Spring Arena Scouting Report
MLG's semi-open qualification process for its Arenas has opened them up to a much wider range lesser-known players, many of them just as skilled as their more famous colleagues. It's hard for anyone to keep up with the hundreds (if not thousands) of players in the pro-scene, so TeamLiquid's NrGmonk, tree.hugger, and Ver teamed up to help introduce some of the less familiar faces.
It's been a year since the invasion at Columbus, and we're still not exactly sure what the words 'Korean' or 'foreigner' should mean. There are players of Korean birth who reside in the USA or Europe and do not bother with the GSL at all, while there are non-Korean players who are living in Korean pro-game houses, effectively assimilating into the peninsula's Starcraft culture. For the sake of this article, we will define a 'Korean' as a player of Korean nationality who has trained on a Korean professional gaming team and attempted to qualify for the GSL.
Unless you're an extremely dedicated starcraft fan, you probably won't have heard much about the 3rd place finisher of the NA qualifiers. And even if you were such a fan, before the NA qualifiers, you probably only knew him as the guy who 2-0'd Demuslim, 2-0'd TT1, and lost a close 1-2 to CreatorPrime at IPL4 or as Genius' friend and practice partner.
Here’s the story on MoOk: MoOk was originally a SC1 player, living in the Woongjin Stars house as a practice partner and after moving to SC2, he briefly lived in both the ProS (an 'amateur' Korean team) house and the MVP house. While he was in Korea, he went as far as making it to the final round of the Code A qualifiers, but like many other excellent Code B players, he fell at the final step was unable to show his talents to the world.
He is currently with team Clash, an NA based organization full of NA/KR based talent. As part of the team, he currently lives and trains in Indiana at the temporary Clash teamhouse, which explains why he opted to compete in the NA qualifiers. And in the NA qualifiers, his respectable run included 2-0 minigun, 2-0 binski, 2-0 Rain, and 2-0 Idra, before eventually falling to Select and coL.Killer. MLG Spring Arena will be MoOk’s first real time in the spotlight in a small pool of 32 players, and he's definitely an underdog with his work cut out for him. But when you think of other Code B alumni who have gone on to perform well abroad - such as Sleep, PuMa, and Symbol - his opponents should be prepared for the worst.
Dream is largely an enigma: after being a Code A regular for much of 2011, he dropped down to Code B in November of 2011 and we've only really seen him in various weekly cups since then. However, from a brief snapshot we saw of him in the MLG Korea Qualifiers - a 2-0 vs Losira - Dream demonstrated that he has serious skills. Every foreign tournament is a golden opportunity otherwise anonymous Koreans to make a name for themselves, and Dream might very well be this tournament's Heart.
In game 1, Dream devised an creative solution to one of the worst nightmares a Terran can face against Zerg: a fast third with roach defense on Metropolis. Dream opened up with a standard reactor hellion expansion into a second reactored factory. However, Dream's interpretation of the build was radically different than the typical luck-based allin the build is used for. Instead of massing up 12 hellions and going for a deathblow runby, Dream kept his hellions in groups of four and repeatedly snuck into all three bases, roasting a plethora of drones in the process. Losira's minimalist roach/queen defense, well-equipped to deal with light hellion pressure, could not keep up with Dream's relentless harassment reminiscent of vulture use in Brood War. In doing so, Dream showed that even on a map like Metropolis, Zergs risk taking fast third without speedlings at their own peril. The hellions did such damage to both drones and creep that Losira simply died to the followup three base timing attack.
In game 2, Dream showed a different side. He ended up at a sixty supply deficit due to a poor build and midgame plan. However, he showed great patience and poise from his highly disadvantageous position and succeeded in turning the game back around. The key moment came from correctly predicting Losira's response and leaving behind a quarter of his army at the fourth to deflect a counter while he denied Losira's fourth in the narrow window before Broodlords morphed.
