Photo Credit - IEM
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Koreans Roll, but MC is eliminated
From the group standings alone, one could be forgiven for thinking that day one of the IEM World Championship had been held in Wings of Liberty. Of the six players to advance to the Ro12 bracket, four of them hailed from Korea, while the remaining two were European Zergs. However, there was one result that suggested that this was indeed a new game, as the #1 all-time career prize money winner SK_MC was eliminated early on.
LG-IM's YongHwa was the standout player of the day, going 5 – 0 (10 – 1 in maps) to top Group A and advance directly to the quarter-finals of the elimination bracket. It came as a much needed consolation to a player who had just been eliminated from two tournaments in two days – without even playing a match! A scheduling conflict with sponsor events had forced YongHwa to forfeit his spot in the GSL Up and Downs the day before, while the sudden cancellation of IPL6 saw his hard earned spot go up in smoke. Locking in at least $3,500, as well as moving one step closer to the $30,000 grand prize will surely have cheered Yonghwa up.
Not surprisingly for a player who had WoL tournaments to play until the day before IEM, Yonghwa didn't look completely at home with the HotS expansion. In several games he elected not to make a Mothership Core at all, even when he had more than enough resources to do so. He did happen to get the memo about Void Rays being strong in HotS PvZ, and took them out for a spin against Slivko and Nerchio. However, it ended up being Yonghwa's use of blink-stalkers and well executed engagements that sealed the deal, rather than his utilization of his race's new abilities (VOD vs Slivko).
YongHwa's was joined in the Ro12 by his LG-IM teammates YoDa and First who both advanced from group B. While YoDa and First both finished with 4 - 1 records, map score differential saw YoDa finish at the top of the group while the IEM Katowice Champion finished in third. Lone KeSPA representative SKT_PartinG also advanced to the Ro12 with a 4 - 1 record, only losing to Yonghwa in Group A.
No Problem for Nerchio, Ret Resurgent
Among the Europeans, Liquid`Ret and Acer.Nerchio ended up being the ones to advance, edging out Slivko, Lucifron, HasuObs, Kas and XlorD. It was particularly sad to lose K3.LucifroN and Virtus.pro.sLivko so early, considering they provided us with a tragically funny game.
Nerchio's advancement was expected by many, as he had been one of the best performing non-Korean players in 2012. At moments, Nerchio looked like he had chances of upsetting the Koreans PartinG and Yonghwa, but ended up squandering some decent mid-game positions. Against PartinG, he suffered a rare mutas-vs-ground base trade (VOD), while his brood lord-corruptor only composition fell apart once Yonghwa blinked underneath it (VOD).
Ret's advancement came as a surprise, as the Liquid Zerg had spent the past several months in a brutal slump. Even more surprising still, was the manner in which he signalled his return. Not only did he defeat the previous IEM champion in First, but he crushed one of the favorites to win the entire tournament in MC (VOD). Having come into the tournament with a 3 - 16 all time record against MC, it was an especially sweet victory for the Ret. While the win against MC took Ret to 4 - 0, YoDa took some of the wind out of Ret's sails in his final match. The LG-IM Terran aggressively harassed Ret with marines, hellions and widow mines in both games of their series, severly punishing Ret for trying to take three fast bases and gave him something to mull over for the next few days.
President in Exile
MC lived up to his reputation as a showman and entertainer before the tournament, providing a humorous, boastful interview to IEM. However, he failed to live up to his reputation as a cold blooded, prize money hunter, flopping out of his group with a 2 – 3 record. After losing to fellow Koreans First and YoDa, his loss to Ret ended up being the fatal blow.
Lack of experience in HotS may have played a role in the recent Code S quarterfinalist's elimination. Against YoDa, MC GG'd out helpelessly to a widow mine drop, and against Ret, he didn't seem to know how to properly deal with the massive firepower of swarm hosts. However, maladjustment to the expansion would be an insufficient excuse. In another game against Ret, MC lost in what was virtually a WoL match during the meaningful portions of the game. MC played the old 3-base, mass blink stalker style on Entombed Valley, to which Ret responded to by turtling up with spines and going for a muta-ling counter. It worked like a charm, and Ret picked apart the Protoss President. Even taking the HotS mutalisk buff into account, MC fell apart with shocking ease against a player to whom he had never dropped a series before. It's back to entertainment duty for MC, who's sure to be invited to fill in at the IEM caster desk over the course of the week.
It's Getting HotS in Here
While YongHwa, the best player of the day, failed to really take advantage of HotS in his broadcast games, there were plenty of other games where impact of the expansion was felt.
Heart and Soul
"We do somewhat agree that Protoss air, in combination with splash damage units, might be difficult for Zerg to deal with during no-rush 15 minute games in which both sides take an equal number of bases. However, we are not seeing signs of this in pro games. We do see Protoss players attempting this strategy often, but the success rate doesn’t seem high enough for us to deem it overpowered."
So said David Kim, in the most recent Balance Report. To SKT_PartinG, that may have sounded like a very good joke, as he fended off sLivko's roach-ling pressure, teched straight into 3-base void-ray colossus, and steamrolled his Russian opponent (VOD). After that game, PartinG went on to win with the exact same thing again.
In all seriousness, PartinG is a much more accomplished player than Slivko, and the results of such games can only be considered so much in terms of balance. But given the timing of the recent balance report, PartinG's near immediate rebuttal couldn't help but be humorous.
PartinG ponders the future of PvZ
What a Rush!
While we saw swarm hosts, tempests, and vipers used on day one, the most entertaining use of the new units might have been in early game shenanigans. We already mentioned above that YoDa made life miserable for Ret with early widow mines, and K3.LucifroN showed he could do the same in TvP. Against Yonghwa and HasuObs, Lucifron showed exactly how annoying marine-widow mine builds could be. Not only did he put the pressure on his opponents early, but he kept them guessing with varied follow-ups such as a quick medivac drop or greedy triple orbital. Such play adds an entirely new dynamic to the TvP early game, a much needed element for a match-up that is often looks identically to WoL when it goes late.
While MC did get eliminated early, he at least managed to salvage his reputation as an all-in master by bringing a HotS only cheese rush. His void ray and oracle all-in against YoDa proved to be a variant of the classic void ray rush from WoL, with the added benefit of prismatic overcharge and the oracle's massive +light damage.
Are you watching this, Genius?
Azubu.viOLet looks like the prohibitive favorite to advance from in Group C, having the best WoL accomplishments of all six players as well as having all-killed team FXOpen in the GSTL pre-season. Outside of viOLet, though, it's hard to say any one player has a better shot than the others, blowing group C wide open.
A lot of viewers will be touting WW.Sting to join viOLet in the Ro12. Sting is a Korean Terran, a race comparable to the Saiyans of the Dragonball universe. As an inherently gifted warrior race, even the weakest of their kind were capable of causing terrible damage to worlds inhabited by weaker beings. In StarCraft II terms, that means any Korean Terran abroad is instantly a title contender. Well, at least that was the case in the WoL era. Sting's performance in this group will be an early indicator of whether or not that holds true in HotS as well.
As you would expect for players qualified for the IEM World Championship, the four Europeans in this group were considered some of the best of the late WoL era. The trio of aTn.Socke, Liquid`Snute and mouz.MaNa did happen to start their HotS careers unauspiciously, all suffering in the MLG Winter Showdowns. MaNa in particularly seems to be down on his chances in this tournament as well. Still, it's been weeks since those old games were played, and the players will have had time to hone their skills and get ready to show the fans that they are forces to be reckoned with in HotS as well.
K3.VortiX, will be looking to follow in the path of Nerchio and Ret from the earlier groups. Despite being one of the most successful foreigners in 2012, he couldn't escape the bane of all Zergs of that era: being derided as a patchzerg. Ret and Nerchio impressed on Monday without having to rely on the infamous brood lord-infestor composition, and VortiX will surely be eager join them and start shutting up a year's worth of haters.