WCS Global Finals: Quarterfinals Preview
Maru vs sOs: Control Chaos
Absolutes are few and far between in StarCraft II. Form waxes and wanes, maps appear and disappear and balance knows nothing but a constant state of flux. It’s up to each player to find a style that can flow amid the uncertainty, and hopefully guide them to glory. Some instill order, thriving on discipline. Others rely on hunting out the tiny edges others can’t perceive and blowing them a mile wide. Some make a habit of barely scraping by, but in the end they’re the ones standing with a trophy in their hand. It’s because everyone’s methods vary so greatly that their stories are so rich.
At first glance Maru and sOs have much in common. Both gained favor among fans for their flashy play and unique strategies. Maru had the divine ability to make magic happen with a handful of units. sOs’ talent for making a fool of even the most accomplished opponents was simply unfathomable. The year went on and both became titans in their own right. Maru won OSL and SSL. sOs carved a swath of destruction that led to multiple world championships. Together they were two of the key pieces when Jin Air claimed victory in the final season of Proleague. At first glance they have everything in common. After 2018 they couldn’t be anymore different.
Once fickle and precocious, Maru has transformed into something otherworldly over the course of the year. He’s evolved while others have remained stagnant, finding ways to lord over the Korean scene even as the meta shifted and his peers futilely strained to leap ahead. He’s redefined what it means to be a champion in Korea, leading us to reconsider what exactly dominance means. He’s done everything but win BlizzCon, but of course that part has to be saved for last.
sOs meanwhile has experienced a real fall from grace. Back in Heart of the Swarm his builds were the perfect blend of lunacy and calculated genius. For whatever reason Legacy of the Void, or perhaps decaying creativity, has slowly robbed him of much of his free expression, reducing his once fearsome and beguiling arsenal to a number of unconvincing allins and odd experimentations. His decision making was always in question, but it’s been exceptionally dubious as of late. Just think back to his games against HeRoMaRinE this past weekend where he channeled his inner Has, refusing to take gases or tech up in the face of a more advanced army. Sure it worked, but this isn’t the champion we’ve come to expect. The truth is sOs isn't that player anymore.
And yet, while sOs’ best days seem behind him, and Maru is in the midst of a renaissance, both find ways to win by sticking to their guns. Maru may have gotten the better of his teammate in their last five meetings, but they played a pair of very close series at IEM Katowice and in the first Season of GSL. In more recent times sOs actually beat Maru in the second Super Tournament proving that even in his diminished form, sOs’ madness might be the perfect counter for Maru’s perfectly ironed play.
After completely divergent years, Maru and sOs are poised to face off at the WCS Global Finals with both players’ legacies hanging in the balance. sOs will seek to further his reputation as the champion who forces his opponent to play his game. Maru is surely intent on taking another stride towards immortality. In the end it all boils down to a Best of 5. Whoever wins their showdown will be but two matches from ultimate victory and an irrevocable place in StarCraft II history.
Stats vs SpeCial: When the Lights Shine the Brightest
It’s safe to say Stats and SpeCial exist in different realities. One is a champion, the greatest player of their race over the past few years, and a contender in every tournament they enter. The other is an over and underachiever all at once. A chronic loser when it comes to semifinals, who manages to reach them when we least expect it, but never breaks through when they should. It’s more than prize money, trophies or accolades that separates Stats and SpeCial though. There’s a different air about them. Both are soft spoken and hardworking, but Stats’ solid play and refined builds make the mundane glisten like gold, while SpeCial is more recognized for his resume than his playstyle. Entirely different, yes, but here they are sharing the same stage.
We’ve come to expect great things from Stats. High expectations are the price you pay for winning nearly every tournament under the sun. Positive results like his Super Tournament title earlier this year leave fans wanting more. No, they leave us demanding more. As difficult as it’s been, Stats has, for the most part, managed to live up to the hype. His play in online tournaments might be lacking, but he always shows up on the biggest stage. In 2017 alone he won GSL and SSL, earning him the top spot in the WCS Korea points standings. He entered the WCS Global Finals that year as one of the favorites, but in the end was sent packing early after playing the part of the fool.