Oftentimes ZvP feels boring and stale to watch. Not so when Sleep is playing. Sleep somehow manages to make the matchup vivid and dynamic, employing multiple transitions every game to keep his opponent off guard while avoiding the banal 3 base roach max midgame so many Zergs rely on. In a single game you might see him start with roach pressure and transition into baneling drops, ling drops, ling runbys, and a mass muta switch in an attempt to stretch his Protoss opponent apart at the seams. His harass is simply relentless and his supreme multitasking lets him keep the pressure on without losing units carelessly. At some points Sleep was controlling three different groups of mutas in his qualifying game against Huk on Taldarim.
Somewhat surprisingly, his ZvT is more based on solid defense than heavy harass. He is excellent at fending off any kind of gimmicky play and generally aims to keep a steady position in the midgame, often opening with a light muta count into fast infestors, and then win with hive tech. However, his ZvZ is not at the standard of his other matchups. In the past few months he has lost series to Violet, Nerchio, Sheth, Symbol, and Idra while beating Violet and Ret. If Sleep can dodge the major Zergs and MMA, he has every chance for achieving a high finish.
*Editor's note: Because of his love for the Old World, tree.hugger decided to write about everyone coming in from the European qualifiers, not just the ones that would be unfamiliar to an American audience.
Europe's open qualifiers were a little... weird. Many of Europe's elite and most exciting up and comers were in attendance, and yet the results were hugely unpredictable, with lesser known and lesser rated players qualifying, and some of Europe's headliners falling just short.
There's not much more to say about Stephano. The French Zerg is as a brilliant player as he was last summer, and has remained remarkably resistant to being 'figured out'. That's in part because his style is so dependent on his scouting and reads, which allows him to always seem one step ahead of whatever metagame is playing out in his current series. Matched against Ryung in the opening round, Stephano is one of the few foreign players that could be picked over any Code S Korean with a straight face. He's adaptable, smart, mechanically sound, and has the perfect mentality. As their standard-bearer, Europe couldn't have hoped for better.
The second European qualifier, Socke isn't much of a surprise either. Continents shift, empires rise and fall, yet Socke remains just about where he was in the scene a year or more ago. There's never been any doubt that Socke is a solid player with the potential to beat some of the best. Will he win tournaments like this one? Probably not, but will he give a good account of himself? Absolutely. Socke is quite a bit beyond the awful turtle deathball style championed by many foreign protoss, although in a pinch he's not above using it. But Socke's style has always been more creative and intricate, always with a solid, carefully considered gameplan. His pick of IdrA was right on the money as well. The American Zerg has not seemed up to par recently and has well known issues with ZvP. Socke's mentality is as strong as IdrA's is fragile, which bodes well for Europe's #2.
Tefel has been around for a long long while, actually, but this is by far the highest profile event he's ever attended. One of Europe's weekly cup heroes, it's been a surprise to see Tefel advance this far, and then actually attend. But since he has recently committed to focusing more on Sc2, it's not so shocking to see his talent pay off. That said, it'd be surprising to see Tefel advance far in New York. His signature match-up is definitely ZvZ, and European ZvZ has often faired well against Korean ZvZ. This is a positive for Tefel's opener against Leenock. But after that, the advantages are diminished substantially, and it's hard to see Tefel advancing far against the calibre of Protoss in this event, and especially against the Terrans present. His first match then, is easily his best opportunity to make an impression. Finally, considering that this is Tefel's first overseas LAN event, even without an audience, it seems reasonable to expect him to have some nerve issues.
After a long time as a 'good but not special' player, Bly has received a ton of attention recently. Picked up by Acer and with a strong performance in several recent online cups, including the ZOTAC Monthly Final for April, it's clear that Bly is about to become a lot more visible. But count me among the skeptics for the moment. Along with Tefel, Bly has never shown the 'special', intangible quality that elevates the players who can compete on a European level to those who compete internationally. In his recent games, Bly has achieved impressive wins, but not yet against the calibre of player whom he'll be faced with in New York. Against Polt in the first round, Bly is a clear underdog. Polt is a supreme multi-tasking player, which usually means trouble for inexperienced opponents. Bly may indeed be deserving of his recent hype, but I wouldn't count on him to prove it here.
