Battle of the giants - who will take the first WCS points of 2017?
We take a closer look at the extremely stacked StarCraft II tournament of Intel Extreme Masters Gyeonggi. Who will come out on top?

Mid-December isn't just for holiday shenanigans and spending money. It's also for championship quality StarCraft play. Next week, when giants of StarCraft 2 (INnoVation, Maru, herO) hit IEM Gyeonggi, the premiere championship event of the new WCS season, they'll be competing with three 2016 WCS Global Finals players for a US $15,000 prize. The matches are sure to be heated and the fans riled up on December 14 as we kick off the first IEM SC2 championship to land in Korea.

There are a lot of firsts there. But no first-timers in the bracket. In fact, it brings us four IEM winners in herO, INnoVation, Classic and Zest, along with finalists like Maru and Solar. That means we can expect strategy and bloodshed, two of our favorite onstage pastimes. It all begins Wednesday with a double elimination, best of three format in the group stage, followed by a round of 8 single elimination bracket playoff, all featuring best of fives. The grand final will be a classic best of seven between two Starcraft 2 monsters. Given the lineup, we can guarantee it.

First up, let's take a look at Group A, which features a monster of 2016, Zest, taking on Leenock in the initial matchup on Wednesday.

Group A: Two ZvPs to Start the Tournament

  • Zest Overall: 60.38% win rate
  • Zest vs. Zerg: 55.84% win rate
  • Zest form vs. Zerg: 73.68% win rate (14/19)
  • Leenock Overall: 54.6% win rate
  • Leenock vs. Protoss: 53.16% win rate
  • Leenock form vs. Protoss: 44% win rate (11/25)*

*all numbers LotV

Though Leenock is plenty capable of taking matches off destructive Protoss players like Zest, his recent form against Protoss and the history between the two (12-7 Zest) indicates that Zest, who was one of the top ranked players of 2016, has the upshot. What transpires at a tournament is almost never predictable, but we know that Zest's aggressive style and hyper awareness of his opponent's weaknesses often gives him the upper hand. Could a strong fanbase and the $15,000 motivation assist Leenock an extra push to overcome the expected results?

And if so, could he beat the winner of Trust vs. soO?

  • Trust Overall: 48.24% win rate
  • Trust vs. Zerg: 36.51% win rate
  • Trust form vs. Zerg: 44% win rate (11/25)
  • soO Overall: 62.11% win rate
  • soO vs. Protoss: 67.57% win rate
  • soO form vs. Protoss: 69.7% win rate (23/33)*

Trust hasn't been as deeply involved in tournament lore as soO, the Zerg who's carved out a reputation through crushing into the finals only to take second to his foe - repeatedly. But that doesn't mean Trust cannot be a force in this competition. That said, neither his form nor his Legacy play is on par with soO. Trust's last three PvZ matches, against Suppy, Solar and ByuL, have ended poorly for the Protoss. Still, he's shown us the propensity to keep clever tricks up his sleeve in the past, and may surprise us again here.

soO, for his part, is on a Protoss pulverizing roll (aside from that one match against TAiLS). Consider the 2-1, 3-1 and 3-0 wins he scored at OlimoLeague October Finals against Super, Creator and herO, respectively. He struggled to qualify for IEM Gyeonggi, but made it in the third qualifier, showcasing his tenacity. If we were Trust, we'd be focused on beating soO first, before considering how Zest might be our next opponent.

Group B: herOs of StarCraft 2

The first matchup in the second double elimination standoff is between Stats - a Protoss who recently let the World Championship slip through his fingers in the semifinal against Terran ByuN - and one of the best Terran of all time.

