SSL Challenge - Group A
Man, it sure feels good to be back, doesn’t it? After a brief hiatus (thank the heavens for Proleague), both GSL and SSL are entering their second seasons of the year. In the coming weeks, we’ll be treated to a plethora of high-level StarCraft action, and not a moment too soon.
Never a tournament to rest on its laurels, this time around the Challenge stage of SSL will have four groups of six players each. Each group will be played in the Round Robin style, and all the matches will best-of-twos. Players will pick “Home” maps, so they’ll get to play one game on their “Home” map and one game on an “Away” map against their five competitors each. From each group, the top three will advance to the main event, while the bottom three are eliminated. And if this sounds somewhat confusing, it is very much so. Games will be played in two batches; one starting at 1300 KST, and another at 1800 KST. If 30 maps of Starcraft in a day sounds like your thing, the SSL has got you covered. Liquipedia, of course, has a more detailed breakdown of the rules.
As always, the champion will win a good chunk of prize money, the glorious bragging rights among the stars that a Starleague title brings, and a spot at this year’s Blizzcon. Crucially, this year will have no more starleagues once season two of SSL and Code S are finished, meaning that securing that Blizzcon spot is now or never. As the summer months start in earnest, it looks like we’re in for a brutal heatwave, both on and off the stage.
If there’s a wild card in the group, it has to be Afreeca Freecs’ Bomber. He used to be a Terran powerhouse back in the day, a household name in the early years of StarCraft 2. While his power has waned with age, he still commands both fear and respect, and is not to be underestimated as an opponent. Back in Season 1 of the SSL, he lost against ByuL and Maru, failing to make it out of the Qualifiers. In Season 1 of GSL he was taken down by Seed in Code A, but this season’s campaing has seen a reversal of fortune for Bomber—successfully facing off against Seed to continue his run this time round. In the Qualifier finals of his group he made little headway against herO, but took down Scarlett in the lower bracket, earning himself a spot in the Challenge portion. He is also qualified for Code A, and due to play later this month against teammate Super.
Still, his performance in 2016 has been middling at best. Proleague has been a typically Bomber mix of successes and failures, while dropping out early in both GSL and SSL must have stung bad. If nothing else, the games should at least be entertaining. While Bomber is not quite as explosively volatile as, say, Maru, he’s never afraid to mix up his playstyle. Luckily for him, there’s only one Zerg in the group, and as his Terran and Protoss match-ups have been considerably stronger in 2016, it might just give him the opportunity to advance. As always, expect the unexpected.
There’s only one possible fact to lead with: GSL season 1 finalist. Over a heart-wrenching set against the titan Zest, TY was unable to bring Greek mythology to life, and wasn’t quite the Olympian deity he tried so hard to be. That’s not to downplay his accomplishment, of course. TY proved once and for all that there’s a champion living within him, yearning to be set free, and he’s going to do everything to set things right. The Challenge event will be TY’s first step in his personal Titanomachy.
Back in season 1 qualifiers of SSL, TY faced off against both Trap and soO, and lost against both (while still going 2-0 against Trap in Code S). He’ll be looking forward to his rematches here, and is also facing off against Cure, whom TY took down during his Code S run. After the showdown at the grand finals, he’s been active and successful in Proleague, and leisurely made it through the Qualifier stage of SSL. And with an assured spot in the next Code S, he’ll be looking to take advantage of the two leagues.
We didn't see Cure in the SSL Season 1 proper, as he was taken down by Hurricane in the Qualifier. However, we’ve been seeing him in Proleague quite a lot, and with convincing results, and of course we saw him plenty in Code S, where he managed to reach the semifinals until ultimately falling to TY. So far this year has been very good, his only apparent weakness being Terran. Bomber and aLive have taken him down in ProLeague, and TY’s taken him down in Code S, all three skillful players in their own right.
While 2014 saw Cure’s rise, 2015 was his fall, so maybe 2016 will be his resurgence and redemption. While eventually losing steam and stalling in the semifinals of GSL Season 1 (that aforementioned 0-4 loss against TY, ouch), he’s a strong contender for a deep run for the championship. Granted, there’s a slew of players with better overall results, so now would be the perfect time for Cure to show what he’s truly made of.
High-level StarCraft 2 can be ruthless. Trap will know that this is an understatement, after failing to make it out of the Qualifier stage of SSL Season 1, falling against Solar and soO. On the GSL side, however, he did reach the Ro16, but herO and TaeJa proved to be his undoing. During Proleague he’s been showing a more solid performance, albeit against utterly average opponents. But that’s a part of who Trap is: a standard player, capable of reaching Ro32 and Ro16, rarely making it to the higher echelons of tournaments. What sets him apart from players like Hush and Cure, however, is that he does have actual, real results to his name, most notably the title at MLG Anaheim 2014, and second place at IEM Katowice 2015. But against players like TY, soO and Bomber, he will need much more than just solid play with average mechanics: he will need to reach exceptional heights in order to prevail.
Let’s be realistic. Every starleague will have a couple of players scratching our heads: why are they here? How on Earth did they qualify? CJ Entus’s Hush has the unenviable position of being one of those players. His Proleague performance has been less than convincing. He never made it out of the qualifiers in SSL Season 1. He dropped out of Code A, losing 2-3 to DongRaeGu. But now he’s back, he’s made it through the qualifiers, and he’s made it to Code A again. It’s mostly just that his results are wholly unconvincing, and in a group with more experienced, and frankly, better players, he probably won’t be among anyone’s predictions to make it through.
The only Zerg in the group, soO must be cursing his luck right about now. His ZvZ has been his strongest match-up by a large margin, but he will be facing off against only Protoss and Terran players here. But sometimes the fates are fickle, and soO is very much a player to take his destiny into his own hands. His SSL Season 1 run ended in the round of 16 against ByuN, and his Code S run also ended in the round of 16, stopped by Zest and Cure.
soO is all about potential. While he’s a great player on paper, often during those crucial clutch moments there seems to be something holding him back. The deeper his run is, the more pronounced this becomes. Nevertheless, he is an intimidating opponent with enough preparation, and if he has managed to work out the kinks against both Terran and Protoss, he will have a good chance to advance. He’s certainly made it out of groups enough times to know precisely how it’s done, and he's certainly made it to the grand finals enough times to be a fearsome opponent.
The Three to Advance
We’re starting things off with an interesting mix of veterans and young blood, a mix of the old breed and upstarts. A lot of the players here have met each other over the past months, often in matches with everything on the line, so they’re all looking to right past wrongs, both real and imaginary.
TY is the obvious choice, as his impressive result is also very recent. There’s really nothing to say that he’s not capable of repeating the feat. Cure has been on the upswing lately, and after his solid performance in GSL Season 1, he should be the second player to advance. The third spot is not a sure thing at all, and will be the most hotly contested, but soO’s experience and solid style should give him an edge over the others, despite his current weaker performance against Terran and Protoss.