Up/Down: Group B Preview
Dream caught our eye last year when he broke through MLG's online qualifiers, earnings tickets to America while Code S regulars could not. Dream played surprisingly well in his stateside tournaments, defeating players like Symbol, viOLet, and Losira, but didn't really get the exposure or top-two finishes to be remembered by the general international audience (he was a fringe Code A player in 2011, but wasn't particularly memorable there either). It was hard to know what to make of his American success, as he didn't get anything done back at home in the GSL, and seemed to be benched behind at least eight other MVP players in the GSTL.
The previous season of Code A was the first time Dream really made an impact, as he miraculously defeated Rain in the first round. Rain had already been knocked off his perch a little at the time after losing to Bomber at MLG Dallas, but no one expected him to lose 0 - 2 to a player who hadn't won a GomTV game in over a year. In an anti-climax, Dream lost his next series to BBoongBBoong 1 - 2, confusing everyone about his skill level once more.
Dream has never been in Code S, and he doesn't appear to really rise to the occasion in big matches. He did win one series against Rain where he looked really good, and his online qualifier records suggests he can be very good at times. Maybe he's just a player who's suffering horribly from nerves? Who knows, there's not much data to go by. Safe bet is six, but pencil him in as a potential spoiler.
If he evolved to Wartortle after making back to back finals at IPL4 and Code S Season Two, Squirtle is back to being plain old Squirtle to start 2013. At least he doesn't have Nestea publicly calling him out on having lost his passion to play like 2012's other momentary Protoss star in Seed, and to Squirtle's credit, he didn't crash nearly as hard as his LG-IM counterpart. But despite staying somewhat afloat, he's fallen a long way from being a championship candidate, and he might not even be a Code S lock at this rate. He was almost lucky to draw the notoriously broadcast-nervous Miya in the first round of the previous Code A, when he looked weak enough to fall to Code A if he faced a tough opponent.
While we really thought Squirtle was a great player for much of 2012, and think that he's more than capable of getting back to that spot, we're not ready to say that it's going to happen already. Also, he was eliminated from IPL5 by a foreigner in XiguA, which is an automatic one win-prediction ban.
While the star players from the BW days still get disproportionate hype, the rank and file of KeSPA are generally being treated the same as eSF players by now. Trap managed to ride the last wave of overarching KeSPA hype, winning two Code A rounds against Oz and SuperNoVa back in October. He then went on to the Season 5 Up/Down matches where he was eliminated alongside Flash, Terminator, and Mini, a turning point in squashing unrealistic expectations from KeSPA pros.
Trap looked to be a surefire Code A but not quite Code S player back then, and we're not sure if much has changed since then. He's lost to all his PL opponents who are recognized as KeSPA top tier in Rain, Fantasy, and soO, but he's looked comfortable defeating Speed, Flying, and Shine (the still employed one, not the one in this group), as well as FXOasd in Code A. That's just about the kind of achievements we expect from an Up/Down player, with nothing to suggest he is a particularly strong candidate out of the bunch. Luckily for Trap, there are no SKT players in this group, so perhaps he will be able to cause some noise.
Big stars, rising prospects, and players with unique styles are naturally going to get a lot of attention, and thus overshadow some of their equally skilled, but not quite as interesting peers. The LG-IM Terrans YoDa and Happy are not the prettiest girls at the dance, but they sure have moves, or whatever would make this taxed analogy work. Yesterday, YoDa stole the show in a group of stars, reminding everyone that he actually fought his way to a handful of Code S spots in the past, unlike groupmates Flash and Jaedong.
Happy is in largely the same boat, having made four of five Code S seasons last year but somehow still fading into the background in this group. There might actually be something especially attention deflecting innate to Happy. Back when Rain was at the height of his hype, Happy actually defeated him first, before Mvp scored his famous victory on a bigger stage, not that anyone noticed. In any case, he's a good, highly underrated player, who I'll definitely regret putting in at #3 instead of #2.
Despite being obscured by Polt, then Symbol, and then HyuN, Shine has actually been doing fairly well for himself in murky zone between Code A and Code S. This is the third Up/Down group he's qualified for in a row, and each time he was only denied Code S due to tie-breaker rules (exactly like Flash, coincidentally). The quality of his games don't exactly scream "DEFINITELY CODE S," especially his ZvP, but his ZvT has been quite reliable with wins against Byun, Last, aLive, and Maru. Now, this being a three-Terran group, you can start to see the case for Shine to finally get his break. The fact that one of his opponents is TaeJa, with failure to win the Whirlwind Map lottery at that, puts a little damper on it, but the Liquid Ace is still a far better opponent for Shine than an equivalent Protoss player.
As with any teamless player, it has to be mentioned that Shine will be playing for a job, auditioning to all of the world. To our count, there's over a dozen Korean free agents out on the market, and Shine would quite frankly rate in the lower half right now in terms of combined skill + marketability (though admittedly, he's appealing to the hipster sensibilities of some TL writers). Even with a Code S spot he might have a hard time finding a suitor, especially considering that Symbol and HyuN are also up for grabs, so he really needs to get through this group if only to stay on par with his competition.
Once a player gains a reputation for being good in SC2, it takes quite a while for that to go away, and the Summer of TaeJa hasn't faded from people's memories even as the temperature has dropped a few dozen degrees. But TaeJa's stock has definitely fallen, and he's gone from being a lock to get through any Up/Down group to a player Liquid fans have legitimate reason to worry about.
Up until his loss to ST_Life in Code S Season Four, you could say TaeJa was one of the top Terrans in the world. But after he lost to the eventual Code S champ, he's had a hard time proving he belongs in that true upper crust. Sure, he beat a good array of top Europeans at DreamHack Winter, and been EG-TL's best Proleague player. But against top end competition, he's had a very hard time. TaeJa's lost to Life and Rain at MLG, Creator and Sniper at IPL, ace-class KeSPA players in Rain, Flash, and Hero[join] in PL, and also went 0 - 7 against HerO at DreamHack and NASL.
Okay, so perhaps TaeJa doesn't look as good anymore when faced with the very best players in the world. But if he can slaughter mid-tier citizens of the Proleague and make short work of the best Europe has to offer, surely he can top his Up/Down Group?
Part of the answer depends on how highly you rate foreigners and the KeSPA rank and file. We're inclined to say that while they might not be as good as the borderline Code S players that populate the Up/Downs, the fact that TaeJa has been crushing them (totally destroying players worse than him has been TaeJa's signature quality far before he started winning championships) suggests he's still mostly the same old guy. So the easy answer here is yes, you can still count on TaeJa to go through, but there's plenty of plausible and more entertaining scenarios that could happen as well.