The carriers lie almost still against the vast emptiness of space. On the flagship, a tall, elegant figure appears in an aft window, his eyes sweeping across the planet in an instant. Centuries of experience tell him that something is not quite right.
"Captain TheRock, how much until we arrive at our destination?"
"Only a few minutes sir"
The Commander's voice is swift and as sharp as his blades and yet his eyes reflect a fear that so few have seen. The fleet is entering the rocky planet's atmosphere.
The place looks deserted. Even thought it's not late, there are no lights but the ones coming from the ships. The leader is the first one to set foot on the ground. There's a violent wind going at his face, but he has no hair to show it's presence. He gets on one knee and grabs a fistful of dirt from the ground. After looking at it for a couple of seconds he grumbles.
A peon approaches the leader:
"Don't worry sir, fall is upon us now! The prophecy will save us once again."
"Bring me Bisu, we need to find a way to get an advantage of the terrain."
"Sir, Bisu's fleet will not arrive until past the night".
The wind sings a sad song. The crew is uneasy, the sun did not set yet and the air is starting to get dense. The picture is broken by flock of scourge heading towards TheRock's carrier.
"Tell that idiot to move it. Tell him to..."
The flagship disappears in a burst of fire.
Above them, bugs start to mass, forming a giant orange cloud on the horizon. The wind lets out a final tune, a melody that is soon suppressed by a roaring sound. A lone Zergling runs up to the group, and with the swish of a psi blade it utters a vicious shriek and falls to the ground twitching.
Then, the hills themselves begin to shake and echo the approach of a thousand snarling aliens. Behind the leader somebody screams "IMBA!", but it's too late: the maps for the new season have already been tested and Proleague is only one week away.
The Proleague map test games have left us with a lot of questions. We still don't know what maps will be played the most, which ones will be used for the ace matches or if any of them will suffer any more changes. But the most important question so far is: What is going to happen with the race rule?
KeSPA has not given their final word on it. Past seasons showed us that maps with imbalances to be abused produce a ridiculous amount of mirror match-ups. It's true that a season runs for almost a year and it that time maps can change, but let's look at what happened last season.
During the 08-09 period, proleague featured 17 maps. Three of those were upgraded versions (Neo Harmony, Neo Medusa and Sin Chupung-Ryeong). From the remaining maps, we could put a "fail" tag on five of them:
- Battle Royal, where 79%~ of the games were ZvZ
- Rush Hour III which featured a PvT record of 8-26 and 51 TvTs
- Harmony where half of the matches played were TvTs. Neo Harmony didn't make things a lot better either
- Raid Assault 2, with 27 ZvZs
- Neo Requiem, which would duplicate the amount of whining in the strategy forum if ICCup made it a MOTW.
- Shades of Twilight, another Terran's wet dream.
With that little history lesson we now move on to a rundown of this season's map testing stats by Heyoka.
No nerds were permanently harmed in compiling these statistics.
For a more detailed look at the situation though I will now hand you over to Pholon, who prepared an awesome map by map analysis. Since we're not sure which of the following will get cut from the final PL map pool, we thought we'd just go ahead and analyse them all anyway.
ZvP 13-2 // PvT 4-10 // TvZ 7-10
+ Show Spoiler [Asgard 0.91] +
Asgard’s seen a lot of changes in its expansions. They are somewhat less vulnerable in terms of openness and cliffability, but harder to defend as far as distance goes. All-in-all, positioning is very important: a misplaced army can be devastating. There are 2 entrances to the natural and (albeit difficult to access) cliffs from which Lurker/Tank/Templar harass could be pulled off.
The peninsula expansions are too exposed and will probably be useless, being in the middle of the map and thus beingdifficult to hold. If the map splits in half like Blue Storm used to, Tanks will be extremely strong as they overlook Zealots and Dragoons scrambling in the narrow low grounds beneath. Of course, because of this it is also doubtful that Protoss will let it get that far which brings us to the example go.go vs yOon. The latter went straight for Carriers as Goliaths are friggin horrible to move around. On a map like this, using Wraiths to repel Carriers might even be viable. Before this point though, pushing up the middle platform after early game drops and Vulture raids proved very strong, as Mong showed us in a very sexy multitask/micro game.
