When LotV was first released, it came as a miraculous youth therapy; while the community was not subjected to the mass of green fungus which mutilated the end of WoL beyond recognition, the metagame at the end of HotS cannot be said to have been inspiring either. The rise of mechanical play and the deployment of the blink strategy in ZvP seemed to either dramatically slow down the game or compress it into a monotonous series of similar tactics and boring, repetitive action.
Thus, LotV's arrival gave the game a new luster and appeal that, to many, marked a new dawn. But is this necessarily the case? Novelty is always exciting; this, coupled with LotV's increased rhythm, has already produced an abundance of excellent games that only further confirmed popular opinion. However, what happens after the novelty effect wears off, as it inevitably will? That question can only be answered in the coming months, and there can be no greater provider of a suitable answer than at the very highest level of the game, in groups such as these.
At the same time, the game is not the only entity undergoing a critical trial in its lifespan, because in the Round of 16 of Code S, there are no longer any safety nets or second chances. In the Round of 32, players could have been cushioned by easy groups and weaker players, but already, the conception of 'weaker', more inexperienced players whose backs represent mere stepping stones for greater players, has been shattered. INnoVation likely thought of Stork, that great old coach, as easy meat—and yet he was expelled to Code B. SpeeD and Bunny, formerly known as weak terrans and cannon fodder for the giants, have stepped over the corpses of experienced veterans such as Soulkey and Classic to advance. In this new game, there are no longer any conventional truths, and it is up to the members of Group A to either make them or further diminish them.
herO is the player most likely to suffer in an environment of chaos and unorthodoxy, and though he is the favourite to advance in first place due to the prestige of his past achievements, his previous series in LotV, combined with his character as a player, cannot be said to inspire confidence. herO is a player heavily reliant on convention—he leans strongly on his brutally sharp mechanics and razor-sharp build orders to carry him to victory. He is neither brilliant-in-the-moment nor adaptable, and in an inherently volatile game with a constantly shifting and evolving metagame, the lack of these qualities can only harm him. Watch any game of his and immediately these weaknesses and strengths become apparent—he rarely, if ever, deviates from a fixed build order in reaction to what his opponent is doing, and his general strategy seldom evolves, even when he scouts anomalies in enemy strategies. There can be no other reason why a protoss scouting extremely quick third command centers does not punish them and proceeds to die to the inevitable SCV pull, or why the same cheese has repeatedly worked over 2 years against him. His decision-making can thus be considered to be directed by his KeSPA masters or whatever other top protoss are doing at the same time, with little innovation of his own other than in efficient execution. LotV, with its rapidly advanced speed of development, and, by extension, the severely reduced time to make correct or brilliant decisions, can only be detrimental to him. Still, his first opponent is neither powerful nor strong; brute mechanics can, at least, carry him to the Winners' Match. Whether it will carry him further is up to the other 2 players.
SpeeD will be the victim of herO's mechanics, and it is not known whether he is strong enough to fend him off. However, it is remarkable that he could advance to the Round of 16 in the first place, in his debut; even more remarkable that he defeated a master protoss, Classic, to do so. In that series, the Deciders' Match, SpeeD displayed tactical acumen with liberators and basic infantry, coordinating and positioning their movement such that Classic was continually forced into taking predictable courses of action, a cycle which continued until SpeeD checkmated him at his 4th base. Still, SpeeD cannot be said to have played well; his micro showed very clear flaws, with his infantry repeatedly subject to full-on psionic storms, while his macromanagement did not compensate for it, even despite his extremely high APM. Against herO, he will not only have to utilise the same tactics even more efficiently, but he will also have to have an intelligent strategy in mind, because while Classic may not have been able to punish his mistakes, herO, with his historically masterful blink micromanagement and placement of psionic dtorms, will certainly be able to do so.
Strangely enough, the player who may benefit the most from the increasingly chaotic pace of LotV may just be TaeJa, because he is the greatest epitome of the player who can think on his feet. For TaeJa, everything is a decision—where, when, what to attack, what to build, where to build it, where to move towards—all these deceivingly simplistic decisions are all made on the spot by TaeJa, and he is the polar opposite of the vast majority of players in this respect. This is why he has thrived so well in foreign weekend tournaments, where the whole event is a continuous marathon from start to finish, where series planning simply breaks down amidst the wild, uncontrolled atmosphere of players weaving in and out of the brackets. This is what makes him stand out from all the machine-like KeSPA players, and is why he has always been able to crush them in these tournaments. Recall his series, for instance, against Zest in IEM Shenzhen, and specifically in game 3 of that series, where he resurrected his chances of winning from the grave. That series broke down the differences between TaeJa and the rest in crystal clear fashion—TaeJa actively thinks on his feet, and fundamentally plays the game in its most base form, while the others have to rely on preconceived build orders and plans to survive. Thus, in a game where the chaotic variable has just been elevated to an even higher proportion that before, it will be TaeJa that will thrive.
Trap is that player in this group who historically represents the average SC2 player; neither here nor there, with average, mediocre mechanics, forgettable play, and perhaps 1 or 2 matchups where he is slightly better than usual, where his name might be brought up once in discussions of these matchups. Trap's favored matchup is PvZ; unfortunately for him, there are no zergs here to help him. With below 60% winrates in PvT and PvP, he will absolutely have to rely on the build orders of superior players while at the same time improving his execution to at least match theirs. His play in LotV thus far cannot be said to be worthy of commanding respect; his PvT winrate is only 51% thus far, and his only series victories came before the critical adept nerf. After that, he has not won a single series in PvT. Against a TaeJa who, for all purposes and intents, is the dark horse of this tournament and whose potence in the new environment has magnified, he will have to recall his form of 2014 where he defeated a similar terran, Polt, 4-0 in MLG Anaheim, to even stand a chance
herO is the favourite in this group due to his vastly greater experience and the superior proximity of his recent results, while TaeJa is favored against Trap, who is not strong in PvT. What happens in the Winners' Match is actually not as certain as one may think: herO showed extreme vulnerability in his televised PvT series thus far. His PvT against Dream in Proleague was only won due to Dream's stubbornness and extreme greed, and in the Ro32 he was defeated 2-1 by the very same terran. Still, he is also favored against TaeJa because he has the matches of Zest to draw upon for inspiration, combined with his relative superiority of resources available to him as a a player on a KeSPA team. In the Losers' Match, what happens between SpeeD and Trap is also anyone's guess. At this point, we shall have to rely on our past inferences and extrapolation of not only their play, but the human element of that as well.
herO > SpeeD
Trap < TaeJa
herO > TaeJa
SpeeD > Trap
TaeJa > SpeeD
herO and TaeJa to advance to the Round of 8