Written by Mizenhauer
Photos by hexhaven
WCS has, for the most part, given us champions we are proud to call the best in the world. sOs
is the only person to claim the game’s highest honor twice. He will always be remembered for his strategic brilliance and clutch performances. Despite occasional struggles with inconsistency, he’s held a spot at the top of the scene ever since making the switch to StarCraft II. People have been doubting sOs’ skill and criticizing his play ever since he won his second BlizzCon way back in HotS. However, all he’s done since then is quietly reach a pair of GSL finals. Some might contend that LotV derailed sOs’ career, but in reality, he’s going as strong as ever.Life
may be StarCraft II’s truest villain, but he may have had the most pure talent of anyone to ever play the game. His starsense—the ability to exploit his opponent’s vulnerabilities by finding the tiniest crack in their defenses, as well as forcing the game to be played at his pace—will forever go unrivaled. Along with Mvp’s unfailing resilience, Maru’s micro, and soO’s mechanics, it will go down as one of the most legendary traits in StarCraft II history. His ability to unlock his talents at will made him one of the most dangerous competitors ever to play the game. Had he not ended his career by matchfixing, it’s likely he’d be the one surrounded by the “greatest of all time” discussion instead of INnoVation.
Then there’s PartinG
, who never fully delivered on his potential, but was undoubtedly an otherworldly talent. Crowned as the first WCS champion in 2012, he managed to make a GSL final in 2015 and could have won it not for a lucky roll of the dice by his opponent on the final map. The fact that people still theorize about what PartinG might have achieved if he had applied his gifts differently speaks to how tremendous a player he was. He accomplished so much and yet we expected more. PartinG failed to become the legend he seemed destined to be when he won BWC 2012, but his personality and spirit made him unforgettable in his own way. ByuN
returned from self imposed exile to deny Dark what should have been the crown jewel of his 2016 campaign. ByuN inscribed his name on the Gosu trophy, riding a wave of public adulation unlike any previous champion. He was the everyman—tweeting pictures of his puppy and memeing on Korean forums—who microed reapers all the way to the greatest glory in StarCraft II. He became the first Terran to emerge victorious at BlizzCon, a feat INnoVation, TaeJa and other luminaries had failed to achieve.
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Our newest champion Rogue
has earned his place alongside sOs, Life, Parting and ByuN. But, while we have a clear picture of where those players lie in the hierarchy of champions, we’re only just getting a sense of what Rogue’s place might be.
Could Rogue become an all-time-great like sOs or Life? It seems unlikely. He may have won three tournaments in the latter half of 2017, but no one has been able to maintain that level of excellence for very long. It would truly be a one of a kind achievement if he could continue his winning ways in a Korean scene that, while considerably lacking in depth, is still brutally competitive at the top. Reason says he can’t battle through INnoVation, soO, herO and Dark every tournament until the end of time with any regularity, but then again, he’s gotten to this point by proving us wrong at every turn.
What about PartinG, an immensely skilled player who didn’t fully live up to expectations? Rogue won’t become PartinG’s understudy simply because his career arc is completely different. PartinG was a world champion early in his career, and the narrative basically wrote itself when he failed to reach that level of play again. Rogue didn’t win anything until the summer of 2017 despite making the swap to StarCraft II in 2013 with the other KeSPA players. We never saw him as having enough potential to even squander.
That leaves us with ByuN. The man who rode 3 rax reaper, the 2/1/1 and tankivacs (but mostly 3 rax reaper) all the way to Anaheim before flying home $200,000 richer. It wouldn’t be unfair to say he hasn’t done anything since then. ByuN’s difficulties with multitasking were hidden by the fact that he was constantly the aggressor. As time went on and his signature builds became more and more common, Zergs started to figure them out. The 2/1/1 went from unstoppable to solved in a scant few months. The 3 rax reaper went the way of the dodo. ByuN was suddenly looking at a very different reality from the one in which the same builds he used to bully lower tier players in online cups also worked against Code S champions. Heading in 2018, ByuN can no longer be regarded in the same vein as INnoVation or TY, players he surpassed two years ago. He has fallen back into the rest of the pack. After evading KeSPA for years, ByuN was forced to start over. He began as a mere challenger, became a champion, but seems poised to end up where he started all over again.
