This is a bit of a roster review, so feel free to make fun of my opinions (or praise my glory if it turns out I'm right on everything). I feel though that because it's a new expansion and there's things we haven't really seen yet, the teams are rather close atm. Shoutout to the TL writers who no doubt have something similar planned.
Welcome: KeeN, Leenock (ha), Super, Billowy, Life
Goodbye: DongRaeGu, jjakji, Leenock, MMA, Hack (and some lesser known players), SBENU
The 9th wheel*: DRGLing
Oh man, strap in guys, Proleague is getting Freecy! SBENU stopped sponsoring the team after it turned out that Sonic was really closer to a sAviOr than to a savior. But only days later, the based gods of Afreeca TV picked the team up and rebranded it. Literally saving eSports in this case, because anything else could have meant 6-team SPL & the whole team retiring.
The team lost DRG, which is a big loss considering his contribution in the last season - best win rate on the team, breaking soO's ZvZ winstreak - who remains teamless to this date (is he still hoping to find a team to let him play WCS?). They also lost SPL partner MMA, aswell as their very own Hack, both of which have joined the military, and several lesser known players that never got time in SPL anyway (e.g. StuN).
They did a good job recruiting new players, even before they got Afreeca's eSports moneys. KeeN for weeks was the only ray of light in the black hole that was Prime. Leenock had done a good job on the team (11-7 was the 2nd best record on SBENU-yoe), so he was a solid pickup, and they got even better value out of him when he was traded for KT Rolster's Life just 2 months later**. They got another solid trade with KT - I really wonder what the relationship between those teams is, I don't think it's common for the same teams to trade twice in an off-season - as they got Super for jjakji (Super will play at least twice in the opening week of Proleague, jjakji won't). And finally they also acquired Billowy, who if nothing else is a solid, talented player. For the rest of the roster, aLive is probably the one who improved the most from HotS to LotV.
Afreeca brings a solid roster with a lot of experience, and they showed last season that, despite being old men, they can still take on the best. They'll have to rely on good game plans to really make something happen, however, as the overall quality of the players isn't super high. Life is a solid ace though.
*rumor has it a team can only field a total of 8 different players per Proleague round this year
**true value yet to be determined as Life is currently in a sticky situation
Coaches: OriOn, sKyHigh
Goodbye: Sora, Trust, sKyHigh (as a player)
The 9th wheel: CJ only has 6 players
So, uh, CJ. Right. First things first, they lost Coach Park to LoL. That's not great, but OriOn was his assistant so he should know what to do, and I expect sKyHigh to do a solid job aswell, as he not only has a good understanding of the game, but also spent a long time playing alongside them.
CJ is one of the only 2 teams in Proleague that didn't sign anyone new whatsoever, which is a bit weird considering they have one of the smallest rosters now. Trust left CJ and later joined KT, so he stayed on pretty much the same level of competition, and nobody really knows what Sora is doing. His name popped up in the first Korean LotV qualifiers (GSL Pre-Season), but not really since. So, probably retired because nobody wanted him . sKyHigh was the captain of the team when he retired, but not exactly at his peak of play.
Regardless, not replacing any of them with a new player could be something that comes back to bite CJ. They were one of the most predictable teams in the past season - herO, ByuL and Bbyong took 3/4 slots whenever they were available - and with less players to choose from, that can only get worse. Bunny, Hush and RagnaroK are all talented players, but we all know talent can only get you so far, so they better start making use of it. So then perhaps it comes as a blessing that herO will miss the 1st week of SPL because of IEM Taipei.
Jin Air Green Wings
Coaches: Cha Ji Hoon, Ha Tae Jun
Goodbye: Terminator, Check, Pigbaby, Symbol
The 9th wheel: Jin Air only has 6 players
Well, Jin Air of course kept their key players together. Most teams did, and I doubt any of Cure/Maru/Rogue/sOs/Trap would actually have a reason to leave (before retirement). Beyond that, however, their only addition to the team was Creator, who now is on the 2nd team of his long career. He seems a lot happier than during his final days on Prime, so that's good.
The team has a similar problem to CJ, in that it only has 6 actual players. Terminator, Check and Pigbaby collectively left and retired to go to the military. Symbol on the other hand is now roaming the plains of GSL on his own, without a team, which is honestly a bit of a shame considering he improved from HotS to LotV.
The difference between Jin Air and CJ, however, is that there's a difference in level. Jin Air could field any combination of their 6 players and you'd still look at the lineups and think "Well, Jin Air's got a really good shot of winning, actually." against most teams fielding their best players. But if CJ was forced to play with Bbyong/Bunny/Hush/RagnaroK, they wouldn't really look like one of the top 4 teams (which is what's expected of them at this point tbh). The difference between Maru and Creator is smaller than the one between herO and Hush (except in PvP where herO's still bad ).
