What does it mean to be a pro gamer? How to move on after one's retirement? Happy explains it all, and gives his point of view on the current state of Warcraft.
I had been asked for a while by the Chinese audience (but also the Russian one), to make an interview of Happy. There is a sense of mystery around him. He has an iconic status among the European WC3 Community. He is part of the rebirth of the Undead race in the modern age, quite unwillingly.
I did not have a direct contact to him at first, and he was known not to really like to make any sort of interview. At least that is what I was told. Happy gave his agreement without hesitation for it in November and we agreed to wait for January, as December agenda was fully stacked.
We sometimes can be puzzled by his decisions, I certainly was when he decided not to play WCA Europe. Happy explains everything here, and makes us realize a little better what it means to be a pro-gamer and how reconversion can be a struggle.
Hello Happy and thank you very much for agreeing on this interview!
Can you make a quick presentation of yourself?
Hello, my name is Dmitry Kostin. I am 25 years old, ex-professional gamer from Russia, living in Moscow.
I have been playing WC3 for fun between 2005 & 2006, then semi-professionally in 2007-2008, and finally full time in 2009-2010.
I retired from WC3 professional gaming in October 2010, and moved on trying to establish myself as SC2-progamer.
I played SC2 professionally between 2010 / 2016. I stopped being full-time SC2 progamer around March 2016.
Currently trying out myself as full-time streamer, mostly streaming WC3.
Happy in Korea in 2009
As you mentioned, you made your return to playing Warcraft in March 2016 : could you explain what led to your decision to retire from SC2 E-sport Competition?
I decided to retire from SC2 for multiple reasons. First and most important reason is obviously financial.
When I've lost a team sponsorship at the end of 2014 ? I lost a big part of my income. Considering the state of SC2 then, most of reliable teams lost interest in having squad or players in SC2. It was basically artificially supported by Blizzard with its WCS-System (World Championship Series) : there was a huge loss in viewer interest, and therefore in sponsors.
Considering, I've never been a truly top player in SC2, it was pretty much impossible for me to find a suitable team. Obviously I had offers from smaller teams, but, I cant say that I had a lot of interest joining them for small pay, or not being sure if they are going to pay me at all.
Apart from that, it became harder to earn money, because, I also lost travel support, as I had no team. Except certain "paid travel" events, there was basically no option for me to travel and take part in most of tournaments - well, except, if I would pay travel myself, but that would not be financially reasonable.
After I've parted with my team, my results went downhill. Event after event I was doing worse and worse, and, in the end, I could barely qualify for WCS-based season events. WCS is, basically, the most important regional tournament. All this despite the fact that I was practicing more and more.
Of course I was winning some money here and there, but in the end, it was a really small income, considering that I was putting so much effort into practicing.
Here comes second reason why I decided to stop playing professionally - that's more like a bunch of reasons. Considering I was putting so much time in practicing, it started to get really frustrating to not show the results I believed I deserved.
I had to force myself to practice so much at times... Each day felt worst than the previous. I just realized that it couldn't continue like this much longer, and I finally came up to a decision.
I was already thinking seriously about quitting back in early 2015 - but I kept trying and trying, only to not make thing any better in the end. At some point, I just told myself that I had to try one last time, and call it quits if I fail : that's what I did.
Obviously there are many other reasons. I'm pretty old for pro-gamer, so you can say that I've lost some interest in what I've done (competitive play) for the last 7 years.
You can also say that I'm simply tired. Unlike a lot of other "long-timers", I've never really taken a break for longer than a month during my career, except once. I just wanted to try something new, because, being a pro-gamer has stopped giving me any joy for a long time.
Happy WCS 2016 - his last professional tournament (his twitter and stream famous front picture)
Which of the two games would be your favorite to play ? Talking just about fun here.
That's pretty easy to answer : WC3. Simply because I started playing SC2 only as a "successor" game that I have been playing professionally (in other words, for money). I quickly understood in the first two weeks after I made the switch that SC2 was not my type of game, and that I would probably never have same success with it as I had with WC3.
Its not like I disliked the game, but I never enjoyed it even partly as much asWC3.
You played Terran in SC2, is not the Undead -> Zerg transition the most logical? How did you pick up your races in WC3 and SC2 at the very beginning?
I started playing WC3 purely for fun. It was a long time ago, and I don't remember how I ended up with Undead. I probably just liked the race design or something, no idea. I only remember that when I started playing WC3, I was playing Random Team and I was playing Night Elf.
