Eye of the Naniwa
How far would you be willing to go to become the best in something you are passionate about?
What sacrifices would you be prepared to make in order to reach the top? Where would you draw the line and say “No, I wont give that up”?
Would you sacrifice the prime years of your youth? Would you sacrifice the comfort of your home country? How about your family, would you be prepared to sacrifice that?
In 2007, at the age of 17, Johan “Naniwa” Lucchesi was kicked out of his home by his family and subsequently expelled from school due to inactivity. He crashed at a friends place and attempted to get by on his earnings as a professional WarCraft III player. Not a wise career move some might say, but at a time when most teenagers have no idea what they want to do with their lives, Naniwa knew exactly what he wanted, and more importantly he was willing to put it all on the line to get there, Sacrificing everything he had for a chance to become the best.
This determination to be #1 has earned him a fair amount of recognition, as have the unimaginably high standards to which he holds himself.
“Me against the world. I try to please everyone, but disappoint everyone. Another Korean domination at MLG, hope everyone are as ashamed as me.”
Now, this “shameful” and “disappointing” performance landed him an 8th place spot in a tournament where the top six were Koreans. The only foreigner to rank higher was HuK since Naniwa chose to forfeit the 7th-8th placement match to him. From Naniwa’s point of view, he came to win, not to spend his time playing for anything less.
Case in point: At the European Battle.net Invitational, Naniwa came out in 2nd place, losing to Ret in the finals. Both had secured a spot to compete in the main tournament at Blizzcon, but Naniwa looked conflicted. On one hand he was happy that he had qualified for the main event, on the other hand disappointed that he was unable to defeat Ret. Right after the finals, the host congratulated Naniwa on his 2nd place finish, to which he simply replied: “No...” and shook his head. He came there to win, but 2nd place is not a victory, therefore congratulations were not in order.
It is worth mentioning that the “political incorrectness” of responding “No” to someone congratulating you for a 2nd place finish was not entirely lost on Naniwa. He smiled through the applause but never had any intention of hiding his disappointment for not winning. He stood there on stage, quietly marinating in his own self-hatred while the crowd chanted his name to cheer him up.
But there used to be a time when this anger was released at his opponents instead of himself. Back in his WarCraft III days he was notorious for his bad manners, something that he has profusely apologized for on many occasions since. Yet the traces of that past remain for the Internet archaeologist who is prepared to dig through old forums. Among the ancient posts on the subject you can find KiWiKaKi in agreement with others who don’t have too high opinions of Naniwa’s behaviour back then. Even TLO, a strong proponent for good manners, has been wary of Naniwa in the past, saying that it would be poor publicity to have Naniwa be part of his team house in Stockholm.
But it would seem that whatever anger Naniwa allowed to escape back then is now entirely sealed in. And the best part is it seems to be working, working really well. All that emotion and all those sacrifices are instead melting together to fuel the discipline, fierce determination, and iron will to become the best. His new StarCraft II fans think of him only as the very self-critical foreigner who one day could go toe to toe with the Koreans. Even Dreamhack Valencia winner DongRaeGu named Naniwa specifically when asked on Lo3 if there are any foreigners he fears or respect.
That’s why it came as somewhat of a surprise to fans that Naniwa and Team Dignitas would be parting ways at the end of his contract to be picked up by compLexity instead. Perhaps the airtight seal that’s keeping his emotions in check in public is leaking slightly in private? Or perhaps it’s as simple as the fact that Naniwa’s value has skyrocketed compared to where it was at in the beginning of the year and Dignitas would not be able to offer him a competitive contract while still supporting SeleCT and Sjow in Code A as well. Either way, Naniwa is a great pickup for compLexity, who already had been building up a positive relationship with him prior to the announcement.
When Naniwa first arrived in Korea he was staying at the StarTale team house, but due to a miscommunication between GSL and StarTale he was only expected to stay there for a week. So at the end of the week Naniwa needed a new place to practice, and coL.MVP stepped in to save the day. A very generous gesture by the two teams, and surely appreciated by Naniwa.
Only time will tell if compLexity will be able to maintain the tiger residing within Naniwa and keep him on as a long-term player. But if they can continue to provide a strong training environment in Korea for him with their MVP co-operation then this is as good of a bet as any. What remains certain though is that Naniwa (among few others) is showcasing that there are foreigners willing to travel the distance and put in the hours required, that there is cause for the foreign world to hope that “shameful” and “disappointing” performances where Koreans take the top six spots will eventually become a thing of the past.
Written by Joel Hakalax