Despite our spiffy nostalgic artwork on the banner, this ASL final is anything but an idealized history, but with luck, we might look back on it with rose-tinted glasses. The first ZvZ finals in ASL history is enough to make some players roll their eyes, but the contenders in this match are not ordinary. They did not get here on luck. This season has been a reawakening for Zerg players who went more or less dormant after the departure of Effort and Jaedong, and due in large part to the innovations of our finalists, the meta in all matchups has advanced considerably for Zerg, giving them a huge leap forward in the metagame.
What will we see on Sunday? It's hard to tell. ZvZ is such a notoriously hard matchup to call. Will we see a quick sweep with maybe one or two luck-based builds? Will it just be unending muta battles? Perhaps we'll have a hive tech game? One can only hope. Whatever the case, this finals is harder than most to call, and it will still be exciting to see such impeccable timing, micro precision, and quickfire decision making from two of the undeniably best players right now!
Back To Back
What's more surprising than anything this year is that ZerO has made back to back finals. It might be better to say “on the cusp of being the second ever back to back champion in ASL” though, a feat nobody believed in, especially after the conversation among pros as to why ZerO could never win a championship offline. Now he’s pretty much made it the year of the Zerg (with the help of Soma).
ZerO has had a run you’d expect from an ASL champion. He stacked every advantage he could get in the Ro16 by needing to only practice one matchup and pretty much crushed Best in the Ro8 and threw Larva to the wind in the Ro4 while only dropping two sets over the entire course of the tournament. It’s like he’s found some clarity or an understanding of himself in a way that he's able to transport his mindset at home to the offline stage...or maybe it’s just the lack of an audience directly looking at him. Whatever it may be, there’s no doubt that it’s working and ZerO has finally broken the mold.
The biggest thing about ZerO’s ZvZ playstyle is that, for the most part, he just does the right things. It’s a vague statement, but ZvZ is like a pendulum, and every decision swings the pendulum very easily. Take, for example, the game against Larva in the Ro4 on Optimizer. ZerO’s mutalisks were already out before Larva’s lair finished, and he only had to hold Larva’s zergling attack, which he did. However, some of Larva’s lings did slip through and managed to kill quite a few of ZerO’s drones because ZerO thought that he would hold and cancelled a sunkern colony he was making. However, because Larva lost too much and had to spore up to counter any mutalisk counterattack, ZerO recognized that he could drone up behind just a handful of mutalisks and save the game for himself instead of letting the pendulum slip back into Larva’s side.
ZerO’s ZvZ is nothing like Jaedong’s JvZ. There is no invincible aura and the ability to make zerglings and mutas just do what you tell them to do correctly. ZerO just has the experience to make the right decisions in the matchup because he has a history of facing the most varied form of matches in ZvZ. Soma, however, is more than willing to match up to just about anything ZerO is willing to throw at him.
If you look at his series against Soma in the CMSL3 Ro8, Soma won the series even though his mutalisk management was subpar to ZerO’s. The games Soma won were with an excellent strategy and the finest zergling management, but if ZerO comes prepared for Soma’s more off the cuff strategies—like his penchant for taking a second base at an unlikely location to get lings to ZerO’s base faster—he should be fine, provided he holds off Soma’s excellent zergling micro too.
A preview of their series from CMSL Season 3 Hosted by CasterMuse
ZerO to win 4-2!
The ASL10 grand finals is undoubtedly about to go down in history of competitive StarCraft. With possibly the best Ro16 we’ve had in the ASL era, this season turned out to be truly special. A bunch of fan favorites got back from the military, Flash played Random, Larva made his his long-awaited return to the semifinals, Zerg hasn’t looked as dominant since the 2009 Bacchus OSL…and now ZerO seems poised to be the first back-to-back ASL champion that is not Flash.
But that’s not everything.
It’s Soma who’s stealing the spotlight by virtue of being the sole non-expro player at the very top. This is not exactly news, though. Soma has made it to every premier tournament since ASL8 and has risen to stardom exceptionally quickly. He made headlines even before his actual offline debut by being unofficially regarded as the Zerg that had the best chance of beating Flash at the time.
