by Patrick O'Neill (chobopeon)

Leenock is only 16 but he has just won the most competitive tournament ever held outside of Korea. With the $50,000 first place prize, he will now buy his mother a car as he promised her he would.

 

(Photo courtesy of GosuGamers.net)

He has masterfully figured out the most popular esport in the world at an age when most of us are trying to figure out how to speak with girls, both of which are perpetual struggles I can assure you. Leenock is about as tall as the trophy they handed him on the stage after his victory. He is most definitely shorter than his giant $50,000 check. I hope he can cash that monstrous thing in a bank but I have my doubts.

Did you know that Leenock went to the same high school as Flash?

Who is Flash? What a question.

Flash is probably the greatest Brood War player of all time. He won his first Starleague at 15 in 2008. Since then, he has established himself as as a multidimensional genius who can win any tournament he enters, a master of style and substance.

When fans wonder what will happen when Korean Brood War players switch to StarCraft 2, what they’re really wondering is how fast Flash can win a GSL. Flash is a man who would make IMMvp blush. His reign began at an age very similar to Leenock's.

Leenock knew of Flash (who is now all of 19 and an undisputed bonjwa) when they attended the same school but he does not know Flash personally. Nevermind that. In my imagination, they are the best of friends. Now that Leenock has won his first major tournament at just 16, the comparisons to Flash are inevitable and justified. If Leenock continues to win, he can expect to hear Flash’s name more often.

When Slasher interviewed Leenock after his win over Naniwa, the youngest StarCraft 2 champion to date almost blushed when Lee Young Ho (Flash)’s name was brought up.

“It is not right to compare me to Flash,” said Leenock. “He has dominated for so long and I have just started.”

A moment later, when asked about his youth and potential, Leenock returned to the subject of Flash.

“If I try hard, I will probably do what Flash has done.”

Perhaps something was lost in translation or perhaps Leenock is just supremely confident. Making favorable comparisons to Flash is bold, sure, but why wouldn’t he be bold after a win of this magnitude? With his age and skill level in mind, it is hard to not get excited about the obvious potential for greatness.

Both Leenock and Flash were shockingly young when they first won. However, where Flash was initially disrespected for his use of cheesy play against the best players in the world, Leenock has been lauded as an enormous talent since Artosis first laid eyes on the short Korean boy. Although Artosis is known for piling the compliments on Nestea above all, Leenock has been praised by Dan as a player with unlimited potential since his first GSL appearance at age 15.

Leenock is a boy in both body and mind. He says he is too young to manage his own money and so he is giving it to his mother to handle. After he won MLG Providence, Leenock said he felt like he was dreaming. DjWheat immediately took the opportunity to pinch the 16 year old’s chubby round cheeks, still full of youth and baby fat, on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers in order to show Leenock that he was awake. Many say that those cheeks are the source of Leenock’s power. There is an ancient Korean proverb which says “More cheeks = more skill.”

Leenock’s path was littered with obstacles in the form of utterly gifted opponents.

The young victor won MLG Providence by coming out of the open bracket, a path so difficult and Olympian that several notable players chose not to attend because it seemed impossible to succeed from the open. Leenock defeated five MLG champions (MMA, Idra, Huk, Mvp and Naniwa) and two GSL Code S champions (MMA and Mvp) on his way to first place. With an overall record of 34-7, the young Zerg player managed two come from behind extended series victories over DRG (who beat Leenock 2-0 earlier in the tournament) and Naniwa (because the Swede came from the Winners Bracket).

"Leenock is the very first person ever to come to win the championships from the losers’ bracket," wrote Rich McCormick at PC Gamer, a mainstream gaming magazine. "But Leenock’s achievement can’t be defined by figures. The story of the kid who came half the world to play and wound up winning is a tale that transcends esports, something that engages people no matter their cultural tastes. In a programmed game where clusters of numbers battle other clusters of numbers, Leenock’s achievement remains resolutely human."

Throughout the weekend, Nestea was fighting off fatigue and sickness from travel and Mvp was struggling to sleep in his hotel room. Meanwhile, Leenock was laughing and joking with friends almost every time I looked his way. The boy was rarely without a smile as he play wrestled with his fellow Korean competitors, a group growing more tightly knit as each event passes. Koreans in general are more physical with each other than their Western peers. Watching the group hold hands and hold each other strikes one at first as funny but it soon becomes apparent just how close the group is to one another. It makes sense. After all, they are travelling the world and building an industry together.

After entering championship Sunday as nearly a footnote, Leenock heated up en route to the gold. Naniwa’s overly greedy play in the finals made for a relatively lackluster crowning moment for Leenock but the ease with which he understood and adapted to Naniwa’s builds — builds that triumphed over Nestea and DRG numerous times during the weekend — underscores just how good Leenock really was on Sunday.

“In the Grand Finals, he started with a disadvantage,” wrote Sam Lingle on ESFIWorld.com. “Naniwa needed to win a single best-of-3 to take the series but Leenock needed to win a best-of-7 after winning two of the first three maps. That didn’t stop the amazing Zerg: he only dropped one map, surprising the man who looked so perfect throughout the entire tournament with aggressive roach strategies that punished Naniwa’s forge builds.”

As he was winning the tournament, “Leenock” was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, a fact that speaks volumes about the solidly growing popularity of our sport. Stream numbers were apparently enormous and the tournament was covered by big news outlets around the world. This was an incredible moment for Leenock to claim victory, one that might have come with immense pressure and anxiety but seemed to only come with a boyish smile.

After beating DRG, Leenock's hands began to shake and, even leaving the booth triumphant, continued to do so.

“I get nervous,” said Leenock, “but whenever I get nervous I just think of something else and it goes away.”

While other players trip over themselves when dealing with massive mental obstacles such as nerves, Leenock's innocent and simple explanation as to his mental success barely scratches the surface of a deeply held self-control that seems a massive contradiction (or at least a surprise) for someone so boyish in most other ways.

While other players suffer their minds to sputter, Leenock seemed as happy as a kid in a toy store for most of the weekend. Judging by the giant and bad ass trophy MLG awarded him for his efforts, that may not have been far from the truth.