I recently had the chance to watch the World Championship StarCraft (WCS) Summer Championships live at DreamHack Montreal and meet Alex Sunderhaft, aka Neeb – the up and coming New York StarCraft 2 player who’s been repping Ting all across the globe.
While just 18 years old, Neeb has been around the scene for several years, placing top 12 in WCS Season 1 America 2014 just after turning 16. An exceptional talent when it comes to StarCraft, Neeb decided to switch to the Protoss race two years ago and saw his success rise even further – a rare move in StarCraft 2 but one that has definitely paid off.
Since picking up Neeb, he’s posted some amazing results at World Championship Series Premier events. In just five months, Neeb has placed second at both DreamHack Austin and IEM Shanghai, third at WCS Copa Intercontinental, top four at DreamHack Montreal and top eight at DreamHack Tours and DreamHack Valencia.
Neeb has achieved the most consistent tournament results of any non-Korean player (called “foreigners” in the esports world) this year. Not only are his results impressive, it’s also impressive when you consider that no American StarCraft 2 player has ever reached the caliber of Neeb. Despite seeing top-tier Americans across the majority of games played professionally, the United States has seen few StarCraft 2 players rise to the top, until now.
Neeb has solidified his place at the 2016 WCS Global Playoffs where he’ll be facing off against some of the top Koreans to see if he’ll make it to the culmination of the 2016 StarCraft season, the Global Finals during BlizzCon 2016.
After defeating his friend and roommate, Scarlett, in the quarter finals of DreamHack Montreal, I had the chance to sit down and learn more about this “literal god,” as coined by the community. Over burgers, we chatted about life as a pro gamer, living in South Korea and more.
I was initially interested in why Neeb chose StarCraft 2, a well-known, respected competitive game with a dedicated following, but slightly smaller in this day and age compared to super popular team esports like League of Legends, Counter Strike and Dota 2.
Interestingly, the unique style of StarCraft is exactly what enticed him. “I got into SC2 because it’s a 1v1 game. I really liked the esports side of it – I watched a couple years of pro StarCraft 2 before I started playing. During that time I played a lot of League of Legends, but about halfway through 2011 I decided to focus on playing StarCraft 2.”
Long time fans of Neeb know that he originally played as Terran (there are three races to choose from in StarCraft 2 and players typically stick with one) for three years before switching to Protoss in September of 2014. After a couple months of uncertainty, in which he stopped playing for several weeks at a time, Neeb committed to StarCraft 2 and in a very short time, began to make a name for himself as one of the best North American players.
Being in high school for the majority of his career so far, I wondered how Neeb’s parents feel about his life as a professional gamer. “They’re very supportive, they watch my tournaments which is really cool,” he said. When asking Neeb if he thinks their support helped him become as good as he is now, he agreed, explaining, “It helped me be able to do exactly what I wanted to do, as opposed to my parents forcing me to do something they wanted. My parents are pretty open to anything.”
One of Neeb’s unique feats is the ability to constantly bounce back and overtake an opponent after losing to them. After both of his finals appearances this year, he’s met the same opponent at the next tournament and beaten them handily. When asking him why he’s so good at this, Neeb doesn’t think it’s anything in particular. “When I lose I get motivated to practice even more because I keep thinking about the loss, and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Practicing a lot is definitely something that has helped Neeb become so successful thus far. Recently, he made the move to South Korea to live with fellow pro gamers Scarlett and NoRegret and has been training hard ever since. “I played 300 games in the past week which was amazing. It’s mostly ladder, but I’ve played with Ryung, Gumiho and ByuN lately to help them practice too. Ryung made it out of his GSL group and thanked me for training with him, and Byun did too!”
All this success has brought Neeb quite a large following in the StarCraft 2 community. From memes to fan videos and everything in between, the hype is real for Neeb. When asking him his thoughts about being a StarCraft celebrity, he’s still unsure of how to feel. “I’m not the biggest fan of cameras and being in the spotlight but I really like that people enjoy watching me play. I get to do something really unique for a living, so it’s worth it for sure.”
I wondered whether Neeb plays any other games for fun, but he told me that he’s strictly all about StarCraft. “I really enjoy playing StarCraft 2 so I don’t want to play anything else. When I was younger I played Halo 3 but I was never competitive. I used to watch MLG’s and stuff, Halo is what actually got me into esports.”
Interestingly enough, Halo 3 was also my entry point into the world of esports. I’m eight years older than Neeb and yet we both discovered esports through Major League Gaming events, back when Alex would have only been 10 or 11. It’s fitting really, that’s why he’s a pro gamer and I’m not (although I try).
Neeb may only be 18, but he has the wisdom of a veteran gamer. He’s a soft spoken, humble guy – throughout our dinner we chatted about several pro players and Alex never had a bad word to say about anyone. The more I get to know him, the more I realize he’s the perfect representative for Ting.
Neeb has brought something special to the StarCraft 2 scene. He’s not one to boast, preferring to let his gameplay speak for itself, and he has no plans to stop anytime soon. This is the Neeb era of StarCraft 2, and the best is yet to come.