Week 1: The Fall of the Top Seeds and Rise of the Underdogsby Wax
Lest you were starting to worry that StarCraft II was becoming too predictable in its tenth year, or that it was starting to resemble other games where a handful of players are destined to win all the titles, (*cough* Smash Melee *cough*), let us present to you: the TeamLiquid Starleague 5 opening weekend.
Of the eight players seeded into the second round, only Clem, Trap, and HeroMarine actually won their matches. Top players Zest, Serral, INnoVation, ShoWTimE, and Cure all fell down to the lower bracket, and now face elimination in only the second week of play (more on that later).
One could suggest a variety of reasons for these upsets. It would be naive to dismiss server lag as a factor in some of the matches, though one could quibble about what degree to which it had an effect. Still, one could also point out the power of preparation in long-term tournaments such as TSL5, where the player with better strategies can make up for any gap in perceived skill. After all, were any of the TSL5 upsets more shocking than TY's sweep of Dark or PartinG 3-2 victory over Maru in GSL Code S? Maybe PartinG and TY's exclusive focus on Code S led to their losses in TSL5, further highlighting the value of preparation.
But that's enough about the losers: let's celebrate some of the winners! The biggest winners of all were the players who won consecutive matches over opening weekend, many of them going from underdogs to being guaranteed top-half finishes in the span of two days.
At the top of the bracket, uThermal advanced by taking down Germany's Lambo and IEM Katowice runner-up Zest. Surprisingly enough, the Zest series was far more one-sided than the series against Lambo, with uThermal winning a remarkably quick 3-0. Zest just refused to play safe or scout all that diligently, and it cost him three GG's in a row. Of all the upsets, this might be the best evidence that the best-prepared players, not the ones with the biggest reputations, are going to triumph in TSL5.
If you picked Elazer vs Harstem as your match to take a break and grab some food last Saturday, we couldn't blame you too much. The winner was going to face Serral in the second round, and it's not that exciting to watch a match between dead men walking. Or is it? Elazer defied expectations by defeating both Harstem and Serral to continue his run of good form. April's StayAt HomeStory Cup might have foreshadowed this result: Not only was Elazer in great form throughout that tournament, but he also defeated Serral 2-0 in the group stages. In the TSL5 rematch, Elazer got the better of Serral in a rather cheesy series, with both players looking to do early damage at various junctures. Given the fact that Serral has been plenty successful with all-ins in the past, Elazer deserves all the credit for staying composed and taking home his first BO5 victory against Serral in over two years.
Depending on your point of view, PvP could be either a coin-flip match-up or an extremely complicated, skill-intensive game of risk management. If it's the latter, then maybe MaNa should try playing the stock market in these trying times, as he advanced to Upper Bracket Round 3 with 3-1 wins over PartinG and ShoWTimE. While he hasn't been tested yet in the other match-ups, those results certainly puts MaNa's PvP beyond reproach versus the rest of the field in TSL5.
Indulge me a comic book nerd reference here: SpeCial is the Batman of StarCraft II. With enough time to prepare, he can truly beat anyone. Juanito thrashed TIME 3-0, making up for a number of high-profile losses in the China Team Championship and NationWars in 2019. Even more impressive was his 3-1 upset against Cure, the supposed tyrant of online play (even SpeCial himself expressed his admiration for Cure's play in a GSL interview). Maybe putting Cure on tilt in game one helped SpeCial out: Cure took an insane seven-upgrade lead in a mech vs mech mirror, and somehow blew that lead to lose the game. I think it had something to do with Cure transitioning out of Tanks too early and going for air, but it's easier just to explain it by saying the game was bats*** insane.
soO: Hey, Koreans can be plucky underdogs too! Crank actually phoned soO before this match, asking him if he could defeat INnoVation. soO replied with a short, deadpan "no." Despite his modesty, soO managed to steal a 3-2 victory against the hottest Terran at the moment. While two of soO's wins were due to cheesy openers, he managed to clinch the series in game five by recovering from severe Drone damage and coming back with a decisive base trade. Finally, two months after TY gave soO the plaudit that he was the "best versus bio ZvT player," we're starting to see some evidence of that.
The "Has" Game of pure weirdness: This one goes to SpeCial vs Cure on Eternal Empire, hands down, which has already confirmed its place as the most inexplicable comeback of TSL5. Seriously, nothing that could happen will top the hilarity and weirdness of this game.