Further, cheese could become relatively popular on this map because of the multiple entrances and places to hide proxies. With two distinct directions and fairly easy hiding places that are all buildable, the map is beautiful for proxy Robos and the like, with hidden-but-close spots near the mains like the neighboring ridges. Proxy Gating will be ineffective versus the ramps that can be walled of with 1 Sup, 1 Rax, but an example of hidden proxy is found in Miracle vs type-b. On that note, ZvT is panning out to be very interesting on Asgard as well. With little room to flank and retreat, spread and positioning are going to be very important, and in games, armies seem hesitant to engage each other. The smarter player will probably win and this map is consequently likely to yield very interesting games.
Small passages are the a significant feature this map, the balance of this will depend a lot on how players try and get past those bridges. Needless to say, aggressive play will be rewarded here. Of course, the narrow paths also significantly alter late game economics. Every expansion beyond your natural has Gas, but they’re pretty low on Minerals (5 patches max). Hopefully this will force a new style of play from the Protoss, but for now the late game looks like Z>P ez.
ZvP 3-10 // PvT 1-12 // TvZ 10-7
+ Show Spoiler [Match Point 0.92] +
Match Point is the weirdest map for Protoss – they dominate Zerg and get stomped by Terran. In TvP, the way the expansions pan out is Terran heaven. Expanding used to feel pretty unsecure beyond your natural, with highgrounds and backway passages to all of them, but with the newest versions the highground platform can defend your third pretty easily (while the other route to your nat is a small ramp – the Mineral only is gone now). Though the middle is unbuildable, and pushing distances are pretty far, Terran can take 4 gas mains along the way. Rush distances, however, are really short. Both Really and Leta acknowledged this and set up strong early rushes across the small middle. Recalls and drops appear to be pretty strong but we haven’t seen them yet in this MU.
Now to the good news: PvZ and TvZ are wonderfully dynamic. The general direction of pushing is a sort of chicane – going over the big platforms – but like an irrigration system there are a bunch of little routes that units can seep through. However, Protoss gets their natural expansion up a ramp, making a FE ever so easy and Storm is very strong on the many ramps of this map. Zerg probably has to figure out how to be more versatile in army movement to keep up with Protoss on this map – Orion and Modesty show hope is not yet lost. Drops prove pretty strong but Orion fails to capitalize on his advantage.
Hogil vs Major shows how Mutas over that cliffed natural are just too friggin strong and, even though Major does a commendable job holding on, he’s on his back foot throughout the entire game. We do get to see how armies can be moved around. Overall it’s a pretty fun looking map that should give rise to very entertaining games.
ZvP 10-5 // PvT 2-13 // TvZ 12-5
+ Show Spoiler [Moon Glaive 0.92] +
Moon Glaive has some interesting features. High ground and positioning seem to be themes of these maps so far. Moon Glaive tried adding an extra dimension to it with the three "watch towers", but the ramps were removed in later version leaving it doubtful whether they’ll ever be manned by Tanks or Lurkers - unlike on Othello they’re not overlooking expansions.
The other idea being explored here is shared with Asgard: the multiple entrance feature to the natural expansion. Typically, as we all know, natural expansions are easy to take and hold and most maps encourage them, shifting the game in more macro-oriented directions. No longer. This feature hurts versus the mobile armies and the map is already nicknamed Tears of the Protoss II, as Forge FE is such a critical part of the metagame.
Flanking seems very doable on this map, but defending the funnel lowgrounds should be easy enough and the highground middle is actually pretty small. We see this affect the TvP match-up when Barracks demonstrated Terran’s ability to set up mid-games push across the small, buildable highground, which proved very strong indeed. Mines and Tanks are very strong on the low ground areas, leaving Protoss unable to fend off harrass or to put on pressure as well as they’d like.
TvZ is really Terran favoured statistically and all the 4 showgames featured 2 Hatch agression, getting Zerg 2 wins. A notable game might be Haran vs Last. Because of the clock-wise positioning Zerg takes the third main for a third, slowing down his mining and tech. When Muta harrass is fended off sufficiently (a single set of turrets can cover both production facilities and natural mineral line) the Terran push can reach the highground over the Zerg natural fairly easily. Lurker numbers are way too small to break the contain and flanking is impossible in the narrow passages (Medic block revival go!). Even though the middle should have some flanking potential, a Terran push arriving outside your natural is devastating.
