Jung “Rain” Yoon Jong (Korean Protoss) is having an amazing year: in his first GSL tournament, he made it to the semifinals, while simultaneously making his way to victory in the very first StarCraft 2 championship in the history of the storied Starleague. He took his win from no less formidable an opponent than one of the world’s top Zerg players, and a GSL champion, DongRaeGu, and he was seeded back into the Code S pools for the newest season.
Now, he’s abruptly dropped out out of the GSL tournament to try his luck at the MLG Fall Championship this weekend, where he’ll have to first play through the open bracket before he can even think about making a run at the title. While it’s certainly not unusual for Korean pros to take time off from the fiercely competitive Korean tournament scene to work the foreign circuit, league politics make Rain’s decision more fraught with implications.
Rain is a Korean eSports Association player, the body that oversees Starleague and which governed essentially all professional Brood War play during that game’s eSports ascendancy. The GSL is a separate organization that rose to prominence in part due to KeSPA’s feud with Blizzard during the transition to StarCraft 2, and has a separate governing body. The two leagues have never gotten along easily, and KeSPA very nearly derailed their detente when it pulled its players from GSL earlier this year. Cooler heads prevailed, and pros from both leagues took part in one each championship.
Now Starleague’s top pro has pulled out of the latest GSL season on the eve of his first group matches. GOMTV, whcih runs the GSL, made this statement: “On October 29th, SK Telecom T1 asked GOMTV if Rain would be able to participate in MLG Dallas and if it would be possible to change our schedule. We have checked all other players’ schedules to see if Rain could have played on another day. Because of various other groups of players that we had to shift around due to their already submitted schedules, we were unable to accommodate Rain in this matter.
“SK Telecom T1 has ultimately has chosen to send Rain to MLG Dallas and have officially informed us.”
The timing makes it easy to read as a slight, although there are also a number of good reasons why SK Telecom and Rain might want to go on a foreign tour. The GSL is packed with stiff competition, and there are a number of major foreign tournaments this fall, including MLG’s Fall Championship. Furthermore, KeSPA and MLG have their own partnership to develop, which might have led KeSPA and its affiliated teams to send another of their stars stateside.
There’s an extra layer of implications to this story due to the fact that the coach of SK Telecom T1, BoxeR, is enmeshed in the acrimonious breakup of his old StarCraft 2 team, SlayerS, which was effectively blackballed by the eSports Federation that represents the collective interests of the GSL’s teams.
It’s possible this is all so-much conspiracy theorizing. There are many good reasons for Rain and his team to decide that the time was right for a foreign tour, although MLG’s competition field is scarcely less stacked than Code S this weekend. Given the lack of recrimination so far from GOMTV, it seems like peace is prevailing in the Korean StarCraft scene for now. But with so many interests involved around the intersection of KeSPA, SK Telecom, MLG, and GSL, it’s hard to believe that Rain’s sudden departure from the GSL was devoid of political implications.