herO vs sOs
Smiles from the Shadows
In the early years of HotS, herO was a strange case. While he was one of the most successful players in the world, his championship victories often came against inferior competition, while success in Korea outside of Proleague eluded him. To top it off, his one chance to establish undisputed rule over IEM was put to an abrupt end by the villainous sOs.
Despite the fuss around other players, 2015 may finally have been the year of herO. He placed highly time and again before eventually winning a starleague (something his usurper and current opponent has yet to do). He ended the year first in the WCS standings, but a loss to round of four maestro, Classic, put an end to his most successful campaign at BlizzCon.
With HotS sent out to pasture, herO looked poised to remain one of the best players in LotV. So what went wrong? herO’s style was never the most spectacular, so it is fitting he went nearly unnoticed as his GSL runs ended in embarrassing quarterfinal exits. Those results aren’t exactly poor, but with all the talk of Dark, Byun, Zest and more, herO once more got lost in the shuffle. He was his usual divine self for CJ Entus, but, as is so often the case, Proleague triumphs didn’t translate to individual events.
Tired of lurking in the shadows, herO chose this time of relative Terran dominance to stage his coup of the Korean scene. herO has looked every bit his underwhelming/overwhelming self while powering his way to a third consecutive round of 8 appearance. His only slip up was against Maru, someone who has looked completely untouchable so far this season. herO has done this by making games against Terran look easy and feasting on inferior Protoss. His most impressive victory thus far was against Ryung in the round of 16. In a 30 minute beatdown, herO outthought, outplanned and outplayed Ryung with two very different strategies. herO has never been the most cerebral players, but he might just be showing signs of evolving in that respect. He can no longer rely on some of the powerful builds that carried him in HotS (3 base blink vs zerg anyone?), but because of that he is thinking harder than ever before. He is scrapping together strategies from the past year plus of LotV, deploying them at the perfect time.
It’s never been easy to pin down what makes herO elite, but he is slowly reminding us how glorious that ambiguous attribute is. He very well could be the best Protoss in the game right now, but somehow everyone is talking about sOs or Stats instead. But that’s just how herO likes it. He will keep on winning, flashing that adorable smile all the way to a GSL title.
Underdog or alpha predator?
Simply put, sOs is scary - in fact he’s terrifying. People have long since become familiar with his ability to win big tournaments out of nowhere. In fact, many have come to expect it. Despite his plethora of titles, which include victories at Blizzcon, IEM, a Hot6ix Cup and more, he has yet to win a starleague.
Going into 2017 sOs and his Jin Air peers seemed set up for a tremendous year. Thanks to their benefactor they had retained their comfortable and predictable team atmosphere while others were thrust into the wild. But while those teamless players began to enter online events in search of money and practice, the Green Wings were silent. sOs and Maru streamed a few times, but nothing like INnoVation or soO who made regular appearances. Jin Air has kept to the old model of in house practice supplemented with limited ladder activity. Secrecy is still paramount and Maru is the sole player on his team who has been anything close to visible as of late.
Given all that, what was to be expected of sOs when GSL kicked off? His performance in the round of 32 was less than convincing, but he managed to take care of business which is really all that matters. He did the same in the round of 16, but again he was far from spectacular.
sOs has never been one of the cleanest players. For one of his exalted pedigree you might consider him more careless than anything else. Even with all his victories, his career has been defined by a number of high profile blunders (is anyone worse against widow mines?). Against Keen he squandered a number of advantages, making errors in micro as well as general tactics. And yet, he clutched in the end, leaving nothing to chance with adept play. Consecutive wins over Bunny and Keen showed off his ruthlessness and his predatory ability to pounce on even the slightest weakness. sOs is building a head of steam going into the quarterfinals, playing a little better each time he takes the stage. herO may be the more dominant player right now, but with their history, throw that out the window. sOs brings the ruckus, and the one thing we can be sure of is that sOs against herO will be a match to remember, for better or for worse.
The Definition of Insanity
If there's one match everyone has heard enough about already its herO vs sOs at Katowice. Luckily it’s 2017 and although the ghost of that horrific bopping will forever linger, these two players have met plenty of times since then.
herO vs sOs has become one of the defining rivalries in Starcraft 2 history. It’s certainly on the level of Life vs TaeJa, or MMA vs Polt. These two have met 12 times since 2012. They’ve fought in Proleague, IEMs and GSLs, the most recently being sOs’ 3-0 drubbing of herO in the 2016 Season 2 quarterfinals. Back then herO was the more in form player and had beaten sOs the two previous times they had played. Obviously sOs was not listening, because he smashed herO aside with the same aloofness he reserves for all his opponent. It is impossible to forget that sOs is the more accomplished of the two players. Why should he be concerned with someone so inferior. He has won BlizzCon twice, the biggest IEM and enough other events that herO’s impressive Starleague and KeSPA Cup wins look paltry in comparison. It’s hard to tell if sOs thinks of herO as a rival (or anyone for that matter), but herO seemingly cannot escape him. His career will forever be measured against the player who shattered his spirits and sent him home from Poland without a cent to his name.
