Round of 32 Preview
Group A: Empire|Kas, EG.PuMa, RoX.KIS.TitaN,
The tournament's opening group also feels like one of the most cut and dry. Puma will advance here, probably in first place, with Kas and TitaN battling it out for second place. Despite some struggles in online and inter-korean competition, PuMa has been nothing if not consistent in foreign live events. This group has the talent to take a game or two off of him, but the chances of the Korean somehow getting knocked out here are next to none.
That leaves Kas, TitaN, and group minnow Welmu. The advantage here is also fairly clear; as Kas has shown superb play recently, especially at IEM Kiev. Unfortunately for him, his immaculate TvZ will not feature in this opening group, and that leaves him vulnerable. To add to the uncertainty, TitaN is a formidable opponent. While he's still looking for his first breakthrough event, (WCG is of uncertain value, but I guess it deserves mention) many, including this writer, feel that it's bound to come soon. PvT is his best match-up, and his chances of beating Kas are solid.
The least likely scenario here is a surprise from Welmu, who will be the hometown favorite, but the favorite in nothing else. He could spoil TitaN's day in PvP, but his PvT has never seemed at a level that would challenge PuMa or Kas in this setting.
Group B: Empire|Happy, mouz.MaNa, FnaticRC NightEnD, Mill.Stephano
This is the group to watch in the first round of the tournament, as no other group even comes close. With two of Europe's finest players, the hottest foreigner around, and the most consistent tournament performer, Group B is destined to be the most hotly contested and quite possibly the most entertaining of the whole event.
Let's start with what we know for sure. NightEnD will take third place. This is one of those immutable characteristics of European tournaments. I doubt there's any player who's barely missed as many group advancements as the super-safe NightEnD. It's a shame too, because the Romanian Protoss is a talented player; orthodox and cautious but not to a fault like some of his more defensive peers, who gamble on turtling and maxing out, trying to get lucky in the one fight. In this group, he'll pose the biggest challenge to MaNa, whom he beat at Dreamhack, his one deep tournament run.
Against Stephano, however, he has considerably less of a chance. The Frenchman has won 20 straight ZvPs since mid-January. That's ridiculous, and it puts Stephano squarely as the favorite in Group B. And while attending the tournament dressed as Jesus may not help his cause in obvious ways, it probably deserves mention all the same.
Then there's the aforementioned Mana, who has been so good for so long, but has often struggled to get the international respect he deserves, in large part because he has not been able to win a final. In a short while, he'll be finished with school and able to devote all his time to Sarcraft. When that happens, it'll be scary to see what he can accomplish. But for the moment, he finds himself in an unusually weak position in the first round. All of his opponents are even or favored against him.
Finally, we come to Happy, who deserves some special attention because of how lights-out he's been playing recently. I've criticized the Russian before, in part because he had utterly failed to live up to the initial round of hype that sprung up when he first began to focus on Starcraft. He was similar to NightEnD in his orthodoxy and passivity (if the games between the two don't all reach 200/200, I'll be surprised), and his physical playing style resembles a bear encountering a computer for the first time. But for whatever reason, Happy has suddenly had another spate of results that resembles his breakout last summer. Overcoming opponents like Creator, Artist, and Jinro, Happy is suddenly relevant again. That's the one main reason why Group B will be so interesting to watch, as Happy tries to at long last make an impact in a LAN event. I'm bearish; I've yet to see Happy prove that he can compete in SC2 in this setting. But if it's ever going to happen for him, now is the time.
Group C: Fnatic.Moon, Type.ReaL, imba.FXO.BRAT_OK, aTn.ClouD
Group C has one of the most interesting dynamics of the tournament. One half is long-time mainstays of the European Starcraft scene, Brat_OK and ClouD, while the other half has recent breakout player ReaL and a complete mystery in Moon.
Fnatic's second-newest recruit Moon will finally be showing his face, in what is essentially his first appearance in public since NASL Season 1. As a player who put his SC2 career on hiatus to focus on Warcraft III for last year's WCG, he is now so far into the shadows that there is actually more information out there about Mondragon's current form than the DreamHack Summer runner-up. And like Mondragon, he's also the kind of player who has the potential spring from nowhere to perform well.
