VSL S2 Grand Finals - soO vs INnoVation
soO - Third Time's the Charm
Starcraft is a game of clearly defined rights and wrongs, of unforgiving strategy which offers no room for interpretation. This is part of its irascible charm. In a world full of doubt, grey areas and ambiguity, Starcraft offers a clear, intelligible option. It presents the possibility to measure, quantify and analyze each game with absolute certainty. But if that was all there was to Starcraft, it would never be more than a mere computer game. Maybe the desire for a rational, fair environment is why we play, but it can’t be the only reason we watch.
Imagine a high-pressure match at BlizzCon. The whole room is cheering for Neeb. A teeming crowd is shouting, clapping, rising to their feet and pouring every bit of themselves behind the North American hope battling on home soil. As the voices rise and the tension mounts, you are slowly drawn away from self-conscious worries. For brief stretches you’re a part of something primal, brooding and megalithic. Something beyond the concept of individual identity. It’s oddly addictive.
Like all sports, professional Starcraft gives us an opportunity to step outside ourselves and experience something beyond our immediate perspective. We want to experience life without obstruction and restraint; such fortunate moments, usually classified as “flow” are at the heart of all immersive acts. We want emotion and all the chills, tears, smiles and clenched fists that come with it. But there’s a dread in the complete freedom required for that. We require insulation, lest our nakedness and vulnerability come back to haunt us. It’s terrifying to put oneself on the line, perhaps the greatest risk imaginable. Through Starcraft we gain the ability to do so.
Along with the anonymity of crowds, the journey of professional players provides the means by which we can stoke our emotions. We cheer for Nerchio because he’s brazen and confident, and we cheer against him for the exact same reasons. We naturally gravitate towards such storylines because it is the way we are wired.Whether or not they are objectively correct, the narratives that sprout from their careers make us feel connected and invested in their success (or failure). Modern Starcraft may been reducible to a science, but it’s in these vagaries that these brightest parts remain. They are vehicles by which we access the deepest parts of ourselves, conveyed by the stories of those who play it.
For me one player, above all else, fuels that fire. soO is quite possibly the greatest player of all time. In terms of peak form, consistency and will soO is beyond equal. When at his best he is practically untouchable. He has maintained competitive-caliber play for periods longer than any of his contemporaries. Most players are blessed if they get included in the conversation for a couple of months; soO has had stretches lasting months, years where he was a perennial favorite to win. Consider what it says that even though we measure competitors by how many tournaments they win, soO is firmly in the conversation despite failing eight times.
His journey is something we all yearn for at certain points in our lives. How glorious it would be to the best in the world at something, anything, and have the chance to live our fully realized dreams? Few people can persevere through the toil required to reach this point, and soO is no magical exception. Sure, he was born with the capability to play faster and more proficiently than 95% of the regular SC2 base. But he also ruthlessly pushed himself past discomfort, heartbreak, disillusionment, and bitterness to construct his noteworthy career. Even if we cannot personally undertake such an mythical odyssey, there is a fulfilling sensation gained from being swept up in another's path.
Failure has a metaphysical prominence in the personal and professional spheres. Depending on culture, it is representative of your value as a human being. No wonder that failure, and the embarrassment and shame that follows, is associated with anguish. We run from it, hide from it, stay awake at night ruminating on it. It has a sickening and malignant habit of lingering long after the event. But just as the prospect of failure can be paralyzing, its omnipresent existence in competition is unnervingly alluring. Sport is perhaps the one area where defeat is acknowledged as an everyday facet of life. Competitors by nature face risk every match, without a safety net and the comfort of privacy. They are left open to the jeering of viewers, the criticism of public figures, and the disappointment of failing to reach goals.
As terrible as it sounds, when soO loses we win. He feels the awful burden of expectations more than his fans can imagine. He knows that his legacy may end up as one of pity, a roadmap of pointless striving and regret. Yet he forges onwards, overcomes and attempts to grow. His indefatigable fortitude is remarkable; after eight chances at raising the trophy, soO stands unbowed where lesser players would be broken. He has that rare combination and strength that cultivates empathy, an emotion which can only genuinely summoned on rare occasions. Just because his career path has been tragic doesn’t lessen its nobility. It can inspire as much as the life of a undefeated champion.
Whether or not soO is remembered as the greatest player of all time is irrelevant. He is a member of the pantheon of all-time greats, and his name will be recalled with love long after he leaves the game behind. Although his struggle is of a scale far beyond our personal experiences, it is infinitely profound and relatable. We see ourselves in soO and because of that he means so much to us. More than any simple adjectives, soO is the mirror that reflects our true selves. For all the fairy tale protagonists and dastardly villains created in this game’s lifespan, the greatest hero of Starcraft 2 is not Mvp. It is not Taeja, sOs, INnoVation or MC. It’s this Kong, a man seemingly doomed to be mired in second place forever. When he takes the stage for the VSL final, he will be embarking on another stage of a titanic journey. One that will be spoken of as long as Starcraft is played.
