Eo "soO" Yun-Su, by 2019, was running out of chances. Between his first final in 2013 and IEM Katowice 2019, he earned nine silver medals at premier tournaments. His reputation was practically set in stone: StarCraft 2’s King of Kongs, the esport’s very own Sisyphus.
But aged 27, long past what was assumed to be his peak, soO arrived in Poland to finally push his boulder over the crest of the hill. Like Sisyphus, he too, had cheated death: 2016 left him without an organization and age appeared to be catching up with soO, admitting that “the younger Zerg players are all so much better than I am” in 2017. Add in the compulsory enrollment in military service for Koreans before they turn 29 and IEM Katowice 2019 began to look like one of soO's last shots at becoming a world champion.
And against all odds, he did just that. Coming all the way from the Open Bracket, here is how soO finally reached the summit of StarCraft II
If soO had his way he might have never been playing StarCraft II at all, let alone one of its greatest ever players. He had finally found his feet in Brood War but in 2012, despite his personal reservations about the game, he switched over to the StarCraft II, hoping to break into the top tier that had eluded him in it’s prequel.
It would not take long, though, for the Brood War loyalist to catch up to StarCraft II’s early adopters. soO made his first final at GSL Season 3 2013, losing to Dear but satisfied with the first deep tournament run of his career.
In 2014 that satisfaction would disappear. He would make the finals of four big events, but lose all of them. In the first, he would face Zest at the height of his powers. In the second, he would be defeated by his teammate (and now close friend) Classic.
The most painful losses were still to come: at DreamHack Open Stockholm, soO did not lose a map en route to the final. He went in as the favourite but would crumble, losing 0-3 to Solar in the best of five.
Still, soO was not defeated. He was the best Zerg player in the world, and at GSL Season 3 he would again charge to the final - his fourth consecutive GSL grand final appearance - and even defeated Zest along the way. Opportunity was knocking for soO, and after he won the first two maps of the final, the door was on its last hinge. But, for the fifth time, soO’s demons would overwhelm him. He would lose the final 4-2.
Despite this setback soO came into 2017 rekindled, writing the now infamous article “My Life as Sisyphus” declaring his will to break his finals curse. Although he did not do so, he returned to the level we all knew he could perform at, making the final of GSL Season 1 and 2 in 2017 and of the World Championship Series. He showed that his talent was still there, but his return to the top tier came in tandem with that of his mental block in grand finals.
That’s why, at IEM Katowice 2019, it was no surprise to see soO 0-2 down in the grand final against Stats. Stats had beaten soO in a final before, at GSL Season 1 2017. Stats knew how to win finals - and it seemed that soO did not. soO was once again nearing the crest of Sisyphus' hill, with the boulder getting heavier and heavier.
But something had changed at Katowice. He had already been close to elimination in the tournament, losing his first three group stage games to Bunny, Dear, and TY. But soO did not give up, winning his next two matches and scraping through to the playoffs on map difference.
In the playoffs, soO made quick work of 3-0ing old rival Zest, before a tightly contested Zerg-vs-Zerg quarterfinal with Serral, another old foe. That series would go to all five maps in one of the best ZvZ matches of all time. Map three in particular was a classic, with the pendulum swinging both ways. Halfway through the map soO had lost 280 roaches, and Serral 208.
Battle after battle ended in a stalemate, and Serral nearly took momentum back by sending a force behind soO’s lines to shatter his economy. It was not to be though as soO stood strong, showing a mental fortitude he was so often accused of lacking. Thereafter soO won the all-important final engagement, Serral tapped out. Starcraft's Sisyphus was once again climbing the hill.
During the semi-final, soO would dispatch herO 3-1 in a comprehensive series, taking confidence from his earlier ZvP decimation of Zest to qualify for one more premier final - his "10th" (check)
And so, at 0-2 down in that grand final, soO had a wealth of experience in coming back from hardship. In his 11th major final, he drew from all of it: the positive, and the negative. And it worked - this time, soO would reach the peak.
soO, in map three (what was supposed to be his worst map, Kairos Junction) finally repelled Stats’ attacks. And from then he was unstoppable, winning four straight maps.
In map 6 there was another uncharacteristic over-extension from Stats. The Protoss player attacked soO early, with just two bases, but soO stood strong once more and finally broke his finals curse, winning 4-2 and taking home $150,400.
He was the underdog all the way through. His time was supposed to have passed. But soO showed why you can never give up. From the open bracket, to 0-3 down and bottom of his group stage, to being drawn against the world champion, soO should not have come this far. But he did. He did, because, despite all those final defeats, soO was one of the greatest StarCraft players of all time. And he is also one of the most loved - his tears in his winner’s interview with Smix were shared on the desk and by many at home.
Eo Yun-Su had reached the summit of Sisyphus’ hill. He was World Champion at last.
StarCraft II wasn’t the only game to witness something special in 2019. Check out the story of CS:GO’s Dupreeh, world champion days after losing his father.