had rolled through to his third consecutive final, making the finals of both leagues three times in a row simultaneously, and Jaedong would face his Terran rival in both league finals. All roads to another title, which would tie NaDa's six, would go through Flash.
The eighth final - The decider that forever altered the balance of power
The Bigfile MSL final of late August saw the two players come in on seemingly even ground. Flash had swept Jaedong in the previous MSL final, but then Jaedong had won the final of the Korean WCG qualifier against him, even if both had already locked up Grand Final spots. Jaedong admirers could tell themselves that their hero had recovered from the previous season's loss, as evidenced by reaching both semi-finals, and that his heroics in the semis had shown he was still the most clutch player in the world under pressure. Flash fans had to wonder which Flash would turn up in the finals: the Hana Daetoo monster or the NATE MSL and Korean Air OSL silver medalist.
On August 28th the Bigfile MSL took place and Flash immediately asserted himself, going up 2:0. One map defeat from handing the title over to Flash Jaedong dug deep and produced some magic. In a 20 minute macro war, featuring the classic TvZ match-up of SK Terran M&M and vessels against defilers, mutas and ultralisks, Jaedong emerged out the other side of a macro game against the Ultimate Weapon with a win. Under pressure Jaedong had come up with his best to keep hope alive.
In the fourth map Flash decided to lift a command center and swap it with his barracks, to make a better wall with his supply depots. This was done as a result of having scouted and not seen any lings being produced by Jaedong. As it happens Jaedong had lings out and managed to sneak them into Flash's base under the lifted building. The game quickly went to Jaedong and just like that everything was tied up heading into a fifth map.
Flash had crumbled from 2:0 up a season ago against EffOrt, now he had given up a 2:0 lead to Jaedong. Jaedong had previously overcome an 0:2 deficit against Fantasy to win an OSL title 3:2, so with his unbeaten fifth set record in Bo5 suddenly fans had to be wondering if they hadn't counted out the Tyrant too early. Now it looked to be Flash who was feeling the heat. The fifth map would not only decide the title but also the balance of power in BW.
If Flash won he would have reached his fourth OSL-MSL title, beaten Jaedong in two straight major finals and denied his rival the golden badge, awarded to the winners of three MSL titles. If Jaedong won then he would win the golden badge, tie NaDa for the most OSL-MSL titles at six and leave Flash sat on three titles to his six. All of the pain of last season's loss could be avenged here.
Flash prevailed, winning a tight fifth map and grabbing his second consecutive MSL title, Jaedong had won consecutive major silvers for the first time in his career. He had also lost a fifth map of a Bo5 for the first time. Still, he had around two weeks to recompose himself for the Korean Air OSL Season 2 final. There would be a twist this time, as it would be held in China, the first time a major OSL/MSL final had ever been hosted outside of South Korea.
The ninth final - The coronation
The fourth OSL-MSL final between Flash and Jaedong, and the third in a row, was ear-marked for historical significance regardless of who won: if Jaedong won he would not only equal NaDa's individual league haul of six titles, but also become the only player in history to win four OSL titles. If Flash took the crown then he would tie Jaedong at five titles, an astonishing feat for someone who had been sat on two only seven or so months ago. The outcome would of course have huge implications for their personal rivalry also, the two best players in the world fighting for supremacy in the here and now as well as in the history books.
For the third straight final in a row Flash got off the mark first, winning an opening map which saw him overcome a burrowed ling ambush from Jaedong and neutralise the Zerg's defilers. In the second Jaedong struck right back, 4-pooling Flash and tying up the series. Anyone who had put the second game down to ballsy power-play from Jaedong had to question their assessment in the third as the Zerg once more 4-pooled, a play which now looked like a panic play against an opponent he perhaps no longer believed he could beat straight up. Flash held and now Jaedong's only hope of victory was pushing the series to a fifth map, where he was no longer unbeaten.
There would be no fifth map, Flash deciding it in a fourth filled with back-and-forth play, drops and general carnage. For the fourth time in his career, and the third time against Flash, Jaedong had been forced to settle for the silver. BW's most clutch performer had lost out in three big finals in a row now. Once he had been the heavy favourite in their match-up if it took place in a Bo5, and by far the more accomplished player, but now he found Flash equalling him in most regards, results and match-up wins alike. This was not the Flash who had rolled over 0:3 in the GOM Classic Season 1 final two years prior.
