TSL, or the Myth that is Korea

2011-03-29 by . 0 comments

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DATELINE TARSONIS SECTOR… no, wait.  I made that joke once before and no one thought it was funny.  Let’s skip that and boil down to the TSL.  For those of you who aren’t giant Brood War nerds who dream about watching MenSol[ZerO] from an Opera balcony in a tuxedo, you’re probably unfamiliar with the history of the TSL.  Back in the dark ages of Brood War, if you wanted to be a professional StarCraft player, but didn’t want to transplant yourself to Seoul, there weren’t many options available to you.  These days, a $30,000 tournament doesn’t seem to turn heads, but once upon a time you were lucky to find a $200 tournament.  WCG, was the only place for American StarCraft players to compete.  Many of the big names today were once WCG medalists (Day9, Artosis, Idra, iNcontroL).  But WCG wasn’t that often, and the tournaments were small.  So a small group of gamers, under the name TeamLiquid, started up their own tournament and even managed to land Razer as their backer.  For North American Progamers, this was a landmark moment.


Fast forward 3 years to 2011, and TSL3 has just passed the round of 32, and it has showcased some of the best StarCraft play in the world.  Having expanded beyond just North America, TSL3 has drawn from European players as well.  In a series of Open Qualifiers, 8 Winners and 8 Seeds by points have earned the right to compete; that, combined with the 3 winners of TSL2, make up 19 of the entries.  But as TSL wants to be a truly international tournament, they have provided for 13 invitees from Korea (including 5 foreigners living in Korea).  While the TSL has never been an exclusive tournament, it has always been the big “non-Korean” tournament.  It was one of things that really set it apart.  So for the TSL to invite (not hold competitions for people to compete, but actually invite) Korean players is definitely a break from tradition.

The feeling in the StarCraft community has always been that Korean players tend to be better than foreign ones.  Whether this is the result of the strong role StarCraft plays in their culture, or a difference in their training, or something else, it has always been a prevalent sentiment.  Koreans are just better at StarCraft, and TSL didn’t just invite Koreans, they invited some of the best Korean players: oGsMC (winner of GSL4 and GSLMar), IMNestea (winner of GSL2 and runner up of GSLJan), Fruitdealer (winner of GSL1), IMMvp (winner of GSLJan),  oGsNada (one of the best BW players), SlayerS_Boxer (the legend and runner up of GSL2), and MVP_Genius (winner of Blizcon 2010).  After the strong Korean performance at IEM 5 World Championship (with first through third going to Korean players), it seemed inevitable that they would dominate the bracket.

What happened instead, was nothing short of some of the biggest upsets in Starcraft 2.

Ro32 Winners by Entrance

Of the Korean invites, only 3 of the 13 made it to the round of 16.  What’s more, we saw massive upsets in Adelscott vs IM.Mvp, GoOdy vs IM.NesTea and ThorZaIN vs Fruitdealer, not to mention surprise losses by IdrA, Ret, and MVP_Genius.  It was as if the old myth of Korean players and training in Korea was turned on its head.

Now a lot of people have associated lag as being a predominate factor here, and Jinro has already commented on that issue, so I’m not going to repeat what he said.  Instead, I’m going to take one of the games and I’m going to break it down for you, so you can see what happened.  Without further ado…

Adelscott vs IM.Mvp on Xel’Naga Caverns

Adelscott spawns at the 2 o’clock and Mvp at the 10 o’clock.  Mvp opens 1 Rax before scouting Adelscott.  Adelscott seems to be opening 1 Gate, and after confirming that he has spent his Chronoboost on his Gateway instead of his Cybernetics Core, Mvp decided to go with an early Command Center (@20).  Mvp is making a smart move here; if Adelscott wanted to apply early pressure in the form of a 3 Gate or 4 Gate, he’d have  to spend that first Chronoboost on the Cybernetics Core to get the earlier Warpgate tech.  Instead, Adelscott’s choice to spend it on the Gateway signifies that he isn’t going for an early pressure build, and that he might be worried about pressure from Mvp.  Shortly after, Mvp denies the scouting Probe from Adelscott, leaving him in the dark.

