Power Rank: MLG Winter Edition
When you spend years grinding out more tournament previews than humanely possible, you have to learn how to keep things fresh so you don't go insane. Why, we've even gone so far as to have pro-gamers do the previews for us in the past. So, what kind of treatment have we prepared for MLG's first major live-spectator event of the year?
The ever-trusty Power Rank.
After all, what's all of this wonderfully entertaining competition worth if you can't argue about who's better than who? When a game about armchair generals spawns its own sub-set of spectator armchair generals, then you know it's really hit the big time.
"Who would beat whom in a best of 101 series with their lives on the line?" That crossed our minds. So did "Who had the best tournament results in the past X months?" Those, and many other questions factored in as we attempted to figure out an inherently arbitrary and contentious thing: who is better than whom. It was a complex process, which we're not even sure we completely understand ourselves. At least, we can tell you a couple of things that are NOT applicable to this ranking.
- Higher ranked player is better than a lower ranked player in a head to head: Rankings are an overall package. For example, there are many Terran players ranked beneath JYP who we think could beat him in a 1v1, but we think JYP is just better on the whole.
- Probability to win MLG Winter Championship: To include this, we'd actually have to take seeds and groups into consideration. Though we've loosely included these players' abilities to perform in a short, weekend long live tournament, details specific to this particular tournament have not been considered (seeding, jetlag, etc).
And that's it. Let's get on with the list already.
Honorable mentions / barely missed the cut
...after giving some shout-outs to guys who just barely didn't make it in. We ended up cutting the rank off at forty, because that was precisely where NA players started to creep in. To be quite honest, we didn't really want to spend too much time considering questions like "Who's better, iNcontrol or Destiny? or "Does Tyler switching his ID back to NoNy warrant a +2 rank bonus in itself?" and "Does the 100% inoffensive Flo joke exist, or is it just a fantasy?" Nonetheless, some players deserved some shout-outs.
iS.CrazymovING: CrazymovING made it into Code A once, had a good showing in a first round exit vs HerO, then proceeded to play zero TLPD recorded games after November. He probably deserves to be in the top forty, but we just have no damn idea where.
vileState: For a while, State has belonged firmly to the 'good' category of US players, which is a bit like calling someone a 'good' American soccer (apologies, Europeans) player. But recently, especially with some stellar results in the IPL Team Arena Challenge, State has earned a re-evaluation. And it's about time too, because while plucky up-and-comers are legion on the EU and KR servers, there have been few talents to celebrate in the New World. State, along with his teammates Illusion (#40), ChAnCe and Hawk represent an exciting new wave of talent. Let's hope they can keep the momentum going this week with some good performances. State is a solid, standard player who should mop the floor with all the regular dudes in attendance, and has sure upset potential against the back end of the foreigner field.
EG.iNcontroL: Better than IdrA in 2012.
Quantic.Destiny: Better than iNcontroL in 2012.
The Power Rank
Forgive the schizophrenia, each section was written by a different writer.
The sixteen year old got a lot of press earlier in the year as he traveled to IEM São Paulo on the heels of a good IPL TAC performance against FXO. While in Brazil, he didn't perform as well as some were hoping, but to expect so much so soon was to ignore much of the history that shows a steep learning curve in international events.
Illusion comes to this event after a weekend at the Red Bull LAN, a phenomenal opportunity to learn and play against the absolute cream of the crop, including ten other players who will be in Columbus. How much that helped him is yet to be determined, and while I would love to see an immediate payoff, I'm not expecting Illusion to finish in the money. His time will come, but not this weekend. However, a deep run, brackets willing, is surely in play. Illusion will definitely be one of the top players to watch at MLG.
+ He made it to the semifinals of the Code A qualifiers and almost made it to the finals.
- He had one of the best brackets he could have ever dreamed for in Code A qualifier history and let a series that he should have won against Cella slip through his fingers.
