Less than a minute into his first group-stage game at BlizzCon 2018's Opening Weekend, Kim "sOs" Yoo Jin was up to his old tricks.
The legendary Korean Protoss attempted to cannon rush Joona "Serral" Sotala on Lost and Found LE, hoping to cheese the Finnish Zerg for an early victory. But Serral, being Serral, was too disciplined for such an obvious play. He methodically scouted out the incoming probe and destroyed the spawning structures without losing a single drone. Five minutes later, sOs conceded. Less than nine minutes into his second match, sOs conceded again after another aggressive gambit failed.
The two-time World Championship Series Global Champion was on full tilt. At least for a moment.
"I was really confident going into that Serral game," sOs said through a translator. "But after I lost, I just wanted to go home. I wanted to just finish this. I really didn't care, so I was really relaxed going into the next games, and I guess because of that mentality, it made me play a lot better."
Losing to Serral was a blessing for sOs, a shock that focused his play. sOs stormed out of Group B and into the BlizzCon quarterfinals, where he steamrolled Jin Air Green Wings teammate and world-best Terran Cho "Maru" Seong Ju 3-0 on Friday. Maru, who completed an unprecedented three-peat of the Global StarCraft II League in South Korea this year, was favored to make the final. Instead, he bows out as a footnote.
The unraveling of Maru was classic sOs, a player infamous for his wonky playstyle and creative approaches. In Game 1, he threw Maru a curveball with an early pylon in his natural, then proceeded to snipe a series of units across the map for free. In Game 2, sOs cannon rushed Maru on Lost and Found LE, and this time it worked. Game 3 ended before eight minutes had elapsed, with sOs brilliantly defending Maru's push and countering with a legion of stalkers warped into the main base for a series-winning invasion.
Longtime StarCraft II commentator Yoan "ToD" Merlo couldn't believe sOs was still getting away with his trademark gimmicks.
"sOs is this savant, the mad genius of StarCraft," ToD said. "Everything that he did was unconventional. I feel like over time it should become less good, and all players should be too good for this kind of stuff to work. For him to cannon rush Maru, I still can't believe it happened, it's just crazy. We're lucky to have him play StarCraft, because he's amazing."
It was a bittersweet victory for sOs, who took no pleasure in burying his friend's title chances for the second time in as many months. sOs' road to the AfreecaTV GSL Super Tournament #2 finals in September also involved a quarterfinal humbling of Maru.
"I actually felt devastated when I found out I had to play against Maru in the round of eight," sOs said. "I had to play him throughout the year, and it's never good to play against a teammate, so I felt really bad about it.
"But then again, Maru had a spotlight the whole year and I didn't get much of it. So I just wanted to prepare really well for this match and get some of that spotlight as well."
sOs certainly has the tournament's spotlight now, but should it have ever left him? How quickly we forgot the man whose face hangs on not one, but two banners above the Anaheim Convention Center's Hall A. Perhaps the greatest trick La Cucaracha ever pulled was convincing us he was an underdog.
"Actually, being an underdog is not too bad," sOs said. "All the pressure is on the opponent who is favored to win. He has to prove that he is the favorite, right? I actually wish that, even if I go to the final, that I have a favored opponent and I can be the underdog."
Before sOs can consider the final, he'll have to have to overcome a semifinal with Kim "Stats" Dae Yeob where, as is his wish, he will be an underdog. Stats, the 2018 GSL vs. The World runner-up, polished off BlizzCon's final Terran player by eliminating Juan Carlos "SpeCial" Tena Lopez 3-1 in Friday's second quarterfinal. Personally, Stats envisioned a different semifinal matchup.
"Yes, I expected Maru to be my next opponent, but I also never neglected the fact that sOs could win," Stats said through a translator. "I think sOs in general, and in [Protoss v. Protoss], is a really good player, a great strategist. He always has those build orders up his sleeves. I'll have to prepare a lot to match him."
Whatever the outcome, BlizzCon's final will be a Protoss versus Zerg affair. In the second semifinal, Serral will face another Korean Zerg in Lee "Rogue" Byung Ryul mere hours after the Prodigy from Pornainen swept Park "Dark" Ryung Woo.
But sOs isn't looking ahead to a potential matchup with the man who broke him in groups, not yet. For now, the Trickster God is playing it safe. Until he isn't.
"I think in general, every person that goes to the BlizzCon round of eight is not an easy opponent," sOs couched. "Everyone is a tough opponent."