How MC became a pro

Jang “MC” Min-Chul posted an autobiography of sorts on Inven. It covers the period of when he decided he wanted to become a pro to eventually achieving that dream at 18. For those who do not know, MC started his esports career as a Brood War player. He never found success there and became one of the early transfers to StarCraft 2, where he became one of the most decorated pros to ever play the game. The first half of his career was spent in Korea where he won two GSL titles and had multiple top finishes that span from the end of 2010 to the end of 2012.
Soon afterward, he moved from Korea to Europe to participate in the WCS EU where he eventually became one of the top players in that circuit. At the same time, he set up a team house for the Koreans that moved to WCS EU to compete. While no longer in the highest echelon of play, he continued to be a dangerous opponent for the highest tier. Once his SC2 career was done, he eventually transferred over to League of Legends where he became the  head coach of Kongdoo Monster.
Here is his story in his own words. I will punctuate it with context to explain context behind his life and career. (my thoughts in italics, his are in plain text from this point on. Thanks to Andrew Kim for translating the original post).
MC: I lost my father at an early age and was raised by a single mother. Thanks to his inheritance, I had a plentiful life until I was 6 but, after the IMF financial crisis, it came to the point that my mother needed to start working. That led to me being alone at home a lot and my friend during that time was into video games.
I played a lot of games before StarCraft. I remember mostly playing The Land of the Wind, Maple Story, and Asgard. I got to know StarCraft through a friend of mine*, and because I didn’t know how to install it I played it mostly in PC Bangs. That was when I knew that I had a talent in playing video games.
*This is an interesting bit of history here. MC was about 13 years old during this time in 2004. He was in the midst of the PC Bang (internet cafe) explosion. His story was a common one during that time as PC Bangs were where teens and kids met to play games. It was a cheap form of entertainment and Starcraft: Brood War reigned supreme for multiple reasons: It could run on cheaper computers, didn’t need multiple licenses, and came right when PC Bangs grew in popularity.
MC: I spent my elementary school years playing unlimited 3:5 and 2:6 maps. When I was in sixth grade a friend told me about something called Brain Server, so he installed it on my computer and told me to play custom map games. I got deeply into those games after the unlimited maps.
That’s how I started with StarCraft and I joined a guild when I was in sixth grade. I don’t remember the name of the guild, but an older player I met through the guild taught me everything about pro gaming. I was very interested in making a lot of money* by playing games, which was my best friend growing up.
*This is a story MC goes into in an old Twitch VOD that is now dead. When State was training in Korea, he and MC are talking. During that stream he explains that when he was young and living in an apartment, his mom caught their landlord masturbating to her in their room. But they were too poor to go anywhere else, so he made it his goal to make money. His dad had died when he was 1 and his mom re-married when he was about 8. His stepdad had a failed business and fell into debt. Over a decade later, MC was able to get his mom a car, a house and repay the debts from his winnings he made in SC2.
MC: I started playing 1-v-1 from then on as a choice random player. Funnily enough I played into bad matchups back then. I played Zerg against Terran, Protoss against Zerg, and Terran against Protoss. I practiced 1-v-1 for about two months, and I received an offer from the older player that told me about pro gaming.
“Hey Min-chul, I have a guild in the Asian server and I’m the vice guild master. We’re a group of people looking to go pro. Do you want to join?”*
*When people talk about the famed infrastructure of Korean esports, this is pretty much it on the lowest level. A group of dedicated amateurs who have the mentality of hard work and willingness to put in the hours in hopes that they can go pro.
MC: But at the time I didn’t have the money to purchase the game, and when I told him I couldn’t play on the Asian servers because I didn’t have a CD Key, he said, “I’ll buy you a copy. Come play with us.”
That’s when I joined the guild called Siz. The guild master at the time was someone called Siz)Player. I still remember his name; Min Soo-hong.
Looking back, I think I’m able to lead this fantastic life I have to this day thanks to Siz)Player and Siz)Gravity. Siz)Player spent a lot of time watching VODs as an observer of the players and gave advice to them. When I first joined the guild there were three very good players: Siz)o.Ov Hwang Chang-gyu, Siz)KaL Kim Ku-hyun, and a Zerg player that I can’t remember right now.