WCG - An epic conclusion to the battle for titles
The two rivals headed over to the USA for the 2010 WCG Grand Finals. The bracket draw meant they would meet in the semi-finals, which being Bo3 favoured Flash historically. Then again, with Flash in full godmode perhaps Bo3 marked a better chance for Jaedong to pull back a series win over his rampaging rival.
The Bo3 that ensued may very well be the best TvZ ever played, macro wars played to the absolute highest level between the two best players in the world. Any who thought Jaedong was a beaten man after his three straight finals losses to Flash saw a Zerg fighting back with all of his might against the relentless macro Terran power of Flash. The series went to a third map and finally Jaedong could hold Flash back no longer, the Terran taking the decider and going off to win the gold medal. Jaedong cleaned up the bronze medal but this would mark the last time he would ever face Flash in a playoff series, the war had been won by the Terran.
At the end of 2010 Jaedong had an MSL title, two MSL silvers, an OSL silver and a WCG Bronze to show for himself. For almost any other BW player in history that would mark a career year, incredible accomplishments in the scope of how competitive the BW scene was, and yet for Jaedong it marked perhaps the most painful year of his career, knowing he was the second best player in the world for practically every day of the year and yet winning only once when it mattered, due to always facing the best player and in peak form.
Many years being the second best player in the world for three straight tournaments will be enough to win you one of those titles, for Jaedong that elusive sixth individual title, which had seemed so inevitable after the NATE MSL win, would never come.
The final slump
2010 had ended with Jaedong being eliminated from the Bacchus OSL Ro16 in December, losing to team-mate Hiya and Zerg HoGiL. The latter was quite the shock, as Jaedong's ZvZ was at 75.93% life-time and 75.86% for the year. JvZ had not held up and he was eliminated from the OSL. Over in the PDPop MSL he advanced with wins over Protoss players to reach the playoff stage. In the quarter-final the draw seemed easy enough, newcomer Protoss Snow seemingly held little threat for a man who had never lost a Bo5 to a Protoss in the playoffs of an OSL or MSL.
Snow proved far more resiliant than expected though, going blow-for-blow as Jaedong would win a map and then lose the next. In the deciding fifth Jaedong pulled it out to secure the win, but not after having dropped a little sweat for his tournament life. The Tyrant was into a record-tying fifth straight MSL semi-final, following in sAviOr's footsteps. There he would face Hydra in ZvZ. JvZ had been defeated once before in the semi-finals of an MSL, by Calm in the Avalon MSL, but otherwise had continued to be the benchmark for ZvZ excellence.
Hydra won the first two maps, but Jaedong fought back and tied it up 2:2. This looked like it was set to be just another great storybook finish for Jaedong, fighting back from 0:2 down to win the series and show what an insanely consistent clutch performer he was. Instead Hydra came through in the decider, delivering elimination for Jaedong and the second fifth map Bo5 loss of his career, the first to a Zerg. Hydra would go on to win the title in the final.
The lawsuits and sponsor difficulties facing BW meant there were no more OSLs or MSLs for 2010, Jaedong's year saw him with a single semi-final appearance as his only individual accomplishment, even if there was only one OSL and one MSL for the year.
2011-2012 - One last run and then fade out
The first individual league of 2011 was the ABC Mart MSL, which began in April. By this time it had been around 14 months since Jaedong's final gold medal. What's more the Ro32 saw him drawn in a group of death, last season's champion Hydra having taken the opportunity to align matters so that Jaedong, Flash and Bisu were all in the same group. Despite the high level of danger that presented on paper, with Flash and Bisu both being players who had handed Jaedong plenty of losses in his career and both two of the very best vZ players of all time, things would actually work out just right for the Tyrant.
Beating Sea in his opening game he met Flash in the winner's match, the latter having beaten Bisu in their opener. In the winner's match Jaedong unleashed a furious ZvT to reignite the hope of fans that he could still be a league contender, crushing Flash with shocking ease. Jaedong had qualified for the playoff bracket, with Flash following along after taking out Bisu in the final match.
Overcoming a challenge from Reality in the Ro16 2:1 Jaedong showed his usual dominance vs. Protoss in the quarter-final, beating Grape 3:1. In a record sixth straight MSL semi-final he met ZerO, setting up another ZvZ semi-final. With Flash and Jaedong in opposite semi-finals fans began to wonder if they would meet in a fourth MSL final. Instead Jaedong fell 1:3 to ZerO, who reached the first major final of his career. In that final Flash would sweep the upstart Zerg, reaching three MSL titles, for the golden badge, and six titles in total, moving past Jaedong's five and equalling NaDa's record.
