Group A Preview
The first five-man group of the tournament.
GSL Blizzard Cup 2012 brackets and results at Liquipedia
Round of 10: Group A
It's the most wonderful time of the year. No, not Christmas, silly.
It's the Blizzard Cup! The tournament where ten of the best players of the year are invited by the GSL to compete for right to be called the champion of champions. MMA overcame players like DRG, Mvp, and MC to win last year's Blizzard Cup, and the line-up is just as stacked this year as well. The ten man line-up includes Mvp, DRG, HerO, Leenock, PartinG, Sniper, Life, Rain, viOLet, and Seed, all of whom have a real shot of winning the championship.
The action kicks off with on the first day with Group A.
Group A: Mvp, DRG, HerO, Leenock, and PartinG1st place advances to Ro4, 2nd and 3rd advance to Ro6, 4th and 5th eliminated.
It's weird to pick the first GSL champion of 2012 to finish last in this group, but given DongRaeGu's path in 2012, it's not that surprising. At some point between May and June, DongRaeGu just stopped being DongRaeGu. It's not that he became a bad player, because he's still quite skilled. It's just that he fell off from being one of the best – if not THE best – players in the world, to being 'just' another excellent Zerg. Other players would kill to have his recent results of double Code S Ro16 finishes and an IPL5 top eight, but you could see from the disappointment on DongRaeGu's face after being eliminated that he expects nothing but championship quality from himself.
It's tough to say what caused DRG's fall after winning Code S and MLG in the first half of the year. His personal tweets and interviews say maybe it was a lapse in concentration – but then why does he continue to perform below standards after claiming his head is in the right place again? Perhaps he needs a few more months of focusing on nothing but practice for it to pay off in a tournament. Or perhaps it's the all-powerful girlfriend factor, which is rumored to have caused many a high profile slump.
Fortunately for DongRaeGu, the race balance in this tournament fits his current match-up strengths well. Roughly, you could say DRG's best match-ups go ZvZ > ZvP > ZvT at present, and Zerg > Protoss > Terran is how race representation will be in the Blizzard Cup. The four other Zergs seem like decent match-ups for DRG, but he'll need a much improved ZvP to make an impact in this tournament.
HerO comes into the Blizzard Cup through the seed given to the DreamHack Winter 2012 champion, which to be frank, gave him the second weakest case to be in the tournament. With the exception of TaeJa and ForGG, it was pretty much a foreigner-stomp for HerO. That's not to say it was easy to win DreamHack Winter, just easier than some of the other tournaments that had seeds into the Blizzard Cup: MLG Fall, OSL, IPL5, or WCS.
If HerO were headed into the Blizzard Cup with just DHW behind his back, then we'd have no problem dumping him in fifth place in his group, and question his worthiness to be in the tournament. However, in an interesting turn of events, HerO went on to take down TaeJa, Polt, and viOLet in his NASL S4 championship run, bolstering his elite-player cred significantly (we'll just pretend HerO's qualification for the Blizzard Cup is on a combination of the two).
That said, you look at the murderer’s row of players set up in the Blizzard Cup, look at HerO's track record against players of that quality, and you have to question his ability to advance. HerO could always hang in Code S, but historically he's never been able to beat the very best players of the times, be it Squirtle in Code S Season II, Rain during his legend of the fall run, or Stephano during his Protoss killing-spree in the summer.
Even worse, the racial composition just isn't his favor. HerO's best match-up is now PvT, but there's just one Terran in the tournament. While his PvP has improved greatly after being a straight up liability in the past, it's definitely not an advantage against guys like Seed, PartinG and Rain. And though HerO did defeat viOLet at NASL, PvZ has still been his most troublesome match-up in recent months, and you'll be hard pressed to find scarier Zergs than the ones gathered in the Blizzard Cup.
HerO's qualification to the Blizzard Cup was a bit soft, but he can't outdo PartinG's pillowy entrance. PartinG's WCS run consisted of five foreigners capped by Creator in the finals, making it the easiest $100,000 anyone has made in the history of StarCraft. He then followed it by also making the easiest $25,000 in the history of Starcraft, defeating seven foreigners at the WCG 2012 finals. PartinG is either the luckiest progamer alive, or he's made some kind of pact with the devil. So, why is PartinG ahead of HerO and DongRaeGu then? Call it a feeling.
