Well, THAT Happened...by TheOneAboveU and Wax
Hey, Finnish fans. What's the opposite of "Torille"? Just asking for a friend.
Week two of TeamLiquid Starleague 5 delivered a shocking result, with the Finnish Phenom Serral suffering elimination at the hands of Reynor. Though we all knew that a couple of championship contenders were going to get eliminated in the brutal losers bracket, who would have expected that Serral would be one of the earliest victims? It was supposed to be one of those Koreans still occupied with GSL Code S—not the most dominant force we've ever seen in the foreign scene.
Losing to Reynor was the most understandable way Serral could have been eliminated—after all, Reynor already beat Serral in two grand finals matches in 2019. But even with that in mind, it's still a result that's hard to process. Since 2018, the absolute worst finish Serral has recorded at major tournaments was top eight (IEM PyeongChang 2018 and IEM Katowice 2019). In TSL5, he's out in the top sixteen.
Well, life goes on.
Even before Serral was eliminated, a slew of early upsets gave TSL5 an unusual aura. Now, more than ever, it feels like a tournament that was wide open for anyone to win. Just look at the four players remaining in the upper bracket: uThermal, Trap, soO, and Elazer—who could have predicted they'd be the survivors? If you did, enjoy your prize from winning the TSL5 bracket prediction contest.
While early upsets generally give way to what we perceive as 'normalcy' later on, don't hold your breath. TSL5 might end up being one of the craziest tournaments we've ever seen.
Okay, let's take a look at our week three matches.
The Lower Bracket of Death, Pt.2Start time: Saturday, May 30 12:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
MaNa vs INnoVation: MaNa's surprise upper-bracket run came to an abrupt end last weekend when he was swept out by Trap. There won't be any respite or warm-up match for MaNa in the losers bracket: he moves directly on to face the fearsome INnoVation. There's a feeling in the community that INnoVation is hitting his best stretch of form in over a year, mixing his vaunted macro-play with a newly discovered fondness for zany, creative builds. INnoVation was a hard enough opponent to face when you knew he was going to standard you to death—now you have to watch out for a Maru-esque bag of cheese.
However, not all hope is lost for MaNa. One of the running themes of TSL5 has been that the top Koreans are dividing their attention between GSL Code S and TSL5, while the foreign contingent has been able to focus solely on this tournament. And, if we had to be honest and stop trying to hype TSL5 at all costs, it does seem that the focus of the Koreans has leaned rather heavily toward GSL Code S. Case in point: INnoVation gave up a 2-3 loss to soO in week one of the tournament. While soO is a respectable opponent, that's a result few would have expected to see from a rejuvenated INnoVation.
MaNa has never been particularly known for his precision micro or dastardly all-ins, but that's not the only way preparation can manifest itself. Notably, he took some maps off of god-mode Serral at WCS Austin 2018, hitting some unorthodox Stalker-Templar-Archon "timings" to overpower the Finnish Phenom at the early stages of Hive tech. If nothing else, just the fact that MaNa has been focusing on PvT while INnoVation is likely to have been preparing for his GSL TvT gauntlet should confer an advantage to our Polish player. Certainly, MaNa beating INnoVation would vie for the title of "biggest upset of TSL5," but it's not outside the realm of possibility.
Clem vs Reynor: There are some things a big tournament just HAS to deliver to comply with tradition. The Team Liquid Team-Kill is a good example of a classic tradition passed down since antiquity. In 2020, this crazy year in which everything suddenly is online again, a new tradition has sprung up: Clem and Reynor are fated to clash. Their long match history attests to the fact that even before this year they regularly met at many tournaments, not shying away from playing in online events even back then when it was less important. Now, as they've risen in stature, these duels stand out so much more. With the current need for online play it seems inevitable that these two will continue to clash over and over again .
