Genius has played precisely five PvZs since he abruptly flipped the switch in 2012 and decided that he wanted to be a championship caliber player instead of Code S filler. The small sample size makes it difficult to look for patterns in his play, but we can still pick out a few trends.
The most noticeable thing about Genius' PvZ is how well he deals with backdoors and run-bys. Most of the time, he is able to predict the backdoor and have sufficient defenses to deal with the attack straight up, or buy enough time for forces to return. More impressively, he is able to make good decisions in all of his base trade-esque situations, doing just enough damage with his forces before returning them to defend.
Good decisions are a trend on the whole, or at least a tendency to make his opponent's decisions look bad. For example, on Bel'Shir Beach, Genius went for a relatively quick third base and induced a roach-ling attack from DongRaeGu which he thwarted without any trouble at all, making DRG's decision to attack instead of drone up look utterly foolish. Or, in another example, Genius' decisions to build a small group of phoenixes out of one stargate would always end up with his opponent having just few enough mutas for the phoenixes to be an nuisance. In that fashion, things seemed to flow Genius' way, allowing him to build his economy, army, and all the things he needed to win without being really troubled by his opponents.
Compared to some of the newer Protoss stars, Genius looks like he lacks a little in terms of finesse. His stargate units fly needlessly in range of spore crawlers, his force fields are good but not exceptional, savable stalkers die before blinking, etc. If it came to a two-base all-in, I could think of handful of other players who would seem better at the helm. However, Genius more than makes up for his generic micro in his overall ability to manage the game.
Strategy choice wise, Genius mixed it up pretty evenly this GSL – going for a two-base all-in twice, while going for a fast third base and a macro game in the other two games. The fifth game was one where Nestea 6-pooled Genius, causing a non-standard game pattern (Genius played that game about as well as one can after being 6-pooled). Genius played a similar basic opener every single game – a forge FE with a stargate and late +1 – so we weren't able to see how he executed some other PvZ standards. Some notable Protoss strategies we did NOT see from Genius: 4 gate +1 zealot pressure after forge FE, 2 stargate, immortal centered 2-base all-ins, blink centered 2-base all-ins, no-stargate play after forge FE, gateway first openers.
Overall, it seems that Genius is a Protoss player whose strength is in playing long macro games off three bases, but is also happy to mix in the occasional two-base all-in to keep his opponents guessing. If you think that sounds the description of every textbook Protoss out there, then you'd be right. Genius plays by the book, and he's doing it better than anyone else right now.
On the other hand, we've had a recent overload of DongRaeGu ZvPs to look at, as he played sixteen of them at MLG Winter Arena alone. Had any other opponent been awaiting him in the GSL finals, DRG might have been wary of showing too much of his playstyle ahead of the final, but since he was going up against teammate Genius, he probably knew there wasn't much to hide in the first place.
After watching DRG's extremely well rounded ZvT, where he's capable of using every strategy at every stage of the game, his ZvP can look a little one dimensional. Perhaps the match-up is to blame for pigeon-holing Zerg players into a certain style of play, but in any case DongRaeGu's ZvP is all about relentless attacks that come on all fronts. To that end, he greatly prefers the mutalisk tech tree (he used to enjoy the two base ling-festor build, but it's gone curiously missing from his playbook as of late), as their mobility allows him to cause chaos and force his opponent to spread his troops thinly, revealing holes in the defense.
Once DongRaeGu smells blood, he commits to an endless assault. When things go to plan, the Protoss player will move troops to cover a weakness at one location, expose a new weakness for DRG to attack, which will cause the Protoss army to relocate yet again, expose another weakness, and so forth until GG. Though this is an ideal ZvP winning pattern a lot of Zerg players try to achieve, few do it quite as well as DRG. His insane speed and multi-tasking are enough to disorient even the best PvZ players, and he's been seen effectively managing three-prong attacks on multiple occasions. DongRaeGu aggressively looks for opportunities to perform that one run-by or backdoor attack that will start a deadly chain reaction, although at times it looks like he's trying to force something that just isn't there, and pays the price.
As long as we're comparing ZvT apples to ZvP oranges, DRG's uncanny immunity to harassment and all-ins in ZvT hasn't carried over to ZvP. A well executed two-stargate build, 7-Gate blink rush, 3 immortal + 7 gate push, etc. can kill DRG like any other Zerg player in the world. It's something DRG has taken the time to complain about loudly via Twitter, stating that the outcome of such rushes is almost entirely in the hands of the Protoss and his ability (or inability) to force-field correctly. On the other end of things, DongRaeGu doesn't mind cheesing himself, whether it be a six-pool or roach bust.
