Top Storylines of Spring Arena One
Eight players? How are we supposed to do a power rank with just eight players? Well, gotta make do with what you've got. Instead of a full-fledged power rank for this week's rather cozy, distinctly Korean Arena, we've decided to go in a different direction.
Me, I'm dancing on the inside to see such a thorough exhibition of Code S class skill. For others, HuK vs seven Koreans isn't exactly the most enticing tournament. So to help you along (those of you who aren't watching DreamHack), here's a list of eight points of interest going into this MLG weekend that might make things a little bit more amusing to watch.
Foreigner hope, from a Korean
Alongside Mill.Stephano, Empire|viOLet has come up as a fascinating case study in what effect geography has on player skill. Despite being based outside of Korea, both Zergs have defied previous conventional wisdom and cultivated a near Code S level of skill. Near is the key word here. viOLet has beat high flyers like HerO, MarineKing, and aLive, but he's also had the tar beat out of him by MC an obscene amount of times. With all seven other players at Spring Arena being arguably of Code S quality of higher, it will be a great chance to see how good a player can become outside of Korea. If viOLet can perform well at Spring Arena, then there might be uncomfortable implications for foreigners who complain about being at a disadvantage to Koreans.
How much does MLG hate Ganzi?
MLG has been consistent in making sure their games are appropriately scheduled across their multiple streams to avoid overlap between fan-favorite match-ups. In fact, it's so mechanical and precise, I'm pretty sure they're using some kind of algorithm to make those decisions. So far, I've figured it out as far as "Least priority: coL.GanZi." Here are some of the match-ups that have been scheduled at the same time as GanZi's games:
Saturday - 3PM : MvPDongRaeGu vs ST_PartinG // coL.Heart vs coL.GanZi
Saturday - 9PM: MarineKingPrime vs MvPDongRaeGu // coL.GanZi vs Empire|viOLet
Now, consider the fact that Ganzi was the only player in the top six at Winter Arena to never get a main stage game, and you start to wonder if he accidentally insulted Sundance's family while trying to wish him a good day in English. It's an unfortunate situation for Ganzi, but with a strong performance, he can force himself into the spotlight on the final day. That, or he could try and dominate the 2v2 tournament...
Poor, EG.HuK. One day, Starcraft II fans started filing PvP in the 'easy' category, and suddenly HuK's consecutive top-four MLG finishes were being brushed off as being due to 'easy' brackets. Still, you can't blame viewers for preferring well-rounded players, and HuK hasn't exactly been doing great against Korean Terran and Zerg players. In particular, HuK's PvT has come under fire, with many pointing to his recent losses to Heart and Hack - not exactly household names - as signs of weakness.
Well, if HuK wants to silence any talk about bracket luck, then what's a better opportunity than a tournament without brackets? The eight man round robin guarantees HuK will face each and every one of the players at Spring Arena at least once, and should he emerge with an impressive record, then it would go a long way to shutting up the haters. Of course, it's a double edged sword. Should he disappoint in the group stage, and fail to qualify for the final day's elimination tournament, then many of the doubts will be justified.
Finding an identity: Heart
Like HuK, coL.Heart wasn't able to escape criticism at MLG Columbus, even with his incredible open bracket-to-third place run. He beat some proven players in viOLet, HuK, and GanZi during his run, but on that performance alone, he still didn't quite seem on the same level as past MLG third place finishers such as MC, DongRaeGu, and TheStC. He seemed more like Startale's Sound, an unknown player who entered HSC IV, finished in second, and departed without giving us any idea about where he stood as a player. Heart's open bracket elimination from IPL4 didn't teach us anything new, since that tournament was a hell from which not even Leenock, TaeJa or HerO could escape. Most recently, Heart walked all over BumblebeePrime in some Code A games, but that wasn't a particularly revealing result either.
Unlike Sound, however, Heart will leave Korea once more to receive a very thorough examination from some very skillful peers. Also like HuK, Heart's performance at Spring Arena will inevitably change the way we look at his run through the Winter Championship. Was he a shrewd opportunist, feeding on the weaker foreigners? Or is he a true Code S class predator?
Will Grubby become the best caster in the world after one event?
Ah, more meta-eSports.
For a long time, the caster scene has remained pretty stagnant. The various daily and weekly tournaments provide new casters a place to get experience, and MLG's also done a nice job in giving lesser known casters like Adebisi and Tumba some exposure, but the market for top tier casters is still dominated by the same old Tastosis's, Day9's, and TotalBiscuits. Wolf's opportunity at DreamHack Eizo Open, and mouz.Kaelaris' at IEM show that the scene isn't totally static, but holy s***, did that take a while to happen.
This makes absolutely no sense, because there's another elephant in the room that needs addressing: Some players are just better at casting than the current stock of professional casters. All of the players have far superior knowledge of the game, though not all of them are articulate or personable enough to bring that knowledge to the audience in an entertaining way. But the ones who can? They are pretty damn incredible.
