BW-2-SC2: Shadow of the TBLS
BW-2-SC2 is a feature which presents to the SC2 audience famous Brood War player who have moved now on to competitive StarCraft 2. Rather than leave modern fans lost in a jungle of stats and thousands of games this feature will present a coherent thread for the interested fan to follow to the heart of the story.
Ever since StarCraft 2 ascended the heights of the Esports world there has been a growing curiousity of how the best of the SC2 world would compare if they had to directly compete against the elite players of the last Brood War generation: Flash, Jaedong, Bisu and Stork. Known collectively in South Korea as the Taek-Bang-Lee-Ssang (the parts representing Bisu, Stork, Flash and Jaedong, respectively) this quartet of living legends has cast a long and deep shadow across the last six years of competitive StarCraft: Brood War.
In this article I'll examine the incredible accomplishments that foursome has racked up over more than half a decade of collective dominance. From the monsterous trophy haul to the seemingly never-ending string of finals spots to dominance extending even into the secondary, in an individual sense, realms of WCG, GOM and Proleague competition. These four players have been the story of the last six years and the significance of their many accomplishments casts a shadow back into BW history and leaves fans awaiting the day they are fully acclimatised to the SC2 air, eagerly anticipating what they might do in that realm.
The dominant ones
Different eras of different sports all yield their own degrees of parity but just as some see a regular changing of the elite guard, so others see a select few climb the iron throne and refuse to relinquish their reign for long years. In a sport like hockey the Stanley Cup has been passed around between 11 teams in the last 13 seasons, a incredible sharing of the wealth.
Tennis, on the other hand, has seen a trio comprised of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic win 31 of the last 33 Grand Slam tournaments, and 33 of the last 37 in total. Truly elite level play has a definite face in tennis, as that three-headed hydra sits atop the tournament tree, unswayed by the severing of one head as another rotates into place to block any would-be first-time champion's path. So it has been in StarCraft: Brood War for the last six years.
Before the Taek-Bang-Lee-Ssang were a speck on the competitive horizon a different reigning family ruled the Korean BW scene: the might bonjwas. BoxeR, NaDa, iloveoov and sAviOr all represented successive eras of a solitary player who went unrivaled for a time, and accrued titles and finals spots galore. When you speak of the bonjwas you call forth four names who would be vehemently argued by many to be fighting for spots in the list of the top greatest five players to ever play BW. When they were in their heyday their legendary exploits seemed certain to never be replicated, nevermind thoughts of ever bettering them. Then came the changing of the guard.
From May of 2001, when BoxeR won the Hanbitsoft OSL, through to February of 2007, when sAviOr reached the top of Mount bonjwa with an OSL win over NaDa, these four players were the stars that shined brightest of all in the BW sky, none could match their vibrancy and vitality. Less than weeks later the ground gave way and down fell the gods of StarCraft. A new generation had arrived who would burn through the same trails and them blaze fresh ones of their own, marking out new exploits worthy of legend.
In seven years the four bonjwas had racked up 18 OSL-MSL titles, reached 28 finals and won three WCG gold medals. Quite the marking stick for our young heros to measure up to, but they would prove worthy of the challenge.
The chronicle of the Taek-Bang-Lee-Ssang era
Just as the period of almost seven years from May 2001 to February 2007 had marked the era of the four bonjwas, so the time from March 2007 through to the end of competitive BW, in mid 2012, can be considered the TBLS era. Just over a week after sAviOr won the final gold medal of the bonjwa era he played what would be the last ever finals appearance for his brethen, shockingly slain in an unexpected sweep by the young Protoss prodigy Bisu.
The Protoss quickly labelled "The revolutionist" for that March upset had begun more than just a PvZ revolution, overturning the seemingly inevitable edge Zergs had long held at the elite level, and in fact ushered in the age of the TBLS. Bisu would make it to the finals of the next two consecutive MSLs, winning the first to go back-to-back before falling.
