In Search of a Teamleague
There's something special about teamleagues. There just is. While it's great to see one player face down another, to see the individual play and brilliance that is showcased in almost all of the tournaments that we cover and watch, teamleagues are somehow more compelling. There's a sense that something extra is on the line, because one player at a time has the weight of their entire team and the fans of that team, and the fans of all the other players on that team. That's why in BW it was proleague and not the starleagues that was most important to the players.
For the foreign scene, we have lacked a serious teamleague for a long time. A teamleague should be regular, but rare. It should include as many top teams as possible. It should treat itself with respect and offer a solid prize-pool.
It should bring out the best players of every team, every time, and generate the same passion and excitement in the fans as do individual events.
In it's first season, the IPL Team Arena Challenge accomplished all of that. The games drew out players like DongRaeGu, MMA, and MVP. The dramatic finals between Mousesports and QIM was one of the highlights of the year, and gave the foreign scene a huge reason to be proud. This year, the IPL TAC returns, not just as an upstart league, but the largest and best supported foreign teamleague in starcraft two. That is why IPL TAC #2 is the first foreign teamleague that TL has covered on the frontpage in at least a very long time. We hope that this event will spark better and brighter events like it for the foreign and Korean scene, and that very soon, we'll have an event to rival the BW proleague, an event that becomes the top priority for players, and maybe where we can take in the finals live on a beach in Busan.
The action starts tonight with NSHoSeo squaring off against Dignitas. Can't wait.
First Round Previews
*EDITOR'S NOTE: The predictions are for fun, we have no idea what's going to happen, and neither does anyone else. Take them with a grain of salt, we know we picked optimistically on the foreigner side. The analysis of the match-up is serious though, if you want to object about bias, object to the write-up...!
Mousesports vs. Quantic
Mousesports returns after a stunning run in the previous season of Team Arena where they took a second place finish amidst a field of Koreans, including defeating the tyrants of the GSTL, SlayerS. Curiously, their first opponent is one half of the team that beat them a sound 5-3 in the finals last year—Quantic (formerly of QIM).
However, as good as Quantic is, they are significantly less scary without the muscle of IM backing them up, and so Mousesports ought to be considered the favorites here. Their top line-up of ThorZaIN, MaNa, and MorroW has done wonders for them, as at least one always seems to come up big when they need it most. In the reserves, biGs, HasuObs, and (possibly) HeRoMaRinE represent a strong line-up in their own right, and are capable of providing a solid foundation for the team aces. biGs especially has made waves recently on ladder, marching all the way up into the top 20 EU GM (as of this writing) and has been seen higher.
For Quantic, success will depend on their two aces, SaSe and the enigmatic NaNiwa. While little has been heard from SaSe recently, that's not an indication of fading skill by any means. For NaNiwa, a trip to IEM Kiev ended in disappointment, but he can make up for it with a strong performance here. His recent play has seemed more refined than ever, even if it might have lacked variety at IEM. For Mousesports, the road to winning this runs through the two Quantic protoss aces, and their potential-packed Korean pick-up Apocalypse. Any losses taken to Quantic's rearguard, most notably Theognis and Shuffle, will be bad unforced errors. If Mouse can put SaSe and NaNiwa into the position of having to all-kill or something like it, then they'll be where they want to be, and should win.
Prediction: Mousesports 5-3.
New Star HoSeo vs. Dignitas
I’m excited about this match, not only to see how Dignitas fares against the star-factory that NSHoseo is beginning to become, but also which new players NSHoseo will send out. NSHoSeo is new to the foreign teamleague circuit, so how seriously they take the main event here is something of a mystery. It seemed that in the GSTL every other week we’d see a new crazy player with customized NSHoseo builds, but the team has been out of the spotlight for a little while.
Dignitas has always been a powerhouse in the European scene, but they seem to be getting a little rusty around the edges. SeleCT and SjoW have been notably absent from their representative scenes, and the only players who have garnered recent attention are players that were their traditional second tier—Killer, DreAm and BlinG. Those players alone probably won't cut it if NSHoSeo takes this at all seriously.
