WCS Global Finals: Quarterfinals Preview
The Great Foreign Hope
It may not have been the stated purpose, but the restructured WCS Format introduced by Blizzard following BlizzCon 2015 seemed to have a clear underlying objective: strengthen the foreign scene. Koreans were banished from weekender tournaments with foreigners like ShoWTimE, Nerchio and even an adopted son in TRUE taking full advantage. After more than a half decade of beatings, Neeb returned the favor on Korean soil, lifting the KeSPA Cup. The system was working, the foreign scene had exploded with new life. It was more competitive than ever and appeared to be fostering a new generation of players, something that was not happening in Korea. And, it was from that crop of youngsters that a certain Polish Zerg had the temerity to make it all the way to the semifinals at the 2016 WCS Global Finals.
To say that Elazer wasn’t a known entity at that point would be irresponsible, but he found himself thrust into the spotlight after doing something no foreigner had done since Sen made the final four of BlizzCon back in what might as well be the triassic period in Esports reckoning (known to most as 2012). His match against Dark served as grim reminder just how far he had to go, but it was his first big finish, an indicator of things to come. He stumbled at Austin, but won in Valencia and reached the semifinals at the other two WCS stops. As BlizzCon neared it would have been foolish to dub 2017 anything other than a breakout year. Elazer had arrived, underestimate the fresh faced 19 year old at your own peril.
If Elazer is flash, pizzazz and glamour, his opponent, the only other remaining foreigner in the field, is everything but that. Where Elazer represents newness and promise, SpeCial has been at the whole StarCraft 2 thing as long as anyone. He’s done ardent work, toiling away in Copa Americas and other regional tournaments since time untold. But that’s not to say he’s not a pioneer. Back in 2013, he became the first foreigner to join a proper KeSPA team. Was it the act of a desperate coaching staff or did Cezanne see something we’re only just getting a glimpse of? SpeCial may be the story of the tournament thus far, but we’ve seen this before. A sensational win and then what? Historically, an equally astonishing collapse.
At WCS Valencia, he gave Neeb his only loss in the WCS Circuit all year. Less than three hours later he was bounced from the tournament by Snute in a clean 3-0 sweep. SpeCial played Stats close at GSL vs The World, but he didn’t even make it out of the group stages in Montreal. The fall from grace seemed well underway. All that changed last weekend, though, and one would have a hard time arguing SpeCial wasn’t one of, if not the most impressive player present. The opener against Stats may have been close, but his demolition of TY was anything but.
Among foreigners, 2017 was the year of Neeb, but it won’t be him left standing. In the end, it will be Elazer or SpeCial who will carry the foreigner flag into the the semifinals. For Elazer, a chance to erase the grisly fate he suffered a year earlier, for SpeCial an opportunity at validation for seven years devoted to the game. Only one can remain. So who’s the foreign hope?
They’ve never made it this far before.
After a mercurial 2017 that saw GuMiho claim his long awaited championship, he was breaking new ground just by making it to the WCS Global Finals. GuMiho had stripped everything down to the foundation, even addressing things like the mouse settings the average person adjusts once and forever forgets about. The old way of doing things wasn’t going to cut it and GuMiho was tired of mediocrity. Bluster backed up with ferocity, GuMiho was like the finale at the end of a fireworks show. When he was in form, you knew it and it was hard to mistake what he was offering as anything other than greatness.
soO made it to BlizzCon once before. Back in 2014 he was the undisputed best Zerg in Korea. He had dominated the region from start to finish and, had he won a few of those finals, it might be him INnoVation would be measuring himself against, not Mvp. He stormed his way to BlizzCon, confident as can be, but found his dreams dashed against the inexorable barrier that was TaeJa. soO’s 2014 had been one of disappointment and anguish. This was an opportunity to ease away some of that pain, but bravado and disrespect meant he squandered it.
Just as 2017 marked a new era for GuMiho, it was for soO as well. He too recreated himself through equal parts mental resilience and renewed hard work. He made it to two GSL finals and, while his second loss effectively clinched a berth at BlizzCon before the calendar had even turned to July, it came at the hands of his man he will face off against in a few days time.
All of soO’s finals are cases of what could have been, but it was GuMiho who seized the reins and made possibility reality. GuMiho was already on a four match wins streak before they met in that summer night. He stretched the run to eight before soO got his first win in over sixth months against the PSISTORM Terran in September in the midst of soO’s ZvT resurgence. The matchup had long been his achilles heel, but committing to playing his own style instead of trying to replicate that of others appeared to be paying dividends.
Every player in the tournament is living their dream. They are professionals playing the game they love on the highest stage. Money, prestige and the title of world champion, something that can never be taken away, is on the line. But for these two, perhaps more than any other, the dream is a gilded one.
For soO it’s obvious… A career can be decided in a single moment. BlizzCon is my time to redeem my past mistakes.
