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Valhalla.pl interviews Draco

By OceanicDrought - 9th June 2008 - 13:18 PM

Valhalla: Did the language barrier become a burden to you?

Draco: The language barrier… These two words which can involve thousands of problems, which even a man with the greatest imagination couldn’t foresee. These two words almost completely answer the question as to why I’ve returned. Starting with hundreds of smaller incidents, and ending with larger misunderstandings. Korean culture is almost completely different from European culture. Among other things, there’s a customary respect for people older than you, even if the age difference is just one year. The word “respect” has a profound meaning here – every sentence spoken in Korean has to contain proper suffixes; you need to obey the older person, and listen to their orders. Older people have more privileges, and some responsibilities fall on younger people. In this respect, as well as many others, I had to obey, which wasn’t always easy, despite being aware of all this before going to Korea. I knew it’d be like this and I took that into account. But I hadn’t predicted one thing: that after I had already adapted to the Korean culture, other people would still treat me like a stranger. For example, I had to abide to all the rules towards elders, but people younger than me wouldn’t show me the same respect. There were arguments. Who resolved them? The coach. Now imagine a situation familiar to everyone from their childhood: siblings have an argument, and each one gives a totally different account of the incident to their parents. There’s a problem when only one of the sides can present their perspective and the other side has no way of doing so. The latter is always at a disadvantage. One person didn’t like you? They’d start to say all sorts of bad things about you, and not only are you unable to defend yourself, but you don’t know what the person standing two steps away is saying about you. This is going to infect the other teammates, and from there it isn’t far to being on bad terms with more people. Solitude, lack of understanding, continuous stress – these are just a few of the consequences of the language barrier.

Valhalla: After becoming a professional gamer, was the game still fun, or did the routine slip in, making it become more of a job?

Draco: Even the best hobby cultivated for over thirteen hours a day begins to become stale. You were relieved when thinking you were about to end your daily training, and knowing you can go away from the computer or go outside, but most of the time our free time was limited to meals and sleep. Despite that, every one of us knew what it was that they truly loved doing in their life, and that their sacrifices were for a reason. I think that a football (soccer, translator’s annot.) player would answer in a similar way, if he were asked this question.

IPB Image
Draco playing in a "foreign" tournament

Valhalla: How did it feel, pray tell, playing on the stage in front of thousands of spectators live and millions of viewers in front of their TV sets?

Draco: When I flew to South Korea, I already had some achievements under my belt, and had played in front of an audience many times before, though, obviously not as large as in Korea or China. I know from experience that you can’t let yourself think about it, therefore I’ve never pondered how many people are watching my every move in a given moment. At that time, the only things that mattered were I and my opponent.

Valhalla: What did you do in your free time in Korea? Any sightseeing or partying?

Draco: A couple of times I did go out with some acquaintances, who were limited to non-Korean ex-progamers that live in Seoul to this day. With them I could speak in a common language, although, obviously, not my native language. It didn’t happen all that often, either. The reason was simple: After six days of non-stop, exhausting training, no one really had any strength left to go out partying. Especially, seeing as the next day, on Monday, you have to wake up at 9 o’clock. A great lot of my free time on Sunday was spent on sleeping off the past week and resting before the next one.

Valhalla: In terms of economy and media, is StarCraft in Korea comparable to, for example, Polish national league football (soccer, translator’s annot.) matches or Małysz (a famous ski jumper in Poland, translator’s annot.) and ski jumping?

Draco: Recently, Poland hasn’t been able to take pride in numerous sporting achievements. The only people, who truly stood out and outclassed others were Adam Małysz and Robert Korzeniowski (Polish racewalker, translator’s annot.). Therefore, when it comes to their appearances, almost the entirety of Poland follows their every move. In Korea, StarCraft – or e-sports in general – is with certainly an extremely popular and fast developing phenomenon, but Koreans have a few other sporting disciplines that they love just as much. So to sum up, StarCraft is definitely just as popular (especially amongst the younger generations) as any other sport discipline, but comparing it to the Małysz phenomenon would, in my opinion, be a slight exaggeration.

