Rewriting Expectations: Stats in the GSL FinalsWritten by Mizenhauer
GSL is an odyssey. Thirty-two aspirants take the field, but only one is left standing. As fans, we watch fervently. We wake up early. We stay up late. We might not sleep at all. We pour our hearts into the competition, in hope that we might give the smallest bit of inspiration to our favorite players. We burden them with our expectations, demanding they fulfill dreams that are incongruous with reality. It's not objectivity we need, though. Emotion is what makes StarCraft II more magnificent than reality.
Each match is another part of an ongoing epic, the tapestry of our fan experience. Here within, progamers are more than caricatures—they're heroes as grand as any figure from classic myth. An iron rule was broken when Stats dispatched soO; a shadowy legacy was reaffirmed when Dark fell at Maru's hands. Soon, this chapter will end. One player will stand as GSL champion, the greatest in the world.
According to most people, Stats shouldn't be here.
The winds of public opinion have harangued him all season. If Liquibet participants are to be believed, Stats should have fallen in the round of 16. A fellow TeamLiquid.net writer had Stats being eliminated as early as the RO32. Gamblers, with their cold, hard cash on the line, have bet against Stats almost every single step of the way.
However, Stats doesn't care what anyone else thinks. Odds, records, projection, possibilities—he brushes them off as if he was a faun untouched by human musings. After Stats escaped the GSL RO16 by the skin of his teeth, he gave his doubters plenty of reason to feel justified. He had a disastrous showing at IEM Katowice that inspired little confidence in his long term prospects back home. With a PvP versus Classic coming in the quarterfinals, Stats would surely be packing his mouse and keyboard up. Yes, Rogue also dismantled Classic at IEM, but that loss didn't tarnish Classic's reputation as the #1 Protoss up to that point. There was nothing personal about expecting Stats to lose. He simply hadn't shown form worthy of consideration.
Didn't see that one coming.
Stats didn't hear us the first few times we marked his grave, and he certainly paid no heed when we marked his semifinal match with soO as the end of his road. Shows what we know. Throughout this GSL, Stats has been clomping through our would-be archives, tearing up our drafts of StarCraft II history, and filling his victories in with ink.
Long cast as the safe, reliable player, Stats is proving little by little that we had him figured out all wrong. "Safe" is a reputation that's persisted from our complacency. We've never gotten over the 2015 depiction of Stats as a player who was incapable of imposing his will with decisive, game-changing plays. Less than a week ago, he employed brute force and guile in equal measures in his comeback win over soO. The seven game series was but a taste of the menagerie of builds and strategies Stats has been cultivating since the release of StarCraft's third expansion, one he has dominated to the tune of ten top 4 or better finishes—eight more than his finals opponent. Whoo! At least we got the "reliable" part right.
Stats' transformation from challenger, to junior kong, to champion, to immovable pillar of the scene has been one of the most phenomenal developments of LotV. The version of Stats that will take on Maru is nothing like the one who crumbled against Dark in his first final, two years ago. A monster has grown before our very eyes, and we barely even noticed.
One has to wonder how results could have piled up with so little attention being paid to them. Either Stats is overperforming or he is being underestimated. A case can be made for either.
If you value online results, then Stats is surely overperforming in the GSL. His poor form in online events has become a calling card. He doesn't sweep through online qualifiers, he doesn't casually dismantle lesser players in online cups, and he rarely resides at the top of the ladder. Even moving offline, Stats' loss to Poland's souL at IEM Katowice seemed to make it undeniable that he was horribly out of form.
On the other hand, if you believe that the true nature of a competitor is only revealed in moments of extreme adversity, then Stats' journey proves he is being shamefully underrated. Winning GSL early in 2017 should have rendered him unforgettable, but he slipped from our attention with eerie speed. Everyone was focused on Dark in 2017's SSL Season 2 finals, but it was Stats who seized the championship. Stats' arrival in the GSL finals is merely the latest act of defiance against an egregious history of lowballing.
Stats has realized something few fans internalize, and few players have the means to utilize: it only takes seven matches to win GSL Code S. Each year, there are only a handful of meaningful tournaments, in terms of either prize money or prestige. Within those tournaments, a handful high pressure matches decide which players will leave with anything of lasting value. Stats has found a way to win the confrontations which matter most. As fans, we obsess over online cups and qualifiers because we're addicted to StarCraft II and learning the tiniest bit more about it. Stats knows StarCraft better than any of us ever will. He definitely knows which tournaments will define his legacy.
So, that's three times Stats should have died by our estimation. He's on his fourth life headed in the finals, and finds himself facing a death sentence once again. We see Maru near the top of the StarCraft world, needing to take just one more step to reach its absolute apex. Meanwhile, we envision Stats looking up a staircase—he's already one million steps up, but there's another million ahead of him. We're trying to figure out what Stats could do to beat the odds again. All-ins that cripple Maru early? Novel late-game compositions that he won't expect? All this, and more, is on our minds as we prepare to plunge again into our StarCraft II addiction. But maybe, just maybe, it's time we started to entertain a new fantasy: the odds were never against Stats in the first place.