Adelscott seems unconcerned and expands on 29. Normally, I’d say this is a blind move, but it looks like Adelscott is going to try and pressure Mvp with a single Zealot and Stalker.  Because he spent his Chronoboost on his Gateway instead of Warpgate tech, this is actually going to be much faster than traditional Protoss play.  This is an extremely unorthodox move and does catch Mvp by surprise.  Although Mvp is quick to respond, he’s been building his 2 extra Barracks and a Reactor, so he’s a little short on Marines.  Adelscott has found an unusual timing window and Mvp is forced to pull his SCVs to defend this push.  Mvp’s impressive control means that Adelscott ends up trading a Zealot for two Marines and an SCV before that Reactor starts to kick in and Adelscott is forced back.

Adelscot finds a unique timing window

Right now I’d say that Mvp’s execution is looking very nice, but Adelscott has eked out a lead with an unorthodox move.  Ultimately, this play has granted him de facto map control, and will delay Mvp’s expansion until after his own has finished.  At this point in the game, I’d start placing my money on Mvp.  His flawless execution is going to survive long after the minor damage Adelscott has done is forgotten.

After the light skirmish, Mvp invests in much needed Techlabs as his 3 Rax finish.  Normally I’d expect this to transition into a nice 6:30 push, but because he chose to go for a Reactor first, his Stim tech is going to be delayed.  I’d classify this as an unforced error.  I don’t think Mvp has had enough practice since the 1.3 patch, and isn’t used to the extra build time on Stim yet.  As a result, it’s going to take him longer to make that 3 Rax push than usual.  By comparison, Adelscott is taking advantage of the fact that he knows Mvp doesn’t have Marauders out yet and will saturate his natural while throwing down 3 more Warpgates (can you say 4Gate blink Stalkers?) and a Forge (which he’ll use for an early armor buff).  He’ll also try to break through to his third while building Zealot/Sentry (leaving his two Stalkers to hold the Xel’Naga towers).  Zealot/Sentry is actually a key combination here.  It’s a fairly rookie mistake to try and build Stalkers before your Sentries and they’ll both eat into your gas supply and you’ll end up short on both.  Instead, if you build your Sentries first and pair them with Zealots, you can get a nice Force Field off and trap enemy units, allowing the beefy Zealots to make short work of them.

Mvp finally makes his push at 9 minutes, and he hasn’t wasted time either.  Because he had to wait on the much longer Stim, he’s spent that time saturating his natural and boosting his Marine/Marauder count to 6 Marauders and a dozen Marines.  Adelscott spotted them moving near the Xel’Naga towers, so he’s actually ready for them when they come.  Quickly sweeping in his Zealots, Adelscott gets off a wonderful split, catching most of the Marine/Marauder ball on the Zealot hungry side of the Force Fields.  Building those early Sentries really pays off here, and Adelscott comes out ahead 73 to 68.

Beautiful Forcefields

Adelscott, who had held off on taking his third until that push, now expands.  He realizes he came out of that push nicely, but he’s not far enough ahead that he can just end this.  Instead, Adelscott decides to go for a Weapon Upgrade and a Twilight Council for Blink (I called it!).  Meanwhile, Mvp feels vulnerable so he builds a bunker.  This is a very safe move as he can always recoup the loss of the bunker later, and the extra fortification buys him time to tech into Startport and Engineering Bay and break the rocks at his Gold.

At 12:30 (right after Blink finishes), Adelscott decides to press the issue and pushes out.  I can understand the logic: I just got this great new upgrade, I won the first engagement, most of my Sentries are still alive so I’ve been able to macro up my Stalkers, time to push; but I really think this is a blunder by Adelscott.  He doesn’t really know what Mvp has (who has just finished Concussive Shell and has his first two Medivacs coming out), he’s still researching Charge, his 5th and 6th Gateways have just come online (so his army is smaller than it will be in a minute or two), and his third hasn’t really kicked in yet.  More than anything, I think he’s feeling overconfident after that first engagement, without realizing that he lost about as much as Mvp did.