As a selective random player at the time I saw Siz)o.Ov play and decided to go Protoss. He was a player who was good at astral plays, kind of like the stylish way  Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong* plays today.
*He references Bisu here because he is the most iconic Protoss player in Brood War history. Nicknamed the Revolutionist for upending the PvZ matchup against the bonjwa Ma “sAviOr” Jae Yoon at the height of sAviOr’s career. Where other games had patches, Bisu was the patch. If Bisu had never come around, it’s incredibly likely PvZ would still be a heavily Zerg favored matchup to this day.
MC: He was the best player in the guild and he was good at both team games and 1-v-1’s so I would observe his games to learn everyday. Siz)KaL a.k.a. Kim “KaL” Ku Hyun was a rock-like player and was very good, but Siz)o.Ov was better. So with three Protoss players and one Zerg the guild did team matches against other teams in the Asian server. And Siz)o.Ov would always win.
*Among all of the players MC names during this period, KaL is the most famous. In 2006 he was drafted into STX SouL. In 2007, he became a regular member of their Proleague team. He was given the nickname “The Red Shuttle” for his signature shuttle plays that left his shuttle in red HP. He became one of the “Six Dragons,” a period of time that lasted from the last quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009. During that period he got Top 4 in the 2008 Club Day Online MSL. He had another run in 2010 where he made Top 4 in two different Starleagues. In 2012 he opted into the Air Force Ace team, which was a team that allowed esports pros to do play while doing their military service. He also played SC2 briefly when KeSPA transferred over. When he finished military service, he played on Prime for a brief time before retiring.
MC: My daily life at the time was coming home from school, playing practice matches, a team match, watch the VODs for o.Ov and KaL copying their builds, and then going to sleep. Around that time I met another player aiming to be a pro gamer, Lee Ho-joon. Ho-joon was playing as much as possible on the channel at the time to join our guild.
He was my age so we spoke comfortably with one another, got very close with one another, and I used to beg the older players to make him an official member after his time as a sub-member was over. (He needed three votes from guild members to be accepted in)
He was terrible when he first joined, but surprised me by improving quickly. Looking back I think I didn’t try really hard at the time lol. Then the first KeSPA Cup took place. Our guild decided to join and each team entry needed four players.
I was still too green to be in competition at the time. So they added me in the entry, while the other three players would actually compete. And that was my first offline event.
I met with KaL in person for the first time to go to the venue. I remember wearing the clothes that my mom bought me, and KaL was a very fashionable person. I still remember him wearing a flowered over shirt lol.
o.Ov, KaL, and the Zerg player I can’t remember made it to the finals, but lost to a guild called Rex. At this time KaL was really good and won all of the 1v1 games, and I remember o.Ov losing his 1v1 game and team match and feeling very apologetic.
Seeing games be played in offline tournaments like that made me want to go pro even more, and I continued to play StarCraft. After that a lot of good players started to join our guild.
Siz)CoZy Siz)Kai Siz)Flash Siz)Fantasy Siz)probe Siz)han; six players joined the team to make a strong entry,
Han Yeong-hoon, Park Kyung-ho, Lee Young-ho, Jeon Myung-hoon, Byun do-seop, Park Soo-beom, I can still remember all of their names. With the six players added was o.Ov, KaL, me, and Ho-joon.
o.Ov gave up on being a pro around this time. I remember it was because of some personal issues. While we were playing as a clan we heard a big announcement from the guild master.
“We’re going west boys!”
At the time team matches were in Asia, while 1v1’s were in the west server. So all of the good teams were in the west. So we used to go to west as a team to play practice games. Our guild moved to the west together. And slowly started to get better.
Then I learned about career matches. I think the first one I took part in was the 14th career match. I can vaguely remember Rush Hour being one of the maps. It was my first venture into Seoul and I remember going there with my mom lol.
While our guild was there playing in career match, KaL was the first to win a career match and went pro on our team. He was by far the best player in the guild so I thought it was natural. Then Ho-joon won his career match and went pro. I thought Flash or Fantasy would go amatuer pro first, and I was surprised at the time since Ho-joon was the worst Terran in the guild.
