*** Part 1 here ***
*** Part 2 here ***
*** Part 2 here ***
GSL Season 5 code A qualifiers
It was on January 30th. I couldn't wait to get there, I was feeling very confident because I prepared so much for this and used all the little things fOu taught me when I went over at their house to make my play more solid. However I was a bit disappointed by how much practice I actually got with the team. I wanted to practice with their players a lot but it didn’t look like it would be possible. I mostly practiced with some protosses while I desperately needed a zerg to practice with, but couldn’t quite manage to get any significant focused practice going in this matchup.
But anyway, it was still much better than nothing and was feeling confident in my TvP due to the games at the house and the few practice games on the qualifiers maps with the team.
When I arrived at the venue, I saw a lot of foreigners I didn’t know about or didn’t see at the last events. As usual Artosis was here camera in hand, ready to record a bunch of videos from the event and obviously play, but as Protoss this time, as well as John. I said hi and talked to them a bit ; John would tell me I could go chill in one of the press rooms with the other foreigners if I felt like sitting somewhere, and as we still had time before checking in and playing I went there to say hi. There I found HayprO and
TorcH who I met last time, and Spades, Teddy, Laneir, BoSs and mOOnGLaDe. I got introduced to everyone I didn’t know and sat down, eating the donuts I got for breakfast quietly while listening to the conversation.
We were talking with HayprO when Artosis came in with his camera :
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After a while, Artosis grabbed people to do interviews before the first group had to checkin ; Spades, Teddy, Laneir and
TorcH were playing this morning. I was talking with the VT guys and mOOnGLaDe while they were queuing for the checkin, when Artosis called me to do my interview :
It was then time for the qualifiers to start. GOM had some computers isolated in the middle of the room that they were using in the previous qualifiers for the final rounds, but this time around foreigners would play on those. Spades Teddy and Laneir went to setup there whereas TorcH had to play on the regular ones. I stuck around to watch some of the games played here while chatting with the others who were not playing ; Artosis, BoSs and I would play in the afternoon, HayprO and mOOnGLaDe got seeds as well as HuK and Ret who were not present that day.
I didn’t stay to watch everything as I wanted to get lunch early enough so I have time to digest, but when I came back everyone was out in the first round except TorcH who seemed to be doing ok. I went behind to watch his next game and… apparently he was playing the zerg BitByBit. Every single map was some kind of funky cheese or all-in, even trying to go for 1 base muta after he failed his 1 base baneling bust on Scrap Station, which was pretty hilarious to watch, I was very worried about disturbing TorcH because we were giggling so much watching this series. He was in the semi-finals of his bracket now and I don’t remember what race and who he played but he won, so he was now in the finals of his bracket against someone who you might know about now …
JJobs (or something like this) was his ID back then, and if you don’t remember who that is, it was non other than MMA.
BoxeR and Jessica were standing behind him to watch him play. On the first map TorcH managed to get a big lead early on, by doing damage and getting an early gold base, but unfortunately MMA’s superior mechanics and decision making ended up bringing the game back in his favor and eventually win it. It was a close game and we were all watching rooting for TorcH as he was almost beating BoxeR’s protégé, but he didn’t quite make it.
Second map on Metalopolis spawned close position and ended pretty early in a simple build order win where TorcH was being himself and did something a bit funky with hellions and marauders, but MMA walled off with a bunker while getting cloak banshees … TorcH had no Starport and his ebay was a little late, so it was pretty much over. TorcH was out but it was a pretty damn good performance, he almost qualified only to get stopped by a guy who would eventually become one of the very best Terrans in the world, so there was no shame about it, and it gave me some more confidence for my upcoming games. Although to be honest, hitting this zerg BitByBit in the 3rd round was pretty lucky (how he got there, I have no idea).
That was the conclusion of the morning groups, and was going to be followed right away by the next ones. I talked briefly with some of the fOu guys, checking who was playing this afternoon and whatnot, and went to check-in. Josh (FXOBoSs) was queueing too and we talked quite a bit while waiting ; I told him about how I got there and what were my plans and I got to know more about him and FXO, especially plans regarding Korea and more. I really liked how they would see things, and was expecting this team to be talked about lot more in the near future.
