Bitter Lemons, Better Demons
by munch and CosmicSpiral
In our diverse scene, it’s natural for us to categorize players as cheesers, has-beens, or kongs. It’s much rarer for a player to cut out his own niche, separate themselves from the pack via elevated play. herO, though, has done just that. Since his breakthrough at Singapore, herO has been the beating heart and soul of IEM. The competition has brought out the very best in him—his back and forth blockbuster against Rain at San José, the tightest of victories against Hyun at Katowice. However, IEM is also where we've seen the very worst of herO—the unfettered greed, the refusal to change his most egregious faults, the famous intolerance to proxy builds.
It was fitting that, for the second year in a row, herO was unceremoniously dumped out of Katowice last weekend by a friend. Informed by everything he had learnt in years of shared friendship and practice, Bbyong easily dissected herO’s play. The specter of sOs hung over herO as again, he was confronted by someone who read his every move: Bbyong's timings were synchronized flawlessly and herO's builds were anticipated intuitively. It sums up both players perfectly that one adapted and gained every advantage he could, while the other stubbornly stuck to his old ways. It must have been galling for herO to watch Zest parading the IEM trophy on the Katowice catwalk. Zest, the embodiment of protoss success last year, had conquered the little corner of the scene that herO had made his own. However, make no mistake: victory on home soil remains herO's driving ambition. In every interview he has insisted that while he’s thankful for his overseas success, he really wants a Korean individual league title.
Fortunately herO comes back to prepare for his first GSL semifinals while Zest returns to an empty schedule. Facing another cerebral player in Life, it’s time for herO to shed his predictable style. At times herO has shown us some of the most exacting PvZ play ever seen, culminating with a career winrate of over 70%. Life, on the other hand, has shown some weakness in this matchup, even during his current streak of dominance. It’s worth remembering their group stage matches in the NSSL. Life was originally beaten by herO’s standard style in their opening series but switched it up in the rematch, easily taking an aggressive 2-0 in the rubber match. If herO goes for his bread and butter play, Life will run roughshod all over him again. If he tries something bold, he might get his dance with the devil.
The Bitter Lemons of Failure
For a short period of time, KT.Life was slated to make the greatest run in SC2 history. At the end of February, he stood in an unprecedented position: if conditioning, willpower and destiny aligned, he would win 3 premier tournaments within a week. Winning multiple medals in a short time period is not unheard of (e.g. Flash's 2 synchronous MSL and OSL runs in 2010), but prearranged scheduling usually ensured that a player could only attend 1-2 within a month. Thanks to a confluence of factors, Life's peak form happened to crystallize just as GSL, NSSL, and IEM Katowice approached. He was performing exceptionally well in the first 2, making the semifinals in both, and was judged the favorite of the latter by casters and community alike. Admittedly the chances were small. Competition in all 3 was still fierce, opponents would have additional motivation to stop him, and the stress would be unimaginable. But the prospect lingered around him like Pigpen's pall. Who else had the skill and the stoicism to pull off a miracle?
Ironically, that stoicism might have become a serious problem. Life has always been a player who gladly scuttled overarching approaches in favor of gut reactions, and most of his famous comebacks were triggered by a willful disregard for standard play. His best play marries killer instinct with utter commitment, instantly changing his initial plan when he infers an exploitable weakness. However, his recent losses to Dream and INnoVation demonstrated a queasy stubbornness that bit him in the ass. In what should have been the closing game of the NSSL semifinal, Life over-committed to a game-ending attack that was arguably unnecessary; when Dream finally fended off the last scraps, he rode his upgrade lead to victory. During his first match at IEM Katowice he forwent scouting past the early game, losing to the same hellbat timing push twice. In isolation these seem to be separate events with well-known causes. Life is infamous for his aggression and any zerg can be caught unawares by a timing attack. But these are somewhat odd in his case. Generally the KT Zerg is very careful with his scouting and ramps up his aggression in concert with the opponent's vulnerability. In the past he would be content with retreating once critical damage was dealt, soon to return with an attack that would undoubtedly kill.
Only Life knows what triggered this galvanization (his time in the KT house is the likeliest suspect), so fans should hope he has come to his senses. Swinging between full-blown assaults and waiting for the mid-lategame is a dangerous approach, and a player of herO's caliber can punish extremes easily if he gets a read. Considering how the CJ Protoss has made a career out of Zergs, Life's 2-0 victory in NSSL is a slight fluke. Don't expect herO to die to slow zerglings in embarrassing fashion this time around. In a 7 game series, Life may need to show he can handle a non-static macro game to earn herO's deference. Then he can start playing mind games.
Much hoohah has been made about herO's debilitating weakness to cheese, especially in the form of proxy buildings. Besides absurdly early pools and slow zergling attacks, that concern is moot in PvZ. Instead herO will want to avoid scuffles in the midgame, where Life can use his multitasking and game sense to disrupt the Protoss' plans. If herO does initiate an attack, it ought to be as part of a well-executed timing. Meanwhile Life should aim to create as much chaos as possible before the map gets split. His SH play is not the most mobile in the world, and his lategame prowess relies more on picking apart air armies with strong viper usage. Dealing with herO's legendary warp prism harass will be a pain if he lets the CJ player reach 4 bases. Normally my suspicions of Life's play can approach paranoia, but in the soothing words of a fellow editor: "After sOs proxy gated herO twice and herO didn't scout the third game, I knew from then on herO was an idiot."
Life 4-2 herO