ZvP 13-4 // PvT 4-13 // TvZ 1-16
+ Show Spoiler [Road Runner 0.92] +
Even though the map tests have shown incredible imbalances in all the match-ups this map barely changed throughout the versions. Looking at the map from a Terran perspective it looked to me like a Terran Mech heaven (as Roadrunner is Destination² this might be the prefered strat): You can take 3 gas expansions in a row and are able to defend them with ease. Why then, doesn’t Mech stomp Zerg? Listening to the Liquipedia Q&A we know that Zerg needs to take a bunch of expansions. This is easier on Roadrunner as expansions are along the sides of the map and, unlike on Destination, you aren’t expanding towards your opponent. Again relating to the Q&A, Roadrunner doesn’t have two critical side expansions to which the Terran can edge out to. And this is where the problem for Terran lies. As soon as you push out over your bridges you can, because of the mazy structure, be flanked from at least 3 sides at all times. He may have to throw his whole army at you two or three times, but after that main push dies, Zerg can macro back up so fast due to all these expansions. Unless you’re Yarnc, suiciding half your army into 4 Turrets and a Tank, Zerg should have a good time on this map.
Protoss faces the same problems as Terran: The Zerg expos are pretty easy to defend and when the Protoss push comes out Zerg is able to set up great flanks with superior forces and hold the Protoss bridges pretty well with Lurkers and Hydra archs. Hero demonstrates as he gets 5 bases in about 9 minutes. Daezang's push is late as he takes his third base before breaking out with Storms, but Lurkers can hold it easily and Zergling flanks raids his third. Protoss will have a hard time setting up a timing push, as well as taking a third base as Daezang's other game showed, but winning won't be impossible.
The Terran versus Protoss match-up shows stats skewed in the favour of Terran. Again, moving clocki-wise along the edge of the map you can take 2 Gas Expansions with great ease (I can see Flash having a blast on this map) and on top of that you can pretty much siege up your Tanks at your third and be able to shoot at the Protoss main (or shoot at his 3rd from your main) if he’s in the counter-clock or clock-wise position of you. The interesting stuff happens in cross-position as in the Justin vs Best game. Justin took his 1st and 2nd expansion really early without breaking a sweat and Best, trying to keep up with the expansions suffered greatly from Justin’s Vultures that ruled supreme on the bridge networks of this map. The interesting part began when Justin tried to take his 4th. Making and flying out 2 CCs left and right he seemed unsure about where to expand to. The right is easier to expand to but on the left you’re in that counter-clockwise position allowing for a strong push directly into the Protoss. This indecision lost him the game as his bulk army was unable to defend both sides and scrambling about got picked off by he Protoss forces. When Terrans figure this discrepancy out I’ll expect them to do very well on this map. The 4th Protoss win comes from MVP who managed to get his Barracks shot down twice after floating it out *facepalm*.
ZvP 13-4 // PvT 9-7 // TvZ 9-7
+ Show Spoiler [Judgment Day 0.90] +
Even more maps that Protoss will die on! Dominating with a staggering 13 over 4, Zerg is yet again feasting on dead Zealot. The middle is great for big flanks and, apparently daunted by the current Zerg dominance, SangHo and Perfectman thought they should open with two of the dodgiest builds ever. They failed and Zerg still rules the stats.
In other match ups this map is as bland as ever. The complete absence of high ground and an (essentially) protected mineral third defines this as a macro map intended for slug fests and powerful punches. It tries to be cute, having a mineral-block-natural-back-entrance but it’s not really used and the 3 bases at your disposal lead to straight-forward, macro-heavy TvPs (though 2 Gate Goon, fortunately for Protoss, is still as strong as ever). The late game reminds of Coloseum, Terran and Protoss both mass huge army and do battle in the middle. The additional expansions on the sides might slow down the Terran push even further, making games on these sands even more dull.
In TvZ Terrans have decided to fail at Mech, Zergs decided to fail at stopping Mech and the straight-forward MnM games turned out to be quite okay. In earlier versions the 3rd gas, as a Terran, was pretty hard to put pressure on. In newer versions they made it a tad more accessible, hopefully leading to more dynamic games.
