The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous of ProleagueEdition 1: Samsung Galaxy, Mech and The Greatest of All Time
StarCraft II's 10th anniversary sent the community on a collective nostalgia trip. For a certain generation of fans, SC2 Proleague might have been the first thing that came to mind. Between the thrill of ace matches, the rivalry between the teams, SPOTV’s excellent promos and the amazing fan support, Proleague was a competition unlike any other. Players of all sorts had their moment in the sun, whether it was a B-Teamer who stole a match with a strange build, or a star who kept their team afloat with one heroic performance after another. Unlike the individual leagues where you might wait weeks or months to see your favorite do battle, Proleague pitted teams against one another every single week.
But outside its competitive excellence, Proleague could also be a weird, quirky, and flat out funny league as well. Let's take some time out to look back on what might not necessarily be Proleague's greatest moments, but moments that are worth remembering nonetheless.
BrAvO gets trapped in Reality & Soulkey's torture dungeon
You’d be hard pressed to find a member of the StarCraft community who hasn’t heard of Soulkey and Reality’s snooze-fest on Star Station. Whether you watched it online, were attending in person, or checked out the VOD due to its infamous reputation, Reality vs Soulkey sticks in your mind for all the wrong reasons. Together with its demon-kin in Stephano vs. Petraeus and MaNa vs. FireCake, it forms the unholy trinity of HotS Swarm Host games, frequently cited as evidence that free units are the root of all evil.
I'm going to zag here where most people would zig—Instead of talking about the Swarm Host's design and whether or not it was inherently flawed, or breaking down Reality's chances of winning given a few more hours, I'm going to focus on a little-appreciated character in this story: BrAvO.
Let's belatedly pour one out for the true victim of Proleague’s longest game. At the time, Proleague had an additional computer in the booth, where the next player in the line-up could warm up (like the on-deck circle in baseball). Having a warm up computer was perfectly sensible. But putting it in the same booth as the actual player? Not so much. You see, for the sake of competitive integrity, the player stationed at the warm up computer was not allowed to exit the booth until the current game was completed (we'll pass on the topic of how many insiders have stated that the 'soundproofing' effect of esports booths are a joke, and how they exist more for audience optics than anything). That's right: BrAvO was trapped in the booth for two hours, unable to get a drink of water, unable to go to the bathroom, unable to do anything but play warm-up matches against the AI until Reality and Soulkey would complete their god-forsaken match.
TFW you'd rather be anywhere else
The most comical part of this tragedy (or tragic part of this comedy) is that BrAvO didn't even end up playing. This particular match was played under the all-kill format, which meant SKT told BrAvO to warm-up in case they wanted to use him, without guaranteeing they would actually end up playing him. When Soulkey, thoroughly exhausted from back to back encounters with Reality, was defeated by Shine, the SKT coaching staff must have decided it wasn't a good match-up for BrAvO, and sent out Rain to take over instead.
Looking back, BrAvO's suffering could easily have been prevented by having a few warm-up computers OUTSIDE the playing booth, and implementing SSD hot-swapping that's standard for basically every esports tournament today. But, that would have been far too reasonable for an organization like KeSPA. Remember, this is an organization that made typing "gg" incorrectly a crime punishable by (in-game) death. It didn’t make a ton of sense for BrAvO to be locked in the booth while Soulkey and Reality bored us to death, but it was pretty consistent with everything KeSPA had done.
So, next time you watch Soulkey vs Reality, remember that while you can go make some food, take the dog out for a walk, or talk to your discord friends about how progamers are making terrible misplays, you've created another alternate reality where BrAvO is being subjected to Proleague’s version of the Ludovico Technique for the ten-thousandth time.
BrAvO the Bonjwa**For exactly 32 in-game minutes on July 20th, 2015
After all he's been through, our boy BrAvO deserves some love as well.
