Twenty eight players have fallen and we are finally down to the final four of the first Code S season of 2012. The first semifinal of the evening features players who cast off the shackles of mediocrity and rose the occasion. Though neither player was favored to go very far coming into Code S Season One, they've used the tournament to silence the critics and prove that they are some of the best Starcraft II players in the world. This is their final hurdle, where one of the two unlikely heroes will continue his journey and reach his first ever GSL Code S Grand Final.
FnaticRC aLive was the player who had to deal with the most drama outside of the game during this tournament, but he shook it all off to make it this far. Before the season even began, aLive was embroiled in an ugly contract controversy, where his former team [TSL] was threatening him with legal action for a breach of contract in attempting to join international team FnaticRC. For aLive, the combat had already begun the night before his first matches of the tournament, with verbal volleys were being sent between TSL and FnaticRC. Portions of the Korean media had already pinned aLive as a villain, and speculation ran rampant through the community about who was at fault. Though he was at the center of the storm, aLive managed to keep his composure. He passed through his round of 32 group in second place, with a combined map score of 5 – 3.
A change of scenery or environment can do a player a lot of good, and it has certainly seemed to be the case for aLive. aLive had always been one of the better players in the GSL, hanging on the periphery of Code S, but the main thing that has always held him back was his alarming lack of consistency. With his team situation in order, he was able to play pressure free from the round of sixteen and onward, and it was immediately reflected in his results. He didn't drop a single map in his round of sixteen group, even though he was going up against two very strong players in ST_Curious and FXOGumiho. He was at the absolute top of his game in the round of sixteen, suggesting that Fnatic might have made a smart signing by picking up the immensely talented, but previously inconsistent Terran player.
Going into his quarterfinal match against SlayerS_MMA, the Blizzard Cup champion and #1 player in the world, there was a huge question mark hanging over aLive's head. He had been to the quarterfinals last season, where he also had a lot of momentum after looking strong in the earlier rounds. His opponent had been Leenock, who was sure to be weary just days after returning to Korea on the hells of winning the 2011 MLG championship in Providence. It turned out to be disaster for aLive, who crumbled rapidly after losing the first game on a poorly executed cheese, and was swept without putting up much of a fight. Would things be different this time around, against an even tougher opponent?
aLive answered with an emphatic 3 – 1 pounding of MMA. He out-thought the master planner himself in all three victories, where it looked like he didn't have to break a sweat to overpower his opponent. A key moment came after the second map, where he lost very winnable game due to a bad guess (aLive: No banshees? MMA: Banshees), and allowed the score to be tied at a game apiece. The old aLive might have fallen apart after throwing away a game where he had a significant lead, but the new aLive showed great composure to close out the series (One thing that was nice to see was Fnatic translator Brian Choi go into the booth to talk to aLive and help him settle his nerves ahead of the crucial third map, something missing from his past matches). He held off an all-in build from MMA in game three, and ended the series in the fourth set, using a patient mech style to secure his passage to the semi-finals.
Once known as player who didn't have a very distinct style, aLive has created an identity for himself in the past month as possibly the best mech user in the world. By playing very defensively and knowing precisely when mech is capable of attacking with minimal risk, aLive has shown some of the best TvT we've ever witnessed. Even long time mech advocate and GSL wise man Artosis admitted this fact, and passed the mantle of best mech player from three-time champion Mvp to aLive. Instead of trying to force the issue, aLive "lets the game come to him" as they say in many sports disciplines, playing patiently until the time is just right for an attack.
You can't sleep on aLive any longer. He's always been amazing on the ladder and in online tournaments. He's finally brought his A-game to the GSL, and elevated another step. He might be one the nicest guys outside of the booth, but he's playing with real confidence and swagger inside the booth.
Facing that newly awakened monster will be a player who has been quietly lurking since the beginning of the GSL. MvPGenius was one of the first Protoss players to come to prominence, winning the 2010 BlizzCon championship. Genius, like aLive, has continually lingered in Code S without making an impact. But while people never really expected much for aLive in the first place, Genius has known the weight of expectations. After his victory at BlizzCon, many fans touted him to be the first Protoss player to lift the GSL trophy.
Those expectations were let down in Genius' very first GSL tournament, where he was defeated by DAVIT, a now mostly forgotten Terran player who cheesed him out in the very first round. Genius did better in subsequent seasons, getting to the second round of the third GSL Open Season and even getting as far as the quarterfinals in the second GSL Open Season, losing to former finalist Rainbow. That's about as far as Genius had made it until this season. Until now, he has been a very decent player, but nowhere near being a championship contender. Genius himself admitted that he lacked motivation in the past, being content to be a Code S regular without any realistic aspirations towards a championship.
No one knows what his real motivation was, but Genius finally decided to flip the switch in the first season of 2012. He mentioned in an interview that getting more than an earful from his father might have had something to do with it. In any case, this new motivation started paying immediate dividends. Going up against two of his MvP teammates and some of the best players in the world – DongRaeGu and sC – in the first round, Genius truly shined for the first time in months. He clinically dismantled two players, and looked like the championship caliber player everyone had expected in 2010, a player that could take Protoss to the promised land. He made it to the round of sixteen for the first time in three Code S tournaments, where he would face tougher challenges.
He was pushed to the brink of elimination in the round of sixteen, where he was placed in the group of death with Nestea, MarineKing, and DongRaeGu. After losing his first series against MarineKing in a one-sided affair, it looked like he would need a miracle to survive. Genius found himself one game away from elimination after falling behind 0 – 1 to Nestea in his next series, but he fought back intelligently, neutralizing Nestea's mutalisks in two straight sets to take and eliminate a three-time GSL champion.
That put Genius against MarineKing once more in the final match of the group, with the remaining quarter-final spot on the line. He fell behind in the first set, putting him at 0 – 1 in the series, and 0 – 3 against MarineKing on the night. However, he made another miraculous comeback to from behind, taking the series 2 – 1. He showed amazing composure to make the comeback, particularly in the last set where he calmly sacrificed an important expansion in order to secure better positioning for an even more important battle. Having defied death twice in one night, Genius reached the quarter-finals for the first time since August of 2011.
Much like aLive, there were still plenty of question marks hanging over Genius' head going into the quarter-finals. He had made it that far before, and there were suspicions it could be another fluke. It looked like the bubble just might burst, as Genius was going up against an elite PvP player and multiple champion MC. And just like aLive, Genius dispelled all the doubts for good with a clean 3 – 0 sweep. Not only had he defeated the most well-known Protoss player in the world, but he had booked his spot in the semi-finals having gone down one of the toughest paths in in GSL history. He proved his prowess in all three match-ups by defeating veritable race representatives in Nestea, DongRaeGu, sC, MarineKing and MC, leaving fans scratching their heads as they looked for weaknesses.
For both aLive and Genius, it's already been a successful GSL season. They've gained much respect in the eyes of the fans, and even the loser of their upcoming match will still be regarded as an elite player. However, it's unthinkable that either should feel even the smallest hint of complacency. After being fringe players in Code S for so long, they finally have the chance to realize their dreams and stand on the grandest stage of all. One player will wipe a tepid, forgettable history from the record books, and rewrite a new legacy.
Prediction: Genius 3 – 2 aLive