Grand Finals: MMA vs DongRaeGu
By now you all know, by watching or through word of mouth alone, that the Blizzard Cup final was the not only the greatest GSL final of all time, but possibly the best Starcraft II final to date. It's funny because only two the games were really back and forth, while five of the games were fairly one-sided. However, the greatness of a multi-game series is its ability to tell a story – when given the chance – over the course of many games, in a way that a single great match just can't compare. So with that, let's go through the series.
Game One – Crossfire SE :
The two finalists decided to open strong out of the gates.... with a Roach + Baneling bust and fast Banshees. It's a common tactic to try and take the initiative in a series by opening with something a bit cheesy or unusual, because not only can it give you an early win, but it really keeps an opponent guessing from the beginning of the series. This sort of mind game has yet to be counter-meta-gamed (making up even more non-existent words), so expect to see more of it in the future.
As far as this game went, the build order selection ended up favoring DRG heavily, or at least it should have. MMA went for fast triple-Orbital Commands with cloaked Banshees somehow squeezed in, leaving him very low on defenses. DRG's Roach + Baneling attack off two bases did a fair amount of damage, killing off 22 SCVs.
From there on out, DRG should have been able to win the game by just playing safely, but for some reason he did not get cloak detection until very late. As in, when cloaked Banshees were already killing his drones late. It was hard to understand, as DRG had seen the Banshees, and the Tech Lab at which Cloak was researching. It was a game swinging oversight, with the Banshees doing a huge amount of damage and forcing all of DRG's resources into anti-air defense. A Marine-Hellion follow-up came before DRG could think of building ground troops again, and ended the game.
Notes: It was interesting to see DRG bring a bust, even though both players agreed beforehand that the map favored Zerg in general. Perhaps he felt the need to try and get up in the mind-games by employing a cheesy tactic in game one. However, his lack of caution against Cloak cost him the game in the end, and gave MMA a vital win on one of the four of Zerg favored maps, guaranteeing that he would at least last until the fifth game on Daybreak.
Game Two – Tal'Darim Altar LE :
Having prepared a slightly off-kilter build on the Zerg favored Crossfire, MMA decided to play it fairly standard on Tal'Darim Altar. I suspect he might have had a surprise in mind if they had drawn diagonal spots, but horizontal spots led him to try to play the game out in a regular way. DRG also played standard as well, making this one of the only two games where both players decided to play the game out ordinarily.
MMA moved out with a mid-game push of Marines, Medivacs, and two Tanks, deciding that he would be the one to force the action. It didn't appear to be a particularly dangerous push, with the Terran army at a moderate size, and the timing not exceptionally quick. However, MMA showed his championship credentials by forcing an engagement, and simply making things go his way through incredible micro.
With Tanks shooting up from the low ground at his gas, DRG made a force of Zerglings and Banelings to clear away the Terran force. DRG would have been happy with just an even trade that cleared away the encroaching Terran force, but instead he found himself trailing after MMA smashed his army with skillful marine splits.
MMA didn't force his advantange. With a 20 supply lead, he was content to sit back and try to ride the advantage to victory in a macro-game. He had succeeded in planting down a hidden base elsewhere on the map during the fighting, so time was on his side.
This plan worked out for MMA quite well, for the most part. There were, of course, a few kinks. First, DRG discovered the hidden base rather quickly, and took it out with Banelings and Mutalisks. Second, MMA kept losing valuable units for free, with persistent failed drops that did little against the well prepared DRG. Third, DRG was just pretty damn good as a whole, microing Mutas, Zerglings, and Banelings spectacularly to chip at the Terran force where he could.
In the end, though, there was no fatal flaw in MMA's macro-attrition plan. He kept up unit production, fought DRG's armies reasonably well, and most importantly, denied DRG from taking a fourth base.
DRG did get one last gap chance when he assembled a strong Infestor-Brood Lord army off of the dwindling resources of his three bases, which could perhaps do enough damage to set the game back to even. However, MMA just microed better in the final battle – where DRG made the second inexplicable move the night by ignoring two dropships full of tanks that assassinated his vital Infestors. That loss left DRG with nothing left in his the tank, and he was forced to GG.
