Groups E & H
It seems sudden after the long wait, but the Round of 32 is already halfway over. As expected many of the big names have moved on, but a number of newer faces have made their presence known. This week four more players will advance to the Round of 16, taking what they hope to be their first step towards a Starleague title.
From Samsung to No Toss and Beyond
Group H participants Solar and Armani know each other well. They were teammates on the now defunct Samsung Galaxy as well as during VSL and are living together despite having departed the team house. Despite all their similarities, their careers could not possibly be any different. Solar’s exploits are well known and his amicable personality made him a highly prized asset for foreign teams. His signing with Splyce was a positive sign for Korean players who were not sure if foreign teams had any interest in what many see as a declining scene. Armani also signed with IsIMBA, although his acquisition was met with wariness rather than jubilation. In all fairness, he has never stepped into the limelight Solar has enjoyed since 2014. Armani lurks in the periphery, only popping up every once in a while.
2017 is a new year and a new age for Korean Starcraft. Armani finds himself with an opportunity to step out of the shadow of his good friend and forge a legacy of his own. Solar and Armani are the perfect example of the resilience of the ex-KeSPA contingent, many who have banded together during this transitional period. Whether streaming and online tournaments are unproven as sustainable forms of income, Solar and Armani are giving it a go. They prove that even without the support of Samsung Galaxy, their love of Starcraft and the bonds they have formed over the years are sufficient to keep pursuing their dreams.
Last Men Standing
When Proleague disbanded, only Jin Air remained after the dust settled. Maru, sOs, Rogue and the rest of the team emerged as the only survivors of a disaster that had gutted all other Korean teams. The simple fact is Cure and Trap were extremely fortunate to have retained a team, salary, and support system. The security offered by these things means they can continue to play Starcraft 2 and live in the manner they are accustomed to. For whatever reason, Jin Air have stuck to the old model of operating a Korean team. Like their teammates, Cure and Trap have been absent from online events; on top of that neither have streamed, while Maru, Rogue and sOs have at least dabbled in the practice.
There’s no way to discern Cure or Trap’s current form, but while Cure is the beneficiary of the recent resurgence of Terran, Protoss is struggling. Whether Trap has developed a new approach behind closed doors remains to be seen, but it’s difficult to believe he’s figured something out that more accomplished Protosses haven’t. While neither Cure nor Trap had the success they wanted in 2016, the post-KeSPA era is a new opportunity to make a name for themselves and they are more equipped to do so than many of their peers. While Rogue fell on his face, Maru and sOs advanced to the next stage of GSL. As the final two representatives of the last Korean team, can Cure and Trap take advantage of Jin Air’s resolve to endure and assert themselves as challengers for the title?
Staying at The Top
For Dark and TY, BlizzCon did not go as expected. Both came in with high expectations, but in the end both looked helpless before ByuN. Dark and TY served as paragons of their respective races throughout much of 2016: whereas Dark popularized ling/bane style versus Protoss, TY added mastery of tankivac tactics to his already sturdy defensive play. Yet all of their successes and triumphs were forgotten amid ByuN’s glorious ascension, leaving the community to wonder how failure would affect TY and Dark moving forward. While TY floundered at Homestory Cup, Dark got his revenge on the World Champion at IEM Gyeonggi.
After his semifinal exit at the hands of INnoVation, Dark has been notably absent from the host of online tournaments that have occurred since. The same was true for TY until his impressive victory at WESG. There he grew stronger every step of the way, culminating with a complete dismantling of Maru in game 7 of the finals. His decisive and cerebral play indicates that he is more than capable of leaving his group in first place. While sOs demonstrated his inherent class despite not showing up to major tournaments, Curious showed an apparent lack of practice and preparation. Which camp will Dark—and to a lesser extent TY—fall into as they seek to build upon their best years and establish themselves as lasting power in the Korean scene?
There and Back Again
It seems like ages ago since jjakji and Leenock faced off in the finals of GSL November 2011. Since then both players have failed to recapture those vaunted heights, but they have returned to give it another go. Their paths have been eerily similar over the years. Both have been around SC2 since the beginning, achieving greater success in the game’s fledgling stages than after the KeSPA switch; both have been mired in recession these past few years, struggling to piece together noteworthy results. Leenock has not reached the finals of a premier tournament since 2013 while Jjakji hasn’t made it into Code S since returning to Korea in 2015.
Recently, Jjakji has performed impressively on ladder and decently in online events. He doesn’t appear to be an elite player anymore (and I doubt he can ever become one again), but he has certainly given a respectable account of himself. On the other hand, Leenock was subjected to an utter drudging by INnoVation in which he failed to muster even a single win over the course of 11 games, giving credence to the argument that the skill gap between a Ro32 GSL player and a potential champion has never been greater. Despite recent form, GSL is an entirely different monster from smaller online events and Leenock and Jjakji have both shown what it takes to reach the zenith in the past. Though they will begin against different opponents, these two players may play once again as they hope to walk down the vaguely familiar, nearly forgotten path back to the GSL Finals.
Both groups feature a tantalizing mix of current champions and players whose best days seem behind them. All of them with be focused solely on the here and now. With the round of 16 taking shape, the players will be keen to secure their spot in the next round of GSL.
jjakji 2-0 Cure
Dark 2-1 Leenock
Dark 2-1 jjakji
Cure 2-1 Leenock
jjakji 2-1 Cure
TY 2-0 Armani
Solar 2-0 Trap
TY 2-1 Solar
Trap 2-1 Armani
Solar 2-1 Trap