Code S Semi-finals Preview
By: Fionn & Waxangel
Three players enter the semi-finals with the dream of winning their first GSL championship. One day at a time, the dream gave them the strength to continue as pro-gamers, so that they persevered on that path while the days became years.
Yet, the one remaining dream may be greater than the other three combined. Because while three aspire to be great, one aspires to be the greatest.
There is absolutely no doubt that ST_PartinG is the favorite going into this series. He's widely acknowledged as the best PvT player in the world, and in this tournament alone, he has beaten TheStC, Polt, ForGG, and MarineKing. The key to PartinG's recent success has been his phenomenal late game play, combining colossi, templars, archons, and their supporting units with a deadliness no one can match. The fact that he has not lost a single GSL game to go longer than 25 minutes is a testament to that fact, and even excellent TvP players like MarineKing have only beat PartinG in the early and mid-game.
Putting aside the question of whether or not LG-IMMvp was a great TvP player at the height of his reign, he has looked like a fairly good player in his recent games. The problem is that PartinG has been chewing up and spitting out 'fairly good players' on a regular basis. Though against Leenock, Mvp showed that he could elevate his play to another level in dire situations, that was TvZ, a match-up Mvp has excelled at for a very long time. Though we've seen some clever TvP build orders from Mvp, we haven't seen anything that suggests he'll be able to take PartinG on in a straight out slugfest, especially not in the late game.
However, he might not have to do that to win the series.
“Biiiit byyyyyy biiiiiittttt!!!!!”
– Rushes, all-ins, and cheese
Every great Starcraft player (1 or 2) knew the value of getting easy wins and being unpredictable, and thus made cheesy, all-in style strategies a staple of their multi-game series (Boxer and Flash have famously 3 – 0'd opponents with consecutive cheeses).
Whether it's because he studied pro-gaming history or figured it out for himself, PartinG also mixes in a decent share of cheesy builds with his macro-fests, from one base immortal busts to two base colossi timings.
The funny thing is, he shouldn't be doing it. For 99% of the players in the world, that's the correct BO5 strategy. However, PartinG has arrived at an almost transcendent place with his late game PvT, a kind of macro nirvana where he's better off always playing straight up macro builds with complete disregard for what his opponent is doing.
The purpose of cheesy builds is to make opponents think twice about playing greedily, and getting free-wins when they do. The thing is, PartinG is good enough to already win most of the games where his opponents get ahead with a greedier macro build (like CC first into fast triple orbitals), because he can just shrug off 30 supply differences once he has psionic storm. On the other hand, while he has picked up some free wins with occasional cheese rushes, several of his most embarrassing losses have come when they have failed. However, PartinG seems determined to keep doing these builds, and if he happens to lose this series to Mvp, I expect some failed colossus all-in to play a role.
It's the opposite story for Mvp. He's already analyzed one opponent and beat him with timing attacks, and that's how he's going to have to beat PartinG as well.
After watching NaNiwa's loss to Mvp, PartinG said that Mvp would be welcome to try the same early game tactics against him. I'm not convinced by his confidence. Parting might be undefeated past 25 minutes, but he's shown weakness to early to mid-game timing-attacks. His force-fields and decision-making while defending early attacks aren't always the best, and he's even lost a few strange games to the much diminished 1/1/1 as of late. Mvp has never been a big user of 1/1/1 style all-ins in tournaments, preferring two-base timings including siege tanks. However, that's exactly the kind of mind-game Mvp would look to exploit against PartinG, and the timing attacks he uses against PartinG will be ones we (and PartinG) are unlikely to expect.
Macro games aren't totally out of the question for Mvp, but he will have to set them up well with mind-games during the series. The last thing he wants is a game where PartinG realizes early that he will be able to sit back and max-out.
“DongRaeGu appeared in my dreams.”
Though he may have been exaggerating, PartinG once regaled his interviewers with the tale of how he experienced a new kind of nervousness during his very first GSL quarter-final against DongRaeGu, a series where he looked shaken and suffered a 0 – 3 loss. Afterwards, PartinG said DongRaeGu's haunting visage appeared to him in his sleep, reminding him of his failure to succeed when it mattered.
PartinG has gotten over that hump, at least. But let's not forget, for all his jet-setting, world-traveling exploits, he's never played in the semi-finals of a major tournament. Nerves aren't something you overcome in a day, and it's often a process of overcoming them progressively at every level (well, unless you're Squirtle).
With the exception of MMA – who lives inside Mvp's head – the three-time GSL champion has a mental advantage over any player. Mvp has planned for, and won far more Bo5 series than PartinG. Going on and on about players who “know how to get it done” might be a cliché, but not all clichés are bad. People doubted Mvp's ability to get make it this far, and he's made those doubts seem rather foolish.
“Numbers speak about the past, not the present.”
– Overall outlook and prediction
The above quote comes from mouz.ThorZaIN, who I reminded about his 1 – 9 record against Polt before DreamHack Stockholm. ThorZaIN proceeded to not give a s*** and stomped Polt 3 – 1 in the finals. I don't think that ThorZaIN single-handedly redefined how we think about statistical correlation in pro-gaming, but he did make me reconsider the way I think about smart Terran players who are diligent about studying their opponents, and also about studying themselves.
Yes, Mvp is a big underdog going into this match. But if there's anyone who can look objectively at his situation, analyze his weaknesses, and come up with a solution, it's Mvp.
PartinG thinks he can win 3 – 0. He deserves to be that confident. But before it's all said and done, he'll see that he still has much to learn.
Prediction: PartinG 3 – 2 Mvp
Going into this PvP series, the only thing we know for certain is that one of these two players will have a shot at something no other player has accomplished in GSL history: walking the royal road. A legend heralding from the glory days of Brood War, few players in history have walked the royal road and won a championship in their very first season. Since the start of Code S, several great players have risen from Code A and gone far down that prestigious path, but none have been able to reach its end.
In terms of momentum going into this series, both Liquid`HerO and ST_Squirtle are coming off strong quarter-final performances where they were both able to finish off their opponent by a 3 – 0 scoreline. Supernova threw his entire bag of tricks at HerO, from straight up macro to two-base all-ins, but couldn't handle his housemate's superior multitasking and skill at the match-up. Though HerO has been known to suffer from nervousness as a tournament goes on, this time he was the one making his opponent feel the heat, as SuperNoVa crucially forgot auto-repair on his SCVs during a Thor all-in in the final set.
While HerO might be riding high after dismantling his former teammate, he faces his most daunting challenge yet. Squirtle, statistically, is the best player in the world. You might not like how he plays PvT and deride his now renowned Squirtle Timing Attack as a cheap all-in, but you can't ignore the results. In the past month, in the GSL and IPL, two of the premier tournaments in the world, Squirtle has beaten the best players in the world. MMA, Alive, MarineKing, Nestea, MC, and Oz, to name a few. He comes into the GSL semi-finals after destroying TaeJa's momentum in the Ro8, putting fear in the young prince's heart and even forcing him to blindly produce vikings.
11 – 1. That is Squirtle's record so far in the GSL. In the first game of the season, Squirtle lost to SlayerS ace MMA after throwing away a group of high templars. That was the last we saw of the old Squirtle. After that, there's been no stopping Squirtle, and he is now on an eleven game winning streak going into his games with HerO.
HerO has also had a nice run this tournament, with impressive wins over players like Mvp, SuperNoVa, and Curious. He's undoubtedly the more popular player, and the fan support is in his favor going into the semi-finals. But don't be fooled by the polls and predictions on the GOM website or TeamLiquid: HerO is the underdog going into this series.
Squirtle just spent the last month beating the best Terrans in the world at his worst match-up – now he gets to play his best. He has an incredible 76% win rate in PvP in Korea and has already been able to roll over Oz this season without much trouble. Squirtle was so confident in his PvP that he relished the chance to be put up in a group with MC and Oz in the first round, and he backed up his words by advancing from that group in first place. Squirtle now looks forward to the chance to play HerO, because he is a player he respects, but also because he wants to end any debate about who is better. Should things go as planned, he'll be able to finish his domination of PvP on the grandest stage of all, by defeating his teammate Parting in the GSL finals.
Though all the factors point to a victory for Squirtle, there's one thing that everyone has to keep in mind. More important than anything, above all else, this is PvP. It doesn't matter how amazing Squirtle has been playing the past month, how confident he is in the match-up, or what the numbers say about his skill: anything can happen in a PvP. Hero's below 50% win rate in the match-up compared to the 76% of Squirtle might seem like a huge mountain to climb, but with the right mindset and strategies, the volatility of PvP means that any top level Code S Protoss can beat another on a given day.
A win from Hero here would be amazing not only because it would mark Liquid, and a foreign team's first trip to a GSL final, but also because he would end one of the best runs in Starcraft II history in the process. Squirtle's run is reminiscent of Nestea or Mvp in the mid 2011's, and defeating him would be akin to denying destiny.
Though there's so much on the line for HerO – for himself, his team, and the legacies he will change – I don't think he will be able to press the "B" button in time to stop the evolving Squirtle. The throne is empty and ripe for the taking, and Squirtle will already be looking forward at the championship ahead of him.
Prediction: Squirtle 3 - 1 Hero