Over in the OSL Jaedong and Flash would have both claimed their first title within just over a year of the ominous GOMTV MSL S1 slaying of sAviOr, Flash also claiming the XNote GOMTV Star Invitational title. During that timespan Stork was well on the way to writing his own career storyline and earning his nickname "The Silver Surfer", reaching an MSL final, two OSL finals, and the aforementioned XNote GOMTV Star Invitational final, only to lose all four to other members of the TBLS. The silver lining for him in 2007 came as he captured the WCG gold, ensuring Korea maintained its unbroken streak of victories in that yearly tournament.
Over the rest of 2008 Jaedong won a gold and a silver in the MSL, Stork finally tasted glory with an OSL victory, though he had to settle for a silver in the WCG, and Bisu became the first Protoss to win the golden badge by winning his third MSL. Jaedong and Bisu won the first and second seasons of the GOM Classic, the tournament Flash had won the Invitational pre-cursor of earlier that same year. It wasn't quite an OSL or an MSL but it was the closest thing to one.
2009 was Jaedong's year and he quickly erased the lead Bisu had taken amongst the four by winning back-to-back OSL titles, becoming the first player since BoxeR to ever accomplish that feat, and finished up the year with the WCG gold medal. Jaedong sat on a total haul of three OSLs, winning him the golden mouse, and an MSL title, leaving him behind only three of the bonjwas in total titles won.
The forgotten member of the quartet, the "Ultimate Weapon" Flash, sit sat on a lone title and adding the third season of the GOM Classic to that seemed a paltry addition to his resume, being as a number of teams had pulled their players from competing that season. Nevertheless he followed up a historic TvT streak of play by downing Jaedong in the EVER OSL quarter-final and then winning the title in the beginning of 2010, to leapfrog Stork in third place, based on titles. Simulatenously reaching the first MSL final of the year he faced off against Jaedong and after the infamous power outage final it seemed Jaedong was still the dominant force of his era, taking his second MSL and equalling iloveoov for second amongst players all time in titles accrued.
When Flash lost the next season's OSL final many could have been forgiven for imagining his resurgence in the individual leagues and destiny to fulfill his prodigious talent had been exaggerated, especially as he faced Jaedong in the season's MSL, a rematch of the last season's tragic final. Flash's time was well and truly here as he swept Jaedong out of the final, winning his first MSL title and second OSL-MSL title in total. He would make the finals of both leagues again next season, along with Jaedong, and affirm his dominance over the scene by beating his rival in both to move up to five titles of his own. The last note of 2010 was Flash winning the WCG gold medal to put the cap on a truly historic year, which had outstripped even that of Jaedong's only 12 months prior.
From 2011 through to the last OSL in 2012 there were only five individual leagues held in total, compared to the many years there had been three of each of the OSL and MSL per 12 months. Flash won the final MSL held, becoming the only man to ever equal NaDa's title total of six, and in two less finals played. Stork made it to his fourth OSL final, and fifth final overall, but left once more with the silver.
Breaking down the numbers behind the dominance
Just as tennis' big three had their astonishing title dominance, and the four bonjwas their own impossibly substantial haul of precious metals, so the TBLS can be compared alike.
OSL/MSL titles won
Collectively the TBLS won 15 golds over the 27 leagues from their first victory to the end of BW. That gives them 55.55% of the titles in that era. Compare and contrast that against the four bonjwas 18 titles of 32 leagues, a higher 56.25%, with three more titles won over five more tournaments.
OSL/MSL finals reached
The great players do not only win major titles, their consistently excellent play ensures they also rack up finals spots, whether they leave with the gold at the end of the day or not. TBLS accounted for 26 of the 54 finals spots available, meaning they were in 48.15% of the finals held. The four bonjwas edged them with 28 finals made, but required an extra ten finals to do so, making it to 28 out of 64 for 43.75% of finals reached.
OSL/MSL Ro4 appearances
Just as consistency in reaching finals is a good metric of dominance, especially in this context, so it is also worth examining the number of times TBLS players reached the final four of an OSL or MSL.
The quartet reach 37 of a possible 108 Ro4 spots available, 34.26%. All in all they had at least one appearance in 24 of the 27 Ro4s during their time, so 88.88% of OSL or MSLs had a TBLS member in the last four. There were nine Ro4s to feature at least two TBLS players, 33.33%, and two which featured three, for 7.407%.