Still living in Korea and fighting tooth and nail to get back into the GSL, Jinro returns to MLG, where he won his first major Starcraft 2 championship. With the Code A qualifier debacle behind him, a good run at Columbus could instill some confidence back in the Liquid Terran who hasn't had a big result since early 2011, when he made his historic back to back semifinal runs in the GSL. The fans are all awaiting the return of the Chinroll to take over the scene once more. Can this be the tournament where he finally starts getting back on track?
#38: FnaticRC Rain
I figure it was like Transformers II. Fnatic managed to locate Rain's mangled body (made entirely of bunkers welded together), lifted it from the Ocean floor, flew it to Korea and tossed it in a chair at the newly founded Fnatic team house in Korea. Upon which, Rain came back to life and started playing Starcraft II. That goes to show, kids, that you can never count out a GSL finalist. While I don't expect supernatural feats on the level of when FruitDealer's ghost came back from the dead and was a game away from defeating DongRaeGu in the IEM New York finals, Rain can still cause a few scares. It will take some time for him to regain his full, cheesy power, but he's capable of dealing some damage even now.
Rain was a prime example of how living in America could ruin any Korean, while Artist was an example of how no Korean could really improve in America. Of course, viOlet came along and proved both of those theories wrong. I don't know if that implies good or bad things for Artist.
Interesting fact: After getting knocked out of MLG Winter Arena early, HayprO went on to win the eight man consolation bracket against ThorZaIN, merz, and SaSe to secure a 17th place finish at the tournament. With higher seeded players like Leenock and Nestea dropping out of MLG Winter Championship, this secured HayprO a spot in the ridiculously advantageous group stages of the tournament. He might be #36th here, but he's pretty much guaranteed a higher finish with that kind of starting advantage. The moral of the story? Play your damn consolation matches (you're welcome MLG).
Players who have beat HerO in Team Leagues: DongRaeGu, MKP, and SjoW. I'm just gonna leave that here and go.
At some point during the tournament, you will overhear someone say "Hey, so that German Protoss managed to defend really well, get together a big colossi-templar ball, and took a game off aLive/GanZi/MKP" or "Wow, that German Protoss really played that PvP smartly, I didn't think that he could beat JYP/PartinG/HuK/Oz." In either case, you won't be able tell whether they meant HasuObs or Socke.
What the heck is going on? With BlinG and DeMusliM's rapid improvement, it seems entirely possible that the UK has gone from being completely undistinguished to being better than the USA in the span of four months.
Can we rush viOLet's green card through already?
Congratulations SeleCT, you've re-earned your US flag! Returning to the States from Korea immediately translated into a drop in SC II tournament results, as if the air somehow paralyzed the nerves in his hands. Or maybe it was the water? I don't know, maybe viOLet really is just the sole exception to the America rule.
Whether it was his Zerg switch, or because he finally recovered from injury, things have finally started to work out for TLO. Though his tournament results had previously lagged behind his popularity, his online performances as of late have been very impressive. Creator, Annyeong, MarineKing, and Gumiho have all fallen to TLO in team leagues, and we're seeing glimpses of the TLO from over a year ago, who was holding his own in Korea.
However, his most recent live tournament was a disappointment, where he was taken out 0 – 3 at ASUS ROG Assembly Winter by BlinG, Phoenix, and Polt. Over the years, we've learned that online and offline skill have a huge gulf between them. TLO might look better than ever, but we're still waiting for him to show it at a live event.
As we went through the list of players and placed them according to rank, we stumbled upon a fascinating phenomenon. Time and time again, we found ourselves asking ourselves the same question "is this player better or worse than Grubby?" After investigating the reasoning behind this question, we were able to discover the significance of Grubby. He is the cut-off line between players who are true long-shots to upset Koreans, and those who have actually have a realistic chance.
For instance, HayprO beat Nestea in one, glorious series, but otherwise has a few dozen unanswered losses to Koreans, putting him solidly below the Grubby Line. On the other hand, HuK's several romps through Code S put him way above the Grubby Line. Some players have recently crossed the line, in both directions. SeleCT used to be one of the best foreigners, but his recent poor performances have made us pessimistic. Meanwhile, DeMulisM's win over Nestea, and good game content as he went toe to toe with Oz and viOLet saw jump across the line.
