Let's be real here. The Ro8 so far has been very lackluster and disappointing. Despite the excitement of Flash's random picks and the possibility of an epic ZvP, we were left with two really, really one-sided matches. Both series were over within an hour, even with ample breaks from Afreeca to try and draw things out. So...let's hope for better matches this week.
One thing to note about this Ro8 is the immense amount of Zerg players, especially the immense amount of good Zerg players. After what seems like a lifetime since the departure of Effort and Jaedong, Zerg players are finally starting to not only hold their own against the top Terran and Protoss players, they're also creating their own echelon of stardom with breakouts like Soma and the rapid ascent of traditionally good players like ZerO and Action to outstanding players. If anything, this season has shown us how dominant Zerg is looking in the ZvT and ZvP matchups right now, and with the caliber of top Zerg players we have right now, that momentum doesn't look like it's going to let up for a while.
Now, on to the previews!
Choke or Clutch
It's been a long time since we've seen Soulkey reach the bracket stage of the ASL. His ASL run and a chance to earn a seed into the next ASL lie in the hands of this ZvZ against Larva, an unpredictable opponent in an unpredictable matchup...will Soulkey go from choke to clutch or will footstargamer move forward?
Looking at Sponbbang, neither player has played a lot of ZvZs in the last three months, clocking in about 55 games for Soulkey (30-25) and 41 games for Larva (22-19). That leaves us with a roughly the same win rate within the 54% range, and offline they have only faced off once in KSL2, where Soulkey won 3-1 against Larva.
However, when you take a look at the overall ASL situation, whenever either player has been put in a ZvZ eliminator, Larva has almost always managed to cinch the win against his opponents whereas Soulkey has almost always lost despite being considered the favorite in the matchup.
One of the biggest issues for Soulkey has been his ability to perform outside the comfort of his own home since he’s returned to BW, and while he managed to win a KSL, he has been unable to break into the Ro16 in ASL since Season 3 while falling short in ZvP and ZvZ, which should be considered his two best matchups.
It should be noted that when it comes to map picks, Larva picked Polypoid and Shakuras Temple—both 4-player maps—whereas Soulkey picked Benzene and Eclipse, which are both 2-player maps. Soulkey is doing his very best to eliminate games of chances when it comes to this series and maybe even looking to get a more quicker and decisive win against Larva on his map choices.
ZvZ will alway be a match hard to predict, this one even more so. On both paper and in practice, either player can take the series. What is very likely is that this match, much like the other Ro8 matches, will be decided by momentum; whoever can win the first match could easily put their opponent on tilt, and because Soulkey’s overall mutalisk control seems better than Larva, I place my bets on him to take it. The potential of a Soulkey vs ZerO or BeSt is very cool, while on the other hand, Larva vs BeSt might be interesting...but Larva vs ZerO will feel a lot like this matchup, and I don’t particularly want to copy paste this article and change up the names.
Soulkey 3-1 Larva
Soulkey advances to the Ro4!
Winner Takes All
Real talk, this season is Best’s to win.
This may seem like an odd statement considering the notoriously lackluster performances that Best has had in the past two years, but with what seems like a completely rejuvenated PvZ with brand new ideas and strategies coupled with some of the best online stats he’s had in years in all matchups, Best is seriously looking far more powerful than I think anyone is giving him credit for.
It’s easy to praise ZerO for his balanced macro style that mixes sublimely-microed aggression with a thirst for gobbling up the bases on the map, especially coming out of spring as ASL Champion. But we have to remember that across the board Zergs are dominating, it’s not just ZerO. A combination of favorable map pools, meta shifts, and key retirements (and race changes…) have finally created an atmosphere where Zerg players can shine without being overshadowed by monsters like Effort or Jaedong, and in this environment, it appears that Zerg meta is advancing much more quickly than the other races due to the vast amounts of experience and top notch games.
PvZ is historically a lopsided match in either direction. For much of StarCraft’s history, though, it has been dominated by Zerg players though. With the exception of Bisu’s revolution, Protoss players have struggled just to get up bases and deal with the unpredictability of openings that Zerg has at its disposal, and the current times are no different. Deadly 3-hatch hydra timings, fake aggression into 4-hatch plays, mass muta/scourge timings, and incredible “hydra max” openings all feed into one sure thing for Protoss: everything is uncertain.
