Monday, December 7, 2015

Drama: When Pro Gamers Retire

First appeared in Issue 37 of The Weekly All In

Some quick background: "Flash" is, more or less, the greatest StarCraft competitive player, ever. Period. He is frequently and unceremoniously referred to as "God" by many members of the StarCraft community (at least by ones that remember him from 5+ years ago). He was never so completely dominant while playing SC2, but he was always a force to be reckoned with. He's retiring from pro gaming as a player to fulfill the mandatory military service that Korea requires of him.

Some members of the SC community just don't get why/how players must move on from StarCraft, but it's a very real and common thing. This article was to try and explore the process that professional athletes go though as they come to terms with their decline in ability, and figure out what they're going to do next.

Drama of the Week: Retirement: When a God Fades Away
By: Mike Harrell

Flash announced his retirement from professional gaming this week, rocking StarCraft fans around the world. Some speculation informs us that Flash hopes to one day be the head coach of KT Rolster, but there is no indication of when that may happen, or of what Flash’s intended path to accomplish it may be.

Is It Really Retirement?

At 23 years old, “retired” seems like a strange word to describe Flash, or any other former pro gamer. But what does the elite StarCraft player do with himself (or herself, as we will hopefully be able to say before too long) once they’ve finished competing? At 28, I haven’t even entered my intended career yet. But by the time they reach my current age, the vast majority of pro gamers have peaked, declined, and then either taken up non-player roles in esports, moved on and faded into obscurity, or, worst of all, they put on bizarre outfits and create sad “entertainment” streams where they play on as a shadow of their former selves.

But then again, Flash won his first Premier tournament, the 2008 XNote GOMTV Star Invitational, at just 15 years old. Fifteen. What were you doing at fifteen? Probably about the same as I was: in high school, trying to not be scared of girls, and had a minimum-wage job in the summer. The notion of flying all around the world competing in video games for thousands of dollars had not yet even occurred to me..

Yet, Flash’s situation is hardly unique. History is repeating itself right now with Life and Maru, who are both currently just 18. Life won a GSL at 15 and is a BlizzCon champion. Maru won an OSL at 16, and just 6 months ago All-Killed KT Rolster in the Proleague playoffs, defeating Zest, Life, Stats, and Flash, one after the other. It stands to reason that both Life and Maru will continue to have impressive accomplishments for at least the next few years, just as Flash did.

Par for the Course

When will Life and Maru retire? Also at 23? If so, that gives them five more years. To put that in perspective, Wings of Liberty came out five years ago. When StarCraft II turns 10, will Life and Maru still be on the scene? We can only wait and watch, but one day, just as with all sports, even the current upstarts will eventually become a thing of the past.

But when they do, they will still have at least two-thirds of their lives ahead of them. It would be sad to even consider the idea that the greatest accomplishments of their lives occurred before they even turned 20. But what do professional gamers go on to do? Korean gamers generally have required military service, and sometimes, like Boxer and others, become coaches afterward.

Foreign players are just as enigmatic. Day9 got a master’s degree and now works at a game studio making an RTS. InControL is still on the EG roll in some capacity, but mostly commentates tournaments. Tasteless and Artosis have become legendary casters as well. Suppy’s floating around out there somewhere, going to school and competing on BaseTradeTV sometimes. And then there are players like IdrA who decided to go back to school and simply withdraw from StarCraft altogether.

More Than A Player: A Person

A large number of professional athletes of all sporting varieties become depressed after retirement. In fact, they say that a pro athlete dies twice, the first being the day they retire from their sport. Additionally, so many professional athletes go broke and even need to declare bankruptcy within just five years of their retirement that there is literally a book just for NBA players about how to manage salary and endorsement money during their career to make it last through the rest of their life. (It’s called “Winning the Money Game” by Adonal Foyle, an NBA veteran that eventually retired due to injury.)

After a lifetime of absolute dedication and maybe even incredible success, what is left? It’s a question that all pros ask themselves again and again as their retirement approaches and leaves them behind. Finances aside, many athletes struggle with identity, self-worth, and even dramatic changes in body chemistry as they look for new means of personal fulfillment and success. Competitive achievement is suddenly no longer their go-to source of serotonin. They have to find a new and more-rounded approach to life and success

So when a successful player feels like they’ve had enough of competitive training and competition, it’s actually in their best interest, financially, emotionally, and psychologically, to move on and pursue new avenues of interest.  And if they choose to remain part of the scene as a coach or commentator, that’s awesome! But we also cannot begrudge those that choose a different path, especially when that path is getting educated and starting a long-term career. You know, like anyone would at that age.

Fans: Continue Supporting Your Hero

When your favorite player gives up professional gaming, be disappointed, remember the good times, but don’t be mad. Nothing lasts forever, and your player needs your support now more than ever as they transition into a new career and a new lifestyle (especially if it’s a rocky transition).

And when they find that new career, be happy for them! There’s no reason their next 50 years can’t be just as incredible as the first 25, even if it’s not by pwning noobs every day.

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