About the Power Rank
This article is part of a cooperation between ESL and TeamLiquid.net for the IEM World Championship event coming up in Katowice. ESL has provided images, information and financial support for us to produce this article and others.
The way our list is put together is through a very simple point assignment system. Each writer decides their own top 10, with more points awarded for higher placement. Points from all contributing writers are then added together and the player with the most points ranks at #1. Very simple—very frustrating for us writers, as it almost always assures our personal rankings will not entirely be reflected in the finished article. We hope to see as much, if not more, debate from you concerning the resulting final placements, or even the whole list if you feel entirely unsatisfied by what we came up with. So let us know just how wrong we are, how biased we are towards Liquid players (???), and why your personal opinion is far more wise than that of our writing collective.
With IEM Katowice only hours away, all eyes are on Poland. Who are the best players going into the biggest tournament of the year (bar BlizzCon)?
It's been a long, long time since Zest was featured in a Power Rank and rightfully so. Showing glimpses of the caliber he's capable of is not enough to charm our stony hearts, and there were always players who performed better and more consistently.
Zest was one of the first players to figure out the big design changes when they hit, boasting a HomeStory Cup championship and a lot of online cups to show for his immediate understanding. But that's not the level Zest should be aiming for. A 3-time GSL Champion (if you count GSL's Global Championship), two-time HomeStory Cup, KeSPA Cup and IEM World Champion, Zest cannot allow himself to wallow in mediocrity. And finally, he is making steps in the right direction. His PvP and PvT looked solid during his showcase in the IEM PyeongChang qualifier. He beat herO, Classic and sOs—essentially every other good PvPer—and his GSL performance so far appears sharp, where he eliminated Bunny and INnoVation convincingly. The big issue for Zest seems to be PvZ. Eliminated by Elazer in PyeongChang and defeated by Scarlett and soO in GSL, it appears like there's a real weakness in the matchup holding him back.
Unfortunately, IEM Katowice has all the best Zergs in the world in attendance. Unless Zest has fixed that weakness, it's hard to imagine him going all the way in the tournament. However if he has, who knows what might happen?
It was a long time coming but in the end, victory tasted even sweeter as expected. As the first WCS Circuit champion of 2018, it makes sense to start Serral’s entry with the year’s first major success. After struggling to gain traction for almost the entirety of 2017, the Finnish Zerg player finally managed to claw his way to a much deserved offline victory in Barcelona at the WESG European qualifiers. That wasn’t the end of his momentum and a mere two months later, Serral lifted the first premier trophy of his career at Leipzig. It was a decisive run with only two map losses before the finals. The hometown favorite ShoWTimE couldn't find deeper cracks in Serral’s armor, and the series ended 4-2.
Of course, map scores don’t tell the whole story. Serral played a close semifinal series against SpeCial, and it was a close call despite the 3-1 finish. Some lapse in decision-making here, another bout of mis-micro there, and we would’ve seen a TvP grand finals. On the upside, Serral’s play has looked to be a step above his previous peak last year. Against SpeCial and ShoWTimE he ably fought back from behind, clutching his way to victory in engagements that seemed to be surefire steamrolls. It seems Serral has finally found his inner sisu and is already putting it to good use.
Even so 2018 has had its fair share of disappointments. Most glaringly, Serral failed to qualify for Katowice and he’s now condemned to wade through the massive group stage. He also looked quite uncertain at Pyeongchang when playing against Scarlett, losing the series 1-3.
Alarmingly we have little information on how Serral currently fares against Koreans these days, especially after the latest design changes upended the game once more. The Finn plows through non-Korean opposition as expected, but his victories against Maru and Creator during the Katowice qualifiers reflect the old maxim: “The plural of anecdote isn’t data.”
It bears repeating that Serral was the most successful non-Korean at Katowice last year, but at the moment his rank is partly based on conjecture. He’s been a world class European Zerg for years, able to go toe-to-toe against absolutely anyone, but just where is his current skill-set right now? His Leipzig run was decisive but we were raving about Serral a year ago, and his defeat at the hands of Dark was one of the most lopsided quarterfinal games in recent memory.