The beauty of this principle is that Grubby comes right in the middle. His tournament performances have improved rapidly over the last few months, and he's one of the better foreigners around. However, he was just a little too happy when he beat viOLet at Lone Star Clash. If you surprise yourself that much by beating a Korean, what are we, the viewers supposed to think then?
It's an organizing principle that has many uses, and we think it should be adopted for wider use in the Starcraft II scene. Imagine scenarios such as "To motivate you in the upcoming months, we are giving bonuses to all Evil Geniuses players who cross the Grubby Line by June," "Players applying for Code A seeds must have passed the Grubby Line for at least four months" or ""Tassadar, we think you're veering dangerously close to the Grubby Line. Pick up the pace, or we're going to have to give your seat to San." The possibilities are truly endless.
On one hand, he utterly destroyed oGs.SuperNoVa at the IEM World Championship. On the other hand, he's 6 - 25 in 2012, and below CrunCher in TLPD elo.
SOMEONE TELL US WHAT THIS MEANS????
Where does one put a player whose single, major merit is "qualified for Code A?"
Of the 26 players ranked above Golden, only eight have actually made it through the Code A qualifiers. Admittedly, some of them have never had to, and some have never had the opportunity. Yet, names like DongRaeGu, Parting, and Oz have tried and failed in the past, while in the most recent qualifier, players like SaSe and Losira have failed where Golden has succeeded.
I don't think there's been a foreign tournament with so many non-Code A/barely Code A Koreans, who we've almost never seen play, who are nonetheless Koreans on Korean teams. Right now, that's still enough for us to go ahead and say they're probably pretty damn good. Inori was a prime example of that at IPL3, where he came with just "On FXO" in his resume and went on to finish in the top eight (his teammate, Lucky, had the same resume and reached the finals). Let's see if anything has changed.
Alright, so he lost to Incontrol at Lone Star Clash.
But hear us out! Incontrol played pretty damn well in that series, and he's playing at his best level in over a year. Sleep rebounded after that loss, and beat every other Protoss at the tournament before losing to Polt to finish third.
It's hard to say how well he will fare in this tournament. His ZvPs against Bling and Grubby looked absolutely dominating, but you can't forget how taken aback he was against Incontrol who played very differently than the normal Protoss. The unique play styles of the foreigners are something Koreans have had a hard time dealing with in the past, so Sleep will have to be wary as he goes through the Open Bracket. It might not be the best situation for Sleep, but if he can bring more of his play against Grubby, and less of his play from his Incontrol games, look for him to make it deep into the Open Bracket and maybe make an upset or two.
DeMusliM is a player who is capable of beating GSL champions, and also capable of choking on a grain of rice. We found a reasonable middle ground between those two poles at 24th place, because we really had to put him above the Grubby Line after his great showing at MLG Winter Arena. This has the unfortunate side affect of putting him above BlinG, which doesn't make much sense considering that BlinG is the unofficial king of British Starcraft. Sorry, BlinG's mom!
Funny story, our individual rankings all had MorroW at #23 or #22. Since we all actually agreed for once, we decided to not talk about exactly why we ranked him that way, lest we found reason to argue or change our minds.
With IdrA's recent collapse, Sheth has come up and taken the position of best North American Zerg. We could almost call him the best North American player if we accounted for the fact that HuK is in Korea, but then viOLet's US residence would have forced us into a double standard. We'll let it suffice to say that Sheth has come up as one of the best foreigners in the world, being particularly impressive in various online cups for Liquid. Not only has he beat most of the big names in the international scene, but he has wins over players like PuMa, JYP and Choya. Sheth has failed to score these kind of upsets in major live tournaments, however, and he's been eliminated by tough opponents like HerO, NaNiwa, and PuMa in the recent past. Though he definitely has the ability to hang with players of that caliber, he'll need to show he can beat them when it counts to make a deep run at MLG.
