ASUS ROG Summer 2019 may have begun as a homecoming celebration for 2018 Global Champion Serral, but Finland's most prominent StarCraft II tournament concluded as it had several times in the past: in an inter-Korean clash. The finals saw Stats defeat Solar 4-2 to win the $10,000 first place prize, snapping his streak of three straight finals losses at high-profile, international events in the process (GSL vs. The World 2018, the 2018 WCS Global Finals, and IEM Katowice 2019).
Stats earned his spot in the grand final by defeating his nemesis Serral, overcoming a 0-2 deficit to steal a 3-2 reverse-sweep in the semifinals. Stats looked outmatched in the first two games, tapping out to a speedling rush in game one and collapsing at the end of a drawn-out, split-map staring contest in game two. However, Stats found a solution in the strategy that had previously allowed him to take a match off Serral in July's HomeStory Cup 19: his 1-phoenix, 3-oracle, 2-adept opener. The flexibility of the build helped Stats rip off a string of three victories—holding off a roach all-in in game three, dealing crippling drone damage in game four, and building a strong foundation to ultimately defeat Serral's swarm hosts in game five.
Though Stats had overcome the tournament favorite in Serral, the worst was far from over. Solar entered the finals with a monstrous 14-1 map record against the likes of Zest, GuMiho, Neeb, uthermal, soO and INnoVation—a rather Serral-esque path of destruction. It made it all the more surprising when Stats proceeded to dismantle Solar in the first three games of the best-of-seven finals, using his 'anti-Serral' build to great effect. "This is a bit much. I can't breathe," complained Solar in the pre-game lobby chat, after going down 0-3.
However, Solar proved his mettle by punishing Stats' clumsy cannon rush in game four, followed by a decisive win with swarm host-nydus play in game five. Solar even seemed to be on the brink of tying the series halfway through game six, having taken minimal damage damage from Stats' oracle harassment and follow-up ground attack. Unfortunately for Solar, outside circumstances came into play, with a denial-of-service attack on the event forcing a lengthy pause. Upon resuming, Solar showed some less-than-ideal swarm host play, including a brutal error that saw half his swarm hosts get stranded and killed (Solar later tweeted that the long delay caused him to lose focus). That ended up being too damaging a loss for Solar to recover from, and Stats quickly consolidated his forces to deal the final, series ending blow.
Exorcising Stats' Demon
Stats featured prominently in Serral's legendary 2018 run, facing Serral in the finals of his two most important tournament triumphs: GSL vs. The World and the WCS Global Finals. On the one hand, Stats got credit for being the player who put up the best fight against a seemingly unstoppable force. On the other, much, much larger hand, Stats still ultimately lost in those two finals, ceding over $170,000 in prize money to Serral.
And so, it's doubtful that Stats would now tell Serral "we're even," simply because he prevented Serral from winning a major tournament in Finland. But hey—maybe any revenge is better than none at all.
Solar is back! Kinda. Maybe. We'll get back to you.
After last reaching a major tournament final in 2017, Solar has been enjoying a kinda-sorta-comeback this summer.
He was dominant for Triumphant Song Gaming in its China Team Championship title run (Solar was the certain MVP, had such an award been given), even if the level of competition wasn't quite top-tier. However, his performances at the foreigner-heavy GPC and HomeStory Cup were somewhat disappointing, as he was ousted in the top eight of both events. Meanwhile, in Code S, Solar reached the Ro16 for the first time in four seasons, even beating last season's finalist Trap in his Ro32 group.
ASUS ROG Summer gave us a look at what this resurgent Solar can be at his best, and it will be interesting to see how he performs in the remaining GSL competitions. If Solar can become more consistent, he may even become a darkhorse contender for a WCS Global Finals spot.
Building to success
Much attention was put on Stats' anti-Serral build, which he used in every winning PvZ game during the semifinals and grand finals. Even Serral took to Twitter to mention that he was 0-5 against Stats using that build, though it was hard to tell if his underlying sentiment was that of frustration or bemusement.
Whatever we want to call it ("the Stats build" would be a cheeky nod to TL.net's Brood War community, but "the anti-Serral build" also has a nice ring to it), the build seems perfectly tailored to Stats' skill set. Stats is one of the most mechanically gifted Protoss players in the world—if not THE top Protoss in that regard—and the early-game combination of 1 phoenix, 3 oracles, and 2 adepts allows him to harshly test a Zerg's multi-tasking ability and reaction speed. Stats is also as close to an ace-of-all-trades player for the Protoss faction, and the build's flexibility allows him to all-in or play for a standard macro game as he sees fit (although some may just call this an overall perk of playing Protoss).
It it should be noted that Stats didn't inflict crippling damage with his oracles and adepts in every single game—sometimes the game progressed fairly normally and Stats won by being a better player in the mid-game. Serral even semi-gifted Stats a game with an ill-fated all-in. Here's something to mull over: If a player can defeat top-tier competition by repeating the same, predictable plan over and over, does it say more about the player or the build?
Unpacking Serral's run
What is one to make of Serral's top four run? Few would fault him for losing to a player of Stats' caliber in the semis, but his earlier matches may have been cause for worry. Serral began the group stage by dropping a map against the unranked ZhuGeLiang and came dangerous close to losing 0-2 before he turned the series around. China's TIME also made Serral sweat in a full-set quarterfinal series, pushing Serral's defensive abilities to the edge with constant attacks.
In isolation, those results aren't that surprising. Serral survived many close calls against foreigner Zergs to win last year's WCS Montreal tournament, while top foreign Terrans such as SpeCial, HeRoMaRinE, and uThermal have often put up a strong fight for a game or two (even if they almost never win the series). Still, it was disconcerting to hear Serral's post-match interview where he admitted that he didn't exactly understand why he fell behind against some of TIME's trickier builds. It was quite the departure from the player who always seemed to know what adjustment or adaptation he needed to make to overcome an obstacle.
After teasing Serral for being such a comically humble and self-effacing champion, he might be proving himself right after all. Maybe everyone else actually DID get better, and he only has a 50% chance of winning tournaments. The upcoming GSL vs. The World tournament should be very interesting, indeed.
GSL vs. The World will take place during August 15-18. The final WCS Circuit championship of the year will take place in Montreal during September 6-8 at WCS Fall.