Katowice sees the very best StarCraft 2 players gather at a single event for the first time since BlizzCon. As the second non-Korean player to make it into the Top 10, Serral must fight tooth and nail to prove his place is earned. Lucky for us viewers, there’s no doubt he’s going to do exactly that.
It is hackneyed to say that Stats is the most consistent workhorse of the LotV era, but it’s undoubtedly true. His long and treasured career finally reached its crescendo in 2017 with two star league titles, a silver medal from Katowice, and another two quarterfnal appearances in star leagues. If not for the Terran powerhouse INnoVation, Stats’s year would’ve achieved mythical proportions instead of mere legendary status.
Enter BlizzCon, and everyone’s favorite Captain performed well below expectations. Going out in the group stages was a bitter surprise no one would’ve predicted. Never one to dwell on past disappointments, Stats bounced back in Krefeld and reached the quarterfinals yet again at HomeStory Cup XVI.
However, post-HSC life has looked somewhat shaky. Stats missed out on IEM Pyeongchang and failed to qualify for Katowice, going down against Classic and Leenock. He’s been ubiquitous in the online scene, as is to be expected, but his results tell a clear story of struggles against fellow Protoss players. He’s been unable to close out the final stretches of online tournaments, languishing in the playoffs. Even his important PvP victories in the GSL felt more like scraping by than outperforming his opponents.
And yet he’s still Stats, with his famed work ethic and sheer determination. He’s set to wade through the offline qualifiers to reach the tournament proper, and there’s scarcely anyone in the bracket who can challenge his run. The true test of his mettle will be the group stage.
Of course, let’s not forget that almost exactly one year ago, Stats played against fellow teammate TY in the Katowice grand finals. Besides providing us with excellent games, the silver medal was the much-needed catalyst, propelling the Captain to win the first season of GSL less than a month later. It might be a tad early to call 2018 yet another Year of Stats, depending on how Katowice goes it wouldn’t be a stretch either.
Scarlett earned her moniker, the Queen of Blades, by being the first female pro-gamer—in any large-scale esport—to break the mold and become a regional champion. She habitually reaffirmed the title when she emerged from the expansion-to-expansion transition as a WCS America semifinalist, a premier tournament finalist, and the proud winner of one of the best games in Starcraft II history. In fact, she played in two of them. She was not just a female pro anymore; she was a female superstar—so well-regarded the adjective became moot. But despite her best efforts, she never became an international champion.
So the rallying cry dulled, the mechanics rusted, and results dwindled in the shade of what could've once been. Scarlett may have a peak to rival the likes of Naniwa, but she ended up as another fading legend. But rumbling grew come Legacy of the Void, and it grew louder and louder with every result. "She made HomeStory Cup finals," her fans whispered. "She beat Nerchio," they squeaked. "She's in Code S," they repeated in admiration. "She won IEM!" they screamed. It was the crescendo that was unprecedented, a trophy to grace an empty case, and only the start of a new phase in her career.
Scarlett awaits her fate in the GSL quarterfinals but here in Katowice, she's given an opportunity to prove herself the way she's done so many times in the past. Recently, she's beaten INnoVation, sOs, Zest, Serral, Rogue—champions and legends—to become the Queen of Blades once more. A year ago, a player like Solar would have stood resolutely in Scarlett's way. Now, it is Scarlett who stands in his. Three years ago, she seemed lost in a scene which completely outgrew her, never making a single WCS season and barely playing in premier events. It is a sad reality of sports that falls in form can last forever, and it is a testament to Scarlett's brilliance that she is still able to stand tall going into Katowice. This tournament may serve as a personal redemption, an ode to all of those championships she missed in the past which she once seemed destined to never claim.
Despite starting his career at the incredibly young age of 13, it took a decade for TY to blossom into his peak potential. Recognition immediately came in the form of novelty while success eluded him throughout BW. In 2013, when the KeSPA switch from Brood War to SC2 was in full swing, TY was barely relevant in the excited conversations. In 2014 he was acquired by KT Rolster and became a regular on the Proleague squad, but still struggled in individual leagues.