Dear esteemed open bracket competitors,
If you should face a coL.Heart, beware! For if you are caught napping, then you shall suffer the same, sad fate as as ST_Bomber in Code A, where Heart performed proxy 1/1/1 all-in builds to knock out the former MLG Raleigh champion.
Mechanically, he might not be in the same class as the other Korean Terrans participating in this tournament, but he has some of the best cheeses we've seen in the GSL. So, "pillowmaster," "TubbyTheFat," and "WetGoat" etc., if you get Heart in the first round of the bracket, scout wisely and prepare for anything. Oh yeah, you're in masters on NA [editor's note: we didn't actually check.), and he's GM in Korea, so good luck with that part, too.
As a player, Killer exists to screw up your predictions (the Chilean KiLLeR does that, too). The key to this deception is a lack of finesse, which is a carry-over from his Brood War days. Yet, he makes up for this with his ability to out-think and out-muscle opponents, possessing both annoyingly cheesy tactics and an aptitude for using the Protoss deathball. I was going to mention that he never actually wins entire tournaments, but I'm afraid I might jinx something, which I just might have done anyway.
This writer had ThorZaIN placed even higher in the rankings, but in compensation for this position, I at least got to do his write-up.
From here and onwards, we're dealing with players who are not only good, but whom we can realistically conceive of taking the championship. ThorZaIN is a tremendous player in a number of ways. In the foreign scene, there are few players who are as smart. ThorZaIN abuses Terran, not in the brutish way that MC abuses Protoss, but in an artistic way that isn't always appreciated to the degree that it should be. Some things to think about: ThorZaIN was an early user of the 1/1/1 (as a semi-all in opening, not the full all-in of later Terrans), he single-handedly got the thor nerfed, recognized the potential of ghosts and upgrades sooner than most, and pioneered sky-terran TvT in the GSTL. But he has contributed incrementally to the game in a number of other ways. Every build order ThorZaIN uses is well chosen and refined (SlayerS players still copy his builds), and every series planned thoroughly.
He'll be coming to Columbus right after the Red Bull LAN, and in the odd position of having looked much stronger in TvZ than in TvP, his traditional best MU. Recent losses to HerO and NaNiwa, good as those two are, have take a bit of the lustre off of the match-up that once made ThorZaIN famous. In TvZ, however, ThorZaIN has logged wins against Zenio, TLO, and ChAnCe, and focused on the MU at Red Bull. That'll be the key match-up to watch in Columbus.
Funny enough, we don't get to see ThorZaIN too often, but in almost every one of his performances, (save DH Winter) he has put together a quietly brilliant performance. Sure he hasn't won, but when you dredge up the final table, he's always high up and he's always beaten some really good people. We might have ThorZaIN at #19, and everyone ahead of him may have a better chance of winning, but I personally feel fairly confident in suggesting that ThorZaIN will overperform this ranking.
Another Swede who's been off the radar somewhat, SaSe comes to MLG after training for months in the Startale house. He recently missed the Code A, losing to FXOwhale, who is a solid but unremarkable player. However, in last weekend's Red Bull LAN, SaSe looked to be in superb form, making the finals of the Day 3 tournament and managing to look impressive throughout, even in a finals were he was outplayed badly by Ret (when a 0-3 loss makes you look better, you know you played well). He took down PuMa in two unaired games, and then demonstrated superb PvP in a series against JYP. His control was top-level, and his builds, while somewhat weird, turned out to be precisely calibrated and deadly.
SaSe seems to be playing in top form, and this weekend, he could make a deep run. Although he's often overshadowed by his teammate and countryman, NaNiwa, the two in fact have very different styles, of which SaSe's is probably the more stylish and fun to watch. Seeing SaSe in the final rounds would be a treat to watch, as his change-of-pace protoss could score some spectacular wins.