This particular match, however, is different from their many prior meetings. This isn’t some show match for a gaming monitor. It’s not the semi-finals of an ESL Open Cup. This is TSL. Not only is there more prize money involved, not only are there more EPT points up for grabs, winning a TSL is something historical and prestigious. It adds to a player’s legacy, and at the same time makes them a part of TSL’s legacy. This is their first match in 2020 with high stakes, so this will raise their rivalry to a new level. The Reynor vs. Serral rivalry is an amazing one already, but it’s still a ZvZ duel at the end of the day. And while specifically those two players have brought out the best of this mirror in their clashes, it just doesn’t have the flair of TvZ, which simply is StarCraft 2’s most iconic match-up. Clem and Reynor becoming regular rivals in big tournaments is a beautiful scenario for us, the viewers.
It helps, of course, that the series between them are always exciting, and you never know who will come out on top. This year, Clem is 28-23 in maps and 10-6 in series against Reynor, with the Italian of course holding a massive advantage in both areas if you add in all their duels pre-2020. Recent form clearly would make out Clem to be the favorite in this next clash as well. Not only has he been on a hot streak, but Reynor is much more vulnerable in ZvT than last year, which is of course something you can say for all Zerg players at the moment. It’s not only Clem who is besting Reynor with non-stop pressure and aggression—players like HeRoMaRinE and souL, better known for their sheer macro power, have also overwhelmed the Italian in recent matches.
Statistics would have Reynor in the place of an underdog here, as he was against Serral in the previous round. It’s an unusual position to be in for the outspoken and confident Zerg player, who is used to playing second fiddle to no one. He’s normally the top dog, the literal final boss of a tournament. Now, suddenly, he finds himself at a disadvantage in all his rivalries.
And yet, one has to think Reynor will be even better with his back against a wall. This is a player who made it to the finals of BlizzCon, for Flash's sake. Clem, while on a roll, does not have this special aura yet, one that's only born out of success in major tournaments. For all his success in cup play, he's not without his vulnerabilities. Elazer, especially, seems to have found a successful recipe against the Frenchman, and we know the EU Zergs are very communicative. Vanya, too, recently upset Clem. If Reynor can similarly mix it up a bit, and not let Clem play his whirlwind style of constant aggression, he might equalize the odds.
In any case, you should expect a close and dramatic showdown here, with the Italian as the slight underdog. This was, in a way, supposed to be Clem's big break-out, his chance to finally get a great result in a major tournament.. Can it really end here in the Lower Bracket, with a relatively unremarkable finish, in a Team Liquid tournament? But think about that other storyline we could have for a moment: Reynor beating all his great rivals AND potentially cleaving his way through several GSL semi-finalists at the same time to claim the championship? Now that would also be a run for the ages, and worthy of the TSL legacy. No matter who wins or loses here, we'll be short a fantastic player and a potentially great storyline. But we'll also continue one. That's the bitter sweet beauty of such a deadly Lower Bracket.
SpeCial vs TY: Once they were teacher and pupil. Now, TY and SpeCial have grown to become something akin to professional partners in StarCraft II. Viewers might remember their hit collaborations such as "Still Going Mech in 20XX" or "Find all the proxy spots on the new map pool." And while SpeCial has graduated from the school of TY, few would disagree as to who's the overall better player. TY has won some of the biggest tournaments in the world, while SpeCial is still looking to win one of the region-locked foreign majors.
Now, an arguably weaker version of SpeCial beat a stronger version of TY in the past, back during the group stages of the 2017 WCS Global Finals. It was a breakout tournament where we learned about the true potential of SpeCial: a player who can beat anyone, if he's given enough time to prepare the right builds. Unfortunately for SpeCial, that might have been the moment when TY realized he could never take his once-student lightly—TY has won their last five head-to-head matches ever since.
While both players are at their best when they have the time to strategize for a specific match-up, SpeCial might be the only who gets that benefit this time around. TY has secured his place in the GSL Code S finals, and he knows for sure he's going to be playing a TvT. Any information he gives away in TSL5 could affect his chances in that upcoming match.