Notes: At this point in the series things started to look very grim for DRG. Besides the fact that he was down two games, DRG had also dropped two of his favored maps. He would be forced to win at least two games on Antiga, Shakuras, or Daybreak. Though MMA had managed to overcome his map disadvantages with good play, DRG would have felt pressure about whether he could do the same. Additionally, MMA had defeated DRG in a straight-up game on a slightly Zerg favored map, which made one wonder what the heck DRG was supposed to do when it came down to the later games.
Game Three – Bel'Shir Beach :
MMA could have tried to play it safe since he was up two games, but he stuck to the game plan. He went for the always dangerous Reactor Hellions into stim-Marauder timing, with both structures slightly riskily 'proxied' at his natural. None of these details really mattered, though, because MMA leapt 90% of the way to victory with his first two Hellions.
DRG made the third strange error of the series, cutting too many corners and having just two Queens to defend his very wide choke when MMA's first two Hellions arrived. MMA used some great micro to keep his Hellions alive and roast the frantically produced Zerglings, until the next pair of Hellions arrived to let him start doing some real damage.
MMA alternated between killing newly hatched lings and Drones, a process which kept his Hellions alive while dealing the maximum amount of damage possible. By the time DRG finally finished the Hellions off with speedlings, he was disastrously behind. MMA had no desire to make the game last any longer than it had to, and finished DRG off quickly with Hellions, Marauders, and SCVs.
Notes: This was the most one sided game of the series, and it was a let-down similar to the many times Protoss pros lose a game because they missed a force-field on their ramp against lings. The cute part was the ending, where MMA decided to just end it already, rather than force the game to drag out for five to ten more minutes. And of course, it put MMA up 3-0, going into the fourth and possibly series ending game on Dual Sight, DRG's best map.
Game Four – Dual Sight :
Same strategy two times in a row? Who the hell does that? Maybe MMA was trying to catch DRG thinking just that. Although, it wasn't quite the same build order – just the same concept. MMA went for Hellions, expand, and then tried to follow-up with a stim-Marauder + Hellion timing to kill his opponent.
However, this time around, DongRaeGu did not take a ridiculous amount of early damage. With that one condition, the not one bit flustered DRG was able to play his favorite map precisely the way he wanted. Leaving precisely the right amount of defenses behind to stop MMA's Hellion-Marauder attack, DRG sent the rest of his lings in for a backdoor assault. While MMA's frontal assault was failing, so was his economy and tech back at home as Zerglings killed SCVs and destroyed a researching tech-lab.
After that, it was just going through the motions for the two players. There was no way DRG was going to give up a lead with the entire tournament on the line, and he played like it. A follow-up Zergling + Infestor attack furthered his lead, and he was able to finish the game later with Ultralisks.
Notes: I doubt MMA imagined he would be up 3-0 at this point in the series, so he just stuck with the game plan of an early Hellion-Marauder attack. With the series on the line, DRG finally brought his A-Game, making none of the uncharacteristic mistakes that marred the first three sets. Had he been nervous on those first three maps?
Game Five – Daybreak :
DRG opened with the Roach + Baneling bust strat he had used against MMA three times already (twice at MLG, once in the first game of the finals). Though MMA had won the game in this particular series, he still took a lot of damage from the bust. Once more, MMA ended up taking a significant blow. It was the best prepared he was in all of those games, with four bunkers and a supply depot wall in front. However, MMA still didn't have enough to stop DRG's attack safely, and many units and SCVs were lost before he could secure his base again.
This attack put DRG at a good economic advantage, with twenty more workers and a third base building. MMA tried to retaliate by moving out once he had Stimpak and Medivacs, probing DRG for weaknesses and removing creep. However, DRG remained impervious by ground, and it looked like he would start to turn his economic superiority into military superiority very soon.
MMA decided that he would take the game to DRG, and try to make something happen, instead of wait out a situation where he was at a disadvantage. He loaded up two Medivacs full of Marines and dropped DRG's main.
