Zest vs Impact: A Rivalry for our Timesby Mizenhauer
StarCraft II used to have rivalries on the biggest stage. Idra and HuK traded blows in the early days, while HerO and Puma met in every foreign tournament imaginable, even deciding finals between them. Back in Korea, matches between Mvp and MMA were some of the most anticipated in all of Wings of Liberty. A few years later Zest vs soO became the defining matchup of 2014.
But where the past was stacked with intriguing storylines and repeated clashes on the biggest stages, 2018 was defined by dominance and a lot of one-sided thrashings. Maru and Serral made sure that GSL and WCS never birthed the good old fashioned rivalry we crave. It still exists, however. We merely have to look elsewhere. It turns out there are gems hidden amid the unspectacular.
None are more peculiar than the rivalry between Zest and Impact. While neither of these players are as elite as Maru and Serral, they are not without their own charm. Theirs is a story that began in earnest last year in the wake of BlizzCon, when an innocuous online match sparked the greatest rivalry of modern Korean StarCraft II.
Prologue: November 2017 - January 2018
The fiercest rivalry of 2018 begins
On November 28th, 2017, a new year of competitive StarCraft II had only just begun. Another BlizzCon was in the books, players were quickly adapting to the new design patch, and everyone was gearing up for the first WCS and GSL preliminaries of the new cycle. On that day, amidst all those preparations, Zest and Impact happened to meet in the 19th edition of the WardiTV weekly.
Zest was less than a week removed from winning HomeStory Cup 16, the first significant event played on Patch 4.0. He had stumbled a few times along the way, but he rightfully earned the crown by flexing the full might of the revamped Protoss forces. It was a welcome way to begin the 2018 WCS tour after a disappointing 2017.
Impact meanwhile, hadn’t done anything of note since his summer 'Royal Road' in the VSL. His forays into SSL Challenge were unsuccessful and he hadn't even qualified for Code S in the last season of 2017. Simply put, he didn’t really have much going for him.
All that was in the past, though, as they set upon each other from the comfort of their own homes. Despite facing a rudderless Impact with all the wind in his sails, Zest managed to lose the match 2-0. The most titillating of new/old abilities, recall, was on full display in game one, but Impact’s lurkers won the day. In game two, the players managed a combined 82 workers ten minutes into the game. And while it was unassuming and quickly forgotten, it was also the start of the greatest—or at least the strangest—rivalry of 2018.
The two played four more times in online competitions over the next three months—OlimoLeague, BTSL, WardiTV Weekly, and the ONPOONG Masters—with Impact going 3-1.
On one level, the matches were exceedingly uninteresting. Many of the games were nothing more than one-sided beatdowns, often the product of Zest’s baffling inability to deal with simple aggression. Impact’s 3-1 victory in ONPOONG Masters lasted a mere 34 minutes including breaks (VOD). Zest somehow escaped to the late game and the safety of the Golden Armada in Olimoleague #111, but still lost all his buildings to Zerglings as soon as he left his base (VOD).
And yet, on another level, these constant meetings were fascinating. Here were two progamers who were polar opposites in so many ways. Zest was a two-time Code S champion, while Impact had never escaped the Round of 32. Zest was a player who was so photogenic that IEM continued to feature him ahead of stars in League of Legends and CS:GO. Impact—well perhaps he didn't blend into a crowd, but he wasn't anyone's posterboy either. Why were these two players suddenly playing each other so often? And why in the hell was Impact WINNING most of the matches?
Meanwhile, the first GSL of 2018 was well underway as Korean StarCraft II ramped up for the new year. Impact failed to advance from a challenging group featuring the best two Protoss players in the world, Stats and Classic. Zest, on the other hand, advanced in second place from his round of 32 and round of 16 groups.
After a lazy start to the year Korean StarCraft was really heating up. Unbeknownst to Zest and Impact, their rivalry was about to intensify as well.
Poland and Beyond: March - April 2018
Despite having met twelve times over the course of their careers, Impact and Zest had yet to play in an offline match of consequence. That all changed in Katowice, when they faced off in an unstreamed match in Group C of the Round of 24. We can only surmise what actually happened, but Impact won the first series of the day 2-0. It turned out to be the most important match of the group for for both players.
While Group A, B and D sent three players with winning records to the elimination rounds, Group C only churned out two. Impact and Neeb went 2-3, while Zest and Nerchio only got on the board once. Impact ultimately advanced on map score, aided in large part by his 2-0 over Zest. Had the result been reversed it would have been Zest who emerged from the scrum. Impact wound up losing to Dear in the Round of 12, but it was still the biggest tournament cash of his career.
For most fans, Zest's loss to Impact made a certain fact irrefutable. The doubters of Zest's PvZ had been right for questioning it since IEM PyeongChang, where he had lost to Elazer in the Round of 8. Even in GSL Season 1, when Zest returned to the quarterfinals for the first time in almost two years, he was eliminated by Dark. We should have all seen it coming—from those online clashes with Impact in the preceding months.
The pair split sets in mid March, though Zest’s victory in Ballistix Brawl Season 2 Weekly 7 is lost in the VOD wormhole, never to be seen again. While we can only imagine the incendiary gameplay we missed out on, the 3-0 sweep represented a shift in the rivalry’s dynamic. The second season of GSL kicked off in April, but Zest and Impact met four times before either made their return to the FreecUP studio.
