Table of Contents
One Last Push
Jin Air vs KT
MVP vs Afreeca
SKT vs Samsung
Jin Air vs CJ
One Last Push
Never has the Proleague table looked quite so strange. The titans of SKT have continued to fall in Round 3, failing to pick up a single win so far. They're firmly rooted to the bottom of the table, and it would take a miracle for them to reach the Round Playoffs now. Should they fail, it would be the first time since 2014 Round 2 that they've finished a round outside the top 4.
At the same time their two greatest rivals KT Rolster and Jin Air Green Wings will fight for the pole position this weekend, both eyeing up a spot in the Round 3 Finals at IEM Shanghai.
The battle for top dog isn’t the only one to be fought out however: Afreeca, Samsung, CJ and MVP scramble for the two playoff spots behind KT and Jin Air—in this race every single map win or loss counts. We've only a single week left after this—a monster 5 match session next week—and time is rapidly running out.
- Last week was one of the shortest sessions of Proleague we’ve ever had. Three out of our four matches were clean sweeps, while Samsung and Afreeca bucked the trend to take things to an ace match. Their match centred around Set 2—the match between the teams’ two star terrans. aLive’s superiority was clear from the start, out-multitasking Reality and finding holes in the Samsung terran’s defence. It’s particularly notable given that Reality is one of the best defensive terrans in the world (especially in TvT), and after a 9 match offline losing streak from February to April, aLive seems to be returning to form just in time.
- The rest of the match proceeded just as expected. Super bungled a crucial fight against Dear, getting far too aggressive on inferior upgrades, Solar’s mass roach ravager force rolled over Bomber, while Patience just about emerged on top after a crazy base trade scenario with BrAvO. It all came down to the ace match, and everything suddenly rolled back to 2015. Curious was clutch in a crucial ZvZ; Solar lost yet another ace match. Solar was far too greedy when trying to rush out mutalisks, and Curious rolled over him with overwhelming roach numbers.
- Onto the sweeps then, and let’s start with CJ. It’s been an encouraging round for them so far—losing 2-3 to KT is hardly a poor performance, while they were successful in Week 2 against their closest rivals Afreeca. That building confidence was all wiped away in a horrid 0-3 defeat to MVP. Forte picked up his first Proleague win of the year against herO with a 1-1-1 one base push, while Ryung ran circles around Bunny’s attempted mech composition. Sandwiching those two losses was a great game between MC and GuMiho—Artosis’ breakdown of the game is highly recommended. MVP need to make the round playoffs to have any chance of making the top 4 at the end of the season; this win keeps them in the running (just about).
- It’s a shame for them, then, that not a day later they were beaten just as heavily by KT. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone though—TY, Stats, and Zest are all far better than anyone on the MVP roster—and so it proved here. For all the talk of preparation and the volatility of the BO1 format, sometimes you’ve just got to admit that the other team has you outgunned.
- Finally, onto a match that would’ve been the highlight of the round a mere couple months back. SKT’s collapse in 2016 has been absolutely shocking following their dominance of 2015. Dark has been their sole shining light for much of the year, but even he can’t carry them through Proleague by himself. Rogue toppled him here, freestyling again with a mutalisk / swarm host composition that perfectly countered Dark’s standard roach / hydra / bane army. Dream followed that up with an ill-fated charge across New Gettysburg’s bridge (not ideal given protoss’ access to colossi and sentried), before Maru dealt the final blow after a great back and forth game against Classic.
