Semi-Final 1: SKTelecom_Rain vs. LG-IM_Mvp
Whirlwind - Abyssal City - Entombed Valley - Antiga Shipyard - Cloud Kingdom
What's on the line: One half of a legendary achievement: double royal roads.
– KeSPA trained, OSL and GSL certified.
– Very strong, harassment heavy style of PvT.
– Improves with every appearance, seeming almost invincible the last time around.
– Did not deliver last time he was in a similar situation; the semi-finals of ProLeague.
– Has never played a player like Mvp in his element.
What's on the line: Going one step closer to five GSL championships, a feat that may never be matched ever.
– Is Mvp.
– The most experienced and successful player in this situation.
– Thrives as the underdog. (Also thrives as the favorite)
– PvT has traditionally been his worst match-up.
– Large body of work for Rain to analyze.
What a match. Tonight, we will see dreams, hopes, fears and unanswered questions be realized, denied and answered, in no particular order.
This could be a classic for the ages in terms of play. It could be a match we will always remember for how Mvp out-thought and outplayed Rain when it did not look like he had a chance. It could be a series that will forever cement Rain as a master of PvT, a legend in his own making.
It could also turn out to be an anticlimax in terms of how the games play out. One player could get an advantage early and ride it out without fireworks going off. If anything, the most hyped match-ups are often the most disappointing – when a championship caliber player executes his plan perfectly, his opponent cannot resist being crushed in an avalanche.
But this will be a matchup of significance for every other reason, regardless of how the games themselves play out. This is what many have been waiting to see for a long time now. Neither player has to win by playing particularly well; simply beating the other will be a legendary chapter in itself. For Rain, it means keeping his royal road aspirations alive and establishing KeSPA as the new world order, with himself at its head. For Mvp, it means winning against insurmountable odds once more, continuing to prove himself when he has already run out of things to prove, and leaping miles ahead as the best StarCraft II player in history.
The mind says...
It is hard to see how a player like Rain will lose a Bo5 versus Terran playing standard macro games. Of course, you must keep in mind that this is no ordinary Terran Rain faces, but Mvp, the greatest player in the history of the game. Still, it does not change the fact that Rain has played the best PvT we have seen. As much as Taeja might like to claim that his TvP is the weakest matchup in his repertoire, he has been the best at it for a while – and Rain utterly destroyed him in the round of sixteen. Not only did the games conclusively go in the favor of the Protoss, they showed that Rain was able to pick up on a weakness of his opponent and punish him severely while still looking as solid as ever.
If he had any serious weaknesses going into this match-up, Last was kind enough to give him a much needed check-up in the OSL semi-finals last night. Last revealed what he thought was the best plan to defeating Rain in TvP: all-in and pray (many other Terran players would have agreed). It was a plan that almost worked, but Rain came through in the end, reversing a 0 – 3 deficit to win 4 – 3. Whether this vaccination was successful or not, is left to be seen.
Mvp on the other hand has long lived with having his TvP associated with the words ‘weakest’ and ‘matchup’. Of course, he has been the most complete player in the scene and technically everyone has a 'worst' match-up. For reference, Mvp's 'worst' match-up was good enough to see him defeat three Protoss players in a row to win a championship two seasons ago.
Yet again, beyond the numbers of trophies, there's still reason to have doubts about Mvp. For a player who has seen so much success, it is surprising how uninspiring Mvp often looks against Protoss. He does not have huge holes in his game play, but neither does he blow you away like Taeja, MarineKing or even inconsistent players like Gumiho can at their best. He might win, but whereas he has introduced new standards for TvT and TvZ, he has gotten further in tournaments by tricking, cheesing and by exploiting flaws or mistakes made by his Protoss opponents. One could say Mvp drags his opponents down in TvP, as opposed to elevating his own play.
It does not compute that a player without clearly defined stylistic strengths should beat a player like Rain. Of course, there is the chance that Rain’s early game has the same holes that we saw exploited by Last. Mvp, and countless other tournament champions have demonstrated to us that being the better macro-game player is highly overrated. However, the reveal against Last comes almost as a disservice to Mvp. It is true that it is better to face an opponent you know has certain flaws, but it is insurmountably harder to face an opponent aware of them.
Just like the gut reaction is to doubt that Mvp will win, the brain makes it hard to believe that the Terran will be competing for his fifth title this season. Take away the name factor involved going into it, the safest bet would be on the Protoss to defeat the Terran in convincing fashion.
The heart says
Rain has been the biggest revelation of this season. His was the story of a player that everyone knew was good, but was capable of tropospheric highs that no one could have possibly imagine. As the the tournament progressed, we became witness to one of the most awe inspiring ascendancies in StarCraft II. The wildest thing is that the story may not be over. Rain has become progressively stronger throughout, and each time we have seen him play he has seemed more refined, resilient and self assured.
Mvp has faced many difficult tests before, but this will be the ultimate test of his powers of winning at all costs. While he won 2012 GSL Season Two against all odds – with Parting looking like a maestro of PvT and Squirtle emerging as the most complete Protoss to date – this again feels different. If anything, those encounters were similar in how last night's series between Last vs. Rain played out; a definite underdog finding a way to stay competitive through cheese. But unlike Squirtle, Rain survived such a series, and he's grown stronger once again for it. One must wonder what Mvp has left, what he has saved to overcome such a challenge.
