CodeS Grand Finals: Preview
By: Fionn & Waxangel
MVP - A Championship's Fate
StarCraft II is a world filled with great individual stories, ranging from MKP's heartbreaking quest for a GSL championship, to MMA's succession of a legendary legacy. Among these, Mvp's is the simplest: He is just the f***ing best.
His teammate Nestea has matched him with three GSL championships, but Mvp surpasses him in every other area. He has reached the GSL finals a total of five times, he's won nearly every international tournament he's bothered to go to, and he changed the way people play Terran, leading to months of his race's dominance.
Yet, for a player who is by some margin the greatest to ever play the game, popular support has been surprisingly hard to come by. In any fierce competition, fans will flock towards winners. But while swathes of forests have been felled to create more room in the massive bandwagon trains that trail behind the FC Barcelonas, Chicago Bulls, and New York Yankees of the world, Mvp's following has been rather modest in comparison. Mvp's problem was that he was the best Terran player when people were sick and tired of Terran, he chose strength and perfection over style and verve, and more than anything, he never, ever looked even mildly challenged by his GSL opponents. Fans migrated to flawed, but nonetheless more human heroes such as IdrA, DongRaeGu, and MC.
The great irony of Mvp's run in 2012's second Code S tournament is by giving up all that defined him, the things that made him the best in the world – his perfection, his invincibility, his racial advantage – he has finally become the hero the people desire. Winning here would further cement his legacy as the greatest StarCraft II player of all time, with an almost certainly unassailable, record-breaking four GSL championships. But that aspect of Mvp failed to captivate fans a year ago, and even now it is not the main story. Now, he is the sole Terran hope as Protoss looks to stamp out all other life, a player who has played his entire tournament with a painfully injured wrist, and gone into every single match as an underdog. In essence, Mvp has gone from representing all that is boring about sports, and come to stand for that which is most great: triumph in the face of insurmountable odds. No one wanted to cheer for Goliath, until Goliath changed his identity.
At some point this season, Mvp's matches ceased to be about skill. We all watch StarCraft with a belief that we can observe patterns, find causes and effects, and thus figure out who should win a given match. All the external data suggested that Mvp had only the slightest chance to win Code S, and that he was hard pressed to advance in every round. It wasn't just us, the pros agreed. NaNiwa wasn't convinced that Mvp was a better player, PartinG thought he could beat Mvp 3 – 0, and even now, Squirtle truly believes that he can win 4 – 0. No, no one believes in Mvp's skill. He's struggled to win a long, macro TvP this entire tournament, and all of his victories seem to be based on gimmicks and the mistakes of his opponents. Only Mvp and his fellow LG-IM players believe in his skill, but what kind of teammates would they be if they didn't?
Yet, after expressing his confidence in beating Mvp 3 – 0 in their semi-final match, PartinG mulled it over for a second, and conceded the chance of a 3 – 1, because "it's Mvp." And therein lies the key to every single match Mvp has played so far, and the key to this Grand Finals.
There's another aspect of high level Starcraft beyond what we can merely observe in games. Koreans simply call it 'mental,' which is similar to what we call 'intangibles' in the west: a blanket term for the things that are difficult to articulate or articulate or define, but we cannot deny the existence of. It's believing in oneself without being overconfident, playing mind games without over-thinking things, and having composure without sacrificing the all-consuming desire to win. Or at least, that's what I think it is. Maybe it would be easier, and less presumptuous to just call it “knowing how to win.”
PartinG was right to make a special exception for Mvp's three-time championship experience, but he underestimated the influence “it's Mvp” would have. Instead of the best Protoss vs Terran player in the world winning 3 – 1, it was Mvp who cruised into the final with that score.
There's no doubt that if Squirtle and Mvp faced each other one-hundred times on the ladder, Squirtle would come out on top by a large margin. There's no doubt that Squirtle is a 'better' player. There's no doubt that Squirtle is riding in on a wave of momentum that we've only ever seen him from Mvp himself in his invincible past.
But it's Mvp.
Squirtle - Walking Down Victory Road
Squirtle's story isn't comparable to Mvp's. While Mvp came into the GSL with expectations of winning a championship due to his Brood War experience and recent deep run in an OSL, Squirtle was just another player on the newly created StarTale that bolstered such names as the finalist of the first GSL season RainbOw and the God of War, the three-time OSL winner, July.
Not to say that Squirtle didn't do well in the start of his SC2 career. In the third Open season, he found himself in the round of sixteen before losing to eventual runner-up Rain in a close 2-1 series. He followed that up with a less than stellar Code A outing, winning his first series against Terious and then falling in the very next round to sC. While MVP was on his run of a lifetime in the first season of Code S, Squirtle was trying to stay alive in the GSL and earn the minuscule cash you got from staying in Code A.
His first real taste of success came in the first GSTL season. Sent out against fOu, a team that had done well in the Open Seasons with various players making it to the top sixteen, Squirtle reeled off the first all-kill in GSTL history and made people finally take notice of his potential. While he wasn't able to show his true talent in the singles competition, his true power was on show in the team league.