The year has been more than kind to ReaL, who recently enjoyed strong runs in HomeStory Cup and more recently Sao Paulo where he defeated his fair share of top Euros including DIMAGA, Adelscott, GoOdy, and Cloud. More impressively, he did it all not only with weird builds, but with his opponents fully expecting such unorthodox builds and somehow losing to them anyway. A finish near the top of the group wouldn't be unlikely, especially given his strength of his PvT.
BRAT_OK seems to have been more or less the same for around a year now, slightly below the very cream of the crop of Eastern European Terrans but still above the majority of the progaming population. Fortunately for him, a style that is essentially a just slightly-worse-than-Kas variant should be more than enough to get through this group, and he should be able to find his way through.
And finally we round out the group with the ever lovable ClouD: Monster to cookies, enemy of GoOdy, and a man with an unfortunate history of under-performing when it comes to live events. A strong Terran in his own right, he's been strictly worse than both Brat_OK and ReaL at recent events, so unless he has a particularly hot day he may have trouble against even the untested Moon.
"F***. This. Weather."
GASP! I'm picking the two Koreans to advance from this group. I feel that if I were handed a four man group, shown only HerO and SeleCT as the first two players, and told that the last two were picked randomly from all the pro-gamers in the world, I would still pick HerO and SeleCT to go through. Now, take into account the fact that they were not even randomly picked, but placed into this group with regards to seeding (hint: sYz and Seiplo were probably the lower seeds by tournament organizer's estimations), and it's looking pretty grim for our foreign friends.
sYz is an average European Zerg, which means I would never pick him to win against a Korean until he proves that he can. Nothing personal against him, or average European pros – it's just been proven to be a safe bet. Seiplo is a bit more interesting because he proved that he CAN upset Code S class Koreans, even though he's not the most accomplished European player. He won best of three series against Genius and HuK at DreamHack Winter – albeit in a fluky manner, but wins are wins. Those were both PvP victories where his opponents showed superior micro in general, but Seiplo just made sounder all around decisions in some atypical PvP situations. On the other hand, he got picked apart by HerO's micro and harassment at that same tournament, which doesn't bode very well for this one. Even so, if you think about how HerO got eliminated on map scores in a three way tie-break at HomeStory Cup 4, there is at least some hope for our foreign friends here.
I don't have too many many words to spend on Liquid`HerO. We all know who he is: as long as he doesn't beat himself, the reigning DreamHack champion is a strong favorite to win it all.
Select is the most intriguing player of the bunch. He was always a top foreigner, and then he went to Korea late last year to train with the FXO team. Strangely enough, that didn't translate into a good showing at DreamHack, where he was actually pretty disappointing. He's been there for another two months now, though there haven't been many tournaments for him to show his progress in. The real questions for Select lie ahead, in how he matches up against the more notable players in the world (of course, the match against HerO should be fun, too).
Group E: Mill.DieStar, EG.JYP, sSahara.Satiini, Tt.White-Ra
Another fairly straightforward group, the two Protoss players, JYP and White-Ra are heavy favorites. Both have international experience at the highest level of competition, and are threats to go deep in the tournament. In contrast, the two Terran players that fill out Group E are significantly less accomplished and have not impressed recently.
DieStar is an interesting player; one whom we usually hear nothing about, but who often ends up in tournaments like these as early round fodder. DieStar isn't bad though, and quite frequently over-performs the expectations,. White-Ra isn't likely to lose PvT's to Europeans, but if JYP is affected by jet-lag he could be susceptible, especially in his bad-but-not-as-bad-as-everyone-says PvT.
Satiini is another funny case. Back around Dreamhack Winter, he qualified for the event and looked better than we'd seen in a while. Then he dropped out of Dreamhack for no apparent reason, and hasn't shown up on anyone's radar since. In the recent MSI Pro-Cup, he was absolutely flattened by Stephano. He's a decently cheesy player, so maybe he will pick up a win in that fashion, but for him or DieStar to advance from this group, it'd be a huge surprise. Or White-Ra would have to not be able to get a visa. That's about it.