ZvP 13-4 // PvT 3-13 // TvZ 12-5
+ Show Spoiler [Acro 0.92] +
Looks like someone at Kespa doesn’t like Protoss, nor does TL look favorably on this map. I don’t get it. The fact that it’s a map with four penises on it makes it awesome. In later versions they even added doodad holes to the tips of the top penises. Onto serious business though... this map has seen quite some changes. A back-ramp to the main was added (although it hasn’t seen any action – and I doubt it ever will – because of the building/mineral block), they’re still fiddling around with the 6 and 12 o'clock expansions and the side expansions are no longer islands. Furthermore they added a Geyser to the low ground expo.
So, sitting Tanks on the penis head (lolol) Major was able to easily defend 3 gas bases and push down on the Protoss taking a fourth gas on his way down. Cross positioning got Protoss a few wins, but it looks like this map favours Terran a fair bit.
In their other MU Protoss is equally struggling to discover how to play on this map. Miso’s Mutalisks ruled supreme versus Jaehoon as the natural is very susceptible to aerial assault. Zerg was able to literally take all of the map, defending a single ramp in exchange for 2 gas expansions.
TvZ balances out more. Open middles make army movements and positioning important, and assist with flanking and retreats. Otherwise, Acro is a pure macro map. A very defendable third gas screams big battles and big hits. We've seen maps like Acro before, and while it's not particularly exciting or innovating, at least we know what we're getting. This map should be fairly immune to cheese and heavy harassment.
ZvP 14-3 // PvT 10-7 // TvZ 8-9
+ Show Spoiler [Tornado 0.95] +
Tornado looks pretty cool, but has, terrain-wise, undergone some pretty big changes. Looking at the old version you’d expect the same kind of positional (dis)advantage we saw on Roadrunner. Horang found this out the hard way, as Miracle’s tanks could siege up on his Fleet Beacon from a different platform. Comparing the old to the new version this travesty was somewhat minimized. Tanks can now only hit a small portion of the mains which have been made larger, so this should not be an issue anymore.
Miracle complained about the too open middle and in newer versions it’s been made smaller. PvT seems to balance out at 10-7 so far. In other changes the natural’s mineral lines we’re moved to the side of the map (rather than with their back to a bit of water) and the platforms outside the naturals have been moved around a bit. A high-ground outside a natural, overlooking all exit routes, would have been the interesting feature of this map, but after they were moved around we didn’t see them used all in the show games. They still have potential for Lurkers and Marines, but much less so. Koala vs Shine was pretty entertaining though.
Protoss gets stomped in PvZ. The natural’s main is pretty much wide open, making Hydra breaks so very strong, being able to beautifully arch a ton of Hydra’s around to front most cannons. The Zerg showed that Zerg has no trouble getting a quick 3rd base and consequently beat the shit out of Gosi producing a lot of units right as the Protoss edged out of his base.
ZvP 10-7 // PvT 12-5 // TvZ 7-10
+ Show Spoiler [Silver Wing 0.91] +
Final map of the pack is a bore,
no interesting features in store,
leaving us with a chore,
since we can’t just ignore it,
and will not pretend to adore it.
So what do we do,
To keep our reader, you,
Interested in our lay?
This game we can play
And present, unrehearsed,
A SilverWing review in verse.
It’s bland and straight-forward: a middle, 4 corners
In each two expands and a main.
The middle, alas, has an expo (two gas)
But why it is it there again?
It won't be used, like on Andro:
Not a soul will expand to
This vulnerable mineral plane.
One version change it underwent:
The natural’s choke is tighter yet
Which should assist a Forge Expand
And PvZ is not as bad
It balanced out at 7 - 10
P to the T - 3 base macro is trump
Just try not to put your tanks in a clump
If you’re in for a bad game,
Then try not to refrain
From looking at Moon molest Turn
ZvT’s a bit tricky, with your third’s backramp open,
And it might be right in sight
(in case of clockwise spawning place)
Of your Terran opponent’s natural base.
Put a Lurker on top it, should suffice to cope and
If not so then know Haran showed:
With many lings and a cow or two
You can claim a victory too.
Now coming to the end, we hope you understand
How little zeal this map acrues.
It’s nothing special, but at least we meshed all
These words in metres for you.
The big picture is pretty easy to read - Protoss will have a hard time in the new maps. Yet, how will the teams themselves fair given the new battlegrounds?
Let's start at the top - SKTT1 is probably throwing a party right now. The defending champions not only have a very strong Terran squad, but also boast one of the few Protoss players that could revert the situation on these maps. In fact, T1 feels so confident, they decided to release Midas, who as we see was picked up by WeMade.
Now the last thing that WeMade needs is another Terran, even with these maps. Mind, Baby, RorO and Pure (sorry NaDa fans) should be their core players, with RorO and Mind being their strongest cards. I don't see Midas getting much playtime. Maybe he will end up as a practice partners or a cook, who knows. Coaching, of course is a serious possibility as well, and it has been suggested that he will be taking Nada's place as Terran mentor while the four time OSL champion prepares to take his leave from the pro scene. This is all conjecture of course, and for now, the reason behind Midas' acquisition is as mysterious as ever.
CJ has gotta be smiling. Their best Protoss is Movie, and even on a good day he's nowhere near EffOrt or Skyhigh. With the two youngsters doing really well last season, and with Iris providing some decent support to boot, the Z and T heavy Entusmen have little to worry about on these new maps so far.
Hwaseung heaved a sigh of relief when they resigned Jaedong and for good reason too. He's the best Zerg in the world, and on Zerg favoured maps, there's not a lot out there to stop him. If there's one thing at the back of Coach Cho's mind however, it's that playoffs are no longer Super Ace based, and his team needs to win two out of three bo7s to advance. Therefore, what the team is going to want to do is use Backho, Lomo, Perfectman and Killer to get a high enough regular season placement to get a Grand Finals seed. Sadly, half that lineup is Protoss, and not very good Protoss at that.
KT's season rests on the now somewhat weathered shoulders of Flash. On T favoured maps, the Little Monster is no doubt going to make a splash. As last season's joint Proleague MVP, he is certainly a player to be feared as we step into R1, and if the likes of Firefist, Luxury and Forgg can give him support, KT just may have a good season. Violet is going to have a tough time on these maps, but if there's a neo-gen Protoss who can make it happen it's certainly this guy. Thus, all in all, KT don't have a whole lot to complain about this season.
Samsung could be the team to suffer the hardest blow from this. Both JangBi and Stork are very good players, but they are not unbeatable, especially in PvZ. They better pray that the map used for ace games is a decent one. Maybe this is what it takes for January to field by.great more. Of course, they also have something going for them in Stork's PvT. Even with map imbalance, if there's one Protoss who can make this matchup work it's Dinotoss.
Taking a trip south we look at eSTRO, a team that will need its rookies to shine if they want to get out from the bottom of the table. SangHo showed really poor results in the qualifiers, and Really was barely decent in them. Hwanni (eSTRO's Manager) named By.PuMa and GosI[Flying] when asked about eSTRO best rookies. Classic, who got some spotlight in Artosis' videos and in the TL Replay section is the third player with potential that as of now, and even he has not shown good results.
Last season was kind to Soul in general. STX did not press B this time, and Calm evolved, a possible side-effect of having July on his team. Thus, STX getting July was a good idea. What wasn't a good idea was getting CuteAngel. What was that about? I wouldn't even put FrOzean on my Fantasy Proleague Team, and STX paid for him? Rumour has it that the currency involved was marshmallows, but still. Seriously though, STX had a blistering R5 run, and sporting a TZ biased lineup should have no problem with these new maps.
Finally, ACE. Reach and Anytime have not been doing great anyway these days, and the new maps aren't going to help them at all. Thus, the team is going to have to rely on the likes of Yellow, Gorush, Xellos and Casy this season, and to be perfectly honest that's not a lineup that can take a lot of games off anyone else. Await the upset or two, but don't get your hopes up for some old school wins - especially on the new maps, they're just not gonna happen.
It's on that sad note that we finish off this Pre-Proleague update. We hope you found the piece informative, and we hope you'll join us again later on in the week as we bring you a full Proleague 2009-10 preview.
Update - 2009/10/06 19:00 KST
The map pool for Proleague 2009-10 R1 has been released -
Outsider (new version, 'Outsider SE')
This coverage article was brought to you by Proleague guest writers InToTheWow and Pholon. Thanks to Heyoka for the charts, Keit for the PL graphics and Funkie for the map banners.