From what we've seen so far, Grubby has the potential to become the very best. He's only been a guest caster at few events so far, such as the the open-mic at HomeStoryCup 4, or as a teacher overlooking his pupil Mill.Feast at the IEM World Championship. In those few guest appearances, Grubby killed with a combination of smarts and charisma. After a full weekend of casting, I can't help but think people will be wondering 'why settle for less?'
These players aren't just playing for money, pride, or a seed into the Spring Championship. Nope, there's something potentially even more valuable on the line: a Code S seed. None of the seven GSL players at Spring Arena One have secured a spot in next season's Code S. DongRaeGu and Heart have just begun fighting their way through Code A, HuK's fallen out entirely, and even MC, MKP, and PartinG aren't out of the woods yet. Unlikely as it is, they could very well drop out of the RO16, lose their Code A matches, and then get a tough Up/Down group draw.
Now, between now and the next Code S season, there will be quite a few more foreign tournaments which GomTV will look at as they decide how to distribute their two discretionary Code S seeds. DreamHack Eizo Open is coming this very weekend, there's going to be another, even bigger MLG Arena, and then there's the Spring Championship itself. Still, you can't rule Spring Arena One out. Consider TSL_Polt, who got a seed this season based on a variety of merits, but also largely due to his championship performance at ASUS ROG Assembly Winter. Besides Polt, the best players at ASUS ROG were Stephano, PuMa, HerO, Lucky and TaeJa - definitely a downgrade from this Spring Arena's eight. If DongRaeGu should somehow fail to reach Code S by regular means, but has Spring Arena One in his pocket, I'm pretty sure the GSL would be okay with using it as an excuse to shoehorn the megastar back in.
PartinG vs MKP – GSTL Rematch
Both ST_PartinG and MarineKingPrime might brush aside suggestions that there's any bad blood, but does anyone really believe it? With many pro-gamers insisting PartinG was robbed in the GSTL finals, PartinG's own claims of accepting the referee decision sound like some of the emptiest PR statements in eSports history. As for MKP, how pissed must he be about people suggesting that he and Prime didn't deserve to win the finals, even after his incredible four-win performance? I wouldn't be surprised if both players marked off April 20th on their calendars, and have been eagerly counting the days away.
No, a rematch at Spring Arena or any other tournament can no more change the past than Blizzard can implement LAN. But while this Spring Arena can't offer revenge for PartinG or affirmation for MarineKing, it's sure to give the winner of the match a special kind of satisfaction that no ordinary series could offer.
What's amazing about this match-up is that even without the backdrop of the GSTL finals debacle, this is probably the single best match-up in all of Starcraft II. Not only are PartinG and MarineKing the two best players at the PvT match-up, but they have a special chemistry reserved for only few select pairs. It's the chemistry Nestea and Mvp lacked when they were the best players in the world, turning their much anticipated meetings into lifeless disappointments. It's the same chemistry MMA and DongRaeGu have in droves, making every single one of their meetings an exciting encounter. For PartinG and MKP, their penchant for making great matches together might be even greater. The GSTL finals game looked like one of the greatest PvT comebacks before the untimely disconnect, their past MLG meetings have been filled with psi-storming, marauder-splitting excitement as well.
Their group-stage meeting is sure to be a treat. If they meet in the finals? We might see the best series of all time.
DRG vs MKP III
DongRaeGu had a few weeks to enjoy his position as best player in the world before MarineKing unceremoniously knocked him off his throne. The usurping came as a surprise, as MarineKing had been getting spanked by DongRaeGu as recently as early February this year. However, just as DongRaeGu was about to head into the GSL finals, MarineKing scored a major upset at Winter Arena and defeated DongRaeGu 4 - 2 in the finals. After spending a period of time as a player whose skill had peaked and then plateaued, MKP re-emerged looking like an entirely new player in his sweep through Winter Arena. At the Winter Championship, MKP showed Arena was no fluke and emerged victorious over DongRaeGu once more, this time by a score of 5 - 2, in even more one-sided games.
Their fortunes continued to contrast in the next GSL. DongRaeGu recently dropped out of the Code S RO32 as last place in his group, going 1 - 4 in set scores as he lost to TheStC and TaeJa. Meanwhile, MKP went 4 - 1 to finish first place in his group, taking out Zenio and July.
It's hard not to jump to conclusions. MKP is a player known for his work ethic, a player who starts practicing earlier than the others, and turns his computer off only after others have long since gone to bed. While DongRaeGu certainly put in a lot of effort to win a GSL championship, it's easy to see how a player could lose some of their drive after winning it all, without even consciously noticing it. It's a simple explanation for a simple observation: One player tries harder, one player tries less. One gets better, one gets worse.
Or, who knows? Maybe DongRaeGu had the worst day of his life in the Code S RO32. Maybe MarineKing is having the luckiest streak in his career, to go alongside his most skillful one. Whatever the truth is, DongRaeGu will be more motivated than ever to repair his reputation. The PlayXP reading DongRaeGu will be more acutely aware of his public image than anyone, and he knows there's a story to set straight.
As for MKP, he'll have to protect his throne for the very first time - a strange thing for a man who has called himself a king. Now he must prove that he is fit to rule, or suffer the fate of his predecessors.