After defeating DeMusliM in the Battle of Britain, putting together a strong WCG, and a host of other exploits, BlinG has become fairly well known. He's a talented player, with a ways to go, but there's no doubt that he's making up ground and deserves lots of international experience and chances to prove himself. There's a bit of a bittersweet note in that BlinG's attendance comes at the expense of RoX.KIS.fraer, who has been one of the fastest rising Protosses in Europe recently, and who knocked a number of big names out of the Euro qualifier. Even though he's not here, the Ukrainian Protoss deserves some mention. But back to BlinG, who faces YM.MvP.DongRaeGu in the first round. It'll be a tall order for BlinG, especially given that DRG apparently has a ton of confidence in his ZvP. BlinG is a solid competitor, but he hasn't really proven the ability to compete with the absolute best, especially in PvZ. As a player with a ton of promise, and a fine representative for Europe, it'd be great to see BlinG do well here, but he may have to wait for the losers bracket to show his stuff.
Many of us have been predicting the demise of GoOdy for years now, and recently it seemed like we had finally been proven right. The German Terran, who's confusing ability to win was only matched by elfi has fallen off of late, with less major tournament participation and less shocking results. Yet somewhat inexplicably, GoOdy powered through the MLG qualifiers, defeating Krr and LiveZerg in the onlines, then meRz, SjoW, and Grubby. Go figure. Frankly, it's hard to predict GoOdy ever, because based on all the fundamentals, he should lose, and then somehow he proves you wrong and wins. Moreover, it's often in the silliest way possible; like a bulldozer that everyone but the opposing player sees coming from a mile away. GoOdy's first opponent is coL.GanZi. I think GoOdy will lose. But I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Replacing yet another exciting up and comer in BLASTǂroof, comes Seiplo, who was so impressive at Dreamhack Winter, and has done almost nothing big since. It might not be easy to get excited about yet another Swedish protoss, but Seiplo has shown in the past that he has a tremendous upside, especially with PvP. Unfortunately for him, PvT is the name of the game, and that's been less reliable in the past. Against Heart, it's hard to see what magic Seiplo will have at his disposal, as recently it's been all downside, with eight straight PvT losses recorded in TLPD. While he'd rather a terran than his worst match-up against Zerg, Seiplo still seems a huge underdog this weekend in New York.
And then, we have Grubby, who would probably love to trade places with Seiplo. The WC3 legend needs very little introduction, and his recent win over Ret in the WCS BeNe(Lux) qualifer showed that he's at the top of his game. But in the opening series, Grubby faces FnaticRC's "PvP is all skill" Oz, who will never live that quote down. But unfortunately for the Dutchman, Oz usually backs up his words. That means that Grubby may be a victim of the tough bracket, and will need to do work in losers. Or he could pull the upset. Either way, given a field of Zerg and Terrans, you actually have to like Grubby's chances quite a bit. While he has never been close to the level of dominance that he displayed in Wc3, Grubby has always personified the barrier between the good and the elite (hence the Grubby line). But recently, especially given his impressive defeat of Ret, it might be so that even Grubby has crossed the Grubby line.
Last, but not least, we have Ret. The King of Drones has been doing well recently, but after looking superb at Dreamhack Stockholm, he's looked ordinary since. While the overlord speed buff should theoretically make Ret invincible, it remains to be seen if that will pan out in truth. Either way, Ret was a frightening player before Zerg scouting got buffed, and now he's even tougher. With coL.Killer as his first round opponent, Ret is at least even, and probably favored, given how well he played against Genius at DH. But sometimes with Ret, he's playing focused and untouchable, and sometimes, he plays like Uncle Fluffy. Hopefully in the opening match against a player so frustrating as Killer, Ret will not have issues getting started.