This displacement in time did not stop in the group stages, however, as even the RO8 match ups looked like they were from every year of Starcraft history. MarineKing vs PartinG, of course, was a throwback to their rivalry in 2012, although this was partly fueled by their former teams, Prime and Startale. Zest and Soulkey were players that filled completely opposite roles in different eras of Starcraft. Soulkey was a veteran that had fulfilled a variety of roles before falling off, while Zest was the latest hot player that had risen to power just as Soulkey had fallen off. sOs and INnoVation were both on a campaign to return to their 2013 form, a mission which INnoVation had accomplished more successfully even though sOs struck him down. Bbyong and sKyHigh, teammates from the Brood War scene, capped off one of the more interesting RO8 brackets possible.
Going into the semifinals, the remaining players are somewhat different than expected. While Zest, who is generally considered one of the favorites to win any tournament he enters, successfully made his way into the RO4 despite one or two hiccups, players like herO, Classic, and soO, who have secured 1-2 RO4 spots every time a premier tournament is held in Korea, were all knocked out in the group stage, while players like sKyHigh and MarineKing, who were nearly invisible before this tournament started, have catapulted themselves from the qualifiers into the playoffs. In this tournament, the expected is less likely to happen than the unexpected.
MarineKing vs Zest
MarineKing and Zest are complete opposites besides them both being handsome. Zest relies on a safe, orderly playstyle that allows him to simply outplay his opponent as long as they doesn’t succeed in disrupting the natural order. His play is spectacular in how unspectacular it is. Nothing Zest does shows off any particular part of his ability to play the game at a higher level than his enemies; rather, he combines every aspect of the game- macro, micro, aggression, strategy- into every single thing he does. Those who do defeat Zest find some way to interrupt his ability to play the entire game at once; they take his ability to macro, or his ability to strategize, or to attack, and they reduce him to a merely normal player.
On the other hand, MarineKing is one of the most specialized players in the world right now. His best matchup, protoss, is the only matchup he’s had to play since he defeated Impact, Maru, and ByuL in the qualifiers. Just about every game he’s played in the Hot6ix cup has been very similar: he opens with whatever build he feels might work, the protoss does something aggressive, and MarineKing crushes it, or the protoss plays passively and MarineKing wins later with aggression of his own. It’s strategically very basic, but MarineKing has won seven straight games with it against some of the best PvT in the world. Although there has been deviation from this, he’s clearly very confident and intelligent in this type of game.
Tournament Run Number Four
Zest’s realm is Korea. There, he can maintain consistency, play against the best players, besides himself, in the world, win or place extremely highly in tournaments, and never have to leave. And why would he want to leave? Next year, there will be two leagues happening simultaneously as well as a few weekend tournaments in the KeSPA cup. There are more than twice as many tournaments for Zest to climb to the top of. Proleague just reinforces this, as Zest gets to fill his team’s Ace role every week. The further Zest gets from Korea, the worse he does. As soon as he set foot in IEM, TaeJa was lurking around the corner to shut him down, and he lost to his teammate Flash in his only 2nd place finish ever. His runs in America were even worse, as he did not crack the top 8 in either IEM New York or in the WCS Global Finals.
However, in this setting, Zest is hard to stop. Most of the players who have managed to defeat him in Korea recently have had to resort to the most extreme aggression possible in order to beat him. Bbyong went for non-stop drops, often two or three at once, with mines mixed in, in order to disrupt his natural flow of play and take two maps off of him before Zest knew what was happening. In Code S, soO went to every end of the aggression spectrum in order to beat him in game 7. Matches like these, where Zest doesn’t actually look weak at all despite being exploited and destroyed, show his raw strength despite his losses.
Zest’s PvT is a huge question mark at the moment. Besides Bbyong, Zest’s last PvT series was against Flash in IEM Toronto, where Flash largely exploited Zest’s strategical choices, back in August. Against Bbyong, Zest didn’t reveal anything at all. He played textbook PvT to the bitter death, which could be an advantage going into this match. He is free to dissect seven very similar games and find a way to counter them all, in any way he wishes.