Head to Head
When both players play 'standard,' the games should be a pretty straight forward duel of offense and defense. Genius has been a master of solid, safe play, able to execute his game plan while staying unshaken by any kind of aggression or harassment his Zerg opponent might try. On the other hand, DongRaeGu has been able to rattle the best PvZ players in the world, using rampant aggression to make sure they never regain their balance. It should be an entertaining duel, to say the least.
Genius was the victor once in the RO32. We all know that DRG's offensive capabilities are top notch, so it will be interesting to see if Genius is really a world class defensive player, or if he just had a lot of lucky reads against DongRaeGu in that earlier meeting.
However, we might not even see that many standard games, depending on how many all-ins the two players decide to bring. DongRaeGu has shown a fair amount of vulnerability to Protoss all-ins in his recent PvZs, and Genius is among the players who defeated him with a well executed two base attack. "Preparing for a PvZ series" is sometimes just another way to say "Slightly tweak existing two-base all-in timings to be more unpredictable," and as SK__MC has shown, it's a perfectly legitimate way to try and win a series. He defeated Leenock that way at the Blizzard Cup, and might even have beat DRG if he didn't waste one game going triple nexus into carriers (yes, that actually happened). Though Genius' standard play has looked strong in its limited sample, it would be no surprise to see him bring multiple, creatively timed two-base builds to try and catch DRG off-guard.
DRG will probably use his fair share of cheese as well, as he usually brings a 2 : 1 ratio of normal to cheese (the "Flash" ratio as I like to call it) in important series – a good ratio to keep opponents unsure as to whether they can play greedily or not, and pick up the occasional free-win when build orders match up appropriately. With that in mind, you can't rule out the possibility of a cheesefest finals. Genius has shown he can take on the 6-pool just fine, but we haven't seen how he deals with roach or baneling busts, which could be an important part of the series.
One thing we know almost nothing about is how a super-late game scenario would go, should a game reach that point. DongRaeGu has managed to go through his last twenty or so ZvP games without having a single meaningful hive stage game, which is not surprising given his commitment towards ending games with continued aggression. Genius hasn't shown us a late-game PvZ in what seems like forever, and we don't really know how he'll deal with hive units. He's been a beast in max-out fights in other match-ups, but that doesn't necessarily mean the same will apply to PvZ. With many of the maps being macro-friendly, we will probably see at least one game where this unknown comes into play.
Prediction: DongRaeGu 4 – 2 Genius
Genius has looked great in the five PvZ's he played during this run, but it's still just five games. Genius might be running ridiculously hot this season, and sometimes momentum can mean all the difference in the world. Still, I can't bring myself to buy into the hype. Not with just five games. While DongRaeGu's ZvP hasn't been as dominating as his ZvT, it's still an absurdly good 24 – 9 in 2012, which I will take every day of the week over 4 – 1. Genius has earned the respect of many, but to earn their belief, he will have to climb one more mountain.
Worth the Wait
How times have changed. DongRaeGu, the one man rock band who used to kill it on the indie circuit, has finally hit the big time. Ten months ago he was playing the shadiest of venues, desperate to show his talent anywhere. Now? He gets his own press conference as he looks to headline the biggest show of the year so far.
No one can say he hasn't earned it. His journey has been long, and he's set foot on every single step on the way to the top: Brood War trainee, mystery ladder god, team league sensation, Code-B jinxed, called 'underrated' so many times he became overrated, unnoticed Korean tournament champion, single match-up specialist, Code-A jinxed, unnoticed international tournament champion, Code-S jinxed, GSL star, GSL finalist. It's as if a higher power has forced DongRaeGu to take the long way, to appreciate the effort it takes to climb each step, so he would never take anything for granted.
And still, nothing about it makes it feel like it's come too late. Somehow, all this effort, all this preparation, and all this waiting seems to have been for a reason.
So there would be time for Mvp and Nestea to build their castles, and time enough for them to lose the strength to guard the gates. Time for MMA to emerge from under Boxer's wing and stand at the head of a new generation of champions, and seek a worthy rival to follow him into 2012. Time enough for DongRaeGu to hone his skills to a point where he's never been better, a point where no Zerg has ever been better. Time enough for DongRaeGu to come once within inches of his final goal, so that he would learn to want it even more.
Everything is falling together, at the right place, at the right time.
Everything, but one last piece.
"Men of genius do not excel in any profession because they labour in it, but they labour in it because they excel."
- William Hazlitt
It has been noted that Genius is not the most hardworking player. There are some players that will click "find match" all day, or incessantly bug their teammates for practice games, putting all their free time into improving at their craft. They will push their bodies and minds to the limit, doing the same build over and over against a specific race to get it down to a science. Their days will simply be wake up, play Starcraft for six hours, eat lunch, play another four hours and then go to bed to prepare for another day of the same.
