TeamLiquid Starleague 7by Wax
The TeamLiquid Starleague is back, and so is TL.net Power Rank!
Much has changed since TL.net last dared enrage the StarCraft II community by giving players numerical ranks, with the international scene vastly narrowing the gap with the traditional powerhouse of Korea. Will this be reflected in the rankings, or will TL.net's Korean elitism live on?
Power Rank#16: Has
Even the most loyal Has fans such as I have to admit that the mad scientist from Taiwan has lost a few miles off his fastball in recent years, failing to make an impact in international competition and even ceding his regional crown to Nice. While Has did make a solid run through the NA/Asian qualifiers to earn his spot in TSL7, his poor showings in larger international competitions suggest he's headed to a quick exit in the main event.
A series win might be too much ask from Has at this point, but I hope he can at least give one of the title contenders a moment of panic and terror with a deadly cheese. After all, that's what endeared him to fans in the first place.
souL excelled in the TSL7 European server qualifiers back in May, taking down regional stalwarts such as MaNa, uThermal, and MarineLord to claim one of the six hotly contested spots. Unfortunately for the Polish Terran, his performance in the more recent DH Europe regional wasn't quite as strong, exiting the tournament in the RO16.
Overall, it fits souL's generation reputation: someone who's competitive with the top players in Europe when he's playing at his best, but not on a consistent basis. While souL should be able to deliver some entertaining and close games, he'll need some bracket luck to win to take a best-of-five in TSL7.
The sixteen-year-old Danish Protoss is growing up right before our eyes! Initially known for his strategic creativity (notably his namesake proxy-Gate build), MaxPax has grown into a strong all-around player. The latest season of DH Europe was a breakthrough event for MaxPax, as he made it out of the group stages for the first time and went on to finish in the top eight of the playoffs.
The future is certainly bright for MaxPax, but it's probably still too early for him to make a deep run in a tournament of TSL7's magnitude. Top eight in Europe is certainly a good result, but one doesn't jump from there to immediately challenging the best players in the world (he was just eliminated from NeXT Season 1 by Maru and Zest). Still, if MaxPax prepares well and lives up to his reputation as a clever strategist, he might be able to pick up a signature win in a best-of-five.
Back in 2019, a nineteen-year-old TIME put Chinese StarCraft II on the map by becoming his country's first player to reach the WCS Global Finals. While he hasn't gone on to become the next big Terran star as some had hoped, TIME has remained a dangerous contender in international competitions with plenty of upset potential.
TIME has put in solid performances in recent months, looking competitive against GSL players in events such as World Team League and NeXT Season 1. TIME has given players like Maru and Serral fits in the past, so underestimate him at your own peril.
TSL seems like the exact kind of tournament where SpeCial should excel. He's been quite vocal about Terran being the faction that benefits most from having long preparation time, and he's proved his point on a number of occasions. Recently, he took down INnoVation 3-2 in the GSL Super Tournament II, and most notably, he strategized his way to the semifinals of BlizzCon 2017. If you look even further back in history, one of SpeCial's star-making moments in his early career actually came in TSL4 (2012), when he defeated the seemingly unstoppable HyuN in the first round.
Of course, it's not that preparation guarantees a victory for SpeCial—it just helps his chances. It still wasn't enough to save him from first round elimination against Elazer in last year's TSL6. In any case, I'm interested to see what strategies SpeCial decides to bring to TSL7—fans of mech should keep a particularly close eye on his games.
Armani is one of the more unpredictable players in the Korean scene, with his form wildly fluctuating from tournament to tournament. He's a player who failed to make it out of the play-in stages of IEM Katowice 2021 (even losing to heavy underdog Kelazhur), but managed to qualify for GSL Code S weeks later by defeating both Maru and Dark (TWICE, in the case of Dark). Similarly, Armani was eliminated from the NeXT Season 1 qualifiers after losing twice to Creator, but then qualified for TSL7 the very next day by defeating Zest and Dream.
The #11 position seems like a fair middle ground for a player who could crash out early or take out a few favorites to make a surprisingly deep run.
Taking a glance at HeroMarine's record in 2021, you have to marvel at how he lives up to his reputation as the king of consistency. He almost never gives up any upsets, ruthlessly taking care of business against weaker players.
In the past, the problem for HeroMarine has been punching up (figuratively speaking, since he is always punching down due to his massive size), but he's made a lot of progress in that regard. There were some dark times when it seemed like Big Gabe was permanently stuck behind Serral, Reynor, and the championship-tier Koreans in StarCraft II's pecking order, but Gabe has gone on to win take some impressive upsets in world world championship-tier events (notably vs Classic at BlizzCon 2019, and vs Trap at IEM Katowice 2021). After finishing almost exactly where he was projected to at 4th place in DH Europe, will HeroMarine be able to surpass expectations in TSL7?
In rather un-Neebly fashion, the American Protoss recently opened up and admitted that the disappointment of dropping the North American crown to Astrea gave him extra motivation heading into the latest season of DreamHack Masters. Neeb actually ended up being the most dominant of all the regional champions, going 10-0 in matches with a 23-3 map score.
We would all be wise to remember that a motivated Neeb travelled to Korea and won the KeSPA Cup, reached the semifinals of Code S, and has generally been capable of standing toe-to-toe with the best players in the world. Of course, one also has to be wary about reading too deeply into North American results, given the relative weakness of the region. But there's no question that an in-form Neeb can make a huge impact at the international level.