Those are his own words and it's patently clear how much this tournament means to him. For GuMiho, it’s a frontier he probably never expect he’d see, let alone conquer, during the lean years between his semifinal defeat against DongRaeGu and his GSL victory. But they’ve both made it this far, farther than they’ve ever been. They’re running full tilt into the wind, chasing their dreams. Only one can take the next step, though. Because for every dream that is realized, far more end in regret and despair.
Fish or Kraken?
Canada Bill Jones once said that it’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money. In gambling, the general rule is if you’re getting the better of someone there’s no reason to stop. If you wipe out their bankroll, it would be wrong to not give the fool a chance to deepen their grave as they vainly try to win their money back.
To say that it’s been the summer of Rogue would not be too big of a stretch. There are those who would tell you he should have won GSL Season 2, but the truth is he fell three long matches short of affirming the reputation he had gained on ladder. But it was just the first step on a total reinvention that saw Rogue evolve from a crafty player with deft mastery of compositions and the timings associated with them to a sturdy macro player, adept in every stage of the game. Every king needs his coronation and Rogue got his at the expense of herO in Shanghai. Rogue truly owned the tournament in every way and he effortlessly trampled over the man who had won the Super Tournament only a few months prior. herO looked out of his element and woefully outmatched. The invisible man needed not win to be overshadowed this time, he was able to achieve that fate in defeat.
But having taken $6,000 dollars from herO, Rogue was not so insensitive at to not give him another shot. Rogue and herO next encountered each other in the finals of the second Super Tournaments, having survived semifinals bouts with INnoVation and Dark respectively. It was the perfect final for a tournament in which the cream truly had risen to the top. The final game was the perfect encapsulation of Rogue’s 2017. Once a tier two player who would hesitate and falter at critical moments, Rogue scouted herO’s skytoss and pounced like an apex predator. He had always shied away from the moment in the past, but that was the story no longer. Another $6,000 dollars snatced out of herO’s hands and for Rogue, a spot at BlizzCon.
Sixteen players took part in the opening weekend but it was herO, more than any other, who played the role of brooding horror patrolling the deeps. His play against Elazer and Dark was positively lethal and should give even Rogue room for pause. He could easily be considered the most dangerous player in the field, a mantle which many might have bestowed upon Rogue before his slip up against Neeb.
And so Rogue and herO find themselves opposite one another for the third time in half a year with an even larger prize pool at stake. herO is looking to win his money back and then some while getting revenge on someone whose most notable victories have come at his expense. Rogue, on the other hand, will attempt to disprove the maxim that third time’s the charm. He’s beaten herO twice, with each triumph proving an instrumental waypoint towards reaching this stage. On November 3rd Rogue will do his best to channel Canada Bill because through his eyes, herO is a sucker. It would be immoral to let him keep his money.
When Only One Steed Remains
In the nascent days of 2017, four Terrans stood head and shoulders above their peers. ByuN was the world champion, INnoVation was fresh off a victory at IEM Gyeonggi while Maru and TY had only recently played a Best of 7 for $300,000. Dubbed the Four Horsemen, they looked every bit the favorites to win any tournament they entered. That’s what we were sold anyway. None of the three managed to make it past the round of 8 in GSL Season 1 though. It was Ryung that outpaced his compatriots while players like aLive and GuMiho stole the spotlight at the first Super Tournament and GSL Season 2 respectively. ByuN had all but disappeared and Maru was quickly fading into the distance.
By the time summer came, those who enjoyed their temporary moment in the sun seemed to have burnt out. Both TY and INnoVation fell to herO at IEM Shanghai, but INnoVation had won SSL Premier Season 1, looking every bit the conquering hero in the process. They made their domestic returns at GSL vs The World where INnoVation dominated ByuN and TY in the finals to lift his third premier event title of the year. It was a resounding proclamation by INnoVation, one as clear as day: my supposed brethren are anything but my equals. Evidence mounted as INnoVation endured sOs’ special brand of chaos to win another GSL. As impressive as TY had been throughout the year, it was clear he didn’t belong in the same class as the three time Code S champion. Heading into BlizzCon the question of everyone’s lips was if INnoVation was the GOAT. If he wasn’t already, becoming the WCS world champion would certainly see him over the threshold.
It’s fitting then that the other remaining representative of the dreaded quartet should bar his path to glory. TY’s road to the quarterfinals is so utterly John Sun that the Korean community must have a hard time wiping the grin off their faces. It is in many ways the perfect lead up to this showdown. They’ve split their pair of offline matches in 2017, but the dominance INnoVation displayed in August makes it difficult to imagine a world where the outcome doesn’t parrot the GSL vs The World finals. TY has it within him to surprise everyone though. He dug deep and played spoiler at WeSG and IEM. Would it really be a shock if he pulled off the same trick here as well?.
Once upon a time there were four. Nearly a year later and there are just two. Only one steed remains. Who will claim it and ride off into the sunset?
Elazer 3 > 2 SpeCial
GuMiho 1 < 3 soO
Rogue 3 > 2 herO
INnoVation 2 < 3 TY