TL.net Presents: Disasterpiece TheaterBy: Mizenhauer and Wax
Misadventures with Mech: Flash vs Curious
Here at TL.net, we spend most of our time highlighting StarCraft II at its best, whether it's bringing you lists of entertaining games or celebrating amazing esports accomplishments. But we think BAD games deserve some attention as well, whether it's because we want to have a good laugh, or because we still want to balance-whine years after the fact. Anyway, we hope you enjoy our newest recurring(?) feature: Disasterpiece Theater.
To many, Heart of the Swarm represents the glory days of Zerg versus Terran, when waves of muta-ling-bane crashed into armies of bio-mine-medivac in bloody, fast-paced battles. In mid-2015, as the expansion neared its end, ZvT had reached a strange place: Mech, a composition which had been reduced to a niche role for most of the expansion, had made an abrupt resurgence.
This wasn't the 'battle-mech' of recent times—no, it was the slow, nasty turtle-mech brought down from the days of Brood War. Design changes to swarm hosts alongside a favorable map-pool with maps such as Cactus Valley and Coda transformed mech into a power house, allowing Terrans to turtle up and assemble nigh-unbeatable armies. Who wanted to deal with the threat of mutalisks ransacking an entire SCV line, or a bio army evaporating due to a momentary lapse in micro? It was much easier to never leave one's side of the map, hiding behind a sea of turrets, thors, and tanks. Mech ended up being used 34 times in TvZ matches during Seasons 3 of GSL and SSL, compared to bio’s 14 appearances. (Mech was also really good in TvT, but the story of how BrAvO beat Maru in a straight up macro game is best reserved for another day.)
It was not a fun time to be a Zerg. The might of mech is what made ByuL’s heroic victory against INnoVation on Terraform one of the most iconic Zerg vs mech games in SC2 history, but to be honest, ByuL only won because INnoVation didn't get armor upgrades at all for some reason. It felt like far more games ended with Zerg bashing their heads against a wall of metal and neosteel until they collapsed.
While one could pick any number of games to illustrate how toxic turtle-mech could be at its worst, no game was quite as awful as one played between Flash vs Curious on August 14th, 2015, during the decider match of their Code S RO16 group.
(Begins at 1:05:39)
In one corner we had Curious. Only a few months removed from making a career-best semifinal run in Code S, the gatekeeper was falling back to Earth. There wasn’t any confusing him with ByuL at this point, or even Rogue who Curious had gotten the better of in the round of 8 during the previous season. But he could still prove that the last season wasn't a fluke if he could just get past this one opponent...
That opponent was Flash. The Ultimate Weapon. 'God' himself. While Flash is undoubtedly the greatest player in Brood War history, he wasn't exactly playing that level of StarCraft II in 2015. His shining moment had actually come the year before at IEM Toronto 2014 where he defeated Zest to win the championship, but his GSL and SSL results were modest in comparison.
However, the new mech style was tailor-made for a player who had perfected mech Terran in Brood War. While Flash's micro in SC2 was… let's just put it kindly and say "wanting for improvement," he could still optimize the hell out of builds and drop mules on cooldown. More importantly, Flash was a player who demonstrated near infinite patience. He was content to sit back and let his opponents do whatever they wanted, as long as he could reach his end goal of an unstoppable battlecruiser-mech composition.
Our story picks up in game three, with Flash and Curious already having endured two exhausting mech vs Zerg ordeals. Flash took game one on Iron Fortress when he beat fewer corruptors with more vikings, while Curious evened the score on Coda when he beat fewer viking with more corruptors (what a fantastic match-up!), setting the stage for a deciding game that only the most die-hard Flash fans could have been anticipating, since everyone else had already been bored to death.
The final game began as so many others did in that era. Flash took advantage of the map’s size and Zerg’s proclivity toward greedy openings by going CC first. Curious predictably responded by taking a third base and going up to spire, fast mutas being the standard ZvT build of the time. See, theoretically mutas afforded Zerg an opportunity to harass while also being safe enough against most forms of Terran aggression—you know, stuff you'd consider in a game where players actually interact with each other. Unfortunately, Curious’ mutas were more of a perfunctory gesture than anything, with a few vikings and thors being forced as both players headed straight to the late-game.
By the time we reached the 11 minute mark (about eight minutes LotV time) Flash was already fully saturated on three bases, tucked away in his little corner of the map. Curious' response was to drone up, take several bases on his side of the map, and make a beeline toward to hive. As for Flash—once he was armed with one of the most ridiculously cost-effective compositions in StarCraft II (ironically, a jumble of almost every unit without stimpack)—finally began his glacially slow expansion across the map.
If you're Zerg, you do have to attack eventually. Or, at least, you have to throw away the mutalisks, roaches and other crappy units that don't translate to the late-game so you can graduate to units that are marginally better. Curious finally made the first serious attack of the game at the twenty-minute mark, attempting to breach the Terran line with hydralisks and vipers. While he successfully killed Flash's outermost base before the defenses were set, Flash casually rolled back in with more tanks and plopped down a new CC once the blinding clouds subsided.
