We'll start with everybody's favorite underdogs:
Regular Season Finish: 10th (17-37); WL 10th (2-16)
Team Ace: ggaemo, firebathero
In what was unquestionably ACE's finest campaign yet, the military men hit double digits emphatically and came up a mere five wins short of not finishing last. Partly, this is due to ACE becoming a destination not just for washed-up first generation stars but underperforming or unneeded players with A-team potential. That gives the Air Force team something to work with - but it doesn't explain quite such a dramatic improvement. People, somebody on the ACE coaching staff know what they're doing. RuBy last year might have been an anomaly, but ggaemo - who lost out as Jaedong's apprentice to Killer - has become Military-Dong. M18M is a competent player now. Iris looked resurgent at times, PianO almost looks like the Terran hope he was supposed to be for Woongjin - for the first time ever he finished a season with a winning record. And the greatest miracle of all? - firebathero has learned to TvP. Wait, what? Somebody at ACE is doing something very right. If only the exigencies of the service didn't all but guarantee that this is as good as it gets.
Regular Season Finish: 9th (22-32); WL 8th (7-11)
Team Ace: Sea
Coach Ha might be gone, leaving them under MuMyung's first-year leadership, but MBCGame HERO was doing just fine through two rounds. Light didn't quite show up as expected in Winners League, but they were surviving. At the end of Winners League, it looked a little ugly. But instead of counting on regular format to revive a team that had been much more solid than expected, somebody decided to sell off the Invisible Terran. Whoops. Well, as a Woongjin fan I can't complain, but seriously what?
The bigger story of the year, though, was the sudden and almost inexplicable emergence of Jaehoon as a genuine threat. Tyson continuing to develop shouldn't have surprised many people, but everybody's favorite practice partner went from laughingstock to valuable performer with an even 30 wins. What to expect next year? I have absolutely no idea. Sea-Jaehoon-Tyson is a solid core - if vulnerable to the Zergs swarming Proleague - but with Light gone HyuN has to get back to form for MBC to be a legitimate threat. That, or they need one of their B-team Terrans to finally get good (my money's on
Regular Season Finish: 8th (23-31); WL 9th (7-11)
Team Ace: BaBy
There's never something to put your finger on when trying to explain why WeMade didn't quite succeed. They have a legitimate ace with what ought to be excellent backup. They're Terran-heavy with a strong Zerg line too. But when it comes down to it, they don't quite seem to have that killer instinct. A few more wins from Shine and RorO and they'd be in the playoffs and nobody would really want to play them... but those wins didn't happen.
On the other hand, the future looks brighter: if the end of the season is any indication, WeMade might finally have found a Protoss who can win. I'm talking about Wooki, the rookie sensation. He's yet to put in a full season of work so it might be premature, but if Jaehoon can make it big then anybody can. Right?
Regular Season Finish: 7th (24-30); WL 2nd (12-6)
Playoffs: WL 3rd Place (L 3-4 vs SKT)
Team Ace: Jaedong
There's good news, and there's bad news. The bad news: HiyA was terrible for the entire year that wasn't Winners League. OZ still doesn't really have a good Protoss. Jaedong took 22 losses, which an ace-dependent team can't have happen when the backup evaporates.
The good news: after a year of despair, Killer has matured into a solid #2 and Starleague player. Anytime is actually still pretty good. Some of those young Protoss might amount to something after all - PerfectMan got 15 wins (!) and the consensus seems to be that he's not the most promising. HiyA has to be better again next year, right?
OZ just hopes that the double-WL is kept next year, because the entire team played much much better in the high-tension format.
Finally: we'll miss you, BackHo. Best of luck with seminary.
Regular Season Finish: 6th (25-29); WL 7th (8-10)
Playoffs: 5th (L 1-2 (1-4, 4-0, 2-4) vs KT)
Team Ace: Bogus?
Fluke, or changing of the guard? Kal and Calm still got the most games, but Bogus came out of actual nowhere - unlike Jaehoon, he had no reputation at all - to be easily STX's best player this year, while the previous ace tag-team finished both with losing records. Let's be clear, they were both only -1, but still. Calm, like fantasy, can be streaky and unreliable, so I expect him to be back next year, but with Shuttle looking better and better - top 3 PvP and trading games with Flash - has Kal gone into the twilight finally, or what? And will by.hero ever be legitimately good?
Watching STX play is aggravating. They ought to be two-deep, with decent to good players, across the racial board - Kal/Shuttle, Calm/by.hero (not to mention Modesty and hyvaa), Bogus/Classic - but it just keeps not translating into actual results. No matter how deep you are on paper - and no matter what your potential (4-0 vs KT anyone?) you're just not going to win games when only two players can keep it together the whole year enough to finish positive. So STX: for the love of ESPORTS get your act together and win some games next year.
Regular Season Finish: 5th (26-28); WL 5th (9-9)
Playoffs: 6th (L 1-2 (4-2, 2-4, 3-4) vs WJN)
Just when the '09-'10 campaign had people convinced the Big Three were played out, and firebathero went to ACE, and Jangbi looked in an eternal slump... this happened. KHAN pulled four good rookies out of a hat: Brave and TurN started the year a combined 10-0 for the boys in blue; as the year went on Grape and Reality took over. Reality was maybe a little over-played but looked the most promising... but Grape made an MSL quarter-final.
Then in May JangBi suddenly remembered how to play. Stork, despite all cell phone games could do, managed another 40-win season. ByuL (who?) went 4-0, making him one of two undefeated players in Proleague this season (the other is Woongjin's BisAng, who played one game and doesn't count). A little too much Zerg for the Protoss-heavy KHAN team knocked them out of the playoffs in a tight 3-match battle, but next year the sky's the limit - and if great gets back to MSL finalist form, the league will really have to watch out.
Regular Season Finish: 4th (28-26); WL 6th (9-9)
Playoffs: 4th (W 2-1 (2-4, 4-2, 4-3) vs KHAN; L 1-2 (4-3, 2-4, 2-4) vs KT)
And now we get to the team with winning records. Woongjin's Terrible Two-o of Zergs, ZerO and Neo.G_Soulkey, led the Stars to their first playoff appearance in years after last year's collapse. Having an actual Terran line helps: Really may not be brilliant but actually wins almost half his games, apparently no matter how much he plays. But the master-stroke was adding Light from MBC. I'm still not a fan of the Crazy-Hydra deal, and think the team would be much better with a third good Zerg, but I'll take what I can get, and adding a Terran ace has to be a great move for next year no matter how the playoffs turn out this season. Now if only free gets back to form, by which I mean Starleague threat, not washed-up mediocrity. I'm sorry, free: I'm mean to the ones I love (but it's true).
Regular Season Finish: 3rd (32-22); WL 1st (16-2)
Playoffs: ??? (W 2-1 (3-4, 4-2, 4-2) vs WJN, W 2-0 (4-2, 4-2) vs CJ); WL 2nd (L 1-4 vs SKT)
KT Rolster has the best damn coach in the business. I know he has Flash on his bench whenever necessary, but KT has no depth whatsoever.* Sure, double WL helped the team out a lot (and Stats really stepped up to the plate there), but to make 32 wins out of basically Flash is a phenomenal job. Touted Zerg prospect Action has gotten better, but is still mediocre (which is at least better than KT's had since Lux removed himself). Crazy-Hydra will almost certainly help the cause - he briefly had Woongjin's best Zerg record, and KT imported his race coach too - but that side hasn't shown up for sure yet in the KT house, where he's still playing second fiddle to Action.
On a sobering note, KT's not had good luck with players this year. Flash's wrist will certainly sideline him at some indefinite point. Violet has leukemia. fOrGG retired. YellOw has retired (not that he added much to the KT bench, unfortunately). Best of luck to them all.
Next year? The fact that they'll almost certainly dominate that Winners League season (again) gives them a good shot regardless, but, if Action continues to improve, Crazy-Hydra acclimates, Flash gets healthy, and Stats plays well, KT shouldn't have to depend on Winners League to take a top playoff spot.
* In one sense not exactly true: most of KT's bench players are mediocre, not bad, unlike, say, OZ. But they're still not good, either.
Regular Season Finish: 2nd (34-20); WL 4th (10-8)
Playoffs: 3rd (L 0-2 (2-4, 2-4) vs KT; WL 4th (L 1-4 vs SKT)
CJ Entus is hax. This is actually partly an accurate description of events, as hite was merged with CJ before the season to create the super-team. But apart from Horang2 ruining the image of CJ (–_–) -> (^_^), the mojo's all from the Entus side. The result: another Zerg rolls off the CJ production line (Hydra), and the Protoss powers of Movie and Horang2 combine to produce two near-ace caliber players. Leta and Snow inexplicably get left in the dust (which means they both won over 20 games, they just lost a little more than the others). The only unexpected weak point was sKyHigh, who may have lost his spot to BByong for good... or may just be undergoing one of CJ's demotion specials . Time will tell, but CJ doesn't have to worry. SKT may have the record to be #1 (by a couple games), but CJ Entus feels like the favorite for Shanghai.
Next year: EffOrt returns. Any questions?
Regular Season Finish: 1st (39-15); WL 3rd (10-8)
Playoffs: Grand Final Seed; WL 1st (W 4-1 vs CJ; W 4-3 vs OZ; W 4-1 vs KT)
Behind a record-shattering campaign by Bisu, SKT cruised to an easy 1st place finish despite a late challenge from CJ. 63 wins by my count in the regular season. 63. And then - even is more insane - that 81% win rate.
In other news: Fantasy continued to be his streaky self (though he did finally win that OSL); BeSt won a bunch of games; By.Sun showed up as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Most surprisingly, n.Die_soO and s2 between them have given SKT an actual factual Zerg line, even if the two of them can't seem to manage to both play well at the same time. Everything indicates that the Masters of the Universe (that is T1, right?) will continue to roll right along with no worries, even if someone manages to knock them off their Grand Finals-seeded perch this year. (Frankly, I think CJ's the only team that stands a chance. Or Woongjin, but that's my inner fanboy talking, not logic.)
Next Time in Part Two:
I break down each team's strengths and weaknesses in the different formats and throughout the year.
I break down each team's strengths and weaknesses in the different formats and throughout the year.
P.S.: I was totally going to wait to release this till the playoffs ended, but I accidentally started arguing about team depth and just had to show my work. Sorry! I will update it as the results come in, not that there's much else to say in this overview piece.