WCS Korea Season 3
GSL Code S
Ro4: Dear vs. Maru
Ro4: Soulkey vs. soO
VODs on Twitch.TV
Brackets and standings on Liquipedia
Semi-Finals: Dear vs. Maru
In almost any major individual tournament, there's bound to be a player that you feel is kind of good but also kind of out of his depth. The guy that seems to get by through a series of flukes, bracket luck and uncharacteristic mistakes from his opponents. It's the guy that triumphs over an elite field of players while God himself is eliminated. He makes you wonder whether your hunch is wrong and he's actually championship quality, or if he's bound to get exposed before it's all over.
Soul_Dear is not that guy.
It is true that Dear is a largely unaccomplished player with no championships or even top four finishes before this tournament, but he makes up for his thin resume with what he's accomplished in Proleague and the quality of his play. Let's put it this way: without Dear, STX does not win Proleague. Alongside Innovation, Trap and Classic toward the end, Dear was one of STX's four pillars – a player that could be relied on to always perform when he was called upon. Overshadowed by then-blazing star Innovation, Dear accumulated a 26 - 19 record that included wins over the best KeSPA had to offer.
But unlike many of Proleague's top performers, Dear's skillset isn't limited to Proleague's Best of 1-format as his run through Code S has proved. Where Proleague stars like Zest and CJ's herO have fallen short in long series, Dear is performing marvelously. Having mastered the potent combo of excellent warp-prism harassment and solid late game army control, Dear is a player that can hold his ground against anyone in a macro game. He should feel relatively comfortable playing the late-game against Maru or any other Terran. And like his souLmates Trap and Classic, he also has no qualms about throwing in an unconventional strategy into the middle of a series.
In honesty, Dear will probably remain under-appreciated even if he does move on from the Code S semifinals, but it will be another step toward rising above from the mass of good-but-not-great Proleague Protosses. Should he advance, he can take pride in the fact that he beat one of the very few Terran players to beat Rain straight-up in the late-game – the player who also happens to be the reigning WCS Korea champion. With all former STX Soul players besides Innovation being cursed with eternal anonymity, that might not be enough for Dear to build a reputation as a consistent top contender – but it's one step in that direction.
One untimely fluke does not a slump make
MaruPrime's championship run last season was as impressive as it was unexpected. It's fair to say that with Innovation still on top of the world at the time and several former champions joining in on the fun over at OSL, Maru hardly expected to make the top 4, let alone win the championship. But he did, and the road there was anything but easy. He bested one top player from each race in Symbol, Innovation and Rain, all three having at least reached the finals of OSL/GSL/WCS Korea in the past.
Up to that point, Maru had been stuck in "just another good Terran" limbo for a couple of years after debuting as a 12 year old prodigy in 2010. Winning the OSL, and beating Flash's record for youngest OSL champion of all time in the process solidified his position as a top Terran and one of the leaders of the new generation of pro-gamers.
Had Maru continued his streak of monstrous performances at the Season 2 Finals in Germany, we wouldn't be arguing about who the best player in the world is right now. Unfortunately, as has been the trend since HotS, Maru went from being on top of the world one week to being questioned as fluke the next. Maru suffered an untimely hiccup in Cologne where he promptly fell apart in the Round of 16, basically wearing a giant "INCONSISTENT PRIME TERRAN" sign around his neck. Maru would later mention he had some of those mysterious 'personal problems' (the next enteritis?) that prevented him from playing up to his abilities, but that's no excuse.
What does his collapse at the Season 2 Finals say about Maru's chances against Dear, exactly? Not much. Such a total collapse would be a worrying sign for most players, but Maru immediately got back up on his feet in this season of Code S. Though he hasn't blown anyone's socks off, he has rarely look troubled as he has trudged along to the Ro4.
All Maru showed is that he isn't invincible and will bleed like any mortal, which puts him in the company of every other player in the world. Maru's TvP is still incredibly fearsome at all stages of the game. Unlike many Terrans he doesn't rely solely on the popular SCV pull that has been the bane of Protosses everywhere recently, instead employing a wider range of tools at all stages of TvP to great efficiency. In true Prime Terran fashion he can use proxy rax to great effect, but can also play a strong late game based on ghosts. With no set timing he needs to hit, Maru is a dangerous opponent in TvP because he can attack you five minutes before or five minutes after you expect it.
The last time Maru played a Protoss in the playoffs of a major tournament, he came in as the underdog and walked out an OSL champion. This time, he's the favorite over a player who, just like himself last season, stands a better chance than name value alone would suggest.
Dear and Maru are both players that are fine with fighting on more than one front and if possible, playing the harassment game. Both are capable of throwing in well-executed and well-controlled cheese that can be about as deadly as cheese gets.
It's hard to argue against Maru being the favorite against Dear, but if there is a Protoss player with a breadth of experience that doesn't play exclusively for the late-game but still has what it takes to survive against a player of Maru's caliber, that player would be Dear. And if Dear can shut down any proxies, should they appear in this series (which, knowing Prime Terrans, they usually do), Dear is in a great position to take the series, however close it might be.
Dear 3 - 2 Maru
Quarter-Finals: Soulkey vs.soO
Condemned to Repeat the Past
There's an element of Brood War legacy to this battle between two Brood War Zergs. In the later years of BW, it happened to be the case that rather... unexpected Zergs managed to frequently take one spot in the semi-finals of major tournaments. We gave them the benefit of the doubt at the time, but perfect hindsight allowed us to declare that they were actually pretty damn lucky to have gotten that far. They were good players who made hot runs through the lower rounds, but once the final-four was played out it was clear they didn't belong in the company of the true championship contenders. They were players Zergs like Kwanro, Modesty, by.hero, Type-B, and Shine.
