Table of Contents
A look at each of the four match-ups
A rundown of the possible Ro4 matches
NASL S4 brackets and results at Liquipedia
Alongside the NHL, the NASL has also decided to betray Canada in the winter of 2012, moving back to temperate climates in southern California for their Season Four grand finals. For the first time in its history, a much feared outcome has finally come to pass, with no North Americans in contention in the final, live event.
But don't give up hope just yet, foreigner fans! Two Europeans will to their best to save the day, with the fan favorite Demuslim making it into the top eight, while underground hit SortOf looks to make a name for himself on the big stage. In spirit, at least, you could say viOLet is more American than Korean, having spent nearly a year based in his adopted home. And at the end of the day, spirit is what really matters. Ever since PuMa won a contract from EG at NASL season one, we've known that even if the players at NASL aren't American, the dream it represents is.
TSL_Polt vs. Golden
Haves vs Have-nots
After a month in Texas where he finished below expectations at MLG Dallas, and then followed it up with an even more disappointing quick exit at Lone Star Clash 2, TSL captain Polt made up for all of it by placing 3rd in one of the most stacked weekend tournaments of all-time at IPL5. He beat one of the best PvT players in the world in Creator, two top Terran in Yoda and Bomber, and even eliminated Sniper (who would go on to win Code S a few hours later) in the Ro6. Polt made it further than any non-Zerg player in Las Vegas, reaffirming the old adage that there's just something different about Korean Terrans. He was eventually stopped in the third place match against viOLet, dropping in an extremely close 2 - 3 series where he could not find an answer for the late game BL-Infestor army.
Not dropping a series so far in NASL (8 - 0 in series, 16 - 2 on maps), Polt placed 1st in the regular season of NASL with his only set losses coming against DongRaeGu and aLive. Combined with his recent IPL5 performance, you would say that he's one of the heavy favorites to make the finals, but you never know with Polt. He came into IPL5 in good form, having practiced in Korea and finding the motivation to do well. The last time Polt spent a week in America before a tournament, he went from 9~12th place at MLG Dallas to playing much worse at Lone Star Clash II, losing to Ganzi and BabyKnight. In general, Polt has a knack for coming out of nowhere to perform well, but doesn't play up to expectations when he's had time to build up hype.
On paper this is a serious mismatch for Polt's opponent, the recently teamless Golden. In one corner, you have one the best Terrans in Korea. In the other, you have a generic (though underrated) Korean Zerg who just had his team fold under him. Golden, now without a team after Quantic disbanded, has had a doubly bad week as his race got nerfed as well.
However, Golden can reverse his fortunes instantly if he pulls off the upset. Polt's worst match-up is still TvZ, and Violet showed that if you can get to BL's and infestors, even Polt's bio splitting won't do much against it. On top of that, the patch might not play a role at all towards evening the score. Polt hasn't had time to really figure out the patch's implications with all of his TSL teammates, and even before the patch, he was not one to tinker with ravens and seeker missiles.
So, can Golden do it? Yeah, of course he can, especially looking at how inconsistent Polt can be at times. If it was Golden vs. Polt during IPL5, I'd say Golden had no chance of beating Polt, but a week has passed and who knows what shape Polt is in? Golden might not be praised as one of the better Zergs in Korea, but that doesn't mean he isn't an accomplished, solid player that can knock off players above him in stature. The ultimate X factor could be motivation. Polt's won a ton of money in his career and has great job security (as much as you can have in pro-gaming, anyway). Golden isn't the wealthiest pro-gamer in the world, and he's teamless on top of that. Not only will he be playing to make ends meet, but he'll be openly auditioning to all of his prospective employers,
This tournament for Polt, with how well he did last week, is win or bust. Even with Hero and Taeja on his side of the bracket he doesn't have much to be worried about, as his TvP play has been monstrous the past few weeks, 2 - 0'ing both Creator and Parting. Taeja's play hasn't been as inspiring as of late with his wrist injuries, and Polt should be on even ground with him in a TvT. In the final he'd more than likely face Hyun or Violet, and he certainly has a shot against either if he can play up to the level that he showed in Vegas.
