GSL Finals: soO’s Last Chance or the Battle of the Kongs

A player’s legacy is written in the games. Top-tier players will attend only about a few dozen tournaments in their career and in those hundreds of games, a few results will dictate how their careers will be remembered.

In Eo “soO” Yoon Su’s case, his legacy is distilled to five series: GSL Season 3 2013 Finals, GSL Season 1 2014 Finals, GSL Season 2 2014 Finals, DreamHack Stockholm 2014 Finals, and GSL Season 3 2014 Finals. During soO’s prime, he played in five finals spanning from the end of 2013 to the end of 2014 and lost all of them. He has played 30 tournaments in his career over both individual and team leagues. He’s played hundreds of official games, thousands more online and spent countless hours practicing on ladder. But soO’s entire reputation has been defined by a handful of failures. His legacy is that of a silver hoarder, a Kong. He was destined to die so others could enjoy greatness.

The Kong heritage is a long line of tradition spanning from Brood War to Starcraft 2. It describes the lineage of constant second place finishers. The first was Hong “YellOw” Jin-Ho, who became famous for his eternal rivalry with Lim “Boxer” Yo-Hwan and losing to him in critical title matches. By nature, many Kongs were considered among the greatest players of their era. In SC2 there have been many of them, but soO is the ultimate Kong of Kongs.

soO represents a sort of epitome of the Kong notion. He is a player who has every technical skill he needs to be the best and possibly the greatest of all time. If he had won every GSL finals in which he participated, his reign of dominance could have surpassed the likes of Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun, the greatest player to touch SC2. If you look at it in pure numbers, soO was the closest anyone ever came to reaching those heights; he merely needed seven more wins. But those seven games proved to be an insurmountable stumbling block. They stand as testament to the difference between a champion and a runner-up.

Once a player reaches the very heights of their game technically and strategically, psychology comes into effect. A finals appearance means everything to players. It is the culmination of everything for which they fought. It is their chance to win and prove to the world — and to themselves — they are the best players in the world. People think prize money is the stake of the match, but that’s just a side bonus. The real heart of the match is pride and ego. Players have bet their entire lives, their pride, their identities on this moment. Winning a final can be one of the most exhilarating experiences for a competitor. Losing one can be perhaps the most soul-crushing.

soO lost five.

Granted, some of those finals he should have lost. His first came against Baek “Dear” Dong Jun, who was on another level from every Korean player at the time. I’d argue the rest were all on soO. He lost a clear advantage in multiple maps against Joo “Zest” Sung Wook and ended up narrowly losing the series 4-3. In soO’s third final, he lost 4-2 against Kim “Classic” Doh Woo, but the fashion in which he crumbled was hard to forgive. He played well for the first four games then completely lost it once Game 5 started. It was even worse in retrospect as soO easily smashed Classic two months later. DreamHack Stockholm was what really killed soO as he lost to Kang Solar Min Soo, whom he had large success against to that point. After that loss, soO tweeted “Better to fail than get second.” He then went back to Korea and subsequently lost the GSL Season 3 finals to Lee INnoVation Shin Hyung.

It wasn’t until one year later that soO was able to crawl out of his hole of despair. He finally won his first tournament by defeating Park Dark Ryung Woo in KeSPa Cup Season 2. It is a cruel kind of iniquity that the one tournament soO won in Korea was the equivalent of an exhibition match. And it came against Dark, a player with Kong-like tendencies (Dark himself has lost four out of the five finals he’s reached).

At that moment, I believed soO was done. He had gotten burned by his continual failures in GSL and all he earned was a consolation prize in KeSPA Cup. It felt like his time at the top had ended, but soO refused to quit.

But he has once again reached the GSL Finals, an incredible testament to his dedication, skill and spirit. For soO, this could be his last chance to win the GSL Finals. Naturally, few players ever get to the GSL Finals. soO has attended the most of them barring Mvp. But unlike Mvp, he has lost all of them in the ultimate test of ego that shatters the pride of everyone who fails. soO should have been mentally defeated after challenging that rite four times, but he was insane enough to try to challenge it for a fifth time.

soO isn’t the only one here who has something to prove. His opponent is Kim Stats Dae Yeob, himself a lesser Kong. Stats has been one of the best Protoss players for the past two years, but he was always a hair below the elite echelon. He finally forced himself up as the best Protoss player at the end of 2016, only to repeatedly fail at capitalizing on his improvement. He has lost three finals: SSL Season 1, IEM Gyeonggi and IEM Katowice.

But there is a clear divide between the losses of soO and the losses of Stats. Stats was blatantly outplayed in his series. I find it hard to say that he choked under the pressure, whereas I can easily say that with soO for the majority of his finals. But that isn’t guaranteed to stay the same should soO lose again. Once you’ve struck out enough times, a player will start questioning his own ability and start to doubt if he can ever win. For both players, this is a must-win match that will decide their legacies. Will soO end up being the ultimate Kong to ever live? Will Stats escape the shadow of the Kong and raise his first trophy?

Both players understand the pain and suffering the other has been through, but only one can raise the trophy. Only one will be saved from Kongdom. There can only be one winner.

Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com

Slingshot senior columnist. StarCraft and CS:GO expert who pushes narratives over numbers.

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