Liquid`MaNa: What 10 years means in esports

Liquid`MaNa: What 10 years means in esports

What does a decade mean in esports? In one year, most team esports have rotated at least one player from the roster. In three years, they’ve probably swapped the rest out too. In five years, you see shifts that shake loose entire esports — it took five years, after all, for the Overwatch League to go from Blizzard’s marquee esport, to being shut down entirely, in favor of a new format run by ESL. By the 10 year mark, most esports have seen their golden age come and go.

But if you really want to know what 10 years means in esports, best you ask Grzegorz "MaNa" Komincz. After all, today marks MaNa’s 10 year anniversary with Team Liquid. On February 21st, 2014, Team Liquid signed MaNa to the StarCraft roster as a pro. Across those 10 years, he’s risen, fallen, resurged, and then reshaped his career and his place within esports. Don’t get it twisted, he’s never left the competition, but in that decade he’s grown into a content creator and player manager too. 

(In 2022, MaNa celebrated 20 years in esports.)

When MaNa joined Liquid all that time ago, one of his main motivations was to find that longevity. What does it feel like to be a part of something for longer than one, two, even five years? He joined TL after seeing how it stuck with its players longer than some orgs hold together entirely. So, it feels only right that after a decade, we come to him and ask him what the decade means.

Here it is, in his own words.

[Introduction by Austin “Plyff” Ryan, Interview by Kwanghee “Waxangel” Woo]

You've been with Liquid for ten years! This is kind of a difficult, open-ended question, but how do you feel?

I can't believe it's actually been ten years. It feels like just yesterday.

It just feels like a very short journey that happened over a long period of time. It just goes by so quickly. I'm just very grateful that Team Liquid has been continuously supporting me throughout all these years. I never had any specific issues with Team Liquid, they were always happy to extend the contract. I think I was doing, [laughs], good enough of a job for Team Liquid, so I'm just happy to still be part of the team. I think we represent the same kind of values, so I'm quite happy about it.

How did you come to join Liquid?

There were two times when Victor approached me. Once, I believe it was 2012, when I was still in Korea, when I was still part of Mousesports. 

Victor was trying to encourage me to join Team Liquid, but, eventually I decided not to. [laughs] The salary and everything would be similar to what I got on Mousesports — but one of the issues I had with Team Liquid back then was I didn't like the team shirts. That was like the main reason why I didn't join Team Liquid in 2012. I felt like the Mousesports shirts looked better, more professional.

Weren't they just red polos?

Red polos, yes. With like a collar [laughs]. The collar was the difference, it looked more elegant, I suppose, or something like that.

Come on, surely he didn't think these were ugly?

Then, after Mousesports released me at the end of 2013, I was in talks with Victor in December. He was like, "hey, we are still interested in you if you want to join." Team Liquid was already established as a very good team, and looked very promising for the future.

And, I really, really liked how Team Liquid always kept their players pretty much forever. Like, a lot of the teams were switching players left and right. I did not want to be part of a team that

I'll be in for half a year, a year, and then they say, "Moving on — you're not important to the team." So I really liked that about Team Liquid and decided to join.

Do you think that was a turning point in your career? How do you think things would have gone if you didn't join TL? Do you stay in StarCraft II for this long?

StarCraft II was still kind of in its prime at that time. If I did not join Team Liquid, I would probably just have found a different team shortly. I had different offers before that, just not immediately after my departure from Mousesports. I would definitely still have played StarCraft II under a different team.

But would it be a team I'd be part of for 10 years? It's hard to say. But, to be honest, after seeing how it's gone for all these years, I feel like there's not a better team I could have been a part of. I stand by everything Team Liquid is. 

What were your most memorable moments with Team Liquid?

WCS Austin 2018, and I would say WCS Krakow, the season finals in 2015, would be the biggest highlights for me since I reached the grand finals in both.

Both of the events were very memorable, but for me, 2015 in Krakow would be more memorable simply because it was in Poland.

The first and only crowd surf in Starcraft II!

(Celebration at 1:45)

I did not expect it. I remember the moment when I was on the stage, when the crowd was cheering for me after I came back from down 0-2 in the quarterfinals. The crowd was cheering, and I was telling the crowd, "Be louder! Be louder!" but I think they really thought that I was encouraging them to come on the stage.

