Up Down Matches: Group A Preview
Editor's note: When I went to Korea to check out the GSL, the thing that surprised me the most was finding out that the GomTV staff aren't a bunch of indentured servants, slaving away under the whips of their masters. As far as I could tell, they seem to be quite willingly, and cheerfully operating a Starcraft II league every single week, without any concept of an off-season. The
Up/Down Group A
Top two advance to Code S
Top two advance to Code S
We are on the brink of something extraordinary, friends. If you take a gander at the line-up already set for this season's Code S, the only thing you can say is that has the potential to be the greatest season in the two year history of GSL. We still have to wait for the tug-of-war for power between KeSPA and ESF to end before seeing who will be getting the two seeds into this season's Code S, but with seven former GSL champions already assured a spot in Season 4 and a slew of talented players salivating for their first golden badge, this is assuredly the season, out of all others before it, that you must keep an eye on.
To begin the festivities of another season, we have one of the most intriguing Up/Down groups in quite a while. As always, we will be counting down the players in the group from who we think is least likely to most likely to get out of the group and up into Code S.
As one of the only two white dudes taking on the Up/Downs this season (and if ThorZaIN's health doesn't improve in time, maybe the only one), Mana will be making his debut in the Mokdong Studios. With his first place finish at Dreamhack Summer, beating Dimaga in the finals, he received a chance to prove himself against the very best in the world and try to make an underdog run into Code S. Some might believe that receiving a Code S or Up/Down seed isn't fair to the people who actually had to qualify to get here, but after one glance at this group, you can say Mana isn't that lucky. If he makes it out of this group of heavy hitters, no one, and I mean no one, will be able to say he doesn't deserve his spot in Code S.
Thing is, actually getting out of this group is going to be a mammoth sized task. Mana's may have been famous for his PvT in the past, but if you take a look at his recent games against Korean Terrans, he has only been able to beat the team-less Sting. Against top end vP players such as Polt, Taeja, and Hack, he hasn't been able to get past them. This is what he will be up against when facing Bomber, Keen, and jjakji, all extraordinary players against Protoss. Making matters worse, in PvZ, his historically worst match-up, he will have to take on Hyun, a player who recently beat Squirtle in IPL Fight Club and has a 66% win rate against Protoss in Korea.
Is it an impossible task to ask Mana to qualify for Code S in his debut? Possibly, but after seeing Naniwa make it to back-to-back quarterfinals, you can never say never. Mana is a strong foreigner and possibly one of the only foreigners who could do well in the current Code S landscape, but he will be heading into this group as the heavy underdog. The Up/Down matches are still Bo1, and we've seen players excel in these situations that you wouldn't expect to make it out. For Mana's sake, hopefully he is one of those types.
Okay, it's official. Bomber is the Starcraft 2 version of Sea. Since coming onto the scene over a year ago, Bomber is a player that we've been waiting for to claim his throne as the best Terran in the world. He beat Mvp in the finals of his first Code A tournament and claimed to be the best player in the world. It all but seemed certain that he would be taking over Mvp's throne as best Terran in the world and go on to win numerous Code S championships. He had strong, innovative play and was able to out TvT the player people thought couldn't be beat in the match-up. His play in team leagues was fantastic, and Bomber was able to go to Raleigh, at his first foreign event, and take home the title over Coca in the finals.
He made it to the quarterfinals of GSL July, but since then there has really only been disappointment after disappointment. Flip flopping between Code A and Code S, Bomber never lived up to the hype. Exactly like Sea in Brood War, he was thought to be the next big thing and neither have been able to get past the round of eight in the GSL. Bomber is still fantastic when it comes to team leagues, but he has been inconsistent when it comes to his efforts in singles competition.
2-8 in his last 10 Korean TvT's, it doesn't bode well in a group against two strong Terrans in Keen and jjakji. His TvP is still at an astonishing 74%, but when his only vP game is against Mana, a player that many expect to be beaten by most of the group, it might not be enough to make it out of the group.
