It’s been almost an entire year since the last StarCraft II StarLeague concluded. Over the last 9 months we’ve seen world championships, super tournaments, and starleagues, but SPOTV’s unique touch on the scene has been sorely missed.
Never one to follow the traditional models, SSL opted for a pennant race for its first league of the year. Rather than the GSL style group stage or the dual elimination bracket seen last year, the league had the 10 qualifying players of the Premier Division go through a gruelling nine week round-robin tournament. Everyone had to play against each other, and, crucially, they always had a week to prepare for any given match. After nine weeks, the top four advanced to the Post Season, giving them a shot at the championship.
Now, we’re finally down to just two.
A lot has happened in the scene in the last nine months, but Solar still stands as the defending SSL champion.
To be fair, time hasn’t been kind to his achievement. Since winning his first Korean title, the Splyce Zerg has struggled within a tumultuous scene. He famously flunked out in the BlizzCon groups against the Polish Zerg duo of Nerchio and Elazer, going 0-2. He went 0-2 again at IEM Gyeonggi. He didn’t advance from the Ro32 in either of the first two Code S seasons of the year. He barely reached the Ro12 at IEM Katowice. He did manage to reach the semifinals in the GSL Super Tournament, until meeting aLive’s miracle run and succumbing to the Pyjama Terran.
Miraculously, somehow, Solar has found his footing in the SSL. He qualified for the Premier Division by taking down Losira, Trap, aLive and Ryung without dropping a single map on the way. While his 6-3 result in the pennant race wasn’t stellar, it was still more than enough to earn him a spot in the Post Season, where he had to go through both Stats and ByuL to reach the finals.
He’s worked hard to reach the finals again, often hanging on for dear life. His score line isn’t particularly impressive. His win rates aren’t exactly something of which to be proud. Sadly, his performance has cast serious doubt over his previous title. The finals against Dark famously reached the seventh and final map, where Solar opted to use the map and Dark’s lack of scouting to his full advantage.
His first Korean title was a hard earned victory, but Solar has just been unable to find the right formula again. While technically he’s in the same position as Dark last September, defending a star league title, his overall results outside the SSL bubble have been wholly lacking. Winning back-to-back star league titles would still be an incredible achievement—there’s absolutely no doubt about that—but there’s always going to be a shred of doubt in the backs of our minds.
We like our star players to dominate in more than just single tournament. They should outperform other competitors all across the scene, showcasing their amazing feats of skill to the fullest. However, Solar’s uneven results keep sowing strife. Even a wondrous result like successfully defending a star league championship will still have a tinge of ambiguity around it. We want greatness to be all-encompassing, not restrained to a single tournament, because there’s always a chance that it will seem like a fluke.
Solar faces staggering odds, and he needs to not only overcome them this once, but many times over during the rest of the year.
Strangely enough, in doing so, Solar isn’t too far off from his Terran opponent.
INnoVation has been boldly anointed as the best Terran player again and again. Not only that, he’s held the top spot in power rankings, laying claim to the title of the best player in the world. If that’s indeed the case, how come his most consistent feature as of late is the lack of results?
After over a year of flying under the radar, the Terran announced his triumphant return at IEM Gyeonggi, taking down Stats 4-0. Or that’s what was supposed to happen. Since last December, the Machine has struggled, like his Zerg opponent, but his problems have not been quite as dire. He’s been consistent in making deep runs in various tournaments, but for one reason or another (one specific reason especially, it seems) he’s been taken by surprise just before the finals.
His season 1 Code S run was stopped by Stats, his season 2 run by aLive and TY. His Super Tournament run didn’t really get off the ground, again thanks to aLive. He was predicted as one of the favorites to win IEM Katowice, but once again, aLive stood in his way. His defeats against various Terrans are a perfect example of a larger problem: his different matchups vary wildly, and it’s consistency he needs now more than ever.
Granted, he’s been consistent exactly in the one place where it’s mattered. He was the clear winner in the pennant race in SSL, earning him a direct spot in the finals. Good results over the other nine players paid off handsomely, allowing him to bypass the playoffs entirely.
It’s been over two years since his last star league title, and after last year’s hiatus it would seem this is the perfect time to finally realize the potential everyone has been clamoring about.
On paper, the coming title bout looks to be about as uneven as they get. INnovation’s TvZ has been near-perfect this year—a 16-2 series record in offline TvZ at an 85%+ map winrate—and paired up with Solar’s utterly mediocre ZvT (11-6 at 57%), all indications point to an utter steamroll of a match. The defending champion is the clear underdog this time around, and it’s up to Solar to discover any possible weakness in INnoVation’s play and exploit to the fullest. Certainly a tall order, given the win rates, but looking back at the pennant race, there’s an example of the tables being turned.
When the pair met during the fourth week of the Premier Division, it was Solar who took the series 2-1. INnoVation’s biggest problem seemed to be the inability to adapt to changing battlefield conditions, and Solar was able to utilize the deficiency to his advantage. Despite INnoVation winning most of the matches when the two have been paired up, the SSL match provides the best example we have of the cracks in INnoVation’s armor.
The two have met several times since then, and only once has Solar been able to overcome INnoVation’s fearsomely precise TvZ. Now the Zerg needs to take down the Terran over the course of a single BO7, something with which even the greatest players of the Swarm would struggle. What's even worse, INnoVation has had more time to prepare for the finals, and has been able to study Solar's style as the Zerg has traversed the playoffs.
Just like the two players, the match itself is full of potential. If Solar is able to keep throwing the Machine off guard, he might just pull off what now seems impossible. There’s no doubt that the two will give it everything they have.
For INnoVation, what’s at stake is finally ending a long drought. There are several Terrans vying for the title of the best player in the world. INnoVation wants to show the upstarts that he stands above the rest, that he’s able to show up when the stakes are this high, that he’s truly the Eternal Terran.
For Solar, the finals is about proving that there’s still a champion lurking somewhere within him. What better way than to win a back-to-back star league title and claim a place among the all time great Zerg players.
And just like real life, the starting point is in no way fair.