Zest vs ByuL
Maru vs Stats
aLive vs Patience
INnoVation vs Dark
sOs vs Solar
Brackets and standings on Liquipedia
With the first week now behind us, the battle lines have been drawn. It’s good to remember that this will be only the second day of matches out of nine, and the competition will become even more fierce over the coming weeks. The competitors are settling in, ready to fight it out in the long term.
- Unlike the Challenge division, the race distribution in Premier is about as even can be—a 3/3/4 split for T/Z/P. Despite this, Protoss players did not fare well at all last week. Zest was easily manhandled by INnoVation, sOs edged out in a funkily aggressive teamkill against Maru, while Dark rolled over Patience without breaking a sweat. Even newly crowned GSL Champion Stats fell 1-2 against Solar, although given the importance of Sunday's match he can hardly be blamed for that—especially with 8 more games to go in the mini-league. Meanwhile the Zerg players were clearly punching above their weight—Solar and ByuL looked pretty good, while Dark maintained his expected excellence. We’ll have to wait until the next week for the first mirror match ups.
- It's refreshing to see a round robin tournament handled with such thought. In 2013, the OSL maintained its traditional round robin style. Clearly though, no one had thought it through all that much despite their vast history in Brood War; after the first two pairs of matches had been completed, FanTaSy was down and out with an 0-2 record, while his teammate Rain was teetering, having lost his latest match to First. Coincidentally, FanTaSy vs Rain was scheduled to be the final match of the group; a grateful Rain collected his 2-0 and pushed the group into a tiebreaker, eventually emerging as the #1 seed. Now clearly Rain was a far superior player to FanTaSy, and should have been expected to take the win in any scenario, but the mere presence of that teamkill qualifier puts an asterisk on the outcome of the group. It's nice that the SSL have given their mental format enough thought that they haven't fallen into the same trap.
- Solar should be considered the big winner of the week. Given the lengthy break, it might have slipped your mind that Solar is still the reigning SSL Champion—he has a title to defend here. Ever since his landmark win late last year, he simply hasn't looked the same player; ZvZ'd out of BlizzCon, and falling out of tournaments early left right and center. Taking down Stats 2-1 showed that despite his inconsistency he’s still able to go toe-to-toe with the best of them. If he wants to become the first player in 6 years to defend a starleague title, more of the same is required.
- Whether down to his massive fanbase, or due to the stellar expectations set by his breakout 2014, Zest has never really been allowed to be merely 'average'. It's like our perception of him is based on a switch, occasionally flicked from "Best Player in the World" to "Guy who lost to TANGTANG", and is never allowed to settle in the murky region in between the two. True, Zest is struggling in PvT right now, but Zest's entire game style has always been built on game control. Throughout 2016, Zest would open exactly the same way, reel off a standard checklist to counter anything terran could throw at him, and win if his execution was up to scratch. The more dynamic nature of 2017 TvP means that playstyle is no longer viable (yet); and Zest is being abused for his inflexibility. His other two matchups have looked much better in comparison though, and as he enters a 5 week run of PvP and PvZ, it's time to see if Zest can cash in.
- After the disaster of his 2016, it needs repeating that ByuL's 2015 was a miracle run. From being a player on the fringes of Code S, ByuL broke through to stunning success—qualifying for three of the six starleague finals that year. It's pretty much commonly acknowledged that succeeding in both starleagues simultaneously is a herculean task—look at Dream throwing his GSL spot in 2015 S2 away just to buy him the advantage in an SSL semifinal against herO, or Dark's continual yin/yang GSL and SSL split. That ByuL qualified for dual starleague finals—a unique achievement in the 3 years since the SSL's inception—is an oft-underrated achievement, and one that definitely buys him a spot in the pantheon of "SC2 players everyone feels most sorry for". The ease of ByuL's win over aLive hearkened back to the days when he was the dominant force in ZvT, whether playing against bio or mech, but with three ZvPs in a row coming up, it's time for the acid test in what historically has been his weakest matchup.
Zest vs ByuL
Zest was unceremoniously dismantled by INnoVation last week, so now would be a perfect time for him to spring back. Once hailed as a singular player, Zest made it to the playoffs of VSL last week by defeating Dear twice. He will still be looking for that something special to regain his old form. Maybe the Protoss Titan can try to adapt some PvZ strategies from the weekend’s GSL finals to give him the much-needed edge over ByuL. That edge will be sorely needed, because the two met just last week in Olimoleague, and it was ByuL who came out on top with a rapid 2-0, with ling runbys wreaking havoc in both games. ByuL is also coming in off the back of his 2-0 victory against aLive last week, giving him the stronger position going into the series. The recent string of victories might not be enough to convince us that he’s finally managed to overcome his Kong reputation just yet, but ByuL still has another eight weeks to prove us wrong.