When I transitioned to SC2 I told myself that I wont make same mistake again by picking the statistically weakest race : Undead. So I've asked a few people who moved from WC3 to SC2 for advises. I also checked the tournament results and the amount of players per race on ladder : it makes it easier to find replays. It was quite obvious at the start of SC2 that Terran was imbalanced. So, I've made my choice.
How wrong I was …
Joking aside, I think, I should have picked Protoss. It suits my style more. Also, I've played Protoss during SC2 Beta , but only for 2-3 weeks though.
You keep winning all Online Cups in Europe, would you agree that you are the best player in Europe at the moment? Or would it be Foggy?
Well, I will be honest, there are not that many players in Europe that can provide a real challenge. This is not a surprise, considering the state of WC3 outside of Asia. But no, I do not consider myself best player in Europe. I'm not even considering myself a pro-gamer, I only play WC3 because I'm streaming.
Needless to say, Foggy won the most important non-Asian recent event : WCA European Qualifiers.
Do you follow the Asian scene closely? For example did you watch WCA and GCS in December?
I don't really follow any professional competition events at all since I retired from SC2.
I did, however, watched replays from certain events, WCA and GCS included.
What did you think of the European players performances? Is the gap between Europe and Asia reducing in term of skill?
Talking about skill gap - it is noticeable - mostly because WC3 died everywhere outside of China back in 2010, when Blizzard stopped supporting it in every way.
Hence, even if there are European players that can show certain challenge to Asian players, they are worse, because there is still an interest in WC3 in China and maybe in Korea, so people still practice, play, compete. There's bigger player base. In short - people can practice there, that's why.
Right now "best" non-asian players are trying to improve by playing on Chinese NetEase server using proxy, playing with ping 200-250 at best against ping of 10-50 for players from Asia. It is possible to improve and give them a challenge. However if someone would like to play fairly with players from Asia, he would need to move there, and play with local players under the same conditions.
Can you tell us about your stream : do you make a profitable living out of it? How many hours a week are you streaming?
When I quited progaming, I knew what I would like to try out : streaming. I had been streaming from time-to-time before, but I had never done it in a way a normal streamer would by entertaining and working for viewers. Before, I had been streaming without commentary, or never interacting with viewers, only running commercials : I do not really consider it as "streaming" but rather as just showing gameplay.
So, basically, before I started streaming full time, I had never done it before in a normal way.
Right now, I'm trying to grow my viewer base, trying to interact with viewers, entertain them. I have more or less strict schedule : I usually stream around 5-6 days per week, for 5-6 up to 8-9 hours a day. Overall, I'm only playing because I'm streaming.
I do earn money off streaming, so technically it's my job. Most of my income comes from donations, there is also smaller income coming from commercials, subscriptions, etc. Also some income comes from tournaments, and I have a minor income outside of streaming.
Even though, streaming is mostly my only income, I cannot say that I am satisfied with what I am earning. Yeah, obviously, I earn more than enough to cover food/utilities expenses, but I'd like to earn more than that.
I would probably not be trying to stream full time now if I did not have the security of the savings that i have made from my pro-gaming career. If i did not have those savings - i would not be doing any streaming .The income is quite low, in my particular case at least.
I can always step forward in any direction like studying, or getting a "normal" work if I would like to. The thing is that I don't enjoy either option at the moment, that's why I am still trying hard being a streamer.
Grubby and Happy, 2 WC3 icons that moved to SC2 and are now full time streamers
What are your plans for 2017 in term of streaming : which games, any update or new features on it?
Sadly I don't have any long-term plans. I feel like I am stuck with streaming WC3 or competitive games in general.
My dream is to build up a community that would enjoy me as a personality, rather than a player. A lot of people are aware that I am not enjoying streaming pretending a "pro-player" it that much. People rather see me show results, take part in tournaments, beat "top" players, and other stuff like that…
Of course I'd like to stream anything I would like to in general, but, I just cannot do it right now on regular basis, which is unfortunate.
So, I just keep on streaming month-by-month, and I will see how it goes.
Did you ever think of restreaming on Douyu to get more viewers?
Streaming is not about the amount of viewers you get, its about people that form your community. People that will watch you any time, any game, and will follow/support you anywhere you'd like to go as a streamer.
I stream in Russian, for Russian-speaking audience (I could stream In English, but, for particular reasons, I've abandoned that idea). There are literally zero reasons to stream on Chinese platform for me. Needless to say, just like people from China can't stream on Twitch, people outside of China wont be able to stream on platforms like Douyu because of the China Firewall.