This turned out to be the worst move MMA could have made, as DRG was more than prepared. Not only did MMA do no damage with his drop, but his retreat was intercepted by Mutalisks, costing him both Medivacs and all of their cargo. Needless to say, this loss compounded with MMA's weaker economy put DRG solidly in the driver's seat. MMA did the best he could to recover, but it was to no avail. DRG started producing huge amounts of Mutalisks, Zerglings, and Banelings, and crushed MMA's effort to take his third base. With the game almost completely out of control, MMA opted for the relatively quick GG to move on to the sixth game.
Notes: A disappointing loss for MMA on the first of three supposed Terran maps. It was one thing to lose to a bust, but another thing to lose to the same bust that rocked him in three previous games. DRG may have been expected to win on his favorite map, Dual Sight, but the game on Daybreak was a definite momentum shifter.
Game Six – Antiga Shipyard :
MMA played this map as standard as humanly possible: Reactor Hellions into a relatively quick third base, with a mid-game Marine-Tank aggression to keep the opponent on his toes. This would probably have worked out pretty well for him, if DRG was going for his usual Muta-Bane-Ling strategy. However, DRG had yet another twist in mind, and this one involved Roaches and Banelings, too.
Mass Roach can be a great way to lose games against Terran, so much so that MMA discounted it altogether as a possibility. He obliviously set up a siege position on DRG's third base with Marines and Tanks, with just shields and no Stimpak. In the meanwhile, DRG was hitting a very dangerous +1 speed Roach timing. Once he got those two upgrades, he executed a devastating flank against MMA's Marine-Tank position, eliminating a huge portion of the Terran army.
Knowing that his army composition would grow weaker as the game went on, DRG set about capitalizing on his advantage while the window was open. He researched drop upgrades for his Overlords, got a Baneling Nest, and struck with a deadly +2 Roach and dropped Banelings attack. MMA made all the right units in preparation – Marauders and Tanks – but he just didn't have enough troops to hold the fort. DRG cut through the defenses, swarmed the main, and received the GG.
Notes: It was risky for DRG to play his Lair game completely differently, giving up his mastery of Muta-Ling for the surprise value of speed Roaches. It was shocking how well it paid off, due to MMA's equally shocking unawareness of the situation. More liberal scanning would certainly have revealed DRG's plan, but MMA must have felt so confident in a standard game on Antiga that he didn't feel the need to check once he had got past the early game safely.
In any case, it was a spectacular way to make a comeback. Arguably, DRG won his three games with more style and panache than MMA, who had to sweat a little to earn the win on Tal'Darim Altar. On the other hand, DRG looked extremely strong for three games straight, able to completely lock-down games where he had taken small leads.
Game Seven – Shakuras Plateau :
Is it worse to be down 0-3, or to be up 3-0, and have your opponent tie the series? 0-3 might crush some players, draining the hope from their hearts. To other players it might be liberating, to be free to play with a nothing-to-lose attitude, devoid of any external pressure. Being up 3-0 and having your opponent catch up might be the most heavy pressure situation in all of Starcraft, but some players might have the confidence to remember that they were good enough to go up 3-0, and know they're still good enough to win one final game.
We can't know what was going through the two finalists' heads going into the last game. All we can say is that it brought out the best in them, as they played one of the greatest Starcraft II games to date.
DongRaeGu and MMA had plenty of special tactics prepared throughout the series, but they both decided they would play the final game as straight up as they could. The map was split between east and west as both players established their economies and built up their armies, forgoing any early aggression minus some token harassment.
The first real aggressive move came from MMA, after he had production facilities running at full capacity. He made a strong push to establish control of the middle of the map, positioning his troops to control both watchtowers and set up a staging area to attack the central expands. Though he had allowed DRG to take the two mains and naturals on his side of the map, MMA was going to let the game hinge on denying the fifth and sixth bases.
In response, DRG went for his first bust through the middle, with a large Lair army of Mutalisks, Banelings, and Zerglings. The attack looked promising, but some Baneling mis-micro prevented him from dislodging MMA from the middle. MMA reinforced his position in the center, and began lifting tanks up onto the small mesas overlooking the central expansions. This proved to be one of the important tactics in the game, as MMA would keep reinforcing these cliffs to further his control of the center. It had the effect of giving DRG yet another thing to worry about, and having to keep some units in his composition at all times that could take care of the pesky high-ground tanks.
