The ESL Open Cups continued to play out on the new maps and balance patch in Week #158. A familiar yet new name won the Korean server cup, as RagnaroK won his first cup in over a year (last winning Week #94 in October of 2021). It was business as usual on the other two servers, with HeroMarine toppling MaxPax to win in Europe, while Cure beat out ByuN to take the American server cup.
The biggest balance-patch adaptation of the week came from HeroMarine, who used the reworked Cyclones to beat Reynor with battlemech (more below).
As usual, the Korean server cup was a low turnout, extremely high skill affair with players like Cure, GuMiho, Oliveira, Ragnarok, Solar, Dark, herO, Creator, and Astrea all showing up to play.
In the bracket itself, Cure took down both Oliveira and the otherwise dominant herO in a solid showing, only to get taken down by Ragnarok who would make his way into the finals. GuMiho, meanwhile, defeated Nice and then ran a gauntlet of top Korean Zergs, defeating Dark and then Solar with masterful positional play to make his way to the finals to clash with Ragnarok.
Game 1 of the finals (VOD) kicked off with a Ragnarok doing significant damage to GuMiho with a relatively high-eco, Roach-Ravager-Ling push which GuMiho took way more damage from than he should have. However, as GuMiho opted for mech, he was able to stabilize and managed to survive Ragnarok’s continued follow-up attacks, eventually maxing out on an ultimate 3-3 Tank, Thor, Hellbat army and taking the win. Unfortunately for GuMiho, that was the only win he would get as RagnaroK took the next three maps straight.
Game 2 saw a proxy 3-rax from GuMiho fall 30 HP short of killing the natural Hatchery which put the Terran extremely far behind. GuMiho eventually went for a 2-base all-in, but was unable to find any purchase. GuMiho once again went for a proxy 3-rax in game 3, but was scouted by Ragnarok and the Zerg was able to hold the build cleanly. GuMiho continued to build Marines, so when Ragnarok’s ling speed finished, he easily surrounded and killed the Marines to force a quick GG.
Game 4 saw GuMiho go for a big Marauder-Hellbat push that ran into a large Roach opening from Ragnarok. The build did damage, but not enough to do more than equalize the game. Ragnarok went into 1-1 Roach-Ravager while simultaneously teching into Mutalisks. The Mutas killed a significant number of workers, but GuMiho was able to hold the Roach-Ravager aggression quite impressively. GuMiho finally went for a big, last chance push with a large, bio-Tank-Thor push that had game ending potential, but when he doom dropped the main, he left 4 Siege Tanks on the low ground. If he had brought them into the main, it’s likely that he would have won the game and forced game 5. Unfortunately for him, Ragnarok was able to clean up the army and win the game from there.
Balance patch notes: The most notable thing to me in regard to effects of the balance patch is that despite the massive improvement to workers in terms of their effectiveness in combat ("No longer need to wait for full deceleration before beginning to attack"), dedicated all-ins like proxy 3-Barracks can still be very effective (VOD). While I can’t speak definitively about the viability of less drastic builds such as proxy 2-Barracks, there could be a volatile feeling-out period in these early days of the patch. It's entirely possible that we'll see some Zergs confidently pull workers, only to take more damage than expected. As with many of these balance considerations, time will tell.
European Cup (partial bracket shown)
Moving onto the European cup, it featured this week's most exciting and jaw-dropping changes in terms of strategy and meta.
As for the competitors themselves, strong players such as Reynor, MaxPax, ShoWTimE, SKillous, Clem, HeroMarine, and Kelazhur, and Spirit all competed. HeroMarine did what HeroMarine often does on a Monday and stormed his way to the finals, taking down fellow Terran Spirit 2-1 before defeating the indomitable Reynor 2-1 in the semis. On the other side of the bracket, MaxPax ran a PvP gauntlet where he defeated MindelVK, trigger, and MaNa (a recent stumbling block for him) before outmuscling Clem 2-0 to make the finals. In the finals themselves, Big Gabe showed us that his TvP is still something to marvel at, dismantling MaxPax in three straight games.
Balance patch notes: With apologies to MaxPax, the more interesting match-up for HeroMarine was actually his aforementioned bout against Reynor in the semifinals. Game 1 was rather unremarkable from a strategy perspective, although utterly dazzling in terms of gameplay as Reynor muscled back from an early deficit and defeated HeroMarine in a bio-Mine vs. Ling-Bane-Hydra slugfest.