Group F: SlayerS_Taeja, Acer.elfi, Mill.Adelscott, Liquid`Jinro
With Group G we have yet another case of a Korean simply towering over all of his opponents. Taeja is coming fresh off Code-A victories, and has been building momentum through ESV weekly tournaments for a while now. The only point against him is being unable to show his TvZ in the group but his other matchups are far from hindering him.
The battle for second place will be between Finland's elfi and France's Adelscott. Of the two, Adelscott has a longer and more consistent history, but Elfi has been known to show up with some off-beat builds that can throw anyone off their game. Still, having not been seen much since his finishes at IEM Guangzhou and New York it's anyone's guess as to his current form.
Rounding out the group is Liquid`Jinro who hasn't shown the form that made him famous in what seems like ages. His last good outing in a LAN was against IdrA in China last year, and while his TvZ still is capable TvP continues to be a pain in his side. With 2 Protosses in his group, and the one Terran being Taeja, this will be a difficult series of matches for the Swede.
Group G: d.Bischu, Acer.Bly, FXOLucky, imba.FXO.Strelok
Barring food poisoning or match fixing, Lucky will advance from Group G. None of the motley crew arrayed against him are enough to take out the rising Korean zerg, and overall this group looks like the weakest of the tournament. Lucky might look like DongRaeGu before the day is over.
The best bet for second is Strelok, who has always been a solid and easy to like player. But his recent results have been non-existent, and he's never gotten out of the gear he's been in for over a year. He's solid, but not a title threat. He will continue to siege and unsiege all of his tanks at once. And so on and so on.
Then there's Bly, who is a super-recent pick-up by Acer, and a bit of a confusing one from the standpoint of this writer. Bly has struggled in the past to transition out of weekly-cup hero to an international-caliber player. Perhaps Acer has seen evidence that this progression is eminent, or perhaps they're taking a risk. But if the Ukrainian Zerg wants to impress his new team, this relatively weak group is the absolute perfect one to do it in.
Rounding out the gang of four is Bischu who is this group's third perennial underachiever. He's been roughly as exposed as Strelok, and he's had roughly the same level of moderate success. But as a member of a Dignitas team that has struggled to assert itself in the recent past, Bischu has been complicit in that decline. He's been eclipsed as the team's lead protoss by BlinG, and has never matched the success of SjoW as the team's leading Swede. It's a tough position to be in, and chances are the status quo remains the same after this weekend. Lucky should have this, with Strelok a small favorite for the next spot.
Group H: TSL_Polt, Type.PhoeNix, Dignitas.BlinG, Liquid`TLO
Group H is a common story seen in the LAN environment, successful Korean coming over to make the others fight for second place.
Polt, showing merely Code-A play lately in the GSL, is still Polt. Despite his poor play in Korea since the beginning of the year, he is still a solid Terran more than capable of coming to a foreign land and pillaging their trophy case and leaving after capturing glory. A story we have seen time and time again, Polt should breeze through this group to face greater challenges on day two.
Things will not be as straight forward for his counterpart in PhoeNix, however. One of the few Koreans who left his home land in search of greater, foreign-team prospects, he has, as expected, fallen from favor in tournaments. Like a faerie leaving the enchanted forest of FernGully, he has seemingly lost his power, losing to a host of mid to top-tier Europeans in the last few months. His road through his group will be a difficult one.
For BlinG, this is could finally be the time to shine. Having taken down DeMuslim 4-3 in a showmatch some weeks ago, stealing the Best-In-UK title in the process, he has yet to achieve a notable finish at a live event. His match against Polt will be difficult, but with preparation both PhoeNix and TLO are beatable for a second place finish.
Fully bearded TLO is still looking and training for the win, or the parts of a win, that will let him transform back to the smooth-faced Dario we all know and love. His 3-kill during IPL's Team Arena Challenge recently shows that his hard work is paying off, but he has yet to prove himself in a bigger arena. While he is less likely than the others in his group to succeed, one can always hope (at least for fangirls' sake) that he will surprise and walk away with weight lifted off his shoulders (and chin).