The eight invitees to this week’s StarCraft II tournament at Intel Extreme Masters Taipei are among the top players in the world. Though we’ve had glimpses, we’ve yet to see what their former successes will truly mean for their Legacy of the Void tournament play. On Monday, a long-missed Zerg hero takes on Captain America, last year’s BlizzCon champ battles the Boss Toss, and we excitedly (or angrily) consult our ESL Fantasy lineup to see how our own games play out. Let’s take a look at the players individually.
Kim "sOs" Yoo Jin
When sOs propelled himself to his second BlizzCon win and finished out Heart of the Swarm on top, he made it clear he’s still nothing to mess with. His most recent GSL Code A games against fellow Protoss Dear, though, saw him eliminated as he dropped three maps, just clocking one map win. Though we know sOs is the undisputed HotS king, and that, despite his loss to Dear, he’s well fit for mirror matches with his creative play style, he isn’t predictably the winner in any line up. On Monday he faces off with MC - an uncommon opponent for the Jin Air Green Wings Toss.
Jang "MC" Min Chul
The retired MC is one of the only players headed to IEM Taipei who we know for sure has LotV tournament chops. After winning not one, but two, archon mode championships with partner HuK, MC has continued to stream and has accepted his invite to Taipei to fend off the HotS Global Champion himself, sOs. MC is a top earner in esports, and with his ever-growing array of in-game tactics and his persistent attitude, he’s one StarCraft II player who is known for showing up, sometimes when we have least expected him to.
Though his record isn’t what sOs boasts, the amount of practice MC gets, and the way he analyzes his opponent’s play during a series, may give him an edge. Will the Boss Toss be the surprise star of IEM Taipei and bank another big hit with the lion’s share of the $25,000 prize pool?
Choi "Polt" Seong Hun
What will we see out of Captain America at Taipei? It’s anyone’s guess. He’s yet to play in an official LAN for Legacy of the Void, so results are tough to point to, but we know the Terran’s play had started to suffer toward the back half of 2015. Despite that, Polt definitely isn’t out of the running for the Taipei win. He’s been streaming like crazy, so we know his practice is on point, and he’s as tactically aware as ever. Coming up against Soulkey ought to be a challenge: Polt lost four of five maps on which they met in HotS, and the might of the Zerg, fresh off the back of a long break, is strong.
Kim "Soulkey" Min Chul
Whenever a champion from the past returns, we don’t know quite what to expect. Soulkey is no exception. His most recent LotV results don’t help us get a clear picture, either: an 0-2 loss to fellow Zerg Solar and a 2-0 win over Protoss Toss during SSL Season 1 show we’re not sure exactly where he stands after his hiatus, especially with Terran.
But we’re willing to bet Soulkey has had some time to think about his strategies - and he’s not known for being a slouch against Terran as a rule. His history with Polt, too, indicates there might be some success for the Zerg as he comes out of the shadows. If Soulkey proves he’s still got it here, it could be a good omen for the rest of his LotV play in 2016.
Kim "herO" Joon Ho
When it comes to Intel Extreme Masters StarCraft, herO lives up to his moniker. A three-time IEM tournament winner, he also finished in second at the 2014 World Championship. Thinking about how he’s historically performed at this event might encourage you to put him on your fantasy roster, and we can’t blame you. herO at IEM is a god; herO in 2015 was a god. But 2016 is here, and with it, Legacy of the Void. The CJ Entus Protoss has dropped two best of threes to fellow Protoss Patience and Hurricane in SSL this month, leading to questions about how he is handling the new units and meta.
Still, PvP was also his toughest matchup in HotS, and he’s facing Snute first - not a Toss, but a familiar IEM opponent. herO fell to Snute at IEM Season IX Toronto, but beat him at San Jose in the same season, where he also took home the trophy. Will herO prove he’s still number one at Intel Extreme Masters, or will his recent SSL results prove a pattern, rather than an anomaly?
Jens "Snute" Aasgaard
Snute is known as one of the best non-Korean players in the world, and his many wins against top Korean Protoss like Classic and Rain prove the hype is real. But the Liquid Zerg often struggles after reaching the quarterfinals. Will the fact that he’ll start IEM already in the top eight help him beat herO - again?
The most recent LotV results we can point to for Snute don’t reveal too much about how he might perform: He beat Terran Kelazhur but was knocked out by fellow Zerg TLO at DreamHack Open: Leipzig last week in an exciting final map that saw Snute winning plenty of battles in the late-game but ultimately losing the war.
But Snute also gave us a glimpse into how successful his LotV play can be during HomeStory Cup XII in December, where he nailed a semifinals spot before losing to FireCake in a best of five, and he’s the first tournament winner of LotV after taking it all at the GPL 2015 International Challenge in November. Snute is no bug to be stepped on, and despite going up against one of the most notorious IEM champions around in three-time winner herO, this Zerg has a solid shot of powering through to the semifinals.
David "Lilbow" Moschetto
After an absolutely unbelievable run in Seasons 2 and 3 of WCS in 2015, Lilbow was the only foreigner to hit BlizzCon, and he went into it with fan support that matched the momentum. But as he fell to Life 3-0, the foreign hope was extinguished. To the dismay of many fans, Lilbow let everyone know he was working on his LotV play. But 2016 is just getting started, and the Millenium Protoss from France still has a chance to show the practice was all worth it. He’s already started, taking 3rd at GPL - where Snute won.
He lost, though, to TLO at the DreamHack LotV Championship, and though he started out strong at DreamHack: Leipzig, beating Nerchio 3-1, Lilbow then fell to ShoWTimE, a fellow Protoss, by the same numbers.
Historically, Lilbow had a middle ground record against Terran in HotS - but times have changed. Even if LotV weren’t a new game, the fact that his first opponent ByuN’s worst matchup in HotS was TvP should give Lilbow some hope. Will he be able to overcome the newly-returned Terran and move toward at least a top 4 finish at IEM? In this case, whether “practice makes winner” or not remains to be seen.
"ByuN" Hyun Woo
ByuN has had a rough go of it. To quote ESPN blogger Stephen Chiu, ByuN’s “soul got broken by Ahn ‘Seed’ Sang Won four years ago” when the Terran choked, losing a deciding GSL match. Writes Chiu: “He then plummeted in skill, exiled himself from tournaments, then the Prime house, and finally society.” While ByuN has been relatively quiet since the loss, he hasn’t been entirely absent from the StarCraft II scene. He participated in Heart of the Swarm in Challenger League in 2013, as well as qualifiers for IEM San Paolo, but after that he really did disappear from professional StarCraft tournaments. In April 2015 he returned, winning OlimoLeague #28.
After announcing that he’d joined X-Team, the Terran qualified for SSL, his first premier tournament appearance in two plus years. On January 7th, he played the legend soO - and won 2-0. Is Legacy of the Void ByuN’s real time to shine? Will we see a comeback at this Intel Extreme Masters that the StarCraft II world will talk about for years to come?
Tune in here on Monday to find out how Intel Extreme Masters Taipei go down - and don’t forget to sign up for the ESL Fantasy challenge! Follow IEM on Facebook and Twitter for further updates during the event.