Momentous for the Moment
MarineKing raised a few eyebrows when he defeated Maru 2-0 in the qualifying bracket to this tournament. While MarineKing hadn’t been doing that badly against Terran recently, many chose to mark up Maru’s loss to MarineKing as well as sKyHigh up to poor form on his side. After all, MarineKing was washed up, and while he also beat Impact (recently a major thorn in his side), ParalyzE, and ByuL, he surely couldn’t be able to compete in a major tournament any more. Clearly, his time was in Wings of Liberty, and he was done. Heck, he hadn't even managed to qualify for anything for over a year before this.
Fairly telling of how MarineKing has managed to do in recent tournaments.
However, his not-so-recent move to MVP seems to have stirred something within MarineKing. He regularly showed up for Olimoleague tournaments and Leifeng cups alongside his new teammates, steadily improving his results to the point that he was able to reach some of the finals. Why hadn't people taken note and nodded their heads in approval? Simple. MarineKing lost horribly over and over to Zergs and Terrans, reminding everyone why he ended up leaving Starcraft in the first place. However, it only took the right time and bracket for MarineKing to qualify for a tournament. Fortunately, it happened to be the Protoss-heavy, Zerg-light Hot6iX cup, and MarineKing ended up in a group with two protoss players.
From there, MarineKing elected to not show any real weaknesses, which could make it difficult to play him without trying to surprise him in some way. Even when his opponents attempted nonstandard strategies, MarineKing has not been startled by anything. Stats, herO, and PartinG attempted all sorts of builds on him, with zero success despite often countering MarineKing’s builds. As MarineKing hasn’t lost since qualification, it’s difficult to say under what conditions he’s weak against in a TvP. Against Zest, he may do the same thing, or he might deviate. After all, Zest is a very respectable player, no matter what angle you look from, and MarineKing might try resorting to any strategy he chooses.
This series presumably comes down to how well Zest can prepare for MarineKing’s style of play. While MarineKing has shown vulnerabilities in the other matchups, they haven’t translated to TvP in a remotely recognizable fashion and Zest may be left wondering what has happened. However, I believe that Zest already has the answer. If he plays his normal, safe macro style, MarineKing might have a hard time being the aggressor and could lose in a much longer game. Zest may fall into any number of traps on the way, however, including trying to cheese, being greedy, not being prepared for Bbyong-drops, MarineKing pulling some archaic strategy out of his hat, or anything else.
MarineKing 3-2 Zest
sOs vs sKyHigh
Wait, what? sOs, also known as $O$, has a real chance to win a tournament that’s not $100,000? sKyHigh made a deep run in a Starcraft II tournament? Needless to say, while some dedicated MarineKing fans forecasted a semifinals match against Zest, few were expecting this matchup at any point (although a few jokesters made fun of the possibility of a MarineKing vs sKyHigh finals…), and even when the RO8 bracket was set, people were preparing themselves for an INnoVation vs Bbyong series.
Bbyong also had slightly more than 75% of the votes against sKyHigh.
Actually, this is probably more telling of how unexpected this series even happening is.
Why was there so little faith in these players, since both of them qualified, and earned their qualification spot, especially as sKyHigh got first place? sOs was in poor form, having dropped out of the Redbull Washington Group Stage. That was the one tournament he needed to just make it past the first round, and he’d be in Blizzcon. He had already failed at IEM Toronto, GSL season 3, and the KeSPA cup, and he failed again, losing 0-4 to Trap to finish third in his group. His inability to make it to the final rounds spelled his doom, as he disappeared off the face of the Earth. It didn’t help that his return to form was wholly unspectacular. Even though he qualified, he finished second, only defeating players such as Miso and Dark. Even when he advanced first place in his group, his 2-1 victories over TY and Rain were not terribly promising.