For Golden, a win against Polt would be almost as good as a tournament win. Knocking out one of the best Terrans and putting himself in the semifinals would be a good audition for any foreign or Korean team watching. Golden isn't the favorite and will probably be seen as an easy hurdle for Polt to pass, but I expect a pretty close match between a guy who just came off winning $11,000 and can afford to be comfortable against a player who must play well for teams to give him a chance.
Prediction: Polt 3 - 1 Golden
Liquid`HerO vs. Liquid`TaeJa (again)
The Caduceus of Liquid
As NASL closes out the year for the international tournament circuit, it is fitting that it also gives us the last chapter in the rivalry between HerO and TaeJa. The latter half of the year has allowed us to spectate in detail the progress of the Liquid players, both contending for Code S success and foreign tournament titles on a monthly basis. It is not often we have seen two teammates walking such closely mirrored paths; in the GSL they have avoided direct contact but posted similar progress, establishing themselves as Code S regulars and making top four finishes. In foreign tournaments they have clashed often, with Taeja winning at MLG and ASUS RoG while HerO claimed two DreamHack victories, each claiming championships when beating the other.
As one grows, the other fades, but as the fates twist and unfold, new steps are taken.
2012 has been a year of remarkable growth for both players. For Taeja, the most marked transition was going from SlayerS to Liquid. Already a top prospect on SlayerS, he looked like a new player on the foreign team. His ascendancy in the foreign tournament scene was astonishing, As he went on a tear winning everything he entered; he carried Team Liquid to the finals in IPL TAC3, coming close to doing the impossible by almost double killing LG-IM all by himself. He won an MLG Arena and Assembly tournament in short order. He finally broke back into Code S and cemented his position there by making back to back to back round of eight appearances, and then capped off his summer binning DreamHack Valencia. It was truly the Summer of Taeja.
Meanwhile, HerO’s fortunes seemed to wane as his Terran teammate went on his amazing tournament run. He had closed out 2011 by winning DreamHack and finishing second in NASL S2, but seemed incapable of replicating such results on foreign soil. He would put up great runs but fall short, losing close PvP series or losing to Taeja. But while his fortunes internationally seemed to hit a low, HerO was able to finally achieve success in Korea, getting to the round of four in season two and the round of eight two seasons later.
Broadly, it seems accurate to say that Taeja hit his highest peak somewhere in the middle of the summer. He was of course on a streak that could never be maintained, but in terms of invincibility and momentum the summer marked a transition from being unbeatable to being merely top class. As Taeja progressed, peaked and then found equilibrium, HerO had seen a dip of form turn back into a new rise. At DreamHack Winter 2012, it was HerO, not TaeJa, who looked nigh invincible, and he added a new twist to their friendly rivalry by shutting out TaeJa in a one-sided, 4 - 0 rout in the finals.
Turning weakness into strength, turning strength into weakness
When HerO and Taeja meet in Long Beach, California it will be their fifth meeting in foreign tournaments. They are 2-2, but with HerO’s 4-0 win only a few weeks ago in the DreamHack grand finals, momentum seems to be with the Liquid Protoss. With HerO's PvT seemingly eclipsing his PvZ, and Taeja’s TvP not looking near the level it was during the summer, it's no surprise that many consider HerO to be the slight favorite. As always with teammates, there are plenty of mind games going into matches. HerO’s DreamHack win seemed to owe a lot to being able to predict what Taeja was doing and coming out on top in terms of build order selections.
In a standard game, it is still unclear who the better player is. It is however becoming evident that Taeja’s main weakness might be his predictability. While he's varied up his build orders after being an almost purely greedy player in the past, it still seems easy to put him on either being aggressive or very greedy early game. Meanwhile, HerO has done a good job at diversifying his own openings, being very capable of countering map logic to take advantage of what his opponent would be expecting. What has really changed in the Protoss player is the ability to defend when he is being greedy and his decision making while being under huge pressure. This might explain Taeja’s apparent unwillingness to pressure HerO in the DreamHack games, and if this hesitance continues it would again favor the Protoss player.
Both players have impressive mid-games, with Taeja demonstrating time and time again how to perfectly pick engagements with both pre-splitting versus aoe and good flanks. HerO on the other hand has been able to take what were the strong points of his PvZ and import them into his game play versus Terran, relying on multi-pronged aggression while defending with his main army. As such, any decently even mid to lategame scenario between the two should be a dynamic encounter. Their stylistic tendencies do not dictate themselves which player should be favored, but rather that we can expect action packed, exciting games.