But the Koreans are just as liable to be a bit surprised by the fight in the foreign team, and Dignitas does have plenty of talent. I'd love to see some great games from the Dignitas up-and-comers, and a resurgence from SeleCT here.
Prediction: 5-3 New Star HoSeo
EG vs. oGs
This is another match that I’m greatly looking forward to. oGs is a traditional powerhouse, but is recently out of both MC, who just transferred to SK Gaming, and Code-S stalwart Zenio, who moved out of the house and is now on Team Liquid. EG on the other hand has just acquired JYP, the TSL Protoss ace that spent this season in Code S.
But don’t overlook oGs; they're still a rock solid team with a number of very good players, and their newest ace, oGsFin, is a daunting broodwar professional with a stack of precision builds and cheeses. TheStC showed reasonable finishes at foreign events last year as well, and they’ll be looking to SuperNova to show some consistency and come through for them big this match-up.
EG’s line-up is also to be feared. IdrA has had some time off to practice and prepare, and has proven time and time again that he can rise against the best players in the world. JYP is a strategic protoss with a weakness to Terran but is extremely good against protoss and zerg. Puma is a foreign tournament beast but has yet to really make his mark in Korea. And we haven’t heard much from Huk lately, but we know he's good, and this will be a chance to see what he’s been up to. I think there’s a lot of potential in a front-loaded EG team, but each player has clear weaknesses which can more easily be exploited in a team league format.
My thoughts? This is especially a fascinating match because both teams will play with even lag on the Korean server. I think if HuK plays, his performance against the oGs Terrans will be pivotal to an EG win, as terrans could prove EG's achilles heal. IdrA’s mood will also have a lot to do with what calibre of player he can draw out and who he can defeat.
I think this is going to be the must-watch series of the opening rounds.
Prediction: 5-4 EG
coL.MVP vs. Team Liquid
One of the first and most interesting foreign team partnerships, coL.MVP, takes on one of the most visible teams around in, TLAF-Liquid, and this one is going to be a slugfest. No offense to the players at compLexity, but there is a clear disparity in skill between their American-based Sc2 squad led by fearless leader CatZ and their Korean counterparts at MvP. With the double elimination format and the importance of not falling out in the first round, I think we’re going to see a lot more MVP than compLexity, and Liquid has the talent to bring it out.
Team Liquid, meanwhile, has a consistent and experienced roster that makes strong tournament showings in the international scene. Their Zerg lineup of Sheth, Ret, Zenio, TLO, and Haypro is diverse and dangerous, and HerO has shown before that he can take on anyone. But they lack a solid terran option as Jinro continues to slump, and they might lack a protoss option as well, as HerO has seemed out of sorts for a month now. If they rely on their zergs alone, they can go places, but wins might be hard to come by. Moreover, in the last IPL TAC, Liquid` bowed out shockingly early, notching a 1-10 total record against ReIGN and QIM.
coLMVP’s roster is larger by far, but despite last season's tremendous inspiration from Keen, the limited consistency of Noblesse and everyone else means they lack aces outside of their team league standby, DongRaeGu. They have the addition of qxc as a wildcard, who was one of the scariest players in the foreign scene when he was in form, but nobody knows how much he’s been practicing with his studies. Otherwise, it's hard to see who will come out from the compLexity side of things. MvP has sent players like finale and TAiLS out before, but could get DRG and Genius if needed. Liquid` will need to beat some serious aces to advance.
The ace match-up to look for by far is going to be DongRaeGu against Hero. Hero has legendary PvZ, with sublime builds and harassment techniques and famous warp prism usage. DongRaeGu, on the other hand, is known primarily for his ZvT matchup, but is no slouch with mutalisks in any situation and has been on fire recently, while Hero has had trouble getting out of code A. I predict a long management game if it occurs, and the winner will be simply who can anticipate the other player the best.
Whoever survives that match has a high chance of taking running games off of the other team and taking a huge lead or sweeping from there. Call it bias if you want, (ok, yeah, it's clearly bias) but my bet is on a Liquid win - I think that even if Hero doesn’t come through for them, they still have strong outs in Zenio, Ret and Sheth, and their motivation after last IPL TAC will propel them to the top.