On the other hand, sKyHigh hadn’t had good form since Brood War, and spent the past two years completely invisible. The only recognition upon qualifying that people gave sKyHigh was they now had a ridiculous-looking finals in MarineKing vs sKyhigh to have funny dreams about. When sKyHigh advanced from his group after going 0-3, people chalked it up to his legendary TvT… and then voted for Bbyong in liquibets. As the tournament has gone on, however, it’s difficult to keep ignoring this elephant.
As these two currently overlooked players battle it out for a spot in the finals, we’ll probably be talking about how the winner of MarineKing vs Zest is going to win the tournament before one of these two flips a switch and crushes him. Or, maybe not.
Save our $O$
To be honest, sOs hasn’t looked like anything in the past few months. He gained his reputation through winning $100,000 tournaments, but as there has been a lack of those and he forgot to qualify for the most recent one, he’s had a hard time maintaining his status as a very fun, yet solid player. His mediocre finishes in four different Autumn tournaments suggested that he was going down the path of Jaedong and jjakji; was he going to end up earning small sums of money and WCS points around the world until he managed to get into another $100,000 tournament?
sOs’s return came with this tournament, as he dropped maps against Stats, Heart, TY, Rain, and INnoVation on his way to the RO4. All of these players are excellent, and sOs did not falter against any of them except Stats (in the qualifiers, and he qualified anyway). However, he hasn’t really beaten up on anyone in his path. While he did defeat INnoVation in a strategic series without making it look terribly difficult, he did not have any qualities in his play that you could look at and see him winning the tournament with. However, as he advances further and further, it’s easier to see him beating whatever opponent he has next.
As he displayed against INnoVation, sOs has the capability to play great PvT. However, sOs has never had the opportunity to face more than two or three world class terrans, and it's never easy to say how weak or solid his PvT actually is. Fortunately, this may not be the case in this tournament, as sOs may be able to face a terran in MarineKing if he advances here. If his PvT is as good as it looked in his previous series, sOs could easily beat sKyHigh.
The sKy’s the Limit
sKyHigh is a Terran player on the 7th or 8th string of CJ Entus. While he may or may not be good, he hasn’t looked utterly lost the few times we’ve seen him, and he could take a few games if he was ever fielded. However, since even Bunny and Hush are fielded over him, one can conclude that sKyHigh is not a good enough player to ever make any meaningful impact in SC2, even though he was a decent player in BW.
The above paragraph was written as part of my notes when I was studying and attempting to win FPL towards the beginning. I never saw sKyHigh play, and never even considered adding him to my team. The months following FPL did not change my opinion on him, so it was a surprise to see him qualify for the Hot6iX cup. However, his games against Flash were enough to convince many people that he could compete with top Korean pros and that he at least had a place in the RO8. His games against Bbyong, where he played a very smart yet greedy style of play, was enough to overcome his more valued teammate and advance to the semifinals.
In his series against Classic, sKyHigh played a very aggressive, drop-based style, similar to what Bbyong used to 4-0 his group. Additionally, Bbyong claimed that he was trying out sKyHigh’s strategy to see how well it worked, so sKyHigh is clearly able to use highly aggressive play, if he needs to. Other than that 2-1 series, all of his recent TvP series were quite some time ago, and in qualifiers, so the one series is all that we really have to go on when talking about sKyHigh’s current TvP.
This series could actually be anything at all. sOs has a tendency to do whatever his opponent is expecting the least whenever possible and sKyHigh did show very solid play in every series so far. sOs could be caught off guard if sKyHigh plays as aggressively as his previous series and Bbyong’s interview hint at, or sKyHigh could find himself tricked at every turn by sOs’s strategical play. sOs has, however, historically had more solid PvT when it mattered, and it’s not unlikely that he will replicate that form today.
sOs 3-1 sKyHigh
MarineKing 4-2 sOs
MarineKing 3-4 sKyHigh
Zest 2-4 sOs
Zest 4-1 sKyHigh