Groups A & B
Realization of a dream
All the pain, struggle, disappointment and regret of a career builds to a single moment – the point when a player finally lays their hands on a trophy that previously only existed in dreams. In an instant the hardship is forgotten, replaced by bliss.
TY finally had that moment a few weeks ago when he toppled Maru to win WESG, his first title in a decade-long career. For a player whose career was littered with “what ifs”, this victory could represent a turn in his career. TY spent much of his time on KT Rolster in the shadows of champions like Zest and Flash. Even Stats, who suffered a similar fate, was a bigger name over the past two years. Now TY has taken a tentative step towards fulfilling his old promise.
Meanwhile former teammate Stats, as well as ex-CJ player ByuL are still chasing that elusive championship. Although not as intimately acquainted with second place as the Kong of 2015, Stats has come up short on more than one occasion since 2014. Both are known as much for their failings as their quality of play. And while the latter has been incredibly impressive, it has not been enough to get them over the final hurdle. Stats may have won the first Cross Finals, but a one day event hardly compares to the prestige of a Starleague.
While Stats bolstered his reputation throughout 2016, ByuL fell off the map. For whatever reason Legacy didn’t suit him, but with the recent redesign, ByuL is starting to resemble the player that appeared in three Starleague finals in one year. Korean StarCraft is fiercely competitive and his recent dip in results in online cups could be a worrying sign, but it is more likely par for the course for someone constantly pitting himself against the elite.
Form is temporary, aLive is permanent
aLive has been a constant in the Korean StarCraft scene since inception. Despite the incredible volume of games over the years, it’s difficult to get a read on what kind of player aLive is. Recent events have only added to the confusion, as aLive has gone on a tear unrivaled since 2013. Victories over the upper echelons of the game beg the question; is aLive an average player who spikes occasionally – or an above average player that has never been able to elevate himself for any long stretch of time?
aLive is the latest Terran to reemerge as a tournament contender, but whether he owes that to an improvement in form or his race’s relative strength remains to be seen. Despite a period of dominance in online events, escaping from his group in the Round of 32 proved to be quite the challenge. It will be nothing compared to the obstacles before him, though. TY’s victory over Maru showed that he is a force in TvT; their impending match-up promises to be a spectacular one between in-form players.
aLive has never been considered great, but it is impossible not to respect his longevity. He may not be the most electrifying player, but he has managed to stick around though sturdy, reliable play. Form, class, fame – none of that matters to aLive. Like all players he wants to be keep some skin in the game. This season may be his chance to surpass personal expectations and put his mark on Korean Starcraft.
The King of Kongs and his successor
The finals of the second KeSPA Cup of 2015 was a crucial intersection in the careers of two players. It was when members of the most unenviable pantheon, the soOkatsuki, fought to determine who was the bigger Kong. soO's failures had become myth at that point and Dark was facing the prospect of losing his second consecutive KeSPA Cup. Channeling the arcade game soOcade, soO managed to overcome his challenger and claim his first title. Suddenly he was more than perennial silver medalist – and so, with what he assumed a hopeful future ahead of him, he left his comrade in the dust. Dark lingered in the shadows, biding his time until he could betray and escape from the soOkatsuki.*
2016 told a different tale. While soO languished in mediocrity, unable to build any momentum from his first title, Dark catapulted himself to the top. His decisive victory over Stats in SSL Season 1 confirmed what he believed all along – he was always meant to be a champion. As Dark entered hibernation after Blizzcon, the situation switched again. soO started to illustrate the form reminiscent of his unprecedented 2014 run. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for soO. Since beating ByuN in the Olimoleague finals, he has faltered in a number of events: he was defeated by ByuL at IEM Gyeonggi and failed to qualify for Katowice. He did win back to back WardiTV Weeklys, showing that the stumbles may be more of a product of online competition rather than poor form.
Although soO may have stolen the show for a time, Dark came storming back with a smooth qualification run for IEM Katowice and a clean sweep in his Code S group. Known for his swagger, a rejuvenated Dark has every reason to be confident. After all, he ascended beyond the Kong Line and he succeeded where soO has yet to. That KeSPA Cup series in 2015 was an opportunity for soO to change the narrative – one he never quite seized. Blizzcon was the moment in which Dark could have elevated himself to the status of best in the world, but failed to. Placed in the most difficult Starleague groups in years, Dark and soO both have an opportunity to forge a new chapter in their careers and continue their charge towards the first Starleague final of 2017.
Can the past become the present?
One of the major themes of the season’s GSL is players seeking a brighter future. Stats, ByuL and soO are just a few who would like nothing more than to erase the sting of falling short in past Starleagues. aLive, Bunny and Ryung are enjoying their best form in memory. Lost among those hopeful tales are players who seek to become champions once more.
Classic and INnoVation won Starleagues in 2014 and 2015 and while both have suffered temporary but drastic lapses in form since, none of them compared to their lackluster 2016 period. INnoVation has redoubled his pursuit of glory in lieu of recent uninspired results and a lackadaisical attitude. Ignoring the routine asswhoopings he deals out to the best players in the world, the fact that he was one of the final 2 selected in the group selections shows the healthy respect his peers have for him.
While the machine has been nigh-unstoppable lately, Classic has toiled in the next tier of Korean players. Losses to Stats, Solar, ByuN and INnoVation are troubling considering they compile the competition he will be matched up against from here on out. Yet so far, he has shown up when it really mattered. Topping a GSL group in which he was almost an afterthought affirmed the obvious: Classic is a highly intelligent player who knows how to work the Starleague format. While soO and Dark have a solid grasp on what INnoVation will deploy against them, they’ll have a much harder time getting a read on Classic. His strength is rooted in an adaptable and varied approach to the game, which has kept him relevant to this day.
It’s safe to assume INnoVation won’t be sated by merely winning an IEM. A Starleague title stands head and shoulders above any other tournament. Undoubtedly he and Classic yearn to revisit the zenith of their careers. Missed opportunities, squandered chances and unfulfilled dreams may haunt the less accomplished, INnoVation and Classic need only look back at the past. Despite fighting one of the most highly touted groups in Starcraft history, they will not be intimidated. They know exactly what it takes to be a champion.
*Apparently, the Korean propensity for nicknames also extends to Naruto.
TY 2-1 aLive
ByuL 2-1 Stats
ByuL 2-1 TY
Stats 2-1 aLive
Stats 2-0 TY
ByuL and Stats advance!
Dark 2-0 Classic
INnoVation 2-1 soO
INnoVation 2-1 Dark
soO 2-1 Classic
soO 2-0 Dark
INnoVation and soO advance!