Best of 5 instead of Best of 7
Before judging the new thing let's remember what we had before. Last year each team had to send out six different players once and the best of them twice. I think STX once sent out Kal for Ace after he didn't play in the regular games and I am sure January also sent a lone Ace too at least once because she is January and that is what January does. But in general we had six different players. On the one hand that meant a lot of Broodwar which is a good thing but on the other hand - let's be honest: the quality of the games was sometimes lackluster. It wasn't SCII bad. I don't say that as flaming, I just feel they try to make more of mediocre games than what they really were. What they call "brilliant strategical decision making" we call a buildorder win, what they call "putting up a good fight" we call bad gg timing.
What makes an epic game are two things: the players involved and how the game plays out. How the games play out is irrelevant for a system change so let us just take a look at the players involved.
Most teams had two or three stars that were distributed on six games. The odds for two stars meeting in a game thus was quite low. That meant that at the end of the day we usually had four to five games with at least one lesser player in them. Games with a star against a rookie also tended to be one-sided most of the time. There were still quite a lot of surprises but it is no coincidence that Bisu set a new win record last season. And then there were these durdling games with no stars at all. Not to take away anything from these guys, but if hOn_sin plays BarrackS I can't get truly excited even if they play a good and close game. These games are not bad and I still enjoy watching them, they just don't pull me off my chair like, let's say, Sea vs. Hydra would do.
Then when it was 3-3 we got an Ace match. These Ace matches were pretty much always awesome. Everything was on the line and we were almost guaranteed to see two Stars clashing. They were the best thing about the old system. Including the Ace match we got to see about two or three magnificent games out of seven each day. So let us remember that we got to see amazing games each day but only the minority of the games last season was one of those. Sometimes because these lesses players failed but far more often just because unless you are a fan of one side when SK Telecom T1 faced Samsung KHAN you didn't really care if s2 or Brave wins and just wait for Bisu, Fantasy, BeSt, JangBi and Stork to come out.
Flash forward to the new season: best of five instead of best of seven and only eight teams. With the best players of the disbanded teams being drafted to other teams we can say that basically all teams except Airforce Ace and STX have strong lineups. And Ace and STX can easily be good teams, too. Bogus and Calm can lead a team to the playoffs just like Kal and firebathero can. Regardless of what those two teams do the lineups of the other teams are more stacked than ever and we also have less games overall.
What that means is crystal clear: a higher concentration of Star players in the games. The teams will be able to send out an awesome player for every single game. The overall quality of the matches will increase drastically. Instead of 2-3 Top games and 3-5 durdling games we will get to see 3-5 Top games and nothing else. The waiting on the good players is over because every game will have them. This is going to be absolutely awesome.
No more Ace Match
With the new lineups in mind one reason for cancelling the Ace match system becomes clear, too. Teams would only be able to send out four different players and thus good players would not get to play. Looking at the lineups five seems to be the perfect number. Just look at the teams and you will agree: All teams have 2-4 players that will always be sent out no matter what and a good number of strong players that will compete for the rest of the slots. This season the question coaches and fans will have to ask themselves when thinking about their lineup will be "Who of the good guys is better? Probably X but we also should let Y play, he is very good." while last season it often seemed to be "Who do we have left? X sucks and Y is in a slump but someone has to be sent." Five players is the right number but with the Ace match system it would be either four or six. The new system rewards depths without handicapping smaller teams too much.
But is it fair to reduce the impact of the best player? Because that is what it undoubtedly does. You can argue that it is a Team League and thus the focus should be on the team. That depth should matter and not their one Ace player. But you could just as well argue that having an awesome player in your lineup should matter and that he deserves to prove himself. All things considered this is a question of personal taste which of the two systems is more fair. I can't decide so I think that we had the Ace system for quite a while now and it brought us many heroes so let us keep it in good memory and enjoy a year of the more team based approach for a change.
Many people seem to be afraid that the omission of the Ace match will make the deciding match anticlimatic because they are played by low level players. If that is your fear just remember the reduced number of games and increased team depths. There just won't be any bad names when KT, SKT, Khan, CJ, Team 8 and Woongjin Stars meet! Thus when it comes to game 5 it will usually be as awesome as ever.
Also note that sniping in Ace matches would have gotten more effective this season if they had kept the system. A higher skill level of the average opponent also means that the best players like Bisu, JD or Flash would need more preparation for their regular game. Finding addional time to also prepare for the Ace match would become difficult even for these guys. An amplifier for that would have been that during last season snipers like Horang2 or Light had to play during the first 6 rounds and prepare for it too. This season however the teams could easily save their snipers for an Ace match. And would Team 8 really send out Jaedong when they expected that Woogjin would send Light who excessively trained TvZ on that map? This sounds like interesting mindgames but in fact the impact on the viewing experience would have been negative. If T8 does not send JD it completely takes away the meaning of the Ace match and also leaves the JD fans disappointed. If they do send JD it is not good either. It becomes a game of one guy who has a major preperation advantage against his opponent trying to overcome it instead of a final on equal footing. And that is not what it should be about.
Overall cutting Ace matches sounded bad at first but after thinking it through it is the right decision for the new situation. Don't be worried, if you liked the regular Proleague last season you will love Proleague this season.
No more Winner's League
Now let's get away from the regular PL to the other changes. There is not that much to say about cutting Winner's League because it is about personal opinion so I will just give mine.
I liked Winner's League from time to time and wished they would have kept it. I didn't mind that winners played multiple games in a row because if they kept winning even against against opponents with better specifically chosen for that map it meant that they were performing well and that is exactly what I want to see. I liked the possibility of All-Kills and reversed All-Kills. Cutting it also reduces the impact of the best players. Since the removal of the Ace match already takes the same line I'd say it would be fair to give guys like Flash, Bisu and JD a chance to shine for their team. For me the Winner's League format was exciting, plus diversion is a good thing in my book. I don't know how the ratings for Winner's League were but probably not very good or else they wouldn't have cut it.
Overall I do not like this change because I see no reason for it. But it is fortunately a change without much impact because it only affects one month of the Proleague without making it actually bad or uninteresting. It was just a nice diversion but nothing crucial to my enjoyment of watching professional Broodwar.
No more Grand Finals
Truth be told: with only eight teams one full season of twelve months would get boring. Ten teams like last season were already almost too few teams to keep the tension. It was still good, but with two less teams it is impossible. The number of different matchups rises exponentially with each additional team so cutting two of ten is a big deal. A full twelve month season just wouldn't work with only 28 different matchups instead of 45 when you play three games a week. You can have a 30-day break at the end of a season and start a new League with the same teams to reset the excitement level but keeping the tension up for a full year just wouldn't work. To be honest it is kind of hard to get information on how these playoffs will work exactly but for the moment I will just try to see it as two Grand Finals.
One suggestion that I often read was pairing the two winners against each other as a Grand Final. But then the team that won the first half would already be qualified for the Grand Final six months ahead of time and would lose all motivation to play serious for the rest of the season so that wouldn't work out.
Lastly I want to mention the thought that motivated me to write this and give the new format a real chance to convince me. Because when I read it first I was thinking to myself "Oh man these changes are so bad. No Ace matches? No Grand Finals for the full year? Where is the hype? Where is the epicness? All we get to see are teams sending five guys and nothing else?" And then I noticed it in my own thoughts: Yes, that is all. All we will see are rivaling teams sending out their best five guys to compete in Broodwar in the best possible environment. And that is exactly what I want to see and nothing else. There will be plenty of epicness and it will be in the matches.