SK Gaming announced Friday that it selected former Cloud9 player Jake "Stewie2K" Yip as its replacement for long-standing member Epitácio "TACO" de Melo.
With rumors swirling about the move for days, there was plenty of time for opinions about the fit to get out, and many questioned the forthcoming decision. TACO was the supportive force of the SK core; Stewie2K, meanwhile, has made his name through star power.
On the surface, this move seems as if it would affect SK Gaming's hierarchy. But look deeper, and you'll see there's a natural fit between the hero of the ELEAGUE Major: Boston hero and this new roster in terms of style.
What has made SK such a successful roster over the past two years? Above all, it has found success by leveraging its superior decision-making on an individual level. Every player in that group had exceedingly high in-game IQ, including TACO. That gives the players flexibility but also a fundamentally-sound base on which to build their strategies.
In-game, SK has almost always traded well, closed out rounds when it has built a man advantage and thrived in simple engagements. The one hiccup in that formula was João "felps" Vasconcellos, whose aggressive tendencies are not as big a problem as his inability to make intelligent plays when his position requires him to make a passive decision, not an aggressive one.
It is easy to see a striking stylistic parallel between felps and Stewie2K, since they're both renowned for their aggressive decision-making and their ability to create openings for their teams. But there's an important difference between the two players. Felps often struggles because he seemingly lack of game sense in some situations: He'll get shot in the back, push when he has no business doing so or, frequently, both.
Stewie2K, however, has played many positions where he cannot afford to play so carelessly.
For example, it should not go unnoticed that Stewie2K had spent a lot of time as a B anchor on Train for C9. Yes, he often played that position more aggressively than TACO, but Stewie2K's preference did not hinder him. He was perfectly willing to play more passively and diversify his holds if his aggressive stance was not working. It might be that SK's roster will require more passive play out of Stewie2K, but unlike felps, he has the game sense required to play such positions.
"The talent this guy has is underrated," SK in-game leader Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo said in an announcement on Twitter.
Despite Stewie2K's talent, this is by no means a certain affair. In the beginning of rounds, I have no concern about his ability to play passively, but much of this team's success comes from excellent late-round play. Importantly, many of the positions in which Stewie2K's aggressive counter-terrorist plays thrive, like Connector on Mirage, will be handled by Fernando "fer" Alvarenga. In such situations, in will no longer be Stewie2K's job to be the hero, and how he reacts to a more supportive late-game role is a different matter from his ability to adapt when the pressure is lighter.
Moreover, if Stewie2K plays sites in tandem with Marcelo "coldzera" David, he will need to radically change to way he plays more radically. Coldzera thrives on bait setups, and Stewie2K will become a bait. He won't serve coldzera by pushing through a smoke grenade and dying; instead, Stewie2K will need to play the trading game.
In either case, Stewie2K is not an ideal fit on C- side with SK's star players. Such a situation, I think, will put a lot of strain on SK's players to either adapt to their new teammate or mold Stewie2K into a different player. What he will need to be will depend on who he plays with. If he plays on a site with fer, Stewie2K will need to be an anchor. If he plays with coldzera, he will need to play for his partner. That is quite demanding, but given Stewie2K's history, opting into the in-game leader role for C9 as a rookie, playing solo-anchor roles, willingly doing things even veterans avoid, it seems that his adaptation will not be somehow limited by who he's surrounded by now.
Succeeding in SK will be challenging task, but Stewie2K has conquered every resistance that has faced him in his career thus far. If any star player can succeed joining SK, it's Stewie2K.