Coaches: H.O.T.-Forever, Ryu Won
Welcome: jjakji, Losira, Trust, Leenock
Goodbye: FlaSh, Super, Life
The 9th wheel: KT has exactly 8 active players
It'll take a while to get used to this new reality of KT - one without FlaSh. Still, I would say that KT did pretty much everything right during the off-season.
Aside from losing FlaSh - which they couldn't have prevented even with the dirtiest of eSports moneys - they traded 2 players with the SBENU Freaks. Afreeca Shoes. Whatever, with that team. Super for jjakji might be seen as a bit of an odd trade, as jjakji was pretty far removed from his peak. However, his peaks have been higher than Super's, and KT needed a Terran with the potential to be solid in order to be the back-up for TY, as SpeeD wouldn't cut it for an entire season, while SBENUfreeca needed a Protoss something fierce. They also picked up the very talented Trust, so they still have the same amount of Protoss players. The second trade with Afreeca is a bit more questionable at first glance, giving up Life and getting Leenock. On second thought, however, Leenock is also a young Zerg, who evidently has insane talent, and he's a historically better team league player than Life.
Finally, KT also had one of the (if not the) finest pickups of the off-season, as they acquired Losira from MVP. Losira did a good job of carrying MVP for a lot of 2015 (along with YongHwa for the most part) and had one of the best ace match records of the league. And so far he's been looking pretty solid in LotV, too. What's not to love about the 1500 APM catzerg? After Life left the team, it seems Losira will be taking his spot in the top 4, the core players of KT that play almost every week. There's a chance he'll switch out every now and then, though.
Beyond that, TY made a huge step forward in his development as a player, and has been easily one of the most impressive Terrans in LotV so far, if not the most impressive Terran, and he boasts a perfect record in series in the TvT mirror. Definitely has his work cut out for him in week 1 though, as he has to play Solar on Ulrena. Solar, of course, being the player who kicked TY's ass in SHOUTcraft. And Ulrena, of course, being a rotated Scrap Station clone abomination. Although it was the only map TY won vs Solar in the SHOUTcraft finals (on the back of a build involving the new medivac upgrade).
The rest of the core is of course still made up by Zest and Stats. Zest looked great in Pre-Season week 1, then weak in week 2. Stats got his butt whooped in Code A by DeParture, in what was once Stats's best matchup by far. Will be interesting to see how they do in LotV. However, I do believe that if every player on the team is in peak condition, this team might be better than the one KT won Proleague with in 2014. It certainly has better depth.
MVP - Most Valuable Players
Coaches: Choya, Seed
Welcome: NaTuRal, Ryung
Goodbye: Losira, YongHwa, Center, Quiet
The 9th wheel: MarineKing
So MVP is still MVP. Choya is still Choya, a great coach but also pure evil. The roster took 2 big hits compared to last year, as the team lost both their Protoss and their Zerg ace. Nobody knows what really happened to YongHwa (presumably he just silently retired), but Losira left the team after 16 months to join KT Rolster. Additionally, in Center and Quiet, the team lost 2 rather weak players that were pretty much only practice partners anyway.
In terms of new signings, for one, there's NaTuRal, it's pretty much unknown how good exactly he is and what skill set he brings to the table, but it's good to see new blood. On the other, there's team league veteran Ryung, who always did well for Axiom(-Acer), but had a disappointing year that culminated with him missing Code A after losing to DRGLing of all people
But he's still here and he's gonna give it his all this year, and maybe Choya will awaken the same spark he awakened in YongHwa and Losira last year. Ryung's Terran brethren on MVP are GuMiho - arguably the best player on the team by quite a margin at the end of HotS -, who still seems to be struggling a little bit with the transition to LotV; and Forte (fka SalvatioN), who apparently made a huge jump from HotS to LotV and is now Code S.
The team's problems aren't in their Terran lineup, what worries me are the Zerg and Protoss players. DeParture is good, but still lacks experience. This young guy is now MVP's Zerg ace, and his only compatriot is horror - and let's be honest, nobody expects anything from horror. And the Protoss department of MVP is basically Blaze - who did a good job last year, but was shaken up recently as his father passed away - and the team's coaching staff. Yes guys, Choya's probably gonna field himself every now and then.
There was originally supposed to be a partnership with dPix so Patience could play in Proleague, but that didn't happen, possibly because of the rumored 8-player limit (when you have to limit yourself to 8 you'd rather field 8 players that are actually on your team, after all).