There was not much else for DRG to do but keep trying to clear the middle and free up his expansions. The other options were to try and engage MMA in roundabout ways, through drops or Nydus attacks, but DRG seemed to think they were not worth the risk or investment. Having switched to a Hive composition of Ultralisks, Zerglings, and Infestors, he charged headlong into the middle for a second time.
The line held again, but only momentarily. DRG was able to reinforce quicker than MMA, and a second wave of Ultralisks was able to come through and break the center. With this breakthrough, DRG achieved several useful things. He took a fifth base, destroyed MMA's fourth base, and bought himself the time to switch into Brood Lords. However, he also made one poor move, where he kept pushing with his Ultralisks into MMA's main. Ultralisks do not fare well in narrow chokes and building mazes, and DRG gave up a good portion of his advantage by throwing his Ultralisks away for relatively little gain.
Even so, DRG still had the momentum to keep attacking, and kept up the pressure with a deadly combination of Ultralisks and Brood Lords. But alas! He forgot anti-air units, as many Zergs happen to do. Naturally, the attack failed against the Viking equipped MMA, giving him a valuable breather to settle his affairs, gather his forces, and resume his campaign to control the center. A string of ugly delaying engagements by DRG saw his temporary lead slip entirely away, and he found his fifth, central expansion die to siege fire from the high-ground, while MMA once again controlled the center.
The situation looked bleak for DongRaeGu. MMA had fully secured the other main and natural on his side of the map, while DRG was still limited to his first four bases, two of them having mined out already. MMA was so secure with his control of the center that he found troops to spare for his trademark drop tactics – which proved to be at least a considerable annoyance, though they did not do too much damage.
With the game rapidly slipping out of grasp, DRG put it together and found a way to claw his way back into the game. Abandoning Ultralisks altogether, he put together a Brood Lord centered army supported by Corruptors, Infestors, and Zerglings. With one minute of excellent focus, micro, and coordination, DRG managed to push back MMA's line once more, and take the all important central bases – only to have MMA snipe them away with splinter groups of Marines and Marauders that exploited the terrible mobility of Brood Lords.
With his center expansions denied for what seemed like the hundredth time, DRG was finally left with no other option but to go for broke. Though he had a strong army of Brood Lords with their supporting entourage, he judged that he simply wasn't going to be able to play defense and wait for his hatcheries to complete again. MMA had three bases mining at full capacity, and waiting would not get DRG anywhere.
DongRaeGu gathered up his entire army for one final attack. The expansions weren't his target. To win the game, DRG needed to force an engagement with the main Terran force, wipe it out, and destroy the production facilities that would allow it to be produced again. The only viable target was the Terran main.
The first part of DRG's charge appeared to go well, as he caught all of MMA's Vikings with a series of well placed Fungal Growths. However, that gain turned into a trade, as the Infestors were quickly focused fired down by Tanks after completing their task. This left Brood Lords pushing in by spawning Broodlings, while Zerglings waited in the rear for an opportunity to run in and join the battle.
DRG made some headway into MMA's main, killing off a few barracks while clearing the ramp for his Zerglings to join the battle. However, MMA was mining, DRG was not, and DRG wasn't doing enough damage, or doing it fast enough, to maintain the momentum on his attack. Marines filed out of the Barracks faster than they could be killed, and sat in wait until they could reach a critical number.
Once DRG mis-microed and lost his Corruptors to Marines, the game was decided. With nothing to fend off the Vikings being produced three at a time, the Brood Lords fell. Marines and Vikings charged in, wiping out the Brood Lords, and along with them, DRG's final hope. Accepting his fate, DongRaeGu left the game with a cool 'ggyo.'
Notes: More than anything else, DRG's macro was very impressive. There were barely any gaps between producing armies that MMA was able to exploit, and his ability to always have a strong fighting force out on the field allowed him to match MMA in brute force for much of the game.
However, it was the finesse related aspects of the game that let DRG down. There were some engagements that could have been won with better Baneling micro, and more crucially, he did not devote enough energy towards making sure his central bases stayed absolutely safe once he got them.
As for MMA, he played a great half-map style Terran game. He did not over-extend himself, did not expand any faster than he had to, and simply played an overall rock-solid style. MMA's multi-tasking proved to be superior to DRG's, which won him the game in the end. He made expansion denial his primary goal, and won because he stuck to that plan.
