GSL Super Tournament
It might be only a month on from IEM Katowice, but the Korean SC2 scene refuses to slow down. After Season 1 of the GSL reached its conclusion, and with the SSL and VSL stepping into gear, Afreeca’s Super Tournament lies at a crossroads for many in the scene. Will the players in form continue their hot streaks? Or will sleeping giants roar to life? Time for another power rank.
Hush has been one of the most prolific Koreans on the online circuit in 2017. Unlike most of his countrymen though, he’s made a speciality in foreign events, from go4sc2 cups to various NA tournaments. However, while he's done a decent enough job against unknown opposition, his results against Koreans have been truly dreadful—a 37% winrate this year so far, including a mind boggling 10% winrate in PvT. Of course, he’s had a few successes along the way—two 2-1s over aLive and GuMiho in Olimoleague 84 is the standout, but there’s no doubt that he should be ranked a clear tier below everyone else in the competition.
The second of our two DuSt Gaming players in the competition, Bunny impressed in patches at the start of 2017, making waves in online competition while advancing to the Round of 16 in the GSL. Since then, with plenty of players ascending the rankings, he’s only gone backwards. Elimination in the open bracket of IEM Katowice was a blow, as was losing to Rogue in a limp 0-2 in the VSL hours after beating him with ease in the opening match. His SSL campaign isn’t going well either—losing to TY last week. In fact, the only thing going right for him so far is qualification for this Super Tournament; coming as it did over JYP and Impact though, that’s not the biggest statement of intent. Much like Hush, even advancing past the first round should be considered an encouraging performance here.
The more we see from Ryung, the more it becomes clear that his top 4 finish in last season’s GSL perhaps oversells him. Maru in particular was especially poor in their quarterfinal match, while beating ByuN, DRGLing, Trap and Leenock is hardly the strongest run to the playoffs either. It’s clear that either INnoVation’s far better at TvT than anyone else in the world right now (unlikely, given his subsequent match against aLive), or that Ryung’s maybe not as good as we thought, given the ease of his 0-3 humbling in Katowice. His other two matchups simply aren’t that great either, although props to him for a decent performance against Stats in the GSL semis.
Last week, it looked like everything was coming up trumps for ByuL. A confident 2-0 start in the SSL Premier and progress to the quarterfinals of the VSL meant that things were looking up for the ex-CJ ace for the first time in LotV. Then, he managed to lose to Impact in an offline match in Korea, and to Patience in the SSL. Great—looks like we’re back to square one. Statistically, his ZvZ is his strongest matchup in the past couple months at 67% (despite his historical weakness in the mirror), but with no zergs in his half of the bracket he’s going to have a tough road to the finals. He's been inconsistent in Legacy so far—up one week, plummeting the next—and he'll have to hope that he times his run in form to perfection.
At the end of last year, Solar was on an all time high. Finally claiming his first starleague title over Dark in SSL Season 2, an entertaining showing at HomeStory Cup earned him a contract offer from Splyce as their first foray into SC2. The fact that they added Stats to the roster gave them the strongest 1-2 punch in the whole Starcraft scene, and we entered 2017 expecting both to excel. While Stats has thoroughly matched those expectations, Solar has floundered. While he hasn’t been awful (online winrates of 72% and 66% in ZvP and ZvZ respectively are impressive), it’s his offline form which has been disappointing. Losses to TY and Trap in the GSL were ugly, while his 0-3 loss to Dark in Poland saw him hopelessly outmatched. He has undergone a mini-resurgence in the SSL Premier—winning all three matches so far, albeit either against struggling opposition (sOs, Zest) or one with much more important concerns on his mind (Stats pre-GSL)—and hopefully we’ll see more from him here.
It’s funny to see last year’s WESG results and see just how far the two finalists’ paths have diverged. TY may have scraped a 4-3 win there, but the gap between them has widened significantly since then. While Maru did manage to qualify for the SSL Premier, his campaign has stalled out of the gate, with ugly losses to Stats and INnoVation comprehensively demonstrating how far his star has fallen. He simply hasn’t played enough to be considered for a higher spot.
