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Flash of greatness: StarCraft pro-gaming explored

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He doesn't, though. Seven of the eight pro-gamers on stage give way to Lee Young Ho. Flash has arrived, and the gale of applause is causing the floor to vibrate slightly. He's visibly buoyed by the reaction of the crowd, and grabs the microphone.

“If you know me... ”

He looks up for a second, confident in his shaky English, left arm flung skywards.

“...make some NOISE!”

The roar is never louder across the weekend. The crowd starts to chant his nickname, leading to the odd phenomenon of many thousands of people chanting “FLASH!” in unison at a young Asian man.

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Sports commentators in America have an excruciating word for people like Flash: 'winningest'. It means the most successful, the biggest and the best. It's used with a straight face, to describe coaches and quarterbacks who consistently win trophies and titles in other sports. In America, winningest feels like the greatest thing a competitor can be – above noble or brave or magnanimous. The word's easy adoption perhaps explains why, as a country and a crowd, they take to Flash so well at MLG's Anaheim Championship.

Among them is StarCraft II's lead designer, Dustin Browder. Browder is broad-shouldered, with a shaved head and a neatly trimmed beard. I had interviewed him earlier in the day. There, he spoke with practised Californian confidence. Now, he's screaming and whooping louder than most for a man who was two years old when Browder joined the industry in 1995. There's a momentary lull in the noise as Flash speaks, and I hear Browder muttering under his breath: “Wow, that's Flash.”

Despite his untouchable Brood War record, Flash is still a relative newbie in StarCraft II terms. He only played his first game a year ago, as other progamers perfected StarCraft II strategies honed over a year-and-ahalf of nightmarishly difficult tournament play. It doesn't seem to matter, though. Inevitably, Flash wins his first game. He does it strangely, using an 'all-in' tactic: building up a small force using the income from one base and supporting it with worker units to provide a meat-shield. In StarCraft circles, it's something of a cheap tactic, a 'cheese' play deployed by novice or unskilled players. There's palpable worry in the crowd – perhaps this StarCraft superhuman is mortal after all? Has his myth been dispelled? Naturally, this isn't the case: he resorted to the play after his keyboard stopped functioning. Playing only with the mouse – something like boxing with one arm tied behind your back in sporting analogies – he still manages to conquer his opponent.

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He bludgeons his way further through the tournament, knocking Soulkey out on his way to the final, where he faces Bisu. Flash plays the Terran race in StarCraft II as he did in Brood War. Bisu is his Protoss mirror image, the player in the ascendancy for the mouthless, energy-absorbing spacemen.

Flash crushes him in straight sets. Compared with a player like DongRaeGu – MLG Anaheim's eventual Spring Championship winner – Flash's play isn't pretty: he banks too many resources, he takes needless losses. But in three consecutive best-of-three matches, he's beaten the world's most successful pro-gamers without losing a game Then, in his soundproof booth, he packages up his keyboard and mouse. Through the perspex screen, I can see the same toothy smile I spotted in the hotel lobby.

Everything here is new for Lee Young Ho: a new game – StarCraft II is an ongoing concern for Blizzard, updated with constant patches, balance tweaks, and the shadow of expansion packs, where Brood War was left to fester for years; a new world – the West has enthusiastically embraced e-sports in the last two years, a charge led by StarCraft II; and a new crowd.

I spot Lee Young Ho back at the Anaheim Hilton hotel after the tournament. Were he a football player, he'd be hidden from view and flanked by security. Here, he's back with his friends, sat on a plush sofa in the lobby – visibly exhausted, but flashing that same smile. Further out, MLG attendees snatch glances at their StarCraft idol, leagues above in skill, metres away in person. All eyes in the room are on Flash.