Prediction: Liquid` 5-4 in some great games.
Team SCV Life vs ReIGN
On paper, this could be simple; Korean team, foreign team, Koreans win. But there's a lot more at play here that has a potential upset written all over it. First off, TSL has been undergone a ton of stress and difficulty recently, with aLive and possibly Heart having left the team, and their Coach becoming embroiled in a ton of drama. The situation in the team house cannot be good, and there's definitely reason to worry that the team can compete to the best of their abilities here, let alone make it through the season without disbanding. And secondly, ReIGN looks like a team on a mission, falling by the slimmest of margins to FXO in the NASL Teamleague. Against a weakened Korean opponent here, they must seize the opportunity.
TSL has but a skeleton crew left over, and so we know pretty much exactly who will play for them. RevivaL, Symbol, and HyuN make up their main zerg line-up, Polt is their lone proven terran, and Cyrano their only protoss (EN: Forgot about Dream). Of the bunch, only Polt and RevivaL are heavily tested, while Symbol has some good online results, and Cyrano has nothing in a year. The most interesting of their players is HyuN, who is the most recent elephant to switch over from BW, and who made it into Code A on his first try.
For ReIGN, there are only slightly less options, with four players currently on the top roster. But the line-up is a lot more colorful and experienced. Artist and Inori are their two Korean aces, and both will be surely called into service. While Inori's PvP sniping skills will be less needed here, Artist needs to have a big day if ReIGN is to advance here. KiWiKaKi and SLush bring up the next line of defense, and they can go toe to toe with the Koreans as well, especially if they break out the surprising strategies that they're well known for. That leaves us with Axslav, giX and Future, one of whom could play, and two who will not. Neither will be favored against any of the TSL players, although Axslav would definitely have the best chance of the bunch. His recent acquisition however, might not make him elidgible to play. We might simply see one of ReIGN's reserve players come out first to draw out the first TSL player and allow them to be better sniped.
ReIGN has good results recently, but this is a tough match for them. If they can get beyond Polt however, things open up. The recent disarray in the TSL house and the absence of aLive hurts TSL a good deal, and that ought to be enough.
Prediction: 5-2 ReIGN
FXO vs Vile
Vile had a tremendous run through the qualifiers, make no mistake about it. Comfortably beating mTw, Clash, imba.FXO, and finally ZeNex, this is a team that clearly has a confidence in itself that it didn't tell anyone else about. Still, on paper, I just don't see it; ChAnCe, Illusion, State and Yong make up a good front four, and DdoRo, Hawk, and Spanishiwa have notched a few MLG wins here and there. It's a vastly better line-up that you might've remembered. But is it really enough to take on an elite Korean team like FXO? My heart says yes, but my brain says; prove it again.
FXO is one of the most highly regarded teams out there. GuMiHo, Lucky, Leenock, and Oz represent not just four ace players, but four of the most talented and fastest rising players in the world. Moreover, FXO has shown their willingness to deploy them in foreign teamleagues, and so Vile must plan to run the full gauntlet if they want to succeed. Their potential fifth could be anyone, maybe team coach Choya, the famous TheBest, or perhaps one of their foreign players. But the point is that FXO's line-up will probably be the toughest thing anyone will see in this teamleague, and that's not a good sign for Vile.
If the North Americans win, it'll be because they bottled the magic that propelled them through the qualifiers, and distributed heavy doses. You can qualify their win somewhat, they never met a top Korean team until the finals, where they played a ZeNex team that had already made it through. But that only goes so far; imba.FXO and mTw have strong players, and Clash is made up of Code B Koreans. Vile did truly earn their spot here, but against FXO it's hard to see much of a path to victory. One issue might be that their players aren't really exposed a great deal, and so it's hard to judge the skill of the players. But in the qualifier, they leaned surprisingly little on Yong, and very much on ChAnCe and State, who came up big on multiple occasions. Same deal applies here, and Ilusion and Yong will need to provide more support than what was shown in the qualifiers.