During the opening match of 2015's Proleague Round 4, BrAvO got up from the Samsung bench (did his suffering in the Soulkey match cause him to leave SKT?) to take on the challenge of facing Maru. It was a slightly trying time for our future, four-time Code S Champion. He had quite possibly been the best in the world when he won the inaugural season of SSL in early 2015, but where most Terrans picked up steam over the course of the year with the emergence of mech, Maru’s star faded just a bit. He remained one of the best in the game, but Maru was a bio player through and through. While he could queue up tanks well enough, the composition was always a little at odds with his strengths at the time.
Still, compared to BrAvO, Maru was in an entirely different universe. As one of the pros who came to StarCraft II with KeSPA in 2012, BrAvO never managed to qualify for Code S even once in his career. That wasn’t to say he wasn’t a solid player. He patiently plied his trade as a role player on Woongjin Stars and SK Telecom T1, before ultimately making his mark as a TvT Mech specialist for Samsung Galaxy in the 2015 Proleague Campaign.
Basically, six of one, half dozen of the other
Still, most fans didn’t give BrAvO much of a chance when he was slated to play Maru. Surely, Maru would do what he had done to so many inferior players in the past, pushing the pace with drops and harassment until his opponents melted under the pressure?
Unlike the Reality vs Soulkey match, I actually do want you guys to watch this game, so I'm just going to leave you with a barebones summary.
Maru played right into BrAvO’s hands, dropping an additional factory around the seven minute mark once his initial aggression was thwarted as much by BrAvO’s defenses as the massive buffer afforded by cross spawns on Cactus Valley. Maru might have taken some favorable engagements, and at times displayed micro and multitasking far greater than BrAvO’s, but make no mistake—BrAvO completely bossed this game. He expanded more aggressively, pressured Maru in the right ways, and held a constant advantage as far as compositions went before dealing the final blow after 30 plus minutes of dominance.
And, so, we’re left with a final question—one which will sadly remain unanswerable even in the face of the fiercest scrutiny: If your life depended on the result of one match, who would you rather have in your corner? The specialist of lesser overall skill, or the generally superior player just dipping their toes into a new strategy? On this day, at least, BrAvO took the field, exposing Maru and making sure we all knew who was the true master of mech.
Solar saves/ruins everyone's Fantasy Proleague
For some fans on TL.net, Fantasy Proleague might have been more compelling than the actual competition itself. Coming down from the BW days, TL.net's Fantasy Proleague allowed you to build a team for each specific round, earning points depending on how well your players performed. The main strategic component was in roster budgeting, as you had a limited amount of currency with which to purchase players. Ace players like herO, INnoVation, Maru and Zest were expensive to recruit, heavily limiting one's choices in filling out the rest of the roster. But they were generally worth the price, as ace match victories awarded a whopping three points.
Behold! The worst/best round in Proleague history!
In 2015, Solar inherited the position of being Samsung Galaxy's ace player in the wake of RorO’s retirement. In the previous year, Samsung's young Zerg prospect had shown us glimpses of his potential, making a few GSL playoff appearances and even winning some smaller trophies abroad. Now, it was time for him to take the next step in his career, improve upon his sub 50% Proleague win-rate, and show that he was worthy of the mantle of Ace. Recognizing this internal promotion and increased playing opportunities for Solar, TL.net's Fantasy Proleague priced him like an ace player as well.
Unfortunately for Solar, he had an absolutely disastrous 2015 Proleague campaign. The traditional stats tell the story pretty well, as Solar put up a 5-14 overall record and 1-5 record in ace matches. However, his Fantasy Proleague performance paints an even vivid picture of how bad he was: In Round 1 of the 2015 Season, Solar managed to compile the first and only negative score ever recorded in Fantasy Proleague history.