The tides finally started to shift in 2015. TY started making deeper and deeper runs in most of the tournaments he attended,yet the gold medal remained tantalizingly out of his reach. It would continue to remain a dream until early 2017. Finally, after having gamed for nearly half his life, TY won WeSG 2016 after an grueling finals against Maru. Still, many a player rose to the occasion at least once in their careers only to fade away into obscurity. TY proved he would not become one of those players by going on to win the IEM World Championship last year against a then on-fire Stats.
It was simultaneously wonderful and strange to see TY do so well. Prior to his titles, TY had made his name off the back of meticulous strategies. In Proleague he was always a master sniper and build forger, finding the most intelligent and at times outrageous ways to abuse any piece of terrain or attack precisely at the right time when his opponent was at his weakest. After such performances one would think TY would sooner find success in the GSL, a long season tournament that rewards series planning.
We can infer that TY’s intelligence and bag of tricks runs deepand his long years of playing have finally coalesced into a complete and scary package. TY knows how and when to take calculated risks. He doesn’t cheese for the sake of it: he often targets them on maps where he knows he can maximize his chances of success. And should a game go long enough TY has proven to be fearsome, able to macro and multi-task on several fronts. He also excels at positioning, finding the most optimal angles from which to strike or siege.
Now with no other tournaments to focus on, TY is free to shift his full attention to Katowice. While it still feels weird to view TY as a weekend warrior, perhaps the combination of vast experience, positioning prowess, tactical use of cheese and mastery over the late game is enough to make him the perfect title candidate once more.
soO has been the worst nightmare for teamliquid writers when it comes to power ranks since we brought them back last year. Besides his penchant for second place, there are a few things one can count on with soO. The first is his ZvP. He bounced back from his BlizzCon loss, posting a 22-9 (9-1 in matches) record against Protoss since January. His only loss came at the hands of the nearly untouchable Classic, with Zest, Dear, herO, Trap and Creator proved to be wanting. Next up is his ZvZ. His game against Zerg has been nearly as impressive as that against Protoss. While his loss to Dark in GSL will feature heavily in our minds, soO is 8-4 in matches against Zerg in 2018, including wins over Impact and Elazer.
The third thing about soO one can hang their hat on is the fact that his ZvT has given us writers as well as soO, constant headaches. soO was an abysmal 44% against Terran from March to October of 2017, but he managed to take down MajOr and GuMiho at Blizzcon. Were one to take a cursory glance at his results since November, (36-13 in games, 15-3 in matches (plus the loss in the map contest finals)) they might believe it to have been a turning point. ZvT may be his worst matchup on ladder, but soO’s mechanics are good enough that he can overpower tier two or below players with ease. aLive tried to go toe to toe with soO with bio, but soO crushed him with ease.
A trio of wins during that period over Forte as well as foreign Terrans like uThermal, Awers and Sinner do a good job of disguising soO’s troubles against elite Terrans. soO’s problem is when players like TY hit him with a hellbat timing or pull out mech, a style soO has historically been weak against. It’s a matchup soO will hope to dodge at Katowice, one that could easily throw a spanner in an otherwise streamlined machine.
As he has for months, soO begs the question if a player can be one of the best in the world while lacking in one of the three matchups. soO posses elite ZvZ and may just be the best Zerg when it comes to fighting Protoss. Ultimately, his transcendent class and ability to elevate his play in a tournament setting are enough to slot soO in the upper half of the power ranking. Should he iron out the kinks in his ZvT, he very well may be holding at pole position in the next edition, as well as the title of IEM World Champion.
Had this power ranking been written a few weeks ago, we probably would have proclaimed INnoVation as nigh unstoppable. He entered the Round of 16 of GSL Season 1 as the defacto best Terran in the World. Consecutive wins over Solar, GuMiho, TY, herO and Classic earned a direct seed into IEM Katowice, proving that, troubles in TvP aside, INnoVation was as lethal as his 2017 self. While other top Terran were wilting, INnoVation’s play demanded he be considered a contender.
His macro was unfailing per usual, the micro as crisp as it had ever been. His record in TvT since BlizzCon was clear evidence of that, an outstanding 44-14 in games (19-4 in matches, while going 13-4 against Koreans). INnoVation may have stumbled at the WCS Global Finals, but he had not paused to lick his wounds. In fact, he looked poised to breeze through to another GSL quarterfinal after a masterful display during group nominations. Leenock, Scarlett and Zest were hardly obstacles for the great Terran hope.