INnoVation - Time Moves On, But Nothing Changes
Emotion is a powerful motivator. It compels us to act, occasionally driving us beyond sensibility and reason. But emotion is difficult to direct, let alone harness. One could spend a lifetime trying to reign in their maverick feelings. If we could, though...if we were able to compartmentalize our urges, we could act with great clarity. Through objectivity we could analyze the bigger picture and plot the optimal course. Emotion is not the only means to greatness. The ability to step outside it is its own form of transcendence.
It’s been said a million times, but it bears worth repeating: INnoVation is renowned for his clinical play. Macro may be his hallmark, but his ability to strategize and execute a gameplan is his greatest boon. He imposes his will on opponents through fantastic splits, relentless pressure and single-minded determination. He is automation incarnate, disposed to faulty moves and rigid, obstinate strategies if he isn’t aligned with the meta. And yet, his strengths are so oppressive that he has made a career in spite of his blatant shortcomings.
Riding on meticulous attention to detail and the ability to avoid messy detours in-game. INnoVation has become the most successful Terran champion of recent times. Since getting swept out of Dreamhack Bucharest by Taeja in 2013, INnoVation has posted a 5-0 record in finals over a nearly four year period. His excellence on the grandest stage is unparalleled. He is an aberration in a game where the level of competition is so intense that even the best players struggle to differentiate themselves from their fellow elite. He has been the last man standing at two GSL’s, one SSL and a pair of IEM’s, leaving players like Stats, Solar and ByuL left grasping at straws.
Among the defeated one stands above the rest, the last obstacle remaining between INnoVation and another first place finish. On the surface soO and INnoVation could not be any more different. One need only compare the Terran’s shelves of trophies with soO’s six placards stuffed away in a closet. soO has made a career of thriving on emotion, whereas INnoVation has found strength by turning analysis and focus into a lethal weapon. How many players has INnoVation overrun with ceaseless waves of bio? How many players have exhausted themselves attempting to puncture upon unbreakable, perfectly positioned mech lines? INnoVation might be lacking in awareness but not in foresight. He understands that the surest way to make an opponent play how he wants is to dictate the terms of the game. He does so through peerless execution, invalidating the plans of those who would dare defy him. INnoVation is not a bonjwa, maybe because the circumstances for one to arise will never be met again. He certainly possess the accolades and talent to be considered dominant.
INnoVation’s periods of success are rather unorthodox chapters in SC2 history. Disgruntled observers have correctly noted that he rarely lives up to his namesake: he doesn’t introduce new, unfamiliar strategies that establish his supremacy until the field devises counters. He isn’t the type of player who drags his race out of the pit of despair when they cry out for effective strategies and tactics. Instead he refines existing strategies and tactics to their maximum potential—INnoVation is literally the definition of patch Terran. One could admonish him for this seemingly opportunistic playstyle, but the ability to maximize one’s race during a period of strength is an essential skill. INnoVation has an understanding of Terran keenly tied into its strengths. He understands that micro or macro alone cannot elevate a player to greatness. That drops cannot fail to be reckless in principle, but one cannot remain passive when the race has the potential to control and dictate the pace.
Since winning his first title in 2013 he has remained excellent for most of the last four years, fading in and out with balance patches, but always returning to prominence. He is not some flash in the pan, but even with his lengthy reign, he is far from eternal. INnoVation’s method of playing StarCraft makes him formidable but it skews his perception. He is versatile in strategy, but he is not elastic when responding to events that disrupt his preconceived plan. It is for these failings that INnoVation has been dubbed a machine.
And while the designation is unsavory it’s accurate. INnoVation has never buckled to emotion or pressure. He never looks overwhelmed by the moment. When he has fallen apart (to think it has been approximately four years since his collapse at Soulkey’s hands or his debacle against Maru), the setting has had nothing to do with it. His losses are the product of inconsistencies with his game, something which is not dependent upon the circumstances. When INnoVation wins and loses it is purely the result of his playstyle, an unwavering element as mighty as any to have graced StarCraft 2. It is not the moment that empowers him, rather a drive to be the best.
VSL is a chance for another championship and, unlike his opponent soO, he will not rely on the brightness of the stage to achieve his potential. He will do the same thing he always does. Stick to his guns and follow the programming. soO may be a maelstrom of emotion, but INnoVation is the unfeeling rock upon which the dream of his opponents are dashed.