Oh, and SKT_soO.
StarCraft 2 has provided former Brood War pros a chance to make a change in their careers, with many reaching new heights they could only have dreamed of in Brood War. Woongjin_Soulkey is one such example, going from a Proleague-only superstar to individual league champion in the new game. In soO's case, it's uncanny how little has changed.
When soO reached the semi-finals of the Jin Air OSL back in 2011, he was the kind of player no one would be surprised to see in the Ro16, but not a player anyone expected to advance further. He might not have even been SKT's fourth best player in Proleague, but SKT couldn't live without him filling that crucial Zerg spot. "Extremely and perfectly competent" was the best way to describe him, and it was hard to tell if that was an insult or a complement.
His run to the semi-finals was considered deserved but fluky at the same time: No one could deny he played skillfully in the Ro16, but his Ro8 match ended up being a bizarre victory win over a more highly rated player in Killer, involving a controversial pause-disqualification (a KeSPA specialty). To illustrate soO's situation at the time, here's a little excerpt from our old preview ahead of his semi-final match against eventual champion JangBi: "JangBi, you’ve shattered everyone’s expectations by getting this far at all, but the hardest part of your journey is yet ahead of you (Editor’s note: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA)." Ah yes, fond memories of mocking soO even two years ago. Surely enough, JangBi administered a 3 - 0 thrashing to soO in the semis, and hardly anyone batted an eye.
Looking at soO two years later, the parallels are uncanny. He's looked solidly mid-tier in three WCG Korea Ro16 runs so far, has been an important but not particularly productive Zerg slot filler for SKT in Proleague, and generally inspires little awe and few expectations in the hearts of fans. While there weren't any referees involved in his Ro8 victory against PartinG, it was a similarly unexpected and deflating series where soO won by crushing a bunch of failed gateway attacks. Seeing soO in the semi-finals has caused more than few fans to go "Huh?" before assuming Soulkey will beat him and progress to the finals.
So, is there anything in different in 2013 that suggests soO can avoid repeating the same fate?
For one, he gets to play a ZvZ. While it's unclear as to whether Protoss or Zerg wins the "most volatile mirror" award, it's clear that ZvZ is a match-up that's fraught with upsets. Soulkey already had a close call against the unheralded Sleep this season, coming within a game of being eliminated from the tournament altogether. The semi-finals changing to a best of fives this season leaves the door even more wide open for an upset.
Also, there's no guarantee that this is is just a lucky run from soO. We have the benefit of having seen soO's entire Brood War career play out, and it's easy to say in retrospect that soO's Jin Air OSL run was just a one-off. Who's to say that this time soO isn't for real, and when he's exposed, it's going to be as an elite player and not a lucky one? After all, soO has the blessing of the prophet MajOr who looked at a young Bogus' mechanics and ladder games and declared him to be the savior of all Terrans. It took some time for Bogus to realize his potential, but eventually he was reborn as INnoVation and became the first great player of HotS. soO is the other player Major has observed closely and has heaped mountains of praise upon. Those who do not heed the words of prophecy do so at their own risk.
Some Words on Soulkey
Sadly, there's no such convenient narrative for Woongjin_Soulkey. I mean, he's the heavily favored defending champion—"Can this great player become even GREATER?" just isn't as interesting as the little guy struggling to make it (Flash fans need not apply). He does have a very compelling rivalry with arch-nemesis INnoVation, but that was torpedoed when INnoVation suffered elimination at the hands of soO earlier this tournament. Even as Woongjin Stars is falling to pieces around him, Soulkey is the only player to have preserved a spot on the team, receiving a personal sponsorship Woongjin. Heck, Soulkey might even be in a better situation now, getting to focus solely on individual leagues and potentially even foreign tournaments.
So, uh yeah. Soulkey is really damn good, probably the best Zerg in the world, and the favorite to win this match. If he wins the title, he'll be the only player to win two WCS Korea's this year, which would be pretty cool. There ya go.
Overall outlook and prediction
Soulkey played a total of nine ZvZ's in the Ro16, and you have to wonder what soO will be able to glean from those matches. Soulkey showed a variety of builds and strategies, going for early roach-bane attacks, fast spire, gasless into roach mid-game, and a bunch of other things. One notable aspect of Soulkey's Ro16 ZvZ was that his transition to roach-infestor was twice punished by Sleep's roach-hydra, forcing him to change up his approach mid-series. Another interesting game was his loss to Sleep's unorthodox mass roach-bane composition in the mid game. soO will have studied these losses and Soulkey will know soO has studied them. On the other hand, soO hasn't played a broadcasted ZvZ in about two months now, which should give him a slight upper hand in terms of preparation.
Predicting how a ZvZ will go is always a pain, given the fact that matches can end nearly instantly on one mistake. As solid as both players are most of them time, they're not immune from having momentary lapses that cost them games. Some of the most lop-sided and boring mirror series occurred when one player incorrectly analyzed the other as preferring to play macro games (MC vs. Seed anyone?), and such a scenario could easily make for a one-sided series in either player's favor.
What a hard one to pick! For what it's worth Soulkey is 20 - 8 in HotS ZvZ while soO 14 - 13, though the results are spread out over quite some time. Soulkey has also won multiple Bo5+ series, while soO is still newcomer to the championship picture. Let's go with the boring, obvious pick: Soulkey to go to the finals.
Soulkey 3 - 1 soO