  • Stats Overall: 64.27% win rate
  • Stats vs. Terran: 56.20% win rate
  • Stats form vs. Terran: 44.9% win rate (22/49)
  • INnoVation Overall: 66.35% win rate
  • INnoVation vs. Protoss: 52.94% win rate
  • INnoVation form vs. Protoss: 66.67% win rate (23/33)*

Group B gives us an interesting story to consider. Here we have Stats, who had a dominant year and comes into a tournament and group facing some of his top rivals. He first bumps up against one of the more absurd records of StarCraft 2, produced by a Terran who we're pretty sure has, at this point, inspired a healthy, not-so-hidden fear in players everywhere. But in INnoVation v Stats history, Stats prevails, 12-9.

Still, Stats doesn't have the form INno is likely using as fuel. And there's no denying the Intel Extreme Masters experience INnoVation, the Season X gamescom winner, carries with him. We can't predict the winner and there's no use asking the questions. This match is up in the air.

Then there's herO and Losira.

  • herO Overall: 64.37% win rate
  • herO vs. Zerg: 65.12% win rate
  • herO form vs. Zerg: 65.85% win rate (27/41)
  • Losira Overall: 57.97% win rate
  • Losira vs. Protoss: 63.16% win rate
  • Losira form vs. Protoss: 71.88% win rate (23/32)

Typically, herO doesn't struggle against Losira. Their history together is fully in herO's favor at a clean 6-0. Losira, though, is on top of his Protoss game, even beating Patience in his qualifying run. But it will be a hard fought battle against the former CJ Entus Protoss, who is just as much of a Zerg-killing maniac as he ever has been, and who is 28-8 (77.78%) in offline IEM matches since Singapore Season VIII. To carve out his spot at Gyeonggi, herO showed us an incredible run in the first qualifier - besting Dragon, Bunny, INnoVation and ByuL - so we know he's on fire.

Plus, coming into a match against a three-time IEM champion is no easy task for Losira. He'll have to be feisty and smart. Fortunately, we know he'll entertain.

What happens if Losira does take this first match? Does he make it past the other monsters in his group? Or does he slip up? And what about herO? We could lose either herO or INnoVation in this group. Whoa.

Group C: Variety Hour

In the only group with all three races, we're sure to get a shakeup. It begins with Dark and jjakji.

  • Dark Overall: 62.66% win rate
  • Dark vs. Terran: 58.23% win rate
  • Dark form vs. Terran: 47.06% win rate (8/17)
  • jjakji Overall: 51.48% win rate
  • jjakji vs. Zerg: 48% win rate
  • jjakji form vs. Zerg: 60% win rate (3/5)*

2016 was an excellent year for Dark, culminating in a shot at the BlizzCon trophy. He rolls into Group C against jjakji, whose form against Zerg is up right now, though there's only a handful of TvZ matches under his belt in the past few months. It's worth noting that jjakji's time in qualifiers for Gyeonggi was well spent. After losing to INnoVation in the first two qualifiers, he showed true relentlessness and strength in Qualifier 3 as he tore through huge names Creator, Patience, Scarlett and aLive to clinch his spot.

Dark, for his part, didn't need to qualify and comes to IEM after a couple of online matches that included a 2-1 win over INnoVation. He's not entirely down on his Terran luck, despite what his recent record could indicate. And while jjakji was a popular name in 2014 as he rode a high, his matches and wins have since tapered off.

Predicting what happens after this matchup is a shot in the dark. Every map and match won - right up until the very last - adds a whole new level of complexity. But we'd argue Dark has the slight advantage in this best of 3. Whoever wins has to take on the winner of Classic and ByuL to fight for his place in the quarterfinals.

  • ByuL Overall: 58.79% win rate
  • ByuL vs. Protoss: 58.49% win rate
  • ByuL form vs. Protoss: 52.63% win rate (10/19)
  • Classic Overall: 63.40% win rate
  • Classic vs. Zerg: 66.15% win rate
  • Classic form vs. Zerg: 88.89% win rate (8/9)*

Classic is has been busy doing this fun thing against Zerg: winning. A lot. Legacy has been kind to Classic, and he to it, as he's created an admirable match win rate of 65.17% in the game. To qualify for IEM Gyeonggi, Classic went 2-0 against Winter, Curious, GuMiho and Leenock in a row. That's three Zerg and a baller Terran, smashed by the Protoss power of Classic. We can bet he's well prepared to take on both ByuL and Dark, should that moment come.