Dear’s flown completely under the radar in 2017. He’s not a prominent streamer, he failed to qualify for GSL, and he missed out on the two IEMs too. That said, his recent uptick in results is notable, and in particular his PvT has looked good—see his solid win over ByuN in the SSL Challenge last week. It’s easy to forget that Dear is the same player who made that run in 2013, or more importantly that he made three consecutive GSL semifinals from the end of 2015 to 2016, and it’ll be a bold opponent who overlooks him here.
And so the rollercoaster continues for GuMiho. The Towel Terran is the most frustratingly, endearingly entertaining player in Starcraft, equally capable of inventive brilliance and ham-fisted screw-ups. Much like aLive, he’ll have plenty of regrets over his tight 2-3 loss to TY at Katowice, and since that quarterfinal exit his chances have been limited. A loss to herO last week in the SSL Challenge was a poor start to his campaign, while ignoring the VSL has meant that he’s been a little invisible in the offline game. However, his dominance in the Ting Open—wins over soO and Neeb online, before smashing aLive 4-0 and Neeb 5-2 in the offline finals—was some of the best Starcraft we’ve seen from him in a while.
Katowice was a major disappointment for herO. His ultra-aggressive PvT style backfired—beaten heavily by Ryung and ByuN—while Solar too easily dispatched of him. In general, he just looked sloppy—poor execution of aggressive strategies rarely works well. Elimination in the group stages of his event isn’t something he’s used to when signing up for IEMs. Since then, though, he’s started to put the pieces together again. Progressing to the quarterfinals of the VSL was a start (beating ByuN in the process), while wins over Dear and GuMiho have put him in pole position to advance to the second stage of the SSL Challenge. While he’s still nowhere near his peak, there’s no doubt he’ll be a threat here at the Super Tournament.
It’s hard to remember the last time a player bought himself so much credit with one tournament—particularly a player as established as aLive. His run had a bit of everything—a 5-0 sweep of his group, a fantastic series against INnoVation featuring an all-time classic of a Game 5, and an enjoyably messy 2-3 loss to TY in the semifinals. His entertaining play and sartorial choices have bought him a well-earned move to mYinsanity, although unfortunately it likely means the end of his glorious run of PJ appearances. Eight years of play and nine teams later, aLive has finally found the acclaim he’s always deserved.
It’s pretty ironic really; a month after placing #5 in our IEM Katowice Power Rank, TY returns… in 6th. While TY demonstrated plenty of qualities in Poland—his newly-found mental resilience to clinch the win in the ace match, and his traditionally eclectic variety of builds—it also raised some questions that remain unanswered. Firstly, it’s notable that in his 9-match run to the title, he played no TvZ at all, while he looked distinctly unimpressive in his 2-3 loss to soO a couple weeks before. Secondly, an absurd number of his games went all the way to the deciding map (2-1 jjakji, 2-1 Harstem, 3-2 GuMiho, 3-2 aLive, 4-3 Stats—five in total). It’s truly eyeraising that his TvT winrate for 2017 is a mere 54%—while winning that final set is clearly all that’s important, it also brings into question the likelihood of a repeat of his Katowice run.
Slowly, ByuN is sliding down the Korean Starcraft hierarchy. While that’s probably more to do with the great performances from others—the arrival of Stats as a championship calibre protoss, the return of INnoVation and soO to the big boy table—it’s also a sign of his stagnation. Time and again he’s lost out this year to players who must simply be considered better now, whether across the board or in specific matchups. Losses to Stats and Ryung both in GSL and at IEM Katowice; losses to Stats and INnoVation in the SSL qualifiers; losses to ByuL and herO in the VSL group stages; a loss to Dear just last week in the SSL Challenge. He can take all the online wins he wants (a staggering 279-96 record this year so far), but ultimately, reputations are won and lost on LAN.
