Groups C & D
So far, the primary narrative of Season 1 has been the reemergence of Terran as the foremost power in Korea. ByuN's dunderheaded failure in the Ro32 was only a slight hiccup in the quest for Code S domination, which has reduced Protoss and Zerg to quivering suzerainty. Already people are proclaiming semifinal appearances for INnoVation and TY, with the former enjoying first dibs on the championship. For those holding out hope for a different future, these last groups offer the best candidates to cheer on.
Protagonist and Red Shirt
Could there be a more ideal scenario for herO? Groups A and B were fiercely contested battles where the winners triumphed at the expense of tournament favorites like Dark. No matter what the odds and analysis stated, there was a palpable sense of dread in the air; everyone with the exception of InnoVation felt vulnerable. By contrast, Group C should pose no issue for someone surging as hard as the ROOT Protoss. Outside of the standard players omnipresent in current conversations, the Smiling Assassin has crept in under the radar as a threat to win GSL. At first glance he fulfills all the criteria to be a dark horse. A stellar record against all three races stretching back months? Check. Consistent performances against the top-tier players? Check. Criminally underrated in the general sphere? Check.
Sadly this has been his mantra over the last three years. herO, like TaeJa, is a threat in all circumstances except the GSL. No matter how deep he gets into the event, he eventually fizzles out. herO is probably the best Protoss to never make a dent in GSL; outside of his semifinals appearance in Season 1 back in 2015, he's never been in a position to get to the finals.Group C ought to be an afterthought if he can maintain his high standard of play. If he makes it, the real test will start afterward.
Being a forgotten contender is a dream Trap would love to fulfill. Consigned to the purgatory called gatekeeper status, Trap is in perpetual danger of blending into the background and becoming a wallflower (see Ensnare, Virus, etc. for further details). Since he summons enough prowess to never drop out the GSL altogether, he typically serves as the necessary sacrifice so his betters can advance further into the event. Yet the Jin Air Protoss pulls out enough unexpected results to avoid accusations of being washed up. One notable result per year—winning MLG Anaheim, second at IEM World Championship, second at KeSPA Cup—proves enough to revive discussion about his “unlocked potential”.
You'd be hard-pressed to push that angle this time around. Trap has earned praise for being crafty, and rightfully so: he excels at micromanaging the specifics of aggressive build orders, knowing how far to push his advantage and capitalizing on any weaknesses. It's hard to find anything else to extol though. Mechanical superiority is now an intrinsic feature of being a StarCraft champion, and Trap has never been known for that. In an era where Protoss has a rigid early game in their hardest matchup, he will have to rely on outstanding macro and decisive battles to win. Can he work within those parameters for this group? Absolutely. Can he continue to do so against the challenger from Group D? Ehhhhh...
The Sweet Smell of Nostalgia
Seeing Ryung and Leenock's names in the Ro16 is like listening to a dreamwave album. There's nothing striking or outstanding in the lyrics; the instrumentals are deliberately constructed to evoke other, older influences. You could hardly praise the music as innovative. Yet for all those who connect with the songs on a personal level, it envelops them in dreamy comfort. How soothing it feels to know that the old guard is still alive and kicking, even after KeSPA essentially starved out every other competitor in the region.
Ryung ought to be thanking his lucky stars he is even here. Despite putting up a better fight than many anticipated, his Ro16 berth required a heaping dose of luck. If ByuN didn't make that egregious error, completely atypical for its ridiculousness and unforced nature, Ryung would probably be watching Group C from home. Undoubtedly he realizes this and has prepared so he won't have to depend on his opponent's mercy again. For now I don't expect Ryung to have any aspirations on first place: it would take a miracle combination of good matchups and career-best performances to stumble into that scenario. Reaching the quarterfinals alone would put him in good standing. It's been almost 5 years since Ryung was regarded as a consistent Code S presence; a second run into the Ro8 would restore that reputation. This time, it may be a struggle as he won't have his stalwart TvT to fall back upon. His Ro8 run last season was largely due to his proficiency in the mirror matchup (as well as an embarrassingly impotent Zest), a trump card rendered useless in this group. Yet Ryung is a scrappy bastard and it would be dangerous to underestimate his tenacity.
Similarly, Leenock has a stubborn streak which makes him recalcitrant towards common wisdom. It's been a guiding principle in his gameplay, which tends towards the unpredictable and explosive, although contingent on a favorable meta aligning with his intuition for risk tasking. When Leenock was on top of the world—the end of 2011 to early 2013—he had the freedom to throw crazy builds at opponents terrified of playing a macro game. Over the years, stylistic quirks were largely forgone in favor of stolid, solid macro play. While Zergs like Dark and ByuL rose to the top, Leenock subsequently suffered. Cut off from international events during his tenure on KT Rolster, he was invisible during 2016.
