The infamy of second place weighs heavily on soO’s shoulders. The best zerg in the world is on the verge of collapse, and only he can pull himself out of the muck.
It’s more interesting to watch losers on the podium than winners. While the latter are naturally more fun, their range of emotions is naturally limited. Usually they fall into a strict dichotomy: the relative newbie overwhelmed by shock and elation, and the serene champion exuding professional cool. Meanwhile there’s a far larger spectrum for expressing disappointment, so runner-ups get to have a more nuanced take. There’s the abashed kid-on-the-playground waddle out of the booth, the immediate bawling after throwing off the headphones, and the cathartic laugh to release stress. We also have the classic eye roll thanking God that this shit is finally over, barely concealed anger, the other classic eye roll saying “I can’t believe I lost to a random 2 rax again”, and sighs of bemused exasperation. Some players never change their expression, adopting a stoic dignity that would make Marcus Aurelius proud. Others are so happy they got second place that they don’t care. Sometimes we even get the gift of unashamed tears.
And then you have soO at Dreamhack Stockholm.
Winrate61% vs. Terran57% vs. Protoss64% vs. Zerg
Earnings$51,901 USD in 2014
I was dumbfounded when I grabbed second place two seasons in a row. But after that third season, I was put in a state of disarray. Even right now I have no idea (laughs). All I can say is that I will do best.No one could blame him for the shell shock. Just an hour beforehand soO seemed poised to take Stockholm, dazzling commentators and viewers alike with his pristine play. Throughout the tournament the SKT zerg had run rampant over the opposition, not dropping a single game. By contrast Solar entered the finals in shaky form. The up-and-coming zerg lost a series to Snute in the group stage as well as dropping games in every BO3 leading up to the final. From an objective perspective this was guaranteed success. No pesky protoss to ruin his plans, no cunning strategies lurking in wait. It was as straightforward a ZvZ as you could get. soO, being a master of the mirror matchup, couldn’t lose. Of course the cynics knew better. After all, it was a tournament final. How could soO not lose?
The irony of this wretched saga is that it barely affects soO status among his own race. Normally a perennial choker could never qualify for the title of best zerg. Like in most sports, dominance and championships are assumed to be synonymous in SC2. After all, the symbiosis between the two is all but tautological. You can only win trophies by being better than your peers; by being better than your peers, you inevitably win trophies. On that front soO is a failure. With 4 consecutive second-place finishes in GSL and 5 total in premier tournaments, soO has only earned the right to wear a monkey suit and climb the Empire State Building.
What he lacks in awards he makes up in consistency, a trait sorely lacking in his brethren. On this front, soO has settled into the throne simply by holding his ground. The presence of zerg in HotS has been extraordinarily erratic, defined by scattered periods of relevance followed by a return to the mean. Various figures have stepped up promising to establish some kind of order within the ranks. At the beginning of HotS, Soulkey showed us that zerg could still connive its way to a title...and little else. TRUE momentarily wowed us with his wild and wacky style only to fall victim to his middling ZvT. Life showed signs he could return to his old world-stomping ways, and proceeded to drop out of Code A. The closest to a reliable threat is Solar, who recently demolished soO at Dreamhack, but he has yet to make it to the semifinals of a GSL. No one else can claim a string of results nearly as impressive as 2 GSL finals in a row. soO can claim 4 of them over the course of a year, only facing the strongest opponents in hostile metas. On those laurels alone, soO deserves a place among the greatest players of all time.
Even though I am a person to have made history, I feel like I am always a secondary character in these situations. This time, I want to become the main character.Such an accomplishment, as noble and uplifting as it sounds, loses its luster when compared to the big question. At this point, soO is an apocryphal figure in the public consciousness. His struggle taps into the primal tension of competitive play (Win or not win? Champion or second place?), and the propagation of that narrative has consumed his career like some abstract cancer. Few people care that he’s actually the opposite of the stereotypical stoic Korean, dull as dishwater and ineloquent to boot; even less recognize him as a cheerful competitor with a sense of humor. There’s no place to appreciate his strategic versatility, or discuss his eventual contribution to the zerg lexicon. His personality, his small accomplishments, his other dreams, they all pass through that same lens. soO’s Sisyphean task will be the hallmark of his career; his ability to overcome it will determine whether he’s remembered as an inspiration or a joke.
There are signs he is already cracking under the pressure. Dreamhack and the most recent GSL destroyed any notion that his failings were an issue of race, an odd inability to decipher protoss on the big stage. For a long time it was the most sensible explanation for his failings. soO never excelled at ZvP and frequently dropped individual games in GSL and Proleague; two opponents he met in the finals were widely acclaimed protosses on hot streaks, while Classic proved to be fairly solid after his breakout performance; he routinely trounced the other races in televised matches. However, his recent losses to Solar and INnoVation point to a more troubling issue. The SKT zerg, famous for his impeccable macro and cool under pressure, had seemingly lost faith in his ability to win the long game. His ugly loss at Stockholm was characterized by an unwillingness to play passively. Instead of bolstering his defenses to survive into the midgame, soO elected to go for risky plays like 10 pool and a bizarre 1/1 speedling timing. Against INnoVation, he attempted to exploit the terran’s infamous greed with a series of roach timing attacks. After all Soulkey had employed the same approach before and won with it. Then again, Soulkey was down 0-3 at a time when zerg struggled against widow mine pushes; soO had recently swatted away Flash’s pushes like a bug. Why did he persist with this gambit (while up 2-0) instead of using it as part of the mindgame? Why did someone with his build order depth insist on using similar variants? Was it overconfidence or a sign of quiet desperation?
All these answers will be partially answered by his performance at Blizzcon. Here, soO will undoubtedly pull any remaining tricks out of the bag if he can leverage them to a victory. He has always kept his cards close to the chest, and soO is a known master of many playstyles. Still, all the strategic originality in the world won’t help if he doesn’t believe he can take the title. soO has endured a vicious pounding to his ego over the past year. Such an assault leaves marks that crop up at the most inopportune times. For soO to win here, among the best in the world, he must arrive confident and fake it if he doesn’t. Otherwise, he’ll be condemned to watch the same movie play out before his eyes. No matter how many times he watches, he'll never like the ending.