China Team Championship: Season 2 Previewby TheOneAboveU
Team tournaments have always had a dedicated following in StarCraft II, and a deep hole was left in the scene when both Proleague and GSTL were discontinued. The first China Team Championship organized by SCBoy went a long way toward filling this void, culminating in a live, grand finals in Shanghai. Now the CTC returns with an even more ambitious season two, going up to twelve teams from the initial eight. Who will claim the next championship in the biggest team league we have today?
The twelve teams are divided up into two groups of six teams each, with each group playing a round robin during the regular season (August 25th - October 3rd). The best two teams from each group will advance directly into the playoffs (October 10th - 13th), while the third-place teams from each group will battle each other for the fifth and final playoff spot. The playoffs will be played 'gauntlet' style, similar to WCS Winter 2019 or the Korean Proleague playoffs (fifth place vs fourth place to begin, the winner moves on to face third place, and so forth).
As for the match format, the regular season is played Proleague style, but with each match being a best of two. The team with the best combined map score wins the match and receives 3 points. In the case of a map-score tie, an ace match is played (the ace-match winner gets 2 points, while the loser receives 1 point).
The playoffs are still played as best of twos, but in a hybrid all-kill format. If a player defeats their opponent by a 2-0 score, they will remain and face another opponent (all-kill format). But if the match ends 1-1, both players are replaced. Finally, this being the China Team Championship, each team must field at least one player from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Macau in each match.
The Season 2 Teams: Group AJin Air Green Wings
Creator, sOs, Trap
Jin Air went into the first season of CTC as the heavy favorite to win, bringing the advantage of having a fully functioning team house, a Proleague-winning pedigree, and some of the most accomplished players in SC2. Though JAG didn't always field a full-strength side, the team still finished second in the regular season behind TSG. Unfortunately, Jin Air was unable to procure visas for the offline playoffs in China (it's unclear whose fault this was), bringing an anti-climactic end to its season.
It remains to be seen if Jin Air will take the tournament more seriously this time around, as the competition has grown fiercer with more teams and skilled players joining the fray. Taiwanese player Rex stands out as the clear weak point, as he was unable to beat any non-Chinese players last season. However, if the Maru-Trap-Rogue trio decide to start playing regularly, that might not matter at all.
Despite having the bare minimum number of players, Newbee’s line-up certainly has quality at every position. Newbee did a solid job in season one, qualifying for the playoffs as the third place team from the regular season. Unfortunately, Newbee could not overcome a scrappy Team LP in the playoffs, being nearly all-killed by Impact. Newbee can probably look onto the new season with optimism, seeing how TIME has improved over the last few months. Having the strongest Chinese player in its line-up was already a huge advantage last season—now he looks to be one of the strongest foreigners in general. On the other hand, Dear and Scarlett have been somewhat inconsistent, and their form will decide whether or not Newbee can mount a real playoff run.
[Newbee did manage to win a smaller team tournament in NeXT 2019 Spring, but it was in large part due to the 2v2 component where TIME+Dear dominated.]
Team LP (S1 Runner-ups)
Impact, QzDbd, Wanted
The surprise runner-up team of season one should have been eliminated during the regular season, as a fifth place finish was not enough to qualify Team LP for the playoffs. In a stroke of luck, Jin Air did not play, giving LP an opportunity to shine. While Impact and Patience might not be the most illustrious Korean players, they clawed out enough wins to land in the the finals. There, the dream run ended at the hands of TSG, but LP certainly was no push-over as the 3-4 map score shows. Look out for those guys: they are not to be underestimated. And at the very least, watch Patience's matches vs herO from the grand finals—you might gain some new respect for him!
Jim, MacSed, Rushcrazy
iG is one of the oldest and most respected teams in China, but it didn't give Chinese fans much to cheer for in season one of CTC. Fielding an all-Chinese line-up, iG finished at the very bottom of the standings (despite a good start)—not the most encouraging result for a China-centric tournament.
This team could be headed to the playoffs, IF its players were magically restored to their prime form. Jim was once in TIME's position, a break-out star from China who was neck-and-neck with top foreigners and even capable of the occasional upset against Koreans. XY, MacSed, iAsonu, and XiGua all have extensive international experience—whenever there was an impressive run or notable upset by a Chinese player, you could bet he was playing for iG. In the present, the team is severely disadvantaged by not fielding any Koreans. But on the bright side, at least there's nowhere to go but up from last season!
Brave Star Gaming (New Challenger!)