Curious took another crack at the same base a few minutes later, having re-armed himself with a mass of ultralisks, queens, and vipers… before quickly retreating in horror after seeing the entrenched line of tanks. As with the mutas before them, the ultras were just another formality; an offer to engage that Flash once again declined.
Curious: Wanna, uhhh, play the game?
Flash: Nah man, I'm good.
By the way, a word about missile turrets. As it turns out, they counter every Zerg unit. They annihilate air units for cost, they tank for actual siege tanks due to the AI of ground units, and they're bulky enough to be a serious pathing hazard for ultralisks. Not only that, they're
With tanks, turrets, and planetary fortresses in place as static defenses, the 'mobile' portion of Flash's army in battlecruisers, vikings, and ravens pushed Zerg forces back as Flash expanded his territory to the top side of the map. Despite having 6000/6000 in the bank, having over half the map covered in creep, and still facing no Terran encroachment on his side of Cactus Valley, Curious was starting to look a bit helpless.
At this point, we should remind you of how Cactus Valley was first introduced during TL Map Contest 5: "A map à la Whirlwind, army movements will eventually funnel into the center of the map. With only a single path circling around the map, central control will be key in establishing succeeding bases and open up aggressive options." Is it possible for someone to be alive and still be rolling in their grave? That's probably what happened to map-maker Ferisii after this game.
This is fine.
After impaling his remaining ground forces on the Terran defenses, Curious went for an abrupt tech-switch to catch Flash off guard: Mass corruptors supporting a handful of brood lords. And yet, this move backfired almost instantly on Curious as 1) Flash was not caught at all off-guard, and 2) Flash unsieged the extraneous portion of his tank force and sent them to hunt Zerg bases in tank mode. While Curious killed one pitiful Planetary Fortress, Flash's Tanks killed every single one of Curious' mining bases. Absorbing the graveness of his error, Curious slowly cleaned up the tanks with his eight brood lords—the sum of his anti-ground army. Still, the ever-patient Flash allowed Curious to re-take his bases and build up his bank again (important for the gruesome end to this story), wanting everything to be perfect before he gave Curious that full-on battle he wanted so badly.
So, when Curious' massive corruptor force finally did get to fight a few minutes later, everything went horrendously wrong once more. In games one and two of the series, the viking vs. corruptor battles decided the victor—which is probably why Curious went for a composition of mostly corruptors supporting a few brood lords and infestors. How was Curious supposed to know that Flash would actually have learned from the previous games, and remembered that mass ravens are a ridiculously good support unit against air? Even with his ravens, Flash demonstrated almost sadistic patience, patiently chasing Curious' across the map under the cover of point defense drones.
With all hope lost and his economy in tatters, Curious decided to use his nearly 10k/10k bank on one final, last-ditch tech switch. Facing off against Heart of the Swarm’s ultimate army and an absurd amount of missile turrets, Curious put the pedal to the metal, making what will forever go down as the most futile and hopeless muta switch of all time. Curious was able to win a moral victory by taking out the weakened Battlecruisers and Vikings, but with 3/3 Thors being produced five at a time, Flash soon brought an end to the nonsense and the game.
Really, one has to wonder what Curious was thinking. The most pressing obstacle between him and victory was Flash’s air fleet, and a corruptor remax would have dealt with that problem more effectively. The thing is, Curious probably just wasn’t thinking. He was playing the third game of his third match of the day, one in which he had spent more than an hour and a half grinding away at Flash who seemed entirely content playing Simcity with missile turrets and PFs. Curious was at his wits end, with tanks still coming to shell his hatcheries, and an unknowable composition of remaxed mech forces looming in the fog of war. He was so far past the point at which we could expect anyone to make a rational, optimal decision. The muta switch was a prayer to the heavens, except no one was listening besides the cruel god before him.
Finally, it's over.
Though the Zerg vs mech era of 2015 was unbearable at its worst, it did yield some great games like the ByuL vs INnoVation classic mentioned above. Watching a Zerg pick apart a skillful mech Terran was one of the most impressive displays of mastery in StarCraft II. Zerg players were forced to gobble up the map and while defending against constant Hellion harassment, tech switch over and over, exploit mech's immobility with backdoor and multi-prong attacks, and take as many favorable trades as possible before they could sculpt a final weapon capable of dealing the killing blow.
This game had none of that. It was terribly one-sided and brutally long, with the mech player somehow performing more multi-tasking than the Zerg, and the Zerg treating his vital spell-casters like banelings. It was a perfect example of a toxic synergy between maps and meta, where players were incentivized to bypass the early and mid-game interaction that makes StarCraft II great and head straight to the endgame. What a relief it is to know that we've learned from such mistakes, and surely we'll never have to witness such horror again.
Who does god pray to for forgiveness?