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 IV – Setting the Stage
► 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
As the summer wore on the pressure on players to make up enough WCS points to qualify for the StarCraft 2 Global Finals at BlizzCon rose to a fever pitch. The last major WCS tournmanets with direct qualifications for the winners would be taking place in the form of the WCS Circuit Summer Finals, GSL Season 2, and SSL Season 2. Outside of the WCS System, the final round of ProLeague before the Playoffs were underway, as Korea’s best teams battled it out for rank and a spot in the volatile ProLeague Playoffs.
The summer also saw some dynamic returns to the scene, captivating storylines ranging from careers defining performances, epic comebacks, and of course some of the craziest games played on a professionals stage (looking at you, Has). See all the best from a great summer of StarCraft below.
WCS Circuit Events:
Opening round madness between WCS Circuit Champions, Polt vs ShoWTimE. A very special Old School versus New Blood matchup, VortiX vs Reynor went down in the round-of-sixteen, while Hydra and Neeb renew their rivalry. An undefeated MarineLorD went into the finals against another of the hottest European players in the scene, Nerchio.
The finals can be found here.
The opening Round-of-Sixteen kicked the tournament into high gear with some great games by Neeb, beginning his undefeated run to the Finals.
StarCraft2 and DreamHack returned to Canada for the final WCS Circuit Season Championship. While Scarlett and Semper qualified through the Canadian National Qualifiers, the rest of the 32-player bracket was filled out through the ladder qualifiers, regional events, and of course their standings in the WCS Circuit Points ranking. Perhaps the most notable player to qualify was TRUE, making his WCS Circuit debut after giving up his place in the GSL and moving out of Korea. TRUE moved abroad to compete and reach the Global Finals at BlizzCon, which means that nothing short of a Championship would be his goal in Montreal.
Hydra vs Welmu in the opening round presented itself as an easy walkover, and proved to be anything but for the Korean Zerg. Scarlett would be the only Canadian to make it past the opening round, with her win over puCK. With the hometown crowd behind her, Scarlett would go on to face longtime rival and former teammate Nerchio, and would once again faceoff against her kryptonite: Neeb.
The semi-finals saw HeRoMaRinE vs TRUE and Polt vs Neeb. The Europe versus Korea and Old versus New story-lines carried TRUE and Polt through to another all-Korean Finals, but this didn’t affect the crowd’s enthusiasm, or the quality of the games, at all.
Find out if TRUE could accomplish what he game halfway across the globe to do, or whether Polt could repeat as a Seasonal WCS Circuit Champion in 2016 here.
Played on the eve of the second seasons of the GSL and SSL, the Cross Finals saw the finalists from each tournament square off against one another for a $25,000 prize-pool and 1,000 WCS Points for the winner. Zest would face Stats while Dark took on TY, you can find the full VoD set here (spoiler-free). Oh, and there was even an Archon-Mode showmatch!
With the new season of the SSL came a new tournament format. The SSL Qualifiers kicked off in early May. Of note, Scarlett and NoRegret both contended but failed to advance to the main event. A new Challenge Round saw 24 players play in four round-robin-groups, with the top three players of each group advancing. sOs vsTrust and Trust vs Classic were some of the more memorable series to come out of the groups.
The Main Event kicked off with a group stage of 16 players in four groups of 4 players each. One match from each group worth checking out is Dark vs Zest, Stats vs Bomber, ByuN vs Classic and TY vs Patience. Once the eight-player Playoff bracket was set, TY vs Dark proved to be an amazing series in the opening round.
The grand finals saw Dark returning to defend his SSL title and attempt to claim back-to-back SSL Championships, while Solar almost unbelievably took down some of Korea’s highly favoured talents such as Patience, Dear, and ByuN on his way to the finals. Dark would of course be the favourite, but the nature of the Zerg versus Zerg matchup and Solar’s proficiency in it left results of the grand finals completely up in the air.