Choosing the victor, choosing the ace.
While a team kill is unfortunate in one sense, both players will probably be happy about how their bracket lined up. With the elite Zergs they both would like to avoid the most locked away in the other half, making a legitimate run seems a reasonable proposition. Golden can be beaten by both, and while Polt has demonstrated that he is capable of defeating either Liquid player, both would probably prefer the TSL Terran to Hyun and possibly even to Violet.
The match is certainly a treat in terms of the quarterfinals of NASL. It works as an interesting conclusion to a year where Taeja and HerO have faced off and competed for the spot as Liquid’s ace player. The third layer of the anticipation is a result of the Liquid and Evil Geniuses partnership for Proleague 2012-13. While Taeja was pretty much the de facto Liquid ace during the summer, HerO’s rediscovery of form and sorting out his mirror and PvT woes makes this decision less clear cut. And while who is chosen for a Proleague ace depends on several factors, it is no small honor to be selected (it's a shame Stephano couldn't be present in Long Beach). What is on the line is a grand finals appearance on the line, a rivalry to maintain and fuel and the chance to demonstrate that they deserve the ace role in the StarCraft’s most prestigious team league.
Prediction: Taeja 3 - 2 HerO
AZUBU.viOLet vs. EG.Demuslim.RC
In a league named the North American Starleague, it is a bit sad there will be no US, Mexican, or Canadian born players in the grand finals. Luckily, there do happen to be two players who are more than worthy of representing the continent in spirit. Both DeMusliM and viOLet are ex-WarCraft III players who moved to America to pursue pro-gaming careers in StarCraft II. Both have lived in the USA for nearly a year now, and though one is British and the other Korean, both have won over the hearts of American fans who are more than willing to call them their own.
Let's talk about DeMusliM first, a member of one of the rarest species in the pro SC2 world, a foreign Terran player. The popular and charismatic Brit has always been up and down in terms of results, and he's shown moderately strong results overall on the year. In the most recent months, he's hit a rough patch, finding it especially tough to deal with the infestor like many other of his non-Korean Terran compatriots. Whatever his results might be outside the NASL, inside the NASL league he has been one of the best performers in the league, finishing with the second best record in his division at 7 - 1, with wins over notable opponents like MMA and finale. The most surprising result of the season might have been his 3 - 0 victory over Sen in the Ro16 NASL playoffs, coming right on the tail of Sen's surprising top four run at the WCS grand finals. It's hard to figure out how much that victory counts for after lackluster performances in his last international tournaments (Ro32 DreamHack Valencia, top 16 WCS Europe), but for better or for worse, he's one of the biggest foreign hopes going into the NASL S4 Grand Finals.
On the other side, we have the Korean-Texan, viOLet. Violet has been incredibly consistent throughout the year, finishing in the top quarter of nearly every tournament he has attended, and even ended up as the runner-up at a very difficult IPL5 tournament, only barely losing 4 - 5 to Leenock in the Grand Finals. His road at IPL was one of the toughest, as he beat Tod, Lucifron, Snute, Innovation, HerO, Symbol and Polt on his way to the final, something worthy of a Code S finals run. Not surprisingly, his NASL results were excellent as well, and he easily took his division 8-0. He then easily dispatched of last season’s runner-up Alicia in a quick 3 - 0 to ensure his place in the final 8. While this won’t be Violet’s last big ticket tournament of the year as he has won a place in the GSL Tour Grand Finals, getting 1st would be the perfect way to cap off Violet’s year and continue his momentum as he returns to Korea.
The two players are also very skilled in the TvZ matchup. Demuslim in his games against Sen showed all types of plays, using cheeses, bio, and the mech play he was using before MVP made it cool. viOLet is also a player who can play a variety of styles, more than willing to go heavy on unit production in the mid-game rather than rush straight to hive like some of his brethren. But the greatest threat for Demuslim is still in the late game, where viOLet is content to passively defend with infestors and brood lords until he is 100% certain of victory, a style few foreign Terrans have found an answer for. This has the makings of a close series, but there is one factor that you have to consider before making a prediction.