Maru vs Stats
Maru has to feel conflicted at the moment. Last week he did perform well against team mate sOs in a series of weird games. This week he’s going up against another top tier Protoss, one who’s currently hailed as the best player in the world. Arguably the two were traditionally known as the heavyweights in ProLeague, but Stats' GSL victory and IEM second place speak volumes about his growth as a player. The prevailing wisdom is that Terran is currently favored in the TvP match up, but Stats has shown time and again in 2017 that he’s able to defy expectations when they’re set against him. Despite falling against Solar last week, Stats solidified his reputation by taking down soO 4-2 in the GSL finals.
Having the two former workhorses face off against each other promises to be one of the more epic series of the week, but it’s Stats who holds the crucial edge over his opponent. Maru, on the other hand, is looking to re-establish his place in the 2017 scene after a lackluster 2016. Once, he held complete dominance over his protoss opponent—in the thirteen months between March 2015 and April 2016, he racked up an absurd 7 match winning streak, with an 11-2 map record, including a 4-2 win in the SSL semifinals and five consecutive wins in Proleague. Since then, it's been all Stats—offline wins at KeSPA Cup 2016 and IEM Gyeonggi, as well as knocking the little terran out of the IEM Katowice online qualifiers. Clearly, Stats holds all the cards, and Maru will need to bring something special to take the win here.
aLive vs Patience
It seems that Patience is still stuck in his old mindset, months after winning his HomeStory Cup title. He did top his VSL group, defeating both Forte and Zest 2-0, but he also struggled against Dark last week, going 0-2 against the Zerg. It’s difficult to place him at the moment. Forte can’t really be considered a hard won victory, and PvP remains as volatile as ever, so despite making it to the quarterfinals of VSL, Patience remains a bit of a mystery. His online performance has varied a lot, from taking down Stats to being defeated by Dear and Hurricane. Perhaps there’s a blessing in disguise, however, as this week he’s going up against aLive, another struggling player. Since his surprising IEM result, aLive’s games in Korea have not been quite as convincing. He predictably went down 0-2 against ByuL last week, and was defeated 0-4 by GuMiho just this Saturday in the Ting Open. While aLive hasn't ever really been considered among the very top, even during his 2012 heyday, the same goes for Patience. It might still be early days, but the sheer quality of the 10-man league means that making the top 4 and the Playoffs after an 0-2 start is a tough ask indeed, and given both their underdog status in the competition, that makes a win here all the more crucial.
INnoVation vs Dark
These two players share more in common than they might think. Both walked away last Monday with 2-0 victories, INnoVation against Zest, Dark against Patience. Both are considered among the top tier of their respective races. Their reputations couldn’t be much more different, however. Dark is considered to be the bad boy of the scene, badmouthing his opponents, unapologetic about his ambitions. INnoVation is famously considered the unemotional robot, a reputation he doesn’t particularly enjoy himself, and yet one which he acknowledges he can do nothing about. The two have met plenty of times this year already, with INnoVation holding the map score 10-8. It’ll be Dark’s adaptable play style against INnoVation’s impeccable macro. Dark’s ability to sniff out the perfect time for a killing blow against INnoVation’s frighteningly polished TvZ style. Dark’s ferociousness against INnoVation’s technical precision. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that these two shared a team less than six months ago. Along with Maru vs Stats, this series has all the potential to be a treat.
sOs vs Solar
Solar’s 2-1 win over Stats last week was arguably one of the bigger surprises of the day. Naysayers will claim that Stats was simply biding his time, hiding his builds for the GSL finals, but a win is a win—especially a win against a player who’s considered to be the best player of his race. Is Solar truly back, then? It’s difficult to say, but he’s still the reigning SSL champion, and maybe last week’s win was the catalyst he needed to start performing again. It will be a difficult journey, going up against players like Maru, INnoVation and Dark, but for now he’s overcome the first hurdle. On the other side of the fence, sOs ended up suffering a loss at the hands of Maru last week, but he’s still $O$. Still recovering from his semifinal loss in the GSL, he’s definitely one of the favorites to make it through here. For sOs, Solar should just be a small bump on his way to the bigger fish of the group.
Zest 1 - 2 ByuL
Maru 2 - 1 Stats
aLive 2 - 1 Patience
INnoVation 2 - 1 Dark
sOs 2 - 1 Solar