And a couple of guys came up and were shouting in a circle, and then one of the guys was like, "Let's lift up MaNa!" "Oh yeah let's go!" And the lift happened. I was thinking 'Holy crap, I have my phone and wallet in my pocket.' I just didn't want them to drop and stuff like that [laughs].

It felt really nice, definitely a one of a kind moment for me in StarCraft II. Probably my most memorable moment in StarCraft II history.

What about your run at WCS Austin 2018 then? Was it nice to show you still had it in you to get to the finals?

I have this tendency to be quiet for a while as a player, not have very big results. And then, suddenly, I have one big result, something figured out. Something clicks for me, and then I play god-like for a week or something like that. Something like that happened in Austin.

I remember playing so much, practicing and just enjoying StarCraft 2 back then. It was a different patch, I remember the patch made it so Blink Stalkers could Blink even when they were Fungalled. So I kind of figured out a new playstyle in the late-game versus Zerg, where I did not go for Carriers or Tempests, and I was just purely staying on ground. Just like very, very active PvZ late-game play, and I was the only player doing that

I really, really enjoyed that, and every single practice game I used that, it worked. So I was just extremely motivated because I had figured out something new. It worked for me, and I felt like I could prove it at the tournament.

(MaNa gives Serral his toughest challenge of the 2018 WCS Circuit.)

I got to prove live during finals that the new style of Blink Stalkers worked against Serral, who was the best player, who was on a roll. When I was up 2-1, I was feeling like, 'Oh my god, this is the first time that Serral is going to lose in the finals? Can I actually do it?' I actually believed that I could beat Serral for the first time when I was up 2-1.

But, then, game four happened where I was quite ahead strategically, but I just messed up with a wall-off, and Serral just pounced on me to make it 2-2. The more games we played the more Serral figured me out, and I eventually lost.

But, still, the entire event of WCS Austin felt amazing. I felt the energy of the crowd every time that I won. I felt that the crowd was on my side. It just felt nice to be appreciated and cheered on after such a long career.

Photos courtesy of Blizzard, photography by Carlton Beener

What do you think of the idea that older players struggle to get results because their mechanics get worse?

I think it's just about priorities and how much time you have for practice. The older I get, the more responsibilities I have. When I was playing as a student, I had no worries, you know? I just went to school, I played, I went to sleep, I ate, and that's pretty much all I did, right?

The older I get, the more responsibilities I have. I moved out of my parents house, I have a fiancé right now, I just have a multitude of responsibilities on my hands that I didn't have back then. The amount of time that I have for practice and to focus on StarCraft II or just gaming in general is less than before because life takes over.

I think if I would be able to play full-time with zero worries in my life whatsoever, I could be just as good as before right now, probably. Maybe in the past year or so I got slower, but that's

just a result of not having the insane amount of practice that I had before.

Could you describe the phase of your career you're in right now?

I think I'm still good enough in StarCraft II that I can still compete at the highest level with the best. I don't think I am capable of winning the biggest tournaments in the world like Katowice or the big DreamHacks and so on. But I still think that I'm good enough to compete with them and reach potentially the top 8, top 16.

But I think because I notice that I cannot win those tournaments, I also cannot survive based on the prize money that I get from them. So I just need to provide for myself, for my family, so that's why I like doing a lot of content creation. I'm focusing on my YouTube content for the past year; I have been uploading every day. I'm trying to grow my channel as much as possible, and then potentially find more competitive opportunities in StormGate. 

(MaNa showed off his skills in the first ever broadcasted tournament of the upcoming RTS StormGate, winning the game's first exhibition event.)

How did you end up going deeper into the content creation aspect of things?

What I realized is I kind of neglected my popularity at my peak. The industry was not as developed as it is now, and I didn't have a person to guide me through this process when I was at my peak. I just wanted to play, I wanted to win, and that's all I did.

But now, being a pro doesn't necessarily mean you only win tournaments. You can also be just a cool entertainer, where people know you from your YouTube Channel, your Twitch stream. You can still be very good at the game, but you can be more approachable to the general audience. Which I think I did not do very well in the past, so I just wanted to fix that mistake.

I could have done that even sooner, but at one point I was like 'Okay, today I start, and I just do it every day, and let's see what happens as I learn how to do it.'

What's your relationship with competition as one of the older players in the scene? I find with some pros, it's just this itch they have to scratch in some way, like an addiction. It doesn't have to be about being able to realistically win a championship.

