Thor, old timer takes us back: 'I wasn't meant to be a successful progamer'
With StarCraft 2, the progaming scene in Korea has opened up to the rest of the world. 'Foreign' players like Jinro, TheLittleOne, IdrA and many more are well-known names in Korea. To give you some perspective, and have the newcomers to the scene of eSports understand how different it was 10 years ago, we talked to one of the premiere foreign players in Korea: Jérôme "Thor" Rioux.
Jérôme "Thor" Rioux was one of the premiere foreign players to enter the progaming scene in South Korea. Together with Maynard, Grrrr… and Pillars, he was in 1999 invited by an entrepreneur to be a part of eSports, an aspiring progaming team consisting of foreigners. All Jérôme Rioux needed was to reach Top 32 in an imminent KBK tournament, and he would get a contract.
- "Back in 2000 the progamer status was not something as known as today obviously. The only players we knew who were making money was Grrr… from PGL and such," says Rioux to GosuGamers. "Other Quake players such as Fatal1ty and Tresh of course, but it was a dream at that time."
- "When I got to Korea, it was the beginning of the KBK tournament. It was my first live event, with tons of people watching you play," says Jérôme Rioux. "I was so nervous and still a kid back then. I really wanted to do well and get a shot with eSports."
A contract for food and accommodation
The Canadian lost in the first round. Luckily, the entrepreneur, known as General~Khalsa, and his posse, were impressed with what they saw and decided to give Rioux a chance either way.
The contract included food and accommodation as well as a small amount of spending money. The four were accommodated in a college dorm section of a women’s college.
- "We had a blast there even though it was small and stuff," says Rioux. "I think we stayed at the dorm for a good two months if I recall correctly. Being the only guys in a women’s dorm was quite weird considering we didn’t have the same ‘student’ lifestyle at that point. We liked to go out and drink soju and to game at ridiculous hours. Sleep all day and play all night was our way to deal with StarCraft. The reason for that was that our buddies back in America were on at that time."
- "I can remember having the dorm supervisor knocking on our door asking gently to stop making noise. But it wasn’t too rock and roll though, the dorm’s entrance was locked from 11PM to 6AM, so we didn’t sleep too many nights in the dorm itself."
Wnning All-Stars event lead to sponsorship
After the KBK tournament, in attempt to attract sponsors, the foreigners in ‘eSports’ did anything they could to get exposure. This followed up until an event called SBS Pro All-Stars, where Thor, Maynard, Pillars and Grrrr… went up against four of the best Korean progamers at that time. The tournament went really well for the two Canadians Thor and Grrrr…, who got signed by a company called U2U4.com.
Grrr went on to win the Hanaro Telecom Tooniverse Starleague, the very first Starleague-branded tournament that later on became OnGameNet Starleague. Thor, after three months, was feeling he was not meant to be a successful progamer considering the sacrifices he had to make.
- "Honestly, at some point, I lost the will of gaming that much. After around the months after my arrival, the contract was rolling with the sponsor, the pressure of performing was quite high even though we were getting lots of exposure," Thor tells GosuGamers. "I mean, back home I enjoyed StarCraft eight hours a day but in Korea... I lost it. It just didn’t feel same for me to game 12 hours or more a day like other top Korean pros were; practice certain matchups non-stop just to get that small edge over your opponent."
"A mistake probably from a gaming point of view"
- "Me and my good buddy Victor [eVERLAST, editor’s note] were too busy hitting the clubs too, not to mention it was cooler to hit the nice restaurants than to hit the PC bangs and game all night. That was a mistake probably from a gaming point of view, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it. It was such a blast. What I would change would be to not play Random in such a competitive environment, but being the only Random player at that level I felt like it gave me an edge over my opponents since 80 per cent of the games were Zerg versus Zerg. But I’ve remained a Random player to this day, haha."