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Looking back on Rogue’s 2017 in hindsight, the narrative seems so obvious. Rogue improved his skills and shot up the ladder, while still struggling to turn that into tournament success. His macro was better than ever. His decision-making experienced a similar uptick. Still excellent in the late game, he had improved nearly every aspect of his game. It was only a matter of time until he converted his abilities into real results. Rogue's surge to BlizzCon was like a roaring river released from behind a broken damn. He became a living legend of sorts—a man who had been reincarnated to show us the way. He became the best player in the world. Of course
that’s how it happened.
Why did Rogue fall short in the past? It’s a well-known fact that he struggled to match more mechanically gifted players in macro games, particularly in the ling/bane/muta tug of wars against bio. Rogue was less than stellar when playing straight-up games against Protoss as well. He relied too heavily on gimmicks like double proxy hatch
he pulled out against Classic. There were games where he caught a player of herO’s caliber unaware with swarm hosts
but it was more familiar to see him get run over after a cheese fell flat, as in his series-losing game against sOs at BlizzCon. One can’t overlook that Rogue was the opposite of clutch during what was once considered his peak. He pulled ahead 2-1 vs herO in GSL Season 1 only to lose and was swept by Curious in Season 2. Rogue was not just deficient from an in-game perspective, he didn’t have the mentality of a champion.
What was different for Rogue in 2017? A new expansion and design patch that fit his skills better? Sure. No other KeSPA teams to compete with Jin Air? That probably helped. Hydralisks? Yeah, that.
Rogue’s rise to power coincided with the balance patch in March of 2017 which increased hydralisk health from 80 to 90 HP. Hydralisk based compositions became an epidemic in ZvP and ZvT. Suddenly Zergs had an answer for bio and mech, as well as ground and air-based Protoss compositions. The 3.11.0 patch made the hydralisk undeniably powerful, and patched over the most glaring holes in Rogue’s game.
It’s hard to pin down where Rogue’s previous difficulties with macro stemmed from, but it’s clear they were exacerbated by the old larva inject mechanic. Back in HotS, when an inject produced four larva, an elite macro Zerg like soO could produce far more units than his contemporaries due to his superior ability to hit injects in a timely fashion. soO played with the benefit of a larger-than-usual army at every point in time, whereas Rogue struggled to keep up with his opponent’s production in prolonged engagements. LotV reduced the yield on each inject to three, thereby diminishing their importance. The altered dynamics of ZvT gave macro-challenged Zergs some additional help, allowing them to transition to ultralisk-based late game armies which demanded less larva than hordes of zerglings, banelings and mutalisks.
You still had to get to the late game, though, which was something Rogue had had never shown any aptitude for in 2016. The new and improved hydralisk was the missing link that aided the transition to hive tech while solving all of Rogue’s problems. Instead of investing into ling/bane, which only amounted to a delaying tactic, hydralisks provided a backbone to Zerg’s armies that gave them better economic footing heading into the late game. Rogue’s greatest strength had always been creating unit compositions perfectly tailored to any situation, as opposed to reaching a critical mass of units to overwhelm a thinly spread opponent. To such a player, the hydralisk buff opened the floodgates.
Rogue didn’t need to resort to gimmicks against Protoss anymore. He always had a very good sense for identifying routes to victory, like the underhanded basetrade that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat
against Shine in Proleague. Back in HotS he didn’t have the macro-muscle to control the pace of a standard game. He often relied on prepared cheeses and unusual strategies to disrupt opponents who might have otherwise overpowered him. Hydralisks gave him the ability to go toe to toe with the blink stalkers and bio/mine he had once struggled to keep up with. Even his creative builds—such as the lurker nydus contain he employed in GSL and at BlizzCon—were enhanced. Cheese was no longer a predictable crutch; instead, it became a dangerous curveball from a player with a solid foundation.