Adelscott picks off a Medivac by using blink and Mvp retreats, and then has the good sense to wait for Charge to finish and stock up.  It’s almost as if he suddenly realized all the flaws I just pointed out.  Unfortunately, impatience gets the best of him and he make the push at 13:15.  Now Mvp has constructed a nice “wall” out of a couple Supply Depots and a Factory (having long since sold his Bunker), and falls back behind it nicely.  To make matters worse, Adelscott has split his army while coming around that hole in the middle of the map.  He gets overeager trying to pick off a Marine or two, and Mvp sees his chance and engages.  Adelscott shows the nice Blink Stalker micro, takes some damage and blinks back to let the Zealots do their work, but it’s not really enough.  Adelscott only leads by 5 supply and Mvp is more than willing to pull the mineral line at his natural to help defend.  For a moment, it looks like Adelscott might win, but with the extra SCVs coming into play, the Marine/Marauder/SCV ball makes quick work of the Protoss who’s forced back.

This is why you pull your SCV line

Adelscott’s third base has started to kick in at this point and despite his losses, he manages to keep all his Stalkers alive as the score is now 96 vs. 98.  Adelscott pulls back to destroy the rocks at his Gold and continues to be diligent with his upgrades, leaving him 1-0-2 to Mvp’s 0-1.  Mvp sees a momentary advantage and decides to extend it by finally taking his own Gold.  This is a very smart move; while Mvp is temporarily ahead, it’s not by much, so using this advantage to take the Gold is a move to extend his lead.  I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this by now, but when you’re ahead you want to get more ahead.  Premature moves to end the game are likely to end in disaster.  Meanwhile, Adelscott backs off, tries to up his Gateway unit numbers off his (now) 9 Warpgates, and picks up his third armor upgrade.

There is a little back and forth here as each player tries to control the Xel’Naga towers, but something you start to notice is that Mvp now has the larger force (with MULEs pulling off that Gold) and is doing a better job spending his resources.  It’s likely Adelscott realizes that Mvp is holding the Gold, and now he’s forced to try and make a move to counter it.  At 16:30, he pushes.  Because he knows he’s behind, Adelscott sends the Chargelots at the main Marine/Marauder ball, while his Stalker/Sentry hang back and harass the Gold Expansion.  Unfortunately, Mvp just has too many guys, and without a nice Forcefield split, the Zealots become cannon fodder before Adelscott can finish off the morphing Planetary Fortress.  I don’t know how I feel about this push here.  I get that Adelscott is a little desperate to make something happen, but I feel like he could have waited until his two Robo Facilities finished.  At the same time, forcing Mvp off the Gold means that Adelscott may lose more units, but replenishes faster; that, combined with using Blink to keep almost all his Stalkers alive, means that Adelscott ends up ahead 111 vs 109.  Ultimately, the push is largely a delaying action, and a minute later the two players are in pretty much the same position.

Adelscott uses this extra time to take his own Gold, while teching to Colossus and even adding on a pair of Immortals.  I think the Immortals are a smart twist.  There is no reason to leave those two Robo’s idle while he waits for Colossus tech, and he has the economy (3 bases) to afford them.  A lot of players make the mistake of thinking of the Robo as just a prerequisite on the tech tree and not building anything out of them before Colossus.  If you build something, the more you get out of it, the better it is for you.  This may seem axiomatic, but it’s an important lesson that people often forget.  It’s also worth noting that the armor and weapon upgrades (1-0-3) affect all Protoss ground units.  Meanwhile, Mvp has just finished up 1-1, and it feels like he doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Although he is adding on extra Rax, and starting to produce Blue Flame Hellions, his play at this point feels stagnant.  Every push by Adelscott has been strong, and despite Mvp doing well in the last couple engagements, he’s not really ahead.  We’re not seeing any drop play from Mvp (though he has the Medivacs to spare) and the Hellions feel desperate.  I honestly think Mvp doesn’t know what to do.  This isn’t an issue of lag, or balance. Adelscott has put Mvp off his game, and he’s grasping at straws.  I don’t know how he prepared, but I don’t think he expected this hard of a fight.  Adelscott seems to take everything Mvp throws at him and keeps coming back for more.

At about 19:00, Adelscott decides to take a few pokes at Mvp and he quickly learns that he has Mvp heavily out macro’d.  Mvp didn’t invest in enough Barracks (only having just taken his third) and before this engagement Adelscott is ahead 192 vs 151.  Now this push I like: Adelscott is heavily ahead in both units and upgrades, Mvp’s third is just starting to kick in (which Adelscott knows because his 4th is just starting to), so he doesn’t have the unit count he will in about 2 minutes, and Adelscott needs to free up a little supply for his new Colossus (who’re just starting their upgrade and the first two are popping out).  More impressively, Adelscott only stays around long enough to lose a handful of Zealots and snipe the Factory (which he actually miscalculates on and it survives).  He loses just a few supply without losing his main force.  There are a lot of Zerg players who could take a lesson from that.