Valhalla: Why did you decide to return?

Draco: I’ve already answered your question in my previous answers for the most part. You need to examine the difference between the position I was in and the position of Korean players, who are in their homeland. The dedication they exhibit to make their dreams come true is surely deserving of respect. Gigantic outlays of training, leaving one’s family, giving up their free time, but, on the other hand, don’t these young people find the possibility of spending time in the company of people with similar interests attractive? Mutual conversation topics lead to a friendly practice atmosphere with a group of people, who – despite complete professionalism – still find room for jokes and laughter. If you think of about that, the life of a progamer seems to be rather bearable, as they become a kind of diversion from the daily hardships a progamer faces. But what can you do when there’s no such diversion? What if you don’t have a single true friend on the team, no one to whom you can talk to even briefly, or someone with whom you could share your sorrow? No one with whom you could joke around or laugh with… This is exactly the kind of position I was in – because of the language barrier. Then your life gets very overwhelming, and the dreams which dwell deep inside you start to decay. During the last two months of my stay in Korea I kept asking myself a question everyday: should I keep trudging forward or should I decide to return to Poland? I had to chose between doing what I loved and take into account that I might suffer from a mental breakdown and become depressed, and going back home to start living a more quiet, less risky life. After many conversations with friends and parents I decided to choose the latter. I still don’t categorize my decision as “giving up,” but rather as the choice of a wiser and more suitable path in my life. Lastly I’d like to add that someone could say that non-Korean progamers in the past had faced similar conditions, and, after all, they were able to last longer and achieve more. On the contrary, the position they held was much more advantageous. They were all in a team (AMD Dreamteam -> Hexatron -> eSTRO) with a coach who had lived most of his life in the USA and whose English was perfect. They weren’t the only “strangers” in the team - there were always at least two of them: Elky-Grrrr or Legionnaire-Assem. Someone could also ask: “Why didn’t you try to learn the language?”. Unfortunately, in my Spartan weekly schedule there was no time for any such luxuries.

Valhalla: What has changed after your return from Korea?

Draco: I went to college, I’ve met plenty of wonderful friends, and most importantly – someone I can always rely on. However, the most radical changes after those eight months have happened in my head. When I was flying to Korea, I thought I could overcome any hurdle and that nothing could ever break me down. I knew how hard it’d be. I looked with contempt on non-Korean progamers who had ended their careers prematurely. Now I know that until I experience something myself, I won’t say: “if I were in a situation like this, I’d do this or that…”. You never know how someone will behave under such circumstances, because life always exposes us to trials we’re unable to foresee.

Valhalla: Your fondest and the worst memories from Korea?

Draco: It’s hard to firmly decide which memories were the fondest and which were the worst. There were so many of both that I can’t remember all of them to this day. The moment I remember the most vividly is the day I received a positive answer from SparkyZ – the day that I joined the team. It was one of the best moments in my life. And the worst memory? The moment I had decided to give up on my dreams.

Valhalla: Do you consider your lack of accomplishments in the World Cyber Games last year to be a personal failure?

Draco: The WCG is a cult tournament. Every player would like to achieve something in it. During the past two years, I had two reasonable chances to step onto the winners’ stand, so I definitely regret not being able to make the most of those. Maybe I’ll get another chance to prevail in the future, but it’s rather unlikely.

Valhalla: How large is the gap between us [Poland, translator’s annot.] and South Korea e-sports-wise?

Draco: The gap in e-sports between Poland, Europe, the USA and Korea is even greater than the difference between the Polish national basketball league and the American NBA. The main reason for that is probably their totally different attitude towards computers and games [as compared to physical sports, translator’s annot.]. In Europe, PC gamers are perceived as the fat, hunchbacked, quiet geek, whereas in South Korea, computer games are equal in popularity to football or basketball, and no one’s ashamed to admit they spent six hours in front of a computer screen the other day. The sponsors noticed this phenomenon, and have taken advantage of it. After ten years, e-sports in Korea have become just as important as traditional sports.