soO vs TY
There’s no denying it, TY is a force to be reckoned with. Naysayers may point to a weak field at WESG or a GSL group in which only Stats showed up to play, but the bottom line is that you only beat those in front of you. And that’s exactly what TY has been doing. After a quiet December, TY went on a tear to start the near year. He played 18 matches over 3 events, losing only 3 of them (to Maru, ByuL and Kelazhur). That’s quite the impressive mark, but what’s most important is the he was able to parlay that run into an outstanding performance in Group A of the round of 32.
Everyone who has followed TY is well versed in his nasty habit of tripping up when he shouldn’t. TY has been the victim of upsets before, but as of late he is taking care of business against those he is supposed to beat. This is the first step to becoming truly dominant, but it’s still not enough. TY never quite earned the title of “dominant” in 2016, but he came close. He was the best Terran for the first half of the year. His progress would stall, however, culminating with his dismissal from Blizzcon at ByuN’s hands. Months removed from that loss, he looks every bit as threatening as he did at any point last year. The sky is the limit for TY, a player who has long been linked with infinite potential. The problem is, is does the community have any way of knowing how good he really is?
TY has been invisible in the online tournament scene so it’s still difficult to gauge where his TvZ is at. In fact TY’s last victory versus a quality Zerg not named Solar came all the way back in November (Elazer, Nerchio and soO). This has to be a little unsettling, but it’s been the story of TY as of late - lots of wins over inferior competition and little evidence that he really is as good as many think he is. TY came close last year, but he fell short (often in his accustomed clumsy manner) when it really mattered. And yet, he broke that trend at WESG, proving he was the superior Terran (if only for the moment). TY has been a pro for a very long time. He stepped out of the shadow of the expectation laden ID Baby and reinvented himself as TY. Now he finds himself on the verge of another metamorphosis. He’s already taken the first step, but that’s nothing compared to what’s in store. soO will not just roll over and he would like nothing better than to dash TY back to earth. Crunch time is approaching and the familiar narrative has to be nagging at TY’s thoughts. Will he fold to the pressure as he has so many times before or forge a new legacy? TY may have tasted victory at WESG, but he has yet to reach the mountaintop. For TY, Wednesday marks the first true step in pursuit of greatness.
Beaten but not broken
A lot of superlatives are thrown around in Starcraft 2. Classic’s group planning is intelligent. Byun’s control is unprecedented. INnoVation’s macro is flawless. Then what words can be used to describe soO? Kong or second best may seem accurate but they are tiny snapshots of a player who has been one of the best for years. More appropriately it is resilience, grit, hunger, peerless mechanics, unpredictability, a clutch gene few appreciate and determination that encapsulate soO. 2017 has been evidence of that. It was soon after Blizzcon that soO announced his return to prominence with a victory over ByuN in Olimoleague. It wasn’t a flash in the pan either because the wins kept coming. By the time GSL started, soO was considered one of the elite again.
He exhibited resilience by coming back from behind against Billowy in the round of 32. In the next round he displayed grit as he navigated though a group in which he was considered the underdog. That didn’t stop him, though, because soO is a man on a mission. He wants a GSL title and along with his always peerless mechanics, he has begun to show the unpredictability which characterized his play in 2014. soO has a wide variety of builds and he has a knack for using them at the right time. Be it 12 pools against Billowy in the round of 32 or a every Zerg under the sun in online events, soO’s strategies are difficult to predict and incredibly lethal.
With the group stage behind him, soO is finally in familiar territory. soO has never lost a match in the GSL playoffs prior to the finals. In fact he’s only lost 10 games over the course of 8 matches (6 of them against Zest and Life). So what is one to draw from that statistic? The truth is soO is not the choke artist everyone thinks he is. In fact he is a paragon of determination. His comeback victory against Zest in the semifinals of 2014 GSL Season 3 is something he will have to channel in his match against TY. soO is hungry to write a different ending this time around. He is closer now than he has been in 2 years, but to advance he will have to play the role of spoiler. soO is one of the most popular players in Korea and abroad. As much as his fans love to mock him for his failures, they would love to see him succeed.
As soO goes for his 9th consecutive win in the pre-finals playoffs he should be nothing but confident. Despite the odds, he has never given up before, clawing his way back to the top over and over despite crushing defeats. For all the words used to describe soO only one truly fits. soO is a legend and his ultimate goal is once more in sight. Nothing will stop him and unfortunately for TY, he is in the way.
Troubles of our time
While the community bemoans the strength and weakness of various races, the players have no choice but to soldier on in spite of any disadvantages. soO, more than anyone, knows that condition well. He is the last Zerg remaining in Season 1, the final champion of a race which won half the Starleagues in 2016. Zerg is perceived as weak against both Terran and Protoss and the question on everyone’s mind is: what is soO supposed to do against “overpowered” tactics and units like mech, parade pushes, carriers and adepts/phoenix play? Have no illusions, soO is asking himself the same thing. It will be his job to solve a puzzle that he (and nearly every Zerg) has been unable to crack as of late. Poor performances against INnoVation in GSL as well as dreadful ladder sessions against aLive paint the picture of a man who just isn’t sure what the answer is.
