Suppy: "It's not too late to build the foreign scene back up"
NAME: Conan"Suppy" Liu
COUNTRY: United States
TEAM: Evil Geniuses
This is only the starting topic of our talk, however, as we move on to discussing the North American scene, the necessity of WCS region locking, the vicious circle it creates, the 2012 world finals and Suppy's feelings towards SKT's Parting.
The interview was conducted by Radoslav"Nydra" Kolev via Skype on November 1st.
So, first things first. You recently decided to re-sign with EG and go full time. For that you cut your classes at Berkeley. Was that a move you doubted considering how team-mates of yours like Thorzain and Stephano did exactly the opposite, either switching half-time or retiring altogether?
Of course making the decision to go full-time was not an easy one, it was something I spent a lot of time considering. Eventually I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and went for it. I think if I had not taken this year off I would have always regretted not knowing how good I could have potentially become. Berkeley allows you to return regardless of how long you've been away from the school, so I plan to return in a year, making this a relatively low risk adventure.
eSports is a dynamic scene that quickly forgets names when they don’t maintain top form. Is the sheer thrill of being a part of it that much more important than finishing out college?
I am still going to complete college. And as much as I'm doing it because it's thrilling, I'm also doing it for myself. I want to see how dedicated I can be, how much I can improve, and how much better I can become as a person. If I had gone to my third year of college, I would simply have too many obligations and would have to reduce my time in StarCraft even more than before.
You’ve mentioned how your parents fit the “standard Asian family” stereotype in the sense of how they will always push towards academic success. How accepting were they of your full-time contract?
My parents were surprisingly alright with it. They definitely would have preferred I just stay in school, but after joining EG last year they have become gradually a little more positive with regards to eSports. They even attended an MLG event last year in Dallas and enjoyed it quite a lot. I sat down with them and had a talk to let them know of my intentions, and having received their approval, I went ahead with going full-time.
I remember a WCS player spotlight with you in which you said your sponsors helped your progaming career a lot, especially considering you’re part of a scene that is regarded as “underdeveloped” by many. Would you have still chosen to be a fully-committed pro if you were not part of an organization such as EG?
I don't think I would have gone full-time had I not had the support of EG. It probably would have remained a hobby. The support of EG and our sponsors was definitely a big factor in my decision and helps to justify taking a year off from school.
"I don't think I would have gone full-time had I not had the support of EG"
Speaking of the NA scene, it is often brought up when topics such as WCS region locking or the strength of the individual regions are discussed. From the perspective of a player – as well as eSports activity organizer – what is the problem with the NA scene? Is it as serious as people seem to think (i.e. that the scene is dying) or is there a note of exaggeration in all that?
The problem with the NA scene is that now with WCS, there are essentially zero opportunities for the fledgling player to make a name for himself, which is causing a lot of strong NA players to retire. The entire NA region is deteriorating, and with the introduction of global play, the NA ladder which used to be just slightly inferior to EU and KR is now a complete ghost town. Last year players like Scarlett and myself were able to have success in region locked qualifiers and tournaments, like the IPL Playhem qualifiers which put Scarlett on the map and WCS 2012 which allowed me to make a name for myself. Without WCS 2012 I would have never attended MLG Anaheim 2012 and the Suppy you know of today would probably never have seen the light of day. There are so many players in NA that, with the new WCS system that is not region locked, are completely anonymous and unknown to people - like I would have been.
That said, there is a bit of exaggeration, too. Constantly we are seeing posts of "ded gaem", but StarCraft is going nowhere and viewer numbers have stabilized. Just because other games are experiencing more success at the current moment doesn't mean we are dying, or that we can't experience success either. All I wish is that Blizzard would look into changing the WCS system so that it reflects what the original WCS was set out to do - create local heroes, storylines, and have an epic final at the end of the year. Right now the Global Finals at Blizzcon is essentially the exact same as the three season finals we've had so far - not much special about it is there? I always like to use League of Legend's LCS as an example of successful region locking. Viewer numbers DO NOT decline as a result of region locking, if anything they improve because the teams actually have history / a chance to show themselves off.
But the LCS case is a bit different, isn't it? When the region locking hit them, every region had established heroes able to generate arguably bigger interest than a NA StarCraft 2 player could. Maybe the WCS region locking came too early? Before each region could establish its plethora of stories?
How can you have established heroes if you have Koreans come in and dominate WCS AM every season? You can't create heroes if your heroes simply curl up and die every season. You region lock - you give people a chance to become those heroes - and as storylines build, so too does the viewer count. Look at it this way. If there was no region-locked WCS 2012, do you think Scarlett would be an "established hero" that she is now? Perhaps she would have succeeded regardless, or perhaps she would have lost in the Ro32 to some random Korean and faded into oblivion, and I think for the majority of North American players the "fading into oblivion" is the more common path. I'm not here to lecture Blizzard on what the purpose of WCS is, but in my eyes it's purpose is to create those local heroes, and then when these local heroes compete on the global stage the hype is insane.
In short: No region locking creates a vicious cycle of foreigners losing over and over and over again, and results in NO storylines being built.
Region locking, on the other hand, slowly builds storylines, gets people familiar with players, which then leads to more interest and higher viewer counts.
It's an interesting viewpoint but I want to pick you mind on another one. A few days ago while writing an editorial exactly on WCS region locking, I had a conversation with a fellow coworker. While we did find blame in WCS for killing the stories, we also talked about how the "root of all evil" might lie a few years back. After all, even before WCS came, Koreans were allowed to come into leagues that were supposed to develop the NA scene, crush everyone, get the money and through that squash any potential storylines that could've developed. People still remember how little North Americans actually made it to NASL playoffs. What's your take on that?