The truly exciting and head-turning events came in game’s 2 and 3 where HeroMarine came out with a dazzling new blue-flame Hellion, speed Banshee opening into battlemech that looked truly powerful. Initial community reactions to the Terran changes were that they were underwhelming and uninteresting. However, with the Cyclone’s rework to Mag-Field Accelerator—Mag-Field Accelerator damage bonus changed from +20 vs armored to +10 vs all—and the latest mini-patch of an extra 0.5 lock-on range, the unit is now much stronger as a catch-all unit vs. Zerg. Initially after game 2, I wondered if it was just a situation where Reynor had been caught off-guard. Even though the new Cyclone’s looked much, much stronger vs. Reynor's Queens (video clip), Swarm Hosts may not have been the correct response (they've generally been hit or miss in the past). That’s why I was so excited when, in game 3, HeroMarine busted out the same style again and found success once again. He even got himself into a winning position with the battlemech play, only to get caught transitioning into heavy mech and nearly being overrun. However, a transition back into heavy Cyclone play allowed him to reassert his position and win the game.
Now, as exciting as the potential of this is, we have to take things with a grain of salt. Firstly, it’s a new opening, so Reynor, as well as the other great Zergs, have not yet had a chance to dissect the opener and find any potential weaknesses. Additionally, Reynor isn't up to his full IEM Katowice form, so there’s no telling if it would beat him when he is really dialed in. HeroMarine noted himself on stream that he feared a Roach-into-Swarm Host blind counter, and was playing the build two games in a row for testing purposes.
With all of that aside, it's interesting to imagine the best-case scenario for Terran where it completely revamps the ZvT match-up. If mech, even battle mech, is more viable, this changes the way that Zerg players will have to play in order to deal with this composition. Right out of the gate, fast 1-1 openings for Zerg will be more of a risk, as the carapace upgrades for Zerg are almost useless against mech play. Secondly, Zerg players will need to be much more attentive to their scouting in order to avoid being caught off-guard. Additionally, now Terran players would have the ability to play more mind games in order to fool their potential opponents. Once again, this isn’t necessarily a revolution, but the potential is there.
American Cup (partial bracket shown)
Once again, the North American server was a battleground for European and Korean players set out to win the weekly cup. Dark, PiG, Rattata, ByuN, Cure, HeroMarine, Astrea, SKillous, and Creator were among the notable participants. Astrea did his best to defend the region’s honor, but was felled in a hard fought semifinals with Cure after beating Jason and Rattata in the earlier rounds. ByuN, meanwhile battled his way through a feisty Ashbringer and then HeroMarine, who seemed ready for bed based on his build order choices (quick all-ins in both games). After besting Dark in an exciting TvZ series in the semifinals, ByuN was ready to face Cure in the grand finals VOD).
Cure and ByuN fought an entertaining series that came down to game 5 and featured some great counterattack play from Cure to clutch out the series.
Balance patch notes: Cure and ByuN is the first look I've gotten at the new TvT between two Korean pros. In many ways, the match-up is still very similar, but ByuN made some strategic choices that were possibly due to the drastic Auto Turret changes (reduced duration and durability).
After building 1 or 2 Ravens, ByuN went for very fast transitions into heavy Marine play and quick 1/1 upgrades on his bio. This may not seem too remarkable, but for as long as TvT has existed on the current live patch, nearly every player would go for quick Viking production after building their Ravens in order to control space and keep their own Ravens safe while threatening those of their opponent. And with the change to the Viking's damage point (a change to make them more responsive), my expectation was that this would only be further reinforced.
ByuN, however, may have decided to try and exploit the fact that the Auto Turret is much more fragile by transitioning into Marines much more quickly. This allowed him to take some engagements against Cure's pushes with Ravens, Tanks, and unstimmed Marine that would never have been possible with the previous Turret durability.
To highlight the severity of this Turret change, the current patch version with 150 HP and 1 armor takes 30 unupgraded Marine shots to kill. In contrast, the proposed Auto Turret, with 100 HP and 0 armor, takes 17 shots to kill from an unupgraded Marine. In many cases, the auto turret is getting obliterated before it adds any value to a fight, which will completely shift the power dynamics of early-game TvT.
This may end up having far-reaching complications for the match-up as a whole. As it stands in the current patch, two base pushes are out of favor. However, if the Raven can no longer provide so much utility and security in the early game, it is entirely possible that 2-base pushes become a strong tool in TvT once again.