I looked into my crystal ball, and saw two possible futures for Symbol.
Future A: Symbol will have a lackluster tournament, get knocked out in the mid-late open bracket rounds and then hang on for a little while before being taken down by a notable Korean or foreigner. No one will really remember him and he'll go back to Korea with a disappointing first voyage to the States, and have absolutely nothing to do except wait for GSTL Season 2.
Future B: Out of nowhere, this Korean practically no one has heard of before will kick some serious ass in the Open Bracket, get into pool play and continue his amazing run. By the end of the weekend, he will have gained a ton of new fanboys who will proclaim that he is the new greatest Zerg in the world and that he'll win the GSL by the end of 2012.
Symbol has looked excellent in online competition, winning the Iron Squid qualifier over teammates Polt and Shine, and was really the only person to do well for TSL in the recent GSTL and IPL Team Arena. Not a lot of people are talking about Symbol when throwing around names who can make a big splash this weekend, but don't be too surprised if you look on Liquipedia on Monday and see this guy in the top eight of Columbus. He's very skilled, and this will be his first chance to prove it to a bigger audience.
#16: / EG.HuK
It's hard to place Huk on this list since his success this year has been built mostly on PvP, a match-up that has been less than consistent for him. From Winter Arena, and his recent Up/Down matches, we learned that his PvP at present is is more than likely top three in the world, and that we could really afford to see him play a few more PvZ and PvTs.
There are a lot of question marks for our favorite half-American, half-Canadian, and half-Korean Protoss (he's more than a man), and this weekend will be a prime opportunity to dispel any doubts.
Though he's still unable to actually win many PvTs, JYP's in game content has improved greatly in the last few weeks. He took PuMa to a fifth game at the IEM World Championship, and his PvT looked rather decent in his up-down group, despite a 1 - 2 PvT record there. The fact that going a combined 3 - 5 improved his overall winrate does say a lot about the depths he's rising up from. It seems like he's really working on his weakness, and there's been week to week improvement. I would really love to say it could be at a level where he can actually start challenging some of the Korean Terrans at MLG Columbus, but his history is just too long and dark for that. Lest this become too negative: he's still really damn good at the other two match-ups.
Conveniently for GanZi, he gets to put in a gigantic open job interview only a few weeks after leaving SlayerS to seek opportunities abroad. The downside? It's likely that his interview won't live up to his resume.
Code S Semi-finalist? Though that occurred in Code S October, it already seems like ancient history. 1 – 3 in Up and Downs is his most recent GSL legacy, and he did not look particularly good there. During his prime, GanZi was able to rely on his excellent TvZ, solid TvT, and the general absence of Protoss players from the GSL to hide his weak TvP. However, his TvZ just isn't what it used to be, and recent losses to July and Sniper show how far it's fallen since it used to give players like Leenock fits. His TvT has gone down slightly as well, and he's looked horrifically vulnerable to the wildly proliferating Protoss all-ins. We haven't given up hope on him yet, but Columbus has the potential to be a dangerous "last nail in the coffin" tournament for GanZi after a disappointing GSL Season One.
On the plus side, without Jessica around, he'll actually get to hang out at the after parties.
When the backlash from Probegate was at its highest, a Korean journalist tweeted something to the effect of "I knew NaNiwa was no pro, just some punk who's good at using force-fields."
While I understood the negative feelings in the Korean community (and so did NaNiwa, as he later apologized), I couldn't help but think that wasn't really the best criticism of a player. It was akin to saying "Mayweather is no pro, just some punk who's good at punching people." or "Zlatan is no pro, just some punk who's good at kicking a ball with his feet." Because A) Force fielding is as important to Protoss as punching is to boxing and kicking is to football, and B) I'm pretty sure Floyd, Zlatan, and NaNiwa are pretty good at their jobs, so good that we'll call them professionals regardless of their attitudes.