After the check-in was done I went to setup on one of the computers reserved for foreigners, and I was having a hard time being comfortable. The desks being used there were much higher than the usual ones and the chairs couldn’t be raised high enough, so it would get painful for my wrists after some time and I would press some keys unintentionally which was changing my hotkeys during the games. I was feeling like something else was wrong too when I was warming up but couldn’t figure out what exactly. My sensitivity would be off but I didn’t really know why, I knew exactly what settings I usually use for this. I kept warming up for longer than usual because of this, but couldn’t find where the problem was from. Artosis, who was sitting next to me, saw me having trouble setting my sensitivity and told me I should write somewhere to be sure not to forget it because he didn’t think I usually use what I put this time (I kept trying to adjust it).. which was true but I was pretty sure to know what was the sensitivity I usually use.
I wasn’t feeling too good, my control seemed off, my map awareness didn’t seem good either for some reason and I’m usually extremely map aware (DotA experience helps a lot in this regard). But anyway, ready or not, I had to play.
My first opponent was a Protoss, so I was quite happy about it as I was feeling it was my most solid matchup at this moment. On Xel’naga I opened my standard 1 rax marauder pressure into expand directly on my natural, but my micro was really off and did no damage at all .. because of this I was forced to cancel my CC and start it again inbase and was stuck there until medivacs were out, but for some reason I tried to get cloak banshees to harass instead and delay medivacs a bit more because I felt I was too far behind now and needed something to try to come back. However he was obviously prepared and it did no damage at all, just allowed me to get my natural, at which point I started to realize what was the problem : I was used to play on much smaller screen so I had an extremely hard time seeing anything, everything was too big and it was difficult for me to see the minimap which disturbed me a lot ; even my macro was off at this point and I knew I was going to lose and ended up taking too much damage from a standard 2 base colossus push so I couldn’t come back.
Now in my position I had to try to come back somehow and win the next 2 maps but I wasn’t too confident. I decided I would try on Metalopolis a strategy I didn’t have time to practice much and refine but I thought it was my best shot. I opened cloak banshee, but did minimal damage, even thought it was still not a complete failure. To follow up I would do a 2base timing with stim/shield marines marauder, tanks and few banshees. However it didn’t work and got defended without taking any damage, so I was again set even further behind. I started a 3rd CC when I moved out so I wasn’t out of the game yet, and decided to stop with tanks and play standard from there even if I was now really far behind. I managed to fight my way back a bit, doing some damage here and there and defending one attack, but it just wasn’t enough and I ended up overextending by pushing the natural while protoss had way too strong phoenix/colossus army in a better position.
I gg’ed out and dropped my headset on my keyboard.
I was furious and ashamed by the level of play I displayed in front of the other foreigners and the Koreans who were there to watch Artosis and I play our games. I felt I was ready for this qualifier but I disregarded a lot of factors when it comes to preparation for a tournament. I wasn’t preparing playing in conditions that were close enough to the ones I was going to compete in. I was almost exclusively practicing on my laptop for this, so I was not used at all to play on screens that were this big in comparison, and it’s actually a very big deal.
I stayed there, sitting and staring at my screen while thinking about the games and how it could’ve been different if X or Y etc etc, looking at Artosis’ screen from time to time to check how he was doing in his games against LittleBoy. He was doing fairly well and actually ended up losing to something that I was experimenting with a bit during my practice lately in TvP but didn’t have time to finalize, Thors :
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Right this moment I didn’t think too much of it, but watching those games would eventually prove to be very useful to me. I’ll touch on that later.
I stayed there on my seat for a while hating myself for not taking everything into consideration. So far every time I failed pretty miserably, and as crushing as it would be I could still see the reasons behind those defeats and what was wrong, so I was still pretty sure I could do it.
"What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger"
The first time I didn’t have my own gear and was too nervous, the second time I didn’t stick to what I practiced, and the third time I didn’t prepare in conditions that were close enough to the ones we encounter at the tournament. Every time I learnt something, and this time I learnt that it doesn’t matter how much you practised or how good you are if you’re not able to actually play your best when it matters, so you have to make sure you take everything into consideration for it to be possible. One of those things is to prepare in the exact same conditions of the event, or at least as close as possible. And when you’ve played in the same event this many times, there is no reason not to be able to.
Now, we had no idea when the next qualifiers would be, if there was any, so I was really down at this point and didn’t do much the next couple days. However I had to put myself together and keep practicing, the next qualifier would be announced sooner or later and I learnt from the previous failures, so I had to take advantage of those so it wouldn’t be for nothing.
Also, I still had to play some more with fOu before joining them.. So I got back practice, but this time I would only practice in PC bangs to not have the same problems I had at the qualifier next time.
Also I had something very important to do in order to improve : think more about the game.
