King of Battles: Group Stage Previewby TheOneAboveU
King of Battles is set to be one of the biggest third party events of the year, awarding $30,000 in prize money alongside over 1000 ESL Pro Tour points. Quite a remarkable line-up of players will be contending for this treasure trove, with top ranked players receiving invites while others earned their spot through open qualifiers (adhering to the region lock rules of the EPT). All in all, we have an even split of players from the two halves of the scene, with eight of Korea's best going up against eight international powerhouses.
The Format: A Twist on an Old StandardWhile the tournament format looks very much like your bread and butter GSL-style RO16 group stage into single elimination bracket, tournament organizers Alpha X have put a twist on the double-elimination group format.
While the first two series will be best-of-three's, as is the norm in GSL Code S, the winner's, loser's, and decider matches are all going to be best-of-five series, giving us more StarCraft II to watch and taking out even more variance from the results. It's going to be interesting to see how the good old rematch curse, so often sighted in such groups, is potentially affected by the sudden format change.
The single-elimination playoffs are best-of-five in the quarterfinals, and then expand to best-of-seven for the semifinals and grand finals.
Now, join us for a look at the great story lines to watch out for this weekend, when 16 competitors decide amongst themselves who shall become the King of Battles.
Group A: It's Happening!Saturday, Oct 03 11:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Serral, Maru, Trap, MaNa
While it is not 2018 anymore, which means Serral and Maru no longer command the aura of invincibility they once did, this draw is still a dream fulfilled for many fans. Sure, a live audience, offline playing conditions and some higher stakes would be fantastic. But at this point, considering how the hype is well past its expiration date, this match sort of deserves to be a BO3 group stage clash. While every StarCraft II fan is hoping that this match will live up to the hype, you can't help but worry that the end result will be disappointment—which would be fitting, given the history of this non-match. Still, there's always the chance of them meeting again later on in the group, in a BO5 with the enhanced stakes of either playoff advancement or elimination on the line. At the end of the day, this is still one of—if not still the—highest level ZvT matches possible, and that's what counts.
Overshadowed by Serral vs. Maru finally happening is how unfortunate MaNa has been in terms of his group draw. The Team Liquid player showed he was good for an upset or two at TSL5, but there was a lot of PvP involved. And even the random factor of PvP didn't help him against Trap, who 3-0'd him out of the winners bracket event. For MaNa, his strong qualifier run (beating MarineLord, Bly, and Neeb) might end up being his highlight of this tournament, as he looks to survive being thrown into a meat grinder with three top title contenders.
On that note, take a second to cope with the fact that at least one of Serral, Maru or Trap is going to be eliminated in the group stage. This line-up could easily be three fourths of any international event's top four (in fact, Trap has been in the top four of a premier event every month since June this year, so he's been more consistent than even Serral), it's crazy that any of them will have to go out so early on in the event (maybe even two of them, if MaNa plays the best StarCraft II of his career). Considering Trap's consistent strength in these kinds of online events—and Maru's notorious lack thereof—it seems like the Jin Air Protoss should be favored to advance alongside the Finnish Phenom. Serral is not the force of nature he was in 2018, but against Korean opponents he still seems to be able to maintain his composure much better than against fellow Europeans, clearly marking him as the favorite to advance.
Prediction: Serral and Trap to advance.
Group B: Clem's TvT ExamSunday, Oct 04 11:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
TY, uThermal, Clem, RagnaroK
Clem has really started to fulfill his potential in the recent DreamHack Masters events, delivering the high-quality games and results many people were expecting from him for some time now. But as flashy and dangerous as his TvP and TvZ are, Clem has struggled with the mirror match-up in comparison. While Clem seems to be able to play macro games with the best of them, his vulnerability to early-game tactics and mind-games have been readily exploited by players like his teammate uThermal and his ESL Open Cup rival HeRoMaRinE. Being thrown into a group with two of the greatest strategic masterminds of the Terran faction, Liquid's Dutchman and TY, does not bode well for Clem's chances to make another deep tournament run. However, given the steady progress Clem has shown us at DreamHack Masters events, perhaps he'll use KoB to take on the challenge of improving his strategic game. What better way to prove that you've overcome your supposed TvT weakness than by beating uThermal and TY?
Of course, there is a pesky Zerg player in the group as well, sticking his nose in the Terran showdown. RagnaroK has been rather poor in 2020, but you'd never know it from his KoB qualifier run: he beat Cure, Stats, and INnoVation to earn this spot! When he's is on top of his game, RagnaroK can be a beast in ZvT, which Cure and INnoVation can surely attest to. According to Aligualc.com, he's the underdog in every possible pairing, but Aligulac can be slow to account for rapid rises in form. If RagnaroK is locked in and focused yet again, he might be the wild card that surprises a few of the so-called favorites in KoB. TSL5 has brought out some real magic from the Team Liquid players participating in it, so who's to say KoB can't do the same for Alpha X players?
Given a bit of time to prepare for their first match and potential opponents after that, TY and uThermal are at their most dangerous. They thrive in preparation-based formats, always finding some sort of angle to get a critical advantage—especially when new maps coming into play. Clem has not stuck out as this type of player so far, his particular strength seemingly not laying in this area. Is this what could give the edge to TY and uThermal in the end? The intra-Liquid duel is especially hard to call, as the two team mates having met in 25 series this year already, with the Dutchmen leading 14-11 in series and 42-38 in maps. It's not a dominating lead for uThermal, but it's notable that he's won the three latest clashes between them, so for the moment he seems to have the right recipe to deal with his young colleague. TY, overshadowing everyone else in this group in accomplishments and reputation, retains the position of favorite, but the battle for second should be brutal.
