DreamHack StarCraft II Masters: Atlantaby Wax
Who are the best players in the StarCraft II scene? The answer to that question is extremely tricky to answer, with this month's AfreecaTV Champions Cup sowing the seeds of chaos everywhere. Serral invincible in PvZ? Nope. Cure an online god? Nope. Dark washed? Hell no!
In this perilous environment, we put forth another TL.net Power Rank. The DreamHack Valencia edition turned out to be a tome of truth (mostly)—will this one become a list of lies?
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order)Winners gonna win - Neeb, DongRaeGu, Creator: Sometimes, there's just no deeper analysis to be had than "winners gonna win." Take Neeb, for example. Despite beginning university in the fall and professing to play only two or three games a day, he still managed to win the #1 seed from North America over Astrea and Scarlett. Or what about DongRaeGu, who hasn't cracked the top 15 in Aligulac rating all year (he's fallen out of the top 20 at times)? He's still strung together wins when it mattered most, making it to the playoffs of all Code S Seasons this year.
Finally, there's Creator, who makes me question my sanity for adding him to this list. But no matter how hard he underperformed in the past, he's turned his career around in 2022 to become someone who can be clutch in big moments. While he's not consistent, his Code S finals run and WTL playoff heroics suggest he could also be someone who steps up at DH Atlanta.
It's gotta work out for at least one of them, right? - TIME, Lambo, ShoWTimE: This trio feels a bit like the mirror image of the previous grouping. They're prolific competitors, often play at a high level against top-tier players, and are generally very well-regarded among their peers. Then why do their career results feel so comparatively lackluster to me? (Is that just a result of high expectations on my side?)
In the last year, all three have shown the capacity to make deep runs when everything is clicking for them. Lambo had the best result, coming within a map of winning the championship at NeXT Winter 2021. ShoWTimE was the one who had the best run lately, getting 3rd place in TSL9. And as for TIME, don't forget he finished top four in DreamHack: Last Chance earlier this year. With all three players set to play in Atlanta, surely things have to work out for one of them?
People will get mad if I don't mention them - HeroMarine, Astrea, Elazer: Let the record show that I have mentioned HeroMarine, Astrea, and Elazer.
Please god, let this run be for real - #10: GuMihoIf not for Maru's G5L, GuMiho's top four finish might have been the best story of Code S Season 3. After a slow start following his return from military service, GuMiho went on one of the most dramatic Code S runs in recent memory with TWO reverse-sweep victories in the playoffs. It wasn't just GuMiho's unorthodox builds that got him through—his mechanics looked better than they had ever been since his return.
Despite being a huge fan of GuMiho—or perhaps because I'm a big fan of GuMiho—I'm still a bit skeptical about his showing last season. Sure, his mechanics were great in Code S, but his play in some other events suggest that it's not the new normal for him. Also, it's concerning that he will lose some of his creativity advantage in a weekend event. Players fret about running out of builds in the GSL where there's DAYS between games—in DH there might only be an hour to prepare.
Never lucky - #9: BunnyThe 2022 season of the GSL has been marked by a flood of breakthrough performances, with Creator, RagnaroK, herO, DRG, and GuMiho all finishing higher than anyone ever expected.
I think Bunny is insanely unlucky to not have been on that list. He was trending hugely upward in late 2021/early 2022, placing top four in a DreamHack Season Finals and top eight at IEM Katowice. However, he couldn't build upon that success, first suffering a freak hand injury in Code S Season 1, and then getting COVID quarantined overseas just ahead of his matches in Code S Season 2 (this was especially unlucky as several other players also tested positive later—Bunny was the only one who popped early enough to require a quarantine in Spain). While Bunny did end up reaching the top four of Season 2, that was a level he had already reached in previous events. If he had been unimpeded by outside circumstances, I think he would have had a real chance to make the Code S finals.
Bunny's cosmically bad luck doesn't scare me from putting him at #9—In fact, maybe it's actually time he gets some karmic restitution.
Now, I admit that these mentality-based narratives can be self-perpetuating—once it gets in your head, an otherwise 'normal' loss might look like a 'choke' instead. But when I think about how two of Cure's most important runs in the 2022/23 EPT Season—IEM Katowice and Code S Season 3—ended after he lost in dramatic upsets to weaker Terrans on paper (Dream and GuMiho), I have to think it's due to something in his head. In the case of Solar and ByuN, they've basically admitted to as much in interviews (it's so bad for ByuN that his mental stress manifests as pain in his wrists).
I genuinely believe all three are championship-caliber players at their peaks, with the issue being playing at that level when they're on stage. In terms of ordering, I'm going with Solar at the head of the pack. A lot of his eliminations have been due to his horrendous luck of constantly drawing Maru as an opponent, and not any other fault on his part. A top four or finals run could be in the cards if he avoids his nemesis.
Inflection point - #5: RagnaroKWhen RagnaroK made the final six in Code S Season 1, you could have understandably passed it off as a fluke. However, through the rest of the GSL year, RagnaroK has done everything needed to prove that he is for real. He returned to the playoffs in each subsequent season, culminating in a grand finals appearance in his most recent Season 3 run. If clever proxy-hatch cheeses were the key to his success in season one, he slowly phased them out for strong macro play in subsequent tournaments. Now, I'm left with no doubt in my mind that he's one of the best Zergs in the world, and a top ten player overall.
However, I do have to wonder about what RagnaroK's ceiling is. Maru put in a brutal 'there's levels to this s***' performance in the finals against RagnaroK, blowing him out of the water in a 4-0 drubbing. After seeing that, I had to worry that RagnaroK was destined to be stuck on a plateau just below the very peak of the mountain.