Figuring out my own playstyle
It had to be done. Thinking in-depth about all the matchups instead of just grinding games like I was mostly doing since I arrived. I refused to play standard any longer. I felt like playing standard and just waiting for your opponents’ mistakes or just overpower them with superior mechanics was not a reliable way to win, nor was it entertaining. I wanted to win games in a different fashion that would set me apart from the other Terran players. It would also make me extremely more difficult to prepare against ; I wanted to make it so the only way to have practice against me was to play against me, which would give me a huge edge at the qualifiers as in Korea, everyone pretty much plays the same styles.
While I did this I found myself constantly figuring out builds and strategies that top Koreans would be eventually be using a couple months later but with better execution or more refined builds sometimes, which up until today gives me even more confidence in the way I was thinking, and still think about the game.
Now here is what I concluded for each matchup and how I got to those conclusions :
I remember trying to play marine/tank at the time, but I was always feeling that you had to rely heavily on zergs mistakes to win. I felt like Mutas mobility was too hard to deal with, and I didn’t like the idea of losing a game as soon as I don’t micro perfectly a fight. My marine tank control was pretty bad back then, and I think biggest reason is that I always played on a laptop that had a very hard time to run smoothly when I make marines and ennemy makes lings, so it didn't help.
Whether I was right or not, I just simply could NOT play this style at all, I wasn’t comfortable with it and never felt in control of the game. Harassing didn’t feel really possible, hellions and banshees were the best way to do so in my opinion.
As a result I was trying to find out good builds and strategies involving hellions and banshees.
I got pretty fast to the conclusion that banshees are awful against zerg in most cases. The problem with banshees against zerg is that they don’t allow you to control larvaes at all, everything they need to defend against banshees do not require larvaes, they can make queens and overseers, or get 1 spore per base to be safe against it.
However, hellions were probably the best unit in the game in terms of larvae control. They are extremely mobile, they murder drones, they murder lings, and something that is often overlooked, they murder larvaes themselves. Also most zergs just would not build roaches against Terran at those times, so they would give you almost complete map control for the large majority of the game. Not making hellions against zerg was a crime in my opinion.
All zergs were playing muta/ling/blings at this time, so all I would encounter when opening with lots of hellions was spines/lings/queens (sometimes baneligns) defense while going for 2 hatch muta. So I was thinking that after the contain on 2 hatch is finally broken once mutas are out I should be ready to push out with Thors and either kill the zerg or do lot of damage.
However if zerg decided to get banelings to defend hellions or just for safety, this would be dangerous as they can magic box the couple Thors you have and kill SCVs with the banelings. You also had to put enough turrets before pushing out which costs lot of money and makes you pretty commited to your attack, and if zerg holds you’re in a very bad spot.
I was still firmly decided to play mech TvZ, but I didn’t like tanks that much because their immobility was too easy to abuse. Mech was also very vulnerable to mutas in some situations, if you get caught with a too low Thor count, you’re dead unless you were spamming turrets everywhere. So in my mind, the best way to go about it was to just eliminate one of the problems completely : make only Thors, mutas will never be a problem ever again, and it was perfect as I didn’t want to have to deal with them. Now I just had to find a good opening and practice this style to see what the problems would be, but I already knew roaches and infestors would be a huge problem.
I think this is the matchup where I came up with the most solid and stable playstyle.
I remember having no clue at all how I was supposed to win this matchup against phoenix/colossus. There was also way too many openings protoss could do that would require very different responses, and I was never feeling safe opening 1 or 2 rax as you could die or be too far behind against a ton of things. The biggest reason that made me deviate from those openings was DTs. There was a moment when most of the TvPs I would face DTs, and if I took any damage from it I would be too far behind to win the game. Even if I didn’t take damage it would still be an even game with protoss having total map control, and it's never a good thing.
So I’ve been thinking about what would be the safest way to open against protoss, and what I came up with is that the only opening that is almost always safe and punishes the most things is cloak banshees. It outright kills 4 gate*, Void Rays*, DTs*, Blink Stalker, in short any build involving a late robo. Some of those openings were still tricky to deal with but at worst you would be in an even situation with Protoss. The only problem would be an early expanding protoss, so I had to find what the best way to deal with this would be, and it wasn’t very difficult ; the timing on the hellion scouting would reveal a nexus a few seconds after it goes down, so from there you can adapt really easily and go for the now famous 1-1-1 all-in to punish it.
Yes, I was doing 1-1-1 way before it was cool.
