Sometimes you just can't call it quits. In TaeJa's case, it isn't for the lack of trying. Last season of Code S was supposed to be his final tournament as a professional StarCraft player, but he secured a Ro8 spot and was therefore awarded a seed into the next season. His contract with Liquid officially ended, everyone was expecting TaeJa's Ro32 appearance to be but a formality to ease him into retirement. But once again he proved himself the worst retiree of all time, taking out soO and RagnaroK to fight yet another day. He even looked a good player while doing so, for example copying and executing one of Maru's builds brilliantly after only seeing it once, as he told us in the interview following his games.
This group is significantly harder, however, so we'll just say this one more time: this may be TaeJa's final few games. He did promise to practice hard for this group after noticing the reception he got from fans in the studio. TaeJa with practice is scary, let me tell you that. Two years ago, one of San's teammates on yoeFW told me that TaeJa never actually practiced, but kept destroying San in games anyway. TaeJa had also barely prepared for his Ro32, but showed up big against soO and RagnaroK nonetheless. If TaeJa does practice for this group, we may all be surprised come tomorrow.
Addicted to the Shindig
herO's an odd player. He's carried CJ Entus to wins almost by himself in Proleague this season, but high finishes in individual leagues haven't followed. He dropped out of Code S in the Ro8 last season, losing 1-3 to Cure, and was eliminated swiftly in the first round of SSL Season 1. He didn't even re-qualify for Starleague this time. He appears to still struggle with many of his old flaws. Overconfidence, as displayed by his bizarre dance against Dark, before losing his whole army and having to play out a game that wasn't entirely won yet. Overaggressive attacks, as shown in his SSL Challenger losses. These are classic characteristics of herO, but they're part of his personality and can't simply be set aside.
Despite all the above, his 18-7 Proleague record and the level of play herO is absolutely capable of mean that he shouldn't be counted out. But with Proleague done for CJ and this season of Code S being his last chance at a BlizzCon spot - he would likely need to win Code S to qualify - herO can't have his eyes set on anything but a victory here. He will be as well prepared as he can possibly be. Especially under those circumstances, this a group he should be advancing from, if he does show up in good form.
Chop Top, He Says I'm Gonna Win Big
Zest can't stop beating Terrans. Artosis said this some time ago:
And I believed him. It seemed logical that Terrans would find ways to beat Protoss, and figure out ways to beat Zest as a player as well. I was wrong. Zest's winrate has actually increased. He's now at an 88,37% map winrate against Terran in 2016 and has still only lost that single Bo1 against Maru in Proleague. His games look just as lopsided as they did before, as shown by his SSL series against GuMiho, where, despite falling behind in the early game, he still simply ended the games like it was nobody's business. With two Terrans in this group, one of whom is supposedly trying his hardest to retire and the other, Ryung, not nearly at Maru's level, it's almost impossible to imagine Zest not advancing from this group. And with a very doable SSL bracket, another championship may be in the cards for Zest while he takes on Code S at the same time.
Choose Not a Life of Imitation
Ryung is still active. That may sound like I'm making fun of him, but I'm not. After such a tenured career, Ryung has qualified for another Ro16 of Code S. It's fitting that he advanced by 2-0ing two Terrans in a row, considering Ryung's long standing reputation as a TvT specialist, reaching as far back as early Wings of Liberty. He played for SlayerS then, and most of his contemporaries from back then have already retired. One more may be retiring after this group. Ryung though keeps going, he's found his way back on track and improved immensely over recent weeks. He appears quite regularly in online tournaments, such as Leifeng Cups and Olimoleagues, trading series with established top players like GuMiho, sOs and aLive, winning a good amount. Ryung also beat TAiLS recently, proving that he can even defeat players that have spent years in the wild.
It is a tough group, and Ryung will most likely enter it with an opening loss to Zest, but that's fine. herO, if he doesn't perform his best, could be vulnerable and TaeJa, despite being terrible at retiring, may be beatable for a TvT master. All has seemed lost for Ryung before when Axiom disbanded, but he's maintained his focus and found a new team, where he's steadily growing again as a player. The future does not look bleak for him, even if he does lose here.
Can I Get Two, Maybe Even Three of These?
Well, only two.
Zest > Ryung
TaeJa < herO
Zest > herO
Ryung < TaeJa
herO < TaeJa
TaeJa loves flirting with retirement, but he's got serious commitment issues. Zest and TaeJa advance!