You see, Fantasy Proleague scoring was set up a bit like a kindergarten class' reward system, where you earned
Even a player who lost all their regular matches would still end up with zero points, which is what Solar would have had with his 0-3 regular match record. Going back to the kindergarten comparison, you had to do something very, very naughty to lose points. Say, something like losing in a crucial ace match. As it so happened, Solar lost three ace matches in a single round.
The losses were positively awful, with Solar finding new, creative ways to lose each time around. He lost an ace match in week one to Bbyong’s banshees. He punted away a 50 supply lead by letting YongHwa blink directly into his main and forcefield his ramp. He successfully defended Curious’ early pool, but dropped the match about 15 minutes later to a positively absurd mutalisk/swarm host composition. In fact, Samsung's only win that round came in a match in which Solar didn’t play.
In strange twist, Solar saved as many Fantasy Proleague teams as he ruined. Fantasy Proleague forced managers to pick a smaller "anti-team" alongside a regular team, with anti-team player points counting against you. For the Fantasy managers who were astute enough to pick Solar for their anti-teams, they were actually rewarded with positive points.
Solar went on to enjoy much success in Legacy of the Void, but there's no doubt his 2015 Proleague campaign was a total disaster. Samsung never truly recovered after RorO’s retirement, and a large part of that can be chalked up to Solar’s inability to even remotely equal the Code S champion’s output. And, while I’m sure he’d prefer everyone would forget, he will forever hold a place in the league’s history as its least successful ace player. And, more importantly, in FPL lore as the best anti-team player of all time.
Disasterpiece Theater Outtakes: soO vs YoDa
Not every terrible game requires an in-depth write-up, so consider this one a bonus!
The TL;DR: on this match should sound pretty familiar: soO's late game is bad, turtle-mech is boring, yada yada. However, this match is notable for being one of the earliest, most high-profile examples of the TvZ turtle-mech style that would proliferate in late HotS.
In early 2015, soO was fresh off his most successful year as a progamer. On the other hand, mech was coming off its least fruitful year since Wings of Liberty. The hellbat nerfs in 2013 had crippled the composition to the point that mech was completely useless against Protoss in 2014. It was rarely utilized in TvT and, as far as TvZ went, players almost always opted for bio/mine since.
That’s not to say siege tanks and thors weren’t good units. In the end, it was a fresh map pool and alterations to the swarm host that put mech over the top in the summer of 2015, but just a few months earlier YoDa had given us a glimpse of what a super sedentary composition could accomplish.
It should be noted that there is nothing enjoyable about this game, though that doesn’t mean the game was lacking in grim hilarity.
Take for example the 22 minute mark. soO, at this point, is rolling in the dough—his 10k/6k bank the product of YoDa prioritizing safety over than interacting with his opponent. soO owns seven of the eleven of the bases on the map, but seems totally unsure of how best to end the game.
How about 33 minutes in? soO, having thrown away his swarm hosts, ends up losing two bases and 37 workers to unopposed siege tanks. What came next was either an epiphany or some kind of fever dream, as soO decided there wasn’t a need to remake any workers since he had a 12k/10k rainy day fund. Instead he doubled down on corruptors, raising his count from the paltry 60 he’d had just a few minutes ago to 75.
What came next was the most aesthetically pleasing Zerg attack of all time as soO spread his corruptors in a glorious flowing arc and dove onto YoDa’s army.
If only this is what peak performance looked like
soO fared well enough in said engagement. After a brief lull in which both he and YoDa remaxed (soO on a million corruptors and broodlords, YoDa on thors and flying stuff), combat resumed.
Again, with the beautiful arc. But this time soO seemed to have broken YoDa’s defenses. Or, at least it seemed that way until you realized soO was running out of money and YoDa was making lots and lots of thors.
Let’s rejoin our combatants at the 44 minute mark. Somehow soO never actually attacked despite his massive military advantage, instead spending his time losing workers to hellion run bys while YoDa continued to mine and optimize his forces behind a wall of turrets and planetaries. A few more attacks left soO in dire straits, with less than a handful of workers and a no ability to rebuild.
