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 V – End of an Era
► Part VI – Beyond WCS (BaseTrade.tv, Wardi, Gauntlet, and the SC2 Community)
► Part VII – Epilogue
The final months of 2016 were the best of times, and the worst of times. StarCraft2 history would be made again and again and again, but the scene would lose a lot of their history with high profile retirements, the loss of a StarCraft and eSports institution, and the resulting aftermath. Still, some of the best and most exciting games of the year were played between the KeSPA Cup and the WCS Finals at BlizzCon, a fantastic silver-lining to close out the SC2 competitive year.
The end of September would see some great tournaments in Korea, and this little gem kicked things off in style. Once again the finalists from the SSL and GSL would square off for up to ₩20,000,000/$17,160 USD, 1000 WCS Korea Points, and of course bragging rights. GSL Champion ByuN would take on repeat SSL Champion Dark, while runners-up Solar and sOs fought for another chance at a championship title after coming so close. Who ended up in the Finals, and with the title of WCS Korea Cross Finals Champion? You can find out right here in this battle between Korean titans. Also catch their Archon-Mode exhibition set here!
A Global Event if there ever was one, the 2016 Korean eSports Player Association Cup invited the top four players from ProLeague (herO, Maru, Stats, and Zest), eight players from the Global Qualifier (ByuN, Classic, Patience, Pet, Rogue, Solar, Trap, and TY), two players from the European Qualifier (MarineLorD and Nerchio) and two players from the North American Qualifier (Neeb and TRUE). A round-robin group stage would determine the eight Quarterfinals participants, with the top two players from each group moving on. Highlights from the group stage include Zest vs Neeb, TY v TRUE, Nerchio vs Maru, and Stats vs Solar.
At this point things had gone basically as expected, with all non-Korean talent eliminated with the exception of the upstart Neeb. And this is where expectations were turned on their head, the stars aligned, and history was made. Patience vs Trap and Stats vs Maru were good matches, but all eyes should be focused on Neeb for the remainder of this tournament. Neeb vs Pet was a scrappy PvZ and a nail-biting series for the American Protoss Prodigy. If there was any doubt about Neeb’s potential once he made it to the Semi-Finals, the series between him and Stats would put the doubters in their place.
The KeSPA Cup Finals would be between Trap and Neeb, if Neeb won he would be the first non-Korean player to win a KeSPA event ever. If you only watch one series of StarCraft2 from 2016, it should probably be this one.
One for the ages, and the last of it’s kind, the final chapter in the long running Korean Proleague saga would come to a fantastic close with the Playoffs running August through September. Jin Air Green Wings took home the most points through the season, and would therefore await their opponents in the final round. SK Telecom T1 and the Afreeca Freecs would battle it out to see who advanced to take on seasonal-second-place KT Rolster.
The opening round’s matched can be found here, the second round here. The highlight of the opening round probably being Super vs InnoVation. An all time ProLeague classic developed in the second round of the Playoffs, between historic rivals SK Telecom and KT Rolster. The first round of matches begin here, continuing the next day here. The must-see games being played between these old juggernaut teams: Stats vs InnoVation, Stats vs Dark, and TY vs Dark.
The two best teams in ProLeague were in the Finals, the stage was set for an epic fight between KT Rolster and the Jin Air Green Wings. A bittersweet conclusion to one of the longest running StarCraft and eSport competitions ever, do yourself a favour and take in the ending of an era for yourself here.
It took all year, but finally it was time for the biggest competition in StarCraft2 and the crowning of the World Championship Series for 2016. Eight of the best players from WCS Korea and eight of the best from WCS Circuit would come together to determine who would be taking home the WCS Global Finals Championship trophy and the $200,000 USD Grand Prize.