Rogue even got some help from Protoss players. Skytoss made ZvP hell for almost every other Zerg, but for Rogue, it created the late-game scenarios he had excelled in since 2015. Back then, despite his difficulties elsewhere, Rogue was one of the best vs mech Zergs in the world. Zergs of that era were forced to accrue large banks in preparation for the inevitable tech switch while defending harassments. In 2017, zealots replaced hellions while carriers stood in for battlecruisers, but the dynamics were the same. And this time around, Rogue had a better weapon in the mid-game than the roaches he was forced to resort to in 2015. He could win late with superior army control or simply deal critical damage before the situation got out of control with hydralisks.
Balance may have played a part in Rogue's triumphs, but the fact remained that he succeeded where other Zergs could not. Rogue must be given credit for the improvements he made outside the game. Once a choke artist, the 2017 incarnation of Rogue basically had bulls*** wins flying out of his butt. We can only guess as to what brought about this change in mentality, but it’s more impressive than the improvements Rogue made to his gameplay. Anyone can luck out and have a patch work out perfectly in their favor, but few players have ever strengthened their raw, mental toughness.
It falls to us, the fans of StarCraft, to decide how we should interpret these mitigating circumstances. In winning BlizzCon, Rogue presented a powerful case that he is a worthy, historic World Champion. Besides a single slip up against Neeb
, he looked every bit the best player at the tournament. His performance was nearly flawless. There was no doubt that he deserved to lift that trophy at that particular moment.
Winning BlizzCon is the highest of highs and it’s reasonable to expect a dip in performance after such an enormous triumph. Rogue’s level of play has fallen off considerably since beating soO in Anaheim, something that did not happen after he won IEM Shanghai and the second Super Tournament. Terran remains much the same after the major balance patch, giving Rogue little to worry about on that front. Protoss, meanwhile, received a major overhaul and Rogue’s win percentage in that matchup has dipped.
For Rogue to be considered on the level of PartinG, sOs and Life he will have to demonstrate excellence over a prolonged period of time. To do so, Rogue must prove that he possesses the same flexibility, resilience and ingenuity of his predecessors. It's the only way to adapt to changing metas, maps, and head balance designers.
Rogue has yet show us where he belongs. He has only won in an era in which Zerg’s dominant playstyle benefited him enormously. It’s telling that for all of Rogue’s improvement in 2017, he wavered slightly when it came to ZvZ. Back in 2016, during the final season of Proleague, Rogue was a perfect 7-0 in Zerg mirrors. He regressed in 2017, going 8-4 in offline matches over the course of the year. Rogue even found a way to lose to soO in the GSL quarterfinals, his first true test of the year, despite having dominated him for most of his career.
Rogue’s 2017 summer mirrored that of Dear
, almost a half decade prior. Dear, too, was the undisputed best player in the world for a moment in time. The manner in which he breezed through a pair of prestigious tournaments left us believing he was head and shoulders above the competition. Years later we look at Dear as a tragic, cautionary tale about the capricious nature of success. He was never able to recreate the magic of 2013 long enough to take down another tournament. Imagine if Dear had gone on to win BlizzCon in 2013. What would we think of his career now? One glorious run, powered by the right patch, right meta-game, right maps and a momentary brilliance. Rogue is in danger of suffering that fate.
It’s almost certain that Rogue won’t match sOs, a player who had over five plus years to build his legendary career. There’s no way Rogue will have that much time to craft his own legacy, unless fortune goes out of its way to favor both him and StarCraft II. Faced with grim reality, it seems far more likely that he will go follow ByuN’s path as opposed to ascending to a spot in the StarCraft II pantheon.
And if he’s Byun, then that’s fine. Byun inspired countless fans around the world, earned their love, and took them on an incredible journey to the top of the world. That’s more than anyone could reasonably ask for from a StarCraft II progamer. But make no mistake: Byun is no sOs. He was a shooting star streaking across the night sky—astonishing and brilliant, but no less ephemeral. We thought we knew who he was, but we only found out months later when his favored weapons were neutered. That may be Rogue’s fate as well. As long as the hydralisk reigns, we will never know who Rogue really is. We’ll never quite know what we’re supposed to call him.
The second ever Zerg World Champion?
The best player in the world?
A shrewd opportunist?
one option that fits better than the rest.