- "The funniest thing we did in Korea was when me and Miguel [Maynard] lurked into Grrr...'s bedroom at like 3 in the morning, at that moment he was in good company with a girl that i would not name right now," says Thor and smiles. "We were acting like commandos in the room completely dark only to realize Grrr... was having 'fun' with that lady. He didn't realise that Miguel and me had been in there for 10 minutes or so before leaving. The next morning we obviously told him about our commando mission... Too bad YouTube or camera phones didn't exist back then. Otherwise Grrrr... would have been on Korean TV shortly after, hehe."
"Sufficient to provide your whole family with food"
While there have been some exceptions in the RTS gaming scene, such as Grubby and Sky for WarCraft 3 and ElkY and Grrrr in the early stages of Starcraft, Koreans are so ahead in progaming success.
Do you think it all comes down to dedication regarding the different successes for the Korean progamers and foreign ones? Or what else would you say it depends on? Culture? Or are we just forgetting about the fact that there are so many Koreans that the number of Korean SC prodigys dropping out doesn't show as much as foreign SC prodigy?- "If we were to compare Koreans versus foreign players, I think the main reason why they are more successful is their speed, from my own experience of watching the top Korean players back in the days. I mean, while the four of us were around 150-180 APM at our respective time, the Koreans were much faster. Watching players like Freemura, ChRh, Zagi, Ssamjang, the first thing that came to my mind was their hand speed, their mouse speed," says Thor.
- "Add to that a great dedication on their part. If you look at it this way: the average salary of a Korean worker was $10,000 USD a year back on 2000. You could top that with a single tournament or with a sponsor deal that guaranteed you steady money every year. It would be sufficient to provide your whole family with food I’d assume."
- "The mindset wasn’t the same as ours obviously, and the teams were already in 2000 giving full support to their players. They had their own private internet cafés where they could practice whenever they wanted. Food, coaches, all you could think of. These guys knew already how to bring their prospect to the top. ElkY, Grrrr, Slayer were players who were really exceptions among us, simply because their exceptional talents kept them at the top without having to really sacrifice so many hours of gameplay. Perhaps it’s that foreigners are more instinctive players, or less robotic. Maybe that’s why we only saw the Asian superstars emerge only a while after the game was out."
You reached Top 16 in the very first Battle.net season. If you could give the newcomers a bit of an insight on how a regular StarCraft match would look like back in the nineties? How would you say it differs from today's matches?- "The games on the ladder back in 1999 were way more unpredictable, it was very hard for me to know what to expect. Rushes were not as common as today I must say. I obviously play StarCraft 2 once in a while and I'm quite amazed how Blizzard made it a short game. It wasn't rare for me back in the days to have a game against a skilled player that lasted more than 30 minutes. What happened, haha."
On StarCraft 2: "I don't think it's as fun as Brood War"
- "I think the dynamics of the game changed a lot. Blizzard wanted to make StarCraft 2 faster and I think they did it wonderfully, but for that reason I don't think it's as fun as Brood War. Everything is so robotic now, but maybe that's me growing older?"
What are your thoughts on StarCraft 2, aside from it being too fast? Experts and fans amass believe it will be what unites the eSports community all over the world, do you agree?- "Yeah, I mean, it's a great game. I do believe they should rework some aspects though, the ladder system ain't too elaborate, there are too many divisions but apart from that I watch professionals play and they are really impressive," says Thor.
- "I think they brought RTS progaming to another level from the days I used to play. Expansions will probably make it less potent though considering adding units will only make it harder for Blizzard to have a great balance, even though perfect balance is impossible. I do'nt think it will be as close as Brood War was. For an old school gamer like me I do believe it's highly entertaining, but not as addictive like the original. I really miss the reaver drops, marine, medic rushes, corsair, dark templar against Zergs or a nice lurker rush. Those were the days, hehe."
- "We have been hopping from one game to the other since almost ten years now. We are still gaming it up together, we're still competitive I would say, but no where near the level we used to play at. I'm too old, haha."