Prediction: TY and Clem to advance.
Group C: South Korea vs. GermanyTuesday, Oct 06 11:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Rogue, ShoWTimE, HeroMarine, Zoun
The rock solid German duo known for their meticulous standard-play meets a very different pairing of Korean players in Group C.
Much has been said about Rogue and his post-championship hangovers. While there were some rather questionable moments for him shortly after winning his most recent GSL title (notably in the War Chest Team League), the Jin Air Zerg did not display the same sluggishness when he won NeXT Summer 2020—the biggest 3rd party tournament between TSL5 and KoB. So, chances are, Rogue is going to be focused and will lock down first place for himself.
The group's second Korean is another Alpha X player—in fact, their entire GTC roster was able to qualify—and has had some buzz around him recently. Zoun's improvement in the last couple of months has been very visible and it's fantastic to see his efforts get rewarded with successful qualifier runs and such. The Protoss is still lacking in consistency and struggles with his decision making sometimes, but that's an issue only fixed with more experience. His clash with HeRoMaRinE is going to be an interesting one, because the two met at IEM Katowice this year, with Big Gabe taking a close 2-1 victory back then. With how much Zoun has improved his gameplay—and the sheer range of strategies and styles he can put into action—we can expect him to fare a bit better this time.
Big Gabe himself is a bit of an anomaly in this group, with his utter dominance of ESL Open Cups and strong performances at the DreamHack tournaments having blown up his Aligulac rating so much that the algorithm even favours him over Rogue. That seems... ...optimistic. HeroMarine himself has undoubtedly improved a lot over the course of the year himself and is a dangerous opponent to face for anyone, but the numbers certainly are a bit distorted in his case (cue the 'Big Gabe is so big, his center of gravity stretches the Aligulac numbers' jokes). And, to be fair, that by itself says a lot as well: if you can win so many weekly tournaments against tough competition on a consistent basis, then there has to be something to your playstyle making it incredibly solid. We'll see If Zoun, who can play a large variety of strategies and has slowly become a master of preparation, can crack the Gabe.
Fans of fantastic TvP should definitely hope for a match between the two Germans, as ShoWTimE and HeRoMaRinE practically deliver absolute bangers any time they meet (and make typists rue their names). Die Mauer hasn't been too hot recently, failing to have a deep run at any of the DreamHack events so far. Still, whenever you ask a pro about European Protoss players, ShoWTimE is the guy they talk about: he's so consistent, so hard to crack, so dangerous to face. A king needs a castle and a castle needs walls—this tournament is the one where ShoWTimE can show off his strengths once again, in a close and pretty unpredictable group, in which any constellation could advance.
Prediction: Rogue and ShoWTimE to advance.
Group D: Nice Wanders into the Wrong NeighborhoodThursday, Oct 08 1:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Reynor, Cure, INnoVation, Nice
It is always a bit special when players from the 'minor' regions get through open qualifiers, breaking the EU-NA-SpeCial domination over the foreign scene. For KoB, Nice managed to cut a path through some of the strongest European and North American players in the NA server qualifier, deservedly taking a spot at his team's tournament. What's not deserved, is the meat grinder of a group he got placed in—what a reward, to have to face someone with a legitimate claim to be the strongest player on the planet at the moment, someone with a legitimate claim to be the greatest player of all time and Cure. The Taiwanese Protoss is playing the best StarCraft of his career at the moment, but as we noted with MaNa in Group A, unfortunately this may not be enough (the two could have quite the debate over who got the shorter end of the stick). He is generally regarded as a bit of a PvT-specialist with very strong macro capabilities and a similar streak of evil genius to his more notorious countryman Has, so he could potentially cause some chaos, but one shouldn't count on it.
The crown jewels of this group are obviously Reynor's ZvT duels with Cure and INnoVation—showdowns, which historically have been close, exciting and of extremely high quality. The Italian's style has always matched up well against the Korean Terrans from a viewer's perspective and his recent, hard-fought clashes with Clem may have given his future opponents a few further ideas on how to crack the puzzle. The new map pool may also figure heavily into this, since Terrans may well find a strong tank-push or proxy spot here and there, which Zerg players won't initially be able to engage into in a reasonable manner. As always, Terran may have a bit of an advantage going into the new maps, with Zerg knowledge catching up after some time. For Reynor (prone to map complaints anyways), this means exploring uncharted territory, making his mission a bit harder, while for the spectators this is all the better.
With Cure slumping at the moment compared to his high points earlier in the year, INnoVation is probably the Terran hope of the group, as is so often the case. The KaiZi player has had his share of top finishes this year, and even though no premier tournament victories were claimed by the Machine yet, he enters every competition amongst the favorites. It's going to be especially interesting how he decides to face down Reynor on the new battlegrounds: will it be his bread and butter bio play? Will we see defensive mech? Battlecruiser openers? Battle mech, which led INnoVation to one of his greatest victories over Reynor on Golden Wall during the last map cycle? Let's not forget that, while we associate Inno with standard play nowadays, once upon a time he was the one to define the new Terran standard play, very much justifying his ID—and while we shouldn't expect a revolution, the prospects of INnoVation possibly setting some trends with his own accents should excite everybody.
Prediction: Reynor and INnoVation to advance.