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Road to BlizzCon: ByuN

Road to BlizzCon: ByuN

It’s getting more and more obvious that 2016 has been a watershed year for StarCraft II. The third and final expansion has been in full swing, profound changes have been made to the World Championship Series format, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some staples of the game. The year has been about change, about finally leaving behind the old and ushering in the new. Some of the old breed has faded away, while new faces have stepped up to take their place. There’s always some uncertainty in change, but it should not be avoided. It should rather be welcomed with open arms, because only by embracing change do we keep going forward. What better player to showcase abandoning the old and focusing on the future than “ByuN” Hyun Woo.

While most of the other players have been easier to follow over the years, ByuN still has a mysterious air around him. His long absence from the professional scene is well known, not only because his return to the spotlight was so sudden. It’s only been 18 months since the Teamless Terran resurfaced in the spring of 2015. At first, he preferred to stay out of sight, with no offline presence, but his dominating performance in all possible online cups made people take note. Slowly but surely he rebuilt his skills and reputation from the ground up, and finally transformed himself into something he had always yearned to be: a player truly capable of winning a StarLeague title. It is a sad fact of life that he was not always worthy of a trophy. We like to think of the competitors as bastions of honor and integrity, but unfortunately this is not always the case. In order to earn a title, one must defeat the others in fair matches, thus representing virtue also outside the game.

ByuN’s history with the scene has not been a simple affair. Like for many others, it has been a complicated mix of emotion, ambition, anxiety and the occasional grave mistake. He started as a player many years ago, all the way back in Wings of Liberty. In 2011 he was caught match-fixing with another player, and was subsequently banned for the season. Next year he had a proper shot at a title. His series against NesTea didn’t exactly showcase the kind of valor we’d like to see in our champions, but still he advanced. In the end it was for naught, because ByuN just couldn’t make it past the semifinals against Seed. Whether his ensuing exile was voluntary or forced, we may never really know. Maybe his hawkishness was due to the culture permeating his organization. Maybe it was the ambition of a young, brash man. Whatever the case, PRIME's implosion shortly after his return seems like a bullet dodged after a career of mistake after mistake. 

Instead, he had been on a journey to the deepest, most profound parts of his own self. Over the years, what he discovered was not the middling Terran player of old, but rather a mechanically superior, forward-thinking, well-rounded champion. From the darkest pits of despair arose something new and exciting. Shedding his old wrinkled skin, ByuN found a flicker of inner strength that he was then able to coax into an enduring pyre of skill. And he did all this outside the traditional system.

Then in May of 2016, two things of note happened. He was left teamless, and he qualified for the second season of both SSL and GSL. He breezed through the Challenge event of SSL, and qualified for Code S, taking down players like aLive and Rogue in the process. In SSL he was later overcome by Classic and the rejuvenated Solar, but his GSL run will be studied in the years to come.

In a glorious sign of divine providence, in the first group stage he met none other than Seed, going 2-0 to finally bury his past for good. Finally breaking free from his shackles, ByuN had all the momentum he needed to carry on to the grand finals, where he met Jin Air’s sOs, the famed Trickster Toss. Jin Air Green Wings had just won their first ProLeague title, utterly crushing KT Rolster. ByuN cared for none of that, utterly crushing sOs in turn, and making it look easy. The 4-1 result was the first time in the history of StarCraft II that a teamless player had claimed a StarLeague trophy, and it wasn’t even a close series.

And just to ensure that the enormity of the feat does not go unnoticed, let’s reiterate how well-oiled the Korean system has grown over time. Many of the professional teams have been active for over a decade. While in theory anyone capable of attending the qualifiers might try their luck, just the possibility of a teamless player reaching such lofty heights has been all but unthinkable for years. The One Man Army has achieved something remarkable, something to be closely treasured in the years come, no matter his future. All this after utterly disappearing from the scene for over two years.

What can we then expect from this new ByuN? His mechanics have been honed to the extreme. He’s shown exceptional patience in reading the game, maintaining his composure and not falling to baits. His style has mellowed out from the ultra aggressive plays of yesteryear. In short, he’s a more well-rounded player now than what he used to be in the past. He’s seemingly grown as both a person and a player, and his results are evidence enough of both his maturity and evolved skill.

ByuN is now signed with Team Expert, meaning he’s still a bit of an outsider in Korea. With recent developments, the team system is now in an utter state of flux, but ByuN can rest assured that he’s an enduring symbol of hope for others like him.

Most of all, for all the rest of us, ByuN embodies the comeback. The ideal that no matter our past mistakes, with lots of hard work, and just a bit of luck, it's never too late.