Ah, if Vile wins, it'll already be one of the stories of the tournament, but the fantastic four of FXO look too strong to me. I expect Vile to get a couple nice wins, but nothing beyond that.
Prediction: FXO 5-2
Startale vs ZeNex
Did ZeNex dodge a bullet when SlayerS withdrew? Maybe they did, but with Startale as the replacement, you still can't say they got it easy. Despite a series of ever-more ridiculous logos, ST has continued to produce reliably good players for a while now, and even if none of them ever make it all the way, this is a team that is strong and definitely still a better one than poor ZeNex.
The perpetual bottom feeders of the GSTL, ZeNex has had some ups, but mostly downs in Sc2. Their qualification to this event was proof that they still can notch wins, but losing to Vile in the finals didn't help their case so much. In that event, they relied heavily on Sparta, with EXTREME, Life, Pet, Mushroom, and Cutter all making appearances. If you don't know these players, don't worry, you probably shouldn't. Against Startale, what worked against x6, It's GoSu, and DTG probably won't again, but what choice does ZeNex have? Life is their ace, and he'll need to be their workhorse if they hope to advance. If EXTREME and Sparta can get a few wins before passing it off to him, it's probably where ZeNex expects to be. Mushroom, Pet, and the rest have rarely ever been impressive, and if Startale doesn't ignore this completely, they shouldn't give up ground to ZeNex's leftovers.
For Startale, there's a wealth of excellent talent that all feels like it failed to meet it's full potential. Of course, there's Bomber, but there's also AcE and Squirtle, perhaps the two most disappointing players in Sc2. But they're still good, of course, and still dangerous for ZeNex. The current leaders of ST are Curious and PartinG, who both could really be something if only they'd.... go out and do it. PartinG is something of a PvT expert, and so don't expect Sparta to make it past him. Curious is a super player all around, but his ZvZ is particularly good, and so he will be Startale's most likely response to Life. And if not, there's always Bomber.
ZeNex isn't the better team here, and with Startale on even latency, there's nothing weird to get in the way of the ST win.
Prediction: Startale 5-2
In yet another Korea vs International team battle, the Eastern European-heavy Empire take on the GSTL runners-up Prime. Empire is another extremely worthy foreign opponent, and their recent runs in the EGMC and the last GCPL attest to their ability to hang with, and upset the most famous teams in the foreign scene. For Prime, they are often underappreciaed as a Korean team, with MKP being their only real noteworthy player.
But Prime is dangerous, and in the past, players like Creator, AnNyeong, BbongBbong and cOre have proven their use along with MKP. They made it to the GSTL finals with a lot of nerve and a great team attitude that had them celebrating like madmen when they were put through into the playoffs. If they bring that kind of fire to the IPL TAC, then they will do seriously well. But if they mail it in, or if the magic isn't there anymore, they could get upset here.
Empire actually may be the best foreign vs korean chance in the tournament. Led by the Beast from the East; Kas, and backed up by one of Europe's most underrated players in Beastyqt, they have plenty of explosive potential. The predictable, safe, and solid Happy will become less predictable when he plays opponents who don't know him, and thus he could make some waves here as well. Most importantly, the addition of viOlet last week gives Empire some semblance of racial diversity, and also gives them a credible threat against protoss, which was previous a gaping weakness. If they play the series intelligently, springing viOlet on Creator or cOre, then they could clean up with the brunt of their powerful terran attack.
Maybe the toughest call of the entire first round for me, I'd love to pick Empire here, but my gut says that Prime will find a way to pull it out. What's a TL newspost however without liberal helpings of foreigner bias?
Prediction: Empire 5-3
Since the release of Starcraft 2, it feels to me that many of Team Liquid's newer users and fans of Sc2 have a tendency to favor tournaments which feature a single player, rather than formats like Brood War's Proleague format. The preference of these fans, have led to a strong trend of events that largely ignore the existence of teams throughout the foreigner scene. Teamkills happen regularly, players from the same team are put in similar timeslots, and rarely do full teams ever get together at one spot. Of course, every major tournament that we have outside of Korea (IPL, MLG, Dreamhack) wants only the best of the best, which aligns with Starcraft's mentality of survival of the fittest. Plus, teams are difficult to schedule, and much more expensive to fly around for a live event.