That tournament was, in many ways, SpeCial’s coming out party. He’d reached a pair of quarterfinals on the WCS Circuit in Austin and Valencia, but wiping the floor with Stats and TY en route to winning Group A was an achievement of an entirely different nature. In the end SpeCial made it all the way to the semifinals and, while he was thoroughly outclassed by soO, there was no doubt that we’d never look at SpeCial the same way.
BlizzCon 2017 could have been the birth of a new SpeCial, but those who put their faith in him have gone largely unrewarded. SpeCial quickly slipped back down to earth, duplicating his 2017 results on the WCS Circuit by reaching a pair of semifinals, but making it no further. SpeCial may have finished third in the WCS Standings, but when you remove his quartet of Challenger wins (all of which come over the same soft field), he only had 55 more WCS points than eighth place finisher Lambo.
And so Stats and SpeCial entered the 2018 WCS Global Finals in much the same position they had a year ago. Stats was once more playing the part of contender, but this year he made good on his solid performances leading up to the big dance. He stampeded through his group, showing the type of form that was critically absent this time last year. SpeCial, reduced to being just another dark horse, looked poised for an early exit having been drawn into a group with the ever dangerous Classic and reigning WCS World Champion Rogue, but the Mexican Terran found a way to channel his BlizzCon 2017 form, matching Rogue tit for tat in defeat before outplaying the best PvT’er in the world in a brutal two game set. What had been a disappointing year was entirely forgotten in the wake of those matches, as SpeCial waited with bated breath to see who barred his path to his second straight semifinal appearance.
Stats and SpeCial have made their names in completely different ways, but now they face off with the same goal just three matches away. Whereas Stats enters their showdown as the favorite, adorned with all the achievements in the world, he’ll be pitted against an opponent who for some reason seems to play his best on the greatest stage. And, while Stats has never put his stamp on the WCS Global Finals in the same manner he has GSL and SSL, he once more finds himself with a chance to redeem his past failures. For Stats and SpeCial, a year of StarCraft II, dozens of tournaments and hundreds of matches all come down to this weekend. If there ever was a time to stand out this is it. When the lights shine the brightest.
Rogue vs TY: The Well Worn Path
It’s safe to say this isn’t our first rodeo. In fact, if one were to be completely honest, we’ve seen this exact thing play out before. The influx of KeSPA players back in 2012 gave Korean StarCraft II renewed luster, but a steady flow of retirements over the past few years has compressed it into something exceedingly pedestrian. Odd names flit through on occasion, but the established core can’t help but constantly clash in the same familiar settings. Each result adds to a ever growing tally as their narratives knot and tangle into an inextricable mess. Players can’t exist independently, so linked are they to their peers. Zest always gets the better of sOs (until he doesn’t), soO can’t beat INnoVation, Dark and Stats have formed the greatest (one sided) rivalry of the past few years, and let’s not forget about the countless online clashes between players like Impact, Cure and Creator. These are the paradigms by which the fans make sense of things. The barometers by which we rank, categorize, rate and remember those who play the game.
Rogue made a name for himself in the latter half of 2017 by erasing his established storyline. Or at least writing over the meaningful parts. Winning IEM Shanghai and the second Super Tournament cast Rogue as a champion for a new age, a perception he validated by winning BlizzCon 2017 (while further condemning soO to his established narrative in the process). An uncharacteristic slip up in this year’s first season of Code S, challenged Rogue’s newfound class, but he recaptured his exceptional form from the year prior just in time to win IEM Katowice. Rogue was reborn once more, his failings forgotten, but as the year went on the old Rogue began to show through. His already unenviable Code S Round of 8 record swelled to a horrifying 0-7, a mark which increases to 0-9 if you add in his pair of SSL quarterfinal appearances back in 2015. With BlizzCon 2018 just a few months away, a pair of forgettable performances at GSL vs. the World and the second Super Tournament made it seem as if Rogue had slipped right back into the old ways.
TY is another player who we have pretty nailed down at this point. Some people like to throw around vague terms like how smart TY is, or how his sense for strategy is unmatched, but the simple truth is that TY is one of the most talented players in StarCraft II when it comes to losing important matches. He only played five tournaments in 2018, but he managed to lose in the semifinals of GSL Season 2, the finals of Season 3 and in the Round of 8 at IEM Katowice to, of all people, Rogue.