The four bonjwas managed 33 Ro4 spots out of 128, 25.78%. One of the four bonjwas appeared in Ro4 of 27 of the 32 leagues held, 84.37%. There were 12 leagues to feature two or more of them, 37.50%, and two which featured three, for 6.25%
The GOM tournaments did not exist during the era of the four bonjwas, but nevertheless TBLS dominated those tournaments. They won all four seasons (the invitational and the three regular seasons) and made up six of the eight finals spots across its history.
All six of the Proleagues held during the TBLS era were won their teams (OZ, KHAN, KT and SKT T1) collectively, and their teams made up 11 of the 12 finalists. Of the three Winner's League seasons all but one was won by a TBLS member's team and they made up four of the six finalists.
World Cyber Games
Of the four WCGs held TBLS members won three golds, two silvers and two bronze. In 2009 TBLS even accounted for all three of the medals. The four bonjwas accounted for three golds during their six year span, and technically one of them played in the seventh WCG too.
#1 KeSPA player
All four of the TBLS and all four of the bonjwas have been the #1 KeSPA player at one point in time.
Yet more numbers - ELO
ELO is not a flawless system when comparing different eras but we can use it as a guide to the dominance of the TBLS during their own era.
Total ELO peaks
all-time ELO peak: Flash (1st), jd (2nd), Bisu (3rd), Stork (8th)
all-time vT ELO peak: Flash (1st), jd (2nd), Stork (5th), Bisu (7th)
all-time vZ ELO peak: Flash (1st), jd (2nd), Bisu (3rd), Stork (22nd)
all-time vP ELO peak: Flash (1st), jd (2nd), Bisu (5th), Stork (17th)
Flash and Jaedong firmly lead the way, first and second for all of the peaks historically, and while Bisu has a dip for vT ELO and Stork quite a heavy one for vZ and vP, comparatively, the foursome still hold strong near the top overall.
PvX ELO peaks
all-time PvT ELO peak: Stork (2nd), Bisu (3rd)
all-time PvZ ELO peak: Bisu (1st), Stork (3rd)
all-time PvP ELO peak: Bisu (1st), Stork (4th)
Bisu stakes a very good stastical claim to being the greatest ever Protoss, his work peak being third for PvT. Stork still puts himself in good contention for second with top four placings in all three.
TvX ELO peaks
all-time TvT ELO peak: Flash (1st)
all-time TvZ ELO peak: Flash (1st)
all-time TvP ELO peak: Flash (1st)
Flash really is beyond description in the Terran-only world, nobody comes close.
ZvX ELO peaks
all-time ZvT ELO peak: Jaedong (1st)
all-time ZvZ ELO peak: Jaedong (1st)
all-time ZvP ELO peak: Jaedong (1st)
Much like Flash, Jaedong sits alone atop the Zerg tower.
The impact on their races
Bisu and Stork - Protoss' archon of excellence
-most titles (3)
-only Protoss with more than 1 MSL title (3)
-only Protss to win the golden badge
-most MSL finals (4)
-tied 2nd most overall finals (4)
-tied 2nd most Ro4 (7)
-tied 3rd most Ro8 (10)
-most overall finals (5)
-most OSL finals (4)
-most Ro4 (8)
-most Ro8 (12)
-most Ro16 (24)
-only Protoss to make 4 OSL finals in 6 seasons
Perhaps it is fitting that these two must share the Protoss race and yet collectively can be assembled to break most of the records for the offspring of Aiur.
Bisu has the most individual titles, most MSL titles, the golden badge, most MSL finals appearances and is the only Protoss to ever win more than one MSL title. He is tied second in most overall finals, tied second for most Ro4 appearances and tied third for most Ro8s.
Stork has appeared in the most overall finals, most OSL finals, most Ro4, most Ro8 and most Ro16. Titles he may not have many of but he makes up for it with his impeccable consistency.
It's not too difficult to make the case for Bisu as the best Protoss of all time and Stork as the second best. The likes of Nal_rA and GARIMTO both have two titles each, but cannot come close in terms of overall consistency in reaching the latter stages of tournaments.
