Dreams, Schemes and Silver Regimes
by TeamLiquid ESPORTS
With Blizzcon fast approaching, it's naturally become the overwhelming storyline that dominates most tournaments. Everyone's chances are calculated, their odds laid out clearly by Die4Ever, and people can see the big picture in 120hz Quad HD. The champion receives his applause before everyone goes back to punching numbers on their calculators.
Even though it deserves to be the principal narrative for the audience, Blizzcon matters for a select few players. For every Life or herO on the brink of qualification, there are your Solars, sacsris and Firsts, players who've earned their fair share of our admiration but care more about winning on the day than reaching the season ender.
To be honest, it's gotten a little too serious. The run up to the big event has become more about numbers than games, more about odds than enjoyment. While it's impossible to forget the $100,000 tournament on the horizon, there are just as many reasons for Stockholm to become on of the best tournaments of the year.
This is Where Dreams are Crushed
Well, let's get this out of the way:
Credit to Die4Ever, or else he gets mad
Zergs are evil, obviously
An awful lot of zerg star power is attending Stockholm, so much that Samsung.Solar is in danger of getting eclipsed. Sharing space with a GSL finalist, a Brood War legend, the living embodiment of l’enfant terrible, and the sweetheart of the EU scene is never easy. Even though he has attended 2 GSL quarterfinals and 2 tournament finals, Solar remains a figure too sketchy to invoke much admiration or scorn. When your greatest accomplishment is losing to a Kryptonian with arthritis, you aren’t exactly a prime candidate for the Injustice League.
It’s always the more obscure villains that blindside the heroes though. Batman has a formidable rogues gallery but he never expected Catman, a formerly obese slob who sat around all day in an unwashed costume, to drop his ass in a mano a mano showdown. Out of all of the elite attendees at Dreamhack: Winter 2013, it was wee little Patience that shocked the world by plowing through a dementedly hard losers bracket. Weekend tournaments are fertile ground for surprise runs, and I can positively hear Solar twirling his mustache in gleeful anticipation. Everyone’s going to be caught up in silly ephemera like soO’s bad Kong puns, TRUE’s intriguing career tangent, and Snute’s adoration of big cuddly toys. Go for the jugular!
Meanwhile, Life’s road to Blizzcon is a lot more satisfying. It goes like this: wake up, eat ??? with lingonberry jam, go to venue, beat First and the other scrub, eat surströmming, throw up surströmming, drive people away with sewage breath, play Zoo Zoo Bubble, win his next group, throw up surströmming, go to hotel, throw up surströmming, sleep with regrets. Well, maybe he dodges the part with fermented herring. I don’t even know if that’s a real thing in Sweden. We ignorant Americans don’t care about frivolous things like fact-checking.
It’s not much of a stretch to treat Life’s chances with flippancy. While others like Snute and ForGG have to fight tooth and nail, Life can mess around to a large extent. All he has to do is reach the Ro16 and he can start planning his trip to California. That’s a shockingly low bar for someone of his caliber. No matter how repugnant his level of play has appeared at his various nadirs, Life has never sunken to being the non-threatening Korean. Since his initial rise he’s only finished out of the Ro16 of a foreign event once, losing to Snute at IPL5. However, only a fool would think he would be satisfied with barely making the grade. Life’s trail of destruction at IEM Toronto was a reminder that he’s been merciful for far too long. All our statistics and clucking of tongues over his poor form merely acknowledged Life could be, and chose to be, lazy. As long as he was cruising in Code S, practice and stuff was optional. What were they gonna do, knock him out of G...aw, hell naw. Now with no more meat ticket, Life's actually motivated to try and win tournaments again. Advice to Snute: back away slowly and run if he asks for another showmatch.