Jin Air vs KT
Cure <Overgrowth> Leenock
It’s time to kick off the most anticipated match of the round, and both teams have opted for a slow buildup, each sending out their clear fourth choice team members. With Trap’s form has tailing off, Cure has solidified his place in the starting lineup behind Jin Air’s long term triptych of Rogue, Maru and sOs. On KT’s side, it’s Leenock’s turn to be the team’s sacrificial zerg following Losira’s failures in recent times. His ZvT results in 2016 though have been terrible—his match record this year is 2-6, with wins coming over Kas and KeeN. We’ve only seen him play a single ZvT since March though (loss to BrAvO in Proleague), and given the state of Korean ZvT at the moment, it’s difficult to be optimistic for him here. It’s made even worse by Cure’s success in the matchup; a 13-3 map record in 2016, with only a single unstreamed loss to Symbol (!) in the SSL qualifiers just gone.
Rogue <Frost> Zest
It’s finally time to see Zest tested against a strong Korean zerg. It’s been something we’ve waited quite a while for. We know his PvT is the best in the scene by a distance; we know that he’s still one of the premier Korean PvPers. His play against zerg though has long been held as a question mark against his otherwise glittering record. An offline record of 9-5 in 2016 sounds good until you remove the matches against irrelevant qualifier players, and Proleague losses to Solar, Rogue and DeParture earlier in the year hint at a potential chink in his armour. That’s without mentioning his 0-3 online loss to Snute—granted, days before his successful GSL semifinal against Dear. For his part, Rogue hasn’t set the world alight against Protoss either, and it’ll be interesting to see if he brings any tailored strats to the party following his swarm host shenanigans against Dark last week.
Maru <King Sejong Station> TY
Will the real Maru please stand up? We’ve gone through half a year of Maru dominating Proleague, while being excluded from individual competition following his dual failures in Code A and the SSL qualifiers, and what happens in Season 2? Code A was fine, as he progressed to Code S after an easy 3-0 over Reality, but he was shockingly dumped out of the SSL Challenge by Zest (expected) and Super and Reality (less so). He even suffered his first defeat in 2016 TvT in the SSL, losing to Reality, but that still leaves his record at 18-1. That includes wins over TY, INnoVation, aLive, GuMiho and Reality—five of the best terrans in the mirror matchup. TY’s own TvT record is great, but I can’t see him winning here.
sOs <New Gettysburg> Stats
sOs has always been a fan of weird maps (remember his airtoss proclivities on Maze?), and he kept up his stellar map abusive tendencies when ripping Dream apart on New Getysburg. Key to all of that was constant oracle scouting, using the dead space effectively, and he’ll probably adopt the same tactic here against Stats. The KT protoss is probably the best PvPer in the world right now, and aside from two losses in Proleague to herO and sOs is unbeaten in the matchup in 2016. Both players are big fans of mixing DTs into mid game compositions—expect trickery here.
ACE <Frozen Temple> ACE
Honestly, picking ace match players here is all a gamble. The obvious pick for Jin Air is Maru, and so the obvious counter pick for KT is Zest. Should Rogue beat Zest in their initial match though, Jin Air could look to predict the Zest pick and send Rogue instead; should KT expect this, TY is the obvious player to send. And so we’re back to sending Maru for Jin Air. Chances are, both teams play it safe and we get to see Maru vs Zest again to decide another match between the two teams.
Cure > Leenock
Rogue < Zest
Maru > TY
sOs < Stats
Maru < Zest
Jin Air 2 - 3 KT
MVP vs Afreeca
GuMiho <Frozen Temple> Patience
After a disappointing first season in Korea (elimination from the SSL qualifiers by ByuN and Losira, loss to Dark in Code A), GuMiho has performed admirably for MVP. A 9-8 record might not be troubling the players at the top end of the win table too much, but it’s one of the main reasons why MVP are still in the hunt for a spot in the season playoffs (just about). His return to individual competition has been equally encouraging (a dominant 3-0 over DRG in Code A, and emerging from his SSL Challenge group in a creditable 2nd place behind Classic), and from all their team interviews there’s no doubt that he’s the current leader behind the MVP SC2 team. Patience has equally delivered more than expected this year, from his unexpected SSL run in Season 1 to his current 6-4 record in Proleague, including a current 4-1 record in Round 3, with wins over Classic, Dark, ByuL and BrAvO. That said, his PvT has hardly been tested offline (1-0 BrAvO, 1-0 Ryung, 1-3 TY). This is a clash between both teams’ ace players, and it’s vital for both that they get off to a good start.