Honestly thinking now, Ho-joon just really tried hard and it was the result of that work, but I guess it was hard to understand for a kid my age. One by one my guild mates would win career matches and move on to be pros. I remember not working as hard at the time, naively believing the words from the people around me who called me very good.
I did have some performances at YMBC or BarbaraTV guild matches and I didn’t know that real pros prepare in the shadows. After that I went to the Elite School League and became the best StarCraft player in my school. I started to beat the other top players from other schools and met Shin Dong-won and Lee Sang-gil.
We were all at the same level, and we took turns winning first place at a competition that was held in Chun-an. I cultivated a friendship with them, childishly calling us the three kings of Chun-an StarCraft.
I then took an entry test to Astro at the recommendation of Kim Won-gi and joined the gaming house as a trainee. The first house I went to was very good. It was in Gangnam’s Seo-rae village, and I was surprised how big the apartment was.
I played games with the other members of Astro after unpacking my things and I still remember being nagged by coach Kim Dong-jin who was famous for his Terran play to produce probes. Thanks to that I moved by army shorts cuts from 1,2 to 0,9 and pressed 0 and 9 out of habit.
I was stressed during my time there, but it instilled some very good habits for me. Then on the second day the head coach told me to shave my head and sleep on the floor. He also told me that I would have to clean the apartment and cook breakfast for the team. I couldn’t understand why I had to shave my head, cook breakfast, clean the apartment, and sleep on the floor when there were beds.*
*A common story that is often the case in a majority of Korean esports teams, though this is the first time I’ve heard of having to go bald. The better Korean esports teams use the looks of the Korean pros to cultivate a “boy band” sort of look to build their brand and gain fangirl followings. So it’s likely this guy was also incompetent.
MC: I was only 14 at the time.
I honestly was more concerned about where I would find the money to cut my hair and couldn’t understand why I had to do all of those chores, but I told the head coach that I understood. Before that evening I asked other players I knew if they had to go through the same things. They told me to move teams, that other teams were different.
So I told Won-gi and left Astro in three days. To me a pro gamer was a dream job where I could make money while being supported in all other aspects but I got frustrated after being hit with reality. After I went pro I didn’t get paid for a year, and the year after that I was paid $6,000 a year.*
*MC’s Mom was incredibly happy for her son, but for MC he had a clear goal in mind and this was nowhere near enough.
I was told that it was pretty much the same no matter what the team was, and I kept asking myself why I was an amateur when the people around me went pro. Although I think I did know why.
That I didn’t work as hard.
But I kept my self-rationalization by saying that my condition was bad or that I had bad luck with draws.* With losses in three career matches and feeling inferior to other players who were successfully going pro, I was ready to fold on my goal to become a pro.
*This is a common affliction that can plague even some of the best pros. The fact that MC gets over this so soon is retroactively seen in the rest of his career. There were multiples times when MC wasn’t the best player in SC2, but he never played himself out of a game.
MC: I told my mother, who was supportive of my dream, that if it didn’t work out one last time I would quit. I prepared for my last career match.
I think I practiced the most leading up to that. Games were going well as I played without any sense of weight on my shoulders. Thinking about it now, all of the amateur players I knew were already pro. I won the 37th career match and officially became an amateur.
But then the problem was finding a team. Teams drafted players from the bottom teams to the top, and there was usually a number 1 and 2 preferred player slot to protect the top two players in the team. All of the teams placed their most valued players in those slots.
I didn’t have any connections to the teams and was determined to get picked by standing out in some crazy way. Then a friend of mine introduced me to the coach of MBC* Kim Hyuk-seop, and although I wasn’t chosen in the first draft I was able to take the entry exam thanks to his  recommendation.
*MBC was one of the Proleague teams at the time and the team that eventually recruited MC.
MC: The test at the time was a ranked game made up of 14 players including the members of MBC’s third team and I passed by placing second in the competition.
First place was Oh Se-gi, who played as tiny[s.g.]. A total of 6 players were chosen and we stayed in the dormitory and played ranked 1v1’s and team matches during the stove period.