Up to now, TY has gotten by just fine in TSL5 by recycling his GSL and online tournament builds—his playbook is so deep that it's hard to predict which of his known builds he'll use. But SpeCial of all people should be able to take advantage of the tiniest element of predictability. Now, TY's fundamentals and mechanics are so good that he might be able to just overpower Juanito anyway, no matter what kind of tricky build orders he brings to the table. Even if he doesn't show us the exact builds he's planning to use in the Code S finals, his TvT fundamentals should be razor-sharp due to hours of practice. Still, considering the fact that SpeCial has has no other tournaments to focus on, and that TY's focus might be elsewhere, we could see TY become the next top Korean player to suffer TSL5 elimination.
Zest vs HeroMarine: Usually existing in completely different spheres, every year the HomeStory Cups brings HeroMarine and Zest together. Of their seven prior clashes, six happened at Krefeld, one at BlizzCon, resulting in five of their series actually being Bo5s, which is quite unusual when you look at match histories.
Interestingly enough, when they first met back in 2017 at the 15th edition of HSC, the German Terran was actually very close to landing a big upset against the Korean Protoss, going 2-3 in two consecutive Group Stage duels against the eventual champion of the tournament. Ever since then, their meetings have been rather one-sided. HeRoMaRinE has not been able to decide a single one of them in his favor. He got close again at HSC19, but otherwise these two are locked in a rather one-sided relationship.
Many fans had named Zest as the currently strongest Protoss player in Korea due to his strong tournament results (very similar, in fact, to Big Gabe’s dominance on some of the EU online circuit), but the hype seems to have quieted down a bit ever since he fell in the Code S Group of Death. Had INnoVation not decided to be a trickster on that day, we might have gotten a preview for how this series may well go. Because, as we have noticed before, if there is anyone outside of Korea, who comes close to INnoVation’s reputation of being a stubborn by-the-book standard macro player, then it’s definitely HeRoMaRinE. You could probably count the amount of cheeses played by him in official matches during the last six months on one hand (if you want to watch hundreds of hours of videos and fact check us on this, then our hat goes off to you). As a result, he might be a bit predictable for anyone putting in the time to do some research, but his macro power is truly impressive. We have seen some non-optimal decision-making in TvP from him as well, sometimes taking engagements he really should not have and losing too much as a result, sometimes not attacking when he really should—those have been recurring themes. While against fellow foreigners these mistakes can still be rectified by his superior macro, an experienced Korean like Zest should be quick to punish such moves.
Perhaps this is why this particular match-up has panned out so well for Zest historically: HeRoMaRinE is someone who lets Zest play out his game in his comfort zone. No surprises, no early attacks, nothing to disrupt Zest at any critical point. That said, HeRoMaRinE has seemingly improved a lot in last couple of months. We make jokes about his win streaks at the ESL Open Cups, but those are all impressive tournament wins against some of the best players Europe has to offer. His TSL5 qualifier run was perhaps his most impressive result, overcoming both Clem and Reynor, the latter in two back-to-back series. So by all accounts, a victory against Zest should be a possibility, right? Certainly, it’s possible. Gabe is the biggest he's ever been at this moment. I still worry about how the styles mash up for him here, though. In the Upper Bracket, uThermal has shown how to absolutely dismantle Zest in a very quick and efficient manner, similar to how INnoVation toppled Zest with more unusual builds. But can you see HeRoMaRinE play builds like that on such a big stage? This is the guy who doesn't even play cheesy when he’s ‘having fun’ on one of his low-league streaming accounts. Perhaps the German does have more of INnoVation in him than we realize, and he will pull out the non-standard stuff at the right moment, but so far we have no reason to believe that he will.