In the finals against Incredible Miracle, his team was down 4-3. Mvp, the reigning GSL champion, had vanquished Startale's new superstar, Bomber, in a back-and-forth TvT showdown. With only one player left to get the job done, win two in a row and secure the championship for Startale, they turned to Squirtle with the job to slay not only Mvp, but former GSL champion NesTea as well.
A final that has been a year in the making
On the surface, Squirtle was clearly outmatched. Even with his all-kill against fOu, this was a whole different ball game. Mvp was coming off the most dominating GSL tournament run in history, only dropping a single game against NesTea in the semifinals, and was on the warpath. On Terminus RE, these two players would then go on to show us the best game between Protoss and Terran that we had ever seen at that point and might still be to this day. When a lot would have expected Squirtle to cheese or otherwise try a way to get a quick victory against the GSL champion, he went toe-to-toe with the champion and matched him 50/50.
Every time it looked like Mvp might take the lead for the final time and finish off the pesky Code A player, Squirtle would defiantly hold his ground and push back. What appeared to be a game that was only a matter of time before Mvp won, Squirtle turned into a match where Mvp was scrambling to keep onto his economy against the relentless aggression of his opponent. In the final moments, Mvp tried with everything he had to hold onto his last mining base, but Squirtle's army finished him off and in doing so, secured Squirtle the biggest win of his career.
Yeah, in the final set of the finals, NesTea came and beat Squirtle, but the game that still is remembered from that night is the upstart Protoss taking down the champion Terran in one of the best games we had ever seen.
Since that night, people have been waiting. Squirtle showed on that night he could be the very best Protoss in the world, but his results never backed that statement up. He bounced around from Code B to Code A before falling back into nothingness once again. Even his GSTL results that made him a star weren't nearly as consistent as the first time around. Instead of becoming a DongRaeGu or MMA, a player that rose to the occasion in the GSTL and eventually become a star in the GSL, Squirtle was materializing as another player who did well once or twice in team league but showed nothing after that.
Then, right when it felt like the time to chalk up Squirtle as another pretender, he turned into the most dominating player in the world. After having a long break from Code A and not being able to qualify, Squirtle returned and bested Seal in an extremely close series that saved Squirtle from having to return back to Code B. From there, he didn't look back, beating Inca in the next round and then returning to his old GSTL form by 4-killing oGs while some of his teammates were at foreign tournaments.
With his GSTL form back, his team qualified for the finals in Las Vegas and in doing so, gave Squirtle the chance to play in the open qualifiers for IPL4. Before doing so, after losing a series to Taeja in Code A, Squirtle won his Up and Down group 4-0 in easy fashion and qualified for his first Code S season in what would be a preview for things to come.
The Evolution of the Mental Game
Squirtle was a player, like a lot of people in the GSL, who had a problem with his nerves and mental game. He could, at times, show amazing games and be a monster on the ladder or in online tournaments, but when the pressure was on him to perform, he wouldn't be able to show his best games.
With his trip to Las Vegas, Squirtle not only evolved in the sense of him as a player, but as someone with nerves of steel. Coming out of the open bracket, Squirtle made it through by not dropping a single match, including beating his teammate Ace in the final qualifying round. Going into a Group of Death of sorts against Polt, MC, Puma, and Creator, Squirtle made it out by beating three of the four and making it to Championship Sunday as the only open bracket player to get that far.
His legend would only grow on that Sunday. Coming back from a loss against MarineKing during the GSTL finals, Squirtle would go through Bomber, MarineKing, MMA, and finally NesTea to make it into the finals. In the Grand Finals, Squirtle, coming back from a 0-2 deficit, won three straight to take the first series and force a final Bo5 to see who would come out as the IPL4 champion. Sadly for Squirtle, he wasn't able to continue his momentum in the next Bo5, running out of energy and eventually falling in straight sets to aLive.
A lot like his GSTL finals a year before, Squirtle might have not actually won at the end, but he came out of the tournament as the main focus. His run through the open bracket, the pools and then the championship bracket was something that we hadn't seen before with the caliber of players that Squirtle had to beat along the way. A loss to aLive might have been heartbreaking at the time for Squirtle, but it was only the precursor to one of greatest runs in GSL history.
The Final Stage
The question at hand: Is Squirtle's run so far the greatest in GSL history?
To answer this, we must look back at the other two best performances in GSL before this one. A lot will argue that NesTea's perfect 14-0 run during GSL Code S July is the greatest of all-time, but I would have to disagree. Yes, in terms of perfection, it's the best ever and will not be beat until another player can go through a GSL tournament without dropping a single map. But, when looking at NesTea's opponents, I would have to say it was the third best run we've seen in the GSL:
It started out with NesTea getting a free win since Rain decided to just give away his Code S spot and go live in New York. He would then be put up against July, the player with the worst ZvZ to ever make it into Code S. Follow that up with a round of sixteen against Ensnare, a quarterfinal against another bad ZvZ player in CoCa and then finally a semifinal against HongUn, and you could argue it was the easiest run to the finals any player ever had.