Coaches: Stork, FrOzen
The 9th wheel: eMotion & Stork
Yes, I'm just as shocked as you. Code A level player Stork is not on Samsung's Proleague roster (their roster is only 7 players, too), wtf?
Samsung is going into this season looking to prove themselves. Last year they wasted a lot of their potential (esp. Solar) and finished lower than they needed to. This year they go into Proleague as one of the teams that fully switched to LotV first. They weren't in the PL playoffs, they didn't have anyone at Blizzcon. Heck, Reality and Journey were playing an archon mode tournament in the last week of the regular season of Proleague - when Samsung still had a theoretical playoff chance.
The question now is, how big is that advantage? How much is left of it? Solar is probably still the best Zerg in the world with his 37 match winning streak against Protoss, but he was close to that more than once in HotS, and he was by far the best player on the team back then (aside from one exception), so what about the rest? Well, as good as they look online...
Reality regularly looks like a god in online cups, he's one of the few players with more than 1 LotV win against Solar. But so far, in the Korean leagues, he's been a disappointment. In Pre-Season 1, he got beaten by Zest (in what is notorious as his worst MU regardless of game balance), in week 2 he got beaten by Hurricane, his teammate (and I'll get to Hurricane). In the S2SL qualifiers, he got ousted by ByuN, one of the best Terrans right now, so that's forgivable. The ultimate disappointment was his Code A match. He got outplayed and outcontrolled by KT SpeeD. A young man who had never before played a televised game. And also spent the majority of each game supply blocked.
So Hurricane... Hurricane has his moments where he looks good. Like when he beat Reality in the Pre-Season or when he beat herO in SSL. The problem is that those aren't the majority. Yeah, he beat herO (who has notoriously shaky PvP). But he also lost to Stats, a way more solid PvP player but not "best of the best" when it comes to Protoss, and the main reason he won a map there was Stats derping and not killing the free disruptor Hurricane offered him (which in turn killed 5 disruptors of Stats). For a more extreme example. I respect Hurricane and think he's really good, but during GSL Pre-Season, both Zest and TY made him look like a bad player.
I could go on like this but I've pretty much made my point. The only one on Samsung who's as good as Solar in terms of raw skill and actually displaying it is Dear, who did a fine job against sOs in Code A and now has to face Zest on the first day of Proleague. What Samsung needs to do this year is to find a new RorO - someone who gets all dem wins in SPL, no questions asked.
SK Telecom T1
Coaches: iloveoov, Doctor.K, MuJuK
Goodbye: Billowy, DynaMite
The 9th wheel: Sorry
SKT ended the year as the best team in the world. Maybe not with the single best player, but as the best collective for sure, and iloveoov put a lot of focus on pointing out the collective victory over the individual one. And that collective that became the most dominating team in SC2 Proleague is pretty much still together. They lost DynaMite (who never, ever played) and Billowy (who played few times and was mostly a practice partner), which is not the biggest of deals for a team like that.
They acquired MyuNgSiK recently, who now has the honor (?) of being able to say that he's been on half the teams that played in 2015 Proleague at some point of his career. He switched teams at a somewhat alarming rate and no team he left ever got luck from it, so he might just be the devil. Still, SKT needed another Protoss for their lineup, as they only had Classic and Zoun, and MyuNgSiK was a good option. Probably the best one they could have gotten, actually. This acquisition forced Sorry out of their 8-man Proleague roster though, and I do not approve of that.
Beyond that, as I said, the team is still the same, which means it's a cluster of some of the most talented players in SC2. Dream, Classic, INnoVation, soO, Dark, supported by the inexperienced Zoun and Impact. Looks solid, no? Classic and Dark have looked absolutely on point in LotV so far. Dream and soO have had some shakiness in their play but are doing mostly fine. MyuNgSiK actually qualified for both Starleagues, and even got through the tough Pre-Season (by beating TY -.-), which means he's in good company because 4 players on SKT could end up doing the same (INnoVation hasn't played Code A yet). However, the way he bombed out of S2SL was less than flattering, his play especially against Afreeca's aLive was very lacking.
And team league god INnoVation? He has been rather... average so far. Yeah, he got Korea to the finals of NationWars and he got into both Code A and S2SL, but his level of play just wasn't that impressive so far. For once, INnoVation will have to step it up to keep his spot in the lineup. SKT has enough talent that they could bench him if he forces them to.
Regardless of this, SKT is in a prime position to do well in Proleague this year. However, I do hope it'll be a bit less of the one-sided domination we had for a while last season, and a closer competition once again. We'll see about that soon enough, the reigning champion will start off the season against the Afreeca Freecs, and I CAN'T WAIT WHY ISN'T IT MONDAY YET?