On November 24, 2006, 16-year-old Lee ‘Jaedong’ Jae Dong faced a top Zerg player, widely considered to be the best in the world, in a qualifier for the 2006 Shinhan Bank OSL Season 3. The game lasted approximately eight minutes. Though Jaedong would later master the Zerg vs Zerg matchup—reaching an unprecedented and mind-boggling 81% winrate in 2009—this game quickly spiraled out of his control. The older player went on to win the whole tournament, while Jaedong didn’t even qualify.
In 2006, that result was nothing out of the ordinary. Though Jaedong’s rookie season in 2006 was impressive, with a 65% overall winrate, his opponent was on another level entirely. What’s interesting about this game is not the outcome, but the way the players reacted. The camera caught the older player throwing himself back in his chair with a forceful exhalation. Rewatching that moment today, you can see a strange relief in his expression and body language—a sense that he thinks he, the greatest player in the world, just dodged a bullet. (He’s right, of course. Jaedong would prevail in 60% of their subsequent bouts.)
Nor does Jaedong look like he expected to lose. He stares stone-faced at his monitor for 13 long seconds, then removes his headset and repeatedly purses his lips.
Individual moments have power, and this one, innocuous though it seems, foreshadows the whole arc of Jaedong’s legendary career. Like most champions, he hates losing a lot more than he likes winning. But this is a trait shared by sore losers, which Jaedong most certainly isn’t. What differentiates a champion from a sore loser isn’t how losing makes them feel; it’s what losing makes them do. And when he was slapped out of the 2006 OSL Season 3, the look on Jaedong’s face made it unambiguously clear that he intended to work harder, push himself further, and come back stronger the next time.
A Tyrant in Twilight
Much has been written about Jaedong’s career, which was full of tournament victories and brutal rivalries, most notably with the frontrunner for the greatest esports player of all time, Lee ‘Flash’ Young Ho. Suffice to say that Jaedong was either the best or second-best player in the world from 2008 to 2010, and a top-10 player for basically his entire career. He was the world’s top-ranked Zerg player for 43 months straight (a record that still stands, though Flash managed 51 as Terran). His dominance and multipronged lunge-for-the-jugular playstyle earned him a moniker, The Tyrant, that still reverberates through the halls of professional StarCraft. But no tyrant’s reign lasts forever, and Jaedong’s has been crumbling for years now.
The Lee Jae Dong appearing at BlizzCon 2017 is 27 years old and battling health problems. At his peak, he put in 16 hours of practice every day. Now his eyes, wrists, and fingers begin to give out after a few games. He begins his mandatory military service next year. In the tournament that was probably one of his final appearances as a serious professional, October’s Afreeca Starleague Season 4, he dropped out in the round of 16. The Ultimate Title Fight against fellow legend Kim ‘Bisu’ Taek Yong at BlizzCon 2017 might be the last time he plays for a significant prize pool.
Still, a show match at BlizzCon is a hell of a way to bookend a career. The question is how Jaedong will go out: like Michael Jordan, who scored an unremarkable 15 points in his final game, or like Kobe Bryant, who racked up a staggering 60 points in his?
Deposed by a Revolutionist?
Standing between Jaedong and a picture-perfect finish is Bisu. Either the best or second-best Protoss player ever, he’s known as The Revolutionist, the Bruce Lee Toss, and the Surgeon Toss. Like Jaedong, Bisu is 27 years old. Unlike Jaedong, he’s still playing close to his peak. Fresh off 3rd-place finishes in consecutive ASLs where Jaedong couldn’t even make the Top 8, Bisu is the Ultimate Title Fight’s indisputable favorite. He even holds the historical edge in the matchup, winning all but one of eight contests with the Tyrant between June 2009 and May 2011.
Conventional wisdom predicts a swift 3-0 for Bisu, though conventional wisdom has only ever gone so far when Jaedong is involved. This, after all, is the player who matched Flash during a ferocious 2010 season when the two giants met in five Grand Finals: WCG Korea, NATE MSL, 2010 Hana Daetoo Securities MSL, 2010 Bigfile MSL, and the Korean Air OSL 2. That year, Flash came out slightly ahead on matches (3-2), but Jaedong defied expectations to secure a slight edge in the head-to-head record. If that Jaedong shows up on Friday, anything is possible.
Watch the Ultimate Title Fight
At 6:45 p.m. PDT on Friday, November 3, Jaedong will meet Bisu on the BlizzCon stage. Can the Tyrant find it within himself to defeat the Revolutionist? There’s only one way to find out: watch the Ultimate Title Fight live on BlizzCon.com!