Our e-sports correspondent is ESFI World's Samuel Lingle
It’s been a month since the last e-sports update, but fear not. They’re returning with weekly regularity. In theory.
Today I’m going to recap most of the bigger events of the past month or so, considering there was a lot of exciting stuff you guys may have missed. It’s StarCraft heavy by necessity, as the majority of e-sport events these days feature Blizzard’s popular RTS.
IEM Season 6 Sao Paulo
February opened with the Intel Extreme Masters Sao Paulo stop, a departure from IEM’s normal multi-game offerings as only StarCraft 2 was featured as an official tour event in Brazil. Despite a relatively weak field of players, the winner was Korean, but a bit of an unexpected one. Team Empire’s Zerg player Dong-Hwan “viOLet” Kim took the title over the favored Young-Jin “SuperNoVa” Kim, a Code S ranked Terran from Old Generations.
(Photo source: ESL)
The Zerg’s victory showcased one of the hottest trends in the new year of e-sports: the invasion of the west. More and more Korean players are joining western teams and competing in western tournaments, and viOLet took that trend to the extreme, moving to Texas to pursue his pro gaming career. Despite a weaker practice environment than that enjoyed by his brethren, viOLet has made it work by maintaining his discipline to practice, participating in more online cups and tournaments than anyone while ranking highly in every regional ladder in the world.
He’s an interesting player with a unique low-economy style, and he’s made an endearing effort to ingratiate himself with western fans by learning English and not being afraid to be awkward using it. For American fans, he also represents a little hope - yes, someone can live and practice here and still win tournaments.
ASUS RoG Assembly Winter 2012
Late February treated us to a double feature: Assembly Winter 2012, in Finland, and the MLG Winter Arena based in New York City on the same weekend. Assembly saw the French Zerg Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri blitz through some tough Korean competition, including Evil Geniuses Terran Ho-Joon “PuMa” Lee to reach the finals. His road, though, paled in comparison to the one walked by Sung-Hoon “Polt” Choi.
The Korean Terran and GSL Super Tournament champion secured his second major live tournament victory by running a gauntlet, taking down Young-Suh “TaeJa” Yoon, Hyeon-Deok “HerO” Song, and In-Soo “Lucky” Lee, three Code S level Korean players, before surviving Stephano’s onslaught in the finals.
Polt has always been one of my favorite players thanks to his impeccable micro, well-planned builds, and amazing knack for knowing when to be aggressive. His GSL Super Tournament victory over fan favorite Sung-Won “MMA” Moon did not win him many fans despite his clinical destruction of his foe, but his Assembly win is finally giving him some of the attention he deserves in the west and abroad.
GSL reserves two invite spots for Code S each season, and Polt received one thanks in part to his performance at Assembly despite dropping out of Code S this past season.
MLG Winter Arena -
Major League Gaming’s first foray into a Pay-Per-View revenue model was met with controversy after the initial announcement that the league would be charging $20 for live viewing rights to their latest tournament. Whether this is a required step forward for e-sports, a desperate attempt by a struggling company to make a dime, or a good business decision (or maybe all three), it’s clear that it worked. People paid up, and MLG had a product worth paying for, even if $20 may have been a tad too steep.
Part of the reason why it was worth it was a bracket littered with many of the best players from around the world, chock full of rivalries, the thrill of victory, and the tragedy of defeat.
There were upsets, as three-time GSL champion Jong-Hyeon “MVP” Jeong fell to Team Liquid Zerg Jos “Ret” de Kroon and SlayerS Terran Dong-Ju “GanZi” Kim.
The ever-controversial and always exciting Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi had a tournament for the ages, defeating perhaps the three best Zerg players in the world, starting with his nemesis Jae-Duck “NesTea” Lim. The last time these two players met, NaNiwa ended up exiled from the GSL due to probe rushing to throw a meaningless match. Before that, NaNiwa thrashed the Korean Zerg in the MLG Global Invitational at Providence after some chirping between the two.
In New York, NaNiwa would again have his way with his rival. He trounced NesTea 2-1 and then proceeded to secure some much needed revenge, taking out the man who beat him in the MLG Providence finals, Dong-Nyung “Leenock” Lee. Despite losing his third bout against Winter Arena finalist Soo-Ho “DongRaeGu” Park, NaNiwa proved he’s still one of the best in the world, and GSL recognized that: they invited him to participate in the next season of Code S.
(Photo source: Team Liquid)
The saga of NaNiwa is always a thrilling tale, but the finals of Winter Arena were just as engaging. DongRaeGu, largely regarded as the best Zerg and possibly best player in the world at the moment, found himself battling a familiar foe: Jung-Hoon “MarineKing” Lee, a Terran player from Prime. His marine-heavy play and penchant for wearing his emotions on his sleeve won him a fanbase over a year ago when he charged to a second place finish in the GSL Open Season 2, but that’s where his legend stopped: second place.