DeParture <Overgrowth> Super
After a bright start to the year, DeParture faded away quickly. A 4-6 record in Proleague was dented severely by his weakness to terran (he is still yet to win a map offline in ZvT—even losing 0-2 to amateur Sonagi in the SSL qualifiers just gone), while Super and TY dumped him out of Code S at the first hurdle 0-4. It’s been months since his last offline ZvP (a win against Zest in Proleague), and the quality of protoss opposition he’s played online is simply too weak to draw any real conclusions. Super too has been a bit invisible in the matchup as well. He might have shocked us all by qualifying for the SSL Ro.16 from the Group of Death in the Challenge round, but PvZ was hardly a strength there for him—he looked unconvincing against Losira.
Blaze <New Gettysburg> Curious
Time for more Proleague for Blaze then. It’s essentially the only competition we’ve seen the protoss in all year, as he’s fallen in three of the four starleague qualifiers this year (losing in Code A to TaeJa in his only televised starleague appearance). He was one of the big surprises of Proleague 2015—his 8-4 record encapsulating his tricky, aggressive style and willingness to gamble—but he hasn’t been able to transition that style over to Legacy, currently sitting on a 2-5 record. On a brand new map, and against a Curious struggling against protoss, this is a good opportunity to reduce the deficit.
Ryung <Frost> aLive
To close things out, we’ve got another classic TvT battle from the early days of SC2. aLive comes into this match fresh off last week’s mauling of Reality, but it’s notable that Ryung’s come out on top in both of their matches this year (3-0 in the BaseTradeTV Ting Open, 3-1 in the WCA Spring Qualifier). In fact, Ryung holds a 24-10 map advantage over aLive throughout Starcraft history (11-3 in maps). Both players have gone through several peaks and troughs this year already, but from his recent matches in the SSL Challenge and Proleague, it seems like aLive has returned to peak level just in time for the end of the round.
ACE <King Sejong Station> ACE
GuMiho will almost certainly be MVP’s ace player here, while Afreeca have mixed it up in recent times (notably sending Curious last week when he wasn’t in the starting lineup). Still, I think that aLive’s been performing well enough to get the call-up here.
GuMiho > Patience
DeParture < Super
Blaze < Curious
Ryung < aLive
MVP 1 - 3 Afreeca
SKT vs Samsung
Dark <New Gettysburg> Solar
Both adversaries here didn’t have all too pleasant ZvZ experiences last week: Solar lost an ace match to Curious on this very map, caught out by a strong roach/ling attack while transitioning to mutalisks. Dark on the other hand faced the Sexy Boy style from Rogue, a crazy concoction of mutalisks, swarm hosts and strong static defence in concert to keep his opponent occupied and himself safe and secure, while teching up to brood lords. Although we have seen this style before against protoss from both Rogue and ByuL in HotS, its usage in ZvZ and LotV confused and overwhelmed Dark, who did not know how to react.
The SKT zerg is on a six game losing streak in SPL now, including a lost map to Solar in May—fitting right in with the rest of his team. Recent weeks have been kinder to Solar, especially regarding his ZvZ form, so the Samsung player should be the slight favourite in this match.
Impact <Frost> Hurricane
Our next two competitors have been fielded for the first time in this round and will play on a map, that hasn’t seen a lot of ZvP this season. In the few matches we’ve had, protoss came out ahead most of the time. Historical stats on the other hand don’t help us much for this match, as Frost is nearly at 50:50 in all time ZvP and both players last met each other in 2014.
