In this month’s Undergrad Spotlight, we check in with a student who may need no introduction to gaming fans. Kevin Ryoo — a second year Allen School student who transferred from Highline College — built a career as a world champion gamer before deciding to study computer science. In fact, according to Ryoo, playing games all day every day inspired his academic pursuits to learn how to design and build software. As his education advanced, his interest in computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence has grown. Ryoo has an upcoming internship with Shopify, after Tweeting about needing an internship. Shopify’s CEO Tobias Lütke saw it, and knowing about Ryoo’s professional gaming career, offered him an internship on the spot.
Allen School: When did you start gaming, and how did you become so successful at it?
Kevin Ryoo: I started playing games professionally when I was 14 years old. I played a game called Warcraft 3. Even back then (in 2002), it had a match-making system where you get matched with a player at the same skill level. I kept winning and my ranking improved. Eventually I was ranked in the top 16 and my name was on the first page of players. Because of that, pro-gaming teams reached out to me with offers. That’s how I first got into it.
I think I was able to become successful in gaming because I had the motivation and dedication to do my best. I really liked the feeling of winning a game — I hated losing, it was stressful to me. So I practiced a lot and whenever I lost, I watched the replay of the game to learn from my mistakes. I repeated it again and again and as a result, I was able to become a champion in multiple competitions. I worked hard to become a gaming nerd.
Allen School: How did you build a career in professional gaming, and how did it change your life?
KR: When I was 16 years old, I won a tournament called the World Cyber Games (WCG). It took place once a year and follows a structure similar to the Olympics, in which regional champions compete to represent their countries. In turn, those winners compete for international glory. By winning the tournament two years in a row, in 2005 and 2006, I became a world-renowned Esports gamer and was even inducted into the WCG Hall of Fame. After that, I quit gaming to finish high school. While waiting for my green card to go to college [Ryoo moved to the USA from Korea at the age of 16], I started to play Starcraft 2. As my ranking went up, I decided to do pro-gaming again. In Starcraft 2, I won a Blizzcon US Championship, which is my second biggest achievement, and I also got 2nd and 3rd place in Major League Gaming.
I really loved my pro-gaming life and learned a lot from it. I traveled the world, made new friends from interesting places and learned to appreciate humanity’s rich diversity. In addition to meeting gamers and fans on the road, I became a more effective communicator by becoming an online streamer on Twitch.tv. At any given moment, I would have roughly 7,000 people watching live on my Twitch streaming channel. I really enjoyed these sessions because, in addition to showcasing my craft, I could communicate with people from other countries, share opinions, and develop an appreciation for the things that make different groups unique and wonderful. Through this, I naturally became much more personable, social optimistic, and open-minded person. Unfortunately, I have no time to spend on gaming right now. But I am fine with it because I am motivated to study computer science, not gaming, at this moment.
Allen School: What do you find most enjoyable about being an Allen School student?
KR: The Allen School has all the resources that students need. The professors are great, the TAs have a lot of office hours, there are tons of tech-talks from top companies, a great career fair that also includes the top companies, amazing advisers, a new Bill & Melinda Gates Center to study in, and the labs have impressive equipment. I always feel so fulfilled by these resources and I never feel alone.
Allen School: What activities and interests do you have outside of your studies?
KR: I am a member of the UW Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and have been following and participating in the events. I will also be on the panel for the next Husky Gaming Expo.