Global StarCraft 2 League Code S - 2018 Season 2
Start time: Saturday, Jun 23 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Start time: Saturday, Jun 23 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Records aren’t meant to stand forever, but some just seem out of reach.
NesTea’s undefeated run through the fourth edition of Code S was one of the most noteworthy moments in StarCraft II's early history. He may have swept InCa in the finals a season before, but not dropping a map throughout the entire tournament easily topped his first Code S championship run. We ooh’d and ahh’d as he capped his dominating performance by trouncing Losira, a matchup that was lopsided from start to finish. But, as is the nature of things, the significance of NesTea’s achievement was only fully appreciated in posterity. We were so enthused with our new RTS and its bright future, the magnitude of that particular evening was lost amid jubilance.
To this day NesTea’s back to back titles are unmatched. Time eroded the significance of his other accomplishments while NesTea’s presence was eclipsed by the new guard. His rival Mvp had a trophy made just for him to celebrate a possible fifth GSL victory; INnoVation staked his ownership on Season 3 while Dear, Zest and Life walked the Royal Road; soO became the new standard in Zerg resilience with his six finals appearances. Yet GSL proved too harsh a landscape for anyone to replicate his championship defense. Balance and map pools ensured a longstanding volatility that hindered all but the most talented; maintaining form was a tricky endeavor that no one could preserve long-term. Add in the hypercompetitiveness of the Korean scene, and the prospect of back-to-back wins started looking like an insurmountable obstacle. Since NesTea a champion has surrendered their throne 23 consecutive times to another. Only now is an end in sight.
Seven years have passed since NesTea's back-to-back championships, but Maru is one match away from restoring the tradition. For one of the most lauded players in the history of StarCraft II, it was a long time coming. His victory in GSL last season was a belated confirmation of his genius. He may have been the best Terran throughout the majority of Heart of the Swarm, but the GSL championship forever eluded him. The early days of LotV robbed him of that distinction too as he looked far less formidable during the first two years of the expansions. Underwhelming performances and inexplicable losses meant Maru never got within shouting distance of the finals. Only in early 2018 did his brilliance shine through.
It was easy to admire Maru. He was always dynamic and cunning, reckless and daring. Eight years into a career with very humble beginnings, these attributes still define him. Yet we’ve witnessed an entirely different Maru this year. As ruthless and incisive as ever, there’s been a methodical element to his play we’ve never seen before. His mastery of the late game when it comes to unit control and strategy far exceeds that he exhibited earlier in his career. Although his play was still rough around the edges, IEM Katowice was our first hint of this new, improved version.
Having endured a 1093 day spell without a title, Maru is rapidly building a legacy to rival that of any to play the game. His play polished to a mirror sheen, he recently became the first and only player to win an OSL, SSL and GSL. A second consecutive GSL title would elevate him to rarified heights. He may not be able to replicate Nestea’s unbeaten Code S campaign—and in this day and age, who can?—but his 31-6 mark in offline matches since the beginning of last season outstrips NesTea’s 13-4 run that saw him win back to back titles. There were doubters aplenty when he lost to KeeN to kick off Code S this year, but Maru has dispelled all concerns since.
He’s done so through adaptability as much as brute force. His TvP has been impeccable over the past six months, and he showcased an astute command of the dreaded ghost-raven late game army. He’s excelled in every aspect of the matchup: an unmatched tactician in the early stages of TvP, an iron-fisted ruler of the mid-game, and a behemoth in the late game (pre-raven nerf). changing his tactics to fit the meta as well as the opponent. People have been able to waylay Maru but none have stopped him in his tracks. The aforementioned loss against KeeN was short lived as he bounced back to defeat him and advance from the group. He has similarly claimed revenge against Dear, Rogue and Classic for losses earlier in the year on the way to his second straight final.
Maru enters the match as the clear favorite. Where Zest has been adequate, enduring more than impressing, Maru has been exemplary. He’s far and away the best player in the world, displaying stellar form during a period in which other contenders have chronically fallen short. If defeating Stats in the Season 1 finals confirmed his status, what would winning a second consecutive final tell us? Should he defeat Zest, there’s no doubt we’ll be asking if the three-peat is possible.
If Nestea really did create the universe, he did so with this moment in mind: when a prodigy turned titan would finally inherit his legacy. NesTea and Maru are both essential figures in the history of StarCraft II. Though Maru is different in that his tale is still being written. The highest earning player the game has ever seen, Maru will enter the final looking to add another trophy to his cabinet. Beyond that, a place beside one of the game’s greatest legends and pioneers is four GG’s away. It’s been a long time coming, but even this record could not go unmatched forever.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Had this piece been written a few weeks ago, no player in StarCraft II would have personified that phrase more than Zest, with every aspect that saying entails. What a mighty player Zest was during his peaks in 2014 and 2016. History is easily forgotten as StarCraft II continues to live and breathe, new champions arise and seemingly set new standards, only to fade away and themselves become history. But Zest, despite a prolonged period of mediocrity, has edged his name in stone in a way only a handful of players have, and now looks to add to an already wonderful career.
