2016 has proven to be as defining a year as any in the history of professional StarCraft 2 competition. Not since the earliest days of the game and the deployment of expansion-packs has the scene altered so drastically. With almost all the major professional tournaments and events wrapped up for the year, it’s time to employ some 20-20 hindsight and attempt to take full measure of the changing nature of professional StarCraft 2 competition.
Providing a brief recap of the major events, highlight reel games, player and team developments and, of course, a sprinkling of scandal, this multi-part series will be broken down into installments roughly corresponding to the World Championship Series seasons, major events and developments in the scene. It will cover:
→ Part III – Korea Rising
► Part V – End of an Era (KeSPA Cup, ProLeague Playoffs, BlizzCon/WCS Global Playoffs)
► Part VI – Beyond WCS (BaseTrade.tv, Wardi, Gauntlet, and the SC2 Community)
► Part VII – Epilogue
The most obvious difference in the new WCS system between the WCS Circuit and WCS Korea is the number of seasons/championship tournaments. While the WCS Circuit had three championships (Winter, Spring, and Summer), WCS Korea technically only had two seasons. Presumably this was because there are two separate major tournaments handing out WCS Points and Global Finals qualifying spots in Korea, the Global StarCraft 2 League (GSL), and the StarCraft 2 Star League (SSL). These two tournaments were and are considered to be the absolute pinnacle of competition in StarCraft 2, with matching prize-pools and WCS-Point distribution.
Both the GSL and SSL began back in December and January with Pre-Season and Qualifying [1, 2] events. The SSL had it’s 32-player bracket decided early in January, GSL would take until February establish it’s final 32-player roster.
With 32-player double-elimination bracket set, the SSL kicked off it’s main event action on January 7th.
The Opening Round saw some interesting results, specifically RagnaroK‘s upset over InnoVation, and a spectacular series between ByuL and Trust. With Winner and Loser brackets being played through March, there are to many games and great matchups to be listed here in full. Highlights, however, include Dark‘s run to the Winner’s Finals without dropping a single map, RagnaroK and ByuN‘s excellent series, and Patience vs soO‘s Loser Bracket decider.
The Winner’s Bracket Finals would be played between Solar and Dark, a must-watch for anyone, Zerg players especially. The Losers’ Bracket Finals would be played between the loser of Solar vs Dark, and Stats, who made his way through the Losers’ Bracket after being defeated by Dark in the Winner’s Semi-finals.
SPOILERS: Stats had some unbelievable play coming into the SSL Grand Finals, and proved his ability in PvZ by taking out Solar in a close series. But Dark was something else entirely. It took until the Winner’s Finals for Dark to even drop a map, and he took out Stats 3-0 when they met earlier in the tournament. Dark would employ some incredible plays that would essentially reinvent how the ZvP match-up was played, combining old-school strategies with the new tactics and speed of Legacy of the Void. This is exactly what the highest tier players should be able to accomplish on the world’s biggest stages, and the SSL Grand Finals did not disappoint!
Code A– As stated above, qualifiers for the GSL began as early as January, but the real action began with the preliminary Code A Best-of-Five playoffs. Narrowing down the 60 qualified players to the 32 who would advance to Code S brought us some exciting matchups, including: GuMiho vs Dark, Patience vs TY, Stork vs InnoVation, Maru vs Zest, and Curious vs ByuN.
Jaedong vs Leenock is worth mentioning here, not only for it’s watch-ability, but for being Jaedong’s return to the GSL and last real foray into professional StarCraft2 competition.
Code S– At last, the absolute cream of the crop had risen to the top of the StarCraft 2 professional scene: The GSL Code S groups had been finalized. Over the next three months the 32-player group stage would be siphoned off into the Round-of-Sixteen Group Stage, and finally the remaining eight players would proceed to the GSL Playoffs. Series of particular note are herO vs Leenock, anything with TaeJa involved, and SpeeD vs Classic.
