by mizenhauer - Mizenhauer
2017 was a lot of things. It was four first place finishes for INnoVation, three more disappointments for soO, two championships under Stats’ belt, and one huge payday for Rogue.
There were plenty of chances for the biggest stars to shine in the sky, but some of them fell back down to earth. Zest and ByuN experienced the worst of weighty expectations in 2017, while even lesser luminaries like Dear and Solar furthered their reputations for inconsistency. A year to remember, albeit for reasons they’d prefer to forget.
We look back on 2017 for aLive’s otherworldly antics at IEM Katowice, sOs’ attempt to hack the machine, and GuMiho finally getting that career defining win. These names serve as lighthouses at the water’s edge, constant and vigilant against the lapping of the years. Silt and sand are carried away, yet those shining beacons only grow taller and brighter—brick by brick, Starleague by Starleague.
What’s more amazing than all these astonishing victories and befuddling failures is the fact that even on the ever-narrowing strip of shore we call StarCraft II, the tide still drags away the accomplishments of so many players. In three seasons of GSL, only 43 players managed to make it to Code S. Three champions and four finalists told a story of INnoVation ascending the throne and soO bearing an ever growing burden. On the other end of the spectrum were players like Curious and Scarlett. The two of them qualified for every single GSL on the year, but barely eked out a combined record of 2-6. Their participation isn’t even an afterthought (for good reason, right?).
But for all the Curiouses and the Scarletts, the KeeNs and the Armanis—those who are easier to forget than to remember—there still exist puzzling cases that are harder to place. Do you remember, for instance, that in February of 2017, Classic
headed into one of the most difficult groups in GSL history as the second best Protoss in the world?
Nine months ago, this was as good as you could hope for in PvZ.
It was a run over half a year in the making. Rewind to 2016, where Legacy of the Void had limited Protoss to a handful of openers in all three match-ups. For Classic—a player whose ability to innovate and optimize various strategies was paramount to his success—that was a change that hit particularly hard. Despite a disappointing start to 2016 and LotV, Classic showed shades of his Heart of the Swarm self in Season 2 of SSL, where he finally began to acclimatize to the expansion. He took defending champion Dark to a full seven games before falling at the end of a lengthy, desperate defense on Frost.
2017 arrived with yet more upheaval in the form of a major design patch, but this time Classic maintained his form. As one of the better players in the world headed into the first GSL of the year, Classic didn’t look a step out of place when he was thrust into the Ro16 group of death. INnoVation, Dark, soO, and Classic: a murderer’s row of championship contenders with more Korean titles and finals appearances than the other three groups combined.
After a 2-0 victory against Dark and a 1-2 loss to INnoVation, Classic faced soO—the best PvZ player in the world at the time—in the final match. Classic took the first map, but his old friend and teammate tied the series back up. soO clinched the deciding game three, continuing his march to his fifth GSL finals while banishing Classic back to the periphery of everyone’s attention.
Four months later, Classic was tearing through 2017's second GSL. His victims en route to the semifinals included Stats(TWICE!), TY and aLive. He was making mincemeat of the competition and looked poised to return to his championship form. Once again, soO stood between him and the spotlight, but this time in the semi-finals.
It was a complete demolition. Classic may have spent more time watching VODs on the subway ride to the AfreecaTV studio than it took for him to get swept by soO. It was a tragedy for Classic, but soO’s sixth GSL final obliterated all consideration for Classic’s disappointing performance. soO’s potential pain was a far more delectable dish, which we descended upon in a heartbeat.
Classic’s 2017 SSL run ended in a similar anti-climax. He finished second in Challenger in Season 1, before fighting his way through a difficult Fast Lane in order to secure a spot in Premier for Season 2. He was every bit the world-class Protoss player in Premier—he came in second place during the regular season, and even ran rings around the supposed GOAT INnoVation in a statement match.
Classic crushes a full-power INnoVation in the SSL.
Then, in the playoffs, for the second time that year on the penultimate stage, he lost to a superior Zerg opponent in Dark. Classic had again failed to reach the finals of a premier tournament in Legacy of the Void, while Stats and Dark were set to face off in one of the most anticipated finals in recent history. And just like that—poof!
—the hype dissipated and Classic was promptly forgotten.
It’s all a bit absurd. It’s hard to say Classic's problem was that he didn’t win enough. Far worse players than Classic commanded the spotlight in 2017, simply for flaming out. Classic is one of the more decorated players in StarCraft 2 history. While he has struggled in Legacy of the Void, he has managed to reach the top four of the GSL/SSL in three of nine seasons. Sure, he wasn’t the favorite to win every tournament he entered. But which Protoss save for herO, Stats and sOs was more consistent throughout the year? Classic was flying just low enough to slip below the radar. He managed to collect the 11th most WCS points without anyone really noticing, and just one more series win might have earned him a spot at BlizzCon.
A big part of this collective amnesia lies in how the community digests the storylines the leagues, casters, and writers push. Classic’s story was, for whatever reason, not appealing enough. 2015 Classic had a hat of builds with three rabbits and twice as many cannon rushes. 2017 Classic was a less lustrous version. The whole “adaptable and deadly” narrative didn’t have the same legs now that Protoss was defined by powerful, brute-force strategies that rendered cleverness irrelevant.
Classic’s year was proof that the least noticeable person is often the one right in the middle of the pack. His play wasn’t spectacular enough to get Twitch clips to the top of /r/StarCraft or have appreciation threads made in his name. His results were good but not great, and ultimately he had no one to blame but himself for stumbling within shouting distance of BlizzCon. While ex-teammates soO, Dark and INnoVation were battling for an audience of tens of thousands of viewers worldwide, Classic went on a vacation no one knew about in Japan.
2017 is over and Rogue is the world champion. INnoVation could be the greatest ever, and soO is now 1-9 in finals. Stats is still the most consistent player of the last two years and Dark is still trying to recapture his place as best player in the world. Amidst all that, there's just no room for a pretty-decent former champion.
No, Classic’s 2017 wasn’t worth remembering. But it wasn’t worth forgetting either.