This all feels very familiar somehow. Mvp looks beat on paper. He is facing a player that he should not beat except by invoking his power to defeat anyone by the unique property of being himself.
Everything that reason tells us about matchup analysis would lead us to believe that Rain is the favorite. But there is only so much about what Mvp has done in his career that can be explained by cold logic. And we have seen what has happened before when Mvp has been in this position.
It would be incredibly ironic if Mvp cheesed Rain out of the GSL just one day after Rain narrowly avoided such a fate in the OSL, and somehow it seems fairly plausible. Even though Rain should be better prepared and more equipped to handle the early game, Mvp will find a way to execute all-ins when he knows that Rain knows, showing that knowing is only half the battle. Because if Mvp cannot win off a single mind game, he is definitely the man to pull off a double or triple one.
And this being Mvp, the man who defies all expectations, who is to say he cannot win in a macro game? While we are occupied with what kind of trickery and deceit Mvp could use most effectively, there could not be a move more characteristic of Mvp by going the exact opposite way and crushing Rain straight-up.
For all the merits of predicting a smooth victory for Rain, there remains the fact that a part of us cannot help but to feel that we will be surprised one way or the other. It is impossible to say exactly how; it may be that Mvp’s history so far has made it clear that an exit in the semi-finals is highly unlikely. One thing is certain; Mvp will have analyzed the situation and will test Rain in ways he has not been tested before.
The StarCraft community has had a week to anticipate, to predict, and to salivate over getting to see Mvp and Rain fighting it out. Much has been written, much has been said. Most will agree that Rain should win. At the same time, and not mutually exclusively, many will expect Mvp to win despite the odds.
There are matches that come down to logic. There are matches that defy them. What kind will welcome us in the round of four is not known, but does it really matter at this point? The amount of emotional investment and interest itself is at a boiling point. Not necessarily because of fanboys, fangirls or their counterparts, but because this is so inherently fascinating. Sometimes a name is made on the back of a fantastic game. Rain and Mvp both already have names. And their legacies will grow regardless of the result, as long as there is a result.
We have seen a lot in the GSL. We have seen stars shine. Some brighter than others.
Some shine so bright, so consistently that they become the suns of their own planar systems.
Some shine with such intensity that they light up the skies but burn out in a blinding flash.
Mvp has become the sun of the GSL. Rain is the brightest, most ferocious new celestial object we have observed. On the day, there is no room for both. We may witness a spectacular supernova, one that burns more brightly than others before, but still one that fades from the skies to reveal that the world of StarCraft II still revolves around Mvp. Or the sun we know may be eclipsed and the brightest star will shine brighter than ever before.
Rain 3 - 1 Mvp
Semi-Final 2: Liquid`TaeJa vs. ST_Life
Abyssal City - Whirlwind - Entombed Valley - Cloud Kingdom - Daybreak
What's on the line: Continuing his quest to win a GSL and prove that he is the best player in the world.
– Insanely good TvZ micro, especially in battles.
– 9 - 1 all-time record against Life.
– Uncanny knack for barely surviving Zerg rushes and coming back to win.
– Recently struggled against Zergs proficient at hive play, such as Leenock and VortiX.
– Preference for greedy play is well-known and exploitable.
What's on the line: The royal road, and dispelling doubts about who is truly the best Zerg.
– Young and incredibly talented, constantly improving.
– Likes to use a wide variety of strategies, especially ones that give him the initiative early.
– Has become a very strong macro player since joining Startale.
– Remarkable composure and confidence for a Code S rookie.
– Preference for early aggression is well-known and exploitable.
– Yet to show top level play with late-game hive armies.
by stuchiu and Waxangel
Some would say this was inevitable. Life and TaeJa had long been touted as two of the prospects with the most promise, showing dominating performances on the ladder and in online tournaments alike. Yet, it took nearly a year, and two wildly divergent career paths for these two to fulfill their potential, and finally meet one step away from the summit.
TaeJa began on the NEX clan, a feeder clan into the pro-team ZeNEX, after being rejected from teams that had been his first option. It was an inauspicious start, but TaeJa committed to improving his skill and moving up in the world.
He soon earned himself a spot on the prestigious SlayerS team, and used his limited chances in the GSTL to impress by all-killing twice. He turned the ESV Weekly tournaments into his personal ATM, and fought his way out of Code B to qualify for Code S. Yet, with the SlayerS policy of favoring in-house players, MMA, Ryung, and Ganzi would remain forever ahead of him in the pecking order, whether it was GSTL appearances or receiving a rare flight to an international tournament.
TaeJa needed to spread his wings even further, and he received SlayerS' blessing to search for another team. A move to Liquid followed, where he continued his growth and capitalized on new opportunities. TaeJa learned the ropes at international tournaments, going from 'another Korean Terran' to multiple international champion. He went from a one-off player in Code S to one of its regular fixtures, and is now one step away from the finals.
