One more week has passed, and we’re looking yet another week full of StarCraft 2 action in Korea. We’re now moving closer and closer to the final stages of this year’s star leagues. In Code S, another two groups will be played in the round of 16, which means that we will know every one of the quarterfinalists in just one week’s time. In SSL, we’re almost about to conclude the games for the Premier Division, with only two more days of matches to go. In SSL Challenge Division, the first stage has finished, and the remaining six players will now go head-to-head in a round robin format to see who’s eliminated from SSL and who (hopefully) gets to continue next year.
The week for Code S starts off with the infamous Group of Death. Dark, Classic, Rogue and soO are all championship level players intent on taking season 3’s title for themselves. Classic stands out as the lone non-Zerg in the group, while the other three players will have to hone their skills in both ZvZ and ZvP. He’s been wreaking havoc in SSL Premier, and he’s looking to make up for his devastating 0-4 loss against soO in the previous season’s semifinals. It would seem that semifinals have been his bane ever since LotV came out late 2015, but he’s been on the upswing recently, showcasing the kind of smart play that made him a champion two years ago. In a group this stacked, however, he needs to be on top of his game like almost never before.
The opposing three Zerg players represent the very top the race has to offer in 2017. soO has his sights set on yet another GSL finals spot, and is there truly anyone who can stand against his claim? It’s beyond cliche to go over his silver medals by this point, but perseverance is one of the most important skills in a pro player’s tool kit. Recent tournament losses against TY and ByuN can still sting, but soO’s skill to pick himself up again is the stuff of legends by now. He’s going against Dark, nominally a monster in the mirror match, but nowadays not really on the level of the Angry Zerg. Dark’s glory days of 2016 seem far behind him, and even though he’s consistently good, he’s struggling to be even occasionally great. What he needs now is a true moment of triumph, or he’s going end up languishing in the shadow of his former self yet again. It certainly doesn’t help Dark’s chances that Group C has one of the toughest Zerg players of the moment, Rogue. The Jin Air player has seen an incredible rise to the very top this year, having spent most of his career as a dependable but forgettable Pro League work horse. Rogue is on fire right now, and these coming weeks will be the toughest test of his skills imaginable. His IEM Shanghai victory was the perfect announcement: there’s a new Zerg player in town, and he means business like never before.
After the brutal melee of Group C, the last group in the Ro16 seems almost like an after thought. Stats’s struggle to gain traction after his GSL victory might finally be over. He’s powering his way through the opposition in SSL, and even though he did go down in the semifinals of GSL vs the World, it was at least against INnoVation. Just like before, Stats is in a precarious situation at the moment. On paper, it seems he’s doing pretty well, but there’s just something crucial missing from his play that’s preventing him from reaching the very top. Based on his overall performance this year, that’s arguably where he belongs. It’s not a stretch to say that Stats is remarkably close to his team mate TY. The Splyce Terran has been so close, and yet has not been able to close out a series where it’s mattered the most. With Patience and Hurricane in the group, it’s the Splyce duo who are the clear favorites to advance. Any other result would honestly be a surprise.
Only two more days of matches remain the SSL Premier Division, and it’s had its fair share of thrilling successes and monumental disappointments. The clear loser of the season is still ByuL, whose free fall still hasn’t stopped. With aLive and Stats still to go, the omens aren’t looking good. Perhaps his resurgence earlier in the year was nothing but a mirage, or perhaps he’s just been unable to keep to that same level of play. Whatever the case, he’s left fighting over some scraps. Meanwhile, the players in the top 4 this week remain exactly the same as last week, only they have shuffled around a bit. Stats holds a comfortable lead over the others, while the other three share a 5-2 match score. Dear is in the weakest position out of the three, while Dark is currently in second place with a respectable 12-7 map score. The two will face against each other this Monday, and it’s more than likely that the winner will be able secure his place in the post season. The next two matches will of course be crucial for everyone, even those outside the immediate top 4. INnoVation, last season’s winner, is in 5th place at the moment, with still a chance of making it to the post season. He will have to go through both Solar and Classic in the coming weeks to have a chance. His status as the best player in the world is oft debated, but what better way to silence the haters than to show up time and again. The Machine now just needs to show up, a task that at times seems insurmountable even for him.
The first stage of SSL Challenge Division is now done, and the remaining six players will all go head-to-head against each other, with an uncertain future awaiting the eventual victors. On paper the matchings seem somewhat lopsided, with ByuN, soO and Rogue going up against jjakji, Impact and Bunny. The first three are among the very top performers in Korea at the moment, mostly because it’s hard to argue against recent results. If everything goes as expected, which of course it seldom does, the trio will have a good chance of being on the forefront when, and if, next year’s SSL formats are announced. Since nothing’s been confirmed as of yet, for now they’re just playing for glory.