I'd like to credit CosmicSpiral for the edits and I hope you all enjoy.
VSL Finals Preview: Leenock
So far, 2017 has been a year of resurgences. LotV’s second year, and perhaps the first of the last WCS contract, has been a renaissance for old warriors who were disregarded as fossils of a less competitive era. Old favorites GuMiho, aLive and Ryung have displayed their best form in years or, in GuMiho’s case, the best of his career. Yet, for all the breathtaking matches displayed by former ESF Terrans, they are isolated exceptions. The other members of the old guard have struggled to gain traction and relevance.
For whatever reason, there was a bit more hype surrounding Leenock entering 2017. Whether it was deserved after his poor finish at Gyeonggi is debatable, but at least his name was being mentioned. He had to wait until mid-January to get his crack at 2017’s GSL, but his fans’ patience was rewarded with a second-place finish. It was the first promising sign of his seventh year in the pro circuit. Leenock wasn’t able to keep it going though. One month later and he was already eliminated from the tournament, having not looked the slightest bit competitive in a group containing herO, Ryung and Trap. It was just the newest iteration of the pattern which has dominated Leenock’s career since his last notable finish in 2014. Count on Leenock to show flashes of brilliant dynamic play, but don’t expect much more from him. Like a failing engine that has all the working parts to work, Leenock starts and sputters, always leaving fans to question if he really has anything left in the tank.
Leenock, in some respects, crushed himself under his own weight. His play was so distinctive and colorful that it was bound to fail if the game ever changed in a way that failed to reward his strengths. Burrowed banelings are exciting for fans, but there’s a reason they aren’t utilized that frequently; they are investments that rarely return a profit, and their usefulness is largely dependent on map pool. Similarly Leenock found a way to captivate audiences with his proclivity for aggressive, idiosyncratic tactics, but in the end they were never sustainable. He was never able to properly integrate roach/ravager into his repertoire,while he only showed a flickering mastery of the newer ling/bane style popularized by Dark against Protoss. Since the start of 2015, he's only made it out of the initial round of a Starleague twice. It is for this reason that he’s toiled away in relative obscurity for three years now. In that time he has dropped matches to players like Hurricane and Seed, all without notching a single win.
Seemingly forever mired in the muck, this season of VSL represents a possible change in Leenock’s fortunes. For the first time in years he’s managed to piece together consecutive wins in a tournament of any appreciable importance. He was a heavy underdog going into his match with Classic, but he properly matched his favored opponent in all stages of the game. It was an impressive act of will, something Leenock frankly hasn’t had enough opportunities to display since joining yoe Flash Wolves back in 2014. We’re left wondering if Leenock has the mentality required to be a top player as long as he never puts himself in a position to succeed.
And so the community operates under the assumption that Leenock isn’t good enough anymore. His match against Classic was the first tangible evidence in some time that his talent never left, it was merely buried under layers of complacency.
STUFF ABOUT INNOVATION.
This finals has been a long coming for Leenock. Whether a victory against ___ will validate his intransigent presence or merely offer a chance to pause and appreciate the surroundings remain to be seen, but Leenock’s return to the finals stage is a welcome one. For all talk of being unreliable, out-dated and generally lacking, Leenock appears to be in rhythm again. The engine is humming and all the parts are moving smoothly. Two of the three dual Starleague champions have already fallen before him, and with those challenges in his rearview mirror, there’s no reason to think that he can’t topple ____ next.
VSL Finals Preview: Super
Considering he has been a professional player since 2010, Super has certainly made a career out of anonymity. He’s barely good enough to get his foot in the door, but never bright enough to light up the room. Foreign and Korean teams were always glad to bring the journeyman Protoss on board, but he never repaid their trust with tangible results. Over seven years, his two most noteworthy finishes were a pair of quarterfinal runs in the 2014 KeSPA Cup and the inaugural season of SSL (both 16-man tournaments).
To think that someone has stuck around for so long without accomplishing more is perplexing given the highly competitive arena of professional StarCraft. Having spent the vast majority of two expansions lingering in the periphery, Super did little to further his cause in LotV; last year, he only managed a single series win in three Starleagues. He was present, but not really a participant, the type of player where competitors recognize the name and scoff. When he failed to qualify for Season 1 of this year’s GSL things looked particularly bleak. With players of all races and ages retiring, the end looked imminent for someone still looking for their breakthrough.