Anyway, awkward transition: We had some doubts about NaNiwa (inconsistent showings at Kiev and Dreamhack, lack of impressive PvT results compared to PvZ), but NaNiwa has beat too many big Korean names on too big stages for any of them to really pierce the veil. Perhaps we're a bit drunk on the optimism and excitement from his receiving a Code S seed, but we think he can show at Columbus that he really deserves it.
TheStC was finally able to make it into Code S, crotch thrusting his way (don't ask) into the main tournament by taking down noteworthy competitors in sC and Alicia. Before that, he was even able to win bragging rights in the oGs house by defeating the elephant, oGsFin, in a tightly contested 2-1 series in Code A. Though he hasn't had the best results overseas, the fact that he's a legit, current Code S player allows us to throw him way up the rankings.
Heading into Columbus, the determining factor for TheStC will be his ability to go against Zerg. His TvT has looked absolutely stellar the past couple of weeks, while his TvP has been fearsome since the beta. However, his play against Zerg has been less than reassuring, as he was smashed by Curious (not the hottest ZvT player) in the third round of Code A, and then lost to Violet in a recent IPL Fight Club series by the score of 5-3. While there are few Korean Zergs at this tournament, the best foreign Zergs are sure to give him trouble.
No player at the Red Bull LAN last weekend stole the show like Ret did on the third day. A lot of attention has recently been focused on the ZvP match-up, as all of the swarm, save Stephano and DongRaeGu, seem to be struggling with it. On Sunday, Ret added his name to the list of ZvP savants. Diligent scouting, razor thin timings, and flawless decision making were the tools that allowed Ret to defeat PartinG after falling down a game, and then thrash NaNiwa and SaSe, making ZvP look hilariously imbalanced. We all know Ret's ZvT is stellar, and his ZvZ is statistically his best match-up. But his ZvP has been quietly his strongest suit for a while now, and barring some dramatic deterioration of focus in just one week, it should continue to be a strength.
Also, see #6 below, for the rest.
Violet could be the surprise player of Columbus. While everyone is talking about DRG, MarineKing, MC and the rest, the Korean turned Texan could shock the world with another impressive showing at an offline event. People seem to forget that he was able to take down MarineKing at Homestory; win IEM Sao Paolo by knocking down the heavy favorite oGs.Supernova in the finals; and get as far 5th place at the Winter Arena against one of the scariest Korean pools in history. At Lone Star Clash, he very well could have made it to the finals if it wasn't for a major mistake against Polt in the winners semifinals.
Everywhere Violet has gone recently, he's been over-achieving and taking down some of the best Korean Terrans. By this point, it's probably an insult to call it over-achieving: this adopted American seems to have genuine Code S level ZvT skill. Some rough losses against MC indicate that he might need to shore up some weaknesses in ZvP, but if he can stay clear of Parting, MC or Oz, the Korean Cowboy has a chance to make another deep run at a big event.
It would be wrong to put one of the Kings of Foreign Tournaments outside the top ten, especially with so much money to be won. At some point, the governments of various nations should allow PuMa to levy a tax unto their populations directly, to save him the trouble of having to fly so much (once a year, each nation is allowed to put forth a champion to face PuMa in a best of nine for exemption from the tax).
Impressive as his results might be, there's a not-so-dirty caveat to PuMa's success. When top, Code S level Koreans are involved, PuMa falls to the wayside. The only GSL finalist class player PuMa has beaten for a championship is MC, and one of those times was during MC's horrendous slump. At his last three MLG events, where there were a number of tough Korean opponents present, PuMa placed 5th, 7th, and 11th, being eliminated by Nada, MC, and IdrA respectively. It's no big shame, since the guys who win those events tend to be GSL championship caliber, and it's not exactly an insult to PuMa to say he's not at that level yet.
Additionally, while PuMa's TvP and TvT are excellent, his TvZ continues to be a liability. He's had trouble with high level foreigner Zergs, and they've beaten him in the past, making this a particularly dangerous tournament for PuMa. Undoubtedly, he will place high enough to win some money, because that's what PuMa always does, but the actual championship might be too lofty a goal.