Then again, maybe Maru was an unfair measuring stick—most people get the tar beat out of them in such matches. If you think about it, getting destroyed by Maru is the only big weakness RagnaroK has shown lately. Otherwise he's been great in terms of mechanics, game sense, and series planning. There's a chance—I'm not saying it's likely—but there's a CHANCE that RagnaroK is a title-tier contender with one VERY bad match-up. I'd be excited to see him play the next few players on this list.
#4 - #3: The ghosts of Reynor and Dark
Just play like Marou - #4: ClemThe Maru-Clem similarities just become more uncanny over time. We all know that both players were noticed as prodigies during their early-teen years, and that both of them owe a lot of their success to their insane hand speed. But they took it a step further last autumn by winning their fifth major domestic titles in the same season—the G5L for Maru and an "E5L" for Clem (his fifth DreamHack: Europe title).
Unfortunately for Clem, he shares some of Maru's negative traits as well. Early on in his career, Maru was known for performing poorly outside of domestic competition, only winning his first international major in the 2018 WESG Grand Finals. In a similar vein, Clem's lack of a major championship outside of Europe is currently a noticeable gap on his resume.
I should point out that 'poor' international performances are a relative term for pre-2018 Maru and present day Clem. Both made the top four or higher in multiple international majors, which would be a fantastic result for any other player. However, compared to their dominant, championship-caliber play at home, they felt lacking.
As with Maru, I have no doubt that Clem will eventually get over the hump. Up until a few weeks ago, I might even have believed DreamHack: Atlanta would be the event where it happened. After all, Clem had won his fifth DH: Europe title in extremely impressive fashion, beating essentially all of Europe's best players along the way (Lambo, MaxPax, HeroMarine, ShoWTimE, Serral, and Reynor). And then, in the AfreecaTV Champions Cup, he ran into the Korean buzzsaw as he always does, losing 1-3 to Dark in the semis. Alas, I believe the wait will go on a bit longer…
One man imba-army - #3: herOWhile I'm supposed to dissuade people from getting into overheated balance arguments on TL.net, I must admit I'm very intrigued by possibility of herO winning the championship as the sole elite Protoss in the tournament. Both Maru and Serral have received the 'is the race imba, or is it the player' treatment in the past—herO completing the trinity might be the event that vindicates David Kim for all eternity.
herO has a great chance of doing so as he has almost no weaknesses. His already tremendous PvZ ability has gone through the roof. It seemed a bit questionable when he picked Serral instead of ByuN during the AfreecaTV Champions Cup group selections, but he vindicated himself by beating the Finnish Phenom to advance from the group (he lost their initial match but won the decider match for a 3-3 total map score). It's hard to see any other Zerg presenting herO with much of a challenge in a BO5+.
He's also lucked out due to #1 PvP player MaxPax's policy of not attending live events. As random as PvP can be, it really did feel like MaxPax and herO were a half-tier ahead of their peers. With the Danish Enigma gone, herO will be the favorite in every PvP.
However, there is one potentially big problem for him in high-end PvT. herO has been talking about how he's been struggling in PvT for several months now, which is rich coming from the #1 rated PvT player on Aligulac.com. But his words actually have borne out in his recent major tournament results, with Maru (Code S, TSL9) and Clem (ACC) being the only two players to eliminate him.
If a certain hat-enjoying Finn would just take out a certain GSL-trophy enjoying Korean, then the DreamHack trophy could be quite attainable for herO.
The GOAT candidates - #2: Serral, #1: MaruDamn, who could have seen this coming? Serral and Maru are the top two players in the power rank. The last five years have seen both players elevate themselves to living legend status, and build very compelling arguments to be called the greatest of all time. Victory in Atlanta wouldn't make or break the case for either, but it would still be an additional few words of credit whereas the books for Rogue, Mvp, and others have already been closed.
But enough about big-picture stuff. Why did Serral place below Maru in this specific power ranking?
Let's start with the head-to-head. Normally, I don't put too much stock into head-to-head match-ups for the rankings, but it definitely does matter when the 'true' championship tier is so small. In this case, Serral seems to have a big advantage, having a 3-0 series lead against Maru in 2022 (all in major tournament BO5's). While Maru won games where he managed to successfully activate giga-turtle mode, he had trouble getting into that signature stance. Besides those situations, the games felt rather one-sided in favor of Serral.
Then why is Maru ahead of Serral? It's due to how well I think they'd fare against everyone else in the DreamHack: Atlanta field. Even though Maru is disadvantaged against Serral, I think he's a clear favorite against literally everyone else in the competition. With Reynor and Dark out, there aren't any ZvT threats besides Serral. herO could be a tricky opponent—Maru had to work hard to beat him in TSL9—but Maru still has the upper hand. As for Maru's TvT, that match-up has a case to be called the greatest specific race match-up of all time (forget the GOAT debate; let's start the GSRMUOAT discussion).
On the other hand, Serral has more match-ups where he faces upset potential. While it's obviously not Serral's fault that the Zerg mirror is harder to dominate than TvT, there are definitely more Zergs who have a reasonable chance of stealing a win off of him than Terrans who could hope to do so against Maru. For the non-mirrors, there's two title contenders who have to be considered even against him in Clem and herO. Though Serral is favored against Maru, there's more potential hazards for him in the rest of the field.
Laying it out like this, it feels extremely even between the two, and it basically comes down to a matter of taste. Do you think all these factors add-up to Serral being a more 'powerful' player than Maru? I wouldn't argue if you did. But personally, I believe Maru's all-around strength gives him the slightest edge in claiming the #1 spot.