That all changed in a night. An opening match against Leenock was an appetizer for what should have been a leisurely Saturday afternoon. INnoVation is 19-7 against Zerg in matches since BlizzCon (46-28 in games with 6 of those losses coming in a single ONPOONG event(map contest finals results excluded)). He played four Best of 5 series in that period, going 3-1 against Solar while also notching wins over Impact, Rogue, Nerchio and Elazer in SHOUTcraft Kings before taking down Nerchio again in the map contest. Leenock was brushed to the side with casual indifference, setting up a match against the winner of Scarlett and Zest.
The wheels fell off the bus from there. After losing to Scarlett, INnoVation was eliminated by Zest. Like other Terrans, INnoVation has suffered mightily since the major post-BlizzCon balance patch. His 8-8 record against Korean Protoss since BlizzCon is far from intimidating, but when one removes 2-0’s over Dwarf, Patience and Creator on two occasions, all that’s left is a 12-21 mark in games against Classic, herO, Dear and Zest. He picked up a pair of losses to DIMAGA and TY a few hours later, making the day possibly the worst in his decade long career.
The disappointment of Group A is fresh in our mind, but INnovation remains at the top of the Korean hierarchy. Many counted him out in the IEM Katowice qualifier with a pair of PvT’s looming, but INnoVation proved us wrong and booked a ticket to Poland. It’s why you can never count INnOVation out. It’s why he is the Terrans most likely to take down the IEM World Championships.
There are two kinds of players in SC2. Most remain at a near constant level of performance throughout their careers, with occasional highs and lows in form amidst gradual improvements. And then there are the select few who ride huge shifts from their lowest lows to their highest highs.
sOs falls into the latter category. He doesn’t constantly bring his A game and he can often look silly and uninspired when his gambits fail. But when things click magic happens. What set sOs apart from the rest of the pack is his ability to turn it on when the stakes are at their highest, evident by his double Global Finals wins and—what truly cemented his status—his first place finish at IEM WC 2014. Since 2015 he has struggled to recapture his former glory, but his time may be drawing near.
sOs has enjoyed a surge of impressive results over the past two months, performing exceptionally well in the IEM PyeongChang and World Championship qualifiers. Dark, GuMiho, Classic, ByuN, Dear, Solar, Trap all crumbled when they dared to impede his path. He also blazed past his GSL group with ease. The only blemish on his recent record was his catastrophic demolition at the hands of Scarlett in the finals of IEM PyeongChang.
But the RO16 of the GSL proved that sOs hadn't let failure and hardship get to him, blazing past herO and Trap in two clean series. Like many other times over the course of his career nerves seem like an afterthought. In fact sOs’ traits make him one of the best weekend contenders. He is fearless, never hesitating to bring out cheese in the most tenuous situations (and even doing so twice in a row as herO found out via double proxy Gate). He is unpredictable, a proclivity most dangerous in short weekend tournaments where time to research one’s opponent is limited. And he’s incredibly adaptable, as shown by consecutive victories over Flash, TY, Zest and Stats in his reverse sweep of KT Rolster in the Proleague playoffs.
IEM World Championship was the tournament which propelled his status into the upper echelons of SC2’s greatest.
It would be only fitting for sOs to come back swinging in Legacy of the Void and recapture his former magic right here and now.
It's cutting irony for a player desperate to escape Kongdom to be placed second on this list. For a player like soO it would be an expected stab to the heart, mockery made dull by familiarity. For Dark, it was never meant to pan out this way. He promised us ten championships when he was a small rookie on a team of titans, and now he is a titan in a shrinking scene with only one trophy. It wasn't even particularly impressive as far as first championships go. The first SSL of the expansion, in a scene left utterly chaotic and unsettled, and even then the victory was immediately followed by defeat after defeat. Those losses stung during the next seasons and years of SSL; in BlizzCon, which even took away his stunning record against foreigners; in GSL, IEMs and during Super Tournaments.
