Tier One: Terran Titans and the Protoss who would challenge their throne
Making up the first tier of my predictions are four players who look to be in dominant positions. INnoVation, who might still be the best in the world; Maru who's just smashed his way to his first title in the OSL; Bomber, with great bombing runs everywhere he goes and First, a player who has almost vanished since his Ro8 loss in the OSL, but has shown he still has what it takes to crush face.
INnoVation sits at the top of the WCS Standings with an outstanding 5350 points, representing his second place in WCS KR S1, his win in the first global finals and his semifinals in WCS KR S2. He's the epitome of consistency. Despite a shocking 4-0 loss to Maru in the OSL, he'll be looking to take at least top 4 at the finals in Gamescom. However, with a lack of experience at foreign tournaments and historic failings at marathons such as MLG Winter, he'll be hard pressed to perform his best. But when all else fails; when there's no time to prepare for an opponent and the jet lag sinks in, Innovation's raw mechanical style might just be enough to carry him through to another championship finals.
vX: 180/268 (67%)
vP: 46/73 (63%)
vT: 45/69 (65%)
vZ: 89/126 (71%)
Players to Fear: Maru, Bomber, Polt
Maru comes in to this tournament in a way he never has before; as a favourite. He's always been a fringe Code S player, but, coming off the back of a royal road and dominant wins against Symbol, Innovation and Rain, he looks poised to start slaying his opponents at the Season two finals. With a limited zerg lineup and recent wins over most of the top tier players, Maru should be hoping for at least a top 8 finish. However, nobody will under-rate him any more, and with very little time between matches, especially in the playoffs, Maru may have trouble employing his magnificent preparation to take the clutch wins where he needs them. Particularly against unpredictable players and all-around champions who can throw out just about any build, Maru will need to be very cautious.
vX: 255/443 (58%)
vP: 87/144 (60%)
vT: 68/111 (61%)
vZ: 100/188 (53%)
Players to Fear: Jaedong, Duckdeok, Bomber
Bomber is often very hit-and-miss. With a stunning performance in the OSL, on paper he looks to be entering the finals in a good position. But falling against Rain, it looks like he might be ready to drop down again in to another period of obscurity. Coupled with a loss against life in the RSL5 finals, it looks as though he lacks the ability to close out big series where they count. Despite this, he's still a complete boss. Smashing First in TvP and Innovation in TvT shows that he has what it takes to take down titans when he needs to, but a worrying absence of recent results in TvZ and his habit of succumbing to "Bomber's Law" and plunging deeper and deeper with every climb, he'll need to really give it his all if he wants to make a decent showing. One thing that he has on his side however is that he's had experience in the past of foreign events, which many of the top Koreans, such as Maru and Innovation won't have, giving him an edge in this German Tournament. But every rock has an edge and that won't stop him going down-hill if he gains momentum.
vX: 446/720 (62%)
vP: 156/241 (65%)
vT: 138/224 (62%)
vZ: 152/255 (60%)
Players to Fear: Rain, Jaedong, Maru
First isn't Rain, but he's still in the top tier. Why? Whereas the latter has been slipping up and being inconsistent all over the place recently, First has been fairly solid almost all the time, bar his one massive failing against Bomber in the OSL. Since then, he's been very quiet, being patient and building himself back up. With a riveting run through the placement matches, he smashed Symbol and Supernova to grab the last spot at Gamescom. He'll be returning to Cologne, where he previous worked his way to the finals of the IEM World Championship, nicknamed "LG-IEM" for his team's dominating performance. If he can rekindle some of that magic, he might just be able to complete the Miracle and take this season finals. If he wants to get there, though, he has some powerful enemies to fight his way past.
vX: 235/376 (63%)
vP: 56/85 (66%)
vT: 91/156 (58%)
vZ: 88/135 (65%)
Players to Fear: Bomber, Innovation, Duckdeok
Tier Two: The best of the Foreign League
Like it or not, the foreign WCS championships are dominated by Korean players, fighting by prOxy for the glory of Europe and North America. Last Season, Mvp took that burden upon himself, smashing his Way to the semi-finals, where he narrowly Lost to INnoVation. This season the weight will fall upon the Top Koreans in the foreign scene; duckdeok, the European champion, Jaedong, the Tyrant, hero of the non-WCS events and most recently finalist at WCS AM S2, Polt, Captain America himself and TaeJa, semi-finalist at WCS AM and champion of two foreign events.