Zest won the first engagement on April 3rd, in Olimoleague 117. From there they traded blows. Impact beat Zest in the Olimeague March Finals Round of 4, but Zest trumped him to win the Ballistix Brawl Season 2 Finals the very next day. They clashed less than a week later in Olimoleague 118. Impact won, bringing the post-IEM Katowice score to 3-3.
Sadly we will never know how most of these matches went. While Impact was surely aggressive, utilizing masterful timing attacks meant to exploit the tiniest weakness, Zest was almost certainly impregnable, holding wave after wave of units by the thinnest margin. His archon drop micro was immaculate, equaled only by Impact’s unnervingly precise baneling splits against storms. They had to have gone to the late game more than once. Peerless spellcaster usage would have decided those fights. Impact’s methodical spore pushes and viper/infestor control would have gotten the better of Zest at least once, just as Zest’s constant zealot harassment forced Impact to wash against an unstoppable fleet of carriers.
It’s a shame that these games were lost to time because it’s quite possible they were the best ones played all year.
A Brief Reprieve: May - June 2018
The players took a break from their electric online rivalry to take part in Code S Season 2. Impact finished bottom of his group once more, but Zest—obviously having regained confidence by going even with Impact in online cups—reached the Round of 16 by surviving a pair of clashes against Swedish SorfOf. From there he booked his ticket in the Round of 8 by posting his fourth consecutive 2-1 mark in the GSL group stages. Suddenly able to prepare for a single opponent, Zest demolished Dear before playing a sloppy series against TY that one unnamed foreign pro said Zest was lucky to win. Whether or not that was the case, the fact was Zest had returned to the GSL finals for the first time in more than two years. His fans had good reason to be hopeful for the future.
While Zest was enjoying the limelight, Impact had been relegated to online play. He played more than 60 matches in May and June, but none were as important as what was to come in July.
Rivalry Renewed on the Grandest Stage: July 2018
Zest and Impact like you've never seen them before (exactly how you've seen them before)
After nearly three months apart, Zest and Impact reunited in the Olimoleague Summer Finals. Impact won that day, but both players had an eye turned to GSL Group E where Zest and Impact, along with PartinG and ByuN, were set to battle for a spot in the Round of 16. Zest entered the group as the favorite, with Impact a distant third behind the always beloved ByuN.
Zest opened up with an unconvincing win over PartinG. Match two saw Impact blow past ByuN. This set up the newest chapter in their rivalry, a showdown more meaningful than any that had come before it. It turned out to be a brutish series. Zest went for a chargelot allin in game one, but Impact held with a lot of roaches and assured ease. Down a game, Zest went for double stargate phoenix on Lost and Found. The players were neck and neck for a time, but Impact tipped the scales after sniping Zest’s third with corruptors. Impact mustered his forces and pushed in with roach/hydra. Storm finished just as he arrived, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Impact from taking the match 2-0. Zest later advanced from the group, but Impact, who advanced from the Round of 16 for the first time in his career, was undoubtedly the star of the show.
Sadly, Zest did not openly acknowledge the epic rivalry during the Round of 16 group selections. He pondered about choosing Impact as his first opponent, but did not deign to mention their frequent meetings over the course of the year. However, when Zest ended up picking Leenock as his initial, we knew in our heads what he was thinking. Despite his earlier win, Zest still feared his new nemesis. Best not prod the sleeping dragon.
The Perfect Rivalry For Our Times
It’s been a disappointing year for many of Korea’s elite. sOs’ startling loss at IEM Pyeongchang was the start of an alarming trend, which he only managed to reverse in the final two tournaments of the year. Classic, TY, Dark, soO, INnoVation, Stats and more have either flubbed big matches or played below expectations. Even Maru, who played some of the best StarCraft in memory during the year, completely dropped the ball at BlizzCon. 2018 will forever be known as a year in which records were broken, but the truth is that beneath the glamour was a constant stream of unimpressive battles between sluggish, uninspired warriors.
Zest and Impact’s rivalry seems completely unspectacular at first glance. Most of the games took place in largely meaningless online tournaments and the majority of the VODs aren’t even available to the general public. The ones that are available are far from thrilling. Many of them are so one sided it would be a stretch to call them entertaining. We thought their meeting in the Master’s Coliseum 3 main event, a Best of 5 in which Zest won 3-2 despite Impact starting the series a game up, would be their last, forever unlinked on Liquipedia, but they clashed again in the Wardi Summer Invitational, with Impact getting the better of that tilt.
Zest stole a win a month later, but dropped their next three meetings, most notably their clash in the WESG Qualifiers, easily one of their most high profile encounters (though the VOD is once more irretrievable). All in all, Impact holds a 14-6 advantage over Zest since the 4.0 patch was released, making it a rather one sided conflict.
If this were 2017, Impact and Zest’s battles would have been overlooked in favor of more enticing storylines like the latest finals clash between Stats and Dark, the resurgence of soO and INnoVation or Rogue’s mad dash to BlizzCon. Beside Maru’s dominance, Korean StarCraft hasn’t produced the same engaging storylines in 2018. Instead this peculiar matchup, which might have been ignored in more fertile times, stands pronounced for what it truly is. As much as we might try to deny it, the indelible truth is that Impact and Zest’s rivalry is the perfect encapsulation of Korean StarCraft II in 2018.