Brave Star Gaming is one of the fresh faces in season two, newly founded last July with squads in WarCraft 3 and StarCraft II. The SC2 team takes on the CTC with Proleague veterans in Dream and Hurricane, as well as one of the better Chinese player in Cyan. Depending on how Hurricane and Dream perform, this team could be a sneaky playoff contender or stapled to the bottom of the rankings. Dream has only recently returned from military service, while Hurricane is still looking to prove that his deep GSL runs during the early summer were more than a fluke.
KaiZi Gaming (New Challenger!)
Bunny, INnoVation (rumoured, from Round 2 onwards)
Last, but by no means least, we have KaiZi Gaming who round out Group A. Chinese fan posts on TL.net paint a rather interesting backstory for this team: a bunch of rich hobbyists willing to pay big money for star players. Kaizi apparently have been working on signing INnoVation for CTC, but he will only become officially eligible on week 2 or 3 of the tournament.
But even without INnoVation in their initial matches, a line-up of Bunny and Super is nothing to scoff at. Misaki hasn’t had a lot of success in China so far and thus might prove to be a bit of a weak point, but perhaps he can make some progress during the season. With the possible addition of INnoVation, a fearsome team league player indeed, KaiZi will become a force to be reckoned with.
The Season 2 Teams: Group BTriumphant Song Gaming (S1 Champions)
Cloudy, herO, Nice
TSG finished the league’s first regular season on the top spot of the rankings, beating out even Korean powerhouse Jin Air Green Wings by a single point in map score. The team established its dominance further in the playoffs, with Solar all-killing Team Player 1 (now Pixel 1) to earn a finals berth. There, TSG met Team LP who gave them tough competition, but herO finally came through in a thrilling PvP against Patience to secure the title. TCT helped establish both herO and Solar as resurgent players—herO as an ace in big matches, and Solar as someone who can trample over the rank and file. With Nice—a top player in Taiwan before serving a suspension for ladder abuse—joining the line-up, TSG certainly will continue to be a scary opponent to go up against. They have a championship to defend, after all.
Another team merely fielding the minimum amount of required players is Pixel 1, who participated in season one under its former name of Player 1. P1 qualified for the playoffs by placing fourth place in the regular season, but could not withstand the onslaught of an unleashed Solar in the playoffs. Still, PartinG and FanTaSy put up good performances during the regular season, and if they bring premier tournament-level preparation to season two, they should be a tricky opponent for even the best teams. Their Chinese player Firefly is a bit of an up-and-comer in the Chinese scene, making a run into the Top 4 of China's WCS Fall qualifier before being stopped by the eventual winner TIME.
While Team LP were a pleasant surprise last season, Ocean Gaming was a disappointment. Given its strong roster, it was surprising Ocean only finished sixth place in the regular season—especially considering that Zest's monstrous 1v1 performances took Ocean Gaming to 2nd place at NeXT Spring. Let's hope that version of Ocean Gaming shows up in the Chinese Team Championship as well, because this trio can certainly kick-ass when they're on their games.
United States based PSISTORM Gaming also finished outside the playoffs last season and their prospects for season two look even worse after losing a key player in RagnaroK (who switched teams to Chivo). TRUE and Sakura will definitely have to pick up the slack and cause more of those high profile upsets like Sakura's shocking 2-0 win over Dear last season, because even an online workhorse like GuMiho can’t do everything alone.
Black Night (New Challenger!)
Daydreamer, Mage, nanO
Brazilian organization Black Night shows that even if this is the Chinese Team Championship, it's also a truly international competition. They have one of the biggest rosters in the tournament, rivaled only by iG, and field quite an interesting conglomerate of players. DynaMite is one of the names you often read in GSL Qualifier brackets, even if he hasn't made it to the Ro32 just yet. We know Armani well for his stint with Samsung during the Proleague era, and he's been playing surprisingly well for someone who returned from the military. This is one of the underdog squads for sure, but they might outperform their name value if they can prioritize CTC over some of their busier competitors.
Chivo SC (New Challenger!)
Team manager Olimoley brings some GSTL champion experience to team Chivo, but the thin roster contrasts heavily with the deep Axiom-Acer squad that won GSTL. Chivo’s line-up does have individual strength: soO is still one of the biggest names in the league, even if he's been slumping lately, while RagnaroK has been one of the breakout players of 2019. As for ExpecT, he's Taiwan's #1 Terran, but he's often been denied WCS seeds by the Protoss duo of Has and Nice. Perhaps this team league will give him a chance to shine.