Sure, that's fine, but that doesn't mean we should just continue not region locking because we've screwed up in the past. Learn from mistakes made before, and fix them. As I see it, we can continue the vicious cycle or we can start anew and build the scene back up. It's not too late.
Photo: Kevin Chang
"It's not too late to build the foreign scene back up"
If we take the latter two questions into account, do you think it is up to the teams to spot talent and put it on the forefront if tournaments cannot? To market the young names outside the competitive environment so their stories can be developed before entering any competition?
It's not worth it for teams to pick up new talent if that talent doesn't have a chance to succeed. No one cares if you build a storyline for a player and they get knocked out first round of every competition. In general, a player needs to have performed well at least a couple times in their career for people to care.
You joined EG in July 2012 and at the time they were already known as a team that primarily signs “poster boys” and powerhouses. You, on the other hand, came from CheckSix with far less premier tournament experience compared to your new team-mates. What did donning the EG colors meant for you then?
Donning the EG colors was huge for me in terms of gaining exposure. I went from around 200 viewers to over 2200 on my first time streaming, and jumped from 455 twitter followers to 1390 in a day, and almost within the month (on my TL stream thread I keep track of all my progress in stats). It was definitely game changing.
What and how much of the competitive gaming craft did you learn from your team-mates and EG as organization?
A lot. I learned a lot about the different games and people who've worked in the industry for ages that I wouldn't have met without being on EG. To be honest it's almost too much extraneous information, back when I was on CheckSix I remember I wasn't very well-versed in much gaming knowledge. I just focused on StarCraft. I have been a community member of TeamLiquid for an extremely long time, but still I didn't know who the best players were, I didn't recognize 90% of Koreans (not even their names), never checked Reddit, etc. Now I am constantly looking for more information, information that is not critical to my game. I remember even going to BWC and not really having an idea who PartinG was, other than that I knew Scarlett was scared of him, and to be honest that helped because I wasn't as afraid as I maybe should have been. I still lost though
When people talk about EG, the concept of marketing personalities and not necessarily results is often mentioned something that is no longer a unique approach nowadays. In the end of the day, do you consider this to be the right way to manage a group of players?
Well, previously I said it's not worth it to pick up a player if they can't win. But in light of the current circumstances, it really is true when Alex Garfield says that results are secondary to marketing now, simply because it is so rare to get those solid strong results. If achieving results is too difficult, it's up to streaming and going on talk shows, casting, etc. to stay relevant.
It’s not like you lack any results, though. In 2012, you placed eighth in the BWC grand finals as the only North American to go that far. One year later, how do you remember the experience?
It was so bittersweet. That tournament is the one tournament I can truly say I practiced as much as I could for. Every day coming back from school I immediately practiced. No internet, no Reddit, no nothing extra. Going into the tournament I was worried I wouldn't even make it out of the Ro32. A 5th-8th place finish was much higher than I had anticipated. But I also lost to the eventual winner, PartinG, after having a 2-0 lead. He cried after beating me 3-2, then proceeded to trash talk me in an interview afterwards. I don't care if that's just his personality, that's just something I won't forget. If I had beaten him I was confident I could win against Sen because I had practiced so much ZvZ for the event (all Zerg Ro32 group) and my ZvZ was looking extremely strong. Being in the finals of BWC would have been life changing. So as I said, it was an extremely bittersweet experience.
Wow, you just killed my next two questions about hypothetical semi final and grand final outcomes... So let me ask you this instead. You say you will never forget PartinG's thrash talking. Do you hold a special grudge against him, like, one that you don't have against any other player?
I think he's the only player I legitimately dislike. I would love the chance to put him in his place and do a little dance in front of his face and REALLY give him a reason to cry, but I will have to improve in order to do so.
Suppy with a fan at Assembly Summer 2012. Photo source: Reddit
BWC wasn’t the only tournament in 2012 where you did the best out of all North Americans. There was also MLG Fall where you were the only such player in the top 20, and Assembly Summer where you also performed better than EG team-mates Idra and HuK. At that time, did you think you could be the new hero of the NA scene, the one to pick up the baton, if I might put it that way?
I believe I was also the furthest placing North American at MLG Anaheim 2012. *smiles* I do think I was one of NA's best at the time, but despite placing higher than Scarlett at a few tournaments I do think she was still a better player than me. My play at the time was pretty strong however, and I do have to at least partly give some credit to the strength of Broodlord / Infestor.
At the start of the interview, we talked about the 2013 WCS a bit and your take on the region locking aspect. Is there anything else that needs to change for the next year? How would you personally construct the next season if you were in charge of the operation?
Challenger League Qualifiers fully region locked (SEA/China may qualify though), so as Koreans get knocked out of WCS the system will slowly be replaced with North Americans. At the same time, it won't be unfair to the people who are still in Premier League. Two spots to qualify available via ladder, can be from any region, which will increase competitiveness on the ladder. Increased prize pool for WCS KR and decreased prize pool in WCS EU and WCS AM in order to incentivise Koreans to play WCS KR more. These are really rough proposals as I don't spend a ton of time thinking about it, but I think changes along these lines would be alright.
Awesome. I guess we can wrap this all too serious interview up. If you have any final words to bring out the cheer - go right ahead!
Thanks everyone for continuing to support me and thanks to my team Evil Geniuses and all our awesome sponsors. I will try to make the most of this year and try to do well for you guys!
Rotator photo: TESPA