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Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk Is Incredible At StarCraft II (Exclusive Interview)

The best StarCraft II Zerg player in the world opens up about eSports in this exclusive interview.

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One of the best StarCraft II players in the world recently visited Orlando, Florida to take part in the Red Bull Training Grounds at Full Sail University. Lim “NesTea” Jae Duk made the Final Four in the friendly competition, but his achievements on the grand stage of eSports are unsurpassed with SCII.

The Zerg player from South Korea currently plays for Incredible Miracle. He’s the first player to win three Global StarCraft II League (GSL) World Championships. Back in July 2011 he won the GSL without losing a single game.

Those wondering where his nickname “NesTea” came from will find the answer from the soft drink, which happened to be sitting on his desk when Blizzard banned his first name choice – ZergBong (Bong is censored on Blizzard's Battle.Net 2.0).

Jae Duk, who recently got married, took some time away from the keyboard and mouse to talk about StarCraft II and the rise of eSports in this exclusive interview.

How did you get involved in eSports?

I loved playing games with my friends, and it turned out to be something I was good at – so that’s how I got into eSports.

What have you sacrificed to get to where you are today?

I haven’t really thought about it in that way – but if I had to name something, it would be that there are certain things you can only do when you are young, things you go through at a specific age -- your early ‘20s and young adulthood -- that you get to enjoy. I wasn’t able to do those things or have fun with friends as others would do because I was dedicating all my time to gaming.

How popular is eSports in Korea?

I think it’s true, in the sense that we do have two TV channels on mainstream cable TV dedicated to eSports – in that sense you can say it’s popular. But whether it’s Korea, North America, Europe, it’s the same in that it’s a niche community. But the fans that are passionate about it are extremely passionate.  You’ll find that same passionate fan everywhere you look – America, Europe, Asia – it’s similar in that way.

How have you seen eSports’ popularity grow in the US?

When it was just SC1, it was very limited to Korea. Even in China they were very crazy about Warcraft, but it wasn’t as explosive in America. But recently, I’ve seen the same sort of explosiveness in America for SC2 – I think it’s growing very much.

What advice would you give to aspiring pro gamers who think they're good at StarCraft II?

If you are going into eSports just because you like it, I want to block you from doing it. Of course, you need to like the game, otherwise you will hate it. But on top of that, you also need to be extremely passionate about the game, to the degree that you are crazy about the game. If you’re crazy about the game – then and only then -- would I recommend you pursue a career.

How have you seen opportunities for new gamers in eSports evolve since you began as a pro?

I’ve personally pursued different opportunities in eSports. I’ve been a player, but in the past, I’ve been a coach before too. Even when I was a coach I had an extreme desire to be a player. Instead of coaching, I had a desire to be the person playing. I went back to playing but in the future, we’ll see what opportunities arise.

What's the biggest misconception about pro gamers?

The biggest misconception is people think it’s an easy way to earn money. What people don’t realize is that it’s an extremely competitive field, a hugely saturated market. Obviously, everyone wants to play games and make money, but since it’s so competitive, only a very, very small percent do well enough to make a name for themselves – and even from those few, only a small percent make a lot of money. So it’s a very, very minute percentage that is actually able to make a living. The biggest misconception by far is people thinking it’s an easy occupation.

What's your life as a pro gamer like?

I’m not actually living in a team house, so I’m an atypical case. I set my own schedule, so I don’t follow a rigid schedule. The only schedule I set for myself is the amount of sleep I get – making sure my sleeping schedule is on point. Every day, minimum, is eight hours of practice at least. Three days a week I want to relax a bit so I’ll practice eight hours, and then maybe go out, see friends, have a few drinks. But if it’s not those days, I’ll practice around 12 hours, and on those days it’s just practice, eat and sleep. But compared to other Korean pro gamers, that’s not a lot.

Where do you see eSports five years from now?

Honestly, it’s so hard to say, it’s still a young field. But my hope is that it will become so prevalent, that it will spread even to under-developed countries, like Africa for example. Right now, it’s not even fathomable that this would happen – but I have a hope that one day it will.

What do you think of the role Red Bull plays today in eSports?

At first, I didn’t even know – but when I found out, I thought it was a great thing because Red Bull is a mainstream company.  Through Red Bull I’ve met a lot of people – personally I’m very thankful, and hope they continue to stay involved and help it grow.

What similarities do you see between cyber athletes and real athletes?

In Korea, it’s extremely similar. Both types of athletes live together with their teams, they have a very strict schedule, they practice every day of the year. And especially in Korea, the sports and eSports systems are very similar – very strict, very rigid. I think it’s extremely similar. 

Originally Published Sep. 2nd 2013

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John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN.... more »

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