Just one day after wrapping up the Round of 16 with Group D, the VSL are kicking on immediately with two quarterfinals. Obviously, they’re in a hurry, which is why the second pair will be played in two weeks’ time. Because reasons.
Anyway, while it’s become achingly clear over the past few years that new blood in the Korean scene is a utopia that might never arrive, that’s not to say that second tier Korean tournaments like the VSL shouldn’t be welcomed with open arms. The players competing might all be veterans to us by now, but compared to the sine qua non reputation of the GSL, and the savage competitiveness of the SSL, the VSL offers players who have fallen by the wayside a second shot at glory. Besides Stats, who has waded through the packed Spring Starcraft schedule like a Colossus, all the other players left in the playoffs have errors to atone for, and points to prove.
Take Impact, for example. The newly-signed Dead Pixels zerg has been on one hell of a dry spell since that debut in Bucharest, and the fact that simply making Code S in GSL S2 last year was an achievement for him tells you everything you need to know about how far his star has fallen. His qualification ‘run’ to make the Round of 16 might have been hilarious, but credit where credit’s due—Impact’s taken his chance here in a way that he hasn’t managed since 2014.
Sure, beating Trust and jjakji might not be the strongest declaration of strength, but in doing so, Impact still managed to look pretty decent. Constant ling / bane drop aggression against both was backed up by his traditional strength of mixing a roach / ravager core with mutalisks, and his 2-0 over jjakji in particular was reminiscent of his play at his peak, with ling runbys and drops causing havoc.
Unfortunately for him, he’s up against a zerg who just does all those things a little bit better than him. When you’re thinking of aggressive, counter-attacking zergs with a love of mutalisks in all matchups, there’s one shining example above all others. It’s strange how ByuL’s reputation has fallen quite so far, quite so quickly. Two years ago, he completed a singular achievement in reaching dual starleague finals in GSL/SSL 2015 Season 3. No one bar Life, who won GSL while reaching the SSL semis, has even come close.
His macro ZvT was the finest in the world—one of the only zergs in the world capable of the mental resilience required to win consistently against mech, while being damn near unbeatable in muta / ling / bane vs bio—while his extreme aggression and innovative strategies in the other two matchups made him the zerg to beat in 2015. Now though, he’s barely an afterthought, with Dark dominating the zerg landscape of LotV, and soO rapidly rising up behind him; never mind the fact that he made the semifinals of IEM Gyeonggi, beating soO in a ZvZ along the way and taking Stats to all five sets. Others too have struggled in 2016, before shooting up to the top of the scene this year, while ByuL still seems to flying under the radar.
ByuL’s fighting on all three fronts at the moment—qualified for Afreeca’s Super Tournament, as well as getting off to a great 2-0 start in the SSL Premier over Zest and aLive—and while the VSL is probably the least important member of that triplet, a potential semifinal spot’s nothing to sniff at. He’s transformed his ZvZ into his strongest matchup in the past two months at a 70%+ winrate, including wins over soO, Solar (x3), and even Impact himself just this Wednesday in the Super Tournament offline qualifiers. It’s time for ByuL to return to the big time.
Meanwhile, in our second mirror of the day, we’ve got a clash between ex-telecom aces Zest and Classic. At any time in HotS, this would’ve been a match that had people salivating, and while both have fallen a little from their old peaks, there’s no doubt that this is still one to look forward to. One of the joys of the peak protoss era of HotS was watching the sextet of top tier protoss duke it out for the PvP crown. Zest, Classic, sOs, herO, PartinG, Rain; each equipped to specialise in one area of the game.
Zest and Rain—the macro titans, both willing to play for the long game and beat their opponents off positional play. PartinG and herO—the mid-game threats, famed for their differing, yet equally effective blink stalker styles and aggressive play. sOs—the wild card, the wunderkind playing off pure game knowledge and instinctual moves. And Classic; well, Classic could do anything. His late game play was perhaps not as clean as Zest or Rain; his mid game micro not as flashy as herO or as mind-bogglingly efficient as PartinG, his starsense not as unerringly correct as sOs’. But the sheer fact that he could, and would, do anything made him in some ways the most dangerous of the lot. The joys of the age came from their stylistically different, yet equally valid approaches to the game, and it’s no surprise that a large proportion of the greatest PvPs of HotS were played between them when those disparate styles clashed.
It’s a shame then, that that rivalry hasn’t quite transferred over to LotV. It’s no secret that PvP last year was pretty poor in Korea—a fact that Neeb elegantly showed up when he smashed the cream of the crop en route to KeSPA Cup glory—but signs are that 2017 might be different. Zest has a PvP winrate a smidge below 75% for 2017 so far, unbeaten in matches so far save for his age-old baffling weaknesses to Patience and Creator, and it’ll be interesting to see who emerges victorious when he finally plays his old lieutenant Stats in the SSL Premier next month for the first time this year.
Meanwhile, Classic for his part boasts a 63% win rate, although somewhat bloated by wins over weak opposition. We saw glimpses of the old champion on his path to 2nd place in Olimoleague’s March Finals, especially in a 3-2 win over Dear that showcased both examples of his ruthless killer instint, especially his old fondness for phoenix play, and flaws that he’ll need to fix if he still retains a desire to reach the top again. So just like in 2015, we have the technical master of the matchup against a player with all the tricks. A rivalry’s about to be renewed.
Impact 0 - 3 ByuL
Zest 3 - 2 Classic
ByuL and Zest to advance to the Round of 4.
Time until VSL