Think back to 2014. Zest, a player of little accomplishments, became a triple champion of Korean tournaments, equaling the record set by Mvp, then still the uncontested greatest player ever. That record remains unbroken, albeit now also met by INnoVation. There was hardly a moment in 2014 when Zest was not commonly considered the best player in the world. He played an integral role in KT Rolster’s Proleague victory and reached the quarterfinals of every tournament he entered—until BlizzCon, where he lost a close series to the eventual champion, Life.
Think back to 2016. Zest laid down one of the most dominant and impressive GSL runs we have seen. Dropping a grand total of three maps all tournament, he dispatched of TaeJa, Journey, Cure, soO, TaeJa again, Dear, and TY in emphatic fashion. Those names may seem less impressive from today’s perspective, but consider that, at the time, Dear was the best not-Zest-Protoss in the world, soO was second only to Dark as Zergs went, and TY was far and away the best Terran—Cure was considered the second best. With that GSL victory, Zest equaled MC’s record for most GSL championships of any Protoss in SCII.
Then came the fall. KT Rolster, alongside every other Proleague team bar Jin Air Green Wings, disbanded their SCII roster and left Zest stranded. That radical change in environment appeared to hit Zest harder than most other Korean professionals, something he has since alluded to in interviews. Zest’s status in the community meant that while he flew under the radar of the everyday GSL spectator who saw little of him in 2017 but early eliminations or even failure to qualify altogether, he remained a name of interest to the ‘hardcore’ community, the selected few who also follow the various online circuits Zest still played in. What they saw appeared in stark contrast to his GSL and SSL failures. And failures they were. Eliminated in the Ro32 of Code S twice, two last place finishes in SSL Premier and Challenger, first round elimination from GSL Super Tournament, not even qualified for GSL Season 3.
There were always small sparks of hope for his fans. HomeStory Cup may not be considered an impressive tournament to win, given the feeling of passive intoxication it invokes in anyone watching even from halfway across the globe, but it is a tournament that has good players. A tournament that Zest won back-to-back, ensuring his record of winning at least one offline tournament per year since his big breakout moment in 2014 remains secure even if he fails to win this GSL. GuMiho, uThermal, ByuN, Scarlett, Stats, and Solar are opponents worthy of respect and Zest defeated them in HSC playoffs. With his latest HSC win, Zest became the record holder for most Protoss tournament wins at seven—ahead of MC, sOs, herO, PartinG, et cetera.
But more disappointment was soon to follow as Zest crashed out of another GSL Super Tournament in the opening round, and failed to advance past the group stage of IEM Katowice. HomeStory Cup seemed like just another blip on the radar, not unlike the dozens of online victories he amassed in his time out of the spotlight of the Korean and international circuits.
This season of GSL started no differently. Trap topped his Ro32 group while Zest ground out two rather unconvincing series against SortOf. Maru topped his Ro16 group as Zest lost to Solar in his opening match. But it was then that fortunes turned for no apparent reason. Zest bounced back to make short work of Patience and Solar to advance to the quarterfinals, where he removed Dear from the GSL as though he should never have been there in the first place. TY, who eliminated much stronger opponents in Dark, Trap and GuMiho, might have lost to Zest by a much steeper margin if not for an unscouted proxy, a failed proxy void-ray all in, and a lucky scout on Zest’s planned immortal/prism all-in that the Protoss was forced to abandon, setting him behind. Every game that played out ‘normally’, Zest dominated.
Think back on Zest’s career. Remember what names we used to mention in the same breath as Zest? Mvp, INnoVation, Life, MC. All names commonly dropped in debates about the greatest ever players to touch StarCraft II. Zest is one of them. He is one of the greatest players to ever take up a mouse and compete in this game. Think back on their careers. How many times did Mvp bounce back from injury to win yet another title? How many times did Life come back from periods of mediocrity to return to his peak? How many times did MC surprise us with awesome showings when we had long counted him out? How many times did INnoVation bounce back to claim more titles? Zest’s very opponent in this GSL final, Maru, has gone through a similarly deep slump as Zest, and look at him now.
That is what champions do. Their class, their experience and their will to succeed allow them to climb out of the deepest holes and return to glory. The mighty may fall, but they rise again. A two time GSL champion, an IEM World Champion, a KeSPA Cup and Proleague champion, the most successful Protoss in SCII’s history, Zest exemplifies that class like only a handful others. Should we really be surprised if he wins another GSL?
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