Mental Formats Are Back
sOs vs Maru
ByuL vs aLive
Dark vs Patience
INnoVation vs Zest
Solar vs Stats
Brackets and standings on Liquipedia
Mental Formats Are Back
Hands up who thought SSL was gone forever? Well, it’s back and madder than ever. The third year of the SSL brings its third format, and this one’s going to take some explaining.
Essentially, what we have here is a return to the 2011 GSL, where Code A and Code S were run as separate tournaments, with some added SPOTV quirks. SSL have already run an offline qualifier, with the top 20 qualifying for Season 1. These twenty have been split into five groups, played out in standard GSL format. The top two from each group (so 10 total) advanced to SSL Premier, while the bottom 10 were demoted to the SSL Challenge.
These separate tournaments will be played out simultaneously, and if you’d imagined that the organisers would have made things easy for themselves by using the same format for both, you’ve obviously never watched the SSL before.
This will be run as a 10 man round robin tournament. The top 4 players will advance to the postseason playoffs, which are effectively run like the Proleague playoffs of old; 3rd and 4th will face off for a chance to meet the 2nd placed player, before advancing to the final against the #1 seed.
This starts off with two 5 man round robin groups. The top 3 from both advance to Stage 2 of the SSL Challenge, which will be yet another round robin group of 6 players to determine the final placings (no playoffs here).
Promotion / Relegation
Here’s where it really starts to get mental. The promotion / relegation phase is the only method to progress to Premier; importantly, placing highly in Challenge is the only method of promotion (no more direct qualifiers during Season 2 at least).
The bottom 2 of Premier are instantly relegated to Challenge, while the #1 finisher in Challenge gets a direct spot in Premier for the next season. Next, we have the SSL Fast Lane; a two-stage ‘Up & Down’-esque mini-tournament to determine the fate of borderline players. This involves players #6 - #8 from Premier, and #2 - #4 from Challenge.
Stage 1 is a GSL-style group featuring players #6 & #7 from Premier, alongside players #2 & #3 from Challenge. The top 2 qualify for Premier; the bottom 2 are sent to Stage 2.
Stage 2 is another GSL-style group featuring the two losers from Stage 1, alongside #8 from Premier and #4 from Challenge.
Essentially, this means that players #2 and #3 from Challenge, as well as the 2 higher placed players from Premier, get two chances at winning a spot in Premier, while #8 from Premier and #4 from Challenge only get one.
For those confused, it means that the final makeup of the SSL in Season 2 will be:
Top 5 from SSL S1 Premier
#1 from SSL S1 Challenge
Top 4 from SSL Fast Lane (two from both stages)
Bottom 2 from SSL Fast Lane (losers from Stage 2)
#9 & #10 from SSL S1 Premier
6 further players from a fresh batch of qualifiers
Got it? It might sound mental, but it’s a format that has something for everyone—a bit of round robin, a bit of Proleague nostalgia, a bit of Up & Down tension (god I’ve missed the Up & Downs). Alongside the good old standard GSL, the SSL is a welcome breath of fresh air to provide a bit of contrast. Now, onto the matches...
sOs vs Maru
The first day starts off with a treat. Jin Air Green Wings is the last remaining Korean StarCraft 2 team, and sOs and Maru are by far the two most well known players of the roster. What’s more, the last time these two faced off against each other in an offline match was almost four years ago, in a mere Bo1 win for Maru on his royal road to the OSL title. They were both knocked out of the first season of GSL this year, but it was sOs who managed a deeper run in the tournament. Maru tore through the foreign competition in China in January, but finally met his match in the finals in TY. Other than that, offline results this early in the year are somewhat scarce. While it would be easy to blindly look at history and claim that Maru is more known for his fierce ProLeague performances, the fact remains that sOs has not won an SSL title, while Maru indeed has. Of course, the format will mean that this individual match will have little bearing for the two players. They will have to clash their way through the rest of the pack in the coming weeks, so perhaps it’s best to just sit back and enjoy what promises to be a fight to remember.
As always with team kills, this will be notoriously hard to predict. Because it’s only a best-of-three, wily mind games might swing the result either way. In any case, the match itself should give viewers an extremely interesting glimpse into the mindsets of these two superstars. It will also set the tone for the entire tournament. No pressure, then.
ByuL vs aLive
It should be safe to say that aLive surprised absolutely everyone in Poland. His deep run through the IEM World Championship was not expected in the least, and to top it off, he did it in the scene’s most famous pyjamas. Perhaps he just wanted to show the world that he’s still around, and what better way than to tear through TY, INnoVation and Stats, some of the absolute top players at the moment. He still has to take care, however. He went down against ByuL in GSL, and failed to qualify for VSL. He lost against Solar in the SSL qualifiers. While his weekender form was entirely on point, it’s honestly been years since he’s been considered a top contender. Unfortunately for him, the grass is indeed greener on the other side.
