Pro StarCraft loses a legendary Terran to Riot's eSport.
Lee "MarineKing" Jung Hoon’s recent announcement that he’s switching to League of Legends brings to a close one of the most distinctive careers in pro StarCraft. He never quite attained the absolute pinnacle of eSports, coming painfully close to a number of GSL titles without ever taking the champion’s trophy, but for a time between 2010 and early 2013, he was one of the world’s very best Terrans and perhaps the most exciting to ever play the game.
According to a partial translation provided on the Team Liquid forums, MarineKing is joining Prime’s “Optimus” League of Legends squad as its sixth member, and is presently ranked diamond in League of Legends. It’s hard to predict how MarineKing’s transition to MOBAs will work out, but he would seem a more natural candidate for switching games than a number of other pros because of an unusually fast-paced, micro-heavy style.
MarineKing has seen more than his share of frustrations in StarCraft 2 this year. He recently got knocked out of GSL Code S after a long streak of successful qualifying performances, and he’s gone from being one of the very best Terran players in the world to falling farther and farther behind the likes of INnoVation, Bomber, TaeJa, and Polt. With a mere 200 WCS points for the entire year, it’s little wonder that MarineKing decided the time had come to try his fortunes elsewhere.
The lackluster finish to his career should not obscure how thrilling MarineKing was at his best. He began with as a two time GSL runner-up, losing first to Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk and then to Jung "Mvp" Jong Hyun, two players whose achievements practically defined Wings of Liberty. But from the first, even before he’d taken the “MarineKing” handle, he had dedicated his career to a singular idea: that with good enough micro, a Terran bio force could be unstoppable. Watch this early game, when he was playing as BoxeR (in a nod to the Brood War legend), and simply rewriting the book on how Terran bio can engage Zerg.
A great sports figure is also known by his or her rivals, and the battles between Park “DRG” Soo Ho and MarineKing in early 2012 were some of the best the game has seen. The two were at the absolute peak of their powers, practically defining excellence for their respective factions, and throughout the MLG Winter and Spring seasons, they found themselves competing time and again.
After breaking his curse of second-place finishes at last year’s Winter Arena with a finals victory over DRG, the two players came face to face once again at the season championship. It was a battle between MarineKing’s incredible micro control and exhausting, relentless aggression and DRG’s macro mastery and versatility.
Early 2012 was also MarineKing’s high-water mark. He remained a great player and competitor, but his personal play style seemed to be calcifying. MarineKing did not seem to have the breadth of strategies available to other leading Terrans, holding ever more tightly to the conviction that he could not be defeated if his micro was strong enough.
DRG remarked on it late last year, at a time when both players seemed to be falling from their former peaks. “If I see MarineKing’s play,” he said in an interview at IPL 5, “I can tell he's way too confident with his style. Refuses to adapt new styles.”
MarineKing’s problems were brought into sharp relief in his quarterfinal series against Lee "Life" Seung Hyun during the StarTale player’s successful GSL run last year. Confronted with an even more aggressive player, one whose delicate management of Zerglings and Banelings was equal to MarineKing’s command of Medivacs and Marines, MarineKing collapsed.
Beginning of the End
That series didn’t end MarineKing, but it marked the moment where he had been definitively “figured out.” Making matters worse, his Terran vs. Terran match skills were seriously lacking at a time when Terran overall would soon be on the ascent in Heart of the Swarm.
That was perhaps the inevitable conclusion for a player whose career had been so defined by doing one thing extraordinarily well. MarineKing was thrilling to watch because his form of aggressive bio play was such a high-wire act to begin with. There were so many vulnerabilities to it, and yet there was a year or so when he was just too good to let other players exploit them. He’d dodge the Protoss storms or spread and pick off the Banelings before they could detonate, and then he’d be back on the attack, in his opponent’s face.
When MarineKing fell short, as he so often did near the summit of Korean eSports, it always seemed like he might just be able to do it next season, or next year. Whatever happened, it would be worth seeing.
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