The 'rivalry' between Demuslim and Violet is quite similar to other one-sided rivalries in the scene like MVP vs. MKP, Cloud vs. Goody, and Inca vs. detection. While not quite as one-sided, the head-to-head score between the two is 14-6 in favor of Violet. While the stats look bad, Demuslim did win two of those games more recently. That, and this has been an year of upsets. While MVP is still taking free wins off MKP, the other one-sided rivalries are ending. Cloud beat Goody, Inca convinced Blizzard to make Dark Shrine cost 100/100, and JYP beat several good Terrans. This miracle is spreading across games, and we are now living in a world where an Undead player defeated an Orc to win the WCG Warcraft III championship. That must give a former WC3 player like Demuslim confidence, knowing that anything is possible. The IPL5 replay pack is out, and Demuslim will have had a chance to watch all of viOLet's games from the event, notably his five game series against Polt.
On the other hand, I’d argue that Violet is presently playing even better than he has all year. His play is more refined and he was just one game away from taking all of IPL 5. With the events being so close together, the confidence and momentum will carry over and make Violet an incredibly scary opponent. This will be the match to watch if you want to see a top foreigner fight against a top Korean. But remember this: no matter the outcome of the match between the British player and Korean player, America wins.
Prediction: Violet 3 - 2 Demuslim
WW.SortOf vs. TSL_HyuN
The last match in the round of 8 will be a ZvZ, just in case you haven’t had enough of this matchup from MLG Dallas, IPL5, the Code S Finals, and the GSL World Championship. NASL has conveniently scheduled it between 5 and 6 PM, giving the audience time to grab an early dinner before the two semi-final matches that will conclude the night.
As far as ZvZ's go, this is still one of the more appealing cards that don't include the words 'Stephano' or 'Scarlett.' TSL_HyuN was one of the fan favorites at IPL5, proving that you don't really have to speak English, dance, or stream a lot to get popular - as long as you're REALLY damn good (the IM-MVP school of marketing). WW.SortOf has the sort of important fact that he's a foreigner going for him, and while he doesn't have much mainstream support yet, he's been something of an underground star for months now.
SortOf has been overlooked compared to other Zerg players like Scarlett and Vortix who have won big games on big stages, even though you could argue from the kind of players he's defeated online, that the Swede is just as good. Just look at SortOf's run through the NASL Open Qualifiers: he notably beat Jookto, Symbol, Apocalypse and Ragnarok before falling to Golden in the Finals (good enough to earn a wildcard spot). Having grabbed a rare opportunity, he then beat Mana and MC 3 - 0 each to get to the round of 8. Besides his loss to Golden 2 - 3, SortOf has been playing excellent SC2 and has showed strong games through his run so far.
However, being an impressive foreigner isn't going to compare favorably to HyuN. In the NASL, Hyun played exactly how you would expect him to play in an online format. He slaughtered everyone. He went 8-0 in his division while only dropping 3 games in the season and then stomped Ryung to make it to the Round of 8 NASL. Basically, it was IPL Fight Club, NASL edition. He was the odds on favorite to take the season when he entered the league when it started and he still is now that we are heading to the finals. He showed he had shaken off his live-game jitters to a large degree at the Code S finals at IPL5, reaching the finals and narrowly losing to Sniper in a seven game series. The final game did give fans a little reason to worry, as he blew a lead that was handed to him due to Sniper's mistakes. However, that was a special case, a game seven in a grand finals, where many players have found it hard to keep their cool. In an Ro8 match against a foreigner, he's likely to bring his best play.
SortOf has a chance?
While it is obvious to all spectators that Hyun should easily be the favorite in this match, SortOf has already proven he can beat top Koreans in a ZvZ. The problem here is that 2 out of the 3 Koreans he beat recently happen to be on TSL, the same team as Hyun. While Koreans are generally lax in terms of scouting Foreigner styles and strategy, you can expect both Symbol and Ragnarok to show Hyun their games from the qualifiers. But this goes both ways as SortOf should have seen dozens of Hyun’s ZvZ games from IPL Fight Club, IPL5 and Code S. Another aspect that could affect this match is the infestor nerf that Blizzard implemented after IPL 5. While it will take time to see how the changes play out in the non-mirrors, in ZvZ it could make an immediate impact as some Zergs had already been playing less infestor heavy, more roaches-hydra focused compositions. No matter how you slice it, this will be a tough match for SortOf. But Zerg foreigners do have a tendency to make upsets happen so you can never know for sure.
