It was supposed to be a walk in High Park. The Canadians (plus Bunny and Snute) are a hospitable bunch, and the Koreans expected an easy road to the group stages. But the welcoming mat was just a ruse, and the locals pulled the rug from under their unsuspecting visitors.
HuK defeated Leenock and Jaedong. Bunny dropped Oz and Polt. Snute ambushed herO twice before beating sOs. With only 4 spots available, foreigners took 2. 5 Koreans fell including the Tyrant Jaedong, the WCS EU Season 2 champion StarDust, and double IEM winner herO. This wasn't going to be a leisurely stroll for anyone.
The friendly locals
When day 2 came to a close, the final 4 contenders for the round of 8 were still left undetermined. Polt, HyuN, MaSa and Scarlett were already eliminated, and despite the strength of these early exits none of their losses could really be called upsets. Such was the level of skill on display in Toronto.
With Snute already through in first place in Group C, another Liquid European had hopes of advancing. Bunny had defeated Polt and lost to Taeja to reach the final match, and after an impressive run through the open bracket and pool play, many considered him an even match to his opponent Zest. The KT powerhouse proved unshakeable though, and the Danish Terran's hopes were quashed in 2 straight games. viOLet soon followed in a tight set against Leenock to become only the second WCS AM representative to reach the bracket stages. It was a series of early pools, but viOLet's choice to play safe in game 3 allowed him to triumph. That would start a curious trend of revenge, as the 2 succeeding winners also lost in the initial match against their final opponent only to win when it mattered the most. First outplayed sOs in straight up games while Flash outmaneuvered MC on Merry Go Round before proving immune to MC's immortal bust on Overgrowth. These results ensured that every non mirror matchup was represented in the Ro8.
There would be no rest for the weary however as IEM immediately launched into its quarterfinal matches, beginning with Taeja vs viOLet. The former was already ensured a spot at Blizzcon while the latter was sitting agonizingly close at 17th in the WCS rankings, so viOLet had more than just prize money in mind. Extraneous thoughts may have been lingering in his mind as Taeja took the first two games with ease after dealing crippling damage in the early game. viOLet played conservatively on two bases despite Taeja's quick expansions, but a marine drop + hellion runby on Nimbus and a hellion runby on Catallena both sent drones aplenty to meet the reaper. Down for the count, viOLet exposed a weakness of Taeja's in the third game. viOLet inflicted critical damage with an early roach attack and crushed with a follow-up 2/2 roach hydra attack. The American Korean attempted the same strategy in the final game, but the trick failed to get the best of the Liquid Terran a second time as he was prepared for the ill fated attack. There was no where else to turn for WCS AM's most muscular zerg, and TaeJa closed the series after leading the entire game. Though Taeja had mentioned that he doesn't lose to zergs, it was a surprisingly straightforward series considering viOLet had proven superior to both Leenock and HyuN.
Things would not be as predictable in one of the most anticipated matches of the round. Snute had advanced in first place in his group after beating MaSa and sOs, but the resurgent Flash was perhaps the most intimidating opponent the Norse Demigod had ever faced. Yet he showed no nerves in the opening two games when he took a quick 2-0 lead with two well prepared builds. Knowing Flash's tendency to play greedy, Snute used an early pool to cancel Flash's low-ground CC in game 1. A roach baneling all in caught the KT Terran trying to play catchup, and Snute ended the game with his patented muta-swarmhost. He switched things up on Deadwing by taking advantage of Flash's lack of scouting with an anachronistic 2base muta that was once popular in 2011. Coupled with ground pressure, Flash was never able to get out of his base and had no choice but to concede the game. No one imagined that Flash's imperious form could end at the hands of a foreigner, but his back was against a Norwegian wall. With no room for error, Flash adjusted. He grabbed the advantage on King Sejong Station on the back of some early drone kills and precisely dealt with Snute's desperate counter attack. The Ultimate Weapon started to show an understanding of Snute's plan as he finally deflected the Liquid Zerg's early aggression in game 4 before sealing the win with his follow up pushes. It looked like the first two losses had knocked some sense into the legend and a clutch scout in the final game proved decisive. Snute chose to put his fate in the banelings, but Flash proved impervious this time around. He held, he countered, and the comeback was complete.
That would be the only close series of the quarter finals as it was followed by two 3-0 sweeps. Life defeated First and Zest overwhelmed YoDa in what was a promising but ultimately disappointing debut for TCM's new recruits. Life showed a new lease on his once frail ZvP as he dealt with anything First had to throw at him. Game 2 ended up being on the most memorable games of the event--and likely, one of the best of the year--as it came down to 1 voidray, 2 zealots and a bunch of empty carriers against a dozen drones and 14 spore crawlers. It featured almost every unit in the book and almost every building (including a nydus). Though Life prevailed in the end, a few different turns could have given an entirely different result. YoDa never came as close to beating Zest as the KT Protoss wiped the floor, the bathroom, and the kitchen with the former IEM World Champion. Zest's conservative blink into colossus opening allowed him the safely to reach colossus and eventually templar without suffering any sort of damage. It didn't matter whether YoDa tried multiple drops and runbys on Merry Go Round, a proxy mine drop on King Sejong Station or an early stim and combat shield attack on Overgrowth. Zest defended everything with a minimum amount of units and slapped YoDa with his one attack. It was a clinic in defensive PvT and dispelled many of the doubts that had plagued his play after Day 2.
Yes, this happened
With only four players left, the title of favorites and underdogs was no longer applicable. A grueling 3 days of competition had distilled the contestants down to Taeja, Flash, Life and Zest, but there was one round left until the grand finals. Taeja, Life and Zest were all but assured of a spot at Blizzcon, but Flash still had miracles to make in order to reach the year-end showpiece.
The first series of the round had a curious back story. To many, Flash was the most accomplished RTS player of all time, and one of the greatest eSports personalities in history. Yet this was a new game where he had yet to match his accomplishments in BW. Taeja on the other hand was still in the midst of another successful summer, and he was the reigning IEM champion. If the Ultimate Weapon had any hopes of starting his legacy in a new game, he had to displace the current record holder for most premier league titles--a record that Flash once held in Brood War.
Like the quarter finals, Flash began the series with a greedy build: a reaper expand. While this seemed like an unnecessary risk in a TvT metagame that had begun to reward one base openings, Flash was meticulous in scouting. He lost his first reaper to poor control, but he was not against building another one to make sure he knew what he was up against. Taeja's banshee opening therefore proved ineffective, but the two players entered the midgame on equal footing though Taeja chose bio over Flash's mech. The game was decided when TaeJa identified Flash's lack of tanks and excess of hellbats, and a push down the middle while he had air control allowed him to eliminate all of Flash's units for a 1-0 lead.
Changing things up, Taeja attempted to match Flash with mech on Deadwing. Both players opened with gas first, but Flash once again built a reaper. Though it was denied, the KT terran came out ahead as he opened safely with a viking and a raven against another cloak banshee build by Taeja. Both banshees were killed without a single SCV killed; the gas advantage Flash had was invested in an earlier blue flame and upgrades. Though he was unable to use that timing to his advantage, Flash's decision making proved superior on the map when a semi base trade ensued. Taeja attacked with everything he had while Flash had 3 vikings and a raven on his side of the map. Though the Liquid Terran was able to force his opponent to evacuate the natural, Flash had dropped autoturrets and landed his vikings in his main. Flash was eventually able to hold at home despite some SCV losses, but Taeja's main was burning. With no add-ons for what seemed like an eternity, the King of Summer was forced to build nothing but hellions. Flash, on the other hand, had hellions and tanks, and there was nothing Taeja could do to hold.
Two games into the series, the two monoliths of Starcraft looked evenly matched. Only the slightest of margins separated the two players, and their struggle on Merry Go Round encapsulated just how close they were in skill. Despite the map's tendency to encourage aggressive builds, both players elected to play things out passively. Flash once again chose to go mech, while Taeja decided to stick with bio, tanks and vikings. While Taeja was able to find holes in Flash's defense in game 1, Flash proved impenetrable in game 3 as the Liquid Terran was unable to find any alley to do damage. It seemed like there was no stopping the mech train from building a head of steam, and Taeja was forced to spend several minutes avoiding the mech army and pulling it away from his bases. This resulted in a large portion of Taeja's army becoming marooned in an alternate main, and Flash stalked his prey waiting for it to try to make a bust. Taeja would not sit still, however, as a large runby into his opponent's main allowed him to take down several add-ons while rescuing his once deserted battalion. At best he was now even, and both players transitioned to the skies. What followed was 10 minutes of engagements occurring everywhere, and it appeared like Taeja was finally tearing the mech army apart with his movement. Taeja finally looked like a tiger ready to pounce, but it turned into a trap. Flash had the air advantage while Taeja still had a large contingent of marauders, and the KT Ace was able to take a decisive victory after a sequence of big explosions. It took almost 40 minutes to finally break their deadlock, but Flash now had a 2-1 series lead.
Things exploded basically
After an exhausting game, Taeja looked fatigued. It showed on King Sejong Station: for the first time all series, he chose a committed 2 base attack. Unfortunately for the defending IEM champion, Flash seemed more than aware of his plans. The KT Ace had taken down the rocks behind his natural as soon as possible, denying Taeja's desired sieging location. Spotting the attack coming, Flash pulled several SCVs and incinerated everything. The counterattack continued the barbeque in Taeja's main and natural, and though he was eventually able to hold, Flash now had an army and worker advantage. Taeja tried his best to scrape together an intimidating army, but an ill fated attack into Flash's natural while more SCVs burned at home ensured Taeja was pushed back. He sent whatever force he could muster to raze his opponent's newly minted third, but it too was extinguished along with his hopes of reaching the final. Flash reached his first title bout in over a year, and he looked forward to either a revenge match or a team kill.
The second semifinal pitted a Life that finally looked back in shape and a Zest that had built a good head of steam after losing his first series against Taeja. The StarTale Zerg had yet to lose a single map to a protoss during his stay in Toronto, eliminating StarDust, MC and First with perfect records. On the other hand, Zest had only faced terrans so far, and looked forward to meeting his teammate in the finals.
Their first game was a flashback to IEM NY 2013 where Life handled Zest in 2 Bo3s by eliminating him before the late game. An ordinary ling scout by Life somehow managed to squeeze past the zealot giving the StarTale Ace a good scout of the main. After building a swell of lings and roaches to control the map, some carelessness from Zest--he forgot to remove the zealot at the wall to allow his army to pass--gave Life the opportunity to take down the backdoor rocks and kill a colossus. This prompted him to max out quickly with additional roaches, hydras and corruptors to steamroll the KT Protoss who had dumped much of his resources into upgrades too early. Life had a similar game plan on Merry Go Round, but he was unable to find any early gains. This forced him to delay his attack until vipers, but Zest had played greedily in response. By the time Life attacked, the protoss had 4 colossus and storm. The attack failed, and Zest continued to cultivate his army into a fearsome ball. A desperate drone pull saved Life for another few minutes, but without an economy he was essentially all in. Zest stabilized on 4 bases and Life was forced to surrender after seeing an unbeatable force.
I wonder how Idra feels about roach hydra corruptor now
With the series tied, Life attempted a trendy old build that we've been seeing on maps like Deadwing: the 14/14. Unfortunately for him, Zest cautiously scouted early after a forge first. Life was forced to cancel speed to get his hatchery sooner, and the game normalized. Both players were content to macro as Life relied on roaches, hydras and corruptors to keep him safe until the completion his greater spire while Zest amassed void rays and colossus along with the stalkers. Zest appeared ahead but a big engagement in the middle of the map drew even, and they were convinced to back off and rebuild. Zest foresaw Life's transition, however, as his fleet beacon was done minutes ago. At that point both players were already upgrading everything in their arsenal, but neither player could find an avenue for a decisive strike. Life finally reneged on their truce when he struck just as Zest was sacrificing excessive probes. The protoss army proved superior though as the ultralisks arrived in single file into a jumbo sized meat grinder. Storms were cast, things exploded in a blur and Zest ended up 40 supply ahead with a massive bank. It was a routine extermination from there, and he was one win away from the finals.
He didn't have to wait long as he closed things out in under 10 minutes. Spotting that Life had decided to play gasless into three bases, Zest reacted with an oracle and 5 gateways. Though the zerg was able to spot the suspicious complete wall off, there was no way for him to quicken his zergling speed. With an initial warp in of stalkers near the third and the oracle hunting stray zerglings, Zest was able to eliminate the base with few losses. Life was against the ropes and a final attack into his natural knocked him out of contention. After massacring protoss after protoss in Canada, Life was bathed in his own blood by the KT protoss and Zest returned to a premier tournament final for the first time since his back-to-back GSL and Global Championship titles in March and April. There, he would face his teammate, his friend, and his leader.
All in for the win
They competed side by side in the Proleague finals. They both advanced to Code S Ro16. They advanced together through the Asian Qualifier. And now they sat in opposite booths to face each other in the finals.
For Zest, this was his third final of the year. For Flash, this was his first. Looking at the results of Day 2, it was almost difficult to imagine that these two players would meet to decide the tournament, as neither player had booked their place in the quarter finals at the end of the first day of group games. Flash lost to MC. Zest lost to Taeja. They would eventually advance in straight games, but the parallels ended there. Zest stomped YoDa, flattened Life, and looked almost unbeatable in PvT. Flash on the other hand struggled against Snute, came close to defeat against Taeja, and had to rely on comebacks to reach the finals. It looked like the KT captain had an edge, but even with the amount of experience he had accumulated in 2014, no one plays a final quite like Flash.
A creature of routine, Flash once again opened his series with a greedy build, this time choosing CC first on Catallena. Zest on the other hand elected to play a bit safer with a gateway before his expansion. In his previous PvTs, Zest had displayed a very safe blink before colossus build to ensure he reached the late game, but with the added layer of a teamkill, Zest realized that he had to change his patterns. He instead built a robotics facility and a robo bay immediately after, while Flash settled in with stim before his factory. The protoss would not sit in his base for long however, as he stopped building probes at 41 and decided to move out with 2 colossus. A serendipitous marine was able to spot them, and bunkers were immediately made. Zest knew that his window of opportunity was closing fast, and both armies collided at the natural ramp only to neutralize each other along with more than a handful of SCVs. All three colossus survived however, and Zest reloaded for another attack only to see that Flash had been prioritizing vikings. This allowed him to hold, and the game was able to settle. Unfortunately for Zest, he was crucially unable to secure a third base--even his ninja was spotted as it finished--, and even with high templar, he was never able to dominate an engagement. Flash's three full bases and reinforcements whittled the protoss army down to dust, and Flash finally won a game 1.
This looks familiar
It seemed like luck was on God's side, and it continued on King Sejong Station as a wandering SCV discovered Zest's plot. It was a case of star sense and nothing else that Flash found the proxy robo, but Zest was undeterred. He let it finish and cranked out one immortal after another until he had 3 blasting the rocks. The terran was prepared with two bunkers, but they quickly fell to the fire of the immortals. With most of his SCVs he was able to hold, and it appeared that Flash had the advantage as he set off to chase the retreating army. But just as Flash walked past the robo, another immortal popped to swing the fight in Zest's favor. He marched with this momentum into the natural, and wore Flash down with precision. Even after having his cheese discovered, Zest's execution was impeccable and he tied the series at a game apiece.
I spy with my little eye... protoss bullshit.
Now appearing to settle into the match, Zest finally displayed the build that allowed him to get this far against terran: blink before robo. Flash didn't deviate either as he got his cc down early before 3 raxes and stim before his factory, and it looked like the game was going to reach the late game. Though there was some blink pressure at the ramp, all evidence pointed to a drawn out game when Zest warped in his third, but it was nothing but a curve ball. He never saturated it and instead chose to attack with mostly stalkers and colossus, but Flash was prepared, Somehow sensing his opponent's every move despite nary a look into the main, Flash already had 2 starports building vikings. Zest attacked, and Flash promptly stomped it into a grave before holding a last ditch attack into his main. Zest's adjustments to try and surprise his teammate had so far failed to pay dividends, and many wondered why he didn't feel confident using the gameplan that had found success against his previous terran victims.
At this point Flash was in complete control of the series, and it looked like Zest had no questions that the Ultimate Weapon could not answer. Zest tried to play far greedier on Deadwing, but Flash's instincts could not be fooled. The protoss was building colossus, a twilight council and a forge all at the same time, and Flash was already trekking across the map with combat shields in tow. The mothership core was caught with her bloomers down, but Zest's quick reactions allowed him to cast photon overcharge on time. Unfortunately, it was not enough as he only had a handful of units at the time of attack and 16 probes gave their life for Zest's greed. The protoss had no choice but adjust with a more mineral heavy composition, and the customary blink was abandoned for charge. Identifying the lack of enough anti air, Flash was given the courage to drop with abandon as he snatched a colossus at the cost of some bio before razing the main nexus with another set of paratroopers. Zest did have a good amount of immortals, zealots and templar, but Flash was already prepared with ghosts. Gathering his army for a final direct assault, the KT terran doused his opponent in EMPs and claimed matchpoint for his first tournament title in SC2.
Welcome to the KT Corral
Up 3-1 and displaying a versatility and understanding of his opponents that we had previously never seen from Flash in SC2, it appeared that the stars had finally aligned for the God in Toronto. Just one win away from the gold, Flash once again got the best of Zest in their battle of build orders on Nimbus. After killing two probes with his reaper expand, Flash took an immediate third, hidden in the horizontal opposite natural.
Flash's recipe for success: more CCs
Somehow, he was able to mask his greed despite continuing with his 3 barracks and stim before factory, and Zest was forced to play conservatively knowing that his opponent was not afraid of early attacks like the last game. They both sat back and macro'd, and Zest perhaps thought that he was in a good position as his twilight council, robo bay and forge worked on his upgrades. He even spotted Flash taking a safely timed "third", and he aped his opponent's expansion timing. It was only then that Zest had the presence of mind to scout the whole map, but by then it was too late to deny the fully saturated base. The protoss was bamboozled into playing safe, and the result was a 40 supply advantage for the terran. It was almost vintage Flash as he maxed out in under 15 minutes, and it was time to start trading. First was a doom drop in the natural, and the distance forced Zest to separate his stalkers to defend. This left his colossus without any anti air, and it proved disastrous as the natural nexus and 2 colossus were eliminated. Though it was an unfavorable trade, Flash was now on 5 bases to Zest's barely saturated 4. The economic advantage meant that all the terran had to do was diminish the protoss army and splash damage repeatedly, and though Zest was barely able to hold when all looked hopeless, Flash's supply lead only increased. As the protoss army was diminished, he could no longer cover all his bases, and another drop in the natural tightened the noose. Flash could feel his teammate finally faltering, and he stimmed into the fourth base to deliver the finishing blow. When the dust settled, only terran units were left standing. When IEM Toronto concluded, only Flash was left standing. Trophy in hand. Check in his pocket. His 21.74% in the back of his mind.
For his Herculean effort, he gained 14.47%. From the depths of despair, he now has hope.
And yet it is but a faint glimmer.
With 8 spots taken and 4 spots all but assured, only 4 seeds into Blizzcon are realistically up for grabs. The current 16th placer in terms of odds, Snute, has 1175 points more. Only another title could bridge that gap, and opportunities are starting to wane. Between them, viOLet, Pigbaby and Rain are still in the hunt, and all three are still competing in their respective WCS regions. The SKT T1 Protoss, however, should end up becoming his main rival for Blizzcon as they are bound to meet in either the GSL or KeSPA Cup. Either player could be considered a favorite for any tournament they enter, and their inevitable clash will have historical and personal significance.
After an August for the ages, where he won 79% of his games and 91% of his matches, would you doubt him? Once considered a talented yet bullheaded macro player, Flash displayed a versatility and adaptability that he had never before shown in tournaments. When he was broken by Snute's aggression, he played safe. When he was broken by Taeja's timing, he prepared better. When he played against his teammate, he varied his tactics on the backbone of a safe opening. In the past, the Ultimate Weapon had only one mindset: expand as soon as I can and build more units. Though it was often good enough in Bo1s in Proleague, his opponents in Code S and Code A always came prepared for him and found ways to abuse his predictability. But it seems like Flash has grown since arriving in Canada. He now understands that macro alone can win him games, but it can't make him a champion. Many games are won within the first 5 minutes, and the way he played his last three series recalled the awareness of Mvp more than the single-mindedness of MarineKing.
The most successful month of his SC2 career has now bled into the next. But will September be like August?
On Friday, he has Code S Ro16. There, he faces the Lord of Banelings TRUE, the Silver Surfer soO, and the Final Boss DongRaeGu. Since the last patch, he is 17-3 in TvZ. In the Ro32, he demolished Dark and Solar. So confident was he in the matchup that he 2rax'd twice and barely broke out a sweat. He looks supreme against the swarm, and he was chosen last in group selections by his peers. Even PartinG had enough sense not to pick him, and it was clear that everyone feared him.
In two weeks time, he'll be competing in the KeSPA Cup. In his first match, he faces StarDust, a player renowned for his build orders and early game aggression. Where that was once his weakness, on display this weekend against MC and Snute, he has finally learned that reaching the late game in any state gives him an advantage against almost anyone. His mantra is no longer "I need to get ahead to win." It is now "If I survive, no one can beat me." Since the widow mine buff, Flash is 20-6 in TvP. His masterclass against Zest in the finals illustrated a man that now understands his opponents and plays against them, instead of playing in a shell against himself. If he survives, no one can beat him.
And it all started in Toronto.
On his first day, he lost to MC.
On his second day, he struggled against Snute and Taeja.
But on the third day, he rose again.