With three GSL 2nd place finishes in major GSL events, and even a 2nd place in his one season of Code A to boot, MarineKing had earned the dubious title of the world’s best loser. In January, MarineKing fell to DongRaeGu in the GSL Arena of Legends King of Kongs tournament, an event pitting all of 2010’s runner-ups against each other. But in New York City, it’d finally be MarineKing’s time. DongRaeGu would take a 2-1 lead in the finals, but the Terran showed off a number of creative two-barracks rushes backed by intelligent and superb micro, winning him his first major title and $10,000.
The usually emotional MarineKing didn’t get caught in the moment, like you might expect, because he didn’t realize it had happened. He thought he still needed to win another game. Oops.
GSL 2012 Season 1: Code S Championship
DongRaeGu wasn’t too worried about his failure at MLG, since it only took him one week to pick up a major championship of his own. In 2012, the Zerg from compLexity.MVP has built a reputation as the world’s best player, and he earned that distinction with results by besting his best friend and teammate, Min-Soo “Genius” Jung, 4-2 in the finals of the biggest tournament in the world.
The match itself was a dizzying display of high level play and certainly worth a watch, if you have a GSL ticket. Genius’ alias is very apt, but DongRaeGu is simply dominant in all phases of the game. Few players can combine his ability to multitask with his mind for the strategic game and his micro. With his win, DRG claimed a check worth over $44,000. You can read a full recap of the match here.
And now for something that’s not StarCraft!
In a bit of a cheap plug, I want to mention the ESports Entertainment Assocation Season 11 playoffs that happened last week, over the same weekend as the GSL. I’ve always been a first person shooter fan first, and I competed in the Team Fortress 2 portion of the tournament (my team, The Experiment, placed 3rd).
ESEA is practically the only thing keeping PC FPS e-sports alive in North America right now, hosting competitions for classic games like Counter-Strike 1.6, Counter-Strike: Source, and Team Fortress 2. The tournament itself was a success, with an exciting come-from-behind win in the TF2 final as Classic Mixup dethroned defending champions Quantic Legacy. Mixup won two best-of-threes, the first one in the final map battling back from a 1-4 deficit, one round away from losing the tournament.
Perhaps the bigger news surrounding ESEA is regarding the future - Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The new beta push by Hidden Path has more people playing, and the game is much improved from the early version I tried a couple months ago. ESEA has already announced a league for the game, with $5,000 in prizes, and their pickup game system is already running for the new title, complete with statistics and all the other goodies they usually offer.
IEM Season 6 World Championships in Hanover, Germany
This was the big kahuna - the conclusion of the ESL Intel Extreme Masters’ sixth season and the premiere western e-sports tournament of the year thus far.
(Photo source: ESL)
The victors numbered some familiar faces from the annals of this column.
Min-Chul “MC” Jang faced Ho-Joon “PuMa” Lee in yet another major tournament final, adding another chapter in a battle between friends and rivals.
ESC Gaming, the Polish Counter-Strike team, made their case to be the best team in history by winning what might be CS 1.16’s last hurrah.
Moscow Five showed that their surprising and unorthodox League of Legends victory at IEM Kiev was not a fluke, winning over many of the American teams that were skeptical of their play, by force.
Dota 2: The Defense wraps up, Na’Vi wins (again)
Over the last few months multiple tournaments have been wrapping up in Dota 2, most notably The Defense run by joinDota and The Premier League run by DotA Commentaries. What do they have in common with The International? Na'Vi took the top prize in all three against stiff competition, not that it bothered Na'Vi - their wins were often stylish and impressive as they breezed past their opponents. It would take the Danish boys from Quantic to pose the first serious threat to Na'Vi's domination of the Dota 2 scene in a stunning grand finals for The Defense.
Na'Vi entered the grand finals from the winner's bracket after a quick dismantling of EG 2-0, giving them a one game advantage in a best of five against Quantic, who also defeated EG 2-0 and relegated EG to third place. Even with Quantic's 2-0 win over EG all indications pointed to a stomp by Na'Vi, and you'd be forgiven for only scheduling an hour and a half to watch the grand finals.
What happened was a nail biter as Quantic took the first game, then the second and made the reigning champions look...vulnerable. It would take brilliant play by Na'Vi to come back and win the next two games, securing the grand finals of The Defense 3-2 and defending the throne against would-be kings Quantic. It's only the first challenge of 2012 for Na'Vi, however, as the squads from Quantic, EG and Complexity look to be in top shape and hungry for a shot at the throne...