However I still tried to play normal games after scouting early expand from protoss and just do the normal cloak banshee expand, and it turned out it was possible. My goal was to practice it enough to get to the point where, no matter what, my banshees do damage. No matter what.
Basically what I would do is first, split banshees and force at least 3 observers, by harassing the probe lines and picking off pylons wherever I could. At this point, when Protoss is defended everywhere, I would get all my banshees together and attack the same spot with them ; protoss has to spread himself quite a bit to deal with the initial harassment, so at this point I can pick off the stalkers defending and then kill probes. While those banshees antics are going on, I would be gearing up for a timing with stim/shield marines, marauders, tanks, banshees and a raven off 2 bases, while getting a third base. The fact that banshees are poking all the time also allows me to save scans by always seeing protoss’ base and his army composition, and I usually don’t like to scan so it's perfect. This way I can make adjustments according to what I see while harassing.
Playing this way was much more fun and was feeling much safer, so I was pretty happy with it. Just had to be careful and not get caught by phoenixes, that's why good scouting is very important for this to work.
*Those were very common in Korea back in days
Well, for mirrors it’s much more difficult to play differently, especially when it’s TvT. Everyone was playing marine tank and it was difficult to do anything else ; mech was very rare to see, and bio just doesn’t work against marine tank.
However there are lots of different openings you could do, from the passive ones to the hyper agressive ones. And well, I love banshees so how I would play this matchup was pretty easy to figure out. I would more often than not open cloak banshees and try to make them work as long as possible throughout the game. I was always baffled as to why after a couple banshees with cloak most Terrans would just stop making them. There is only one situation where banshees won't find any use, and that's when air control is completely out of your reach AND they have a raven. So even when my opponents would get vikings ravens and such I would fight for air control and use banshees to keep harassing along with drops, but more important to force my opponent to give up positions.
Banshees are the unit along with BCs that can allow you to break siege tank lines fairly easily if you use them at the right time, and win the game in the process.
In short I would just play standard but actually use the huge potential that banshees have, which is in my opinion very underused.
So I kept practising those playstyle to figure out better how it would play in as many different situation as possible. It was literally freezing in february there, so I couldn't really go out much ; it was mostly eat, pratice at the closeby PC bang, sleep, and go to watch the other foreigners in code A play their matches at the GSL studio.
This is where, a few weeks later, John comes to tell something that I would consider a pretty good news.
Practice, and the GOM house
GOM offered me the possibility to stay at the house that was available for foreigners who were seeded in code A or who were allowed to stay there by them. It was removing a huuuge monkey off my back, as even though food is pretty cheap in Korea, housing is very expensive. For now, I was allowed to stay there until the next qualifier, at which point I would probably have to leave. That was obviously perfectly fine by me.
When I moved in, Teddy, Spades, Laneir and mOOnGLaDe were staying there as well as Gisado. I met them already at the last qualifiers but didn’t really get to talk to them that much so I got to know them much better during their stay here ; they were planning on staying here for 2 more months. Kellymilkies also moved in a bit later as she was casting this season of code A, as well as DoA. I hung out with everyone a lot during their stay here and made some amazing friends.
I still remember that day when, early morning after I just woke up (or was going to bed) and got out of the bedroom, I first saw John, which was not really supposed to be in the first place, and then see this blonde guy who looked Swedish to me put his luggage down.. I was bit confused as I had no idea who he was when John introduced Erik to me, the new code A caster, who somehow knew who I was. We talked a bit and I showed him where he could sleep, put his stuff and the rest of the house. I would’ve expected our first conversations after meeting to be a little awkward especially since I just woke up and was still a bit dazzled, but not at all, I already felt like we were going to get along very well ; that was how I met DoA.
This time at the GOM house with everyone made me realize how much faster Koreans are able to improve in a team house environment. We were only 4 players but I still learnt quite a bit just from living with them and being able to talk about the game this much. My build in TvZ actually uses a modified version of one of Spades’ openings that happened to fit my build extremely well, and just this allowed me to have a perfectly refined build and strategy for the next qualifiers.
That opening Spades showed me was also the one Destination used to beat mOOnGLaDe in their match in code A. He was not prepared at all for this and practiced against 2 rax as it was all Koreans would do TvZ at this time. We all went to the GSL studio to watch Andy play his game that day. It was too bad his practice was completely useless because even after he took a gigantic amount of damage from the hellions he almost managed to claw his way back into the game, but it was just way too difficult in his position.. After he lost we all went to cheer him up with a big hug all together, which was on stream too.