Like last year, herO is looking like the better player, but that has not mattered in the past. sOs is a big time player and with the last remaining Korean team behind him he will not be lacking in preparation. Both players are looking for their first GSL victory and this match is the next step. To herO it represents a chance to gain closure and continue his tournament run. To sOs, herO is just a bump in the road on the way to another big payday.
Ryung vs Maru
Crossing Ancient Paths
It seems funny that, while being the two players with the longest StarCraft 2 careers still left alive in this tournament, Ryung and Maru have only met two times thus far from 2010 to 2017. Looking at the directions their career paths had taken them, it makes sense of course; still though, it feels like this is a meeting years in the making, and we are finally getting to see it.
Few might remember that little boy Maru debuted in the first GSL Open Season in 2010. And really, aside from his remarkably young age, there wasn’t much special about him. At the time, he was what we’d call a typical Prime Terran: cheesy down to the bones and easy to dislike—especially after he had eliminated a fan favourite in Cella. His own elimination by San’s hands seemed quite righteous at the time. Little did anyone know, that this kid would—well, not really grow—become one of the deadliest and fastest Terran players to ever grace us with his presence. A double Royal Roader. The first eSF player to win one of the legendary OSL titles. Maru also made the right decisions when it came to progress in his career: when offered a spot by Jin Air Green Wings, he didn’t hesitate and left Prime behind to crumble, instead helping Jin Air to become the powerhouse it is today.
Ryung—for a short time a colleague of Maru on Prime—debuted in GSL a bit later than his younger counterpart. Handpicked to join SlayerS by the legendary BoxeR, Ryung was used as a TvT sniper in GSTL, where he showcased his brilliant strategical mind and earned himself a name as someone even much more notable players had to fear. Later, he would make the semifinal in Code A in his first attempt, only losing to some hot new guy called Bomber, who’d go on to win the tournament. While Ryung was holding his own in Code S, Maru mostly didn’t even make it into Code A. As the SlayerS Terran had his greatest result in November 2012 by reaching the top 4 of Code S, Maru was just establishing himself as a regular player in the league. It is around this time, the two players chose different paths for themselves, which eventually led them to this point.
SlayerS crumbled under the pressures of infighting, leaving a mark on Ryung’s practice and mental state—as it did for most of the former SlayerS players. Luckily though, Ryung was picked up by Axiom and didn’t have to think about his future all too long. However, this also meant leaving Korean competition behind, as the age of WCS had come and Axiom set their vision onto America, where Ryung had some good results first, but fell off quite quickly. It would take three years of bitter irrelevance for Ryung to reach the top 8 of Code S again. As quickly as Ryung fell from grace, Maru rose. The Prime player won OSL out of nowhere and went on to rake in more and more great placements, becoming the feared opponent he is now.
Maru is where we nowadays expect him to be: In the top 8 of Code S, fighting for the title. Ryung is back where we never expected him to be again: In the top 8 of Code S, fighting for the title. Their paths, though, couldn’t be more different but for one aspect: They let them prevail against time itself. Now, they cross on the grand stage.
Once known for his prowess in the Terran mirror match-up, Ryung had lost the reputation of an expert in the match-up during his long slump. Since his return to the top level of Korean StarCraft 2, he has recovered at least a bit of that image, although he isn’t nearly as deadly as he was a few years ago (as a demonstration, just look at how his TvT offline winrate has plummeted from 64% over 119 games in WoL to 57% over 90 in HotS and LotV). However, he has retained some useful characteristics. Ryung is unpredictable and tricky, can pull off aggressive openers as well as defensive ones, and he’ll always tailor his builds to map and opponent. It’s a skill he has long honed and practiced, and which has served him rather well. Here’s also where it gets problematic, though. While Maru, like most Jin Air players since the great team cataclysm, has enjoyed the luxury of not having to grind online tournaments to make a living, Ryung is a very visible competitor in those, leaving not much material for Ryung to study and conversely a whole load for his opponent.
Maru, himself a master of TvT and more devious than probably any other Terran when it comes to cold blooded cheese—a quality he certainly has retained since the 2010 Prime days—will know how to use that knowledge advantage to exploit any pattern he might find in Ryung’s play while hiding his own. After the dismantling of KeeN and Bunny—opponents whom Ryung regularly struggles against online—there isn’t much imagination needed for what Maru might do to his opponent in this quarterfinal. If Ryung is the Swiss Army Knife of TvT, Maru is the super large version with double the tools and a shotgun in front.
Normally, the regular knife is well enough adapted to do the job, but confronted with such overwhelming power and experience, it’s going to be a huge uphill battle. Ryung has shown earlier this season, that he can survive such battles and facilitate even the greatest opponents to make mistakes—ByuN, for instance. But if your strategy is based on your adversary making mistakes, it’s probably not a good sign at all. Ryung really needs everything he can get to win this one: Perfect play, a kiss from Lady Fortune, and his old confidence. Only then we might see the rebirth of Ryung.
Otherwise, this Barbie-wristband wearing teddy bear is going to crush another dream.
sOs 3-1 herO
Ryung 1 - 3 Maru