Week 1 Matches: Group AGroup A’s matches will be played at 11:30 GMT (+00:00) on Sunday (25. Aug.), Monday (26. Aug.), and Tuesday (27. Aug.). Wardi will broadcast in English.
Newbee vs. Jin Air Green Wings (Aug 25)
Scarlett vs. Rex
Dear vs. Trap
TIME vs. Cure
Despite TIME’s new-found fame, this is still a tough match for Newbee. Cure is a specialist in the match-up and has never lost a match to his Chinese counterpart, despite their match history actually being quite sizable. It falls on the mercurial Scarlett and Dear to show up in their top form and deliver. Dear and Trap have historically been matched quite closely, with Trap being in the lead slightly. Poor Rex was never able to get a win over a non-Chinese player last season—we can count on him putting in double effort to make that finally happen.
Prediction: Newbee 2-4 Jin Air Green Wings
Team LP vs. Invictus Gaming (Aug 26)
Impact vs. Coffee
Jieshi vs. XY
Patience vs. iAsonu
LP should have a good start into the season here with Impact and Patience clearly being favored to win their matches—even if they aren't the epitomes of consistency in Korea. Jieshi, despite historically losing to XY more often than not, also has good chances, with TvP being a bit of a weak point for the Terran; a draw between those two seems quite likely. iAsonu—who was the Chinese player performing best against non-Chinese opponents last season—could be the wild card leading to an iG upset, but the odds don't look good.
Prediction: Team LP 5-1 Invictus Gaming
Brave Star Gaming vs. KaiZi Gaming (Aug 27)
Hurricane vs. Misaki
Cyan vs. Bunny
Dream vs. Super
The duel between the new challengers looks like it could be a close affair, with Hurricane and Bunny having the edge over their Chinese counterparts, possibly leading to equal scores once we come to Dream versus Super. At the high points of their respective careers Dream would probably have been a massive favorite. Now, both are quite far from their respective primes. Dream is probably still a slight favorite, having done much better in the TvP match-up recently (though his numbers are a bit inflated from farming foreign Protoss players online) than Super in PvT. The most likely upset here might be Cyan taking a point off Bunny, as the Protoss has recently stormed through the Chinese WCS Fall qualifier before falling to TIME.
Prediction: Brave Star Gaming 4-3 KaiZi Gaming
Week 1 Matches: Group BGroup B’s matches will be played at 13:00 GMT (+00:00) after Group A’s matches on Sunday (25. Aug.), Monday (26. Aug.), and Tuesday (27. Aug.). Wardi will broadcast in English.
Triumphant Song Gaming vs. Black Night (Aug 25)
herO vs. Armani
Nice vs. DynaMite
Solar vs. Daydreamer
This looks good for the champions and very bad for the newcomers. Though the Samsung Zergs were known to be snipers back in the days of Proleague, one wonders if Armani can bring his old level of focus and preparation to this new competition. Solar should be the massive favorite over Daydreamer, who'd probably rather play his best match-up of PvP. The same goes for Nice over DynaMite. The Taiwanese Protoss has done decently well against Korean Terrans online over the last couple weeks, while DynaMite is largely unproven in major competitions.
Prediction: Triumphant Song Gaming 5-1 Black Night
Pixel 1 vs. PSISTORM Gaming (Aug 26)
Firefly vs. Sakura
PartinG vs. GuMiho
FanTaSy vs. TRUE
The only match looking good for PSISTORM here is GuMiho against PartinG, and even there you never know what the Protoss might conjure up from his magic hat, making this an extremely dangerous affair for them. Firefly has much more experience than Sakura, but that didn't stop Sakura from upsetting Dear in the first match of the previous season. Finally, FanTaSy hasn’t lost a full match to TRUE for four years now, despite their many close, clown fiesta games. The only thing we can guarantee here is entertainment.
Prediction: Pixel 1 4-2 PSISTORM Gaming
Ocean Gaming vs. Chivo SC (Aug 27)
SpeCial vs. soO
Zest vs. ExpecT
TooDming vs. RagnaroK
One really has to like these pairings for Ocean Gaming: SpeCial should definitely be able to handle soO if we judge them on their GSL vs. the World performances, where soO was dominated by TIME and SpeCial crushed Reynor. Then, Zest looks like he'll run over ExpecT, possibly deciding the match already by this point. At least the last game does favor Chivo, with RagnaroK going up against TooDming, though Chinese Zergs have the habit of making ZvZs against them quite interesting affairs. If ExpeCT and soO can recover some points, things might get interesting.
Prediction: Ocean Gaming 4-3 Chivo SC
Credits and acknowledgements
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia