The Long Shadow of KeSPA:by TheOneAboveU
Jin Air Win China Team Championship Season 2
Should it surprise anyone? Jin Air Green Wings are the China Team Championship Season 2 champions! While the offline playoffs featured a series of upsets, both big and small, the final ending was the one everyone expected from the start. Starting at the bottom of the playoff gauntlet, Jin Air ran their way through all the opposition and dethroned Season 1 champions Triumphant Song Gaming to claim the title.
A shadow of inevitability was cast over the offline event at Shanghai from the moment the Jin Air Green Wings crewset foot on the stage: could the last of the KeSPA juggernauts truly be stopped by any of the assembled teams there? Had Triumphant Song Gaming merely been warming the throne since Season 1 for the rightful owners? One could not help asking how things would have gone in Season 1, had Jin Air not been so careless as to miss the right time to get their visas for China, and honestly it would’ve probably looked pretty similar. None of the teams in Shanghai had the same depth as the former Proleague champions, who have more star players than some opposing teams have total members.
- Day 1 VODs: All-Star Match
- Day 2 VODs: Seeding matches (FanTaSy all-kill!)
- Day 3 VODs: Playoffs - Jin Air vs Team LP // Jin Air vs TSG
- Day 4 VODs: Playoffs - Jin Air vs KaiZi // Jin Air vs Pixel 1
Jin Air’s coaches seemed to have determined an overall strategy beforehand. Every match began with JinAir.Rex sent out first in what one may rightly call a sacrificial offering to the opponents. Despite providing a positive contribution in the wild-card match by getting a win against OG.SpeCial, Rex fell back into old habits, forgetting important upgrades and showing sub-optimal unit control. Still, he was able to gain a win against LP.Jieshi, making at least a minor contribution.
Following Rex was mostly JinAir.Rogue—the exception being JinAir.Trap against KaiZi—and the GSL Code S champ did most of the work for his team this weekend. Rogue racked up a massive 18-4 record (including the wild-card match), doing just about everything for his team outside earning a true, 7-0 all-kill. Though Rogue did lose one map in every series, he always took out a key player for the opposing team before getting eliminated. In the case of the match against TSG, he earned a 'semi-all-kill' by finishing the job after being granted his team's extra life.
Thanks to Rogue's fantastic performance, JinAir.Maru didn't have to carry much weight for the team. But he was excellent when called upon, putting up a 7-2 record in the playoffs. Maru was the janitor, mopping up any survivors of Rogue’s rampages and closing series out when necessary. His best performance came against KaiZi, easily deflecting KZ.Misaki's predictable cheeses before 2-0'ing enemy ace KZ.INnoVation for the series victory. The much-hyped KaiZi did put up a decent fight, with KZ.Bunny taking out both Rex and Trap. But Maru just played like Maru in the end, silencing the fans’ ‘Lü Bu!’ chants in support of INnoVation.
The greatest test Jin Air faced was the Grand Final against Pixel 1, the team that had disposed of KaiZi easily two days before due to P1.FanTaSy’s scintillating all-kill. The veteran Terran was able to start off by dispatching Rex 2-0, but was in turn taken out by Rogue. Rogue then split maps against P1.PartinG 1-1, an equal trade on hit points but an advantage for Jin Air due to their remaining players: Case in point: Jin Air sent out Maru to sweep up the pieces, while P1 had no choice but to send out P1.Firefly. Everyone expected Firefly to live up to his namesake and get completely swatted.
However, in one of the most remarkable moments of the entire tournament, Firefly made good on his pre-match promise to the Chinese audience that he would take out Maru, cannon-rushing and proxying the four-time Code S champion into submission. Visibly shaken (at least judging by the mass of bunkers Maru threw down), Maru secured the second map for the 1-1 split, but Firefly had already done his job by taking Maru off the board.
With both teams now able to use their revives, Pixel 1 faced the dilemma of which player to send out. FanTaSy's TvT prowess made him the favored pick against Maru, but PartinG would have the best chance of upsetting Rogue with a well-honed all-in in PvZ. In the end, P1's gamble to send out FanTaSy in the hope of Maru being revived proved to be the wrong decision, as Jin Air revived Rogue instead. Seemingly tireless despite his marathon weekend of slaughter, Rogue put in another dominant ZvT showing to close out the Grand Finals and lift the trophy for his team.
Poster Boys: Pixel 1 and the Spirit of ProleaguePixel 1 may have not taken the title this season, but they won our hearts by standing for everything good and special about team competition.
While we only got a few days of offline matches, Pixel 1 reminded you why seeing just a few interactions between teammates can make someone a fan. Even without a team house, their team chemistry seemed fantastic, with PartinG and especially Firefly making no effort to hide how happy they were each time a teammate got a win. Even the stoic veteran FanTaSy couldn't help but be infected by their enthusiasm, especially after his all-kill of KaiZi in the seeding match. Firefly was also the squad's hype-man on the day of the finals, loudly calling out the entire Jin Air team. Watching Pixel 1 on stage—no matter if they won or lost the match at hand—was probably my favorite memory from this event. They're keeping spirit of Proleague alive and well.
Firefly also delivered one of the other great pleasures of team leagues: the ridiculous, totally unexpected upset from a well-prepared sniper. Brash behavior on the mic doesn't seem to be the only thing Firefly learned from PartinG—his micro was excellent in a precisely executed cheese against Maru that earned him a shocking 1-1 split. Of course, Firefly wasn't the only player who outperformed expectations. FanTaSy and PartinG—middling players in individual competition—punched far above their weight throughout the entire regular season and playoffs, showing that the perceived gap between players can be drastically narrowed with Proleague-style preparation. Even if StarCraft team leagues fundamentally break down into a series of 1v1 matches, P1 proved that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Playoffs MVP: JinAir.RogueAfter the first day of the playoffs it certainly looked like P1.FanTaSy had TL.net's playoff MVP Award locked down with his impressive all-kill of KaiZi Gaming—who could top that kind of individual performance?
The Code S champion, apparently. Starting from their wild-card match against Ocean Gaming, Rogue contributed a brilliant 18-4 map score in Jin Air Green Wings’ title run, taking out virtually all of the opposing teams’ star players at least once.
He wasn’t literally unbeatable—the losses to LP.Patience, TSG.Solar, KZ.INnoVation, and P1.PartinG prove that. But at moments, the quality of Rogue's play left you wondering how he even lost those four maps. His games against TSG.herO and P1.FanTaSy were particularly one-sided, with his opponents looking utterly helpless against perfect scouting and unrelenting Nydus usage. While not all of Rogue's opponents in CTC were BlizzCon caliber, his opponents in the WCS Global Finals should be very, very scared. Rogue is building momentum at exactly the right time of year, and the last time that happened, he ended up lifting the trophy at BlizzCon.
Recommended Games from the PlayoffsKZ.INnoVation vs. P1.FanTaSy
+ Show Spoiler +
(Begins at 35:50)
KZ.INnoVation vs. JAGW.Rogue
+ Show Spoiler +
P1.PartinG vs. JAGW.Rogue
Twitch.TV VOD (time)
P1.Firefly vs. JAGW.Maru
Twitch.TV VOD (time)
TSG.Solar Wins the All-Star Match
As a sort of warm-up event, the first of the four days of the offline event was dedicated to an eight man tournament between three top Chinese players and one representative from each playoff team. With a roughly $7,000 prize pool, it was no small affair, if not exactly a major competition.
KZ.INnoVation initially looked very on point against P1.PartinG, taking a 3-1 victory and setting course for another major tournament win in China. However, it turned out to be the inconsistently excellent Solar who provided the stand-out performance of the competition.
Starting off with a very strong 3-0 over JAGW.Cure, he continued on to eliminate INnoVation with a 3-1 in the semi-finals, before easily handling TL.net's regular season MVP LP.Impact with a 4-1 score in the finals to claim victory. Impact had a much tougher time of things in run through to the finals, winning 3-2 over both Newbee.TIME and iG.XiGua before falling to Solar—it was a clearly lopsided bracket, with the favorites being packed into the upper half.
Perhaps most notable about this little event was the failure of TIME to live up to expectations once again. The weaker, bottom part of the bracket was set up perfectly for him to reach the finals, to perhaps show the viewers an epic TvT duel with Chinese fan favorite INnoVation. TIME even secured a quick 2-0 lead over Impact in their series, but was unable to close it out, allowing the Korean Zerg to come back with three wins in a row. Sadly for TIME, this was just par for the course. His poor regular season in CTC was matched by his performance in the all-star game. Despite being a solid player on the WCS Circuit, he can't seem to bring that level of play to other competitions. Chinese fans can only hope that the Global Finals will be different.
Looking forward to Season 3So that’s it for Season 2, and I’d call it a great success for StarCraft 2.
Viewers might expect to see Code S quality games at Code S times, and the CTC did not always deliver in that regard. But the multitude of upsets, the exciting ace matches, the individual team storylines, and the amazing moments of the offline playoffs meant it offered unique entertainment unavailable in any other tournament.
From the viewpoint of the Chinese organizers, one has to imagine the tournament was a huge success for another reason. Season 1 was rough for the Chinese players, to put it politely. And while they're still a far ways off from hitting a 50% win-rate, they made visible progress and scored important upsets in a very encouraging season.
Rex looked like more than a token member of champions Jin Air, going from winless player to actual contributor in the span of a season. While he didn't get to show much in the playoffs, his win over SpeCial in the wild-card match was an important moment. It was also very cool to see the team rallying around him after his matches, giving advice and cheering him up.
The star-power of a league isn't the only bellwether for its health—it's crucial that the fans still care even if there's no marquee match on paper. The fact that even statistically poor players like Misaki were able to establish an identity (shamelessly cheesy, in this case) instead of being totally forgotten was an important step in this regard.
Lucky us: it looks like we'll be getting more Misaki and more China Team Championship. There hasn't been 100% official confirmation (that we know of in the West), but the news that reach the TL.net forums suggests that the Chinese scene is gearing up for Season 3 in 2020.
While the list of participating teams is uncertain, it seems like we'll be getting more star players. Newly founded Dragon Phoenix Gaming made their first big signing in Dark, so it seems like they're aiming to be a serious competitor for the title. TY is also rumored to be joining TSG, and who knows what other top Code S players will join the fray? If the jump from Season 1 to Season 2 is anything to go by, Season 3 looks like it will be even bigger and better.
Thank you for following our coverage of Season 2 of the China Team Championship, and we hope to see you soon!
Credits and acknowledgements
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Written by: TheOneAboveU