Bisu handled the titles and Stork handled the consistently deep runs, all in the more refined era of play. Bisu has the MSL on lockdown and Stork's OSL record, including second and below placings, is really quite excellent. Stork may have lost so many of those finals but three of his losses came to the other three members of the TBLS. He is also the only Protoss to ever make three OSL finals in four seasons.The dichotomy even runs through their specific styles and areas of expertise. Bisu had the wonderful unit control and multi-tasking to allow his game-breakingly unique inituition of how to play against Zerg to manifest and flower fully. There were literally times when Bisu was the best vZ player of any race in the world, a mindboggling claim for a Protoss to be able to make.
Stork had the preparation talent to overcome more mechanically sound players and consistently perform to a very high standard against Terran, Protoss' typical fallen foe.
Flash - Terran's Ultimate Weapon
-tied most titles (6)
-tied most OSL titles (3)
-2nd most finals (8)
-2nd most OSL finals (4)
-tied most MSL titles (3)
-2nd most consecutive MSL titles (2)
-2nd most MSL finals (4)
-tied most consecutive MSL finals (3)
-most Ro4 (11)
2nd most Ro16 (21)
When one considers Flash once lived under the stigma of being a failed prodigy, heir to a kingdom he seemingly couldn't live up to, it's incredible to think how much of the record books have been filled up with his name. The youngest ever OSL winner went out as BW's final boss, the name hanging over the last years of the game. Flash even won a TBLS OSL, beating all of the other members in the playoff rounds.
As a player Flash delivered the ultimate package of Terran brilliance, combining everything that set apart the great Terran bonjwas. Excellent micro, in terms of efficiency if not APM, combined with monsterous macro the likes of which hadn't been seen since iloveoov and finally the consistent approach of the playbook Terran NaDa, grinding down opponents with perfectly refined builds tweaked a notch here or there to suit the situation.
People are welcome to make the case they still hold NaDa as the greatest of the Terrans, but considering the era of game knowledge Flash did his thing in I find it hard to lay the title at anyone's feet but his.
Jaedong - Zerg's winning pinnacle
-most titles (5)
-most finals (9)
-tied most OSL titles (3)
-2nd most MSL titles (2)
-tied most MSL finals (5)
-2nd most consecutive MSL finals (3)
-only Z to win back-to-back OSLs
-most consecutive MSL Ro4s (6)
Jaedong racked up titles and finals appearances like no other Zerg has ever done. Coupled with his outrageous history of deep MSL runs and it's clear to see that Jaedong has a very legitimate claim at being the best Zerg ever. Nevermind that he played in the era of two of the very best vZ players ever in Flash and Bisu.
Every Zerg in history has always been troubled by the bane of ZvZ, where build order losses famously result from even the slightest disparity and the tiniest mismicro means the difference between a win and a loss. Jaedong had a run of years where his ZvZ numbers were astronimical, even hitting 82.14% winrate over 2008.
sAviOr was a tactical genius in battle, July was a whirlwind of OSL runs and YellOw was the heart of resurgent Zerg consistency, reappearing deep in league after league much as a Zerg army quickly reinforces lost units. None of them had the winning eye of Jaedong though, seemingly gifted with everything a Zerg could need.
Jaedong had the phenomenal unit control to make mutalisks into an instant game finisher, resulting in 10 minute games. The sheer will and determination to make losing the first map of a Best-of-Five and then winning the next three a trademark, known as the "Lee Jaedong score", and if you need to enquire about his drive to win at all costs just consider his return from 0:2 down in an OSL final against Fantasy to win 3:2 your answer.
Flash may have put a halt to Jaedong's winning ways, and when he was just within grasp of the top of the mountain of legends, but if we can consider Flash the greatest player ever then we must still marvel at what Jaedong was able to accomplish while playing simulataneously in the same era. The four bonjwas all overlapped nicely, but Flash and Jaedong literally were side-by-side, in terms of the years they were competing, the whole way through.
The birth of the new age
StarCraft 2 is StarCraft in name but in nature it has shown itself to be a very different beast from Brood War, and the hands-on approach of the developers ensures the metagame is ever in flux across the board. The Taek-Bang-Lee-Ssang have high expectations resting on their shoulders, rightfully so, but they will be hard pressed to accomplish in SC2 what they did the six years of BW they ruled above all others.
(Photographs courtesy of their respective owners, including FOMOS, dailyesports and NeverGG)