Banner by pachi, photographs courtesy of Fomos.kr
Today, GomTV will launch the first ever professional StarCraft 2 tournament in South Korea, the TG-Intel Starcraft II Open Season 1. The GSL boasts OGN quality production, top level English commentary from Artosis and Tasteless, and $170,000 in prize money. But recently, it’s been clouded by GomTV’s decision to charge non-Korean viewers up to $50 for live stream and VODs. The public outcry has been tremendous from Koreans and non-Koreans alike, and thankfully, GomTV listened. There will be stream. It will be free. Decisions like this are not easy, and to their credit, the powers that run the GSL listened to the community.
The best players in the world, five nights a week.
This is the first “true” professional e-sports tournament for StarCraft 2. ESL had online qualifiers for their Intel Extreme Masters series and MLG had open signups for Pro Circuit Raleigh, but those events paled in scope to the 2,000 player open qualifiers held in Seoul a few weeks ago. When it comes to e-sports, Korea is just on another level. That isn’t to say the rest of the world might not catch up, but right now the GSL is indisputably the big fish of the Starcraft 2 pond.
Almost eleven years ago there was a tournament called the Progamer Korea Open. Freemura won over TheBoy in a Zerg vs Zerg on Lost Temple. Thirty seasons later, the Progamer Korea Open has become the something you may recognize: the Ongamenet Starleague. Freemura, TheBoy, SSamJang, V-Gundam. These names are barely recognizable today. It took a year for SC:BW to find it's Boxer and seven years to find it's Jaedong.
While the first GSL may not produce SC2’s future icons, much more is at stake for many of its qualified players. Everyone saw Nada’s level of SC2 play after just ten days of practice. As former eSTRO player and coach Tester said in an interview, “it would be terrifying if the BW players come [to SC2].” The current SC2 pros know that the clock is ticking, and if the recent breakdowns in Proleague licensing negotiations and rumors of teams disbanding are any indication, a few top flight SC1 progamers could walk in the door to GSL qualifiers as early as next season.
The goal for all SC2 progamers is to win, and win right now.
The Great White Hope: Idra
Over three years ago Greg Fields, also known as Idra, traveled to Korea to play on the professional teams eSTRO and CJ Entus. While his skill dramatically improved and he won many international events, his career as a progamer has been underwhelming at best. Despite being widely regarded as the best non-Korean Starcraft: Brood War player on the planet, Idra has zero Proleague appearances or major Korean individual league qualifications. But now, suddenly, he's the favorite. Not just to get far, but to win. And for the first time, Idra is not alone, as the GSL has drawn many English-speaking players to Seoul.
Jinro, Idra, Artosis, and Nazgul at GSL Qualifiers Day 1.
In the waning years of his SC:BW career, while the other CJ players practiced for the Proleague playoffs, Idra switched to SC2. It was the right decision, as Idra has won or placed highly in many tournaments since the SC2 Beta began, including HDH, Razer’s King of the Beta, and most recently IEM Gamescom. His most impressive victory is a 3-2 win over oGssSKS, formerly the Brood War progamer Tester, considered at the time to be the best SC2 Protoss.
Idra is one of the most polarizing figures in the Starcraft community. Fans either love his confidence and passion or hate his arrogance and rage. This GSL will be a watershed moment for Idra. He is one of the favorites coming into the tournament, and GomTV’s schedule reflects that – his match will headline the GSL’s opening broadcast. This tournament is his chance to finally silence the doubters – if he advances far. An early exit will surely fan the “Idra is a failure” flames of his numerous anti-fans. Either way, prepare to be entertained.
Winning the GSL: a useful skill toi [sic] have.
Idra plays a relatively unknown Terran player named "Acupuncture" on GSL's opening night. If Idra advances, he could potentially meet oGsLeader (aka Spunky) in the Ro16, and Maka or Junwi in Ro8.
The Fan Favorites: TLO and Torch
TLAF-Liquid`TLO is a fan favorite. Critics may harp on his lack of “mechanics” or his freewheeling style, but the bottom line is TLO wins, and he does it with smarts and creativity. The story of his progaming journey seems almost too good to be true, from twelve year old gamer to a fulltime sponsored progamer in Korea. TLO has a massive following on TL and on YouTube – just search for his name. While everyone cheers for him, few can predict how far he’ll go in this tournament. But TheLittleOne will definitely be TL’s home team favorite, as both Jinro and Nazgul were eliminated in qualifiers.
TLO contemplates where he will nuke next game.
Can TLO’s storybook run continue? He has his work cut out for him, as his bracket is the most stacked quarter of the draw, which features former BW progamers jjong, Tester, and former War3 pro Check.