Terran dreams or terran tears
2014 has been a very productive year for Liquid.Bunny, who has emerged as an elite European player capable of fending off the Korean conquerors. He won Gfinity G3 to become one of the few foreigners to win a major tournament in 2014. Bunny is also one of two foreigners still fighting in the WCS EU quarterfinals. With this string of results, the Danish terran heads into Stockholm in peak form and deserves to be approached with caution. Despite the good results, Blizzcon is just not a realistic goal considering the lineup at Dreamhack and WCS EU. Regardless, Bunny will compete with all his heart and everything he has… which may just be enough to ruin someone else’s chances. Through his championship run at Gfinity, Bunny defeated Hyun, Stardust, and the current #16 seed: Snute. Thats rights, Snute needs at least a top 8 finish to secure a spot at Blizzcon, and he could potentially be eliminated by Bunny as early as the second group stage. If it can happen once, it can certainly happen again. Both Snute and Jaedong may need to reveal their final form against someone with a 66.3% TvZ winrate. In addition, Bunny proved to be solid against terran and protoss by defeating Polt, Oz, and HuK at IEM Toronto. With more and more experience, the Liquid terran has steadily improved in keeping his composure and dealing with pressure. Known for his hard work ethic, Bunny is confident in his mechanics and will not shy away from playing standard macro games with top international Koreans. He’ll have his work cut out for this weekend, but Bunny is certainly capable of pulling off some upsets and shattering some dreams.
Currently sitting at just 9.73%, TCM.YoDa will need nothing short of a miracle to qualify for Blizzcon. That number however, does very little justice to what the jedi terran has accomplished in 2014. These past two months have been especially productive for YoDa, who tore through the first Red Bull DC online qualifier by defeating several KeSPA players including Byul, herO, and Solar. He then crushed San and TLO to top his WCS Ro16 group. On top of all that, YoDa signed with the UK-based team, TCM-gaming. The IM-exile is on the rise and shows no signs of coming down anytime soon. While YoDa has finally acquired some momentum, a slow start to the year may end up costing him a trip to Anaheim. Just like Bunny, YoDa would need to win both DH Stockholm and WCS EU just to be in the conversation for Blizzcon. That being said, a man with nothing to lose has nothing to fear. YoDa will be unlikely to win it all, but he’ll take some guys down trying. With TvZ as his strongest matchup, this post-patch terran poses a serious threat to Blizzcon hopefuls like Snute, Life, and Jaedong. He’s also beaten herO twice in recent memory and could trouble the other HerO with scv-pulls. Blizzcon 2014 may not be in the cards for Yoda, but he has the potential to challenge jjakji and Stardust in next year’s rankings if he can maintain his current form.
Sometimes, success is just a little bit out of reach. It usually starts with a sense of purpose as practice goes well, ladder points are taken from nerds, and barcodes are beaten beyond recognition. One's invite to DreamHack is confirmed during the first announcement, and it looks like the tournament is doable. Then the second announcement comes, with its requisite mountain of Koreans, and the optimism of the past few weeks fades away. Sure, aiming high is still admirable, but not everyone can be Bunny.
We're Out to Make a Mess
So, with the giant check out of reach, goals need to be adjusted and expectations made more reasonable. Instead of winning, many players hope to make a splash like Sjow vs Life. It's not a bad plan: a handful of WCS points, a hundred or so dollars, and a place in everyone's memories. But with the good times come the bad, and who can ever forget RorO's drop out in the 3rd group stage, Flash dropping a set to DIMAGA, or LucifroN losing to a coin toss.
It's bound to be an interesting weekend, and this is how some players will likely be remembered.
Korean player most likely to embarrassingly lose to a Foreigner
Because Pkd.Oz's recent form makes him a bit of a cop out pick here, we are going to go with SKT.soO. Just think about it. Everything is falling into place for soO. He has finally overcome Zest in the GSL, and with his fourth consecutive GSL final, has cemented himself as the top Zerg of 2014 bar none. What could bring everything crashing down? A demoralizing loss to a foreign player of course! Although soO already is in a group with Golden, which decreases his exposure to foreign players at least in Group stage 2, we could see some unassuming players pulling off some cheese against the ultimate Kong. We're looking at you, Lilbow and MarineLord. Don't let us down.
Protoss player most likely to kill Oz in a PvP
If PvP is unquestionably 100% skill, then HuK's undeniable top 3 control is our best bet to beat the once-proclaimed king of PvP. Even though he's no longer the cream of the foreigner crop, HuK is still hanging around, making it far in tournaments and defeating players he's aligulacly not supposed to. He's currently in the Ro8 of WCS AM to the surprise of everyone other than the TL prediction, so he's not half bad. If he ends up having to face someone like Oz, Classic, or Patience, HuK has as good a chance as any to score an upset.
[Editor note: HuK is actually favored against Oz, according to Aligulac. Oops?]
Player most likely to bomb out here and ruin their chance at Blizzcon
This one is a tie, between our current bottom 15th and 16th ranked players on the WCS points list! Liquid`Snute is a foreigner, so naturally people are rooting for him to do well and qualify for Blizzcon. Of course that makes him all the more likely to fail and to make everyone pray for Scarlett to win WCS America. EG.Jaedong of course would be the second most heartbreaking player to be eliminated from Blizzcon contention, as he is of course a fan favorite and the runner up from Blizzon 2013. Jaedong's recent form hasn't been great, so it wouldn't be too much of a shock to see him fail hard here. Snute's current Blizzcon chances stand at a dangerous 44.88% whereas Jaedong's are a slightly more solid 59.7% according to Die4Ever's WCS Predictor, and you can expect to see plenty of fan tears shed should either of these players lose their spot in the Blizzcon standings.
The Sniper award for player most likely to knock out Snute and ruin everyone's Foreigner Hype Parade
The TCM duo of YoDa and First seem likely candidates. While these two have flown under the radar for most of the year despite attending many European events, YoDa actually has a higher chance of qualifying for Blizzcon (9.73%) than we would have thought. Both players have seen their fair share of solid but not remarkable finishes over 2014, and nothing would be more solid but unremarkable than beating Snute in the Round of 16 before being crushed by Solar in the Round of 8.
Honorable Mention: Other Liquid players. Robert Ohlen's latest strike in what seems to be a serious feud between himself and Liquid`Nazgul has placed Snute up against teammate Bunny in the first group draw of the tournament. All that's left is for Ret to be thrown in and for Snute to hit HerO, MaNa, and TLO in Group Stage 3.
Korean player most likely to lose against a part-time player
On the one hand, Life is supremely talented. On the other hand, we're sometimes not sure when he cares or not. His nonchalance is as much a signature of his style as his zergling control, and the only time we ever get to see emotion out of him is when he decides to make a derpy face. When he's on his game, he wins DreamHack Bucharest against the best players in the world. When he's on one of his more ambivalent streaks, he loses to Kane in an online tournament. You're still never going to bet on him losing against a foreigner, especially with Sjow not around, but we're always going to remember the time when it does rather than the times when it doesn't. Maybe ToD counts as a part time player?
Kespa player most likely to lose to an "International Korean" prompting LR regulars to spam "KESPAAAAAAA" in the Thread
This one pretty clearly goes to SKT.Classic. The reigning GSL champ hasn't been the same since he beat soO in the finals a few months ago (serves you right!). If we had to pick the player to beat him, it would have to be MC. Who's the dishwasher now?!
Players who we'll forget are part of the tournament until they lose
We took a quick glance at DeMusliM's results page, and it shows 2 tournaments attended where he didn't finish in the abyss of last places. Despite his lack of success, he's still a popular figure and a handsome guy. His fans likely aren't expecting much, but his detractors are sure to point it out once he exits the tournament. Similarly, Ryung is a player that's well liked but suffering for results. No one really knows whether he'll do well or lose to someone like StarNaN and ViBE in group stage #2, but we're probably not going to remember he exists until he loses embarrassingly or beats Jaedong in the brackets.
Players we hope will lose early and replace iNcontroL as an "expert"
Considered one of the smartest players among terrans and with a good grasp of English, Polt's limited time as a caster has been a success. While everyone wants the CM Storm terran to do well, everyone is also hoping for him to lose early and charm us with his knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, it's not likely to happen so we need a back up. In that case, there are few other better options than the likeable PiG. Protoss casters are a dime a dozen, and the Aussie's shown us before that he can explain the zerg race as well as anyone. Who wouldn't want a double Aussie ZvZ cast between PiG and mOOngLaDe?
Last but not least: Player most likely to win even though you don't need any more points you greedy bastard
ROCCAT.HyuN has been sitting at the top spot in the WCS rankings for months. He hasn't relinquished his hold since he won WCS America Season 1, and he was the first player to be locked in as 100% qualified for Blizzcon. He has looked mediocre for a few months, with losses in tournament finals to players like Bunny and Sen. Naturally, he isn't expected to win, and he certainly doesn't need any more WCS points, but that won't stop him from roaching his way to the finals in true TSL style! Sure HyuN doesn't need any more points, but if he denies them from someone who does, that's a bit of a victory isn't it?