Jaedong had seemingly been destined to be the man to tie or break NaDa's records, yet Flash had come from behind in their rivalry and careers to exceed his rival.
The end of Jaedong the BW player
There would be no more MSLs after that, but there were two more OSLs to be held. In the Jin Air OSL Jaedong qualified by beating Flash in the preliminaries, then lost to Hyuk and hyvaa, two mediocre Zergs, to be eliminated from the Ro16. 10 months later, in April of 2012, he lost to Rush and hyvaa to be eliminated in the Ro24 of the last ever BW OSL.
"I wonder [if] the way [I've] lived is correct? I feel quite dubious today."
Calculating the Tyrant's greatness
Thanks to the way his BW career closed out, with his team far from a contender and his last major tournament runs being losses at the hand of his biggest rival and other Zergs, it's easy for more modern day fans to imagine Jaedong was always destined to live in Flash's shadow, to think that the Terran was always the best player of his generation. That's really not the case at all though. Of the TBLS Bisu got off the best start, with his two MSL titles, and Stork set the bar for consistency, but it was Jaedong who outperformed all of his peers when the first three years of the TBLS era are considered.
Even in defeat Jaedong accomplished some incredible things, as can be seen by updating some statistics I listed previously. If we add in the matches beyond the NATE MSL, after which Jaedong lost three major finals and never won an individual title again, one can see how incredible his resume remained.
In Bo5s Jaedong only lost seven over his entire OSL, MSL and GOM playoff career (also incl. the GOM Special match). Of those seven losses three were to flash, who went on to win all three of those leagues, and three of the other four losses were to the eventual champion. So in total six of Jaedong's seven Bo5 series losses were to the eventual champion of the league, a truly insane showing of Bo5 dominance. In 32 Bo5 series played in OSL, MSL and GOM playoffs Jaedong went 25:7 for a mind-numbing 78.13%) win-rate. He also only lost two fifth map deciding sets in his Bo5 career.
In Bo3s Jaedong only lost six times in his OSL, MSL and GOM playoff career. Of those six losses three were to Flash, who also went on to win those three leagues. Excluding the GOM Classic Special Match, and thus only looking at actual playoffs in the three leagues, Jaedong made 19 playoff appearances, winning six of those titles and losing to the eventual champion a further nine times. So in 15/19 playoff appearances he won or lost to the champion. So even with his losses to Flash, which undoubtedly sidetracked his chances of being considered the best BW player ever, the numbers are still utterly insane for Jaedong.
At the end of his BW career all of Jaedong's three match-ups sit at life-time win-rates of over 63.00%, with his ZvZ at 72.89%. He holds the second highest overall ELO peak, vT ELO peak, vZ ELO peak and vP ELO peak. In 2008 his ZvZ win-rate was 82.14%, in 2010 his ZvP win-rate was 81.58% and in 2007 his TvZ win-rate was 70.37%. He was a GOM, MSL, OSL, WCG and ProLeague champion.
Beyond just the numbers and trophies Jaedong was an incredible specimen aesthetically, constantly pressuring his opponent and looking for that opening from which to kill his opponent and end the game. Like a prowling wolf seeking out the scent of blood from wounded prey Jaedong's aggressive playing style, backed up by second-to-none mechanics, ensured he was not just a great player but a great winner. There were times in BW history when Jaedong could end games simply with his mutalisks around the nine minute mark, even against the likes of Flash.
There has been no all-time great BW player of the calibre of Jaedong whose career has been so negatively impacted by a single other great player. The other great players tended to overlap the downside of each other's peaks, Jaedong and Flash's peaks interwove each other, until Flash finally pulled ahead at the end. Don't consider it failure or a knock against Jaedong's legacy that he lost to Flash so many times at the end, consider it an enormous accomplishment for Flash in having overcome him and on Jaedong's behalf that he was essentially only stopped from likely breaking all the records by a single player, who many now consider the greatest BW player of all time.
The Tyrant's reign has long since been over, BW is dead in terms of the top Korean pro scene and SC2 holds new challenges for Jaedong and his fellow KeSPA players. Now foreign fans and aficionados of StarCraft2 will get to experience one of the most exciting, clutch, accomplished and impressive Korean players of all time.
(All photographs courtesy of their respective owners, including FOMOS.kr, dailyesports, NeverGG and myeg.net)