Now, unfortunately, things beyond the realm of StarCraft2 would change up the anticipated roster for the Playoffs. Hydra forfeit his spot due to personal conflicts, turns out his wedding was understandably more important to him. This allowed both viOLet and Elazer, tied in WCS Points for the last available WCS Circuit spot, to participate in the Playoffs . Perhaps most shockingly, Polt‘s StarCraft2 Career came to an abrupt end with his mandatory enrollment in the Korean Military , cutting Captain America short of one final tournament as one of the world’s best StarCraft2 Champions.
A round robin group-stage would determine the eight players who would compete onstage at BlizzCon. Highlights from Groups A, B, C and D would include Patience vs Neeblet, ByuN vs ShoWTimE, and the unique Elazer vs TY. But seriously, these are the best players in the world, you should watch all the matches!
Eight players emerged from the Global Playoffs to advance to the Global Finals at BlizzCon. ShoWTimE would take on Elazer, Neeblet would test his title of Korean Killer against Dark, the world’s best Terran would be decided between TY and ByuN, and likewise Protoss gods Zest and Stats would clash in the opening round. (Oh my god TY vs ByuN!)
The Semifinals saw the high water mark for non-Korean players, Elazer meeting Dark in the most important ZvZ of their careers. The pinnacle of their races, ByuN and Stats battled it out for a spot in the biggest Best-of-Seven in StarCraft.
And then it all came down to this: The WCS Global Finals deciding series. It wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see these two players making it to the big show, probably one of the safer bets going into the tournament was a ByuN vs Dark series in the Finals. Dark, Korea’s best Zerg and SSL powerhouse, against ByuN, the miracle working Terran underdog still smoldering hot after his history making GSL Championship win. If Dark was the year’s most consistently good player, ByuN was the hottest player going into BlizzCon.
Now I know I’ve said this before, and maybe it rings a little hollow now, but I’ll say it again and probably mean it the most here: If you have to watch just one series of StarCraft2 this year, it needs to be the World Championship Finals between ByuN and Dark. The skill, the emotion, the storylines, this series has it all.
Players, Teams and Scandals:
DeMusliM and FireCake would be released by EURONICS Gaming , although FireCake would later sign with Team Revolution , content creator/streamer desRow would officially retire , a revival of the defunct Team Acer now called Team expert would sign Bly  and poach Scarlett away from Dead Pixels , while mYinsanity would purge it’s ranks in August .
uThermal was picked up by Team Liquid in September , Cham was signed to ROOT Gaming , along with content creators Neuro  and Wardi . Team Gravity would disband  along with Nuovo Gaming .
And then there was October…
On the plus side, ByuN finally found a new team signing with Team expert , HerO would sign with Team Revolution , and mYinsanity would essentially trade Serral (who signed with Ence eSports ) for Beastyqt .
And then there was horrible, if somewhat expected and inevitable news out of Korea. With the shuttering of ProLeague, KeSPA Teams CJ Entus , KT Rolster , Samsung Galaxy , and SK Telecom T1  would disband, leaving over thirty Korean players teamless. Sorry , MyuNgSiK , Impact and Zoun  would retire immediately following their team’s terminations.
Despite BlizzCon and the WCS Finals, November was still to prove a trying time for both Starcraft2 professionals and fans alike. The KeSPA/ProLeague shuttering continued with the Afreeca Freecs closing up shop and leaving another ten players teamless , and another all-time great, Bomber, retiring upon the announcement going public .
But speaking of all-time greats and retirements, there are two more kicks to the nostalgia that November had to deliver. MC would retire again and for the final time , despite a successful return to StarCraft2 in 2016. And the much anticipated, but certainly not welcomed, retirement of The Tyrant, the master of JvZ, the man, the myth, and the legend, Jaedong would become official .
The Good- WCS Finals at BlizzCon! So many great games and stories to round out a year of outstanding competition in the World Championship Series.
The Bad- Legends of the game retiring, KeSPA teams disbanding, ProLeague’s final curtain call.
The Ugly- The list of teamless Korean players heading into December.
Up Next: Part VI – Beyond WCS (BaseTrade.tv, Wardi, Gauntlet, and the SC2 Community)
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