ByuL is not quite as on form as his first opponent, though he, too, had an 8-0 run when he qualified (on his third attempt), taking out three Terran and a Protoss in State, MajOr, Sorry and Bunny. We know that ByuL is capable of beating top Protoss, but he's headed straight for his nemesis in Classic, the particular Protoss who's beaten him 11 maps to zero. (Only two of these were in Legacy, though.) For that reason, ByuL's trajectory might be determined by the quality of this first match.

Group D: A Winner's Mindset

As the final group of the Ro16 commences, we're sure fans watching everywhere will be going wild. Not only for the reigning World Champion of StarCraft 2, but for his competition: Maru and Solar, staples of the Korean scene. The group also includes the one foreign qualifier in iAsonu, the Chinese Zerg.

  • ByuN Overall: 78.33% win rate
  • ByuN vs. Zergs: 77.59% win rate
  • ByuN form vs. Zerg: 61.76% win rate (21/34)
  • iAsonu Overall: 59.57% win rate
  • iAsonu vs. Terran: 59.47% win rate
  • iAsonu form vs. Terran: 50% win rate (4/8)*

ByuN's record really speaks for itself, doesn't it? It is by far the highest overall win rate in LotV among the 16 players at Gyeonggi. His record vs. Zerg shows how merciless a player he can be. But his current form is quite low, when compared with his overall TvZ record. (And by "low" we mean almost 62%.) ByuN comes into this tournament knowing he could very well win the whole thing. That would make a killer follow up to his powerful win at BlizzCon.

He begins by taking on the one foreign player who qualified for this IEM stage: iAsonu. The Invictus Gaming Zerg was the biggest surprise qualifier, beating top players of each race in ByuL, Trap and Bunny. That's no small feat. But iAsonu has his work cut out for him as he enters Korea facing ByuN, where he's well within his right to feel like David taking on Goliath. Right now, he's 2-16 against this enemy. Wish the man luck.

And if he were to make it past ByuN, what would Maru or Solar have in store?

  • Maru Overall: 68.68% win rate
  • Maru vs. Zerg: 74.14% win rate
  • Maru form vs. Zerg: 85% win rate (17/20)
  • Solar Overall: 67.85% win rate
  • Solar vs. Terran: 61.13% win rate
  • Solar form vs. Terran: 66.67% win rate (12/13)*

Maru played all three races in order to get to this week's stage as he went 2-0 against Aksiz, Rogue and TY in Qualifier 3 before meeting Has, for a strange and entertaining last map set, which Maru took 2-1. He is on form against Zerg in every way a Terran can be at the moment, and ranked #5 in the world and in South Korea. On paper, Maru has no struggle. But in reality, he's up against Solar at an offline tournament, playing for $15000 USD. The nerves could be waiting right around the corner.

How Solar will fare is similarly uncertain. Though he is at top form vs. Terran and always a force you don't want to tangle with, a tournament win for him here isn't a sure thing by any means. Can the Zerg, a new member of team Splyce, really beat Maru? Of course. But Maru can beat him, too. When the winner of their match faces ByuN (a known Solar rival), there will be a whole new terror to confront. And if Solar does get through this group on top and into the round of 8, how will he perform if he comes up against someone like Stats? Or INnoVation?

Whatever happens in each of these four groups, there will be eight contenders for the prize on the other side of it. They'll need to be rested, fired up and fully determined in order to best one another, as this IEM championship to hit Korea brings together 15 of the nation's finest StarCraft 2 players for a heated competition beginning Wednesday.

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Article by: Karin Krisher