However, it's really not preferable in the long run to have only individual events. If you ask anyone who watches Starcraft who their favorite player is, they'll no doubt name an "all-star" foreigner, from Stephano to Idra. However, ask them for the name of their teammates, and they might be at a complete loss. The team league format serves to expose and train the lesser known players who would otherwise have been knocked out early from major tournaments, forcing them to have a minimal fan base. This can lead to burnout or discouragement, seen in the recent departures from major foreigner teams throughout the scene. However, in a team league format these players would have a chance to establish themselves against bigger names than otherwise possible, allowing them to develop builds to "snipe" big name players, and win fame and glory on their own.
If you're new to the community and you haven't witnessed any of the great teamleague moments, I would highly recommend that you go back and check out some old Broodwar VODs of Proleague, it's really quite wonderful, and not just for a BW fan. Teamleague creates moments that you never would get see at any other point. A moment that immediately comes to mind is the match between Jaedong vs Fantasy on Outsider in Shinhan Bank Proleague 2009 Grand Finals. A build that Boxer created in the SKT1 house; a two barracks marine-only cheese, was perfected by Fantasy and the SKT1 zergs. In the first of two potential ace matches, it caught the greatest zerg in the world totally by surprise and brought SKT1 the final in decisive fashion.
Another classic moment was the reverse all-kill led by the almost completely unknown CJ terran sKyHigh, where he defeated Jaedong and the rest of Hwaseung Oz in the winners-league finals of that same year. The win catapulted sKyHigh to fame, and although he would ultimately never find the success that he hinted out that day, the heights of that victory are still remembered. Or perhaps some people remember the snipe build by another CJ rookie Snow a year later, in which he defeated Flash PvT, just weeks after Flash claimed to have achieved nirvana in the match-up. Snow was a complete surprise as an ace pick, and he executed a build that used everything Flash knew about TvP against him, finally winning with a deadly carrier switch in a split map situation. Many fans remember the individual leagues, but the proleague memories are the ones that burn the brightest, because they felt like the triumphs of a huge army of supporters, not just a single player. When teams and fans feel like they're part of a family, when they share the same ups and downs, and when they go it together, we're all better for it.
So as the IPL Team Arena Challenge starts up, and fans pick sides and tune in, it's worth a trip down memory lane to remember just how good teamleagues can be.
Interview with IPL Operations Manager
Please start by introducing yourself!
Frank Fields: My name is Frank Fields. I'm from Dayton Ohio, but now live in San Leandro California. I'm the StarCraft II Operations Manager for IPL and the President and Owner of Team ReIGN.
Take us back to the beginning of the IPL Team Arena. How did the idea come about to branch out from the IPL events and run a team competition?
I have always believed that team matches are more exciting than individual matches, and I knew from people working in the GSL that GSTL was getting more views than GSL finals. I come from a WC3 background and back then the best players were determined not by performances in ESWC or WCG, but by their performances in WC3L, the premier team league at the time (run by ESL). At the time also there were an abundance of solo showmatches going on and it annoyed me that there weren't very many team leagues running So I decided we could run a showmatch in a team format and that it would likely get a higher viewer draw than many of the individual showmatches that were frequent at the time.
Luckily it was very successful, and it worked out that my own team won the first 4 weeks
Did the concept of the Team Arena Challenge come once the regular weekly Team Arena was a hit, or was it always in the cards?
It wasn't until about the 8th week when teams rosters had really shifted that we wanted to put them back on, but we realized it wasn't quite fair to other top teams to recycle teams without including new ones, so we decided to hold a tournament to expose many teams, the best teams we could get at the time, to play in a double elimination tournament. We basically saw it at that time at an improvement on GSTL, which almost all fans loved.
It seems fair to say that IPL TAC #1 was a great success by all fan metrics. Internally, how did IPL feel about the event?