Hurricane managed to qualify for Code S at the last minute recently, securing the spot TRUE left open with his absence in a wild card qualifier, where he beat to zerg players in Armani and Leenock. Before that he lost to Rogue in Code A and Curious in SSL Challenge though, so we really don’t exactly know how to judge his PvZ. Getting into Code S should boost morale in any case though. The picture is equally confusing for Impact, who also was eliminated from SSL Challenge, where he lost to Dear, and a few weeks back he was defeated by Stats in SPL. Now, Dear and Stats are quite different opponents than the names Hurricane faced, so Impact losing to them isn’t very surprising and may not indicate a glaring weakness in ZvP. I think this is a very even match-up, which both sides could decide for themselves.
Classic <Overgrowth> Reality
Finally, we've got a game which theoretically favours SKT a bit. Even though Classic has lost his last four SPL matches—forming a losing streak alongside Dark—he should go into this match with confidence. Yes, he lost to Maru last week, but then again so has everyone else in Proleague. The protoss qualified for SSL with only one map loss, defeating GuMiho 2-0 along the way, before overcoming BrAvO in Code A. It is this victory which also casts a bit of doubt about this coming game however. Classic was favoured massively against the Samsung terran, and looked in complete control 2-0 up. Some nervy play allowed BrAvO to pull things back to a deciding map though, before some cheesy DT play finally secured the win. And back in May Classic lost to Reality himself, while being on the height of his SPL performances.
There is no doubt Classic is the better player of the two, but he’s nowhere near unbeatable. Reality had a shaky SSL performance, but he went through in the end, taking maps off of herO and Super, showing he is capable of taking these map wins from high class protoss players. It’s true that Hurricane beat Reality in the Code S wild card qualifier, but in team kills silly things happen, so that may not be the best indicator for Reality’s TvP. Classic should take this one.
INnoVation <King Sejong Station> Dear
This one might be a successful snipe from Samsung. INnoVation has been used several times on King Sejong Station in the last matches, so him coming out here is kind of predictable. Considering his abysmal TvP in Legacy, sending a protoss to eliminate him is an absolute banker. And guess who won over INnoVation in a PvT series recently—exactly, it’s Dear. He defeated INno in the SSL qualifiers in May, and only a few days ago in the GSL wild card qualifier the SKT terran lost 0-2 to Trap, confirming his lack of strength in the match-up.
That said, Dear himself hasn’t been a PvT killing machine in the last weeks either. He lost to TY in Proleague and went 3-3 against aLive, ByuN and jjakji in SSL Challenge, which is really not very impressive. More impressive than INnoVation though, so there’s that. Since this snipe might have been planned for some time, we should also expect the Samsung protoss to have something deadly prepared for his opponent. INnoVation is certainly strong on this map, otherwise he wouldn’t be fielded here, but his notorious weakness to aggressive strategies is something he never got rid of. Samsung have chosen their battles well, and victory is in reach.
ACE <Dusk Towers> ACE
Ace matches have often been SKT's bail out clause in difficult times, but in recent times even these deciding battles haven't saved them so far. Dusk Towers has proven a good terran map over the course of th year, so one might expect INnoVation as the ace here. Interestingly enough SKT have not used him as ace at all this season, instead relying on Dark and soO. But with zergs in Korea not doing so well this strategy might be out of date, especially as Dear or Reality stand ready to abuse this fact. We might still get a Dark versus Solar rematch, but maybe it’s time for SKT's staff to mix up the ace game with a terran or protoss.
Dark < Solar
Impact > Hurricane
Classic > Reality
INnoVation < Dear
Classic > Dear
SKT 3 - 2 Samsung
Jin Air vs CJ
Maru <Frozen Temple> Hush
Having to send out Hush against Maru reeks of desperation, but CJ doesn’t have a lot of other options. MC may be benched to rest for a more winnable match, which is a smart move in their situation—why waste energy against an opponent you can’t beat anyways? Still, this is like sending a chihuahua to kill a T. rex. To be successful a huge rock would need to fall out of space and hit Maru. Booths have collapsed on players before of course, but the one time we've seen it happen so far proved more of a blessing than an obstacle.
