herO Wins DreamHack Atlanta 2022by Wax
Post-military glory took precedence over the realization of a career-long dream, as herO defeated Bunny 4-3 to win the DreamHack: Atlanta championship. Bunny had already achieved the best result in his nearly decade-long career by simply making it to the finals, and he was on the verge of winning his first ever major championship when he went up 3-1 in the best-of-seven. However, herO showed his former CJ Entus teammate the difference between a multiple-time champion and a first-time finalist, calmly pulling back from his three-map deficit to take a comeback victory.
The ultimate moment of glory may have gone to herO, but upsets and underdogs were the main themes of DreamHack: Atlanta right up until the last map of the finals. Bunny was a massive underdog against Serral in the first semifinal, having less than a 15% chance of winning according to the stats site Aligulac.com. Even Bunny himself seemed to doubt his chances, jokingly asking Serral to go easy on him in a pre-match interview. However, what ensued was a convincing 3-1 victory for Bunny, where his aggressive TvZ style overcame Serral's usually ironclad defense.
To a lesser extent, herO faced an uphill battle against against his own semifinal opponent Maru. But despite losing his previous two best-of-five series against the G5L winner, herO was able to come through with the 3-2 victory in Atlanta. Maru's game five decision to unsiege a tank during a 4-Gate Blink all-in will certainly linger in fans' memories as a key what-if moment—if not for the error, would he have gone on to beat Bunny in the finals?
Even the initial two days of the competition saw NightMare emerge as an unlikely protagonist. The largely unheralded Protoss was sent straight to the knockout bracket (a form of losers bracket) due to a poor group stage performance, but he held on to his last life and fought all the way to the final eight.
Bunny after taking a 3-1 upset win against Serral in the semifinals.
By winning DH: Atlanta, herO reached another milestone in his unprecedented post-military run with a Korea-Global tournament 'double.' He had already achieved a historic breakthrough by winning Code S Season 2 in July, becoming the first Korean player to ever win a major offline tournament after completing his mandatory military service. In the post-match interview, herO expressed his desire to increase his medal count, saying "As long as I don't let my guard down going forward, I'm a player that can win more championships going forward." Even with TY and Stats potentially returning to StarCraft II in the near future, it will be hard for anyone to match herO's post-military exploits.
Even though Bunny fell short of winning the title in heart-breaking fashion, the tournament was still a culmination of his considerable improvement over the last year. Bunny had already shown himself to be a formidable opponent in the 2022 World Championship at IEM Katowice, beating out more illustrious players to reach the final eight. However, he suffered a freak wrist injury right before the first Code S tournament of 2022, which derailed his rapid progress. Now, not only is Bunny back on track, but he has made another huge leap forward. With a victory over Serral and narrow loss to herO in high stakes matches, he has at least forced himself into the title picture. In the remaining months leading up to IEM Katowice 2023, could he even make himself one of the world championship favorites?
While the IEM Katowice qualification situation wasn't gravely affected by the bounty of points awarded in Atlanta, a handful of players saw their fortunes change. Thanks to his deep run, NightMare earned enough EPT Points to virtually guarantee himself a spot at IEM Katowice. Also, herO's victory gave Korea an additional seat at the World Championship, which appears extremely likely to go to Classic given the current standings and remaining tournament calendar.
Mexico's Cham (625 points) also benefited from finishing a round above Brazil's Kelazhur (605 points) in Atlanta, as he now tentatively holds the final qualifying seed from Latin America. The gap between the two players is only 20 points, so ESL Weekly Cups and HomeStory Cup 22 may still swing the LATAM standings.
- Game 1 - Waterfall (Bunny win): Bunny opened with an unorthodox 2-Barracks strategy, delaying his expansion and tech to rush out three Reapers quickly. On the other side of the map, herO planned to go for some type of Blink-Robo build.
Whatever herO's original intent was, we never found out, as he ate a quick one-two Terran combo. Bunny sacrificed his Reapers to kill 5 Probes and a Zealot and then followed up with a fast and powerful no-stim Marine-Tank-Liberator push at the 5:30 mark. herO barely managed to survive by the skin of his teeth but was left with a huge army deficit. Bunny came back with another powerful army a few minutes later, this time forcing the GG out of herO.
- Game 2 - Cosmic Sapphire (herO win): It was herO's turn to go for a quirky opener as he took a fast gold mineral expansion, while Bunny went for a more conventional 1-Barracks expansion start. Bunny got a very fast scout on the gold base with his Reaper but decided to not risk going for an aggressive punish. Instead, he went for a slower, macro-based approach.
As for herO, he didn't commit to any big Gateway unit timing with his mineral advantage and instead chose to play things out slowly. He used Oracles and Phoenixes to perform effective harassment, putting himself in a great mid-game position with a better economy and stronger army. He furthered his lead when Bunny started to move out on the map, using backdoor Zealot warp-ins to put the Terran at a severe economic disadvantage.
Bunny's only hope was to try and use the infantry + mines army he had gathered to win a battle decisively, but herO would allow nothing of the sort. He used his Phoenixes to execute a devastating mine-drag over the Terran infantry, taking all of the steam out of Bunny's offensive. After a few more failed drops and attacks, Bunny realized the game was a lost cause and surrendered.
