A Day[9] to Remember

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The date is October 7th, 2011. The crowd erupts as White-Ra saunters onto the stage. He has just defeated IdrA in his first match as reigning champion of the IGN Proleague. The audience is enthralled with every word that he says and even the interviewer comments that he just “gets applause for everything.” He is a star to these eager spectators. However, underneath this mask of Special Tactics, he is simply Aleksey.

Fans of StarCraft II tend to put players up on pedestals. To us, they aren’t Greg, Dario, or Chris. They are IdrA, TLO, and Huk. We don’t try to imagine what it must have felt like the first time they played a game of StarCraft. We don’t picture them losing to their first cannon rush. We don’t imagine the mundane parts of their life. Yet it’s these parts of their lives that are most fascinating.

It was only after the blue background of Skype faded away and I saw the man in front sitting of the webcam that I began to notice this. The image that glowed before me was a room like so many others. The walls were painted a cream color with grey Victorian wallpaper hanging behind the bed. Black curtains hung in front of the windows, completely blocking out the sun. Jackets were draped across the back of his black office chair. However, the most interesting thing about this picture in front of me was the shirt Aleksey was wearing. It was the same one he had on when he was streaming the night before, meaning he must have either slept in his shirt that night, or perhaps didn’t even sleep at all. It’s these nuances that give character to a player and makes them human. When we learn about how they got into gaming, what they do in their free time, or gain insight into their personal relationships, we begin to understand the person behind the screen name.

We begin our interview with how Aleksey got into the game that became his career. He was passionate about gaming throughout his school years. Like many of us, he would even miss class because he was so enthralled with the games he was playing. He was a fan of strategy games such as Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, Civilization, and Age of Empires. When asked what drew him into the real-time strategy genre, he replied “You need to think all time. You can control an entire army or just one unit.”

Not having internet at the time, Aleksey played with his friends at a small PC club in Odessa, his hometown in Ukraine. One day a friend came in with a copy of StarCraft, claiming it was a “new hit.” The group looked over the game and began toying with its different multiplayer modes. After many hours with the game, the group proclaimed it to be “very interesting” and thought that it would be “something really, really great.”

During Aleksey’s time as a rookie, he went through many adjustments. He started his StarCraft experience as a Terran player. When he first started playing against friends, Aleksey was a fan of rushing his opponents. It wasn’t until he and his friends made an agreement not to rush each other that they were finally able to learn the later game units. Eventually, he and his friends felt they were good enough to go to a competition, but tournament play would prove to be much harder than the group envisioned.

Although most competitions now are 1v1 based, Aleksey’s first tournament was a 2v2 event. Without a great deal of practice against early rushes, he and his partner lost early on after getting rushed by two Zerg players. This made Aleksey and his friends start practicing even more. One member of the group bought a second computer, and his apartment became the group’s StarCraft headquarters. They set the computers up on LAN, and groups of five or six huddled around this setup for twelve to fourteen hours a day. Despite this intense practice for his first large tournament, nothing could prepare Aleksey for the huge audience that awaited him.

Stage fright is a common experience. Most of us have experienced nervousness while performing in front of others for the first time. In 2002, Aleksey was struck by this feeling during his World Cyber Games run.

It was the first tournament where he played on stage and he recalls being unable to get comfortable during those games. When asked if it still affects him now, he said he is fine and that “you just need experience” in order to overcome it. When asked about the differences in his ability now and when he was younger, Aleksey replied saying that when you are younger, you can train a lot more and practice for each and every map. “You can work like machine,” he explained. However, when you’re older, you have to think a lot more and “use [your] wisdom.” Aleksey attributes his decline in practice time to him gaining new perspectives on life as he’s grown older. When asked to explain further, he stated “Life doesn’t stop. I want to live in the real world, too.” He said that if he was younger, he wouldn’t need to think about family.

As well as being older than most professional gamers, Aleksey also differentiates himself from the norm by being one of the few married pro-gamers. When asked what this was like, he said “It’s not easy because you should spend time with your family.” For Aleksey, practice and tournaments can hinder his ability to spend time with his wife, but they find ways to make it work. For instance, they try to go together to Aleksey’s international tournaments. He noted that “when we go together, my wife tries to take me to interesting places around the town [we] are in.” When asked if he noticed an impact on his play when she is there, he said “It’s hard to say. If you lose, she try and say some good words.” However, he knows that he always has support from her, no matter where she is.

Along with spending time with his wife, Aleksey has many other hobbies. As you may have deduced from his infamous swimsuit picture, Aleksey is an avid swimmer. He is also an advocate of saunas, an activity he tries to do at least once or twice a week. But what he likes most is cooking. When asked what makes cooking so enjoyable for him, he said he loves the smell. Aleksey also mentioned he loves cooking chicken, beef, and pork and has an array of marinades. Perhaps even more than the cooking itself, he enjoys the excuse it gives to invite people to his house for a dinner party. And it’s not just his friends with which he shares his passion of cooking; Aleksey’s YouTube channel contains a video called “Advices from White-Ra - Healthy food” where he shares a quick and nutritious meal with his fans. [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzR5yMd1yW0]

This isn’t the first time Aleksey has shared his personal life with his fans. In fact, Aleksey’s Facebook fan page looks strikingly similar to a personal Facebook profile. He shares everything from vacation photos and videos, to funny personal stories, and even pictures sent in by his fans. When asked what makes him do this, he said he wanted his fans to get an inside view of his life. He wants to show his personality to his fans and make them see that he is more than just a player.

Even with as many fans as Aleksey has, we have to realize that he is simply a man. To quote Sean “Day[9]” Plott, “...more often than not, personalities are viewed not as real people with varying sides, but as fictional characters.” To most, White-Ra is just the ever-cheerful Ukranian master of Special Tactics who will always “make expand, then defense it.” However, we must understand that he is much more than the character we project onto him. He has a relatable, familiar story of how he fell into his career. He has facets of his life that few of us will ever get to see. Not only is Aleksey a professional gamer, he is a chef, a husband, a swimmer, a friend, and so much more. He is human, just like all of us.