YoDa celebrates winning his first major title with LG-IM head coach Kang Dong Hoon. Photo: 7mk
When four time GSL champion Mvp said that YoDa was the best player on LG-IM last summer, it was easy to brush it off as a kind comment for an under-appreciated teammate. Over the course of four days in Hannover, Germany, YoDa proved that Mvp's words were absolutely true for Heart of the Swarm. YoDa led the way for LG-IM as they took all top four spots at the IEM World Championship, defeating teammates Mvp and First to win the first major title of his career.
It was no easy path for YoDa. He narrowly topped his Ro24 group on map score and head-to-head tie breaks, after tying 4 - 1 alongside Ret and First. His Ro8 match had him go up against SKT PartinG, considered by many to be the best Protoss player at the end of WoL. The series proved to be a tight affair, with PartinG being able to hold out against YoDa's marine-marauder-medivac attacks in some games, while buckling under the pressure in others. In the end, it was YoDa's good defense against PartinG's all-ins that made the difference. Having fended off a one-base immortal all-in in game two, YoDa also successfully fended off an oracle all-in the deciding fifth game for a 3 - 2 victory.
Things didn't get any easier for YoDa in the semi-finals, as he went up against his titan of a teammate in Mvp. YoDa ended up having to go a full five games yet again, in a series that saw both players constantly trying to get the better of each other with reaper openings, widow mine drops, and other tactics unique to HotS. While no one would doubt the power of afterburner medivacs in the tournament as a whole, they actually seemed to backfire on the user in this particular series, with both YoDa and Mvp paying the price for dropping too recklessly on occasion. That happened to be the case in game five, where a failed two-medivac drop from Mvp early on allowed YoDa to slowly turn that advantage into a late game victory.
In a strange reversal of roles, Mvp is on the receiving end of a brutal, mech beatdown.
It seemed like YoDa would continue to play IEM on nightmare difficulty in the finals, when he faced his teammate First, known to be a strong PvT player. First had won the preceding IEM in Poland on the back of that match-up, and had already defeated YoDa 2 - 1 in the group stage. However, YoDa's desire to get his hands on a trophy ASAP ended up being stronger than even First's PvT, and he won a surprisingly easy 4 - 0 victory to clinch the championship.
It was a comprehensive victory for YoDa, as he dismantled his teammate in four different ways. In game one, YoDa crushed First with superior micro and positioning in late game battles. Medivacs came into play in game two, as YoDa doom dropped with four medivacs worth of infantry to take a quick victory. In game three, YoDa's well positioned widow mines destroyed two of First's oracles, giving him a mid-game advantage that he would not let go of. At championship point, YoDa needed just a simple, frontal MMM timing attack to crash through First's defenses and finish the 4 - 0 sweep.
With ten of the twenty-four players competing in the tournament being Korean, many expected a Korean domination before the tournament even started. Defending 2012 champion MC caused a stir by suffering a shock elimination in the first round, but when the quarter-finals of the tournament rolled around, we were left with an unsurprising, six-Korean, two-foreigner (mouz's MaNa and Liquid's Ret) top eight. The real surprise may have been LG-IM's monopolization of the top spots, considering that six non-LG-IM Koreans had also participated in the tournament, with Code S class players like SK Telecom's PartinG, Azubu's viOLet, and SK Gaming's MC among them.
How the foreigners failed to change their destiny.
HotS may end up being the great equalizer between the eSF and their KeSPA counterparts, but for international players, they might be forced to suffer the Korean hegemony for another couple of years. As an all LG-IM top four would indicate, none of the non-Korean players made it to the semi-finals, with Ret and MaNa bowing out of the Ro8 with 0 - 3 defeats to Mvp and YongHwa.
Ret came closest to offering a glimmer of hope for foreigner fans. He placed second in his Ro24 group, defeating both MC and First along the way, and then took a strong 3 - 1 victory against Western Wolves' Sting in the Ro12. Going up against a famously aggressive Sting, Ret looked rock solid as he brushed off all of Sting's attacks and crushed him with his trademark macro play. However, things quickly returned to their 'normal' state in the Ro8, as LG-IM_YongHwa avenged his countrymen with a 3 - 0 victory. After defeating Ret in some fairly standard macro games in the first two games, Yonghwa then followed with a cannon rush to end the dutchman's run (read Ret's thoughts on the series here).
In mouz.MaNa's case, he went into the Ro8 off of a feel-good victory against rival Polish player Acer.Nerchio, but had very little reason to be optimistic. His opponent, Mvp, was not only a four time GSL champion, but one who had shown impressive use of the new medivacs to aggravate and pick apart opponents in the group stages. Not surprisingly, MaNa ended up being Mvp's next victim, and was shut out 0 - 3 in a series where the power of infantry drops was on full display.
Guess what! This isn't going away.
While Ret and MaNa made it the furthest, the Korea vs. World match that drew the most attention occured one round lower in the Ro12. EG.Stephano.RC faced off against SKT_PartinG, the famed master of the "Soul Train" immortal-sentry all-in. Prior to the match, PartinG stated "it wouldn't be a bad idea" to use his famed all-in against Stephano, which ended up being a huge understatement. The advent of the mothership core made the Soul Train even more deadly than it had been before, and PartinG crushed Stephano in games one and four despite having his all-in more or less completely scouted. With the two players trading a map a piece in macro games, the series went 3 - 1 to conductor.
While it may be too soon to talk about things like balance, there were some patterns to observe and notes totake over the course of IEM. The thirty-two competitors at the upcoming MLG Dallas will surely have watched the games and noticed what happened, and it will be intriguing to see which trends get bucked immediately, and which ones are more ingrained in the fabric of HotS.