Zoun is one of the toughest players to rate at the moment. He just finished second place in Super Tournament 2 by defeating both Rogue and Dark—the latter of whom he defeated two MORE times in NeXT Season 1. Yet, Zoun has been losing his fair share of games in many other competitions, which is reflected in his rather modest 13th place position in the Aligulac.com Korea rankings. Aligulac weighs all tournaments equally, so perhaps it is failing to account for a "big tournament Zoun." Or, maybe, it's telling us there's something at least a BIT flukey about his recent good results.
I'll err on the side of caution for now and keep Zoun in the lower half of the rankings, but he's definitely a dangerous wildcard player who could force his way into the championship picture.
It would have been totally fair to place Zoun ahead of Dark, but out of respect to Dark's history of excellent play, he takes the #7 spot.
Dark's championship path at TSL6 was one of the most brutal tests of skill in StarCraft II history, going through Parting, Rogue, Reynor, ShoWTimE, Maru, ByuN, and Serral to win the title. Who would have thought that absurd run would be followed by a slump? Since TSL6, Dark placed top eight at IEM Katowice, top 16 in GSL Code S, and was eliminated in the first round of two Super Tournaments—rather disappointing for someone who looked like a top-tier championship contender. If Dark underperforms again in TSL7, this slump might turn into a full-blown crisis.
Prior to publishing, I had to wonder if this placement of Cure would be considered controversial. On one hand, he's a beastly online player who's currently sitting at #2 in the Aligulac.com Korea standings. On the other hand, #2 is a far distance from his typical placement in major events, where he frequently goes out in the round of sixteen.
Cure optimists can point to King of Battles 2020 to prove that he's not destined to remain the king of the minors, as he came in second place after playing fantastic StarCraft (he picked up wins against Reynor, Serral, and TY). TSL7 happens to have the same number of players and a similar prize pool as King of Battles, so perhaps it's a stage upon which Cure can excel.
Zest was briefly stuck in Cure's position a couple of years ago, crushing the opposition in smaller online tournaments while failing to deliver in big events. However, Zest overcame that difficult time and has become one of the SC2 scene's most prolific players in major and minor tournaments alike. Whether it's an ESL Weekly or the IEM World Championship, Zest will bring his A-game as long as there's ANY money to be won.
Zest's biggest obstacles in this tournament are the European Zerg duo of Reynor and Serral, both of whom he's had precious little success against in major tournaments. But if a certain someone (who might be French and play Terran) can remove those Zergs from Zest's path, then he has a solid chance of winning the championship.
At IEM Katowice 2021, we saw the best version of Reynor ever—a player who practiced 1v5 archon mode to improve his reaction speed, a player whose iron mental let him view every butt-clenching 3-2 victory as a '5-0' stomp, and a player who brought on Lambo as his personal coach to shore up holes in his strategic planning. The Reynor we've seen ever since then has certainly been excellent—he just finished the DH Europe regional in second place—but he's not quite that Reynor from Katowice.
Still, defeat has been a good motivator for the Italian Zerg in the past, and perhaps his two losses to Clem in DreamHack Summer will have inspired him to try and regain his honor. We all know what Reynor can be at his best—it's just a matter of whether or not he'll reach that level.
Clem solidified his reign over Europe with his second straight regional title—now it's time to take aim at the rest of the world.
When you look at how handily Clem defeated Reynor and Serral in their battles over the last year, his TvZ really seems to exist on an entirely different plane from the rest of the StarCraft II scene. However, Clem's TvT and TvP are 'merely' excellent compared to his transcendent TvZ, and those two match-ups have been the reason he hasn't enjoyed more success in international tournaments so far.
Still, considering the rapid and consistent growth Clem displayed in 2020, one has to wonder if it's inevitable that he'll eventually be dominating the other two match-ups as well. Given the Terran and Protoss heavy composition of TSL7, we'll soon know if Clem is truly a world championship class player, or if we should briefly tap the brakes on the hype.
Finally, we've arrived at a time and place where Serral isn't the odds-on championship favorite headed into a tournament. In late 2018, many fans would have picked the Finnish Phenom as the favorite versus the entire field of players in any given competition. Since then, his aura of invincibility has gradually faded away, with the rest of the StarCraft II scene catching up to him and creating this current era of chaos.
Still, long-time TL.net readers will know we're big on giving credit for past accomplishments, and few players have accomplished more than Serral in the past couple of years. Oddly, my mind immediately goes back to WESG 2019, when INnoVation came 'out of nowhere' to defeat Serral in the $100,000+ grand finals, proving that there was a timeless quality to his greatness. Perhaps now, it's Serral's time to pull an INnoVation himself, and teach the kids a lesson about what it means to play championship-class StarCraft.
If this were a tournament with a $20,000+ first place prize, then Trap would definitely have been placed lower in the rankings. But with a $9,000 first place prize, TSL7 falls into the category of tournaments that are truly in Trap's wheelhouse. Since last December, Trap has won five out of six events that were held at a similar scale (NeXT Winter, three Super Tournaments, and DH Last Chance—but NOT TSL6), proving the quality of his play to the world.
Protoss greats have generally been defined by their specialized skills, be it the micro of MC and PartinG, the defense of Stats and Rain, or the creativity of sOs
The problem with Trap isn't his gameplay—it's his mentality. Typically, I'm loath to speculate too much about a player's state of mind—there's so much variance baked into StarCraft II that we don't need to resort to half-baked psychoanalysis to explain why someone lost. But after Trap's complete meltdown at IEM Katowice, and the disastrous reverse-sweep he gave up to Maru in the Code S semifinals, what else can we do but look to outside-the-game factors?
It's harder than ever to make predictions in this era of parity, but Trap does seem like the strongest all-around player in TSL7 if he can play at his absolute best level. This tournament could be the perfect chance for Trap to take inventory of his failures and successes, re-center his mindset, and show us the amazing StarCraft II he's capable of.