Like all events, internally we felt there was a lot more we could improve upon. The biggest obstacle were scheduling issues with all the different events in November and December. However, on the whole it was very successful. The viewer count on the final was slightly lower than we wanted, but the scheduling issues towards the end were partially responsible for that.
What was the biggest thing that IPL learned from TAC #1?
The diverse opinions about the balance between scheduling matches as close to the air date as possible and leaving enough time to work out problems due to unavoidable delays. The matches weren't played nearly as far in advance as the community perceived, which actually caused some scheduling issues towards the end. I think we've remedied those for TAC2. We've managed to make the matches very recent while leaving in buffer times for other events and emergencies.
On a purely positive note, in a tournament that had many great moments, what was your favorite thing that happened in IPL TAC #1?
Mouz was amazing. Through the tournament they beat SlayerS, coLMVP and Incredible Miracle. They proved that Western teams are just as good as Korean teams. It culminated in ThorZaINs AK of IM in the Grand Final part 1 and was amazing to watch.
Alright, so now we turn to IPL TAC #2. Was there any doubt this was going to happen?
As soon as the finals aired, David Ting said he wanted to immediately start another one. Even though we had another tournament planned (different type) for January and February, we cancelled that to put on TAC2 because it was so popular. I have to say that I love planning tournaments so having wiggle room to make a bigger tournament made me really excited.
Tell us about the decision to expand the field to 16 teams. It's a pretty ambitious move, what led to the larger set-up?
Honestly, there were so many teams that didn't get in last time, both Korean and Western, that we wanted all the best teams in the world we could cram in. If we could have logistically made it bigger, we would have.
How do you feel about the field? With three Korean teams coming in through the qualifiers, it's a little bit like GSTL and IPL TAC #1 combined!
That was the idea. To me, there is a huge misconception that Korean teams are miles ahead of Western teams and it's just not really accurate. I think Mouz showed that Western players are really strong. We included almost all the teams we could have in the invites, and I think we got the best field we could have from the qualifiers as well. The only team I wish we could have had was IM.
Any predictions? ^^
Mouz v NSHoSeo in the final. I think NSHoSeo will win. But I think EG, Empire, Prime and coLMVP will get far.
How does IPL feel about the hybrid teams like coL.MVP and last season's winner QIM? How do you address criticisms that it is 'cheap' or unfair if a foreigner team latches onto a Korean one?
Honestly, it just depends on the situation, but these two teams have basically banded together for the same reasons that players bind themselves to teams. If it makes a superteam so be it. We actually offered oGs and Liquid to partner for this one and they declined. The Startale Quantic partnership was announced before they played their first round match but after the qualifiers started and StarTale has played in the qualifiers so it didn't seem right. And, Startale is going to replace SlayerS in the tournament because they have chosen to withdraw.
IPL TAC #2 is actually the first non-korean scene teamleague that TL will ever have given frontpage coverage to. It casts a wide net, has a serious prize pool, and seems to be taken by all parties as seriously as a teamleague should be. We're hoping it'll become a regular occurrence, any idea how often we can expect to see this event in 2012?
I hope to do one of these in between every IPL live event. I actually have some other tournament ideas that we might run instead, but if the community keeps watching, I'll keep trying to run them.
There's been hints of a possible GSTL live final at IPL4. Without saying too much on that subject, is it possible that we might see a IPL TAC live final in the future?
It's a possibility and it's something we'd love to do.
IPL TAC #2 starts today at 01:00 GMT (+00:00) with Dignitas vs NsHoSeo. How is the tournament going to play out schedule-wise?
5 matches per week, 1 per night. It will run all in a row (except Saturday for Fight Club and Friday for community) until the final on March 1st.
Sounds great, looking forward very much to the games. I guess we're out of questions... Anything else?
I'd personally like to thank IPL for allowing me to have one of the best jobs in the world, and I'd like to thank the community for it's support and it's criticism, for watching our events and for making everything in eSports possible. We love you guys, without you, none of this exists. We'll keep listening as long as you keep talking.