Game of the week: Week one was packed with solid games, but nothing that we'd call a game of the year candidate. I'm giving the nod to a TvZ between top Europeans HeroMarine and Reynor due to the sheer tension of the closing sequence. It was a bit of a scrappy match that left Reynor with plenty to regret, but if players were perfect we'd never get the drama and thrill of a well-taken comeback.
The Lower Bracket of DeathStart time: Saturday, May 23 12:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
It's not a group of death. It's an entire bracket of death! Some of the fan-favorites and top stars have drawn relatively easy second chance matches (Vanya might be wondering what he did to deserve TY-Serral in consecutive matches), but a couple of players are in real danger of getting the boot right now.
In a neutral setting, INnoVation would be favored to atomize Solar and scatter the particles throughout the universe. But this is no neutral setting—INnoVation heads into his match right after playing his quarterfinal match in GSL Code S. On the other hand, Solar has had little else to prepare for other than this match. Considering the fact that soO was able to defeat INnoVation last week, Solar certainly has a chance to send INnoVation crashing out in flames.
The other lower bracket match to keep a keen eye on is Reynor vs PartinG. In terms of combined fan support, this could be the biggest match of the entire lower bracket, and there will be much lamentation regardless of who survives the match. While PartinG is an infamous cheeser, he really surprised us in his Code S upset over Maru by playing some very good macro games when allowed to get an economic lead. It's hard to know how this will translate to his PvZ's, though, if it translates at all. PartinG fans should be eager to learn just how far this PartinG renaissance goes, while Reynor fans will hope the breakout player of 2019 can finally get back on his feet in major tournaments.
I'm personally intrigued by how Zest versus TIME will go, in the wake of FireFly's comments that TIME is just as good as INnoVation at TvP. A player talking up the skill level of his friend? No way! But seriously, even taking those words with a grain of salt, it will still be intriguing to see how far down to earth Zest is going to fall after his IEM Katowice runner-up finish, and to see if TIME can catch back up with SpeCial and HeroMarine in the race to be the best foreign Terran.
As for players like Cure, Serral, TY, and ShoWTimE, surely they can't be eliminated already…. right?
The Upper Bracket of Happiness and SunshineStart time: Sunday, May 24 12:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Who in the heck would have expected this to be our current top eight? Six foreigners, joined by Trap and soO? Even the Korean elitists who populate TL.net have no choice but to tolerate "the gap is closing" posts for another couple of weeks.
Many of the players in Upper Bracket Round 3 should have been relieved just to have made it that far, but human ambition is endless: now there's even more prize money and glory that's just within reach. Let's take a look at the match-ups:
Has there ever been a "happy" Liquid-teamkill? I mostly remember tearful deathmatches, where one brother must die so the other can live. In the case of Clem versus uThermal, there's actually a second chance for the loser, while the winner goes on to even greater glory. As far as team-kills go, this one is about as low-angst as it gets. Not that the match won't be competitive: Despite his impressive play in smaller cups, Clem still has a lot to prove in major events. As for uThermal,advancing another round would lock in his best major tournament result since HomeStory Cup 18 in 2018.
Has the universe decided it's MaNa's destiny become a guru of PvP, studying its secrets forever in some mountain cave? He's been matched up against yet another deadly Protoss opponent in Trap, who reached the semifinals of March's GSL Super Tournament with PvP wins over PartinG and Zest. Normally, I'd say the ever-solid Trap has the advantage here, but he faces a difficult GSL scheduling predicament. Trap will be laser-focused on his upcoming match against INnoVation in Code S, while MaNa will have had another week to hone his real life superpower of probability manipulation. Could we actually see another Liquid team-kill in the winners' semifinals? It's in the cards.
As expected, HeroMarine vs Reynor produced one of the most entertaining series of week one, with both players giving us the straight-up TvZ action we all crave. While Elazer can turn cheesy at the drop of a dime, I think there's a good chance that Elazer vs HeroMarine could be the most entertaining match on Sunday. I don't wish for much in life, but maybe the powers above will grant me this one little boon: Eternal Empire, 25 minutes, and 60,000 resources worth of combined units lost. Is it too much to ask?
That isn't to say that soO vs SpeCial couldn't also be great. Going up against an opponent he probably deems as lesser than INnoVation, I figure soO will try to play more standard games than last week. It really falls to SpeCial to decide the tone of the series. As a close collaborator with TY, he's likely to try and play turtle-mech on at least one of the maps he deems favorable (Eternal Empire, anyone?). Outside that, I'm looking forward to SpeCial showing us some openers that impress us with their creativity alone. His stacked-SCV, inside-the-opponent's-base proxy-Factory in Code S was one of the most clever moves I've seen this year—I'm eager to see even more.