Second chances are a thing of the past. These are the playoffs, and one loss means your season is over.
MvP and FXOpen face off in the first semi-final match.
How They Got Here
It's a minor miracle that FXO made it this far. After losing Oz, having their three best players in Gumiho, Leenock, and Lucky decline in the off-season, it seemed like it would be almost impossible for them to reach a second consecutive semi-finals. Not against New Star HoSeo, the dangerously streaky, perennial dark horses. Not against TSL, a new juggernaut born of the queen-patch. And definitely not against StartaleQ, last season's runner ups and the team with the most Code S talent in the league.
Yet, somehow, they made it happen. They forced it to happen.
FXO got destroyed in their very first match of the season, hacked apart by a Symbol-less TSL team in a match where all their starters failed to perform. Only Tear, Oz's far less famous replacement, managed to pull his weight, getting two wins in a 3 – 5 loss.
However, that single drop of hope in defeat became the seed of victory. Going up against StartaleQ in an elimination match, things seemed grim halfway in. Though they were only down 2 – 3, FXO was quickly running out of players to throw at StartaleQ. They had managed to trade Lucky for Hack and Leenock, but that still left Curious, PartinG, and Squirtle for StartaleQ, while FXO only had a single Code S player remaining in Gumiho.
Then, Tear saved the day. Sent out after Curious had defeated Leenock, Tear immediately avenged his teammate by crushing Curious on Ohana. As if they had been relishing the opportunity, Startale unleashed Squirtle, a player with a 90% PvP win-rate in the GSL. It didn't matter. Tear laughed off Squirtle's weak attempt to contain him, built an warp-prism, and made his opponent pay dearly for trying to fast expand. 14 – 1 in the GSL PvP became 14 – 2.
And just like that, StartaleQ were the ones in trouble. They down 3 – 4, and facing a hitherto unknown player who had turned the burden of expectations into an underdog's irrational swagger. With TvP snipers like Sound and Virus available, Startale decided to put their faith in their young star PartinG. At the end of a close conflict that lay on a laser's edge, Tear emerged triumphant to deliver the victory for his team. One could criticize Startale's choice to use the consistently disappointing PartinG in such a pressure filled position, but honestly, it wouldn't have mattered. It was Tear's day to shine, and nothing was going to stop him. Three players might have achieved all-kills this season, but only Symbol's reversal against LG-IM was more amazing than the day Tear became FXO's messiah in black and orange.
FXO continued to live dangerous in their final match of the group against NSH. They went up early against the famously inconsistent team as Gumiho scored three victories, but the ever reliable San and team ace Jjakji brought the score back to even at 4 – 4 (FXO received a surprise contribution from cult hero TheBestfOu in between).
Was it in anticipation of this duel? After deploying Leenock early on in the Startale match, FXO saved him for the ace match against NSH. Not just any ace match: An ace match against Jjakji, the kid who had robbed Leenock of his chance to win the Code S November, stealing his thunder in what had been up to the final series, a season that had belonged to him. This time around, poetry in vengeance triumphed over poetry in repetition. Leenock walked all over Jjakji in a virtuoso performance, his best in 2012.
Though they cannot help but appear tattered in front of fellow semi-finalists MvP, Millenium-TSL, and SlayerS-EG, this rag-tag FXOpen team has shown incredible heart to come this far. Even if they fall tonight, fans of FXOpen should be proud of Choya and his men. However, I'm sure they don't plan to go down fighting. To a team, the only acceptable end is the one where they are hoisting the trophy in the air.
In comparison, MvP are juggernauts. Not juggernauts in the conventional sense, like the New York Yankees or Real Madrid where every single player seems to be a household name. No, they're giants of a different color, harboring an incredible depth of spotlight-shy talent anchored by the best player in league history. That combined package makes them a more impenetrable wall than a garish collection of stars like LG-IM or StartaleQ.
So far, this season has been a walk in the park for the one-time champions. They advanced into this semi-final bracket a week ahead of FXOpen as the first place finishers in the group. In the winners' match, they took care of the upstart Fnatic RaidCall handily, needing only finale and Sniper – two of their many young talents – to dispatch a prickly team that had been able to defeat LG-IM and defending champions Prime.
Even in MvP's narrowest margin of victory, their 5 – 4 win in their opening match against SlayerS-EG, it never felt like the team was actually in danger. Not even when Puzzle, SlayerS' de facto new ace toppled Lure, sC, and finale to tie up the score at 4 – 4. Because, of course, DongRaeGu was lying in wait. Already boasting an absurd 21 – 4 record in GSTL, DongRaeGu is even more formidable when he comes out as his team's final runner. Of his four losses, only has one come when he was deployed as the ace: against his arch-nemesis MMA in the GSTL May 2011 finals. Besides that one blemish, he has been the most steadfast anchor.
Obviously, Puzzle lost. One could argue that he made a mistake, looking away at the exact wrong moment when DongRaeGu's army was initiating the perfect flank. But that's the kind of thing that happens when you go up against the player that is seemingly destined to be the consummate closer, unless you're MMA, the man who has DRG's cosmic number.
Already one of the most frightening teams in the GSTL, MvP had an unnecessary boost this season. DongRaeGu desired to play in a finals in his hometown of Busan, and GomTV granted him the opportunity by scheduling a joint GSL/GSTL finals at Busan's Haewoondae beach. Already a GSL and GSTL champion, DongRaeGu wanted nothing more than to repeat those feats in front of a roaring crowd on the south-east coast.
Yet, as we head into this semi-final match, we find that this sweet seduction has taken a bitter turn. In the Code S semi-finals, MC dominated DongRaeGu in a 3 – 0 sweep, shattering his dream of winning back to back championships in his hometown. Falling from such lofty heights, DongRaeGu could not help but be crushed. MC danced for the crowd, and DongRaeGu slumped over in his booth.
Young players brimming with potential, players like Vampire, Finale, TAiLs, Sniper, Monster, sC, Keen, and Lure are only half of MvP's formidable strength. The other half is DongRaeGu. The unflappable ace. The rock at their core that allows the rest of the team go out there and play with confidence, knowing that a very big someone has their back. Could the rock possibly crack?
It's impossible to know how the loss to MC will affect DongRaeGu. It may have sapped his will to play, but it may have also have given him more motivation. Even then, there's no guarantee it's the right kind. DongRaeGu has been nothing short of incredible when bearing the pressure of his team's expectations. But we don't know what happens when those expectations are his own. What if he's angry at himself, when he's at his best when he's cool, calm, and confident? It might be best for MvP if they never found out, reserving DongRaeGu to the very last while giving players one through four a chance to end it.
Though it's always been this way in the GSTL, now, more so than ever, the fate of a series lies in DongRaeGu's hands.
Overall outlook and prediction:
MvP boasts a ridiculously deep line-up of players that range from good to great, including players like Vampire, Finale, TAiLs, Sniper, Monster, sC, Keen, and Lure. FXOpen has three main players who at their primes, easily surpassed that line-up in Leenock, Gumiho, and Lucky. However, time hasn't been kind to the trio, and they're struggling to even maintain Code S status at present. They're players FXOpen really need to get hot in order to win this match-up, but the sheer depth and skill of the MvP bench means that there will be a lot of dangerous snipers ready to cut any streaks short.
FXOpen needs a contribution from an unexpected source, like Tear did for them two games in a row earlier this season. From those performances alone, Tear could be dubbed the team's savior and wants-for-nothing replacement to Oz, but it's too small a sample size to know for sure. Guys like Whale, Tree, or TheBest have to make a contribution here, or else FXO will be reduced to praying for a miracle hot-streak from one of their stars.
Whatever. You can't shake the feeling that it will all come down to DongRaeGu. MvP definitely is good enough to take out FXO without him, but I seriously doubt FXOpen are going to let that happen to them in the semi-finals. The team and its players have had a light GSL schedule and almost nothing else to play for, and they even recalled Leenock from MLG to play here. They're going into this balls to the wall, and DongRaeGu will be drawn out eventually.
If he's the same DongRaeGu we know and love, MvP will win. If not? We'll see.
Prediction: MvP 5 - 4 FXO