Bomber has been given many chances to prove to us that his boasts of being the best player in the world weren't just smoke, but he hasn't capitalized on any of them. Failing to qualify for OSL, WCS, and WCG were just more instances of him not being to show consistency. He still shows occasional flashes of the player who we thought was going to be a Code S champion, but they are far and few between, Maybe the role of not being expected to qualify out of an Up/Down group will do Bomber some good, but if he continues how he has been playing, fourth or even last place is where he is most likely to finish.
How good can Hyun become? Every time you see him, it feels like he has improved immensely in his play. If it wasn't for a missed overlord drop research in the first game of his series against Genius in the final stage of Code A, Hyun might already be with his teammates Symbol and Polt in Code S. He showed great play in Code A this season, and he continues his steamrolling of online leagues across the internet. If there is a random $25 tournament somewhere on the internet, don't be surprised if you see Hyun up at 3:00 AM destroying random foreigners.
The four Koreans in this group are very close in skill, but the only reason Hyun isn't in the top two of this group is because of how heavy it is filled with Terrans. Replace the Terran players in this group with Protoss, and Hyun is far and away the favorite in this group. His ZvP has been on fire recently, evening beat Squirtle in commanding fashion in the IPL Fight Club.
Hyun's ZvT, while nothing to scoff at, is his weakest match-up. He still has a tendency to load up on a billion banes and lings, roll towards his opponent's base in the late-game and hope to Julyzerg his way into the winner's circle. jjakji and Keen, possibly his two biggest rivals to get out of this group, are both very good TvZ players and will not be easily beaten by tons of banelings.
The best thing about Hyun's chances in this group is you never know how good he has become in a short amount of time. We haven't seen him play in almost a month, so he is probably ten times better than we last saw him against Genius. He should be able to beat Mana, but it will all come down to if he can take two out of three games against Bomber, Keen and jjakji. Hyun saw his old elephant pals cause a ruckus during WCS Korea, so he will try to start a stampede of his own in tonight's proceedings.
Losing to Heart 2-0 in the third stage of Code A was a bit of an upset, but Keen will try to come back and qualify for Code S. His TvT, while not great, is still on par with the other two players in the group. jjakji has never been known for his strong TvT, and Bomber has been on a downturn in the match-up and inconsistent overall. Mana and Hyun won't be simple walkover wins for Keen, but he already beat Hyun in the final TSL Korean qualifier, and Keen gets to the honor of being Mana's first opponent of the night.
Currently in the TSL4 semifinals, Keen is a player who while inconsistent, is still surprisingly more consistent than his two Terran counterparts in this group. jjakji hasn't been able to do much since winning his GSL championship, and Bomber is the definition of inconsistency. There's not much more to say than that he is a very solid player, is good enough to make it out of this group, and his biggest Achilles' heel is shared with the rest of the group. A good showing in the Up/Downs and a return to Code S could be a good start towards Keen's march to the TSL4 championship.
It must be pretty lonely for jjakji. The only GSL champion besides him not to already be in next season's Code S is retired and coaching kids in the ways of League of Legends. With the seven other active champions already confirmed a spot in this season's all star affair, jjakji could make it so that every active GSL winner is in the fourth season of Code S. It all rides on if he can get past his TvT troubles and get back into Code S for the first time in two seasons.
Since winning his championship, jjakji has been the black sheep of the GSL champion family. All the other champions have teams where they are able to be sent to foreign tournaments and extend their presence beyond Korea. For jjakji, on HoSeo, a team that
Excluding the fact he hasn't been able to go to any foreign tournaments, he is the champion most looked at for being a fluke. His TvZ final against Leenock was fantastic, but he did get lucky during the tournament with some of his opponents either having to forfeit (Coca) or just returning from a foreign tournament (Puzzle). He hasn't done much to disprove his critics, not being able to make it back to the quarterfinals of Code S since winning his title. Similar to Bomber's situation, jjakji is still strong in the GSTL, but hasn't done much in the GSL after.
This is jjakji's biggest night since winning his GSL title. If he can qualify for Code S, he can join his champion comrades and make this season legendary for having all eight active champions competing in the same tournament. Not qualifying would be horrendous for his career and reputation. While the seven other champions are battling for another championship, he will be down in Code A wondering if he can go play League with FruitDealer.