Tournament Review: 2011 Blizzard Cup
The Blizzard Cup seemed like an interesting idea when it was first announced in 2010. Blizzard would lend its name to a year-end wrap up tournament, where the best players of the year would be invited to battle it out for one final championship.
At the end of 2011, the idea had lost a lot of its luster. Of course, ten elite, high profile players duking it out over a week was sure to provide some great thrills. But with one year of Code S in us, it seemed like the Blizzard Cup was missing its mark.
Why did GomTV need MLG, IEM, or any other organization to help them decide who should be invited to a tournament that supposedly had the best players of the year? After all, they had spent an entire year building up the GSL, creating continuity and tradition, and proving that it was several times harder to win than any other tournament, and that much more prestigious. Hearts were broken, dreams were crushed, and a privileged few attained incredible glory during eight grueling Code S and Super Tournament campaigns. After all that, how could we take the Blizzard Cup seriously? What exactly was on the line? For all its grandeur, the Blizzard Cup was looking more and more like a showmatch.
Korea has pro baseball, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Oh, and Brood War Proleague. Couldn't GomTV have taken the hint and decided that the best way to finish a season was to have some good old fashioned playoffs? Seed thirty players by GSL points, throw in two foreign seeds to sell those overseas tickets, and you've got one hell of a tournament. Even if they didn't implement my dream scenario, it seemed like GomTV was missing out on a big opportunity by sticking with their invitational format.
Even the invitational format itself felt a bit lacking. Ten players, seven days, best of one? All of it felt so much less than what we were used to from the GSL. The GSL World Championship - the other GSL special event of the year - had also scaled back to a degree, but not to the degree that the GSL stopped resembling itself.
Of course, all of these complaints seem largely forgotten now, as the Blizzard Cup finished with the greatest GSL finals ever, greatest GSL game ever, and by extension the greatest Starcraft II series and game ever. In six months time, most people are just going to remember this as a great tournament, the one with the awesome finals, and that Naniwa thing.
Tournaments can live and die at the mercy of game quality, and I imagine being a tournament organizer is a pretty stressful experience. I'm sure tournament organizers have consumed many an alcoholic beverage over the "were the games any good" lottery. Can't you vividly imagine these scenarios as they happened? Mr. Chae: "INNNNCCCCAAAAAAA!!!!!" *downs an entire bottle of soju* or David Ting: "LUUUCCKKYyyy... But Stephano won, so err... cheers, I guess?" and Russell Pfister: "MC, Puma, this 30 year single malt is your reward for preventing this tournament from being an unmitigated disaster." I can tell you this much: the TSL3 crew got joyfully plastered.
A little strange, but it makes sense. After all, fans are watching Starcraft to see games, or more specifically, the stories pro-gamers tell through their games. Heck, think of tournaments as storybooks (everyone loves stories where heroes fight krakens). It definitely helps to have it printed on nice paper, with beautiful illustrations. Also, it's nice if it doesn't take thirty minutes to turn a goddamn page. And of course, it's wonderful if Morgan Freeman is reading it to you. But if the story itself sucks, why bother in the first place?
I'm not saying my complaints about Blizzard Cup have been invalidated. They're still things I think GomTV should consider in the future. However, my complaints – and anyone else's – will just have a negligible effect on how the 2011 Blizzard Cup will be rated as a tournament anymore. Public sentiment in ESPORTS tends towards being romantic, looking at everything through rosy glasses.
Now, is there anything wrong with this 'ends justify the means' way of how tournaments are perceived? Well, I'm not about to be the elitist jerk nerd who goes around saying "Hey, that thing you enjoyed a lot and thought was awesome? Enjoy it about 13% less." But I think we can at least say that it was an awesome tournament and flawed at the same time, and know that these two things aren't mutually exclusive.
Starcraft II fans, you are what you are. Do what you will – tournament organizers are at your mercy. If you say the Blizzard Cup was awesome, then it was awesome. If you want to GomTV know that it was best GSL of all time, then they will know. Please, just let them know as well, that they have a chance to make their next year end tournament even better.
Editors: Antoine, WaxAngel