SSL Losers' Round 2
With both Korean starleagues pressing on in earnest now alongside weekly Proleague, things are hotting up. It’s one thing for players to sneak a cheap win in Code A or in a best of one, but with rematches starting to kick in, we should get a much clearer view of the new world order in Legacy of the Void. aLive and ByuL played out the very first match of Code A just over a month ago, and the Afreeca terran now has the chance to knock ByuL out of the SSL as well.
That match was a clear demonstration of the sheer difference between HotS and LotV. Back in 2013, the transition from Wings wasn’t nearly as notable. Save for the ‘loss’ of broodlord-infestor as the be-all and end-all of late game zerg, we had games that were reasonably similar. Tanks were gradually phased out in favour of widow mines, and hellbats reigned supreme in the early months, but the game was still pretty recognisable.
The paradigm shift we’ve seen recently though has shaken up everything we know about the game. Every timing and opener honed over five years of the game’s history is now kaput; tankivacs and ravagers pose all-new threats that certainly put a different twist on one of our favourite matchups. There’s certainly an argument perhaps that those who have succeeded so far—be it in Code A or in the SSL—have done so primarily because of their ability to adapt. No sane person would have chosen aLive as a player superior to ByuL back in 2015, but you can’t argue with how easily he dissected the CJ zerg’s play last time round. Whether that will stay the same, though, is the big question. Will the old guard of HotS reassert their dominance as the best in Korea? Or will the early adaptors continue to stay one step ahead of the curve?
ByuL has looked decent so far (excepting his loss to aLive, and to Solar in the previous round of the SSL), but his play seems to lack the nuance that he used to bring in HotS. On the contrary, aLive’s definitely looked the stronger player so far this year. He’s in Code S, hanging on in the SSL, and is 2-0 in Proleague. He’s as effectively abusive a player as ever—see his tank shenanigans on Rak’Shir in Code A, while his effort to draw his game against Cure earlier this week in Proleague shows that some of the sharpness of old has returned. You can criticise Cure all you like for delaying that crucial viking for so long, but you’ve still got to credit aLive for wrangling a draw out of a hopeless situation.
aLive is on a roll right now, and playing as well as he did back in his 2011/12 glory days. This will certainly be a tighter series than last time though, and the extra month of practice should mean that ByuL isn’t quite as hopelessly outmatched as before, but I’m still backing the Afreeca terran to pull the win out of the bag.
aLive 2 - 1 ByuL
The last time a hype train crashed quite this hard and this fast, Flash was dumped out of the GSL by soO and DRG following his IEM Toronto win. Three weeks ago, ByuN was universally hyped as the standout player of the moment. With an easy win over soO in SSL under his belt, a Code A match against Curious to come, and having made the semifinals at IEM Taipei, people were talking up his chances for titles on all fronts.
Then, sOs happened. Not for the first time, the Jin Air protoss took on a popular player in the closing stages of a Premier tournament and blew him to smithereens. It happened to Jaedong at BlizzCon 2013; it happened to herO at Katowice; it happened to MarineKing in the Hot6ix Cup; it happened to Life at BlizzCon 2015. When on his game, there are few people who make the game look quite so broken, quite so unplayble as sOs, and the most experienced Legacy player in the world (500+ games played already!) was brought to his knees.
What followed then, was capitulation on all fronts. RagnaroK proved that he was a one trick pony of the highest calibre by successfully repeating the same tricks he used against INnoVation to dump ByuN into the SSL losers’ bracket, while Curious laughed in his face for even considering that knocking the Gatekeeper down to Code A was an option. So, what now for the ex-Prime terran? We’ve been here before—the last time he suffered a loss this painful he stopped being a competitive force in Korea for three years. You can rack up all the online wins in the world, but offline success is essential if you want to be anything other than a bit-part player in the tapestry of Korean Starcraft.
While ByuN’s played more than enough games of Legacy for us to know what to expect, the same can’t really be said for Hurricane. The ex-FXO protoss first came to our attention as Tear—a strong GSTL player who could never quite get things done in individual competition. A dismal proleague record during his time on Samsung (6-15 over the past three seasons) meant that in HotS, he was now a poor teamleague player who never got things done in individual leagues. And yet, Hurricane is now in the top 12 of the SSL. He hasn’t looked too impressive so far—comfortably beaten by Stats, before DTing herO out of the competition—but it’s still a significant step up on anything he’s ever accomplished in the game. ByuN might look like an imposing opponent, but with the terran on a 3 loss streak, there hasn’t been a better time to face him recently.
PvT is Hurricane’s best matchup statistically (68% win rate), but all those matches came in 2015 pre-adept nerf. We don’t have much information on him at all, compared to the sheer amount of evidence we have of ByuN’s solidity in the new expansion. However, that cuts both ways, and perhaps all that information has allowed the brain trust at Samsung to pinpoint a few ways to go about the job. It’s notable that Hurricane coached Stork through his successful Code A match against INnoVation, so it’s clear he’s got some ideas about how to play the matchup. Whether he’ll be able to execute will be interesting to watch.