Which leaves the initiative to Zest. What is he going to do? Does he have any idea about Big Gabe’s reputation as an honorable macro Terran, or has the clash with uThermal left him scarred for life, traumatized whenever he now meets a European Terran? Is he going to stake his tournament life on controlling Blink Stalkers with KR-NA ping? It’s truly hard to say. This TSL5 has been nothing if not unpredictable in its’ early stages, and while it has stabilized a bit last weekend, it also leaves us with some big question marks. This series is one of them—not only for us viewers, but also for HeRoMaRinE: this is a big test for him. Has he improved enough to finally overcome his nemesis, or are all those triumphs in the Big Gabe Weeklies merely a mirage?
The Fantastically Unusual Upper Bracket Final FourStart time: Sunday, May 31 12:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
uThermal vs Trap: Dare we say uThermal is the most surprising member of this final four? His 2020 online results pale in comparison to Clem and HeroMarine, while TY, INnoVation, and Cure overshadow him with their exploits in the GSL. And yet, uThermal is the only Terran player left representing his faction in the upper bracket of TSL5.
It's a run that proves it's not just metas, map pools, and patches that affect a player's success—tournament format matters as well. With a week between each match to prepare for his opponents, uThermal planned early-game attacks that brought both Zest and Clem to their knees. It's actually the kind of performance we expected from SpeCial, a player who's more vocal about the value of preparation. If we looked back in history, uThermal's run is almost reminiscent of ThorZaIN's in TSL3, where the unheralded Swedish Terran scored upset after upset until he was the sole survivor. Of course, uThermal still has to win quite a few more matches to reach that point. This upcoming test is equivalent to what MC was to ThorZaiN.
Trap's tournament resume might not equal MC's at the time, but he's identical in being the worst TvP opponent you could ask for. Over the past few months, he's looked like the only Korean Protoss who can really stand up to INnoVation and Maru in Korea (he beat both at IEM Katowice), and he comes into this match having barely lost 2-3 to INnoVation in the Code S quarterfinals. In a period of GSL where everyone is looking to get ahead with cheeses and all-ins, Trap's PvT looks like a rare match-up where the mindset is "just let me macro and I'll cave your head in."
This match looks like your textbook example of sword vs. shield. Zest paid a heavy price when he failed to consider the possibility of early attacks from uThermal—Trap won't make the same mistake. Still, if uThermal wracks his brains and finds creative ways to get under Trap's skin—or more importantly, into his Probe line—then who knows how far this underdog run could take him?
Elazer vs soO: What's the upside to progamers being brash, blunt, and opinionated in their interviews? Well, maybe it could convince a few people to treat ZvZ with something other than indifference! In fact, the power of progamer pontificating is so great that it affects matches that a player isn't even competing in!
For some time now, German Zerg Lambo has been quite vocal about how Korean Zergs play "sub-optimal" strategies. Now, his actual argument is rather nuanced and reasonable, but for the sake of getting hyped for a match, let's just pretend he said that Korean Zergs are garbage. Elazer and Lambo are not the same person, even if they are friends, former teammates, and guys who stream audio commentary of GSL ZvZ matches together. However, given the fact that this community once let "faceless Koreans" become a meme, I think we can get a pass on putting the European Zergs into one bucket. This isn't just a typical battle between foreigner and Korean. It's a clash of doctrines, of philosophies, of cultures in the world of ZvZ.
Both of Elazer and soO have brought ZvZ glory to their region in the past. soO ended Serral's reign of terror at IEM Katowice 2019, proving that making Roaches is a very, very useful talent toi have. As for Elazer, the last time he faced a Korean Zerg in a major best of five, he 3-2'd Dark out of GSL vs the World 2019. While Dark restored his personal honor by defeating Reynor at BlizzCon, Elazer still has a bounty on his head.
Will soO prove that 'random-timings' only seem that way to players who don't have a high enough IQ to understand it? Will Elazer show us that getting beat up by Serral for two years is the crucible that produces the finest ZvZ players in the world? Do Korean players even read or care about interviews from the foreign scene? Find out this weekend in TSL5!
Credits and acknowledgements
Writers: TheOneAboveU and Wax
Statistics: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia
Writers: TheOneAboveU and Wax
Statistics: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia