MLG Winter Championship
Featuring Axslav and Axeltoss!
Brackets and results at Liquipedia
32 players, 16 matches
The IEM World Championship had the honor of being the first major HotS tournament, but MLG will be the first one played after the expansion's official release. Players have had a few valuable days to play the expansion since the Tuesday night release, but this tournament still projects to be one of HotS in its rawest form, before professional gamers have scrutinized it over thousands of hours of games.
To help us preview the matches, we've called in MLG's casting duo of Axeltoss and Axslav, who presided over the MLG Winter Showdowns, the series of winner-take-all matches that determined which thirty-two players would earn spots at MLG Dallas.
by: TeamLiquid Writers, feat. Axeltoss and iS.Axslav
Winter Championship: Ro32 Preview
Games listed in order of scheduled broadcast. All times US Central Time (GMT -5). MLG Schedule
Friday, March 15th Games
Gammania.Sen vs. ROOT.ViBE - 17:30
Considering how few international tournaments Sen plays in, it's amazing how he keeps up his reputation as a top pro-gamer. But that's what happens when you make the most of your infrequent appearances. For a period of his career, Sen was almost guaranteed a 3rd-4th place finish in any tournament he competed in. While it seemed like a curse at times, it ended up being a blessing at the WCS Global Finals where Sen was the lone non-Korean to reach the final four, taking out Startale's Curious and Liquid's HerO on the way. Thus, when anyone questions his credentials as a top foreigner, Sen can just respond by shoving a printout of the WCS Liquipedia page in their face.
For what it's worth, ViBE does happen to be the closest thing we have to an official American champion. Not only did he take first place at WCS USA, but proved that he was no fluke champion by taking second place at the North American finals as well, losing only to Scarlett. Of course, if you're doubtful about how much weight being a top tier American player carries in the international scene, then we can't really blame you. It's been a while since a player from the USA has made a serious impact in the international scene, and given the brackets at MLG Winter Championship, that trend seems likely to continue.
Drawing Sen in the first round is a mixed blessing for ViBE. Facing a non-Korean opponent is always reason to celebrate. But when he's one of the best foreigners out there? Oof. Still, it must be good that it's Zerg vs. Zerg, a match-up that was a key part of ViBE's WCS runs, right? Well, maybe not when his opponent has a 70% career Zerg vs. Zerg win rate. All in all, it's not the worst match-up ViBE could have asked for, but still a pretty damn tough one nonetheless.
Prediction: Sen 3 - 1 ViBE
Axeltoss Says: "Look out for Sen guys, he is no stranger to making deep runs in important tournaments, taking many off guard. Vibe has been looking to revolutionize the ZvZ match up... don’t miss this one!"
EG.HuK.RC vs. STX_INnoVation - 17:30
When it comes to foreign players, Huk is the greatest of all-time in MLG. Having won two MLG championships in his career, Huk has made his biggest impact at MLG events, even beating MC during MLG Orlando to take give foreigners hope when they needed it most. Now, a year plus removed from that victory over MC, Huk is looking to get back on track with a strong performance in Dallas. He qualified for the fifth season of Code S before getting knocked out in the first round in a tough group, showing that he is still one of the better foreigners in the world.
He'll be facing off against Innovation, KeSPA's strongest Terran since the transition, having made a GSL quarterfinal and semifinal in his two Code S appearances. With a strong all-around game, Innovation is one of the favorites coming into Dallas. Huk has his work cut out for him if he wants to take out one of the strongest Koreans at the tournament, but Huk is one of the only foreigners who has proved time and time again, throughout the pass three years, that he can and will beat Koreans favored over him.
If you think this is going to be a blow out, be warned that Innovation's TvP has been by far his weakest match-up in Starcraft 2. Innovation has to be the favorite to move on, but don't sleep on Huk pulling a major upset to kick off the weekend.
Prediction: Innovation 3 - 2 Huk
Axeltoss Says: "Huk is no stranger to the Dallas main stage. Of the foreigner vs. Korean matchups, Huk might have the best chance of coming up with an upset. Innovation was a titan of Wings, lets see if he can be true to his name and make a deep run at Dallas."
SKT_Rain vs. LG-IM_Seed - 18:30
PvP is about lasers. Don't let all of the fancy new Protoss units trick you, the late game matchup will always be about one unit. Instead of colossus, we have void rays. Instead of red lasers killing everything, we have blue lasers killing everything. Instead of a war of the worlds, we have the war of the chandeliers. On top of that all of the new tech is still rather unexplored, making the PvP early game a huge opportunity for the player who is the first to find a new, "broken" opener.
Having said all that, Seed was knocked out of GSL by Center a month ago and has been playing HotS ever since. Rain probably switched after his last SPL match which was just before the beta went down for good. Seed's experience should be enough to take out Rain here. Just to be thorough, I also flipped a coin, heads was Seed, tails was Rain. Heads came up more often and the coin has yet to fail me in predicting PvP.
Prediction: Seed 3 - 1 Rain
Axslav says: "Both Seed and Rain had moments in 2012 where either one was considered the best Protoss in the world, but only one can make a move to reclaim the throne here. Both Protoss are very patient and have strong positional play, could this PvP turn into a chess match?"
FXO.Leenock vs. FXO.BabyKnight - 18:30
By the time WoL ended, BabyKnight had developed so far that you could drop the "ex-DotA player" tag when introducing him and just call him a damn good StarCraft II player. We didn't get to see much of him during the months after the WCS Global Finals ended, but when he appeared for the MLG Winter Showdowns, he showed that he had trained well in the meantime by taking out Nerchio 3 – 1. BabyKnight has constantly showed improvement throughout his StarCraft II career, and we might see the best version of him yet at this tournament.
Well, that's assuming he gets past the deadly Leenock. Alongside MKP, Leenock is one of the best players EVER to not win a GSL, with his two MLGs and one IPL title being a testament to that. He was narrowly denied his third MLG championship in the previous tournament, where a rare choke against Startale's Life in the seventh game of the finals cost him a championship he all but had in his hands.
Of all the players in the world, Leenock is probably the one who has the deepest playbook. He started off as a gimmicky all-in player, but soon learned how to play macro styles as well. From the wildest all-ins to the most boring and suffocating turtling, there's really no guessing what you'll see from Leenock. While BabyKnight is a very good, solid player, I doubt he's reached a level where he can triumph over Leenock and all his weapons.
Prediction: Leenock 3 - 1 BabyKnight
Axslav says: "Leenock never fails in the entertainment department. He'll through out some flair as he looks for his third MLG Championship but don't count Babyknight out as he has a ton of HotS practice under his belt."
Liquid`Ret vs. EG.Suppy.RC - 20:00
What happened to Ret in second half 2012? It was a time when the Zerg race was at its strongest, particularly in the foreign scene where the might of infestors and brood lords was absolute. It was a period where Ret, one of the best European Zergs since the game's release, should have been finishing in the money of every tournament and adding onto his trophy collection. Up until July, it seemed like that would be the case, as he finished top four at NASL S3, a tournament with strong Korean representation.
Yet, the coming of fall also brought a decline in Ret's game, as he went through a stretch of months where his tournament results and gameplay were some of the worst in his career. Elimination from the IEM Katowice Poland open bracket at the hands of Paranoid and Verdi seemed to be final nail in the coffin, officially destroying Ret's credibility as a serious threat.
Between January and March, something remarkable must have happened. And I don't just mean playing a lot of the Heart of the Swarm Beta. Ret came roaring back at the IEM World Championship like he had pressed the reset button, magically erasing everything that had happened over the past seven months. Ret took out First and MC on his way to a 4 - 1 group stage finish, and then defeated Sting in the Ro12 before falling to Yonghwa in the Ro8. That tied Ret with MaNa for best non-Korean finish in the tournament, and he was by and far, the best foreigner of the tournament. To make that kind of comeback in that time, you have to wonder if Ret found a magic lamp or was approached by an enterprising demon.
Whatever the cause of Ret's recovery, it might seem like the poor American Suppy is doomed against a top tier European player. But not so fast! Suppy has proved he is pretty damn good at ZvZ – he even rode it to a career-highlight top eight finish at the WCS Global Finals last year. On top of that, he has 4 - 1 head to head record against Ret in tournament play.
On the other hand, it's no secret that Suppy isn't able to play as much as other players, having to juggle being a full time student with being an pro-gamer. Not only that, but his practice time will have been more WoL oriented, considering his key role on UC Berkeley's run to the Azubu CSL Championship in February. Suppy has a great shot of causing the upset and taking a win for the USA, but I still have to give Ret the upper hand.
Prediction: Ret 3 - 2 Suppy
Axslav says: "Both players have shown great HotS results lately, expect a very fast paced, closely matched ZvZ."
MarineKingPrime vs. NSH_jjakji - 20:00
The battle between the two top Terran's on their respective teams will come down to control. With the tempo of TvT being decided in the early game reaper battles, and then the economic security of each players decided by the following widow mine drops, micro will be the name of the game. On this front Marineking is assuredly the superior, and his famous, world class micro should be particularly suited to the fast and frantic pace of the early game battles.
We have not seen a great deal of Marineking's play in HotS, with a win and a loss in GSTL as well as his victory over Gumiho in the qualifiers. The win over Gumiho was at a time when the TvT metagame was 'how many hellbats can I drop, while not dying to his hellbats at the same time', so even that doesn't count for all too much. Jjakji on the other hand carried NSH to its single victory in the GSTL Pre-Season, and looked extremely strong while doing so. While I think it will be close, Marineking has the better team to practice with and ultimately he is mechanically superior.
Prediction: MarineKing 3 - 2 jjakji
Axeltoss Says: "The only TvT in the round of 32, and it has the potential to be legendary. These guys have been focusing exclusively on HotS and will not be shy in showing off their multitasking and micro abilities, while playing with the new toys granted to them by Blizzard."
SKT_PartinG vs. State - 21:30
Despite being considered a top Protoss player by many fans, PartinG actually hasn't been doing all that well in 2013. He 'only' placed top four at IEM Katowice, and then top eight at the IEM WC. If people expected him to vault to another level after winning the WCS Global Championship, then they should be sorely disappointed. No, PartinG's not an unstoppable, all-consuming, dominating force. What he is is an extremely confident, mentally impervious player with the micro and all-in sense of a master. MC version 2.0, if you will. He's always going to be lurking in the championship picture of any tournament he competes in, but his 0 - 3 quarter-final elimination at the hands of Curious shouldn't be all that surprising.
Anyway, all that means is that State is really dead here. PartinG has way more experience in big games than State, and his mechanics at the small scale engagement level are pretty much unmatched by any other Protoss. We've seen Korean Protoss players simply cut apart nervous international opponents on countless occasions, and it's hard not to think that this is State's fate as well.
Prediction: Parting 3 - 0 State
Axslav says: "Parting is probably the mechanically strongest Protoss. State will have to come up with some unique builds to win here."
KT_Flash vs. Acer.Bly - 21:30
This is a mismatch no matter how you slice it. In one corner we have Bly, a very solid zerg player who has been a regular player in the EU Tournament scene. He enjoyed success in 2012 winning WCS Ukraine and getting 2nd at Bucharest. But in the other corner is Flash, who entered the ring to fireworks, a 100 piece orchestra, and a cadre of topless dancers. While not quite the all-destroyer that everyone predicted him to be at the start, Flash has done very well for himself as he has slowly improved his play and understanding of the game to the point that he has now gotten to his first code S.
The only thing counting in Bly's favor is that he has more experience in HotS as SPL probably forced Flash to delay touching the game until the 3rd round was over. It must be a cold comfort though as Flash has already played one of the best games in HotS in his show match against Life. Still HotS is a new game and Bly has a unique style that Flash will probably have very little experience with. If there is any time for Bly to take down God and strike a victory for Nietzsche, the time is now. Here is the place.
Prediction: Flash 3 - 1 Bly
Axeltoss Says: "If there is ANYONE who could potentially upset Flash, it MIGHT be Bly. His unique play style has confused many in the past, will Flash be prepared?"
Saturday, March 16th games
SK_MC vs. CJ_herO - 11:10
PvP has changed, people! No longer must we watch players 4gate each other or stall until they have fifty colossi on the field to have a gigantic laser battle. With Heart of the Swarm, we have truly evolved in the PvP match-up. No longer must we wait until the lanky colossi battle commences in the center of the map, giving the victory to the player who built the better colossus count before the climax.
Now, instead of that boring stuff, we have void rays! Out with the red lasers and in with the blue! With void rays being one of the hottest topics when it comes to the units currently in Heart of the Swarm, prepared to look up in the skies for this PvP clash between two of the better Protoss players in Wings before transitioning into Heart of the Swarm. We really can't make a strong prediction either way with how the current PvP meta-game is, but just like we did in Wings, we have a trusty coin to flip to decide who we believe will come out on top.
Axeltoss Says: "Ahh what an epic PvP. Two of THE best Protoss’ in Wings. Will this match decide who will be the best Protoss in the beginning of HotS? These games could come down to split second decision making in unique scenarios."
LG-IM_Mvp vs. Mill.Feast - 11:10
Mvp must be feeling confident coming into this match. He has good reason to, having gone on a blistering run in the recent IEM World Championship. Combined with the current strength of Terran, more specifically their Turbovacs™, there is no reason why Mvp shouldn't take an easy win. Mvp is showing off a side of him we haven't seen in a while, one that encompasses large amounts of drops and aggression. He destroyed Grubby and Mana in IEM, and they are arguably better players than Feast.
That is not to say Feast is completely down and out. Mvp has not had much, if any time to practice between IEM and MLG whereas Feast has had as much practice time as he could ever want in the limited days after HotS release. He'll also have had time to watch all of Mvp's games carefully, and he may have found a weakness to exploit. Even so, Mvp is undoubtedly the favorite in this match by a country mile. Many top players have tried to unlock the puzzle that is Mvp, and many of them have failed. Mvp is mechanically and strategically better than Feast, and that's neglecting the fact that Terran are looking stronger than Protoss at the moment. I predict a very easy victory for Mvp.
Prediction: Mvp 3 - 0 Feast
Axslav says: "Mvp went 5-0 vs European Protosses at IEM World Championship utilizing the medivac's ignite afterburners to great effect, does Feast have an answer for this TvP style?"
ST_Life vs. ROOT.Minigun - 12:00
People expect Minigun to get killed here. He did well to demolish Idra in the qualifiers, taking three games in a row to qualify for this weekend, but his run is supposed to end here. Even with the talk of how Protoss is strong, Zerg is weak, and void rays are truly the scariest thing to ever hit Starcraft, Life is expected to make Minigun's weekend at Dallas a short one. We haven't seen much of Life in Heart of the Swarm, not needing to qualify for this event since he won the last MLG of 2012, also in Dallas.
His games on launch night against Flash were impressive, giving us a taste of how scary the prodigy, and the grown-up prodigy will be when they get more time with the game, but that wasn't in a tournament situation, and both players were trying to showcase a good game for the fans. Minigun, who has been one of the better foreign players on the ladder during the beta, will have the HotS experience advantage over Life. While Life was worrying about the final Wings season of Code S, Minigun was grinding games in Heart of the Swarm.
Sadly, quantity of games is probably not enough to beat the quality Life is expected to bring in this series. It would be one of the biggest moments in MLG history if Minigun, a fan favorite no one is getting a chance, was able to pull off the miracle and take down the defending MLG champion. Even so, don't bet your Life on it.
Prediction: Life 3 - 0 Minigun
Axeltoss Says: "Life was one of the best in Wings of Liberty, but NEVER count out Chad [insert middle name here] Jones. He has momentum after 3 - 0’ing IdrA... he is under 0 pressure. Look out."
Liquid`TaeJa vs. FnaticSaSe - 12:00
Taeja vs. SaSe is another fairly easy matchup to call, at least on paper. On the one hand we have an extremely good Korean Terran, and on the other hand we have SaSe, who has been out of the limelight for quite some time. In WoL, Taeja would be a clear favorite but now we are in HotS it is actually a lot harder to call. SaSe had time to focus 100% on HotS, whereas Taeja had to practice for GSL until very recently. Combined with his wrist injuries cutting down how many hours he can comfortably practice a day, and this match becomes a little more volatile.
SaSe's biggest disadvantage is that Protoss really aren't looking all to strong in HotS. Turbovacs™ force Protosses to play a lot safer than they're used to, allowing Terrans to play more freely and get ahead in the mid game. At his best, TaeJa was an extremely good multi-tasker, and if his wrists are up to it he'll be driving SaSe crazy with drops. SaSe's inventive builds could end up putting Taeja out of his comfort zone, which is something he really doesn't want if he has been unable to practice. SaSe's already shown he can get the better of TaeJa, taking him out with timing attacks at DreamHack Summer at a time when TaeJa was known to be greedy to a fault. Nevertheless, Taeja is definitely the superior player and with the multitasking based style HotS brings to the table Taeja should take a win, though he will not have an easy time doing so.
Prediction: TaeJa 3 - 1 SaSe
Axeltoss Says: "Taeja has been looking dominant in both Wings and HotS. Don’t count out Sase though, this guy has one of the most creative and fun play styles out there. Definitely don’t want to miss this one!"
ST_Bomber vs. Mill.Goswser - 13:30
goswser has made his career from upsetting Korean Terran players. From his first big break all the way back at MLG Orlando 2011, upsetting Polt in the open bracket and shocking everyone with his upset of a GSL champion, ZvT has been goswser's biggest strength. Taking out Mvp a few months ago in Iron Squid was another showcase of his talent in ZvT, being able to toe to toe with the strongest Terran players Korea has to offer.
If he wants to continue his streak of taking down big name Terran players, he will need to beat Bomber in the first round of MLG. Of course, like always, he is not going to be the odds on favorite to take out Bomber, and he is probably a huge underdog in the eyes of most of the community, but out of all the foreigners taking on Koreans in the first round, goswser might have the best shot of all of them to take down his Korean Goliath.
Prediction: Bomber 3 - 2 goswser
Axslav says: "Goswser has many creative strategies up his sleeve, which will he pull out to try to slow down Bomber's amazing macro?"
EG.Stephano.RC vs. STX_Last - 13:30
While Stephano wasn't the most experienced HotS player at the IEM World Championship, he was one of the most entertaining players to watch. Game by game, you could see how he was learning to deal with the other race's new tools, while simultaneously working out his own version of the popular hydra-roach-viper strategy.
By the end of it all, Stephano actually looked surprisingly good for a guy who was substituting practice with actual tournament games. In his ZvT against MVP's Dream in particular, he showed off some fantastic hydra-roach-viper engagements against Dream's deadly bio armies, even though he lost the series 1 – 2.
For that reason, I'm going to cautiously predict a Stephano win in this match-up. Last wasn't a particularly good TvZ player even in WoL, and he made it to MLG Dallas mainly because Soulkey was busy practicing for the GSL and didn't know what a hellbat drop was. Now, Last doesn't even have that ace in the hole as he goes up against a formidable Zerg player. Sure, Terran might have the upper hand against Zerg at this point in time, but it's not going to be enough for Last.
Prediction: Stephano 3 – 1 Last
Axeltoss Says: "Stephano has been traveling a lot lately and has not been too optimistic about his ability to practice HotS. I could see Last pulling out some super creative stuff to really take Stephano off guard."
c.KiLLeR vs. EG.ThorZaIN.RC - 15:00
Though ThorZaIN never stopped being one of the top foreign players in the StarCraft II scene, it's true that he fell off from his 2011 peak of being someone who could stand toe to toe with top Koreans. Heart of the Swarm could be just the opportunity he needs to return to the glory days, when he was stomping GSL champions like FruitDealer and MC with his unique strategies and highly optimized builds. Remember, this is the guy who got Thors nerfed! If you recall, ThorZaIN stopped making appearances for EG-TL entirely during Round 2 of the Proleague, as he devoted hundreds of hours to streaming the Heart of the Swarm Beta. With that much practice under his belt, many fans will be looking forward to the Swede having his best MLG performance since he placed 9th at Columbus back in 2011.
His opponent is one of the foreign scene's most under-appreciated players in Killer. The WCS South America champion hasn't had many chances compete outside of his continent, but he's played well on those rare occasions. You'd be forgiven for forgetting his 3rd place finish at 2011's IEM New York, but what about his top eight at the WCS 2012 Global Finals? There, Killer took out strong foreign players like Titan, Grubby, and HuK before he was stopped by the OSL champion Rain. Killer will hope to get a good result at MLG Dallas and convince his new team Clarity Gaming that he's worth sending around the world to compete with the best.
Being partial to underdogs, I'm tempted to pick Killer here. However, with even Terran players admitting that they have an advantage on Zerg in the current state of HotS, I just have to go with ThorZaIN, a player who was consistently one of the best Terrans the foreign scene had to offer.
Prediction: ThorZaIN 3 - 2 Killer
Axslav says: "The mid-game will be especially important in this match, Killer loves to put on the heat in the mid-game while ThorZaiN likes to play slow until the late-game."
CreatorPrime vs. CMStorm_Polt - 15:00
Having already faced defeated Creator 5 - 1 HotS IPL Fight Club, Polt will be coming into this series feeling very confident. Aside from that, Polt rolled over Hero 3-0 to qualify for MLG Winter, and even won Day9's King of the Beta without looking troubled at all. Against the expectations of many, Polt has not slowed down since moving to American to learn English at UT of Austin. A lot of people thought that moving to America and moving away from the Korean training regimen might hurt Polt's chances of competing at the highest level of Starcraft 2, but he's surprisingly improved his macro, maybe even playing the best games of his career. Having a new sponsor in CMStorm, Polt is full of confidence heading into Dallas.
Creator, his opponent, did lose to Polt when they faced off in Fight Club, but with GSL Up and Downs still to worry about, he still hadn't moved fully over from Wings to HotS. Using mainly all-ins to try and combat Polt in the Fight Club series, you could tell that Creator wasn't the most prepared entering his series against one of the first Koreans to fully transition into the new expansion. Even having a few days to practice before Dallas might be more time than Creator had during the beta to play with the game, so you should expect a closer series between the two.
Still, with the new expansion rewarding Terran plays who are excellent at micro, Polt has been one of the best players we've seen so far in HotS. With the new medivac boosters to play around with, Polt's drop play and mid-game attacks have never been deadlier, abusing every Protoss player he has been put up against so far in HotS beta tournaments.
Prediction: Polt 3 - 1 Creator
Axslav says: "Creator's looking for revenge after losing to Polt 1-5 in IPL Fight Club, but will it be possible with Polt looking unbeatable in TvP, a matchup where his amazing medivac usage really shines?"