Void Rays are Kinda Good: This one should be obvious to anyone who's been watching HotS so far. However, there was an amusing "wait, I knew they were strong, but I didn't know they were that strong" moment that occured in the Yonghwa vs. First semi-final match. Considering their GSL schedules, it's probably safe to say that First had been playing a lot of HotS while Yonghwa barely had any time to play at all. Thus, it was a bit of a dick move from First to tear apart his teammate's stalker-colossi composition with two-stargate void rays.
"I taught you all I know about HotS, except the fact that your composition doesn't work against mine."
While it's one thing to say that pro-gamers should stop fighting voidrays while they are charged, it's another thing to get the exact engagement you want against an opponent who is conscious.
Afterburners: Too Fast, Too Furious? The big question is "did afterburners look OP because the best players at IEM were Terran, or because they're actually too strong?" A Code S class Korean pro can make almost anything look good against foreigners - for instance just because PartinG managed to go three-base straight into colossus-void ray against Slivko doesn't mean we should declare that it's a broken composition (yet). If we toss the most noticable afterburner beatdown games of Mvp vs. Grubby/Stephano/MaNa out the window then we're left with only a few match-ups to sort through.
YoDa (3 - 2) PartinG
- Game One: YoDa tried to force a four-medivac drop by a prepared PartinG and failed to achieve much. PartinG then won with zealot-templar off two bases.
- Game Two: PartinG went all-in with immortals and did not succeed.
- Game Three: YoDa did a tricky marine-widow mine drop, followed by a three medivac, stim marine drop later down the line. PartinG was caught totally off guard and was crushed.
- Game Four: YoDa went for the same kind of strategy as game three, except this time PartinG had good observer coverage and played it safe. The game then played out standard, with YoDa almost winning with MMM attacks, but PartinG just barely holding out until his tech/ugprades kicked in.
- Game Five: PartinG went all-in with oracles and did not succeed.
First (3 - 1) Dream
- Game One: First tried to take three fast bases and was ripped apart by medivac tactics.
- Game Two: Dream died to oracles.
- Game Three: Dream died to oracles.
- Game Four: Dream didn't play particularly aggressively with drops and lost in a macro game.
YoDa (4 - 0) First
- Game One: YoDa spent a lot time poking around with four medivacs in the mid game, but First did a good job of preventing him from doing any damage. YoDa then won in a macro game.
- Game Two: YoDa won with a big 4 medivac drop that First failed to spot.
- Game Three: First failed to do damage with his oracles and lost in a macro game.
- Game Four: First had an okay defense against YoDa's early medivac drops (there was one getaway where Terran would have lost a dropship without afterburenrs), but then lost to a frontal attack.
All in all, it seems hard to draw a conclusion just from IEM. Luckily, we're guaranteed Polt vs. Creator, and MarineKing/Jjakji vs. Seed/Rain at MLG, and probably Mvp vs. MC/CJ_herO after that (if Mvp beats Feast).
Mines are Kinda Cute: We saw plenty of fast mine openers at the WC, with Terrans following up in a variety of ways, whether it was drops, banshees, or triple orbitals behind it. As shown by YoDa's brutal oracle double-kill in the finals, they can be one hell of a defensive weapon against an opponent who plays thinking "I really, really hope he doesn't have mines."
One thing we didn't get a chance to see much of was active mine use past the early-mid game. From the games that were broadcast, only Lucifron and Mvp really made a point of adding a noticable amount of widow mines to their late game armies, both of them in the TvZ match-up. Sting didn't find much use for mines past the early game, while YoDa didn't get a chance to play a broadcast TvZ after the group stage (there, he killed off Ret with early marine-mine pressure). In TvT and TvP, mines didn't seem to be very popular past the early game.
Oracles, Too: Oracles got their time in the limelight when First went for oracle builds against Dream, and Dream obliged by either not noticing them entirely or just declining to run his workers. Each time, Dream lost upward of fifteen workers, making one wonder why his TvT opponents didn't open cloak banshee against him by default. Being inattentive against oracles seems like a sure way lose games, but surely, few players will be as unalert as Dream? On a side note, the most interesting use of void rays in the tournament still goes to HasuObs/Socke for their mid-game, hidden stargates used for oracle harassment.
Hellbats Still Exist... While hellbats have become a lot less noticable since the fearsome 4-hellbat drop was nerfed, they still saw some play here and there. Most notably, Mvp used them as meat shields for his TvT mech, while Sting went for hellbat-thor-tank mech in several of his TvZ games. YoDa actually tried to use them for their intended purpose of anti-zealot in a TvP against PartinG, and they seemed to be working fairly well before they were annihilated alongside the rest of the Terran army by high templars and colossi.
...and Tempests and Swarm Hosts Don't: Alas, Tempests failed to make an appearance in any consequential way, when they did at all. With viOLet stubbornly sticking with hydra-roach-viper compositions (and sometimes mutas), we only had a couple of games from Ret where they made an appearance in the elimination tournament.
PvP is a Trap: Various people have said that PvP is more condusive to macro games now, with the mothership core's ability to turn Nexii into giant photon cannons making it easier to hold an expansion. However, there have been quite a few games so far in the GSTL pre-season and the IEM WC where Protoss players abused this perception, successfully pressuring fast expanders with one-base play and either winning the game outright or taking a lead. The various MSC-expand builds are probably nowhere near fully refined, so it's likely to change in the future. But looking immediately ahead to Dallas, we could see fast expanders continue to get punished.