Duckdeok or "MiniReach" has just taken his first championship, WCS EU S2. The global finals will be his chance to prove that he isn't just a fringe Code S player who can only perform at foreign events. What's more, he'll be defending his home turf, as this season's finals take place in Europe. For the European scene, he's been considered a villain for his aggressive playstyle and his penchant for eliminating fan favourites. However, he goes in to the finals as an antihero; the people of Europe may not love him, but he's their defender against the Korean invasion now. He may not be the hero that Europe deserves, but he's the one it needs right now. A Cheesy Protector. A Duck Knight.
vX: 253/443 (57%)
vP: 69/122 (57%)
vT: 102/173 (59%)
vZ: 82/148 (55%)
Players to Fear: Rain, Innovation, Jaedong
Jaedong's starcraft 2 story is becoming a tragic one. He started off performing well, making a strong showing for Team 8 in Proleague and getting a seed in to GSL Code S. His success was short-lived, however, and he quickly fell back to Code B. Joining EG, he gained some new life, butchering foreign tournaments and making another good run in Proleague for EG-TL. However, he was never quite able to close out a championship and as his ultimate rival, Flash, performs at the highest level. However, even after losing final after final, he's gained a new hope. In the WCS AM S2 Finals, Jaedong made another sick run, solidifying his place at the heart of the foreign scene. But success in the foreign scene won't give him glory against his Korean rivals. If Jaedong wants to live up to everything he once was, then absolute victory will be his only option.
vX: 236/371 (64%)
vP: 85/162 (52%)
vT: 65/96 (68%)
vZ: 86/113 (76%)
Players to Fear: Innovation, MC, First
Polt has become the ultimate avatar of the American scene. Like Select before him, he's filled the absence of strong US pros by being an adopted player. And like any young child taken in by a stranger, it transpires that he's a super hero. Captain America now fights valiantly for the American scene, smashing the MLG Spring Championship and making dominant showings at almost every foreign event. He's shown that he has the potential to take out the best with his tournament wins, but he'll need to beat players better than Hyun or Dear if he wants to make a showing at Gamescom. With TvT looking like his weakest match-up, he may suffer against true titans in the match-up like Bomber or Maru, but with his recent win against Taeja in WCS AM, he could have what it takes to smash the tournament.
vX: 900/1404 (64%)
vP: 287/423 (68%)
vT: 257/423 (61%)
vZ: 354/556 (64%)
Players to Fear: First, Bomber, Rain
TaeJa didn't make the finals of WCS AM, but showcased brilliant play in TvT and TvP at the finals, complementing his already impeccable TvZ. It's a shame that he lost to the tactical play of Polt, because the tournament would have been the crown jewel in his collection, along with Assembly and HomeStory Cup. He'll be looking for a win at the Global Finals in order to complete his second Summer of Taeja and continue his dominance of European events. After losing to Polt and dropping a won game to Macsed, he'll need to work on improving his tactical failings and ensuring he takes the right fights at the right times; because his strategic thinking is looking increasingly deadly. His introduction of tanks at Assembly allowed him to dominate Zergs and smash his way to a championship. We may not be in the days of his 90% win rate in the match-up, but it's a shame there are so few zergs for Taeja to devour at the Season finals. In a world dominated by Protoss, he'll need to ensure that his engagements are flawless in order to make a good run.
vX: 751/1152 (65%)
vP: 251/388 (65%)
vT: 220/352 (63%)
vZ: 278/410 (68%)
Players to Fear: Bomber, Polt, First
Tier Three: A King in the North, A Queen of Blades and a Pair or Aces
They say that the world is a deck of cards and that all luck is held on the draw. For these players, they're all experiencing a massive shuffle up right now. Rain loses the OSL finals to a plucky Royal Roader and looks increasingly shaky, Scarlett catapults to the top of the foreign scene, MC makes his resurgence in a Protoss-dominated WCS EU and NaNiwa, despite consistent performances at several Premier events, has shown some massive weaknesses which he'll need to fix to perform. For these players, the Championship isn't a likelihood, but with a lucky draw, they could still pull a flush out of the deck.
