FXOLeenock vs NSHoseo_Jjakji
Calm before the storm
December has dawned, and the time has arrived for the explosive climax of one of the most memorable GSL seasons in recent memory, as FXO's prodigy Leenock faces off against the upstart Jjakji.
If anything has marked GSL November, it's been upsets and disappointments. There were exhilarating management death matches and risky cheese-offs between professionals. We even got to see a couple Protosses in the quarterfinals and one in the semifinals, on top of that. We all knew that Jjakji and Leenock were good before this season. We knew they were solid enough to make the likes of IMMvp, IMNesTea, MVPDRG, and SlayerS_MMA work for their money, but not many expected either of these two to make a real run at the whole thing.
Now, though, we know better. We know just how good Leenock’s ZvT is when you throw him in the cage with a lion like Mvp. We saw how easily Jjakji dismantled Puzzle in the Round of Eight when he had time to prepare for what had been his weakest match-up only one round prior.
All the pieces are in place. and we can only hope that these two promising young warriors conclude the 2011 Code S season with a bang and finally give us a GSL finals worthy of their roads to get here.
FXOLeenock enjoying his victory at MLG Providence.
Photo courtesy of Major League Gaming
And for the little prince of war, what a road it has been through November. His journey has been so much longer than this season alone.
It’s hard to believe that earlier this year, people had dubbed Leenock the “Nestea of Code A” for his incredible performances and unfortunate circumstances season after season, establishing him as a sort of highly skilled, highly entertaining Code A gatekeeper. We all knew he belonged in Code S, though. Everything about his play screamed it. And he finally broke through the Up-n-Down’s in GSL August. Then came MLG Providence, where the Zerg cherub of destruction powered through the Open Bracket and then the Championship Bracket, breezing by four MLG champions and two GSL champions along the way. Since then, all eyes have been on Leenock and, most notably, his ZvT. After all, he had just pushed his way past MMA and Mvp, the two best TvZers in the world, in the same tournament.
Leenock's ZvT had already become the stuff of legends through his dynamic burrowed baneling usage, which extends beyond simply covering common Terran attack paths with baneling pairs, involves baiting with mutalisks and his mobile army while he maneuveres around the map looking for backstab opportunities.
His ZvT was inspiring to watch back then, and now, it’s absolutely sensational.
His ZvT has only become more deadly as he's endured new waves of fearsome Terrans that were dominating the GSL, and now his new skills have been tested against the TvZers of the highest class. His win against Mvp was enough to prove that. Sure, there are other Zergs who also play ZvT well but there are none who play it as well as Leenock.
When Mvp went berserk on Leenock back-to-back in the first two games of the semi-finals, Leenock kept his cool and hung on to win the second game, then surged forward to win the series. He proved in the first two games that he could hang in a management game against one of the best TvZers in the world. But that’s the least of what one must worry about when they face the prince of war.
Leenock does not always play a nice, fair macro game. Just ask coLNaniwa or MMA. When it comes down to the cheese wrestling between progamers... when it comes down to defending the sneakiest builds and dishing them out in return... Leenock is the best of the best. He does not lose to cheese. Ever. Mvp’s elaborate proxy barracks factory rush failed against him. Mvp’s double reactor helion attack failed against his immaculate building positioning and clutch queen control. He has the fearlessness to throw everything on the line in the finals with a hatchery cancel roach rush, and this combined with his solid, reliable macro style makes him the feared competitor he is, and defines every aspect of his play.
Leenock has made a long, hard journey through this GSL. He faced EGHuK, SlayerS_MMA, TSL_Polt, TSL_aLive, and oGsEnsnare on his way to the finals, and he even took a vacation to win $50,000 in Providence while he was at it. Let’s be real. The world expects Leenock to win.
But, dismissing Jjakji before a match is even played, however, would be downright foolish.
Jjakji has been underestimated time and time again this season, and all that have been guilty of it have paid the price. He has silenced his doubters time after time. One more time, and he won’t ever have to again.
Understanding Jjakji’s strengths is not quite as clear as it is for Leenock. Leenock is playing his best matchup, ZvT, in the finals. He has played 12 ZvTs so far this tournament, and has shown that his ZvT is spectacular and on par with the best play from anyone in the world. We have this evidence to validate Leenock’s presence in the finals. So why is Jjakji there?
Sure, his TvZ is good; it’s great, actually. It’s his best match-up. But it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing flashy. The only noteworthy things about his TvZ are that he always opts for a fast third command center and likes to play a very tank-light, marine-heavy macro style against Zerg.
Most of us can remembere being blown away by how ruthless Jjakji’s TvZ was when he first put it on display. He spreads impeccably against banelings while using heavy medivacs to maintain his army’s momentum, and then just dances around the map constantly once he gains momentum. But there’s not really much more to say about it, besides how solid it is. He engages well and his macro is sturdy and reliable. He won’t miss depots and he will maintain steady production constantly.
