With the Proleague 2016 upon us, Legacy of the Void being out, and the hype being real, it's time to dig into this staple of StarCraft II. Right now it looks like we will probably have seven teams playing this year: KT Rolster, Jin Air Green Wings, MVP Chicken Maru, CJ Entus, SK Telecom T1, Samsung Galaxy, and the team formerly known as SBENU. While Legacy of the Void has shuffled around who the top performers are, one team always performs: SK Telecom T1.
Toward the end of 2014, SK Telecom had the most star-studded lineup in SCII since the days when Incredible Miracle was on top of the world. The team seemed certain to dominate 2015... until four of those top name players left. Champions Jung "Rain" Yoon Jong, Won "PartinG" Lee Sak, Kim "Soulkey" Min Chul and Jung "FanTaSy" Myung Hoon all departed somewhat suddenly, leaving what looked like a husk of what SKT had been before.
SKT Head Coach Choi "iloveoov" Yun Sung recently told Daily Esports that relying on just one or two ace players isn't healthy for a team, and working as a unit to solve problems can yield better results overall. It's difficult to doubt him; SKT still ended up winning Rounds 1, 3, 4 and the overall Grand Finals without those four superstars. On top of that, SKT won just as many Korean league championships, with only one fewer second-place finish.
Now, this is all fine and good, but in 2016 we have a completely different version of SCII. I still think SKT are the favorites going into this year's Proleague. I was hemming and hawing before, but the past few weeks have really shown what this championship team has to offer.
Let's go over the key players to watch:
Kim "MyuNgSik" Myung-Sik
This guy was the best pickup possible. With the very inexperienced ex-Prime player Park "Zoun" Han Sol being Kim "Classic" Doh Woo's only Protoss backup, I don't think anyone looked at SK Telecom's lineup and thought it was complete. What a burden that would be for the Wintoss to carry his team all year. MyuNgSiK has been an innovator for Protoss for years now, pioneering Skytoss-style strategies, turtle-y High Templar / Colossus PvT pushes, and even abusive mass Sentry all-ins.
MyuNgSiK has always played to the beat of his own drum, but didn't have great results to back it up. Around the middle of last year, he started to really come up, with more and more solid performances in the Korean leagues. More recently, MyuNgSiK surprised us all by crushing through the GSL PreSeason Week 2 against players including Joo "Zest" Sung Wook, Baek "Dear" Dong Jun and current top of the world Terran TY. I would imagine that by the end of the year, we will easily consider MyuNgSiK to be one of the very best Protoss players in the world.
Kim "Classic" Doh Woo
As mentioned above, the Wintoss might have been the only Protoss hope for SK if MyuNgSiK hadn't been picked up. The thing is, that might have been OK. Classic is easily the most underappreciated player in StarCraft II (alongside Jung "Bbyong" Woo Yong, of course). This guy has won GSL, SSL, a Korean-stacked IEM in China, and got two BlizzCon top-fours in a row. For some reason, players such as Rain, Joo "Zest" Sung Wook, Kim "herO" Joon Ho and PartinG keep on getting more love and attention.
Hopefully that will change this year for Classic, who has already shown dynamite play in SSL, making it into the round-of-8 and who is favored to take down Jung "jjakji" Ji Hoon in his Code A match next week.
Park "Dark" Ryung Woo
There was a little spot of time last year when Dark was the best Zerg in the world. His unbelievable macro-based play was outshining even Eo "soO" Yoon Su and Lee "Life" Seung Hyun for quite some time. Sadly, after his spike in performance, he didn't really follow through with the outstanding results that his skill showed were within his grasp. That being said, he is set to do so this year.
In the past he showcased his ability to easily macro up to four-plus bases and defend every avenue of attack in ZvT, even sometimes foregoing Mutalisks. This is exactly the type of style that a Zerg needs to be comfortable with in Legacy of the Void, and Dark has already delivered. In his Code A match versus GuMiho, Dark consistently used the new tools available to him in LotV to hold off his Terran opponent while macroing up and teching to the ridiculously scary Zerg end game. Dark's patience and defensive macro skills in this matchup are going to be key for his success this year. On top of all that, Dark managed to take out his currently on-fire teammate MyuNgSiK in a ZvP in the SSL, as well as the previously undefeated Solar in ZvZ in GSL PreSeason Week 1, showing that he has got the full package at the moment.
Lee "INnoVation" Shin Hyung + Cho "Dream" Joong Hyuk
The Terran superstars of SK need no introduction here. Easily two of the most successful players last year, they haven't done anything too special yet in Legacy of the Void. Knowing how strong they can be, they would need to be in some serious slumps to not give their team the little bit of backup still needed to guarantee a fantastic year.
I do have to say, a KT fueled by Life, Zest, Based God TY -- and backed up by Hwang "Losira" Kang Ho and Kim "Stats" Dae Yeob -- is a scary thing. They are definitely contenders, but SK Telecom T1 is clearly the team to beat this year.