SPOILERS: The Playoffs would begin in mid-April, and while every series is worth watching, special attention should be paid to TY vs Dream in the opening Quarterfinals round. Both semi-finals would be a mirror-match test to see what style would represent their races in the already-determined ZvT finals. The eventual finalists, Zest and TY, wouldn’t drop a map to their opponents, solidifying their claims as masters of their respective races. Going into the Finals, Zest was to the GSL was Dark was to the SSL: the dominating force favoured to win the whole show. Zest is best, and proved it by not dropping a single map through his entire run in the GSL. TY would be the first to hand a loss to the Protoss juggernaut, and in a final series that came down to nerves as much as skill, Zest would not be denied.
Staying in Korea, Proleague’s second round was finishing up at the end of April and another great showcase of Korean StarCraft 2 skill was on display. The round-robin stage was exciting, producing some great matches and story lines. Jin Air Green Wings would have two players go undefeated in Round 2, both Maru (6-0) and Trap (4-0). Dark, while not undefeated, put on an absolute clinic this round, making pretty much all of his games worth watching. Other matches worth checking out include GuMiho vs Dark, Bomber vs Dark, ByuL vs soO, and Trap vs Dream.
The Round 2 Playoffs saw SK Telecom T1, KT Rolster, and Jin Air Green Wings return to the Playoffs again, but the Afreeca Freecs would fall out of competition into last place. The final spot in the Playoffs would be earned by CJ Entus. All-Kills would be the story of the this playoff round, with Classic and Stats making true names for themselves. The final series between KT Rolster and Jin Air Green Wings would go the seven-game distance, and is one for the ages.
Now let’s take a look around the rest of the world and see what was going on in StarCraft2 outside of the Korean peninsula. There were three major WCS Circuit events over this period, the Gold Series International, DreamHack Open: Austin, and the WCS Circuit: Spring Circuit Championship at DreamHack Open: Tours.
Taking the best of China’s Gold Series Pro-League and pitting them against the best players to qualify from around the world gave us an exciting tournament from Shanghai. The full VoD list can be found here, but suffice it to say that by the final day it looked like 2016 would become the Year of Harstem.
DreamHack’s American foray on the eve of the WCS Circuit Spring Championship was in many ways a preview of things to come the following week in Tours. Polt, Hydra, and viOLet were all at the event and expected to fill out the semi-final bracket, but only Hydra would live up to the hype. If anything, DreamHack Austin was the stage on which Terran-turned-Protoss Wunderkind Neeb would come into his own on home soil.
He blasted through the early rounds, took out a heavily favoured Snute in the Semi-Finals, and went toe to toe with an even more heavily favoured Hydra in the Finals. Oh, and NonY vs Suppy was a blast from the past!
Another thirty-two players clawed their way into the Spring Championship bracket through ladder qualifiers, online event wins, and of course their standings in the WCS Circuit Points ranking. Once again the Korean trinity was represented in full, expected as usual to dominate. There were some new faces debuting in Tours, including Strange in an unconventional series again Polt, and Guru in a massive upset. As ever, any series featuring Has is bound to be worth watching, and his series against Happy was no different. Neeb and Hydra met in the Round-of-Sixteen for a rematch of their DreamHack Austin series, and viOLet would be eliminated by ShoWTimE, leaving Polt as the single Korean to make it to the semi-finals.
SPOILERS: The semi-finals would see Nerchio face off against Polt, and ShoWTimE versus MaSa. The finals needed all seven games to decide who would be crowned champion of WCS Circuit Spring in Tours, which you should watch right here.
Players, Teams and Scandals:
Wings of Liberty powerhouse MarineKing retires from competitive play. Sen, the only non-Korean to have won a premier SC2 tournament , also retires , along with Sacsri  and Tefel . Polt is picked up by Team EnVyUs , and Neeb receives a personal sponsorship by Ting (in large part thanks to BaseTrade.tv).
Over this period a lot of action happened in the StarCraft Scandal department: verdicts came down on the 2015 Prime Match-fixing scandal, rumblings regarding Life’s match-fixing accusations saw him dropped like a sack of sh-bricks from GSL and his KeSPA team. But scandal wasn’t confined to Korea, with MarineLorD, MajOr and DnS being suspended from Blizzard events due to win trading during the Ladder Qualifying stage.
The Good- The Games, especially in Korea. The quality of competition had never been higher across the board than it was during the first half of 2016.
The Bad- Fair-play scandals continue to rock the credibility of the StarCraft 2 pro scene.
The Ugly- The ending(s) of Polt vs Strange.
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