KSL4 was big for Soma, and honestly, I did not appreciate it properly at the time. The idea that an amateur could be considered dangerous—the MOST dangerous Zerg—to Flash himself should have rung bells inside my head that maybe he’s not just your average everyday garden variety up-and-comer. He certainly wasn’t. After two losses in his group against fellow newcomer Sorry, Soma produced a reverse sweep that grew into a 10-game win streak, including 3-0 wins against Snow and Best and a 3rd/4th place finish. A star had already been born in the dark post-KESPA universe with no teamhouses, dedicated coaching, or huge pools of talent to compete with before.
Soma matched his KSL4 achievement in the ASL9 and finished fourth. He managed to take down Best, Action—his only ZvZ loss in the ASL up to that point—and Bisu before ultimately falling to Light. He faced Flash again in the 3rd/4th place match, but got steamrolled after a pretty lackluster display.
Soma decided to turn the heat up some more for the ASL10 and warmed up by winning the CMSL3. Notably, he eliminated Zero in the Ro8 and 3-0’d Snow again in the Ro4. Just before the Ro16 of the ASL, he decided he needed a break from streaming and went off the radar for a full month, but when he appeared, he was no less scary than before. He made short work of Mini and Shuttle in his Ro16 group and then proceeded to destroy Snow 3-0 once again in the Ro8 before going on to meet Flash again for the third season in a row. This time fortune smiled on the young Zerg player, and he managed to dismantle Flash’s Terran once, survived his Protoss aggression, and outsmarted his attempts at ZvZ mindgames.
The purpose of this exposé is not to enlighten the general public about who Soma is. The thing is, everyone not living under a rock knows Soma by now. That, I argue, is the most important event in recent StarCraft history: he grew from an amateur prodigy, mentored by Larva, to a premier championship contender in a remarkably short timeframe. He’s the bane of every Protoss around (Snow probably wakes in cold sweat after those matches), he’s a general menace to pretty much everyone, and he stopped Flash in his tracks. Flash was playing Random (and got Zerg in three of the sets), for sure, but it’s Flash nonetheless.
Once upon a time—not too long ago, I might add—Soma was sometimes jokingly referred to as “fake JD” because of his unrelenting aggressive style and impeccable small-scale micro.
He’s not fake anymore, man. He’s the real deal. Soma went from something of a specialty player to a well-oiled machine for macro with incredibly sharp decision making and smoking hot micro. If I didn’t know he was tutored by Larva, I’d really say that Jaedong might have influenced his play by being more than just an inspiration. Heck, Soma’s intensity while playing is such that I’m sometimes wondering who’s actually behind the mask.
And so we reach the dreaded part of the piece where we discuss the matchup itself. Zero is the man to beat right now, and will be a tough nut to crack. His well-balanced style comprising extremely precise control with astute awareness and crack decision making has been the bane of virtually everyone in the scene. He made short work of Larva in the Ro4 by outplaying him throughout most of the series, especially with mutalisk micro. Most importantly, though, he has the benefit of considerably more offline experience fighting at the very top against the very best time and again under significant psychological stress.
Not so with Soma. In a matchup decided mainly by tight control and instant decision making, he has the necessary fundamentals—the mutalisk micro, the intimate knowledge of the ins and outs of a high-level ZvZ, and the reaction time required to duke it out with Zero—but he sure as hell hasn’t had to approach a Bo7 premier tournament finals, and I am sometimes worried about the state of his nerves. His incredible intensity seems to go overboard on occasion, and he personally stated that he needed a break from the constant stress of streaming...so does he have the mental fortitude to win it all on stage?
I won’t bother much with statistics about this match because, alongside many other things intrinsic to the ZvZ matchup in general, nerves play such a big role. Zero is certainly neither infallible nor invincible, as shown by his loss to Soma in the CMSL3. Online, both have played a handful of games, with Zero emerging victorious slightly more often, but this is not too indicative of anything. It will all come down to Soma’s handling of the mental pressure involved in the match.
As far as predictions go, I really struggled with this. I’ll go with my heart, however, and put my money on Soma. Can he beat ZerO? Sure. How likely is it? Shoot me if I know. What I’m certain of is that he has what it takes, both to beat Zero and to be an ASL champion. He has his own place in the pantheon of professional StarCraft and is well past the “rising star” phase. The sky's the limit for Park Sang Hyun.
Soma takes the crown 4-2!