Bonus: 5 Things NaNiwa Hates About YouWith Naniwa confirmed to be casting this weekend. The question on everyone's mind is, who will Naniwa insult first? Here is TL's predictions on Naniwa's 5 Things I Hate About You.
1) Foreigners - All of them. But especially his ex-EG teammates HuK and DeMusliM. NaNiwa was never on the friendliest terms with his EG teammates and now that he's no longer contractually obligated to be nice in public, the fans will be praying to God that Naniwa will end up casting their games. Others to look out for are Snute (for his SH play) and terran players (for existing).
2) Tweeters - specifically Stephano. Despite both players having gone on to retire (and in Stephano's case play part-time), both seem to take the time out of their busy schedules to keep up with SC2 enough so they can insult each other. With NaNiwa stepping back in the limelight, fans around the world eagerly anticipate one of them taking snipes at each other over twitter.
3) Patchzergs and Swarmhosts - Despite having lost his passion for SC2, NaNiwa's hatred for BL/infestor and swarmhost players continues to burn bright. Expect NaNiwa to make snide comments about your favorite EU zergs like Vortix or Nerchio.
4) Overly friendly massages - Hopefully no one touches Naniwa during the cast.
5) Soundproofing - If we're lucky, Dreamhack will have sound proofed Naniwa's cast so that he doesn't rage quit.
Double Bonus!: 2 things NaNiwa kinda sorta likes.
1) Protoss players from Korea - Specifically herO and Classic.
2) Liquid Players - Ret, Mana, Bunny and Snute. He's practiced with the first three over the years and is on amicable terms with them. And while he loathes swarmhosts, there is a certain grudging respect to how well Snute plays it compared to everyone else in the world. Maybe.
How many second places add up to a first? That's a question that many of us have asked over the years, whether in search of consolation or as a criticism of the way prize pools are split.
Sometimes Failure's Not That Bad
If you ask GOM and Korean players, a runner up is only worth 20% of the champion. With its prize pool heavily skewed towards the winner (70m to 15m won), it's obvious that the country puts a premium on its champions while shoving the losers off the stage. They lovingly--or disparagingly--call their seccessive second bests their Kongs, and many great players have held the title over the years.
If you ask Blizzard, a second place is worth half of a first. While WCS points is an imaginary currency, amassing an adequate amount of it earns you a chance to win $100,000. Of course, you'll have to face the players that beat you, so a chance for redemption is also on the line. It's not much, but it's definitely the best exchange rate.
..Because if we base it on the prices of silver and gold, it takes 70 silver medals to be worth a single gold. With a price of $15.55 an ounce, silver pales in comparison to gold's $1,222.5 on current levels. soO will have to make every single final from the first season of 2015 until 2036 just for his runner up medals to be worth more than a single gold. Fortunately, WCS doesn't give out actual metal awards, only pointy death trophies, shampoo bottles and pins.
The Second Best Player of 2014
SK Telecom T1’s soO was the most underrated player in the world for three straight GSL Seasons. Nobody wanted to believe that he was good enough to make it to the finals each one of those times. By his third finals, nobody wanted to believe he could possibly get second again. Even earlier this week, nobody wanted to believe that he was good enough to take down Zest and make it to his fourth straight finals. Yet soO continued to defy all odds, and he has now become the front-runner-up of any tournament in which he participates: everyone’s first pick to take second place. After all, he is The King of Kongs, The soOlver Surfer, The Worst Best Player in the World. In 2014 soO’s only other finishes tournaments besides two seconds in GSL are a 3rd/4th at the GSL Global Championship and a 13th/16th at KeSPA Cup. soO’s lack of involvement in the foreign tournament scene to collect more WCS points was worrisome to his Blizzcon hopes until he won his GSL Ro4 match Wednesday. Now that he is 11th in the standings, all that’s really at stake for him are some insurance points and possibly a DreamHack Winter berth. Although Stockholm might not be the economic boon The First Place Loser seeks to compensate for GSL’s top-heavy prize pool, placing top 4, or possibly lower depending on who would finish above him, could land soO a chance to really rake in the foreign cash with Winter’s tripled prize pool. Overall, despite the fact that soO’s performances in non-GSL Code S tournaments have been unimpressive, they are too few to emphasize. It’s hard to conceive of soO’s weakness, besides protoss opponents in GSL Finals. He looks great in every matchup, even with some apparent vulnerability in ZvP. There is a compelling argument that soO is the best player in the world right now, and although this may be one of the most stacked DreamHacks ever, he is one relatively easy tournament showing away from solidifying that title and taking his spot as a favorite to win Blizzcon.