Rain was at the very top of the Starcraft 2 scene. His play was crisp, his defence was perfect and his timings were golden. But now a new Korean elite has arrived, with players like Innovation and Soulkey showing far more solid play than Rain and on the other side players like Maru showing eccentric and maddeningly aggressive play that cripples Rain's defensive style. Rain seems to be at a loss, with a weak limp to his second OSL finals ending with 4 losses in a row to Maru and two ace match losses in Proleague seeing SKTelecom knocked out of the playoffs. If he wants to make a recovery, this is his only chance. As players become more comfortable with HotS, defensive macro seems to be growing weaker and constant aggression and harassment is becoming far more common. With the help of his team-mate Parting, Rain is beginning to mix up his playstyle. The question is, can he find a new funk in time to crush face in the WCS finals?
vX: 254/381 (67%)
vP: 81/129 (63%)
vT: 88/127 (69%)
vZ: 85/125 (68%)
Players to Fear: Maru, Innovation, Duckdeok
Scarlett barely lost to Jaedong in the WCS AM Semis, with a 2-3 result, an incredible achievement in itself given Jaedong's prowess in the mirror match-up. But with only Jaedong as another zerg, that ZvZ success won't carry her far in the season finals. What will help her is her powerful ZvP, smashing HerO and Macsed on the way to the playoffs and her dominant ZvT, taking out Alive 3-0 with great comebacks and solid drop defence. She's currently the most hyped foreign player, but will that translate to success? She's shown her prowess against Koreans in WCS AM, but they'll be nothing compared to their ilk from the OSL. If she wants to trade blows with the likes of Innovation and Maru, she'll need to show something special. With most of the foreign scene behind her, though, she may just be able to make something happen.
vX: 251/388 (65%)
vP: 75/112 (67%)
vT: 73/112 (65%)
vZ: 103/164 (63%)
Players to Fear: Maru, Innovation, First
MC made a great showing at WCS EU S2, leading the Protoss Republic as it's President all the way to the finals, where he narrowly lost to Duckdeok 3-4. His PvP experience will serve him well in the Season finals, which will take place in Germany. Unlike many of the other Koreans, he'll enter the finals with no jet lag and 100% comfort with his environment; he's lived there for months. MC has no best match-up, he's solid in all of them. In fact, that's the word that sums up MC in every way; Solid. He can spar with the best of them and should be a contender for a playoffs spot, but he's not much more than solid and if he wants to get far, he'll need to beat players who still have the spark of brilliance that he's not really shown in over a year. MC may have all sorts of environmental advantages, he may have the cunning and he may have the builds, but if he wants to do well, he'll need skill, luck and the brilliance that only Jang Min-Chul can achieve.
vX: 840/1354 (62%)
vP: 241/382 (63%)
vT: 321/524 (61%)
vZ: 278/448 (62%)
Players to Fear: Duckdeok, Innovation, Naniwa
NaNiwa remains the King in the North, with excellent performances at Dreamhack Summer and MLG Spring paving the way for what promised to be a shot at the WCS EU trophy. Unfortunately, he fell short, losing to the eventual champion, Duckdeok, 3-1. He says he's worried about his PvP and with a Protoss plurality at the finals, he has cause for concern. However, if there's one thing that Naniwa can do, it's make a build. He brought the Colossus push to MLG Providence, he brought the gateway expand to Dreamhack Stockholm and he brought his immortal heavy expand-style PvP to MLG Spring. If he can rekindle the magic in Cologne, he stands a good chance of obliterating the competition. With only limited time to prepare however, and with a lengthy time apart from the Korean ladder, he'll be hard pressed to make it happen. But when all the odds are against him, when nobody thinks he'll win and when all the pressure is removed, that is when Naniwa takes home titles.
vX: 800/1291 (62%)
vP: 256/407 (63%)
vT: 311/474 (66%)
vZ: 233/404 (58%)
Players to Fear: Rain, First, Duckdeok
Tier Four: Underdogs and Fan Favourites
When you take away the mechanical masters, the genius build creators and the great tacticians, you're left with a core of players who, despite being solid, look very outclassed by the competition. Any of these players could take a weekend tournament, but none of them look like they're in great condition to win the WCS Finals. MMA, performing well, but not looking to be the "unstoppable force" that he once was, Jim, the Chinese hope who failed to take out Jaedong in a PvZ, Welmu, heralded as a PvP specialist but losing 3-0 to MC and Grubby, quite possibly the biggest fan favourite to take this, but looking like he could be one of the least likely to do so.