Prediction: Hyun 3 - 1 SortOf
Speculating on Semis
The TeamLiquid writing crew has made their predictions, but there's no telling how the matches might actually go. 'Tis the season for miracles, and we might end up seeing a few unexpected quarter-final matches. Here's a quick run through the possibilities:
Polt vs HerO
Hype Level: 9/10
This is one of the best matches that could happen in the NASL, and for once in our Sniper-ridden lives, it's actually pretty likely to happen. Polt has been playing some great PvT lately, beating players like PartinG, Creator, and even HerO in his recent matches. On the other hand, HerO has improbably transitioned from being a player more feared for his PvT than his PvZ, and his domination of TaeJa at DreamHack Winter was a great demonstration of his skills.
We've just seen way too much Zerg lately, and it's made even good TvZ and PvZ matches seem a bit dull due to over-consumption. It's about time we get to see a close, high level PvT series. HerO ruined our last chance at that in Sweden, but Polt might be able to make it much closer. This is the one everyone should be looking forward to.
Polt vs TaeJa
Hype Level: 7/10
While an epic TvP would make everyone feel great, you can't complain about a top level TvT. Besides a brief period where everyone played super-passive mech vs. mech games, TvT has always been the most exciting mirror, and many fans prefer it to non-mirror matches.
TaeJa mangled Polt in their last meeting in Code S, but that's no indicator of how things might end up in a rematch. The very top level Terran players are nearly 50/50, and anyone could win on a given day. Both players are at their best playing bio-tank styles, and they've played some really close matches in the past (notably, a tense series at ASUS ROG Winter 2012). Also, TaeJa occasionally plays a mech style, while Polt is one of the most exciting bio vs. mech players out there. In terms of entertainment value this should be a great match.
Golden vs Anyone
Hype Level: 2/10
Golden Employability Index: 7/10
For a player who's been a regular in the American scene, Golden hasn't really received that much attention. It will be a big upset if he beats Polt, and even in that case, no one will really give him much of a chance against HerO or TaeJa.
That said, an upset would still be really great for Golden himself, as he looks for a new team to join. Beating Polt in a high profile match isn't a 100% guarantee of employment – just look at the still teamless Alicia who placed top four in multiple international tournaments. But still, it's his best shot at extending his international career.
viOLet vs HyuN
Hype Level: 1/10
This is the highest level of ZvZ you could ask for, but alas, no one will care. We already saw HyuN and Sniper play a seven game series in Las Vegas, and then viOLet and Leenock go nine games after that. It's safe to say we've all had our fill of S-class ZvZ for the time being. Even if HyuN and viOLet mysteriously came down with dysentery and Stephano and IdrA were announced as their emergency replacements, it would be hard for people to get excited for a ZvZ.
viOLet vs SortOf
Hype Level: 3/10
Even with one of the most popular Koreans and a foreigner going at it, you have to be pessimistic about how excited people will be for a ZvZ match after the deluge at IPL5 last weekend. However, if SortOf does manage to beat HyuN, he at least gets a bit of hype behind him. It would put a foreigner in realistic range of a championship, and jaded fans might power through their distaste of ZvZ to see if there's hope after all.
DeMusliM vs HyuN
Hype Level: 7/10
Maybe it's the British accent. Maybe we just really like waif-like Europeans. Maybe we just can't get enough of any foreign Terran who seems to have the potential to play like a Korean. For whatever reason, Demuslim has stayed immensely popular, despite some decidedly average results throughout the years. A win against viOLet would be the moment where tens of thousands of fans shout "WE KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU," and the hype train goes into overdrive. If he beat Sen and viOLet, who's to say he doesn't have a chance against HyuN?
DeMusliM vs SortOf
Hype Level: 10/10
The chance of this actually happening is near zero, but it would be a fantasy fulfilled for mainstream and hipster fans alike. Hardcore fans have watched SortOf take games off Code S Koreans in all sorts of low-profile tournaments and online qualifiers, and have been waiting for the day he finally gets to stand in the spotlight. And for Demuslim, as mentioned above, there have been countless fans supporting him from the earliest days of StarCraft II, claiming that he has the raw talent to be an international champion one day.
The only downside of this match is that one of the players has to lose, disappointing one fan base and forcing them to wait for what could be an eternity for the next opportunity to come by.