First off, the match-ups are pretty decent for PartinG. PvT has been a weak match-up for PartinG lately, but with just Mvp in the group, it's not that big a deal. PvP's a great match-up for him as well, as he's at the very least, equal with any Protoss player in the world. In PvZ, his ability to perform the soulful immortal sentry all-in is pretty spectacular. While it's been stopped by players like Sniper, it's far from being a build that's figured out, requiring great execution on the Zerg side to defeat. You have to give a lot of credit to a player with a such a weapon.
The major factor though, which ties into all the stuff mentioned above, is that PartinG is starting to look a lot like a reborn MC. He has unstoppable PvZ all-ins, and elite PvP that can go up against anyone in the world. While he used to be a strong macro player in PvT, he's recently overhauled it so that he uses a ton of all-ins to get victories. As he's adopted MC's tactics, PartinG has also started to take on the boss toss' aura, where his arsenal of all-ins makes you think "you never know what could happen with this guy, don't count him out." So while his recent list of opponents beaten might not be nearly as impressive as the amount of prize money won, you have to be wary of PartinG.
Will the age of Mvp finally come to pass? Back in Code S Season Two, where Mvp was heading in after a disappointing MLG Winter Arena and Code S Season One, many thought he was crippled and done. Yet, he managed to prove his doubters wrong, overcoming younger, rising stars in every round to win his fourth GSL championship. While that victory certainly showed everyone that Mvp should never be counted out, recent results are sending a more mixed message. Mvp showed his class once more by making it to the finals of Code S Season Four, but was defeated in the end by the prodigy ST_Life. Had time finally caught up to Mvp?
The 2012 Blizzard Cup will be a crucial test for the legend of Mvp going forward. Players like PartinG, Rain, Leenock and Life are some the fastest rising players in StarCraft II, and they're bound to be top stars in 2013. Mvp's performance against them this tournament will tell us if he can still be a championship player in 2013. Already the greatest WoL player of all time, Mvp has a chance to chastise the up and comers, telling them they are going to need to work a lot harder if they don't want his shadow looming over HotS and 2013 as well. With a Code S championship and a runner-up finish in 2012, Mvp already has a strong case to be called the best player of 2012. A championship in the Blizzard cup would lock it up, making him the best player of 2011 and 2012.
The race composition of this group is a mixed blessing and curse for Mvp. TvT has been Mvp's best match-up, but he won't have a chance to play it at all as the lone Terran. On the other hand, he gets to prepare for just two match-ups, compared to the other players who have to prepare for all three. While late game TvZ was a major problem for him in previous tournaments, the raven buff should be a huge boon. Mvp was already experimenting with ravens before other players, and no doubt, he'll have found better ways to use them in TvZ since we last saw him. As for TvP, he's facing two Protoss players who are dangerous all-iners in HerO and PartinG, but against sOs in Code A, Mvp showed he can read and prepare for such builds as well as anyone.
I'm going to go ahead and say it: Leenock is the best player in the world. Yeah, it's a title that's been in a heavy state of flux recently, and maybe Leenock doesn't have as clear a case as others have in the past. But someone has to be the best at any given point in time, and Leenock is the one who is most deserving of the title. Since November, no one else has beat as many top players, or placed as well in as many tournaments. Since November, he's defeated Life, Rain, Oz, Bomber, viOLet, Polt, Symbol, Soulkey, MKP, Keen, Squirtle and Bogus, only losing to GSL champ Sniper and MLG champ Life. Of the other contenders for the crown, Rain and Life ruined their cases by having disastrous runs in recent tournaments. Only GSL championship Sniper is really in the discussion with Leenock, and even then he's outweighed by Leenock's overall tournament finishes and number of top players he has defeated (Sniper won the head to head, but Leenock never failed to carry his team in the GSTL - let's say that's even).
Still, any of the contenders could leap ahead of Leenock with a superior performance at the Blizzard Cup, so it's important for Leenock to keep up his great form in this tournament as well. In that regard, Leenock should be pleased with his initial group, as he has a great chance to finish 1st place and get seeded directly into the Ro4. ZvZ is the match-up where he's looked the most beatable relatively, and an off-his-best DongRaeGu shouldn't make him worry too much. Leenock should crush both HerO and PartinG in macro games, so as long as he doesn't fall to two or three-base all-ins, he should be okay. The biggest problem could be Mvp, an opponent who has always been able to play Leenock closely. Every single one of their past meetings has been an exciting series that has gone down to the wire, and chances are, the upcoming match-up will provide more of the same.