The Finals overall game quality was disappointingly low considering its high-powered matchup — an embarrassment for me and my (now-obviously-) over-optimistic preview article. The match's second set was its most entertaining and most competitive. Jaedong and Yellow[arnc] chose similar openings and had almost even supply counts (30 for JD, 31 for Yarnc) by the time of the game's decisive air battle. Unsurprisingly, what makes this game worth watching is Jaedong's unparalleled micromanagement — he cleverly harasses the lings atop Yarnc's ramp and displays characteristically sublime muta control. It's JvZ at his best!
Despite having his serious practice time for this match limited to one day by "troubles regarding the FA" (more on that below), Jaedong thoroughly outplayed Yarnc to claim his second consecutive OSL and, of course, StarCraft's third Golden Mouse.
BW's youngest Golden Mouse winner tastes victory
Hite fans expecting Fake Yellow to bring the game that propelled him past JD in the Ro16 and produced two exhilarating meetings with Effort in Proleague playoffs should be sorely disappointed; as Jaedong affirmed in his post-match interview, this Finals was over after just one game. In the 1set Jaedong opened 10-hatch (after extractor trick) 9-pool 8-gas, while Yarnc went 9-pool 8-gas. Cross positions allowed Jaedong to defend his early hatchery quite comfortably, guaranteeing him a slight advantage in a standard game. However Jaedong came off gas immediately after beginning zergling speed, committing to an all-in ling attack just before Yarnc's mutas popped. Yarnc scouted JD's build with plenty of time to react — he simply didn't. Yarnc's attempt to defend pure speedling from two hatcheries with eight slow zerglings and one sunken was beyond foolish, and it cost him this game, his composure, and ultimately the series. (Even if he had completed the block at his ramp, Fake Yellow wouldn't have stood a chance against Jaedong's ling numbers.)
Jaedong was "certain" he would take the series 3-0 if he won the first set, and it's no secret why: ZvZ is StarCraft's most ruthless matchup, in that it affords the least time to warm up or recover from a tough loss. Yarnc's loss in the 1set made him victim to this ruthlessness; after the match his former teammate Cloud observed "[Yarnc] lost his confidence after losing the first game, and couldn't play properly after that". Jaedong took sets 2 and 3 with ease, exiting his booth without a bead of sweat on his brow, and nonetheless the Bacchus OSL 2009 champion.
One More Thing: Free Agency and Golden Boy's Murky Future
Momentous as it was, Jaedong's third OSL victory has been overshadowed by news surrounding his relationship with Hwaseung Oz during KeSPA's first-ever Free Agency period. In case you (like I was) are a bit confused about what FA is and what it has to do with Jaedong's future as a progamer, here's the skinny. (Much thanks to Waxangel, konadora, and the KNF team, who have been keeping TL in the loop by translating Korean articles on this topic.)
KeSPA first announced Free Agency on March 22, 2006, but it wasn't until last November, when Fomos ran a series of painfully ambiguous articles on the subject (translated in the November 19 Korean News Flash), that the policy's nuances began to emerge. It soon became obvious that "Free Agency" is somewhat of a misnomer, because under KeSPA's rules FA has little resemblance to free agency as we know it. In American professional sports leagues, a free agent has the right to simultaneously engage in contract negotiations with any number of teams. This sort of free agency ("conventional" free agency) is advantageous for the player because he can pit interested teams against each other to create a bidding war and thereby score a lucrative contract.
KeSPA's Free Agency, though initially met with enthusiasm from Fomos ("an institution designed to protect players' rights") and foreign fans, deprives StarCraft players the advantages of conventional free agency by over-regulating their FA-period contract negotiations. According to several articles translated by Waxangel, a qualifying Free Agent has eight days to negotiate a new contract with his current team (August 12-20, for the current FA period). If he does not settle on a new contract with his original teams during this eight-day period, the Free Agent becomes publicly uncontracted and may pursue bids from other teams over the next five days (August 21-25). In the two days following the bidding period (August 26-27) the Free Agent must either sign with his highest bidder — he cannot select a team for any reason other than salary — or enter a four-day renegotiation period with his original team (August 28-31). Players who remain uncontracted at the end of this final renegotiation period will have semi-professional status until the next Free Agency period — and thus be unable to compete in any KeSPA-sanctioned tournament for a full year.