Code A – The Code A Qualifiers were as brutal as ever, proving yet again that only the world’s best have a chance at making it to the most prestigious StarCraft2 stage. Scarlett and NoRegret again tried their hands at cracking into WCS Korea, but would join notable players such as PartinG, and MarineKing as those left out of Code A. MC, coming out of retirement, signed by CJ Entus, returned to Code A. The Boss Toss was back!
Code A itself was played out over an eight-day best-of-five format between forty-eight players. The players who won their best-of-five series qualified for Code S. Highlights include RagnaroK vs Stork, Dark vs InnoVation, MC vs Journey, ByuN vs Forte, and Solar vs Hush. With TRUE defecting to WCS Circuit, his spot opened up and a wildcard tournament was held to determine his replacement in Code S. Hurricane would take the win in the tournament and secure his place in Code S.
Code S – With the thirty-two Code S contestants set, the group stages kicked off in early July. The first group stage would cut down the competition to sixteen players and produce some exciting matches such as MC vs Zest, Cure vs Stats, and Rogue vs Dream.
The second group stage/round of sixteen was played through August and featured some amazing StarCraft2. Taeja would play in what would turn out to be his final series against herO, Zest, and Ryung, retiring upon his elimination. GuMiho vs Classic, and ByuN vs Dark would also prove to be all-time showdowns.
Finally the Playoffs were set, and there wasn’t a Zerg in sight. With the exception of herO vs sOs, every quarterfinals series went the five game distance and are highly recommended viewing: Gumiho vs MyuNgSiK, Ryung vs ByuN, TY vs Dear. There could be very little doubt that the semi-finals were representing the highest level of skill in the game, and they would be leading up to a historic GSL Finals.
While the semifinals between ByuN / Dear and sOs / MyuNgSiK would be over rather quickly, the finals would be historic. The king of clutch high-pressure wins, sOs, the teamless darkhorse gladiator ByuN. ByuN would make history if he won, becoming the first unsponsored player to ever win a GSL championship, but he would have to get through a sOs, the guy who made his name winning the biggest tournaments in StarCraft2.
Watch one of the best GSL finals right here!
The final five-week round of ProLeague began in June and immediately kicked off with highlight material in CJMC vs KTzest, in The Boss Toss’s return from his short retirement. AfreecaPatience vsSamsungBrAvO, JinAirRogue vsSKTelecomDark,JinAirsOs vs KTStats, and CJBunny vs JinAirTrap are just some of the highlights from the round-robin. Stats from KT Rolster would go undefeated in his six games, the only player to do so this round.
KT Rolster, Jin Air Green Wings, Afreeca Freecs and CJ Entus would qualify for the playoffs. The opening round’s highlight would arguably be AfreecaCurious against CJMC, which kick-started MC’s destruction of the Afreeca team. The semi-finals between CJ Entus and Jin Air would be an absolute slobberknocker, going the seven game distance and being settled between Maru and ByuL. Jin Air made the playoffs in all three rounds, and this would be their last chance to win a round before the the 2016 Playoffs. JinAirCure vs KTStats would start the finals off in style and usher in Jin Air’s eventual win.
Players, Teams and Scandals:
MC would come out of retirement to play for CJ Entus , ByuN would leave X-Team with some controversy , setting him on his path to making history. True eSport would let go Beastyqt  and TOP , ROOT Gaming expanded it’s roster significantly by adding Semper , puCK, ViBE , DemiLove , PandaBearMe, and Probe . Scarlett signed a deal with Dead Pixels , and PengWin‘s talents would be put to good use with his new team at PSISTORM Gaming .
The match-fixing scandal around Life came to a close with fallen Zerg prodigy being sentenced to a three year suspended jail sentence (probation) and a monetary fine of $61,549 USD (70,000,000 won). Life was also be banned for life from competition in Korea and from all Blizzard games moving forward .
The Good- The storylines from the three major tournaments: Dark’s title defense, ByuN vs sOs, TRUE’s all or nothing run to BlizzCon (also MC’s triumphant return!).
The Bad- More legends from earlier the WoL and HotS eras of Starcraft2 leave the scene
The Ugly- Life
Up Next: Part V – End of an Era (KeSPA Cup, ProLeague Playoffs, BlizzCon/WCS Global Playoffs)
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