From herO to zerO
If soO is the most underrated player, CJ Entus’ herO is the most under-performing player in the world, and the Prince of Kongs so to speak. At the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, aided by the favorable for meta for protoss at the time, herO tore through the IEM circuit with convincing wins at Singapore and Sao Paulo. He secured both titles with stellar PvP, particularly in the finals, and was widely regarded as not just the best protoss, but the best player in the world. IEM Katowice’s $100,000 winner-take-all format was announced, and all eyes were on the IEM Royal Roader, the two-time Sick Nerd Baller, to three-peat at the World Championship and complete the wonderful story of a rising star’s breakout and triumph. Alas, sOs is damn good at crushing fan favorites’ dreams in $100,000 finals. In just over an hour, the 2013 Blizzcon Champion dismantled CJ’s Golden Boy with a couple proxy gates and immaculate defense. Kim Joon Ho went from herO to zero. Literally $0. herO’s ensuing performance in Proleague mirrored his undoubted heartbreak, as it was not until the playoffs that he seemed to have almost fully recovered his previously dominant form. Here and there he showed flashes of brilliance, reminding everyone that he is still one of the best protosses in the business, but it was hard not to let him slip into obscurity at times. Losing in the finals tends to have that effect on people. Following his second place finish at IEM Katowice, herO went 0-4 in his GSL Ro16 group, then fell out of Code A at the beginning of Season 3, took second in the RedBull Online Championship, lost in the open bracket to Snute twice at IEM Toronto, and earned another second at KeSPA Cup. What can be taken away from his recent performances is that he might be playing the best PvT in the world. herO looked untouchable against Sorry, Bomber and Flash in the KeSPA Cup, and very strong against Polt and YoDa in RedBull Online. Despite his losses to Snute at IEM Toronto, herO does not appear weak in the PvZ matchup overall, just unfamiliar with playing against the Norwegian Zerg’s style. One can be sure herO has since studied those games extensively and has at minimum devised a response. What should be a real concern for herO is PvP. It’s been a while since herO has shown results to argue a statement of his mirror matchup as anything more than decent. A challenge it will be indeed for CJ’s ace if he can’t turn his protoss woes around, as Stockholm boasts a tough lineup of Classic, HerO, First, and MC. Fortunately for herO, like soO, his Blizzcon chances are very solid (near 95%), and little more is at stake here than a spot in DreamHack Winter and some compensatory cash. With WCS likely to experience a complete reshuffling next year, his Code B spot doesn't look that bad, and he can still rehabilitate his image here in Stockholm.
The 4 Year Term
Perhaps the most unsung kong of all this year is MC. In fact, he boasts as many second places this year as soO has had in his inglorious GSL streak. Yet rather than an indication of MC’s remarkable ability to choke, it is a testament to his knack for staying relevant. At this point in StarCraft II history, MC is the player who has stayed good for the longest period of time. In 2014, however, all he has to speak for his hall-of-fame-worthy career is the championship of WCS Europe Season 1. The feat itself is impressive, do not be mistaken, but MC, too, faces a tragic line of silvers that tarnish his record. On the receiving end of CJ.herO’s IEM Reign of Terror, MC took second in Sao Paulo. When summer rolled around, so did TaeJa, and he too rode his momentum to a steamroll of the BossToss and give him another second. Then at DreamHack Valencia, The President Protoss kindly appropriated for mYi.Sacsri his WCS welfare check with a third, heartbreaking second place. Even dating back to 2013, MC took second in two straight WCS Europe championships in Seasons 2 and 3. What doesn’t really make sense throughout all this consistency is MC’s apparent inability to win when it counts. The richest player in the history of StarCraft II only achieved that through his killer instinct. Why then, can MC not claim titles anymore? Save Season 1 of WCS Europe, his performances have been nothing short of ignominious for someone with MC’s reputation. Is the President Protoss a lame duck in office, and his term about to end? He can still apply for Vice President Protoss, and as long as it pays well, it doesn't sound that bad.
With each of our three kongs almost certain for Blizzcon, I suppose the only lesson here is: if you're going to lose, lose as late as possible.