After that period the head coach of MBC Ha Tae-gi told us to come visit the dorm after contacting the team whenever we wanted to. I called after a week of being home because I wanted to be closer to the older players there and when I went to the day that coach Kim told me it was a day before the opening match with Lecaf.
That was my first live viewing of a match.
I remember feeling so happy following the players in the back, saying hello to the people they were saying hello to, and them telling people that I was the team’s new youngest player when they were asked who I was.
It was like I already joined MBC. That day we won 3-0 and I went to see the fan meet up and about 50-60 people were there giving presents and talking to players.
There were a lot of pretty (girls) and so many gifts. At that moment I thought I was glad that I wanted to be a pro gamer. I was so happy to see the players get their presents (usually food) and the cakes and donuts I ate with their permission were delicious.
I thought that I also wanted to do very well to get gifts like this. After those three dream-like days I came back home and played while going to school. During summer break I went to dorms to play as a trainee-amateur player
And I was terrible at dorm life at the time lol. I didn’t know how to live as a group and was very rude. I was always scolded by the coaches and looking back if I was them, I would send me back home lol.
After that experience came the second draft. I was not chosen.
As I was down the older players tried to console me but I thought my path was blocked because there was no team that chose an amatuer that wasn’t chosen in the next draft. So I came back home and started to study. That was when I was 18, and I thought if I really worked hard in my studies I could get a job.
About four months later coach Kim, who became the head coach, called me on the phone. He told me that he’ll give me another shot.
I was very conflicted. I was focused on nothing but my studies for a time, and I’ll have to focus on it during the entirety of my summer break to catch up. On the other hand it was a game I put four years of my life into so I asked about it to my mother.
She told me that since it’s my last shot, I should go for it if I really wanted to. So that’s how I returned to Seoul and started to build myself back up with the team.
The third draft came along and I wasn’t on the team’s first pick. The second pick belonged to another player. I felt my world collapsing. I was certain that I would at least be a second pick.
But another player’s name was called. I started thinking about the second draft. After Sae-gi was chosen as the first pick I thought that was to be expected, but I was still expecting my name to be called as a second pick.
As I almost half-gave up another player was called as the third pick. Right as I was about to cry, I heard the head coach’s voice call my name as the fourth pick.
Thinking now, it may have been a way for the head coach to reign me in.
That’s how I became the pro gamer I dreamed of being from ages 13-18.
Afterword:
From here on, I’ll fill in the gaps between what happened from then to how he eventually became the head coach of Kongdoo.
After getting onto MBC, MC’s career in Brood War was nonexistent. There were no results or runs to talk about. KaL got the nickname “The Red Shuttle,” Bisu was “The Revolutionist,” and as for MC? He got the nickname “Suicide Toss” as he performed a throat slash ceremony before a game and then promptly lost.
When SC2 was announced, MC was hesitant to switch. This was because he would go from his small salary to no salary again off of a risk that he could be the best. He eventually did and became one of the most iconic figures of SC2 history. In SC2, he was the most dominant Protoss player early and known for his strong personality and antics (including a murloc dance, an undertaker entrance in the OSL, dancing, and karaoke). He eventually became known as the “Boss Toss” because of those reasons.
His story has been mirrored throughout many of the great SC2 champions and players through its history and still continues on to this day. As for MC, he eventually realized his time was done as a top player and he couldn’t come to terms with it when he was on SK. The SK manager Min-Sik “reis” Ko (currently working for ELEAGUE) told an anecdote at a Homestory Cup about MC’s struggles. He told MC something along the lines to stop whining as it didn’t matter that he was no longer the best, he was still making great money.
If there was ever a single line you could draw throughout MC’s entire history, it was always the drive to get money so that he could support his family. This is why he eventually retired after Proleague shut down in SC2. His ex teammate from MBC, Seo “Shark” Gyung Jon hired him to become the Kongdoo League of Legends head coach.
The last words he said to the SC2 community were from this interview:  
I know you guys sad for I leave StarCraft II scene,
But, you know, all people have to change… to another life.
So, please just cheer for me, it’s not betray.
We love esports and we are together.
And keep cheering StarCraft II please.
A lot of Korean players still want to play, so
Yeah, so, that’s all.
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How MC became a pro
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