It’s been two weeks since ByuN’s three losses in three days, and he hasn’t played any games since. In fact, he hasn’t played in an online tournament for over a month. Whether he’s shifting his training regime, or simply falling out of scene again is uncertain, but I’m backing Hurricane to finish the job that sOs started.
ByuN 1 - 2 Hurricane
The changes to the WCS format have necessitated a recall of Koreans from foreign teams. Whether due to the call of the military, pre-existing intentions to retire, or the reduced commercial viability for foreign organisations to sponsor Koreans unable to compete abroad, it’s a fact that there are fewer successful Koreans than ever with spots on a non-KeSPA roster.
It’s welcome then, to see the few that are still thriving. Patience, for example, has developed into a better player than ever during his time on Dead Pixels. He’s always been capable of deep runs in stacked qualifiers or tournaments—stretching back to his breakout performance at Dreamhack Winter 2013—but this is the first time he’s got quite this far in Korea. Up til now, he’d failed to make it past the first round of Code S; now, he’s in the top 12 of the SSL.
While he’s played plenty of PvP (to great success) and PvT (44% win rate) in the past month, PvZ has been a different story—only two matches played. It’s obviously then difficult to gauge where he is right now, knocked out of the GSL, and lacking the regular barometer that is Proleague. Protoss in general are struggling with the sheer number of options that zerg can bring to the table, but Patience has always been a somewhat surprisingly talented defensive protoss, strong in the late game, and it will be interesting to see how he plays this series against soO.
soO is, after all, the big daddy of late game zergs. Save for an infuriating habit of chucking endless units at defensive brick wall before running out of steam—a problem which doesn’t seem to exist in Legacy—he’s been the clear standout macro zerg of the past few years. His 2015 certainly was nothing compared to his record breaking feats in 2014, but with SKT’s best Proleague record and a long awaited debut competition win under his belt, it was only a disappointment relative to the massive expectations that he himself had set.
Coming into Legacy, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly he’ll adapt. His 17-7 record so far is certainly pretty good, and he’s competing in both starleagues, but we’ve seen precious little. He looked OK against Trust in their Code A match, but his performance didn’t show the control and dominance of the game that he became known for in his HotS peak. Only time will tell if he can return to the top.
With both players showing practically nothing in the matchup in its current state, it’s time yet again to reach for that qualified prediction. Zerg is favoured against protoss right now, soO was by far the better HotS player, while his teammate Dark is definitely racking up quality results in ZvP.
Patience 0 - 2 soO
There’s no doubt about it—last week’s 0-3 defeat to Dark must have been absolutely shocking to Classic. Not just because historically he’s always come out on top in teamkills (GSL finals vs soO, SSL finals vs Dream, to name but two), but because Dark beat him with a strategy that he simply had no answer to. Dark massed lurkers twice, and came out with wins on both occasions. In game 3, ling harass constantly found the gaps in his defence, before an overlord drop sealed the deal. For the most versatile, reactive, adaptive protoss in the game, it was a rare off day.
With such a comprehensive defeat in recent memory, and with so few games played, it’s important to avoid the temptation to jump to conclusions. He’s a player who’s been to the very top, crashed to the bottom, before roaring back to championship form. Let’s not forget, he played solidly to beat Curious in a similar late game position a mere week before, and with a week off Proleague duty to get his PvZ up to scratch, it would be no surprise at all to see him bounce back here.
That however, might not be solely down to him. With all the excitement about ByuN’s return to the limelight, Soulkey’s return to competitive gaming has been comparatively low key. There are few natural comparisons available for a player—a GSL champion, no less—who seemingly gave up on competitive gaming, before being lured in for one more try. He’s certainly pulling it off so far. A mediocre 48% win rate in Legacy ZvT is offset by fantastic records in ZvZ (71%) and ZvP (73%). The usual caveat that these statistics are mainly based off online events might put a slight dampener on things, but it’s still a seriously imposing record. He’s won it all before, and there’s no doubt that he’s currently on a hot streak. We know he can do it offline; the only question is whether he will.
Both players’ approach to this game will be very interesting to watch. Soulkey was famed for a passive, ultra-safe defensive style that allowed him to build up for the mid-late game (he’s not known as the Iron Wall of Korea for nothing), but conversely he seems to have trended towards much more aggressive styles in Legacy—a sign of the changes in the new expansion, perhaps. On the other hand, Classic might well also play for the early game should he not feel comfortable enough against late game mass lurkers yet, but protoss seems to be slightly lacking in that regard. It shouldn’t be underestimated how essential the cannon rush was to Classic’s PvZ arsenal, both as an option and a deterrent. Hopefully we get some true late game clashes, but this one could well be pretty explosive.
Soulkey may well have a remarkable ZvP record so far in Legacy, but no one that he’s played should be regarded on the same level as Classic. The SKT man is better than every one of the protosses that Soulkey regularly creams in qualifiers and online competition—Trust, Hurricane, Choya, Patience, Billowy etc. It will be tight, but I’m going against the grain to pick the protoss here.
Classic 2 - 1 Soulkey