Another week of triumph and despair lays behind us, the next one is already dawning upon us. In Code S, the second group stage has been wrapped up, sending us off into the all-deciding playoff matches, where explosive quarterfinal pairings are waiting to duel. The SSL Premier Division is almost at a similar point: The group stage is going to be finished this week, finally revealing the four surviving players, who will battle for the title. The less fortunate players, of course, will closely eye the matches in SSL Challenge to see who they’ll hopefully have to fight next year to keep their spots in SSL.
The second group stage ended with a good day for Splyce last week, as both TY and Stats were able to advance into the quarterfinals, joining their team mate Solar to complete the trio. With all three of them competing in different matches, an all-Splyce Grand Final is on the table of possibilities now, which would obviously be a massive success for the organisation. Another fact of note is that Rogue, Stats, ByuN and TY are in their second consecutive quarterfinals—the third for Stats and TY—and while this is a showing of consistency, they all lost their last match in the Round of 8, pressuring them to perform better this time.
The first of our four quarterfinal duels might be the most lopsided one on paper: No one even knows how sOs made it to this point, as 2017 hasn’t been a fantastic year for the Million Dollar Man at all so far, and all his victories this season came to us as a surprise. In a very sOs-way, he sneaked himself into this tournament stage through close series and unpredictable stratagems, which makes his status as one of the Top 8 quite frail. His opponent Solar on the other hand—although he did lose to the ever-inconsistent Patience in the first group stage—cut through some of the best Terran players Korea has to offer to reach the Round of 8, while also raking in some good ZvP wins in SSL Premier. Both haven’t met since March 2017 (a 3-1 victory for Solar), but looking at their performances since then, not much has really changed: Solar looks to be the favourite, with sOs being in the underdog role—which, in a twisted kind of way, is probably better for him anyway: He has to switch into insanity-mode to continue his run.
Stats and Rogue duel in the second series, with Rogue especially craving success. The Zerg had a solid year and is nowadays counted among the Top 3 Zerg players in the world—contending for the number one position—, but he lacks the one thing a top-class player needs the most to base his standing on: A Korean title. Yes, his triumph over at IEM Shanghai certainly underlined his excellent form, but everyone knows that the prestige of a GSL win overshadows any other title. Stats already collected one of those in Season 1, but taking a second one in the same year would make the stuff of legend out of him—especially if he could also claim the SSL title at the same time—, and give him an excellent position going into BlizzCon later in the year. That said, Rogue looks extremely dangerous against Protoss at the moment, as he can play out the match-up in multiple deadly ways, mixing his variability with the diligent preparation we’ve come to love him for. The Jin Air Zerg is in good position to actually overcome the quarterfinals this time.
TvT extravagance is expecting us in the third series of the quarterfinals, as the Machine INnoVation meets the One-Man Army ByuN—the two players leading the Aligulac rankings by quite some distance. With INnoVation having largely fixed his mirror match-up issues, we can look forward to a close battle between the two Terrans, with all strategies and compositions imaginable being possibly fielded. It’s hard to imagine the macro-monster INnoVation as the aggressor in these matches, with that role perfectly befitting ByuN, who just cannot betray his Prime genes even after all those years. The INnoVation hype has cooled down a bit after his various losses in SSL, but the Machine is still hot enough to be counted as a close favourite here—very close.
Whoever wins the battle of Terrans, he’ll have a more than tough opponent in the semi-finals, as either TY or Dark will make war upon them. In their last duel at Shanghai, TY overcame Dark with a solid 2-0 score—but did he set the stage for a sweet revenge for the Zerg player, or was it simply a precedent for the future? Their forms against each other’s races are statistically so very close, they practically make no difference: Both are absolutely deadly, though not without weak points. Where to find those, is a question the players will have to answer, which is made ever more difficult by the fact, that none of them have actually played a TvZ so far this season. It’ll be first one, and one of the most important in their careers. Victory could give them the world.
Only three tickets into the playoffs remain, as Stats’ victory over Classic last week already secured a Top 4 spot for the Splyce player. Four potential title contenders are under pressure on the last day of the group stage to advance alongside Stats—who himself looks primed to lock his first place and thus advance directly into the Grand Finals—, but as things go in SSL we might be in for an exciting ride over the finish line. While Dear, who got himself into an excellent position through his win last week, has a winnable challenge in herO and thus looks to finally enter another playoff stage, things look direr for Classic: He’ll face his former team mate INnoVation, with the winner of the duel earning a playoff spot as their prize. The fourth man in the race is Dark, whose loss to Dear last week severely hurt his chances at advancing. The Zerg faces a tough opponent in the already eliminated Solar, which’ll test his ZvZ abilities under high pressure once more. At least his success against soO in Code S under similar circumstances might boost his confidence for this fight.
Depending on the status and format of SSL next year, these last matches are also important for the players at the bottom of the ranking. ByuL’s first season victory against aLive last week might prove to be very fortunate indeed, as it has enabled him to potentially claim a spot in the next Fast Lane event, instead of getting straight up eliminated from the Premier Division. Now, a victory over Stats would come close to a small miracle, but who would’ve thought that such hopes even would exist at the end of such a disastrous season for the Zerg player?
Last, but by no means least, a quick look at the state of SSL Challenge: With the fate of SSL and its’ format next year still hanging in the balance, honour, glory and a small prize purse is all the players fight for right now. This hasn’t resulted in lacklustre series by any means, though. On the contrary, what might have been one-sided sweeps—considering the match-ups—became quite long and drawn-out series last Saturday, with the underdogs coming close to produce some more of those upsets (in fact, Bunny actually took out favourite Rogue, keeping up his SSL consistency), which have become a trademark of the competition in SSL. ByuN, soO and Bunny now dominate the top of the ranking—for whatever that may be worth in the end.