Still a prince: an interview with StarCraft 2 icon Lee Jung Hoon, aka MarineKingPrime
In any sport, there's a loser for every winner. Every time a champion is showered in champagne (or Diet Coke, if they're underage) and raises a trophy to a screaming crowd, there's a player who stands silently to the side, humbled, overshadowed and defeated. Lee Jung Hoon has been this player four times. At 17 years old, he's a StarCraft veteran, one of the best Terran players in the world, and he's incredibly successful. His fans rank among the most passionate, his games as the most exciting. Jung Hoon is well-mannered, exciting, emotional, a little bit shy, all while maintaining his status as one of the most dynamic figures of StarCraft 2. Yet he's never won a major tournament.
“SC2 is much more open in terms of opportunities.”
Newcomers to the exploding StarCraft scene may be surprised to know that in 2009, long before StarCraft 2 was released, Jung Hoon was living the life of a professional gamer. Going by the ID “Clare,” he played for the Korean pro team MBC Game. If you weren't around to keep track of the Brood War scene, all you need to know is that this was a huge deal.
Getting a prized spot on any pro Brood War team is hard. Jung Hoon earned his spot, and even a few short cameos alongside his former teammate, Jang Min Chul, in the classic Brood War show “Hyungjoon Becomes a Pro gamer.” In tournaments, however, Jung Hoon garnered little success. In June of 2010, with no improvement and StarCraft 2 burning on the horizon, he played his last official game of Brood War. Four months later Jung Hoon shed himself of the name “Clare” and made “the switch” with his entrance into the GSL Open Season 2.
Starting anew, Jung Hoon's chose “Boxer” as his first StarCraft 2 ID. The Korean community, which knows players primarily by their real names, gave small reaction. But the foreign (outside Korea) StarCraft community was outraged. The real Boxer, SlayerS_BoxeR, aka Lim Yo Hwan, aka The Emperor, had also debuted his StarCraft 2 career in the GSL Open Season 2. Jung Hoon was immediately dubbed “Foxer” (Fake Boxer) and was known as such for the rest of the tournament. With mounting pressure from his foreign fans, Jung Hoon eventually changed his moniker to “MarineKing.” (Unfortunately, not Optimus—"OptimusPrime" would've been the coolest name in StarCraft history.)
In the GSL Open Season 2—Jung Hoon's first major tournament—he debuted his now-trademark specialty of all-Marine play, blasting through the likes of “Rainbow,” the ultra-aggressive “Kyrix,” and, most notably, the winner of the previous season, “FruitDealer.” As the tournament progressed, Jung Hoon's opponents scrambled in Darwinian fashion for a response to his whirlwind play. By the time the grand finals rolled around in November, Jung Hoon's personality and playstyle had sucked in thousands of fans, making him an icon.
“A good jinx...”
The grand final was one of the most nail-biting in the history of the game. Jung Hoon took the first two games, lost the third and fourth, then won the fifth. Up 3-2, he was one game away from taking the tournament and being hailed as one of the first “greats” of StarCraft 2. But he was being outclassed. One of his wins was from the ever-risky rush strategy: marine and SCV all-in. Another win was the result of a huge micro blunder from his opponent “NesTea,” that Jung Hoon capitalized on. Win or lose, NesTea had proven that MarineKing could not just be beaten, but dominated.
A shaky, indecisive strategy in game six tied up the series, and took it to the rubber match. Here, Jung Hoon attempted another all-in and emulated his idol, Boxer, by playing a game highly reminiscent of the ageless, StarCraft: Brood War 2004 EVER OSL semi-finals between Boxer and his rival, “Yellow.” Boxer won his game; Jung Hoon lost his. The failed gambit ended the tournament and his chance at becoming the Boxer's successor in StarCraft 2.
Nine days later, he placed runner-up to Kyrix in the GSTAR All-Star Tournament. Two months after GSTAR, he lost to MVP in the first season of GSL's Code S. In April, he lost to MVP again in the final of the GSL “World Championship” tournament.
Jung Hoon has made it to the grand finals in four of the world's largest tournaments and never taken home a gold—but he's an iconic, irreplaceable figure for the community. Jung Hoon's wicked style, soft manner, and tearful responses to both wins and losses made him the poster boy for Terran, and for a time, maybe even for StarCraft 2 as a whole.
“I'll always try hard to play well and deliver fun games.”
Jung Hoon has yet to clinch a title, but he's still made a cool $60,000 USD in his GSL second place earnings—no small amount, considering his lack of gold medals. He's well-known, sitting at the top of the StarCraft 2 food chain at a time when the StarCraft 2 scene still has a ways to go before reaching its peak.
