While it’s still too early to make a call on the latter point, it’s becoming harder and harder for doubters to deny the former. We’ve had constant rumblings suggesting that the scales have shifted: the quality of play in WCS; the online records of many of the top foreign pros against Korean opposition; the currently foreigner-favoured scorecard of SHOUTcraft Kings. However, it’s only now that KeSPA Cup has given us a demonstration of just how much the gap has closed.
Throughout 2016, Neeb’s been more threat than contender in the foreign scene; a player guaranteed to place highly, but also one seemingly fated to fall short time and time again. It’s arguable that his win here supercedes the rest of his achievements this year combined. There’s simply no precedent for Neeb’s achievements here in Starcraft 2; Jinro is the only foreigner who’s even come close—seven long, long years of unchallenged supremacy for Korean Starcraft in Seoul. So while there’ll undoubtedly be excitement about the possibilities of repeat success at BlizzCon, or arguments about what this means for the scene going forwards, let’s just sit back for now. Enjoy the moment. Relish in the delight of the unpredictable.
Stats and Neeb kicked off the day with our first semifinal, and although the KT man took game 1 with some clean chargelot-archon play, using phoenix lifts to counter Neeb’s disruptors, it rapidly became clear that he was outgunned. In his post-final interview, Neeb admitted to not preparing directly for Stats, instead relying on the same build he’s used day in, day out on ladder. That showed as he displayed the same rock solid fundamentals throughout his PvP day, simply getting more out of his units than his opponents.
Throughout the week, the Korean casters would exclaim “This foreigner has Korean micro!”; Neeb’s control during KeSPA Cup has been top tier stuff. Cleaner and crisper than any of the protosses we’ve seen, with none of the infamous nerve issues that he’s suffered from throughout the year, he blazed past Stats with ease in games 2 and 3, outplaying the KT protoss in the disruptor-to-disruptor matchup. Game 4 was a similar slugfest on King Sejong Station, but Stats’ reticence to attack left the set spiralling to an end-game scenario. Both players transitioned to tempests, but a decision to attack Neeb’s fifth base proved rash for Stats. Initially, it looked like an even trade, but with Neeb’s closer rally distances, Stats was always under time pressure. Bleeding out units during his retreat, and with no economy left to speak of, he was forced to tap out.
The day soon went from bad to worse for KT. TY effortlessly blew past Trap with an aggressive 1-1-1 on New Gettysburg, but Trap quickly responded with his own mass gateway cheese on KSS, while a second storm-powered win on Frost left him standing on the cusp of making his first premier finals for 19 months. Finally though, TY rediscovered some of the form that drove him to yesterday’s 3-0 shutout over Zest. TY dominated the game from start to finish, zoning Trap out of his third base on Frozen Temple with liberators before advanced ballistics signalled the death knell for the Jin Air protoss.
Dasan Station though was a whole different issue. Trap put on pressure right from the start—denying TY’s depot and reactor on the ramp with a pylon rush, before mass gateway units swarmed over the terran’s main and natural. TY initially seemed to have held the push, but poor scan discipline allowed Trap’s DTs to clean up and take the game for the protoss.
If our first semifinal of the day was a controlled victory for Neeb, and our second was a dirty knife fight with Trap emerging victorious, then the final was nothing short of a slaughter. It became readily apparent that Trap was hopelessly outclassed by Neeb in PvP, with the American protoss’ disruptor play proving far too much to handle. Games 1-3 all passed by in the blink of an eye, and while Trap’s early game on Apotheosis gave him an early lead, there was an inevitability to Neeb gradually hauling in his advantage.
Down on army size and disruptor count, Neeb put on a clinic of ‘How to PvP’, chipping away at Trap’s superior force bit by bit. If you want a simple example of Neeb’s superiority, you only need look at both players’ handling of their disruptors. Trap’s bunched disruptors proved to be his downfall, with several heavy hits cancelling out his lead and irrevocably turning the tide of battle. With no more options to turn to, Trap was forced to GG out, leaving Neeb as the first foreign SC2 champion in a Korean tournament.