And, as I said, I don't really like when I am being watched by 999999 people for how "good" (or bad, whatever) I play. All those people will leave once I do anything else than show my "skills".
Those are not people who would watch me as a streamer. They watch you today, leave you tomorrow. I retired from pro-gaming, I'd like to work on my stream as an entertainment, not as a show of gameplay.
Just to add : unless you are beyond popular, you wont earn much purely as a streaming pro-gamer, just by showing gameplay.
Sadly, I'm not beyond popular.
If your audience would follow you when you would be playing any game, which one would you like to stream?
None, its not about particular game, its about having an option of streaming whatever i like at any point. That's what i meant. Streaming is about fun and it is not just about reaching the highest amount of viewers possible. A streamer that is not enjoying what he does will never be entertaining.
Sometimes i just wanna stream something completely different. But as i said before - in this case i would probably get not just much less viewers, but also close to no income. Sadly, financial matter is very important, because i do this full-time.
Why did you abandon the idea of streaming in English?
I abandoned it for a couple of reasons. I realize that by streaming in English i might get a bigger audience, because English is by far a more popular language for streams. But at the same time, it would be way harder to get to the top while streaming in English, as the amount of English streamers is greater.
Basically why someone would start watching a Russian speaking English when there's plenty of other streamers who speak English as their native language? Needless to say, my English is fine, but not great at all. I never really studied it, neither do i practice it. I never speak English except on internet or when I'm outside of the country, which happened only when i was attending tournaments abroad.
Also i cannot guarantee even to myself that i can run a stream on fixed schedule, only talking in English all the time. Its kind of stressful mentally-wise, as its not my native language.
Those are the most important reasons explaining why I stream in Russian . Of course, i have a way bigger fanbase among Russian-speaking audience regarding my past progamer activities.
Last year you refused to play WCA Qualifier because you were not allowed to stream. Do you regret it, dont you think you would had major chances of qualifying and performing well in Yinchuan? Could you detail your decision?
You basically named the reason why I didn't take part in the qualifier : I was not allowed to stream my games.
As I said before, I'm a retired progamer. I do not want, or feel like I want to take part in any competition. All I do on stream is purely for viewer's entertainment like in smaller online tournaments that I play as well.
I'm personally really not interested in tournaments or any chances that I might have. If I wanted to come back to WC3 as a progamer, I would do it, and I would practice non-stop day-by-day by having a goal in achieving certain results.
I would certainly not be streaming then, because:
1. It consumes mental energy,
2. It distracts you,
3. It simply makes no sense, as, you might get a lot of viewers, but, as I answered in previous question, not likely to give you any significant income (donations, etc). There are full-time streamers with 100-200 viewers for a reason, and people with thousands today, a hundred tomorrow (silent, but "high skill level" streamers)
Therefore, no, I do not regret it. Also, you can also call it some sort of experiment : I've seen how many people were frustrated by me not taking part in those qualifiers. This is what I was talking about : people that will abandon you as a streamer, once you will move on with the game which you are "good" at.
It was a different time anyway, I would probably take part if they would be held like right about now. Thing is, I would probably just lose on purpose, or lose because I would play so badly - as I would play with zero motivation, considering I wouldn't be able to stream. I do not care for results, in short.
Is it still exciting for you to make long travels to participate in offline events? Or you'd rather stick to Online tournaments?
Well, I'm not sure if It would be surprise for most people, but I'm not quite the "party-type" person. I like to be at home, I don't like crowded places too much, and I don't like travelling. Hence, I never really enjoyed travelling anywhere.
Its not like, I feel stressed from travelling. In fact, its easier for me to fly anywhere by plane than, for example, travel by a car on short distances. I just don't find joy in it. Only reason that I traveled was because I wanted to play on tournaments, that's all.
Speaking of tournaments, I've traveled much enough on events all around the Globe. And, considering I've finished my career, I do not want to travel to events anymore, not as a player at least.
Happy in Singapore - IEM 2013
Does that mean you would like to go as a caster, like Grubby or Tod can do sometimes?
It depends on many things, mostly financial of course. If i can work as a caster - i might try it. However, I wont be going to cast events just for fun.
Can you explain why you decided to play GCS International Qualifiers and Ting Warcraft Invitational, as usually you refuse tournaments hosted on Netease and you are retired?
I have played those qualifiers as a courtesy to my viewers. That's the only reason. Cannot say that I regret it, but regardless, it was a mistake.
