There’s a bit of a commotion surrounding Table 651 in the gold section of the Horseshoe Ballroom on Day 1B of the 2023 World Series of Poker Main Event. A pair of cameras are locked in on the action with a special focus on the player in Seat 5. That player? It’s not Ivey. It’s not Negreanu. And it’s not Hellmuth. It’s Korean eSports Hall of Famer Lim ‘BoxeR’ Yo-Hwan, and he’s under the lights as a documentary crew hopes to capture a deep run in the Main Event.
Lim, a StarCraft champion and a legend in the eSports world, is back at the WSOP for his seventh year. He’s been coming to Las Vegas since 2015, and this year he’s hoping for a breakthrough. Lim retired from StarCraft in 2012, a game in which he was an undisputed superstar with 14 individual titles and the longest-running stretch as the No.1-ranked player in the history of the KeSPA (Korea e-Sports Association) at 17 months. For the past decade he’s been dedicated to poker, which, he says is challenging in different ways.
“It’s a very different game,” said Lim. “In eSports, the game doesn’t have probability. The top guy always wins, but in poker, it’s very different. But [in eSports] for a long time you have to sit and play and practice and that part is the same, for a long time in poker you have to sit [and play].”
Unlike some athletes who take a shine to poker in retirement, when Lim isn’t sleeping, swimming…or drinking, he’s been grinding. In 2023 alone he has tournament wins in Korea and Vietnam with more than 20 live results, resulting in more than $155,000 in cashes and pushing his lifetime total in poker to $869,878. While Lim has binked a number of tournaments over the past 10 years, and had some deep runs on the EPT and APT, the gaming legend is still looking for that signature score for his poker career.
So he’s back at the WSOP, looking to make something happen. So far, he’s picked up three cashes at the 2023 WSOP, his best being a deep run in the $1,500 Monster Stack finishing 107th out of more than 8,300 runners for $9,000. But he’s hoping that he’ll finally have some success in the Main Event, a field he admits is easygoing at first but gets more difficult as it goes on.
“I think in the Main Event, Day 1, is very soft. Day 2…it’s tougher. Day 3…I don’t know. I haven’t made Day 3,” he said with a laugh.
Hwan isn’t the first eSports legend to tackle the tough sledding of poker. Of course, there’s Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospellier, who successfully made the jump. Grospellier, a StarCraft savant in his own right, took to poker and climbed the ranks with more than $14.8 million in career earnings. In fact, Grospellier’s first major final, in the 2001 World Cyber Games in Korea, Grospellier finished second to Lim, who was already a legend in the game.
A few years ago, Grospellier reflected on his eSports clashes with Hwan and the South Korean’s dominance in the game.
“He was a much better StarCraft player, of course, and also he had so much experience,” Grospellier said in a 2020 interview with Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields. “The World Cyber Games, there were 1,000 people in the audience, you play on a big stage on TV and you’re playing against the best player in the world.
“The fact that he was better than me, and I wasn’t used [to the pressure], there was no chance I could have won.”
In head-to-head competition against Hwan in Starcraft, Grospellier recalled his record being 2-12.
But that was then, and now Hwan is a decade into a different game. And while he’s had some successes, rather than dominating, he feels the ups-and-downs like the rest of us.
“I hate [ poker]…” he laughed when asked about how he feels about the game. ”Sometimes poker makes me feel like I don’t have any luck when many guys have a lot. This is the part that I hate.”