PartinG's Ro8 GSL Code S performance was phenomenal (over Jjakji twice, Puzzle, NaDa, and then out to DRG), and so was his fifth place finish at MLG Winter Arena (over DRG and MC, out to MKP and zombie-DRG) but for whatever reason, PartinG hasn't quite 'made it' yet. At least in the way we talk about the best Protoss players in the world, there's MC, then Oz, and then... well, it's obviously PartinG. This kid is a brilliant player, one who – along with Oz, and HerO – represents a rapidly rising class of Code S Protosses that play more elegantly than their predecessors. With these players, no longer is the deathball simply an end in itself, but rather one of the means to winning that can be used in more creative and dynamic ways. They are giving most Terran and Zergs fits at the moment, and it's damn fun to watch. With PartinG, we have a great example of this new breed of Protoss that can attack multiple locations at once, execute strong timing attacks and then transition out, and make good economic decisions for the early, mid, and late game.
That said, perhaps the reason PartinG isn't quite as celebrated is that there's not one thing that he's famous for, good or bad. He's overall a superb player, with a mildly adorable Liquipedia picture and he's going to go far. But he needs to be exceptional at something, he needs to really win something to get the credit he deserves. It could clearly happen, he's not far from the top. One thing seems sure, he'll be sticking around late on the final day.
It's funny how Polt went from being derided by fans as a fluke champion, a one hit wonder we would never be seen again, to being one of the most beloved Korean players in the international scene. It's particularly funny because Polt hasn't actually changed much as a player. His clicks are still slow but efficient, his marauder micro allows him to be awesome at TvP, and his marine micro makes him excellent at bio TvT but somehow not that great at TvZ.
Maybe that's the power of streaming. Fans were able to watch him on a regular basis, to see that his wins were not flukes, but the result of actions taken by an intelligent, deliberate player. They got to see his awesome TvP during a time when there weren't any Protoss players alive in the GSL. Oh, and I guess they got to see that he was a pretty nice, friendly guy.
Now that he's popular and getting invites to foreign tournaments, it's getting a bit harder to rate him properly. He was absolutely fantastic at ASUS ROG Assembly Winter and he's consistently mugging the MSI Pro Cup organizers for their money, but ranking him amidst elite Code S players seems... risky. He did legitimately fall out of Code S, which must count against him to some degree. However, since we lent oGs.MC some credit when he was unceremoniously dumped out of GSL October, we're willing to give the former Super Tournament champion the benefit of the doubt for now.
At Assembly Winter, Stephano actually seemed intimidated by Polt, which was a little alarming given that Stephano never seems intimidated by anyone. Surprise, it was just a temporary moment of fragilité for the Frenchman, because in the Lone Star Clash last weekend, Stephano struck back with a 3-1 stomping in the finals.
As a tangent, watching Stephano and Ret in simultaneous finals last week was a cathartic experience. The mechanical differences Zerg has from the other races makes it borderline offensive to watch when it's played poorly, but a sheer joy when it's played at the highest level, whether it's in Brood War or Starcraft II. With Ret cleaning house in Orlando, and Stephano exacting revenge in Austin, it hit home just how powerful Zerg can be when played well. It may seem silly in hindsight to say that SaSe and Polt stood no chance, but watching live and even in the VODs, the swarm seemed overwhelming. With the quality of Code S Zerg ranks largely decimated, you can truly say that Ret and Stephano are among the global leaders, and may very well finish with medals at Columbus.
#5: FnatricRC aLive
Hats off to Fnatic. While EG was throwing money at JYP and Complexity were courting their own Korean trio, Fnatic pulled off a coup with what might be the best Korean acquisition in foreigner history. Since moving on from a dysfunctional situation at TSL, aLive has been on fire, getting to his first semifinals appearance in the GSL by beating former champion MMA in an impressive quarterfinal showing. While his offline performances have been improving, his online performances, as usual, have been extraordinary. He beat new Code S player Seed in the RaidCall Invitational 2 finals, placed first in the stacked IPL4 Qualifiers, and won the NASL3 qualifer where he bested former teammate and Columbus competitor Polt in a close 3-2 victory.
