GSL Super Tournament
We've almost reached the end of the Korean StarCraft II year. GSL and SSL have concluded their regular seasons, and only one tournament is now left before everyone goes into hiding to practice for the biggest tournament of the year at BlizzCon. For some of the players in this bracket, Super Tournament could be their last showing of the year.
INnoVation vs TIME
The year’s second and final Super Tournament kicks off with what is undoubtedly the most one-sided opening round matchup. Less than two weeks removed from his third Code S title, INnoVation is on cloud nine. He may have stumbled a bit on during his showdown with sOs, but there’s no disputing INnoVation’s perch atop the Korean Starcraft scene. TIME, on the other hand, was not the only foreigner to qualify for the Super Tournament. Whereas INnoVation has steamrolled his contemporaries, TIME has posted a 2-5 mark against Koreans in July. He showed flashes against a troubled soO, but only won a single game in losses to Classic, herO and Dear in GSL Season 3 and IEM Shanghai. Two months later, he succeeded where players like Elazer and Namshar could not, defeating TRUE and RagnaroK to reach the tournament proper.
Make no mistake, TIME is the greatest underdog imaginable. INnoVation is the reigning GSL champion and winner of three other premier events this WCS season. He could lose this match and still have secured himself second place on the WCS Korea Standings. If there’s hope to be had for TIME, it’s that the massive favorite will overlook this match, perhaps setting his sights on another series against Classic, the Protoss who put an end to INnoVation’s SSL title defense in late August. There is little solace to be had, however, as INnoVation is notorious for never letting off the gas pedal no matter the foe. Simply put, TIME will have to pull of a miracle to escape this nightmare Round of 16 pairing. He won’t be given a chance by anyone, which just means he has nothing to lose. After all, if TIME’s destined for an early exit, he might as well take some big names with him on the way out.
Classic vs aLive
There was a time back last spring when aLive seemed to be back on his feet once again. While never reaching the highest podium, he was a force to be reckoned with, consistently taking down other top players in offline tournaments. Then something happened and we returned back to the aLive of yesteryear. His tally of WCS points has certainly not been terrible over the course of the year, and there’s still a theoretical chance that we’re going to see the Pajama Terran at Anaheim in November. Fortunately for aLive, he did manage a deep run in the last Super Tournament, and he only needs to repeat that particular feat to make sure his chances are up to par. Unfortunately for aLive, he’s lived up to his reputation over the summer, with nary a memorable result to his name. Maybe he has what it takes to make a dent in the scene again, but it’s looking highly unlikely.
Meanwhile, Classic just doesn’t seem to get a break. With a GSL title, an SSL title and an IEM title to his name, it seems perplexing that Classic is still seen as a mid-tier Protoss. He seems to fly under people’s radar even as he posts strong results. His performance has not been as spectacular as that of, say, Stats, but that’s a pretty unfair comparison to make. He’s been fighting his way up the score boards and the power rankings since the beginning of the year, and he’s not about to stop now. There’s a tough bracket ahead of him, but he’s already proven himself capable of taking down INnoVation. If he survives his first two encounters, there’s really no reason for him to miss a deep run in the tournament. Underdog though he may be, Classic should never be forgotten.
GuMiho vs Dear
Dear really was the toast of the town for a moment. He sitting pretty near the top of SSL Premier standings, but the solid start failed to transform into a fairy tale ending that he was hoping for. After a disappointing end to the round robin, Dear collapsing in his playoff matchup against Dark, losing four straight after taking a 2-0 lead. The series was a showcase of shocking rigidity from Dear, who is often characterized as having a dangerous and eclectic playstyle. In truth, it was exactly what people have come to expect from Dear ever since he walked the royal road back in 2013, maddening inconsistency and immeasurable frustration. Which is why it’s hard to get too excited as Dear makes a tepid charge towards his second GSL title. Four years later and it’s much the same Dear, effervescent at times and completely hapless at others.
GuMiho is undergoing his own trial of sorts as he too struggles to recapture lost form. When GuMiho finally realized a career long dream by defeating soO in the GSL Season 2 finals, the assumption was that more success would follow. GuMiho made strides in defending his GSL title, but ultimately fell short in the Round of 16. He gave an even poorer account of himself at IEM Shanghai. Suddenly August was halfway over and GuMiho only had the Super Tournament to look forward to before BlizzCon. He managed to qualify, yes, but with none of the fanfare you’d expect from such a recent Code S champion. Like Dear, GuMiho enters the Super Tournament overshadowed by his past success. It would be cynical to say GuMiho’s best days are behind him, but, like Dear, the talk seems to have shifted from what might be, to what has been. Winning the Super Tournament would go a long way to dispel that notion, but also give the players encouragement that their futures aren’t as bleak as some might believe.
Maru vs Rogue
The team kill is a dynamic as old as time. That said - this battle between Jin Air teammates is different than those that came before it. Maru is no longer the paragon of Terran play. Rogue has become more than the predictably unsuccessful challenger he once was. Rogue’s win at IEM Shanghai was a declaration that Rogue was done living in Maru’s wake. Maru would have to take a back seat as Rogue finally fulfilled his potential. Rogue and Maru have met 19 times, with the most famous being Rogue’s win at Blizzcon. The knee-jerk reaction was to label the 3-0 an anomaly. After all, Maru had handily defeated Rogue in GSL just a few months earlier. It was par for the course. When Maru lost excuses were made to explain how such a prodigal talent could possibly falter. When Rogue won, there were always mitigating circumstances. After all, he had no business beating someone as decorated as Maru until he made it past the quarterfinals in a Starleague.