One should beware of putting the cart ahead of the horse when it comes to evaluating players off a short run of form; however, Super’s time as a bit player may be coming to an end. His run to the VSL finals has been the most impressive streak of his career. He rattled off four straight wins to make it to the elimination rounds and once there, proved his success wasn’t a fluke by defeating ByuN. With soO out of the way, Super can return to PvT, a matchup he is 4-1 in over the last two weeks. He’ll be going up against another Terran in the finals, one every bit as formidable as ByuN, but Super has demonstrated that he understands the matchup as well as any Protoss in Korea.
His match against ByuN was his most significant victory in recent years and as such, it deserves more than cursory examination. By looking at his three victories one can see how Super believes PvT should be played and how any Terran, even one as mighty as INnoVation, can be felled.
Super and ByuN kicked off the series on Whirlwind, where the spawn points afforded neither player a significant advantage. Super opened with the traditional gate/nexus/core, scouting ByuN's location (vertical spawn) last. This scout pattern bears mentioning since Super may very well play on Whirlwind during the finals. Super scouted the expansion, but was denied the scout on the factory. His response was to go for the oracle/adept combo. From there he kept a close eye on ByuN with an active oracle while taking a third and moving into phoenix. This sort of stock play is the type of play one could expect to see from Super in the finals. It provides a large amount of information into the mid game, allowing him to correctly diagnose and counter INnoVation's tech path. It also gave him the tools to defend against ByuN's harassment which will be critical should he hang with INnoVation moving into the mid game. Failure to enter that stage on at least equal footing will spell instant death.
With the series tied 1-1, Super forgoed the Stargate after his expansion, instead opening with twilight council for blink before adding a gate. It's worth noting that since they were playing on Odyssey, a two player map, Super decided not to probe scout. But by adding a robotics facility, he was able to defend mine drops in a different, equally effective manner. He followed that pattern on Ascension to Aiur, possibly an indication of his playstyle preference on two-player maps. Super's skill with both openers represent a versatility he will need to call on in the finals.
Having gotten up to three bases, Super paired his growing phoenix force with charge and +1 armor off four gasses. The constant micro of the phoenixes allowed him to build an army, albeit at a supply disadvantage. The main difference between this composition and phoenix/adept is that Super takes advantage of his higher mineral income to add in photon cannons, a smart hedge against someone as aggressive as ByuN. In his series against Hurricane, INnoVation favored straight-on attacks, making it seem as if Super would be better served avoiding this composition in the finals.
Super's end goal in all games was double robo colossi paired with blink and double upgrades. This composition allowed him to go from defending to posturing actively on the map. From there he switched into immortals after forcing vikings from ByuN: this paired well with his already sturdy gateway force, keeping pressure on ByuN so he was not able to tech out of bio/viking without leaving an exploitable window. In game 5 Super took a more measured approach. The first colossus was already in production with +1/+1 and Thermal Lance on the way before he even took his third. This approach enabled him to consolidate his defense before stepping out onto the map (it’s worth noting that in this game he did not make the switch to immortals). This could prove to be a double edged sword against INnoVation. By staying on two bases Super insulates himself from damage, but he also stunts his economy. Sacrificing economy for accelerated army tech is a risky move that INnoVation could capitalize on by playing greedily. In this game it gave him the muscle to beat back ByuN’s tank push as he took his third. By contrast, INnoVation favors mines over the more expensive and slower-to-produce supplements to his bio.
Against ByuN, Super’s arching strategy was to absorb early pressure through a variety of means before dictating the pace of the game with gateway-based armies. This generally meant expanding quickly and building around a flexible defense before adding in double robo/upgrades. He eschewed phoenix/adept, instead opting for more robust compositions that made it possible for him to switch more fluidly between offense and defense.
Whether or not such a strategy holds water against INnoVation remains to be seen. INnoVation is a different kind of Terran and the path to victory may not be reproducible. Favoring the slightly out of favor phoenix/adept style this time would give him more punch in the midgame instead of using finesse units like stalkers to deflect multipronged aggression. Should Super stick with the style he utilized in the semifinals, INnoVation will be looking to hammer him when Super begins transitioning into double robo colossi. The Protoss must make certain he deflects early damage as reliably as possible if he aims to have a strong economy to buttress his tech choices. It’s highly likely he’ll exhibit conservative play early in the game, hoping to establish solid footing before ramping into his late game army.
Super possesses the tools to defeat INnoVation. He’s carved through two elite players already, so there’s no reason to think he can’t handle a third. VSL may not be a proper Starleague but after failing to qualify for GSL and SSL, Super won’t treat it as amusing fluffery. A win here would be the crown jewel of his career and validation for him sticking around over the past seven years when nothing went his way. He may be a veteran, but he’s been given a chance to walk the royal road, an opportunity he seems poised not to pass up.