TY, on the other hand, is not burdened by such worries. He is after all, a Terran, the most recent beneficiary of the mercurial force known as “balance”. There are 4 Terrans in the quarterfinals and 3 of them are looking like world beaters (sorry Ryung TT) favored to reach the semifinals. The last time a GSL semifinals contained three players of a particular race was only last year when MyuNgSiK, Dear and sOs made it, but somehow this feels a bit more sour. This certainly isn’t the blink era or BL/Infestor, but many have been given pause for thought at the strength of Terran. It’s not just titans like TY, Maru and INnoVation (again sorry Ryung, a single quarterfinal appearance last year doesn’t cut it) that are enjoying great form. Players who are normally afterthoughts like Bunny, aLive and KeeN all spent some time in the limelight this season. The tides of change are in TY”s favor, but that won’t be enough on its own. Anything can happen in a single match. TY will have to rely on his own guile and efficient gameplay if he is to topple one of the most talented players of all time.
Stats vs INnoVation
Hail, Machine Overlord!
There is very little doubt that INnoVation—at this point in time—is the most dominating force in StarCraft 2 worldwide. We oftentimes tend to focus on the hiccups of his performances, like his small missteps in Nation Wars IV or singular losses in online tournaments, happily ignoring the path of devastation he’s left behind otherwise. We want to believe that the Machine is able to bleed like any other player, want to ignore how dominating he really has become. Why is that so? No one can probably answer that question to full satisfaction, but maybe it’s because we slowly begin to realize that a certain legend’s throne is suddenly not completely secure, not out of reach anymore: INnoVation, if you so will, is shaking one of the core principles and beliefs of our community.
A few short peeks at the statistics will provide impressive underlining to that scenario—and a bit of nightmare material for his opponents. INnoVation had good and bad phases in his career like any other elite player, but no matter which phase he was in at a certain point in time, there was one fundamental fact that gave hope even to the least notable of his opponents: The Machine is easy to cheese, especially for Protoss players. Indeed, INnoVation with his image of clean, mechanical, and predictable play is basically still the antithesis to the dirty machinations of cheesy players. The days in which foul play was like Kryptonite to INnoVation are long gone, though. Yes, it’s still probably the easiest way to defeat him, but that’s true for every player. As time has gone by, the Machine has adapted more and more, the vulnerabilities of the old days are vanquished. Indeed, he himself has learned a thing or two about cheesing, employing a more diverse set of strategies over time.
INnoVation isn’t as predictable as he once was—the scary thing is, he’s still as fast and mechanical. He’s a much more complete and well-rounded package now, tempered in hundreds of tournament games, familiar with the feelings—pardon, parameters—of the greatest wins and losses possible in this business. If INnoVation can continue to dominate the scene and crown himself with another title this season, then we will truly live in the era of the Machine. In the end, it’s titles that bring the recognition and prestige needed to become ingrained into people’s minds as the greatest of legends. And only then we really have to start evaluating the history books again.
Legacy of Void
Few Protoss players can ever hope to be compared with the skills of Stats. He is one of the deadliest and most solid representatives of that race. Yet, when it comes to the small, very elite group of Korean Protoss players, who form the worlds’ most respected cadre, Stats is the one, who must look up to the others. His former colleague Zest, in whose shadow Stats always stood, and the Smiling Assassin herO have won glory all over the world and also raked in the star league titles needed to cement their legacies. Although he hasn’t won any star league yet, sOs’ legend will forever be told, his name will live on in history.
Stats, although the holder of many top 4 placements over the years, which show for how long he has been one of the most consistently great players in the scene, lacks this defining success. Yes, he’s won the first SSL-GSL Cross Final last year, which certainly was a big deal at the time: He finally overcame Zest and avenged his recent Grand Final loss against Dark. But this is not an achievement, which provides a huge amount of prestige. It’s not a star league title, not the gold medal of a large overseas tournament. If those Cross Finals will remain as the pinnacle of Stats’ career, he has failed on the greatest task a StarCraft 2 player can ultimately achieve: To make his name stand the test of time.
Of course, this must not be the case. Fate is still in Stats’ own hands and even though he might be an underdog against the sheer force of destruction that is INnoVation, he has the capabilities to stop even him. Stats never lacked the skills to reach the final phase of a league—his flaw is his lack of cold bloodedness to finish the job. On top of that, he already met the Terran two times this month, losing the first Bo3 cleanly, but then sweeping the second one a day later. He knows how to handle INno even in his present shape. Beating the Machine could provide the momentum Stats needs to ride into the Grand Finals, take the title he deserves for so long now, and finally instate his own legacy. Not a void one, but one of consistency and hard work, which pays off in the end.
soO 2 - 3 TY
Stats 2 - 3 INnoVation