SSL Winners' Finals
Throughout last year, we saw that the dual starleague system often throws up weird results. You only had to look at season 2 for an obvious example—we had an 8/9/7 split between protoss, terran and zerg Code A qualifiers, while the SSL gave us a grand total of zero terrans qualified through the Challenge round. It’s perhaps for the better that that duality gives us a somewhat better understanding of the current state of the game, especially because the two terrans left in the SSL that season—Maru and Dream, seeded through from their Season 1 performances—made it all the way to the finals.
This year, it’s been no different. Code S has as perfect a racial split as you could ask for, while zergs have dominated the SSL. In non-mirrors, zergs are currently 24-10 in the competition, rising to a ridiculous 17-1 if you restrict that to the upper bracket. It was therefore inevitable, and fitting, that the Winners’ Final would feature the two most dominant zergs in the competition.
Solar’s always been a strange player to pin down—solid but unspectacular in starleagues, occasionally brilliant at foreign events, and bafflingly awful in Proleague—and while that last weakness has been preserved in part, he’s smashed through the Round of 8 barrier that blocked him repeatedly in GSL. He’s a monster online though, grinding his way through tournament after tournament, and that’s why he’s been hyped up since competitive play in Legacy began. Be it his dominant performance in early online tournaments or at Dreamhack Winter, the fact that he marked Legacy’s release with a flawless 29-0 series record until ByuN toppled him for the first time, or his still unbeaten 41-0 match record in ZvP, it’s inarguable that his early adoption of the expansion has paid dividends.
Even at the start of the year, we could have probably guessed that the SSL would be by far the stranger of the two leagues. The 16 man bracket format, combined with the instability of the meta around the time of the qualifiers, pointed to the fact that we’d probably see some weird results. However, we probably couldn’t have guessed that Solar would be here in the Winners’ Final based solely off his ZvZ (2-0 Soulkey, 3-0 ByuL, 3-2 RagnaroK). Hell, assuming he beats Dark, and Dark beats Stats in the Losers’ Final (as he did earlier in the tournament), Solar could yet win an entire starleague based solely off a single matchup. Not even GomTvT was this strange.
That’s not to say that Dark’s run has been any less one-sided; it’s just that his has been based on ZvP (2-0 MyuNgSiK, 3-0 Classic, 3-0 Stats). And while that clearly tells us of his strength in that particular matchup, it’s of far less use to us in the lead up to this. While Samsung are somewhat of a ‘progressive’ KeSPA team, frequently involved in events outside of the starleague / Proleague grind, SKT are somewhat more old school. Dark hasn’t played a single televised game outside his weekly schedule in Legacy so far. That’s the real issue that the new expansion poses right now—while some players have played a hell of a lot, we’ve barely seen anything from others. In 2016, we’ve seen a grand total of three ZvZs from Dark (2-0 Losira in GSL, 1-0 ByuL in Proleague) , and while he certainly looked good in both, neither are the sort of top quality opponent that will give us an inclination of what to expect here.
For all their different paths throughout their Starcraft careers though, Solar and Dark have come to represent two sides of the same coin. While they’ve had assorted successes in previous titles—Solar with his Dreamhack titles; Dark with his KeSPA Cup near-misses and Proleague wins—it’s undoubtable that the two sat a clear tier below the elite throughout HotS. With Legacy, that’s all set to change.
The curious fact about the zergs throughout Starcraft is that no matter the time, no matter the balance, they always have a champion leading from the front. From times of famine at the start of Wings with Fruitdealer and NesTea to times of feast, with RorO dominating at the height of broodlord-infestor, there’s always been one, first among equals. The match tonight might not settle the matter definitively—Solar and Dark may well meet again in the Grand Finals in a couple of weeks should the loser beat Stats in the Losers’ Final—but first blood will have been drawn. And in a nascent Legacy scene rife with uncertainty, with precious few definitive results so far, it will be one hell of a statement of intent come 9 April.
As mentioned, it’s pretty difficult to know what to think of Dark’s ZvZ. He’s definitely looked good, but aside from those brief matches, and the fact that he practices with soO, we know nothing. That said, Solar’s record isn’t that much more detailed—he looked solid in some (3-0 vs ByuL in SSL, 1-0 vs Curious in Proleague) and rather more flustered in others (3-2 Impact in Code A, 3-2 RagnaroK in SSL). What those latter two have in common is the aggressive gameplay that Impact and RagnaroK brought, and judging by his other two matchups, it’s certainly not something that Dark will shy away from here, especially in a Best of 7. At the end of the day, this will probably turn out to be just the appetiser—whatever the result here, both are certainly favoured against Stats. But, for now, it’s time to see who’ll be the first to try on the crown.
Dark 4 - 3 Solar