In contrast to TaeJa's steady, self-made ascent, Life's rise to prominence was almost an accident – one that's equally bizarre and awesome.
Being younger than TaeJa and still bound to middle school, Life wasn't able to take control of his fortune the same way. He found a place on the bottom of the rankings ZeNEX team, eventually becoming their best player, but remained largely an online prodigy. Even Life will admit that he wasn't treating pro-gaming too seriously at the time.
Then, two things happened: ZeNEX was absorbed by Startale, and summer vacation started. Many people could have guessed it before, but ZeNEX hadn't exactly been making huge demands of Life as a pro-gamer. With time on and his hands and having been swept up into one of Korea's most skilled and best supported teams, Life moved into the Startale house and put major effort into pro-gaming for the maybe the first time.
On his own, Life had already been good enough to be ZeNEX's ace player, and make it into Code A. At the end of the summer, Life emerged as the the best player on Startale and possibly the best Zerg in in the world. It's as if the StarCraft gods were tired of waiting for Life to realize his talent, and decided to intervene on his behalf.
Whatever paths they took, all that matters now is that they are here. Generation change has been a long way coming, and it begins now.
TaeJa: The favorite
TaeJa has been carrying a prospective "best Terran in the world" tag for a few months now, but he needs to win this GSL to make it truly and undeniably his. Defeating a combination of Life and Mvp/Rain will leave no doubt in anyone's mind.
TaeJa's greatest strength must be his amazing micro, especially in battles. While the Terran race has strong harassment and infuriatingly good turtling capacity, their signature TvZ trait going all the way back to Brood War is their ability to fight incredibly cost-effectively. While Zergs have shied away from fighting Terrans without the support of their own signature units in infestors and brood lords, it's precisely the unsavory prospect of facing a player like TaeJa in the open field that caused them to play this way.
On the back of that, TaeJa does pretty much everything a Terran needs to do very well. He harasses doggedly, makes great decisions, and has an incredible knack for being greedy, absorbing a rush, and coming out with an economical advantage. At one point TaeJa was somewhat predictable in his preference for greedy play, but he incorporated cheesy builds and all-ins into his play as he became a championship contender. TaeJa's macro is probably his weakest area as he sometimes banks a large amount of minerals, but he's often microing well enough in the meanwhile to make it worth it. When you put it all together, there's no question that TaeJa is the best TvZ player right now.
Life: The Dark Horse
Life, the Dancing Ling,
Young and Keen,
And only fifteen.
Just a month ago, Life was a rising prospect that had a penchant for off-tempo play and all-ins. His unique, aggressive strategies helped him set the pace of the game and take the initiative away from his opponents. It was hard to tell whether it was meticulously calculated or just done on a whim, but Life's ability to switch things up gave him a unique advantage.
Since joining Startale, Life has reaped the rewards of being at a team house with multiple Code S caliber players. In addition to all of the tricks and sleight of hand he knew before, he became far more comfortable in straight out macro games. However, instead of simply imitating the turtle-hive style of many other players, he has taken the best of both worlds to create his own unique style of play.
His ZvT in particular, has been a great display of the Life style of play. Life finds that with Terran players expecting Zergs to rush hive, it's not hard at all to find ways to exploit defensively lax Terrans with aggression. The hallmark of his play is brilliant speedling usage to take back the initiative from the standard TvZ opening of hellion-banshee. By microing speedlings against hellions and backstabbing incessantly, Life takes the momentum early and keeps it for the rest of the game.
Even though Life's supposed 'weakness' should his lack of experience, so far it hasn’t affected him at all. Rather, in the round of 8, MKP looked like the inexperienced rookie while Life looked like the seasoned veteran. In that series, Life even targeted his opponent's mindset directly and tried to take advantages both in and outside of the game. After making sure he had the games in the bag, Life added in manner hatcheries and zergling dance parties in a deliberate attempt to discourage MKP. Unfortunately for him, Taeja also has an iron clad mindset and it'll take more than breakdancing zerglings to unhinge Taeja in the Ro4.
Both players know where each other excel, but somehow it doesn't seem likely they're going to change anything up for each other. They're both confident enough to think they can beat anyone in the world by sticking to their game plan, and this will end up being a direct clash of styles.
Taeja will use his usual gameplan, trying to get three orbitals up reasonably safely, knowing that the power of mules means he can afford to lose an early battle since he will be better set to win the war. As for Life, he will try to set the tempo with aggression as usual, confident that simply knowing his style won't be enough for any Terran to stop him. TaeJa will dare Life to attack, and Life will happily oblige.
When all is said and done, Taeja should take this but just barely. While MarineKing only understood offense, and more offense, TaeJa knows how to balance offense and defense, and greed and safety. He can't walk the razor's edge perfectly for the entire series, and Life is surely going to make him bleed. But if you add it all up, Taeja’s stability and solidity stack up just slightly better against Life's offensive ingenuity.
Prediction: Taeja 3 - 2 Life
Writers: Porcelina, stuchiu and Waxangel.
Graphics and Art: GomTV and Meko.