The final matches are approaching fast, as both individual leagues in Korea are now officially in playoff mode. In GSL Code S, the player count was halved once more last week and the final four contenders are going up against each other this week to decide the pairing of the Grand Finals. In SSL Premier, two players have the opportunity to start a run into that tournaments’ Grand Finals. And to round out the week, a ZvT orgy awaits us in SSL Challenge.
What an exciting top four the last season of GSL this year has to offer: There is sOs, a player many have already given up this year, who could make a miracle run to capture a last-minute ticket to BlizzCon. We have Dark, the last Zerg player in both leagues, in the run for two prestigious titles at the same time. And then there are the two titans, Stats and INnoVation, without a doubt the two greatest players of 2017, on a collision course with the potential for a Grand Finals of truly galactic scale.
While sOs has provided us with many opportunities to scratch our heads over the course of his career, this GSL run might have the potential to top the list. There is literally no impressive series he has played this season, his quarterfinal matches with Solar were riddled with mistakes from both sides and, yet, here the guy stands: In the top four, with the potential to make it to BlizzCon after the worst year in his StarCraft 2 career.
It’s a déjà vu from earlier this year. In the first season of Code S, we were pretty much in the same scenario: Somehow sOs sneaked his way into the playoffs, won a shaky victory in the quarterfinals— just to get trashed in the Round of 4. So, does history repeat itself? Did sOs scratch and bite his way through the season to be ultimately sacrificed on the altar of Stats’ greatness, or can the Jin Air player get himself together in time to pull off one of the greatest coups in StarCraft 2 history? Imagine sOs winning this season, imagine him going on to win BlizzCon. After a year, in which he has not played a single memorable game (yet). This could be the beginning of his ascension to godhood. He could win StarCraft 2. Like, all of it.
Of course, the best Protoss on the planet has a word, or two, to say about that. Stats has already won one season of Code S this year, he comfortably sits in the Grand Finals of SSL Premier at the moment and laughs down onto the world from his very literal mountain of WCS points. Not only could he win two GSL titles in one year, he could also unite the GSL and SSL championships under one belt. After all this time, he has managed to step out of the shadow of his former team mate Zest, becoming a giant in his own right. His own shadow has now fallen over the other Protoss players, and it could become larger still. It’s very clear, that the Splyce player—the only survivor of the team’s trio in the top eight—is going into this as the favourite.
Historically, sOs has the edge over him, but those statistics are quite dated by now. Both haven’t met each other since April. All the other numbers favour Stats. With a guy like sOs involved, PvP can become quite the scrappy match-up, and—as always—he is an expert in derailing a series to a point, where conventional wisdom is at its’ end and improvisation carries the day instead. Mental strength is a factor in a Bo7 against sOs, an experienced player when it comes to preparation and psychological warfare. Stats is not without weaknesses either: In the Ro16 Hurricane took two maps off him, in a very legit way. The Splyce Protoss must not be overconfident, or sOs may surprise him. Should Stats bring his best, though, this can become a solid path into the Grand Finals.
Our second semi-final is a nail-biter on paper and, hopefully, also in reality. INnoVation has been a monster for most of the year, this unstoppable killing machine, which slowly adapted and fixed even its’ smallest flaws and mistakes. One of the few people able to score victories against the Terran even during his periods of perceived invincibility, was Dark. Dark broke INnoVation’s win streak in SSL Premier. Dark recently sent INnoVation packing with a 3-0 win in Master’s Coliseum. And it is Dark, who just flawlessly wrecked TY in the quarterfinals.
The Zerg hasn’t had a title in his hands since early 2016, and every second, third and fourth place since then has stirred this eternal hunger for glory in him. From his dedicated drive to improvement and victory, down to his cocky attitude, Dark truly is the Emperor’s Last Son. Like Stats, Dark has the opportunity to unite the two Korean championships under his reign, but unlike him, he’ll have to carve his way through tough opposition to the Grand Finals in both tournaments. Fielding perhaps the best ZvT on the planet, he has all the tools needed to deal with the Machine. But even then, it’s going to be a gruesome battle.
Despite not being in the terrifying form of earlier in the year anymore, INnoVation remains on top of the world for now. It is perhaps fitting, that he must face his kryptonite in the form of Dark, a player so different from himself in personality, and so much more like the beloved icon of their former team. While INnoVation is closer in achievements to the Emperor of Terran than Dark, he couldn’t be more unlike him in personality and playstyle. We might be in for a battle of the ages between those two: The best-quality TvZ pairing you could wish for. Two former team mates in the footsteps of a legend. Two players with day-and-night personalities: The reserved and quiet INnoVation against the confident and outspoken Dark. INnoVation does have the numerical advantage, when it comes to overall and match-up form. Historically, both are evenly matched, with Dark having won the most recent series between the two.
No matter the outcome, the Grand Finals will feature a worthy pairing. And should INnoVation and Stats meet there after all is said and done, we will see the player of the year being decided far before BlizzCon even started.
Before the fight against INnoVation even begins, Dark will have to face off against Dear in the first playoff match of SSL Premier. A Bo7 will decide, which one of the two will go up against Classic in the next match. For Dark, this means to prepare for two potentially very long ZvP and ZvT series in the same week—which, to be fair, seems like an entirely possible mission for a player like him. His recent form against Protoss has been very solid, with his last loss a few weeks ago, coming from Dear himself, while many other players had to bow down to Dark. Both have slacked off a bit in the last weeks of SSL, but still made the playoffs on the merit of their earlier successes.
Dear has really profited from the SSL format this year, showing his excellent preparation skills on the big stage on a weekly basis. Perhaps, in the beginning, people still underestimated him a bit. He had that stigma of a failed player until very recently. But his tenacity, his ability to stick around and wait for an opportunity to rise again, has finally paid off. For the first time since 2015, Dear stands as contender for a championship. Dark, being under double pressure next week, is a lethal opponent, but no one Dear can’t handle. His form against Zerg is solid, and a Bo7 is giving Dear enough space to be in his element. He, very much like Dark, tends to get nervous a lot, so this series might simply be settled by the mental factor: Whose nerves break earlier? Some well-prepared, quick strikes have the possibility to decide everything—in favour of both sides.
Though overshadowed by the titans clashing in the other leagues, SSL Challenge serves some fine ZvT to round up the week. The two eliminated GSL quarterfinalists Rogue and ByuN meet in the first match, with both being under pressure to win. The Jin Air Zerg finally scored his first win last week, but his comeback run must go on, if he wants to survive to Fast Lane. Likewise, ByuN lost to the new top dog Bunny last week, being dethroned from rank one. Bunny has the opportunity to go to a staggering 4-0 score next week against soO, who is still not out of the race at all, but looks weak after his shocking 0-3 loss to Impact last week. He should better look for that Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to stand a chance against this rising beast. And last, but not least, Impact and jjakji go up against each other, with the Zerg looking like a clear favourite. For Jjakji, a win to keep his honour would be enough at this point, as his 0-3 record doesn’t allow much hope for greater things.