Then there is the other type of player. One that can get by on natural skill, brains and all around talent. A player, who when unmotivated, can still coast by and do things that someone who practices for 12 hours a day cannot. While there are players in Code B who are pushing themselves to the limit, trying their hardest and still failing to make it into Code A, there are players who can laugh, play other games in their free time, and still keep Code S for multiple seasons.
From his very own mouth, for the past year, Genius has, well... not tried that hard. Like most of the players who did well in the early phases of Starcraft II, there is no question that he has natural talent at playing the game. However, he likes playing FIFA in his spare time and hasn't really gone out of his way to be great at Starcraft II. When he won Blizzon in 2010, he became the bearer of great expectations. However, those expectations were misplaced, Genius was a player who was content to just be in the background, a player in Code S who could linger in the scene, happy to stay in the bottom half of standings table for the most part. He never lived up to the expectations that were thrust upon him during the first few Open Seasons of the GSL, and they were passed onto oGs.MC at the first opportunity.
For almost a year this continued, with Genius being ever-present but unremarkable. In all fairness, it could be considered a pretty decent career. He had a major tournament championship to his name, and he was sticking around in the most prestigious league in the world, making pretty decent money for a Korean pro-gamer.
"I became less competitive. I think that I became satisfied with just staying in Code S and being able to play in the highest league. However after Blizzcon, my father's nagging got worse. I changed my goal to becoming champion."
- Genius, after advancing from the Ro32
Genius might be the poster boy of the lazy, talented player. Not because he's the only one – there are probably quite a few more who just aren't as well publicized. It's because of how much more Genius has shown he is capable of when he decides to put in some more effort. It was as if it were easy as flipping a switch. In his path to the finals, Genius beat players no one would have given him a chance against two months ago. DongRaeGu, sC, Nestea, MarineKing, MC. In the course of a season, he went from perennial cannon fodder to Code S finalist. It was as infuriating as it was incredible. This guy, with this much talent, had been letting it go to waste so long? However, now there is a chance of redemption – for himself, and an entire, down-trodden faction.
Death and Rebirth
March 19th, 2011: A important date every Protoss player will know. The second, and last time a Protoss player was crowned GSL Champion. MC was able to defeat July in a one-sided series, taking first place with a 4-1 score and continuing his dominance in Korea. At that time, the landscape looked good for Protoss. Three of the four semifinalists in the March season were Protoss. San was playing like someone who could become a new star in the GSL. Anypro was quietly but consistently putting up good results in the GSL. Even Genius, HongUn, Trickster, and Killer were still looking relatively strong and seemed to have the skill to go on a hot streak in the next tournament. GSL March suggested there was a golden future for Protoss players everywhere, but that dream was soon stamped out.
May 15th, 2011: A day that will live in infamy. Two months after MC won his second championship, his teammate Inca beat the early season odds and made the finals on the back of some strong PvP and PvT performances. In the finals, he would go up against former Zerg champion Nestea, in a match-up where Inca had a 0% winning percentage at the time.
What occurred on that night was the death of Protoss. Not only was it the worst final in Starcraft II history, but it might have been the worst final in the history of professional gaming. Inca went for DT's in all four games, failed to faze Nestea in anyway whatsoever, and was ground to a fine powder as Nestea laughed his way to another championship. What had been an enormous opportunity had turned into the race's worst humiliation.
Following Inca's loss, Protoss went through its darkest period in history. Not a single Protoss player reached a GSL final, their representation in the higher rounds of Code S stayed shamefully low, and the President MC experienced a vicious slump with not a single player emerging to pick up the slack.
This season, Protoss is finally showing signs of life. With Genius, MC, Parting, and Puzzle reaching the top eight, players like Oz, HerO, Seed, and Creator coming up through the GSL ranks, and veterans like San, Inca, and Squirtle getting their second wind, the Protoss race is well on track to making a recovery. However, they must look ahead to March 3rd, the day of the finals, to learn if this revival is for real.
It might have taken a year longer than predicted, but Genius will finally carry the expectations of Protoss fans around the world into a GSL finals. With his swift decision making, macro, and ability to not only beat players in long games (9-0 all-time in the GSL when him and his opponent have maxed armies) but to also throw in strong all-ins as well, there is appears to be no reason he cannot defeat DongRaeGu. He did it once, so why not again?
In Brood War, there is the Legend of the Fall. It is the belief that come Autumn, a Protoss player will rise above his opponents and his race's troubled times, to capture a Starleague title. If Genius can defeat DongRaeGu in the finals and become second Protoss champion in the history of the GSL, then an old Legend will be reborn in the spring
"Manner Mule" by Fishuu
Writers: Fionn and Waxangel.
Graphics and Art: Meko, shiroiusagi, and SilverskY.
Photography: Ethan Ahn (www.leveltory.com)
Editors: SirJolt and Waxangel.