Then to follow every thing up, Adelscott takes his shiny new Colossus and sticks them behind the Terran Gold (in Mvp’s third, which he never expanded to).  Mvp is stuck in a hard place as he pulls his SCVs off the Gold line, but he’s still a long time Progamer, and he knows that if Adelscott’s army is behind his Gold, that means his Expos are undefended.  Mvp strikes out for Adelscott’s Gold (which will have the most resources) and runs into a small patch of reinforcements that Adelscott hadn’t incorporated into his death ball yet.  Adelscott’s minor blunder here is about to screw Mvp over, as the time it takes for him to eat through the dozen or so Zealots (with 3 armor) and an Immortal give Adelscott’s main army enough time to retreat back to defend his base.  Mvp is forced back, as he has no real answer to the Colossus (only now just seeing them).  Mvp’s earlier hesitation means that he’s now stuck with a largely Bio army against the dreaded Protoss Deathball.  Despite having the unit advantage, his lingering for that time in the middle of the game is costing him.  Had he started building Mech, or taken a fourth, or built Viking or Banshees, he’d be directing the tempo of this game instead of taking on an unwinnable battle.

Its a long long long way home

Adelscott, seeing he has the advantage, starts to push.  While this feels a little overeager, Adelscott does have a maxed army, and Mvp’s first couple Vikings are just starting to come out, so this is his only shot at a timing window.  If Mvp hadn’t pushed Adelscott’s Gold, Adelscott would have had a much better timing attack then, but Mvp’s push does keep Adelscott from getting the easy win, as he’s forced back from the Planetary Fortress, though retains the lead 140 vs. 120.

That last battle seems to give Mvp a second wind, as he starts really producing units (Bio + Vikings and even more Hellions), and takes his fourth.  This really suggests to me that Mvp wasn’t used to that prolonged Warpgate composition, but now that he sees the more familiar Colossus Deathball, his instincts are starting to kick in.  This is a beast he’s tangled with before.  Unfortunately, it might be too little too late, as Adelscott expands to both the 3 and the 9 o’clock positions, using Photon Cannons to defend them.  This might seem like a bad move, but actually Adelscott is a head and sitting on about 3k minerals after their last conflict.

At 23:00 Adelscott catches Mvp out of position and attacks his Gold.  Mvp is ready for this, but the size difference in their armies is starting to show (initially 172 vs. 143), though he does manage to kill all three Colossus.  Adelscott ends up ahead at 140 vs. 82, but decides not to press the issue.  Adelscott’s 5th has just finished and his 6th is almost done, so backing off here is a very smart move.  Mvp, still recovering from his earlier daze, finally remembers that Ghosts counter heavy Gateway play, and starts producing a couple.

For those of you playing at home, this game is effectively over.  In fact, it’s been over since Mvp’s push on Adelscott’s Gold failed.  Although the game will drag on another 3 minutes, Mvp is fielding about half the army Adelscott is (remember most of his supply is SCVs), and has only one Expansion that isn’t mined out, compared to Adelscott’s three.  I could tell you about how he tries some Hellion play (finally), or how Adelscott uses a lone Zealot to harass Mvp’s only remaining mineral line, forcing him out of position so he can crush him with that Colossus death ball, but honestly, it doesn’t matter.

Now, I’m sure there will be people who cry “lag,” or that Adelscott had the advantage of seeing a lot of Mvp’s play and the converse isn’t true, but for my 2 cents, Mvp’s play was insular.  He’s spent too long against the Colossus into HT and Colossus/Voidray builds that he floundered against a simple 4Gate into Blink Stalker, and only regained his footing when Adelscott added on the familiar Colossus.  I think that’s what happened to most of the Korean players, why Adelscott went 2-0, GoOdy went 2-1 and ThorZaIN 2-0.  The Koreans didn’t practice for their foreigners and when they encountered something they didn’t expect, they weren’t ready.

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