Talking and practicing with Teddy and especially mOOnGLaDe helped me a ton to decide what was the best way for me to approach the Bo3 at the qualifiers and have a better read on my opponents. I can only imagine how much more effective it is when you have thrice as many people in a more structured practice environment.. and with computers.
There were still no computers in the GOM house. We had to go to PC bangs if we wanted to do so, which was fine by me since it was much better than my situation before. Also the area around the GOM house is extremely convenient, it is calm, there are tons of different places where you can get (tasty) food and eat, and it’s close to the GSL studio.
And well, computers were supposed to come soon… At least we thought so. They only got there when roughly 10 days were left to the next qualifier, later in March, and when they got there… there were only two of them and one was not even working.
mOOnGLaDe was practicing on his laptop anyway as usual and Teddy and Spades were fine with just going to the PC Bang to practice which was very fortunate for me as I could use the computer myself then to finish preparing for the next qualifiers.
I couldn’t really practice as much as I wanted before because going to PC bangs is still tiring and also costs money, but now was different. I started playing non-stop every day in the time remaining. I was practicing only the builds I was going to use at the qualifiers as I was doing the previous weeks, but I could play much more games this time. I was probably playing from 10 to 14 hours every day for a week, which would make it so I fall asleep almost instantly when I went to bed, and as someone who used to be kind of insomniac, it felt amazing.
For the few last days prior to the event, I decided to take the time to make sure my builds were as refined and crisp as possible.
I would just start custom games and repeat the builds over and over again until I knew for sure that I would be able to execute it perfectly when time comes.
I also took time to think a ton about how I should play out the series in each matchup. I had lots of builds prepared for my TvPs, especially to counter what was popular at this time in Korea PvT : phoenix colossus deathball. I had no idea how to deal with this before, but I have had enough time to figure out a build that I was talking about earlier that would crush this.
And this is where watching Artosis’ games at the last qualifier helped me. It comforted me in my idea that if protoss does not want to build phoenixes he just will never be able to stop banshee harass and will take too much damage from it. It also comforted the idea that I had about Thors being really good against protoss if you can get to the later stages of the game.
So what I would do was open cloak banshees for the reasons I explained, expand and start getting Thors straight away to secure my natural while harassing with banshees to force phoenixes. From there my composition would be Marines, Thors and Banshees.
The reason I think it’s very good against phoenix colossus is that if you micro correctly, you can :
- Snipe observers with Thors
- Tank colossus shots with Thors to reduce the splash on marines
- Wipe Phoenixes almost instantly with marines and Thors
Thors are awesome with Banshees and Marines for those reasons. And well, marines are always good, especially when you need to spend your minerals on something that shoots air (Void Rays) and can survive better because of Thors eating splash. They’re also needed to kill zealots.
I was planning on doing this the first map, and in case he tries to 1gate nexus the second map, I would just 1-1-1 with raven instead after showing 1 banshee, as my opponent would probably think I’m doing the same thing with split cloak banshees and make too many observers to defend to see it coming in time or have enough immortals.
Against Zergs, I was planning on doing my usual double factory blue flame hellion into Thors on Xel’naga. Basically I was doing a 2 base +2/+2 Thor hellion timing that was supposed to hit before broodlords or too many roach/infestors with neural parasite can be out. It was depending on the damage the hellions could do, but it’s hard not to do damage with them or slow zerg enough on Xel’naga.
2nd map I would open hellions again but a regular reactor hellion expand instead, and follow it up with a marauder / hellion timing with stim, shells, and blue flame off 2 bases. In this case I was assuming I win Xel’naga (I practiced my build on this map an insane amount and had very high win rate) and that the hellion threat would make zerg go roaches this game and skip mutas all together as it’s obviously not going to work if I do the same thing. The timing worked so it would hit right before mutas are out anyway, so I could still transition out of it if mutas hit.
As for mirrors, I had my usual cloak banshee opening as well as a very aggressive blue flame+marine drop into cloak banshees that I used all the time on Scrap Station, and just play standard behind it
I refined all those builds to be perfectly smooth and as efficient as possible, and was doing them in custom maps over and over again.
I was in pretty good shape, didn't forget any of the details I forgot the last times for my preparation and made sure to take everything into consideration this time. I know it may sound crazy, but I was even trying to practice with the same clothes I would be wearing the day of the qualifiers as often as possible. I made sure I was on the right sleeping schedule and that I got enough rest to be on top form when the day comes.
I didn't want to let anything that was within my grasp to luck.
This is how you make sure you have the best chances at achieving what you're aiming for.
*** Part 4 here ***