All that is missing to for aLive to move on from a Top 5 Terran to a Top 5 player in the world is a big live event victory. It's been noted that his nerves have gotten the best of him in the past, and he didn't do so hot at his other American excursions at IPL3 and MLG Orlando. However, he's been reborn in Korea as a fantastic player, and this is his chance to show it's a lasting change.
After disappointing terribly with finishes in the 20's and 30's at MLG Anaheim and Providence, Oz is coming back to America's convention halls as massively improved player. At times, he was his own worst enemy and put in flustered performances, but he's developed an interesting swagger as someone who considers himself an absolute boss in PvP.
Like any player without a single championship to his name, his skills have gone a bit unnoticed. Whether you knew it or not, he's been the most consistently good Protoss player in the recent past. He's played well in all three match-ups against top level players, placed respectably in the GSL and MLG Winter Arena, and he plays a key role for FXO in various team leagues.
His major weakness seems to be PvT against players who play the build order mind-games well, such as MMA (not considered a good 'orthodox' TvP player) and Jjakji (good at every facet of TvP). However, when he doesn't let people get away with triple orbital builds and other such nonsense, he's as dangerous as anyone out there.
Just a few months ago, people were criticizing MC's style of play, and trying to devalue his past success. They claimed he was good because he used timing attacks and all-ins that people just couldn't deal with in early 2011, and he was fated to decline once people figured out his style and timings. For some time, this seemed true, as he dropped out of the GSL entirely after playing some really terrible games in GSL October.
What did MC do? Did he revamp his game in the model of then-rising stars Oz and HerO, who people thought played a fundamentally more successful style? Did he abandon his timing attacks to try and play longer, management games? No, he came back with even better timing attacks and all-ins and started crushing people again.
There will always be fans and players, who at some level, just don't believe MC is playing the game the "right" way. Clearly, MC thinks the right way to play the game is to make the most money as possible. In that respect, I think he has a better understanding of right and wrong than all of us.
Who else did you think was going to be second on this list? Yes, Redditors, MarineKing was able to take down DongRaeGu at his first "major" during the MLG Winter Arena finals, but if you asked if he would rather have the (non-existent) trophy of MLG Winter Arena or of a GSL champion, I'm pretty sure he would take the latter. There is no question that MarineKing has upped his game lately, drastically improving his all around game to shut up the critics that thought he would trail off as other players caught up to him in micro. Even so, he still needs that one big victory to put him over the top, and Winter Arena wasn't the one.
There has been a lot of talk about if he is still a Kong or not after his MLG Winter Arena performance, and I would have to say he is still right there along Yellow in the Kong Line. His victory over DRG in front of literally no crowd at the Winter Arena was pretty impressive, but if he wants to shed the title of the Silver Surfer, he'll need to be lifting the MLG trophy high after this weekend's affairs.
A Code S championship does not automatically bestow one with the title of best player in the world. DongRaeGu is the best player in the world because the Code S championship was the crowning achievement in a career that was built painstakingly slowly, one that forced him climb every single rung of the ladder and tested him at every step of his glacial, upwards progress. After fighting his way to 99%, the championship was the small, yet immense, final increment to 100. Every victory is 'earned' by the definition of the word, but no one else has given that word such powerful sense of meaning.
In Asia, Europe, and North America, at IEM, DreamHack, MLG, and GSL, alone or with his teammates, online and offline, Code B, A, and S, DongRaeGu had to succeed – and fail – in every single competition and at everything single level, before he was allowed to make the final challenge. Even at the GSL Blizzard Cup finals, he was made to learn the bitter taste of silver first, before finally being allowed to sweet ecstasy of gold in 2012.
What's left then, for the man who has – and truly appreciates – it all? Build new steps to climb.