ByuL has seen a resurgence lately, rising to the forefront as one of the top Zerg players in the world. There’s talk of potential, to be sure, but with the current crop of Zergs, it’s not really all that difficult to stand out in the field. The former CJ Entus player admittely fell in the same GSL group as aLive, where he went 0-2 against Stats in the deciding match. On the other hand, he had a strong showing at IEM Gyonggi and he topped his VSL group, dropping only a single map against herO. It remains to be seen whether ByuL can finally move beyond the mid-tier players, but so far he’s mostly on the right track.
ByuL and aLive have already met several times in 2017, trading blow after blow. Crucially for ByuL, he’s been much more successful in ZvT in offline matches, while aLive’s single offline victory against Zerg has been against Scarlett.
Dark vs Patience
It’s been less than six months since the last Homestory Cup. For Patience, it might as well be years. Ever since his victory in Krefeld, he’s been struggling to hold his head above water. He’s been a regular presence in online cups, as before, but his offline results have been lacking. His failure to qualify for Code S must’ve been a disappointment, only to be followed by going down in the group stages of IEM Katowice. He has been making headway in the other two star leagues, however, qualifying for both SSL Premier and VSL. For Patience, this is a chance at redemption.
For Dark, the start of 2017 has been a surprisingly similar story, but on a whole different scale. While Patience finally proved to be capable of winning a title, Dark was set to claim his place as the greatest modern Zerg player. Second place finish at BlizzCon, back-to-back starleague finals; Dark was the best player of 2016 through sheer consistency. Since then though, he's receded from standing unchallenged at the top of the scene, to being one of the chasing pack once more; unacceptable given the standards he sets himself. His risky gamble in GSL didn’t pay off, but he reached the semifinals in Poland, where he looked as fierce as ever. Patience should be very worried about Dark’s terrifying killer instinct and insatiable hunger for success. Dark’s challenge in the league will be the fact that the expectations on his shoulders weigh about as heavily as those on ByuN’s. Everybody is holding their breath, but can he really pull it off?
INnoVation vs Zest
Katowice must have been one of the more surprising upsets in recent memory. INnoVation was the clear favorite in Poland, until his defeat at aLive’s hands. One for the history books, that’s for certain. The Terran powerhouse still remains among the very top, of course, even if there have been a few hiccups on the way. Taking a few weeks to recalibrate his sensors, he’s expected to be frighteningly good. While TvZ has clearly been his strongest match up all throughout 2017, with an astounding 94% win rate in offline games, his TvP is still a very respectable 65%. Once again, he enters a competition as one of the favourites to top the table, but given his two recent high-profile failures, he needs to avoid a third disappointment in a row.
First though, he has to go through a struggling Protoss player. Normally this would be one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament, but Zest has yet to find his stride after his almost legendary spring of 2016. Elimination in the opening group of the GSL was an utter disappointment, but he still has two more star leagues where he can claw his way back to the top. However, it’s impossible to argue with his legacy, and sometimes performances just wax and wane. Zest still has the fighting spirit burning deep within him, and he should be able to build his return to success around that. He just needs to discover the right kindling.
Solar vs Stats
Solar’s single ray of light during 2016 is fading fast. A starleague title is always something to be savored and respected, but will Solar’s Korean title end up just a fluke? He went out in the groups in both VSL and GSL, and while he barely made it out of the groups at IEM Katowice, he was demolished by Dark in one of the most one-sided matches in the tournament. Solar has traditionally been an inconsistent player at best, and besides that standout SSL title, his best results have come abroad. Typically for him, he still has a single lifeline left. He’s also now with a foreign team, and it just so happens he’s going against a team mate.
If you'd told people last year that Splyce would arguably have the strongest roster in SC2, you'd have been laughed out of the room. Picking up Solar in December was a statement of intent for a team entering the scene; Stats' pickup though looks like the best signing since Liquid`TaeJa. He's seemingly entered an era of prosperity and dominance. Making the Grand Finals in Poland was an impressive result even if he emerged without the trophy, especially considering the games were about as close as we’ve seen, and his upcoming GSL Finals match just makes it even more delicious. Top this off with a VSL spot, and you’re looking at the undisputed best Protoss player in the world. Stats was good all throughout 2016, but it seems that he’s looking to make 2017 all about him. He’s consistently taking down some of the top players in the world, and it’s starting to look like all his hard work is finally paying dividends big time. His challenge will be the grueling schedule he’s about to face, but on the other hand, he’s never been one to shy away from putting in the effort. After years doing the hard yards behind Zest and Flash as the twin faces of KT Starcraft, Stats is finally standing in the spotlight.
Unlike the vast majority of SC2 tournaments, the SSL Premier is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. With the top four qualifying for the post-season, and with the importance of finishing in the top eight to guarantee a spot in SSL Premier in Season 2, there'll be plenty to play for throughout the competition.
sOs 2-1 Maru
ByuL 2-1 aLive
Dark 2-0 Patience
INnoVation 2-0 Zest
Solar 0-2 Stats