Two years later and people are running out of excuses to make for Maru. 2016 was disappointing. 2017 started with Maru poised to conquer WESG, but it was TY who walked away the victor. GSL and SSL were no different as Maru failed to break through despite deep runs. Where was the Maru the community had fallen in love with? Meanwhile, after a dismal 2016, Rogue seemingly got tired of perpetually coming up short. After a stellar spring and summer, Rogue is firmly established as one of the three best Zergs in Korea. He’s finally a champion and he’ll be looking to add to his display case at the Super Tournament. But it will have to start with a win over Maru, who even now casts an enormous shadow. What was once a foregone conclusion in Maru’s favor, has flipped Rogue’s way. Will the trend continue or will Maru remind the community who the real ace of the last remaining team in Korea is?
Dark vs Bunny
For Dark, it’s been a year of almosts. He’s managed to almost reach the trophy at IEMs and star leagues, but so far he’s fallen short by the narrowest of margins. It would be tempting to call his performance in 2017 lackluster, but there have been a scant few other Zerg players with better results on their record. For a year with a clear dearth of Zerg trophies, Dark still stands out as one of the most successful players of his race. A loss against Stats is nothing to scoff at, and he finally broke through his mental blocks in GSL. He’s secured his spot in the Global Finals in November, but others have snatched the title from right under his nose again and again. Now he’s looking to finally set things right, and a Super Tournament title would be the perfect way to pave his way to BlizzCon.
After Proleague ended last year, Bunny has found himself in a strange spot. He’s still a very familiar face at the FreecUP Studio and the Nexon Arena, but mostly as just a speed bump for the other, more successful players. His arguably best result of the year so far has been his third place in the SSL Challenge Division, but even that’s really just a slightly easier way to qualify for the next season. Bunny has managed to defeat Dark just once out of the four times they’ve met this year. Hope then seems to be a foregone conclusion for the Terran.
soO vs Stats
No match-up in the Round of 16 encapsulates the year of Korean StarCraft more than the one between Stats and soO. The hope and despair. Disappointment and elation. Success and failure. It is the tireless struggle that is being a progamer. Stats is less than a week removed from his second Starleague title. The most prolific player in LotV, Stats has reached the semifinals or better of eleven premier events (not counting the four man cross finals) times since 2016, winning two of them. His triumph over Dark was a marathon of endurance and tenacity. Dark threw the gauntlet at him, but Stats never gave an inch. It was a very different tale from when Stats won GSL back in April. In that match he looked completely control, eventually closing the series out in a game in which his opponent seemed to never have a chance. His opponent that day? The one who elevated Stats from someone who was always good, but not good enough, to a champion, while simultaneously furthering his reputation as a loser? soO of course.
soO may have made that finals and another, but GSL has been the limit of his success this year. He may have won SSL Challenge Season 2, but such a small triumph hardly measures up to early exits in IEMs and the first super tournament. His performance at GSL vs The World will grant him some solace, but the fact remains that soO has looked far from his best in weekenders this year. It’s fitting that the journey to redeem himself should begin with a rematch of another wasted opportunity to shed the Kong image. When soO won the KeSPA Cup, it seemed that he wasn’t satisfied. He said what he really wanted was to win a Starleague. soO’s run out of chances to end his streak of bad luck in GSL finals for the year, though. If he’s to start chipping away at the Kong curse, he’ll have to settle for starting here.
Zest vs herO
It's wonderfully ironic that Zest arguably heads into this match as a slight favorite, after bombing out of essentially every offline competition he's attempted this year. That void has left him with time to practice—and practice he did. With three accounts in the top 13 of the Korean server and MMR beaten only by Rogue, Maru and INnoVation at this moment in time, Zest is by far the highest ranking Protoss on ladder, and has been for quite a while, always at or around the 7000 MMR mark. In fact, the second highest is also Zest. So is the third. Thankful messages for his aid in practice have been coming in from players like Rogue and INnoVation, who both consider him extremely capable at the moment. Now, finally, Zest will have a chance to showcase just what he has worked on behind closed doors.
The reigning Super Tournament champion, herO, on the other hand, has had time in the spotlight since his victory, and he hasn't used it well at all. His third-to-last finish in SSL Premier sends him to Fast Lane, where he will have to re-qualify for Premier. A Ro16 finish in Code S is far below his usual standards, and his GSL vs the World showing ended in an 0-3 thrashing at the hands of Stats in the opening round. The road is very visibly going downhill for herO, to the point where he's almost performing as poorly in recent weeks as Zest did in the early parts of the year.
Nevertheless, these two have both won a tournament in 2017, not to mention their success in years before, and should by no means be counted out. This first match should be a very telling indicator as to where these two former titans stand—and perhaps even show us if one of them has regained their form and could challenge for the title.
Ryung vs sOs
Ryung, it seems, has followed in the footsteps of fellow Terran aLive. His start to the year was rather promising, but once the snows melted, Ryung followed suit. Semifinals loss against the eventual champion Stats proved to be Ryung’s best result this year. Struggling to gain traction for the rest of the year, the Terran is not even in the running to qualify for BlizzCon. What’s at stake here is nothing more than the sheer thrill of making a deep run in a Super Tournament. A good run might make viewers take note once again. A short run would just be nothing out of the ordinary.
It’s an odd numbered year. sOs will not be denied. Not in this lifetime or the next.