The game is still young, and Jung Hoon's still full of potential, with no reason to falter. Perennial runner-ups Hong Jin Ho and golf pro Jack Nicklaus each still won a rack of gold medals. There is no reason why Jung Hoon cannot do the same.
If all goes well, competitive StarCraft 2 will turn into a behemoth of mythical proportions, rivaling even the Korean Brood War scene. Jung Hoon is one of the most engaging, captivating, entertaining and promising players that's leading the community. Every time he gets close to finals, viewers have to wonder whether he will finally win a tournament, or continue to forge a legacy of silver. His story is compelling, his character full of good manners, and his playstyle is as entertaining as they come. If you aren't yet a fan, you ought to be.
Thanks to my colleague Kwanghee Woo, aka “Waxangel” on TeamLiquid, we were able to get in touch with Jung Hoon's team, “Prime,” and ask for an interview. Jung Hoon responded in his usual cheerful manner and shared his thoughts on his runner-up status, the transition from Brood War to StarCraft 2, and on much more, including his non-Marine related interests.
PC Gamer: Hi, Jung Hoon. It's a pleasure to be able to interview you for the foreign community. Do you ever follow foreign tournaments? Are there any foreigners that you want to play against?
Lee Jung Hoon: Hi, this is MKP, Lee Jung Hoon. I would like to face ThorZain who is doing well in foreign tournaments lately, or Greg Fields who has left Korea.
PCG: Which foreign tournament do you most want to compete in, and why?
JH: MLG, DreamHack, NASL, IEM—I would like to compete in all of them. Because I have little international experience, I would like to compete in any [overseas] tournament.
PCG: How does your “runner-up” identity affect you as a player? Is it something you ignore, or does each second-place finish make you that much hungrier for a win?
JH: I think it's a good jinx. It gives me motivation to work harder and get rid of it.
PCG: What was the hardest StarCraft 2 game that you ever played? Which game is the most memorable for you? Many foreigners think that your games against NesTea in the GSL Open Season 2 made for one of the most exciting finals.
JH: The tournament games that I thought were the most fun were my quarter-final games against Kyrix in the GSL Open Season II. It went all five games, and because it kept going back and forth, it was fun. Of course I remember it because I won, keke (losing to Jaedeok hyung*[NesTea] in the finals is another unforgettable memory, but since I lost...)
PCG: How do you compare the team league oriented StarCraft: Brood War scene, with the Proleague, MSL and OSL, to StarCraft 2's GSL and GSTL? Which aspects of the Brood War system would you like to see adopted by GOM? Team leagues like the GSTL are very popular in the foreign community.
JH: I think the ideal system is for the GSL and GSTL to grow with similar importance, like SC1, where it's not too team league oriented.
PCG: Foreigners have recently been discussing the fact that none of the top Brood War players have switched to StarCraft 2. This has led some people to think that StarCraft 2 pro gamers do not practice as hard as Brood War pro gamers, and that all of the good StarCraft players are still playing Brood War. As a current StarCraft 2 pro gamer, and former StarCraft: Brood War pro gamer for the team MBCGame HERO, what are your thoughts on this?
JH: I think it was an amazing choice for SC1 players who were falling out of competition and were producing [unsatisfactory] results to switch to SC2. SC2 is much more open in terms of opportunities. Hmm, I think if SC1 gamers with skill at the TaekBaengLeeSsang level came over, they could be in the top tier of SC2. But now SC2 teams are being run very systematically around large amounts of practice, just as much as SC1 teams. So even if top SC1 players switched, they would need a lot of time to come up the ranks.
PCG: Who are you closest to in the Prime house? Do you keep in touch with anyone from MBC Game?
JH: The average age in the prime team is high, so I thought at first it would be difficult to make friends. But now I get along with everyone! If there's anyone who I get along well with in particular, it would be “Maka” Kwak Han Eul, who's of a similar age and I'm very friendly with. “Polt” Choi Sung Hoon and “AnyPro” Lee Jung Hwan are also very good to me. From MBCGame Hero, I stay in touch with Jaehoon hyung*, “Shark” Seo Gyeong Jong hyung, and “Tyson” Park Su Beom hyung.
PCG: What do you do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
JH: Mainly I hang out with my friends, or watch TV shows or movies.
PCG: What's your favorite movie and favorite music group?
JH: I can't really pick my favorite movie, but of the ones I've seen recently, Inception sticks out. Of singers, IU is my favorite.
PCG: Thank you for your time, Jung Hoon. Any last words for all of your foreign fans?
JH: Thank you to my foreign fans who always love and cheer me on. Whether it's Korean or foreign tournaments, I'll always try hard to play well and deliver fun games, so keep your eyes on me!
*“Hyung” means “older brother” in Korean. The people do not necessarily have to be related. “Hyung” is used only by males.