There’s really not much to say about soO, is there? Once again, we stand on the other side of a GSL Final, finding reasons for yet another soO loss. Of all his GSL defeats, this most recent loss to Stats was by far the ugliest. His repeated failure to cope with stasis harassment doomed him to failure, constantly denied the economy to cope with either Stats’ mid-game timings or late-game compositions. Still, as ever with soO, you can’t deny that his run to the finals was impressive. Wins over Dark, TY, and sOs is a pretty impressive triplet, and despite his failure in the qualifiers for the SSL and VSL, along with his patchy online form, the sheer weight of his accomplishment means that he deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt.
soO’s run in the GSL raised eyebrows, not least for his elimination of Dark in the ex-SKT teamkill group of death. Not only did it maintain Dark’s stellar record of failing to make the GSL playoffs, it also broached the question of Dark’s unimpeachable hold over the zerg race in Legacy of the Void. For the first time in over a year, we were questioning the identity of the best zerg in the world. That maybe says as much about Dark as it did soO. For all his consistency—reaching the finals of both seasons of SSL last year, losing to ByuN at BlizzCon, finishing in the top 4 at both IEM Gyeonggi and Katowice—it’s becoming an awkward fact that Dark hasn’t won a tournament for almost exactly one year. And as his ex-stablemate will tell him, losing deep into a tournament isn’t a habit he should want to indulge.
Oh INnoVation. You just love to disappoint, don’t you? Heading into IEM Katowice, INnoVation was the best player in the world. His 2-3 reverse kill loss to Stats in the GSL was a mere dent in his record—an error he’d hope to fix in Poland. In a tournament stacked with terran talent, INnoVation was the final boss of the terran mirror—a 70% winrate for the year, with frequent wins online against all his contenders for the terran throne.
What does he do? 1-2 GuMiho, 1-2 uThermal, 2-3 aLive (albeit with a 3-0 detour over similarly struggling Ryung in the Ro.12).
Still, there’s no doubt that he remains in the very top tier of Starcraft players in Korea right now. His 6-0 rampage over his fellow SSL Premier contestants (2-0 Zest, 2-0 Dark, 2-0 Maru) shows no signs of stopping just yet, although somewhat patchy online form means that he does enter the Super Tournament with more questions surrounding him than in Katowice. It’s undeniable that for all the hype and praise surrounding him recently, he’s still only won a single, relatively minor tournament this season in IEM Gyeonggi. Time for him to correct that.
The problem with calling Stats a Kong heading into the GSL Finals was that he really wasn’t one, and reducing his previous tournament placements to mere numbers detracts from the full story of his path to the top. Throughout HotS, he was the king of the second tier protosses; perfectly capable of denting anyone in Proleague, but without the necessary tools to impact on the latter stages of a starleague. His two SSL Top 4 finishes revealed the cap to his talent; soundly beaten by Maru and Classic on their paths to eventual glory.
LotV in 2016 told a similar story—bested by Dark in the SSL Finals, Neeb in the KeSPA Cup semis, ByuN in the BlizzCon semis, and Patience in the HSC semis once more. The key linking those losses together? His opponent was favoured on practically every occasion, save for Neeb—who demonstrated an understanding of PvP far above that of his opponents in that tournament—and Patience—in the middle of a career-high week-long peak in form.
Finally we come to the current WCS season, and it was instantly clear that Stats had kicked into a whole new gear. Stellar play at Gyeonggi and Katowice led to double silvers, but only the most ardent of Stats fans will have argued that he wasn’t hopelessly outgunned by INnoVation in one of the most one-sided finals in Starcraft history, while his 3-4 loss to ex-teammate TY was as close as things get.
The definition of a Kong is a player who repeatedly loses in finals despite being a clear championship contender—a player who fails to learn from his lessons; fails to get better; fails to fix the reasons behind his previous losses. Stats is a whole different story. He’s a player who’s repeatedly come up against better players, and who’s gone away to fix his issues, returning as a stronger player. The best example is the sheer difference in his PvT between IEM appearances—the vast chasm of quality between his losses to INnoVation and his clean wins over ByuN, for example. Throughout Legacy of the Void, Stats has taken hit after hit, and come back stronger and stronger. Now, he stands as the best player in the world.