- Game 3 - Moondance (Bunny win): Bunny went back to the 2-Barracks 3-Reaper opener from game one and again sacrificed his Reapers to get quite a few early Probe kills. However, herO was playing Stargate this time around, going up to an Oracle count of four. He repaid the favor several times over against the Terran SCV line, giving himself a huge economic advantage.
Bunny was rapidly headed toward another defeat, but had a slim chance of turning things around when his 1/1 infantry upgrades finished. He went for the good ol' fashioned 'pull the boys' move, bringing his SCV's along for a desperate attack with his Marine-Tank-Medivac force.
With Chargelots, Phoenixes, and some Disruptors starting to come out, herO seemed like he was in position to defend without too much trouble. However, a second of inexplicable miscontrol cost him dearly, as his Phoenixes were wiped out after pausing bizarrely above enemy Marines. Bunny ruthlessly took advantage of the situation, crushing the Protoss army in a game-deciding fight to take the comeback victory.
- Game 4 - Stargazers (Bunny win): After declining to Probe-scout in the initial three games, herO finally caved and sent a Probe to check for that pesky 2-Barracks opener. This 'forced' Bunny into a normal 1-Barracks opener (though the next game showed he had another mindgame in store…), while herO went for an expansion into Oracle play.
Bunny turned out to have another aggressive move up his sleeve, this time going for fast pressure with Marines, 2 Cyclones, and a Medivac. herO did not anticipate this at all—he blindly shaded 3 Adepts into Terran territory looking to harass, only to lose them all to advancing Marines and Cyclones. herO made the snap decision to split his forces, using his Oracles to initiate a backdoor attack while trying to stall with Stalkers and Overcharge back at home. Unfortunately for herO, this semi-basetrade didn't work out at all, as he lost far more Probes than the SCV's he killed (we can't say for sure things would have gone better if he had committed to a full defense instead).
Bunny played great from his advantageous position, pressuring herO constantly while also retaining his economic lead. While herO was able to buy some time with storms on defense, he was eventually worn down by relentless Terran infantry attacks.
- Game 5 - Inside and Out (herO win): Bunny got back to 2-Raxing in game five, hiding his second Barracks just outside of scouting Probe vision in the area behind his natural minerals. Cute as this deception was from Bunny, perhaps going for the same strategy three times in a series was pushing his luck too much. This time, herO had far better positioning and reaction speed than in previous games, and shut down the Reapers with just a single Probe loss.
This segued beautifully into his 4-Gate Blink follow-up—it's hard enough for Terrans to stop this when playing standard, so you can imagine how tough it was for Bunny with a failed 2-Barracks opener delaying the timings on all his crucial tech. herO executed his attack with clinical precision, wringing the GG out of Bunny at around the 7:15 mark on the clock.
- Game 6 - Data-C (herO win): Both players opted to get cheeky to start, with Bunny going for an Engineering Bay block at herO's natural while herO went for a quick proxy-Stargate before Nexus. Everything seemed to go wrong for herO, with Bunny discovering the proxy quickly and delaying it by destroying the Pylon. herO managed to squeeze out two Oracles out anyway, but they were both destroyed by a Cyclone and a well-hidden Mine.
Yet, somehow this wasn't an auto-lose type of disaster for herO. Due to Bunny playing quite cautiously after scouting the proxy, his tech was delayed and most of the advantage he accrued was in early-game army count. When Bunny declined to go for an immediate counter-attack, that gave herO the breathing room to establish three bases and try and play for a longer macro game (in hindsight, Bunny might have been able to win by pulling some SCVs and going for the kill sooner). Bunny only had a marginal advantage when he finally advanced with Stim and Medivacs, and good defensive storm usage from herO actually swung the game in favor of the Protoss side.
A good mine-drop from Bunny kept the Protoss snowball from rolling downhill even faster, but it wasn't enough to stop the every-splash-unit deathball from coming together. Disruptors arrived on time to counter Ghosts, and Bunny found himself unable to take any good engagements. Rather, it was herO's attacks into bad positions that kept Bunny in the game, but he was never so reckless as to give Bunny an opportunity to retake the lead. Eventually, herO assembled an overwhelming Protoss force and collected the series-tying GG from Bunny.
- Game 7 - Tropical Sacrifice (herO win): Bunny opened with some light Reaper-Bunker harassment on herO's Nexus and then transitioned into a fast Marine-Tank push. herO opted to play a more reactive style this time, playing a defensive Blink + Robo strategy.
When herO saw Bunny's troops crossing the map, he took some of his Blink-Stalkers aside to try and cut off reinforcements. Some clever Medivac use from Bunny let him sneak his way around, letting three Tanks siege up right below herO's ramp. However, Bunny erred in placing his Tanks a little too far apart, which herO exploited with a decisive move. His Stalkers and Immortals leapt forward for just a moment, focusing down two out of three tanks before pulling back.
This move made it impossible for Bunny to actually push up herO's ramp, freeing up herO's Blink-Stalker cadre to simply counter-attack Bunny's lightly defended main. Not only did this cut off a few rounds of reinforcements, but it bit deeply into Bunny's SCV count as well.
Bunny retreated from his siege position to regroup back at home, but the game had already spiraled out of control. herO joined his Stalkers, Disruptor, and Immortals together and charged into the Terran natural. The Terran defenders were woefully outgunned, and Bunny had no choice but to type out the final GG.