Yes, Maru did lose 2-4 to protoss in SSL Challenge and was eliminated, but a few days later he went on to beat Classic in Proleague. And it’s not like Hush has done any better in the same timeframe: He lost 1-5 against Bomber, TY and Cure in his own Challenger group. This shouldn't be close.
Rogue <Overgrowth> herO
Considering Rogue hasn’t been doing very well against protoss in SPL this season, he surely hoped for a different match-up to play this week, but now he has to work with two ZvPs against fearsome opponents. The Sexy Boy Zerg has shown another clever swarm host strategy last week against zerg, which should certainly remind herO of all people what his adversary is capable of. After all it was a game against herO in which Rogue first showed his swarm host usage in HotS. And even though it’s unlikely the zerg will try something similar in this game, it’s a psychological advantage that now exists.
Rogue will need any advantage, small as it may be, to defeat the protoss. herO has been doing very well against zerg recently, including a victory over Rogue in the previous round of Proleague. He has been trying to keep CJ afloat all by himself for a long time now and the number of times he's bailed them out with ace wins is ridiculous. But this great responsibility does take its’ toll and even herO can’t hold his team up alone forever. Last week he lost to Forte of all people—who did play a smart game, so we’re not taking anything away from him here—partially due to sketchy decision making, one of herO’s long time weaknesses. And with the pressure on him getting higher and higher we may expect some more of these mental blackouts. On paper herO should be a solid favourite, but his own mental strength may crumble and open up an opportunity for Rogue, a clever player known to be able to abuse such weaknesses mercilessly.
sOs <New Gettysburg> ByuL
sOs seems to have found himself a new favourite place to be: New Gettysburg. Sure, his debut on the map last week against Dream went as planned, so why not ride that wave as long it’s possible. Not only seems the protoss to be comfortable on this new battleground, the match-up should suit him just as well: sOs has not a lost a PvZ series in 2016. In fact you can count the maps he's lost to zerg players so far on one hand. There is not really a reason for sOs to be worried about this coming match.
On the other hand, ByuL doesn't have a lot of reasons to be confident on his return from last week's benching. His general play against zerg in Proleague so far has been average at best, and recently there has been nothing but defeat for him in the match-up: He lost two series to Patience and one to Classic, and in Code A he only narrowly defeated Creator, the weakest of Jin Air’s protoss players. It might be that the break last week gave him enough time to breath and collect himself—maybe even to figure out something clever for New Gettysburg—but in any case, sOs is not the guy you want to play on your comeback day.
Trap <Frost> Bunny
Trap should be the nail in CJ’s collective coffin. The protoss beat INnoVation and Journey in the GSL wild card qualifier, who are both better than Bunny, so the momentum should definitely be on his side. Additionally, Trap has played quite the solid SPL season, especially in PvT, which is his best match-up in the league. His SSL Challenge performance is the only thing giving a bit of hope to Bunny and CJ fans, as the Jin Air protoss went 1-5 there against Cure, Bomber and TY, but that probably won’t matter much against the CJ terran.
Especially because Bunny actually hasn’t won a TvP match this year yet. He was able to make some surprises happen in the other match-ups from time to time, but TvP seems to be a different beast altogether. This is a trap Bunny won’t avoid.
Ace: <King Sejong Station>
King Sejong Station is traditionally herO’s domain, so if there has even been a slight doubt about him being chosen as ace, cast it away immediately. As for Jin Air, well, Maru or sOs should do the job equally well, even though there is certainly a risk that they’ll lose to the protoss—Maru did so in SSL, and sOs did so last time they met in SPL. It’s unlikely it’ll come to that however.
Maru > Hush
Rogue < herO
sOs > ByuL
Trap > Bunny
Jin Air 3 - 1 CJ
Time until Proleague