But, to be honest, it’s hard to name an advantage that Jjakji might have that Mvp didn’t already have, too. Jjakji’s macro and micro are good, but so was Mvp’s. Mvp’s multitasking was insane, while Jjakji’s multitasking is often left wanting. It seems so cut and dry. Mvp is amazing at TvZ and Leenock beat Mvp, so what chance does Jjakji have?
Again, as mentioned, Jjakji’s strengths are not so easily noticed. If Leenock’s journey through this GSL season has been all about living up to the expectations set for him, then Jjakji’s journey would have to have been all about making the unexpected happen.
Although Jjakji’s list of victims this season is not quite as prolific as that of Leenock’s, it is important to note the talent and potential in them: FXOz, SlayerS_Puzzle, oGsSuperNoVa, ST_Virus, FXOGuMiho.
First, Jjakji showed us that he is capable of throwing everything on the line like he did against Supernova in the proxy marauder vs proxy marauder game on Bel’Shir Beach. Second, Jjakji’s TvP, his worst matchup, improved drastically from the beginning of the tournament to the quarterfinals. At this period of time, Jjakji had just suffered a long, brutal loss to Killer earlier in the tournament and was going up against Puzzle, whose PvT was similar to Killer’s while no less potent. Jjakji had one advantage in that Puzzle was going to attend Providence while Jjakji would have approximately an extra week to prepare for his opponent, who would have completely Protoss favored maps to play when he returned to Seoul. Jjakji took those small advantages and won 3-0 with two brilliantly prepared strategies and a four gate defense where he had the gamesense to pull every single scv to defend, surviving with only three when Puzzle left. Jjakji then beat Oz, considered by some to be the strongest PvTer of modern times, in a series that went down to the wire but was more of a build-order choose-off than a test of skill. Jjakji showed that with enough preparation, he could beat anyone, even in his weakest matchup.
Jjakji, though, has not played a single TvZ so far this GSL season, while Leenock has played a healthy 12 games... and Jjakji has shown what he can do with time for his homework.
One can't helpy but recall MMA vs Polt in the Super Tournament last summer. MMA won nothing but TvT’s all tournament, had won MLG, had crushed in the Team League. Everywhere MMA had been seen, he had been dominating. But Polt studied those games and slapped down MMA with brutal force in one of GSL’s many infamous one-sided finals. Never underestimate what Koreans can do to each other with enough time to prepare. All the information is out there for Jjakji if he chooses to study it, and you can be sure that he will take the time. It's hard to say if this is substantial enough reason to believe that Jjakji will defeat Leenock in TvZ combat, but one thing is for sure: You can’t count out Jjakji.
Overall, it's hard to believe that the projected 91% expected victory Leenock on the GomTV poll accurately reflects how evenly matched these two really are. The maps are fairly even as well. Since Jjakji is such a macro oriented Terran, maps like Tal’Darim Altar, Daybreak, and Calm Before the Storm will not hinder him. In fact, we can expect Calm Before the Storm to benefit his fast three base Terran style the way it did for Polt against Leenock. This gives us good reason to expect an aggressive opening from Leenock on Tal’Darim Altar. While certainly not cheese, the awkward third base situation for the Zerg and the open natural caters toward Zerg early aggression in order to take their thirds.
It would be incredibly interesting if this series boils down to the final game because Antiga Shipyard is the only blatantly Terran favored map in the pool, but Leenock somehow crushes it into submission like any other. Leenock’s first loss on Antiga in the GSL was to Mvp, and Mvp’s play in that game was tremendous.
We know Leenock is a map defying Zerg, so if it comes down to the seventh game on Antiga, you can still count on him to put on a show.
And what a show it will be.
TvZ has shown that it lends itself to the finest games ever played in Starcraft 2, so far. If there’s going to be a good Code S finals, it has to be this one. There’s always the question of nerves with two new players who have never played on such a stage, but there's no reason to worry about these two. There’s this sort of feeling of reliability that comes from both Jjakji and Leenock... it's hard to say if it’s their consistency in general, or their scrappiness in messy situations, or something else... but there’s something about them and their playing histories that seems to reassure that neither of them will go down without a fight.
Leenock will not choke. Leenock’s trickery is too much for any Terran right now. Jjakji can prepare all he likes with the best Zergs in the world for 25 hours a day, and it still won't be enough to overcome where Leenock is right now in terms of momentum and being "ahead of the curve" in the metagame. Mvp knows that now, and Jjakji is soon to find out.
Expect Jjakji to show the fruits of his training by making the finals a fight worth watching, but barring a miracle, it's hard to see him being well practiced enough for all the unique little tricks Leenock has in his bag. Even if he’s watched Leenock play 12 ZvT games this season, seeing is something entirely different from actually matching up against the little Zerg monster.
Leenock has really come out of his shell in the last month, and there's no reason to expect that mometum to come to an end anytime soon... but there's plenty of reason to expect to see a sixteen year old champion smooching the trophy when all is said and done.
Predictions written by James "Tejin" Haytko