Dark has made it to the semifinals of 8 premier events since Legacy started. He lost his next match four times; three times, he lost in the finals. Only once did he win it all. In the face of that, does his consistency matter? Recently he's been fabulous online. His worst matchup, ZvP, still features a reasonable 59.46% winrate (44-30 in games) against elite competition since BlizzCon, and his ZvT has been sitting at a ridiculous 71% (50-20). He has played both GuMiho and INnoVation in Bo11 sets, faced off against TY four separate times including a Bo7, and vanquished all of the minor Terrans (jjakji, ByuN, Cure) with little issue—only dropping one set against Maru during a fairly weak WESG qualifier run. Even when matched up against soO in ZvZ, a matchup he's barely played since his aching loss to Elazer during BlizzCon, he ran circles around him. For the past three or four months, it's genuinely looked as though Dark can do no wrong.
So why isn't he on top of the world? He dominated his GSL group, beating TY in macro games and soO in micro ones to clinch a firm win over the toughest Round of 16 group. But that's a small victory, and small victories don't matter for Dark anymore. The only step that matters is the one he's never taken. He desires to go beyond the semifinals, to win that championship series, and hoist the trophy so high everyone will gaze upon it and despair. Dark should march into Katowice on a scorched earth campaign, especially with two Terrans already set into his group. Maybe GSL will weigh heavier on his mind, but it is the nature of a weekender to swiftly separate the weak from the strong, and Dark has a claim to be the strongest player in Korea over the course of LotV. Yet what does he have to show for it?
Once upon a time, many tournaments ago, the predominant question was whether Dark could live up to the reputations of his fellow players on SK Telecom T1. Reports came out saying he was amazing in scrimmages, high praise that wasn't reflected in results at the time. Some said that he'd be the inverse of a crumbling star, forever destined to melt away into the empty space of conjecture, fiddling away in the bottom rungs of GSL and only appearing as a good Proleague player. Others believed the hype. saying he'd be a transcendent talent, somehow better than all of his superstar teammates—and where are they now? Brown, Sacsri, Journey, Soulkey, BrAvO, Rain, PartinG, FanTaSy, ParalyzE, Sorry, MyuNgSiK, Dream are all retired or far removed from the level of play Dark is accustomed to. For a while he and soO had a pseudo-rivalry of sorts, but with Dark's recent win over soO in GSL and the current gulf between them in ZvT expertise, he may have finally edged him out. It is fate's cruel sense of humor that Classic, the only shadow blemishing paradise, is one of the few ex-teammates still around. IEM Katowice is an opportunity for Dark to finally surpass his contemporaries and become the greatest ex-SK Telecom T1 player.
For once, we've done Classic the justice of not underestimating him. And why would we? Classic has barely put a foot wrong recently. He smashed his way through Solar, soO, herO and sOs to qualify for Katowice. In similar fashion, he beat INnoVation, herO, Dark (twice) and Maru (twice) to qualify for WeSG. Classic also made it to the quarterfinals of GSL by beating GuMiho and Maru (poor soul) in the Ro16. There is little reason to doubt anything Classic is doing at the moment.
But it isn't just hot form that justifies this ranking. Classic is a proven tournament winner, a fact that easily slips the mind. GSL, SSL, IEM—you name it, he's won it. He's extremely intelligent, capable of strong preparation on top of his formidable skill; with some time to prepare for his two opponents in Group D (Elazer & sOs), you'd back Classic to make it out. It has been a while since he last won a big championship, but the ability and form are there.
With Protoss arguably favored in the PvT matchup, the key to success at Katowice might lie in PvP and PvZ. Classic has shown excellence in both. If you can beat Dark in PvZ, you can beat anyone. And after sOs ran a steamroller over his PvP-only GSL group, Classic's 3-0 over sOs seems more impressive in retrospect. He appears like the complete package at the moment. Regardless of who joins his group from the Open Bracket, none of them will be happy drawing Classic.
It would have been hard to justify not putting Classic at #1 in this ranking. He's beaten most of the others on it recently, sometimes in multiple instances, and backhanded seemingly everybody else as well. And thus Classic, the perennially underrated player, will enter this tournament as our hottest pick to win.