So here we are - our first RO16 group to be played out will be Group C on Wednesday 26th February starting at 1800 CET. Our players consist of 2 Zergs, 1 Terran and 1 Protoss - they will battle in a dual elimination group to see which two advance to the RO8. Who exactly? Well, only Solar, SeleCT, Armani and Pink (initial matches : SeleCT vs Armani, Solar vs Pink). Depending how much Starcraft you watch and how many SC2Improve events you have followed, you will find yourself at a differing amount of familiarity with these names.
Let us start with who many will feel is the slight underdog in this group and one of the two more unknown players, Pink. If you watch a lot of SC2Improve events you will know Pink is not somebody you can discount lightly - but when you throw him into a group with 3 Koreans it is a whole different matter. He came in as one of the lowest seeds to the Winter League - but only because after 3 very solid runs in the Qualifiers he stopped playing. Every time he played he looked extremely convincing in his matches and he only lost to some of the very best in Europe in close series (Armani, AcrO and GraVe, all 1-2 defeats.)
Does he have what it takes to come out of this group? Possibly. Ever since he has joined the Fnatic Academy he has gone from strength to strength. His first match against Solar is probably going to be the toughest of the night, but he will have the latency on his side and with some decisive timings and force-fields anything is possible. Sadly though we will most likely see him drop to the loser's bracket, where he will have a much better chance. SeleCT and Armani are both realistic chances for Pink - with PvT being his strongest match-up (http://www.aligulac.com/players/331-Pink/) and having taking maps off of Armani in Qualifying. Pink is who you should be cheering for if you want to see some upsets and some foreigner flair in Group C.
Let's talk about the other player who is most likely considered the underdog in Group C - or at least the player people are going to be less familiar with. He is Armani - brother of Solar and a player on Samsung Galaxy. He hasn't had quite the splash that Solar has had on the foreign scene and even in Korea he has only played one game in Proleague in the 2014 Season, which he lost in a fairly unimpressive fashion.
Nonetheless - he's a Korean who trains hard each and every day and he has the ability to beat some of the best players here in the Winter League, as we saw in the Qualifiers and also in his recent ZOTAC Cup appearances (most notably defeating Tefel 3-1 in the Finals of the ZOTAC December Monthly Final). Anybody who can take down these level of players relatively frequently is a danger to anybody and will have to be taken seriously by SeleCT in their first series.
He does seem to suffer badly from the latency however. Flicking through recent match results will show you that he can and will lose in the early rounds of online tournaments frequently, making him a player you don't know what to expect from. He could come and 2-0 everybody, or he could drop out 0-4. The upside is that the only player he will have to play against with latency is Pink. Let's see which Armani shows up on the day.
SeleCT is one of the two players who I would call 'fan-favorites' going into this - though out of the two he is definitely the most popular. After a short hiatus to pursue playing DotA professionally, SeleCT returned to Starcraft II a few months into Heart of the Swarm. Since things have continued to improve for SeleCT as he has made it into the RO32 of WCS America Premier League for Season 1 of 2014 and has just this week renewed his contract with Dignitas.
We got to see SeleCT play against Solar in the semi-finals of the 6th Winter League Qualifier and although Solar won 2-0 (and went on to win the whole Qualifier) SeleCT did not go down without a fight. A strong macro game on Frost came down to a few minerals of difference in army supplies, though a slightly weirder game on Polar Night left a lot of people wondering what the intentions were. Either way, SeleCT definitely put out a showing which will be enough to challenge Armani and Pink - which is what he will have to do unless he can find a way to turn around his previous result against Solar.
Solar, Solar, Solar. That's what this group is really going to be all about. I think very few people would bet against him advancing from this group in first place and even fewer against him advancing in first or second. What is there to stop him? Pink could pull out something special, but it wouldn't be easy. He already beat SeleCT 2-0 in the Qualifiers. His brother Armani might actually have the best shot against him, in a series where mind-games will almost definitely come into play if we see it - but we have to remember that there is a reason we see Solar a lot in Proleague and Armani not so much.
Just look at his results this year - RO32 in GSL, 2nd to Jaedong in Millenium-House Cup 3 and dropping out of ASUS ROG to Life and Jaedong. It's an impressive run of results in 2 months before you add to it his solid performances in Proleague which even involved playing as the ace for this team multiple times. How can this guy not be the favorite to just win the entire Winter League? I really have no idea.
Who doesn't love laughing at how wrong my predictions for my own league always are? So here we go. Honestly these are some of the toughest predictions I have ever had to make because between Pink, SeleCT and Armani I could see things going in any possible direction.
Solar 2 - 0 Pink
SeleCT 2 - 1 Armani
Solar 2 - 0 SeleCT
Pink 1 - 2 Armani
SeleCT 2 - 1 Armani
And just to even things out with some better-judged predictions, here is what Aligulac expects of the group :