Win Rates and a History of the
The modern era of region lock began in 2015 when travel restrictions and permanent residence became a requirement for players who lived outside their home region. Once these rules became set and the WCS format itself changed we saw the number of Koreans who competed in WCS plummet but they did not just disappear. The reign of Polt had not yet ended, Hydra's story in WCS had just started, viOLet and ForGG remained a force for foreigners who were unprepared and the era of TRUE wasn't even a thought. But how did these players fare the longer they stayed in WCS? Polt and viOLet had lived in the United States for years, ForGG in Europe. Both Hydra's and TRUE's arrival saw near instantanious success but did they slow down the longer they stayed away from Korea? Today I want to look at just that question.
During the region lock era we have had six Koreans meet the qualifications to play in WCS: Polt, Hydra, TRUE, Jaedong, viOLet and ForGG. I won't include players like MaSa and EJK. Since 2015 they have won four WCS Championship events (five if you include Hydra's 2015 win in Austin which was a WCS event but not a Championship one). Polt won two, Hydra one and TRUE one. That may sound like a decent number but all four, or five, of those came in 2015 and 2016, no Korean has won a WCS event since then. In fact no Korean has reached the finals since then. Now there is a big reason for this, after WCS 2016 five of the six Koreans retired:
- 1. Polt left for military service
- 2. Hydra got married and served his time as well in the military
- 3. viOLet played early in 2017 but retired shortly afterwards to take on various duties in other games for his team, EnVyUs
- 4.ForGG actually left professional play at the end of 2015 but competed casually until mid-2016
- 5. Jaedong had a short lived WCS revival in 2015, qualifing for WCS twice but he returned to Korea for GSL in 2016 and returned to Starcraft 1 in November of that year
TRUE remained in WCS until this year when he returned to Korea to compete in GSL. While he left his mark in WCS by arriving on the scene and smashing the WCS scene on his way to a Blizzcon spot, dropping one map to foreigners the entire tournament. Since then he seems to have disappeared, though that isn't entirely fair as he finished with three top 4 performances in 2017 which is no small feat in the year of Neeb and he qualified for the WCS Finals at Blizzcon. 2018 saw his luck tip and he left WCS short afterwards.
While it would see region lock beat the Korean, more than anything it seems like age and interest did. Three left for military service, one returned to his first love and the other left to be a coach in a different game. But among those that competed in this region locked WCS, only two were newcomers. While Polt, viOLet and ForGG already had ties to NA, for Polt and Hydra, and EU, for ForGG, Hydra and TRUE both came directly from Korea to compete in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Jaedong had claimed to have left WCS before 2015 but came back. But looking at these players we can still examine if playing in WCS saw them slowly regress away from their peaks prior to 2015 to how they looked when they retired. I am excluding Jaedong from this since he only competed in two WCS Series events, not really enough to gauge.
Now if we can dive into the process a bit of how I want to look at this. We will use two key methods:
- 1. Win rate versus foreigners
- 2. Their Aligulac over their careers in region locked WCS
I'm sure I could have used a variety of other methods but after some discussion I found these three to be varied in that they cover different aspects of a player (win rate versus foreigners looks at how they fare about the main populous of WCS, Aligulac is a measure of skill, average Premier finish shows how they do at live events) while still all applying to main question at hand: Do Korean players who move to WCS to compete get worse over time?
In the end I'm not sure what conclusions we can draw from this. Polt and viOLet had lived in the United States for years prior to the region lock so was their decline purely due to living in the States and it just started years before at a higher peak or did age catch up to Polt while viOLet had other factors? Hydra is a bit easier to discuss because we have a clear window into his time in the United States that we don't have for Polt and viOLet. But also we have to factor in both Polt and Hydra began having committed relationships that got more serious over time, Hydra getting married as the culmination of that relationship. The time that relationships also likely played a factor, even if both relationships were long distance for most of their time away from Korea (Polt's girlfriend at the time lived in California, where he lived for a short time prior to his military service, prior to that he lived in Georgia).
Aligulac is a powerful tool but it also suffers from inflation, meaning that as time goes on a player may remain at a similar skill but improve their rating due to winning more games than they lose against opponents they are supposed to beat. So this rise in Aligulac is a bit explainable, though I do think these players were still formidible at the end of their careers. Polt's final WCS result was a 2nd place finish, a loss against GSL transplant TRUE. On Hydra's side in his final year, 2016, he won DreamHack Austin. Throw in viOLet, a player most would consider a tier below Polt and Hydra, still made a top 4 in IEM Shanghai his final year.
I've been gestating this article for a while and in the end I'm not sure what we can learn. I do think the Koreans who spend long periods of time in the United States or Europe tend to get worse but I also think other factors come into play. The long haul Koreans like Polt, viOLet and ForGG were living away from Korea even before the rule changes while Hydra and TRUE both had shorter stays in the United States. Between personal relationships, meta changes, age and other factors I'm not sure what we can take away from this. I do know that even at the end of their careers Polt and Hydra won Premier tournaments and viOLet was a consistent top 16 WCS player with a WCS Finals appearance under his belt. At their worst, these "foreign" Koreans were not to be trifled with.
Big shoutout to Mina for her work on this, give her a follow on Twitter.