If Leenock's failures last year were partially tied to a homogenization in Zerg strategy, 2017 suggests a brighter future. The return of muta/ling/bane alone must be encouraging considering how much Leenock utilized them during his heyday. The sluggish return of infestors into standard Zerg compositions may also be beneficial in the long run; they present new opportunities for army positioning and surprise tactics. All of this is sanguine optimism though. Leenock at this moment must overcome two solid PvZ players (a matchup he has yet to figure out) as well as a Terran well-versed against lategame Zerg. Looking from the present, his chances look bleak.
The Young and the Restless
He of the Scoundrel's Scowl cannot have been happy about WESG. In terms of prestige the loss was the equivalent of a paper cut; it was WESG's first event hosting StarCraft II, and the international competition was hardly the stuff of legend. It should have been money in the bank for the crater Maru created upon his arrival. He was already feeling good after winning his Ro32 group in clean sweeps against herO and Gumiho, and he continued his hot streak in China. At WESG he went undefeated until the final with a record of 16-0 over 7 BoX series. He could've played with his feet and still secured the $200,000 against an opponent of lesser caliber. But it just had to be TY waiting for him at the end. No one else there was capable of surviving the grueling 7 games series that resulted, or good enough to snatch victory away on the final game.
Maru is a competitor through and through. Losing what translates to free money will only strengthen his resolve to steamroll anybody who gets in his way. Judging from the performances leading up to tonight, this was already his group to lose. Now it will be imperative to make a statement. Expect some bloody one-sided games.
Keen would love to keep his distance from that bulldozer. After toiling away in obscurity for over 3 years, he's finally scrapped his way back into Code S. During that fallow period, he kept busy by signing up for every online tournament in existence. No, that's not a joke.
Such a heavy drought makes KeeN an intriguing case. If he stumbles here, there's no telling how long it would take to return to Code S. Furthermore it's been almost three years since he's gone this deep in a tournament (MLG Anaheim). Can anyone accurately predict how he will handle the pressure? It's possible KeeN has completely forgotten how to deal with the stress that comes with the position. However, it's also possible it won't matter. He won't get suffocated by his own thoughts due to being that desperate. Tunnel vision tends to crowd out all other worries, and KeeN is good enough that he can beat anyone in this group on his best day.
No, the Other Mutant Group You've Never Heard Of
sOs, loyal adherent to the C.R.E.A.M. philosophy and ebullient devourer of 100K tournaments, has been all but absent from the public eye. Since dropping to Rogue in the HomeStory Cup quarterfinals, sOs has studiously avoided the online scene. During that period he's only emerged from his hermit's abode to play in GSL, NationWars, and the IEM World Championship qualifiers. Results from those series have proven inconclusive. He has done well from himself in the first, utterly failed in the second, and mostly beat flunkies far below his weight class before losing to excellent players in the third.
In short, the naturally mercurial threat had gained an additional layer of mystery. Without a sizable group of games to examine, his opponents will be incapable of gauging his true strength. Honestly, I'm in the same conundrum. With so few games there's nothing meaningful I can contribute in terms of analysis or stylistic observation. The only thing I know for certain is that sOs is the quintessential “Big Game” player. He's not someone who puts great stock in online events, and his form in the early stages of tournaments rarely reflects the skill he will display later on. Premier events are where sOs shines, and I will not be surprised to see him sweep this group effortlessly...or barely crawl over the finish line.
While sOs benefits from masking his activities, Bunny is an unknown variable that just became relevant. Prior to this GSL, he was the CJ Entus rookie that could never assemble all the pieces together. Clearly the coaches saw glimpses of greatness in him, as they consistently sent out in Proleague despite mediocre results. Yet any promise only came out in erratic patterns. Besides one Ro16 placing in GSL Season 1 last year, he was a virtual nobody.
The dissolution of CJ Entus might have been the blessing in disguise Bunny needed. Whether it spurred him towards newfound heights or lowered the average skill level, Bunny is now a Terran who commands respect. He regularly hangs with high-level players (in online matches to be fair) and has slowly minimized the stochastic ups and downs that used to plague him. If there's one flaw that may doom him in this group, it's his weak TvT. It was his bane in Proleague and continues to be his Achilles' heel today. He was lucky to dodge KeeN in the Round of 32, but he'll have to deal with him or Maru if he wants to get out of this group.
herO 2-0 Trap
Leenock 1-2 Ryung
herO 2-1 Ryung
Leenock 1-2 Trap
Ryung 2-1 Trap
herO and Ryung advance!
sOs 1-2 KeeN
Bunny 1-2 Maru
Maru 2-0 KeeN
sOs 2-0 Bunny
sOs 2-0 KeeN
Maru and sOs advance!