MMA made his way to the WCS EU semifinals without ever looking amazing, taking narrow games to make his way out of the group stages. In the play-offs he managed to take out HasuObs before dropping to MC, showing that his vP has finally developed in to a competent match-up. But through all of this, he didn't take out a single Korean. He didn't even beat the WCS EU Koreans, and he's even less likely to be able to fight the likes of Innovation. However, there's a chance that he'll pull off some of the same magic that Mvp pulled last season, and if he can swing a good group and a bracket against some weak TvT players, he could definitely make a solid showing.
vX: 504/828 (61%)
vP: 142/236 (60%)
vT: 177/297 (60%)
vZ: 185/295 (63%)
Players to Fear: MC, First, Bomber
Jim was the last player to make it to this season's final, but he has an outside hope. Invictus players always have the potential to run deep, at any tournament in any game. However, Jim doesn't look solid enough to take out the big dogs. With a surprising loss to Jaedong, his hype is beginning to falter as he looks more human. His weakness to zerg won't be that much of an issue at a protoss dominated finals, however, and he'll have a good chance to showcase the Chinese style of PvP against the European and Korean styles. However, with the sheer breadth of styles he'll have to face, his strengths aren't going to be particularly helpful. He'll also have to struggle with the hell of three time-zone jet lag; playing in three tournaments all over the world inside of a month. We've seen the best players stumble to such conditions, and Jim will be no more immune to it than they were.
vX: 217/353 (61%)
vP: 75/116 (65%)
vT: 67/112 (60%)
vZ: 75/125 (60%)
Players to Fear: Jaedong, Duckdeok, Innovation
Welmu was given the nick-name "Bumblebee Protoss" for his colourful yellow and black shirt during the WCS EU Placement matches. Unlike most of the other players, he didn't have a team shirt covered in sponsors. NrS is a much smaller team than the teams that Welmu will go up against in the finals, but he could make the big run that a small team like NrS and a small scene like Finland could really do with. He's heralded as a PvP champion and the new best Finnish player, but with a disappointing performance in the WCS EU S2 playoffs and a 3-0 loss to MC, he's shown that he's still not accustomed to the big stages of eSports finals. If he can regain his stature then he has the potential to show some great PvPs, but he'll need luck, confidence and great blink micro to make it happen.
vX: 551/924 (60%)
vP: 201/298 (67%)
vT: 146/255 (57%)
vZ: 204/371 (55%)
Players to Fear: Scarlett, Jaedong, Rain
Grubby made his way to the semifinals of WCS EU with arguably the easiest Quarter-final, avoiding a Korean until his loss to Duckdeok. However, with a win over Mvp in the Ro16, he's shown that he has solid PvT and a PvP that can at least contend with some of the better European players. However, he'll need to step up to beat the Korean Protosses and to contend with the Terrans that have dominated the OSL. Grubby is used to the stress of the big stage, however, with a great WC3 career in which he showed the ability to work his way out of the toughest matches and to clinch championships. That's why he'll be a massive fan favourite in the WCS Season 2 Finals, but the foreign scene will have to hope he'll up to the task of making those dreams come to life.
vX: 698/1347 (52%)
vP: 174/319 (55%)
vT: 224/445 (50%)
vZ: 300/583 (51%)
Players to Fear: Duckdeok, Innovation, Polt
Maru, Polt, Duckdeok and MC will get the group-topping seeds for the Round of 16, which means that the scarier players like Innovation and Bomber will still be live in the draw. A lot of what happens at the finals will be down to who pulls who, but the cream will almost undoubtedly rise to the top. Expect big plays by Innovation, Bomber and First, while the former attempts to repeat his performance at Season One and the latter two make a play for glory in the new WCS system.