It was the second time TY and Rogue have met in an offline Best of 5 in the past two years, the first coming at the 2017 WCS Global Finals. TY leapt out to a 2-0 lead that day, but got reverse swept, something that happens to him far too often for it to be considered coincidence. TY has made an ugly habit of faltering when one win from the good, like in GSL Season 1 2017 against soO or his quarterfinal against GuMiho in the very next season. At this point TY will be remembered as much for the manner and the timing for which he loses as he will for his WESG and IEM World Championship titles.
Last year’s WCS Global Finals will forever be the most unforgettable moment of Rogue’s career. It was the culmination of a reinvention that brought Rogue to the pinnacle of the sport. For TY it was further proof that he’s mired where he is for a reason. Be it fate or a faulty mentality, he seems destined to fall short. The fact that they find themselves playing once more, at the same tournament a year later, however, is not fate. It’s merely another example of players crossing paths, continuing old rivalries, writing the same stories and perpetuating the old song and dance. Whether one considers that a bad thing is up for debate, but what’s for certain is Rogue is playing as well as he ever has this tournament and TY isn’t far behind. We’ve seen this before, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less enthralling.
Dark vs Serral: The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object
In a game chock full of compelling narratives, one of the most titillating longest for quite some time was Dark’s unnerving domination over foreigners. It was a streak that began in the latter portion of October 2012, when a Polish Zerg named ParanOid fell 2-0 in the long forgotten EG Master’s Cuper Series VIII. Hardly content with a single victory, Dark rattled off an absurd 34 match win streak over foreigners. For five years he went without a loss, growing more and more dangerous with every slain opponent. He faced them in online qualifiers, in Dreamhacks, IEM, the KeSPA Cup, even BlizzCon itself. As his tally of victims and reputation swelled, so did his bravado. Dark’s became more boisterous with each GG, morphing into a monster specially bred to stamp out foreign hope. Just look to the most recent edition of GSL vs. the World where crumpled up a picture of Scarlett before their game had even been played.
It’s odd to phrase it this way, but it’s quite possible Serral is even better at dispatching foreigners than Dark is. Dark’s unbeaten streak came to a screeching halt at BlizzCon 2017 when he lost in the winner’s match of Group C to Elazer, and he’s managed to lose two more times since then (Serral in GSL vs. the World and ShoWTimE just this weekend), but his ridiculous feat will never be forgotten. It’s too essential to StarCraft II’s premier rivalry, that between foreigners and Koreans. That’s why people didn’t pay the same attention when Serral went on a 43 match win streak against his peers from May to October of this year. It’s the kind of stat you only see being thrown around by the most devout of Serral fans, but it’s telling in a way. Because it’s not just amazing that Serral managed to go undefeated for such a long period of time, it’s the fact that historically elite Korean players like Stats, INnoVation, soO and more dropped maps to foreign opposition this year despite having far fewer opportunities to slip up. Say what you will about the level of competition on the WCS Circuit, but no one, Korean or otherwise, has been better this year at winning the matches in which they are favored than Serral.
The manner in which Dark and Serral pieced together their runs are strikingly different. Both relied on keen sense to end games at the first sign of weakness, but where Dark employed aggressive strategies to prey on frailty and force mistakes, Serral preferred to lean on his mechanics and game sense. Over the course of their respective runs we saw Dark and Serral dismiss foreigners in quick, brutish affairs, but we also watched Serral yank victory from the jaws of defeat against Reynor by flat out out-thinking, out maneuvering and outplaying the Italian Zerg. It was never more clear than it that game how wide of a gulf in class there is between Serral and his foreign opposition. Just as Dark showed us for half a decade, and Serral did for a good portion of 2018, the pair of world class Zergs are simply a cut above.
If Dark is aggression incarnate, the key that unlocks any defense, then Serral is the omnipotent warden who stymies interlopers before they even reach his gates. Spectacular in wildly different ways, Dark and Serral are both fantastic players with a record of dominance as impressive as any in StarCraft II’s history. Something has to give when they go head to head this weekend. Someone has to get the better of the other. But who can win when two titans like this collide, when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?