While TLO may be the most Youtube-famous SC2 player, very little is known about Torch. Only in the first GSL could a completely unknown non-Korean qualify. Torch’s story is a true Rocky tale, of an amateur underdog paying his way to prove he can compete with the best. Torch even has the strategy forum threads to prove it. Everyone hopes to see this kid, red hair blazing, in a GSL feature match.
Eye of the Tiger? We'll see.
When the news of Torch’s qualification broke, amid the excitement, many doubted. “Is he the real deal?” “Maybe he got an easy draw.” Now that the Ro64 is upon us, there are no more easy opponents. In the quarterfinals, a potential match with tournament favorite Cool awaits.
Old and New, Former Pros Return
There are sixty Korean players in the GSL. They include half a dozen former Warcraft 3 progamers like Check, Maka, and Zenio, as well as several former Brood War progamers, the most notable being Tester, Cool, and Rainbow. There are also the two main Korean Starcraft 2 clans, oGs (TLAF-Liquid’s partner clan) and Prime. For many of these players, little is known outside of ladder records, invitational matches, and whatever replays fans could dig up from sites.
The other broadcast match on opening night features Maka, a former Warcraft 3 player. He is well known for his harass-based style and strong TvZ during the SC2 Beta phases. He placed third in the 17173 SC2 World Cup. Another notable name is Check, who won two televised OGN Warcraft 3 leagues in 2003 and 2004. He was one of the first War3 pros to officially switch to SC2, and he won the first PlayXP Weekly Tournament.
Note the age and experience discrepancies between the former BW players.
Few fans, even the older TL users, will recognize the BW progamer names. There are two distinct groups: older, washed-out progamers looking to make a return for SC2, and younger players who jumped to SC2 early because they could not break into the starting lineups of the BW teams. None of these guys are marquee names like Bisu or Jaedong, but they do possess the raw mechanics and practice regimen of a seasoned BW progamer.
One theory is that Starcraft 2’s less demanding user interface will allow the “slower and smarter” gamers of the old generation to compete with the mechanically superior 350 APM young robots. In progaming years, 21+ is old. At age 25, Tester and Cool are old veterans. They are also considered among the favorites to win the GSL. Recently, both left oGs to practice on their own, something a younger inexperienced player would never attempt to do.
Roommates Tester and Cool will try to meet in the finals.
Neither player had huge success in Brood War in terms of titles or leagues won. However, both were able to maintain 50% win rates at an incredibly cutthroat profession. Tester was able to play over 300 progames, 100 of them broadcast on television. He even qualified for an OSL – Batoo – defeating Hyun and Midas before losing in the Ro16. Tester's resume (300+ games and an OSL qualification) is something 99% of aspiring pros in Korea could not dream of accomplishing. He also held a coaching position for eSTRO, so he knows how to practice and prepare for matches. Both he and Cool are veterans in every way -- do not expect them to have the live TV jitters that usually plague newer pros.
Tester’s “old hands” produced some of the cleanest, most professional play we’ve seen in Starcraft 2. His games just ooze skill and power, and you can feel the difference between him and an amateur. His mechanics, practiced over thousands of hours of Brood War games, remain. This is what separates him from the truly “old” players like Rainbow, Beeze, and Junwi – these guys were out of the scene for years, while Tester stayed and fought on.
Everyone should also watch Thunder and Iron, two teenagers who played in the OSL prelims for Brood War as recently as June 2010. Both have fully practiced BW mechanics and only two months of fulltime StarCraft 2 under their belts. Their hand speed and skills are still 100% sharp. These are the kids that warm the benches of every BW proteam, and a glimpse into the future of the next wave of SC2 professionals. By this time next year, there will be hundreds of SC2 pros like them.
Iron is young, fast, and beat Effort in Proleague once.
This is just the first of many GSLs, and there’s already plenty of drama and storylines to go around. Will Idra finally succeed in his long and difficult journey as a progamer? Can TLO or Torch or Artosis complete a fairy tale ending? Will one of the former old guard hold a trophy again, or will they succumb to one of the new “kid robots” that now dominate the professional SC:BW scene? In exactly one month, we'll have all the answers.
The first professional Starcraft tournament in Korea did not launch with the size and spectacle of the GSL. In 1999 the Progamer Korea Open was just a competitive hobby for many of the players participating. Back then, there were no licensing rights disputes, no stream pricing concerns, no player free agent negotiations. The industry was fueled by wide eyed gamers doing what they love, and passionate fans loving every minute.
So when you watch Idra in that opening match, push all that other stuff out of your mind. Forget licensing and fees and negotiations. Take a second and smile, because you’re watching the rebirth of a sport. Only this time, we can see it coming and enjoy the ride. This is an extraordinarily exciting time to be an e-sports and Starcraft fan. Soak it in – the GSL is finally here.
Let’s watch some Starcraft 2.
Official Site of GomTV
GSL Ro64 Brackets
GSL Results & Standings