Sixteen stories, one goal: who will be the next StarCraft II World Champion?

From early qualifiers Maru and Life to last-minute hopefuls FanTaSy and Lilbow, the 16 players who will converge at the Global Finals this Sunday the 1st of November have taken phenomenally different routes to their shared destination. While some in the bracket have won tournaments, raking in thousands of points in one go, other players dutifully stacked placements in tournament upon tournament to scrape together a qualifying position. At the end of the line: US$100,000 - and the World Champion title.

The top caliber play we’re sure to see in California will ultimately provide answers to all the looming questions. Who will tap out early? Will the one qualifying European player shock us by ousting last year’s winner in his first match? And of course, most importantly: who will close out Heart of the Swarm as World Champion?

Tracing a champion’s path

There is little about the Global Finals that could be considered predictable. We have raw statistics to guide us, but given the infinitesimal disparities between the players’ true skill levels, any attempt to define ‘more likely’ is more than likely a futile one. 

That said, anecdotally StarCraft II fans have watched the top 16 fight for their current positions throughout 2015, privy to the rises and falls of each individual’s play. Life qualified early, but we also watched the reigning World Champion fall off (to the extent that Life can fall off) towards the second half of the year. INnoVation managed a solid upward trajectory, culminating in an incredible GSL Season 3 performance that made him one of the year’s champions. However, we know that other players are hyper-aware of where this Terran stands - and that means they will come prepared. There are dozens of factors at play.

What we know: every player has performed with intense determination - and every player wants the trophy for his own.

Standout performances in 2015

There are those players that appear to be among the favorites to win, based on recent performance or, in the case of CJ Entus herO, all-time tournament performance. The top-ranked Protoss took KeSPA Cup Season 1, SSL Season 3 and Intel Extreme Masters San Jose 2014, and was able to gain - oh, you know,  just a few - extra points with top four finishes in multiple seasons and tournaments. At 7,900 points, herO remained consistent in 2015, following on the heels of his remarkable 2014 success.

Based on hard stats and experience, we could also point to INnoVation, Maru or Zest and label any the future champion. INnoVation has consistently been among the best players: he has the best total, all-time Heart of the Swarm win rate of any player headed to the Global Finals at 66.3%. His GSL Season 3 performance (3-1 vs. Zest, 4-2 vs. ByuL, 4-1 vs. Maru) truly left nothing to be desired as he brought home the win.

INnoVation’s first opponent, Zest, has a decent record himself, with the best PvP all-time win rate in Heart of Swarm of any of the six other Protoss fighting at BlizzCon. If Zest can get past INnoVation (which we watched him do at the Intel Extreme Masters Season IX World Championship early in 2015 just before taking that title), a slight mirror-match advantage might be just the right one to have.

Maru, meanwhile, snagged second place at Intel Extreme Masters Taipei early and followed up with a victory over Dream in SSL Season 1 to put him at a 99.99% chance to rank in the top 16. He continued to dominate through mid-year with top eight finishes in SSL Season 2, GSL Code S Season 2, Intel Extreme Masters World Championship and KeSPA Cup Season 2, plus a top four finish in GSL Code S Season 3. Will his great success this year give him the momentum to take on anyone he might meet? Will his key marauder use save him from the Protoss in the tournament?

Here for the obvious reasons

In the midst of frontrunners and underdogs exists a group of Global Finals Starcraft II players who still have really, really, ridiculously good chances of taking it all the way.

These are the players who maybe didn’t cinch any big 2015 titles but did take second in three major tournaments, like ByuL. These are the players who took an early win in Season 1 but failed to carry their momentum forward, like Polt and Life. These are the players who weren’t here last year but were sorely missed - those who started 2015 with some difficulty but turned their chances around - like sOs.

Rain, Classic, Hydra, Dream, Rogue, PartinG - calling any of these players mid-tier is flat-out disrespectful, bordering on ludicrous.

PartinG, in fact, is ranked above INnoVation (so is Life), with his lowest chances of qualifying coming when it was still 2014. Placing top 16 or better in 13 separate tournaments and with four tournament wins throughout the year, the yoe Flash Wolves player has been on form throughout 2015 and is, as ever, ready to rumble.

Underdogs or just inconspicuous?

And then, there are the so-called underdogs. FanTaSy, though a brutal foe in any context, walked a bumpy road to the Global Finals: his qualifying process wasn’t nearly as smooth as that of his first opponent, herO. After a year that saw the Dead Pixels Terran earn no more than 400 points from any one tournament in any one season but gain points in no less than ten WCS partner tournaments, FanTaSy was left to battle HyuN in the WCS tiebreaker for the single point that would send him to California.

Nearly five years after his Bacchus OSL win in Brood War, FanTaSy has regained relevance and is ranked among the best players in the world in Starcraft II - a feat that should not go unmentioned. A formidable opponent who committed to a cause this year, FanTaSy, though an ‘underdog’, is anything but down and out.

Of course, there is one player who both had a standout performance and is, by many accounts, an underdog. He’s both a relative newcomer and a fan favorite. Perhaps for Lilbow - the only non-Korean at the Global Finals, the French Millenium Protoss who came out of left field - the show was not actually about BlizzCon. Perhaps it was all about how he got here.

After collecting 50 measly points for his placement in Challenger league in WCS Season 1, he surprised us all in Season 2, taking the second place finish to Hydra’s first. Season 3 saw his newfound momentum carry him all the way to the end, where he beat MaNa 4-2 to move ahead and make history. Will Lilbow’s success continue at the Global Finals? Will his positioning and aggression be enough to take a win off Life, and a follow-up win against the winner of Zest versus INnoVation?

No matter how Lilbow - or any other competitor - plays this coming week, one thing’s for sure: we’re going to see some of the best matchups of the year. Will the titans remain on top or will one of our middle-ranked players work his way to number one?

Tune in here for the first match on Sunday the 1st of November to find out how the year will wrap!


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