I think it is kind of an addiction, I agree, because it's something I've been doing my entire life. I've been playing StarCraft since I was like 6 years old, of course not immediately online, but I was competing with my brother. And then once we got internet connection, I was competing online in StarCraft: Brood War.

Then, in StarCraft II, I tried to make a career out of it when I was like 15, 14 years old or something like that? So yeah it is kind of an addiction. I just love competing, I love video games and esports. Just, like, the process of learning and mastering something, and testing yourself, testing your limits all the time. It just clicks for me, I love that. I'm not sure if I would be stopping anytime, I definitely would try and stay competitive for the longest time.

I don't know how high of a level I'll be able to maintain throughout the years, but so far it's still high enough to compete with the best players in the world, and I would like to maintain that for sure.

(Next step for MaNa: Conquer RTS YouTube.)

You became TeamLiquid's StarCraft II team manager in 2022. How did that come about?

Some time ago, I was thinking that this could be a potential secondary thing to do because I didn't have great results. I was like a top 16, top 8, maybe top 32 player, but I was coming from a place where I had been a finalist, top 4, top 8 player at my peak. I always had to think of what could be next, what I could do next after competing.

Dario [TLO]'s wife Matthea was our manager when Dario was still part of Team Liquid. Even after Dario departed from Team Liquid to Shopify, I was in contact with both Dario and Matthea. Whenever she did something regarding management, we always had a small talk, about how it works, is it difficult, just giving me some inside information.

Eventually when she decided she didn't want to do it anymore, she was like, "MaNa, you would be a really good manager. I'm about to quit TL, would you like to take over?" [...] And then, I just eventually tried to learn more and more things, took on more and more responsibilities, and just tried to learn a new path.

More of an adult path I would say, because as a pro player you are focused on the video game, but here you kind of have to manage people a bit, make sure they're on time, follow the schedule and so forth. Kind of like babysitting the person I once was, you know?

Is there any kind of advice you try to give the players?

I always try to talk with them, just as a friend, not necessarily as a manager, because I know how it is to be a player. I'm still a player myself, of course, not super, super good like Clem is right now. I can still beat Clem from time to time, but I will not try to teach him in-game stuff.

I just try to give them life advice, about their sleep schedule, about the way to approach things. I have so much experience that I know if I went back in time, I could have been an even better player, because I would have taken better care of my mindset before tournaments.

When I was competing in 2013, 2014, I could go to sleep before a tournament day at like 2AM, wake up at 8AM, don't eat breakfast, and go to the tournament and expect myself to play at the highest level. 

But now I know that a proper good night's sleep, a proper meal before a tournament, just having a good mindset, having things figured out, having a plan, can definitely drastically change the level of play that you have. Especially since StarCraft competition is at a higher level

than before, you just need to take care of more things than I had to.

Who were the most memorable teammates from your time at Liquid?

I think I remember Snute and TLO the most. I mean, with TLO, we were teammates for the longest time. Snute and TLO I'd say were my best friends. We've just been competing together for so long, arriving at the same events all the time, sharing rooms… I think we also have a similar approach to life. We just clicked.

Photos courtesy of Blizzard, photography by Carlton Beener

Any final comments for the fans who've supported you all these years?

I've been part of StarCraft for such a long time, and I've been in Team Liquid for ten years already. It's felt like a very lovely journey, and I'm very thankful to all my fans for supporting me for all this time.

It's very helpful that after a tough tournament — sometimes you exit quickly, you just lose an early match and you're out of the tournament — it's very nice when people just reach out to you on social media, Twitter, or whatever, and say "Hey I liked your games, I enjoyed your time at the tournament, good luck, and enjoy the rest of the event" and so on.

These kinds of little words, where just a couple of people care for you and they want you to feel a little bit better after a loss. I have the best community out there, they are always so kind to me, so I'm very, very thankful that I am able to be in this spot in my life. 

MaNa’s journey is far from done. As the RTS has its renaissance, MaNa hopes to match it, already winning tournaments in brand new titles like Stormgate. All while tending to his roots in the scene that brought him (and the genre) up. Thank you for 10 years, MaNa! Follow MaNa's ongoing Real-Time Strategy journey through his YouTube and Twitch!

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Happy 10 years MaNa!

We're happy to have you here. Now let's all have some poynts!