It makes no sense to play on NetEase vs Asians because they have ping of 10-50, against ping of 200-250 for which you need a proxy, that actually costs money, and can lag badly anytime. It's simply unfair. You will most likely always lose to a player that is even on skill with you, having such disadvantage. Needless to say, to a player that is better than you.
TING had games on NetEase client because otherwise Chinese players would not agree to play in the tournament. They wont play on W3arena/battle.net, of course. I couldn't just withdraw from tournament while it was mid-running, which I also wanted to cast. I liked casting it a lot to be honest.
GCS qualifiers went badly as expected : unfair conditions. Most likely those were last tournaments I've played on NetEase client.
GCS Qualifiers Group : Happy in a tough group but would usually manage to beat Korean players during Gera Cups on W3arena
Do you plan to participate in some more of these International events in 2017?
I don't have any plans in participating in any events as a player. I might take part in particular qualifiers like WCA Europe for example, but I cannot say that I am excited or feel like I have any wish to play in them personally. If I can stream while playing any of those events : I will try to show my best.
It is hard to plan anything considering I only ever play and stream tournaments because that's what my current audience desires. I do not wish to play them myself. Otherwise, I would take a more serious approach and not stream at all.
//Questions from Chinese fans///
Chinese fans from war3er.com submitted these questions from their forum
Chinese fans think that when you play 120, you usually have a big early advantage in the game. Then he would usually catch up with you and win the game most of the time. Is that accurate and can you talk about your games against 120 on ladder?
First of all, 120 is better than me in any way, because he is playing for results and is more dedicated to achieving those results than me. I only care if my stream runs fine, if my viewers are entertained, and how my stream works out for me in the end (schedule, viewer growth/decrease, finances, etc).
I do not care about game results, though, I try to show my best if I can.
I do not know why he is winning against me, I do not think of it. People that watch these games can probably have better clue. I don't think much when I play - what strategy I go, or timings. I just play what I like, simply put.
Not talking about ping issues but skillwise only, who is the best UD in the world?
120 is best from what I am aware (results wise). Second would probably WFZ.
Did you enjoy your previous stay in China? What did you think of the country?
I've been to China like 5 or 6 times (maybe more, I don't remember). Last time was in 2010, I think. It was fine from what I recall.
What do you think of the Netease client services ?
The platform is great. Must be pretty cool for Chinese to have such service that provides ladder-experience, where you can play against best of the best. Especially if you are located in Asian region, ping must be good too.
Do you think Netease ladder is the reason why Warcraft came back strong with many tournaments? If not, what do you think helped get Warcraft back on its feet?
I don't think that Warcraft "came back". If there's an interest in China and partly in Korea, its not supposed to mean that game came back. Its as dead as it gets anywhere outside of China (partly Korea).
I can tell you the same about StarCraft: BroodWar, for example : its only alive in Korea, dead everywhere else, since Warcraft 3 was released.
NetEase ladder is a great thing, but it has nothing to do with state of Warcraft, in my opinion.
Do you have Chinese players you like to train with? Is that true that you help WFZ and Yumiko practise? Who are your best Chinese players friends?
I do not practice, I only play NetEase ladder because my audience desires too. Ok, maybe because w3arena is a bit too easy at times.
No, I did not help WFZ/Yumiko practice. Unless they count ladder games as practice.
I don't think I have friends among Chinese players. Maybe it depends on what a friend is to you. I know some players, but that's rather a person I just know, not a friend.
Which 3 elements of the game would you like to see changed in a future patch?
1. Blademaster (critical strike) 2. Tanks 3. Sappers
But overall, I think, you can never balance WC3 because of random factor (damage, abilities like evasion/critical strike, item drops, etc).
The key is to change overall balance all the time : like, every 3-4 months. This way strategies will never be set in stone.
Is there something you wished was asked, or something you would like to say to your fans?
I'm glad to know that I have fans that remember me as a player. I hope you still like my games, even though, I'm not as good as I used to be!
Thank you Happy!
Happy answered with frankness on all questions, avoiding none. He speaks openly about the "negative side" of pro-gaming : long travels, irregular incomes, uncertain life, short careers and sponsorship dependency. How to reconvert after retiring? Which game to play?
Players usually do not want to speak openly about these issues, because revealing this reality would/could demotivate their audience from following them on their stream. Fans need to believe that their idol is leading the life they dream of, performing in their favorite game and traveling around the world to compete and win the best competitions.
You can follow Happy on twitch / goodgame and be part of the community he wishes to build!