And, so, our journey comes to a close at the 47 minute mark where soO decides it's finally time to fight. YoDa, whose army was as mighty as an assembled in StarCraft history, gladly obliged and cleanly wiped out the pesky Zerg’s last ditch effort.
Again, nothing about this game was enjoyable. Nothing about it was fun. It was, however, exceedingly educational—a first glimpse into mech’s true power and another example of what would prove to be soO’s Achilles heel. It’s rare that such an absolutely meaningless game would have such significance, but here we are. soO vs YoDa. I suggest watching it on at least 2x speed.
You forgot Guilty even existed, but that's okay
One of the greatest parts about team leagues is how they offer less heralded players a shot at glory. While only an elite few are capable of making deep runs in individual competitions, it’s not totally unheard of for an up and comer or relative unknown to catch a star off guard with a one of a kind build.
Sadly for our plucky underdogs, what sounds perfectly reasonable in theory, turns out to be quite challenging in practice. Off the wall openings and unpredictable builds certainly can surprise your average Code S champion, but whatever advantage might have been gained often can’t compare to the gulf in talent between players like Daisy or eMotion and the Maru or INnoVation’s of the world.
So, when TY was set to face off against Guilty in KT's first match 2015, fans couldn't be blamed for predicting a landslide victory for TY. Guilty was, simply put, a nobody. Despite being a StarCraft II “pro” for three years, Guilty had yet to qualify for Code S or see the light of day in Proleague, despite playing for one of the more mediocre teams in the league, Samsung Galaxy.
What was Guilty to do then, when he made his Proleague debut against one of Korea’s best Terrans, a player who had brought the Proleague trophy home for KT in the previous season? Surely, his likeliest path to victory lay with a proxy or some sort of cheese but, to the chagrin of Samsung’s fan’s, Guilty and his coaches seemed perfectly content to engage TY in a totally standard TvT.
After nine minutes, TY and Guilty had a similarly sized mixture of vikings, ravens, tanks and marines but, as you’d expect, TY’s class was already shining through. He had a nearly double digit worker lead and, thanks to his activity on the map, Guilty had been unable to punish his opponent’s greed.
TY should have been able to cruise to victory, but the introduction of a single banshee on Guilty’s side forced TY’s isolated army to unsiege. That was the moment the Samsung Terran pounced, wiping out his opponent’s army with hardly a loss.
This is the point where the lesser player usually squanders their advantage with a rush of blood to the head, but Guilty had no interest in allowing the thrill of the moment to get the better of him. After a prolonged siege that kept TY pinned in his base, Guilty executed a dual pronged attack on the KT Terran’s main and natural, killing 18 workers and effectively breaking the game wide open.
Guilty was now firmly in control. TY may have had more tanks, but Guilty a stronger economy, superior upgrades and an enormous marine count. TY tried to make Guilty’s life as difficult as possible, retaining a defensive posture, but after a scan revealed TY’s army in a vulnerable position outside his natural, Guilty lowered the executioner's axe, even going so far as to drop a pair of mules amid TY’s army as it was wiped off the map.
Years later, there’s no confusing TY and Guilty’s careers. TY became a WESG, IEM AND GSL champion—as for Guilty, his first Proleague match was also his second-to-last Proleague match. Guilty would lose his next match against Dark, after which he never graced the Proleague stage again. In fact, those two Proleague matches ended up being the sum of Guilty's career appearance in televised tournaments. As far as SC2 fans are concerned, Guilty may as well have been a ghost—one that randomly materialized once for the sole purpose of ruining TY's day.
But on this January night, Guilty got his one shining moment. A game in which he transcended his B-Teamer status, got a taste of the adoration reserved for StarCraft’s best, and validated all his years toiling away in the practice room. Their clash on King Sejong Station might have become nothing more than a footnote in history, but every Proleague devotee will never forget the night Guilty beat TY.