The reason why I think that Best is surprisingly well prepared for this is because of the evolution of his playstyle in the matchup. Best has historically had a very difficult time mastering the Bisu-esque multitasking style where his corsairs—nicknamed “doh-sairs” for his tendency to lose them by accident—are constantly poking around, scouting, and looking for overlords to pick off, so instead he seems to have turned to his greatest asset, which is incredible army management and macro.
The most interesting evolution of this style has been the addition of a dark archon to his ground army for Maelstrom on the mutalisks. As muta/hydra styles became more common, it was a natural step to take because it shuts down the mutalisks instantly and prevents them from picking off templar at critical moments in the game. The second most interesting evolution has been Best’s penchant for interesting dragoon range openings. While I’m still not completely sold on this opening as solid, it does have some merit by shutting down mutas better as well as building up for an incredible two base army with dragoons and reavers which can outright win the game with a specific timing.
On the Zerg side of things, I feel like we’ve seen a return to the 6-hatch mass hydra style that dominated earlier this year, but it’s...different somehow. Perhaps it’s a combination of Zergs being able to take a faster 4th base and Protosses gearing up for more 2-base aggression, but hydra armies seem to be getting even larger and more fearsome than ever before. In a lot of games, we’re seeing Zerg go up to over 140 supply of just hydras and drones, and it’s absolutely crazy to see how they manage to spread units out and take on huge gateway armies just by macroing like mad.
So getting back to this particular matchup, I think that both players are well suited for each other, but in this particular case, Best comes out on top numerically. He has a positive win rate against ZerO (4-3), Soma (14-12), and Action (5-4) in spon matches this month as well as a positive head-to-head (14-11) against ZerO. The only negative head-to-head is against Soulkey. On the other side of things, ZerO has a better overall win rate against Protoss (61.4% vs Best’s 58.6% with a similar number of games), but many of his wins come from Shuttle, Stork, and Snow, who are arguably much weaker Protoss players (and yes, I will argue that Snow is not the best Protoss player on earth right now, Artosis). Funnily enough, ZerO also has only one negative head-to-head, but it’s against Best.
In short, ZerO seems to be doing better overall in the matchup, but Best’s stats, while far from dominating, seem to indicate that he can take on the best Zerg players and win consistently.
In terms of the maps, we have a fairly standard set of maps to play on in the series:
- Set 1 - Polypoid
Set 2 - Plasma
Set 3 - Benzene
Set 4 - Ringing Bloom
Set 5 - Shakuras Temple
Unsurprisingly, ZerO picked Polypoid and Benzene, both maps where the 3rd base with gas tends to be far away and quite difficult to take, which makes it much harder for Protoss to get into a strong macro game. Likewise, “weirder” maps like Plasma and Ringing Bloom play more to Best’s macro-oriented, mechanical style. While ZerO is a fantastic player, I don’t think he thrives on chaos in messy games as well as Best does, so if any of the games start to go off the rails (and they will on Plasma), it’s likely that Best will be able to pull through and take a win.
The two key maps will be Plasma (G2) and Ringing Bloom (G4). Polypoid and Benzene are almost guaranteed wins for ZerO, but if he can take a win off Best on his map pick, it will skew the series heavily in his favor and put Best in a position where he has to play ultra well to beat his opponent. I expect a lot of fairly straightforward games, but I don’t doubt that each player has some pocket strategies to pull out on their less preferred maps to try to get an edge.
How will things land? I expect that if Best shows up and performs his best, it will be an incredibly close fight, perhaps going all the way to the ace match, but at the same time, who’s to say online Best will be as good as offline Best? In a matchup between two players notorious for choking in live settings, we’ll have to hope that both can overcome their nerves and serve up the best possible games.
In the end, though, I think that the numbers are against ZerO, and that this tournament is truly Best’s actual chance at a championship win. If Best can beat ZerO here, he can beat anyone, especially Flash on Random.
Best 3-2 ZerO
Best advances to the Ro4!