The finals against Losira could be considered tough, with Losira being one of the better ZvZ players at the time, but you also have to remember that almost everything Losira learned was from NesTea himself! Losira tried his very best to beat NesTea, but as the saying goes: NesTea might have taught Losira everything he knows, but sure as hell not everything NesTea knows.
To me, the greatest two runs in GSL history are the current one Squirtle is on and Code S January season where Mvp won it with a 16-1 record. Mvp had a very similar easy run to NesTea's in the early rounds of his championship, but it got a lot more difficult later on. In the quarterfinals he had to play Trickster, considered one of the best Protoss during the time, and who was at the height of his potential before falling off due to lack of practice a little while after this tournament.
He would then have to go through teammate and former champion NesTea in the semifinals where he dropped his only map of the tournament, beating him 3-1. In the finals, against MarineKing, he put on the most impressive final performance in GSL history. Nestea's 4-0 victory might have been more dominating, but in terms of who Mvp and NesTea had to face, Mvp's destruction of MarineKing 4-0 was and is still amazing in terms of how badly Mvp embarrassed MarineKing in that final.
For Squirtle, he started his run by losing the only map of his tournament against MMA. After losing that game, he took the next two against MMA and then another 2-0 victory against Leenock in the same night to advance to the round of sixteen. Both tough competitors, but you can't look past that both Leenock and MMA's worst match-ups, by far, are against Protoss.
Squirtle continued his walk down the royal road by walking over Oz 2-0 and then the fourteen-year-old Code S rookie Maru with another 2-0 victory. Unlike Squirtle's first round opponents, Oz is very confident in his PvP, but Squirtle made him look weak in his strongest match-up. Maru showed good TvP in the round of thirty two, but Squirtle simply outmatched him.
In the quarterfinals and semifinals, Squirtle got his revenge against Taeja for his loss against him in Code A the season before with another sweep, a 3-0 victory. The games were somewhat close, but between his Squirtle Timing Attack and various strategies, Taeja wasn't able to get a win. And finally, in the semifinals, Squirtle didn't have much trouble dispatching Hero with another 3-0 score and stomping his way to his very first Code S finals.
It all comes down to the finals. If Squirtle can take it convincingly, he has the best GSL run in history, no questions asked. If it's close and he still wins, it might still be considered the best, but it would come down to how he won: through long macro games, or if he got most of his wins off timing attacks and MVP won the long macro games in the finals. If that's the case, then MVP's run would still be #1 in my eyes.
It's been a long time coming for Squirtle, but he's finally here. His dream of being on the final stage has come true and with four more wins, he not only will become the first royal roader in Code S history, but also take over MC's spot as the Protoss President. He might not have the ceremonies or the over-pouring charisma that the last president had, but Squirtle wants to bring home the first championship to Auir in over 400 days and will do anything to make every Protoss' dream reality.
He will walk into tonight as a Squirtle, but will be walking out as a Blastoise.
Overlook and Prediction
Mvp has the championship experience, but Squirtle hasn't lost in fourteen straight games. If this was Squirtle's first final of all-time, I would give a big edge to Mvp, but the IPL4 finals against aLive are going to be huge for Squirtle in this series. He's already been put in the worst possible scenario, down 0-2 in a Bo5 in a finals where he has to win two Bo5's to become champion, and Squirtle was able to win three straight to force it to a final Bo5. This might not be the same as Mvp's four trips to the GSL finals, but it should help calm the nerves and let Squirtle know that he's able to come back during a finale against a tough Terran opponent.
Parting might be the best PvT player in the world and Mvp was able to beat him 3-1, but Squirtle is going to be a more difficult test for MVP. Parting loves to go to the late game and break his opponents, but Squirtle isn't afraid to cheese and has the Squirtle Timing Attack in his pocket to use at any time.
Mvp and Squirtle will be quick to the draw and aren't scared to pull out an all-in if necessary, so the winner of this series will come down to who can stop the other when they decide to do said all-in. If MVP, for example, can beat the Squirtle Timing Attack on Cloud Kingdom, then that very well could lead him to a commanding victory. If Squirtle can do what Naniwa and Parting couldn't and force Mvp to play into the late game, not losing more than a game to cheese, he will win this series.
Mvp's wrists are still injured and playing a full seven game series is going to be hell. The longer the series goes on and the longer the games are, the advantage will go to Squirtle. Mvp has the experience and beat two tough Protoss in Naniwa and Parting, but Squirtle will have watched those VODs, know what could be coming and be prepared for those type of strategies.
Either we will crown the first Code S Royal Roader and the first Protoss champion in over a year, or Mvp will capture his fourth GSL championship and put himself in history forever. This sets up for one of the best GSL finals we've ever seen, and if the past is any indication between these two, you will not be disappointed with the games you tune in to see tonight.
Prediction: Squirtle 4 - 3 Mvp
Artwork by fishuu
Writers: Fionn and Waxangel.
Graphics and Art: Meko.