Ignoring KeSPA's absurdly strict FA eligibility rules and assuming Free Agents are allowed to interact with teams during the five-day bidding period (a big assumption, given the language in Fomos's articles), the system outlined above isn't a complete disaster. What dooms Free Agency is that, to acquire any Free Agent with annual salary over 50 million won (any big-name player), in addition to paying that player the highest-bidding team must compensate his original team with either a) 200% of his original annual salary or b) 100% of his original annual salary and one nonessential player from its roster.
FA's crippling trading restrictions, as illustrated by Fomos
In the case of a one-year contract, these restrictions make a big-name Free Agent two to three times more expensive for a bidding team than his original team — almost guaranteeing he will receive no bids and be forced to re-sign with his original team or take a one-year hiatus from progaming as a semi-pro. Thus, for any player with a salary over 50M ₩, Free Agency is a dangerous trap that places him at the mercy of his original team: given that bids are highly unlikely, the original team can refuse a big-name Free Agent's contract demands during the first negotiation period, comfortably wait out the bidding period, and then enter the final renegotiation period with massive leverage (if the Free Agent does not sign, he will become a semi-pro).
On August 20, Jaedong walked right into this dangerous trap by declaring Free Agency from Hwaseung Oz. According to a representative from Oz Jaedong's failure to re-sign was entirely due to disagreement between Hwaseung and Jaedong's parents — who, under yet another ridiculous KeSPA regulation, must approve any contract their son signs. Jaedong's mother corroborated this story, explaining that she was "unable to come to terms on pay" and "just couldn't bear to see him taking on the load (of the team) alone".
Jaedong and Oz: now and forever?
Coach Cho's comment to Jaedong upon his OSL victory, "You're my best player at present and will be forever", betrayed his confidence in Jaedong's devotion to Oz — or, in Free Agency's uselessness as a means for JD to contract with any other team. Sure enough, by the conclusion of the FA bidding period on August 25, Jaedong had received no bids. Fomos asked two teams why they did not bid on Jaedong. One (predictably) cited cost, but the other said "Jaedong consistently expressed his strong desire to remain in Hwaseung". Indeed Jaedong, Jaedong's parents, and Hwaseung are all emphatic that Jaedong is on good terms with Oz's coaching and management, and on August 23 JD reaffirmed his loyalty to the team ("Until my last day as a progamer, I want to be with my OZ teammates, Coach Cho Jeong Woon, and Coach Han Sangyong"). However if Jaedong is truly committed to staying with Hwaseung, it seems unlikely that he would be unable to woo his parents and settle upon a satisfactory new contract after eight days of negotiation. Perhaps JD and his parents simply thought they could use FA to achieve a better salary with Oz.
If so, they were sorely mistaken. Now in the final renegotiation period, Jaedong has until August 31 to either re-sign with Hwaseung or accept semi-pro status. His father insists not re-signing and heading to the States for college is a legitimate option, but if Jaedong has any say in his future it's hard to see this as anything other than a pathetic attempt to gain some leverage in the final negotiations with Hwaseung. For Jaedong to lose his professional license and enter retirement would be for him to abandon his lifelong passion at the height of his career — an awful choice, and an impossibly difficult one considering JD's unrivaled competitiveness. Jaedong cannot simply walk away from professional gaming, and, because it's his drive that has carried their team for a year, Hwaseung's management is acutely aware of this. Though on August 20 an Oz representative told Fomos that Hwaseung would offer Jaedong his current salary in the re-negotiations, they have no obligation, and little incentive, to do even this. Thanks to Free Agency, Hwaseung holds all the cards.
Thus Free Agency has guaranteed an unsatisfying outcome for Jaedong and his fans: either JD will succumb to his insatiable desire for StarCraft greatness and his commitment to Hwaseung and accept inadequate pay and/or an inferior environment by re-signing, or he or his parents will refuse to sign, and professional BW will lose the most talented Zerg player of all time. Jaedong's experience with Free Agency has exposed it as a travesty, and yet more evidence that professional StarCraft players are in desperate need of a means to collectively challenge KeSPA's increasingly oppressive regulations.
It's been a pleasure covering the Bacchus 2009 OSL! Thanks, readers and commenters. I will be writing one more news post devoted to this league: a tournament recap, complete with TL's prestigious OSL awards.