Photo Credit - IEM
IEM Season VII World Championship: Day 1
Tomorrow, everything changes.
Or at least that's what we hope. While Wings of Liberty remains one of the finest competitive games in the world, there's no doubt that many people want things to change.
Some want Koreans to stop dominating. Others want better balance. Others yet want StarCraft II to rise and become the most popular esport in the world. And some just want difference for the sake of difference, to take the monotony out of a game that has grown stale over the course of two years.
HotS brings the promise of this change. At the IEM World Championship, we'll see if it can be fulfilled.
The IEM World Championship begins at 08:30 GMT (+00:00) on March 5th!
While other KeSPA players will have been tied up playing WoL due to the primacy of Proleague, SKT_PartinG has been in a unique situation where he was actually barred from playing in the current round due to a KeSPA rule that prevents new acquisitions from immediately playing for their teams. Though PartinG had Code S to worry about for the first three weeks of February, his elimination at the hands of Curious on the 21st left him with little else to do but prepare for Round 4 of the Proleague played entirely in HotS. While we don't know how much HotS practice PartinG got in during little over a week, his prodigious talent and incredible micro mean it's hard not to consider PartinG a favorite to advance from the group. Things might have changed, but the soul train is eternal.
The other Korean Protoss in the group, LG-IM_YongHwa looks like he could be one of the players in the tournament least practiced at HotS. While his team LG-IM went on to win the HotS GSTL Preseason, Yonghwa was notably absent from duty in that tournament.. While that doesn't necessarily mean he hasn't been playing HotS at all – even the Code S occupied MC got a run out – it suggests that he had been focusing more on the WoL Code A and Up/Downs. That makes it all the more sad that a scheduling conflict with team sponsor events at CeBIT forced Yonghwa to forfeit his Up/Down group and travel to Hannover early. If Yonghwa can't get a good result at the WC, this week might end up becoming one of the worst of his career.
White Dudes Own Koreans?
It's not like the Korean leagues were the only ones still playing WoL, or that the international scene completely shut down in the lead up to HotS. The foreign scene continued to chug along in February with a series of smaller events, with pros looking to take their share of the last bits of fame and fortune left in WoL. Amid the scattered events, K3.LucifroN had one of the best months of his career in the twilight of WoL, defeating players like Grubby, Snute, Slivko, and Scarlett while winning several thousand dollars. While not achieving the success of Lucifron, Acer.Nerchio and VirtusPro.sLivko were also active in tournaments like Vasacast and RSL4 in February, showing that they weren't all-inning entirely into HotS. Still, with the foreign scene known for being more lax than the Korean scene, it seems safe to assume that the foreigners will have had more time focus on HotS while competing in the occasional WoL tournament.
Will that be a big enough advantage to triumph over the Koreans, and perhaps cause some huge upsets in the group stage? On one hand, the trio of Lucifron, Nerchio, and Slivko were already some of the best the foreign scene had to offer in 2012, and were capable of taking a game or series off top Koreans. Add the HotS experience advantage to that, and it seems that foreign fans would have plenty of reason to be optimistic about their chances. On the other hand, we're still just in the earliest phases of the expansion, and common sense – as well as our archaic anecdotal experiences from the SC1 - BW transition – suggests that fundamentals from the vanilla version of the game will still be a huge factor in the early going. Group A will be our first glimpse into the post HotS world, and a sign of whether or not the winds of change are actually coming.
You'll notice I left out mouz.HasuObs. As one of the best German players and a EU scene regular for most of the WoL era, HasuObs started to trail off towards the end of 2012. While he did qualify for the WC based on points he earned earlier in the season, it's hard to tell what kind of shape he'll be in this tournament, given his casting gigs and relative lack of tournament activity in the past months. But hey, if he says he is well prepared, we can take his word for it. Pencil him in as the wild card for this group.
Six Random Predictions
- PartinG will go immortal all-in in every single game of a series.
- HasuObs will play a 45+ minute game (in-game time).
- Lucifron will kill over 50 workers in a game.
- Slivko will lose yet another close, epic game at an IEM.
- Nerchio will impress everyone with a creative strategy/style.
- Yonghwa will go 5 - 0 playing almost entirely WoL strats.
SK_MC, LG-IM_YoDa, LG-IM_First (c)
Empire|Kas, XMG.XlorD, Liquid`Ret
Round Robin. 1st place advances to round of eight. 2nd and 3rd place advance to round of twelve.
The Preseason Champs
Ragnarok might have been LG-IM's top player in their recent GSTL Pre-season championship run, but it's not like he didn't have help. SK_MC (a part of the LG-IM team due to their partnership with SK Gaming) and LG-IM_First also made contributions to the team, each making a single appearance where they netted two wins a piece.
In the case of MC, he played exactly like you'd expect him to after being tied up with the GSL for most of the beta: he went all-in. MC went as far as making a mothership core to boost his early game presence, but otherwise seemed more than happy to bypass HotS subtleties and kill his opponents early. He punished NSH's Madbull for expanding too early in a PvP with a hidden pylon assisted gateway attack, and it was another gateway timing that took out the NSH Zerg Tible. All-ins have been MC's biggest strength for years, and in these early days of HotS, it looks like it could pay off big time.
In contrast, his teammate and IEM Katowice champion LG-IM_First was more than willing to play macro games, and looked far more versed in the HotS arts. He dealt with Azubu.Sleep's use of mass swarm hosts very adroitly, and even brought some mothership-based PvT fast expand builds to the table. Considering that First hasn't had a GSL match to worry about since early February, perhaps this isn't very surprising. Always better playing abroad than at home, the IEM Katowice champion is definitely one of the favorites to become the World Champion as well.
The odd man out of the Group B LG-IM trio is YoDa, who like Yonghwa from Group A, seemed to have been excused from GSTL duty due to obligations in Code A. YoDa was known in WoL as a player who was great at standard play, and we'll have to see how that translates to HotS where it's not entirely certain what standard is.
Protect Home Turf
Unlike the Nerchio-Slivko-Lucifron trio above, the three Europeans in Group B didn't enjoy the best of success as WoL wound to an end. Three Koreans advancing wouldn't be a surprising result if we used WoL skill as our primary measure, and we'll learn how much of a wrench in the works HotS can be. Empire|Kas stands out as the player who has the best chance of breaking the Korean hegemony in the group. He's a paragon of consistency and playing too many games, and god knows what new kinds of hyper-efficient, greedy builds he will bring to the table.
XMG.XlorD and Liquid`Ret are the long shot candidates in the group. In XlorD's case, he'll be looking to prove that his third place finish at the last HomeStory Cup wasn't just some fluke, and that he can continue to rise in up through the European ranks. Ret will be looking to prove himself as well, trying to climb his way back into the upper echelon of European players after experiencing a steep decline midway through 2012. He has a little bit of HotS momentum going for him as he enters the group, showing good use of swarm hosts to defeat Feast 3 - 1 in the MLG Winter Showdowns.
Six Random Predictions:
- MC will all-in in over 75% of his games.
- Kas will score a TvP series upset against one of the Koreans.
- YoDa will lose a series to a foreigner.
- Any XlorD loss will be followed by massive heckling from Stephano fans.
- First will look more HotS attuned than anyone else.
- Ret will have more than 105 drones in a game.