The Haves and Have Nots: A VSL Semifinal Preview
StarCraft, like all forms of competition, venerates champions above all else. Fans can relate and sympathize with the pain of losing, but it can leave a hollow feeling. Very few have tasted victory on a stage like GSL, though. Whether living vicariously through the success of another or simply admiring one who is at the top of their craft, there's something fulfilling about admiring and idealizing those who have lifted trophies. Sure, Kongs can be darlings, but they don’t have the same mystique. A champion is perceived as the best. Having won a title has a way of evaporating any doubts as to a player’s superiority. A player wins and they’re the best. It’s as simple as that. Who can argue with tangible results?
Two of the VSL semifinalists fit the pedigree of a champion to a Tee. They’ve remained in the upper echelons since 2014, making them some of the longest reigning giants out there. Interestingly, they happen to be Protoss. They have overcome their much maligned race’s stigma and become crowd favorites. They’ve done so in different ways, but the bottom line is herO and Zest have become royalty of StarCraft 2 by rising above the rabble through charisma and eye catching play.
Of course the journey never ends. Just because a player wins once doesn’t mean they have what it takes to repeat. herO took down the Super Tournament less than a week ago and is immediately expected to keep his run going. Beating Stats in the quarterfinals less than 24 hours ago is a good step, but losing would thrust him back into perceived mediocrity. His usage of phoenix adept in the Super Tournament is a lightning rod. The criticism is just waiting to be tossed his way.
It’s like that for any great player, really. To win invites critics. Very rarely is a title unilaterally attributed to objective skill. How a player wins, when they win, who they beat and a host of other factors are all used to mitigate their achievements. And that’s not even the worst of it. As success mounts, expectations do as well. And third party expectations are rarely reasonable. More isn’t just expected. It is demanded; required. The incredible pressure that comes with winning is both a blessing and a curse. It is impossible to retain those heights, which leaves the player asking if they deserved the criticism that inevitably follows.
Zest is the perfect example of this phenomena. It's common knowledge that Zest’s peak performance level might be higher than that of any other StarCraft 2 player. He looks far removed from his days as a veritable musclebound god stalking the world in search of fame, money and glory, however. When he wins, people nod their heads. “He was supposed to do that,” they remark. A win over a player like Classic is no small feat, but it's expected of him no matter his form. If the reaction towards victory is mild, a loss is everything but. Every defeat is a one way trip back to the base of an absurdly tall mountain. Zest has been to the summit, but those heights must feel impossibly far off right now.
Going into matches like this, both players will be expected to put on a show. They are a class above their opponents in every sense of the word. They win and no one will be surprised. Lose and the sky is falling. Being a champion is the best feeling in the world, but sometimes it might be easy to be a have not than the guy with the target on their back.
After all, being the underdog is far easier. Rogue and Impact are playing with house money at this point. They have both gotten this far through upsets and will be keen to continue playing the role of spoiler.
Rogue and Impact may have experienced greatly different degrees of success in StarCraft 2, but the biggest win between them is Rogue’s first place finish in the TING Open. Something might have been expected of him in the past, but a year long slump has put him right back in Impact’s wheelhouse. Players whose names are more noteworthy than their play.
It might be easier, but it has to be frustrating. StarCraft is a game with a rigidly defined hierarchy. Breaking into the upper echelon is nearly impossible. A win’s a win though and every one is a step in the right direction. Impact and Rogue are showing signs of improvement and while VSL is hardly the GSL, they are playing against the same crop of competitors. Players like herO or Zest won’t give less than their all just because of the stakes. Korean StarCraft has always been cutthroat, but it’s grown even more unforgiving as of late. More chances to play, particularly in online events, has given lesser players an opportunity to shine, but when the lights are the brightest it's the old guard that have taken the biggest events down. The best players may experience peaks and valleys, but the favorites are still the favorites. Both in the eyes of the fans and in game.
It might be easier, but it has to be demoralizing. Frustrating is a mild way of describing a career of close calls, would’ve, should’ve, could've's and abject failure. Demoralizing is far more accurate. Impact is a grinder, a ladder bonjwa who is haunted by a documentary that portrayed him as a hopeless dreamer rather than one who realizes those dreams. Rogue is a charismatic mad scientist who has never been able to make the final leap. Would a win here really change those perspectives? TY’s recent titles have shown that the community will gladly forgive years of inadequacies at the drop of a hat, but these two aren’t fighting for a six figure check.
In the end, the role of have not is played by someone who genuinely loves StarCraft. It might be more glamorous in the spotlight, but Impact and Rogue get to play the same game as Zest and herO. When Impact meets Zest and Rogue faces off against herO, their reputation, clout and past triumphs won’t mean anything. After all, a have not is just a few steps away from becoming the man. And only when you’re the man are you in danger of becoming a has been.
Impact 3-2 Zest
herO 3-1 Rogue
Impact and herO to advance to the Finals.
Time until VSL