Welcome to my fourth Weekly Recall, a recap of all the major events in StarCraft over the past week. What better way to celebrate one month than with an Intel Extreme Masters World Championship special recap.
Intel Extreme Masters XI – World Championship
Because there’s so much to cover, we’re going to be changing up the format a bit this week. The priority here is getting you to the good stuff.
Group Stage Highlight
Han “aLive” Lee Seok, Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, Koh “GuMiho” Byung Jae, Jun “TY” Tae Yang, Joona “Serral” Sotala, Park “Dark” Ryung Woo, “ByuN” Hyun Woo, Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob
With the exception of Dark vs Serral, the IEM Quarters was a street fight for a sport in the next round.
To comment on Dark vs Serral, Dark at the moment seems to be near unbeatable in ZvZ. He delivered Kang “Solar” Min Soo a 3-0 defeat one round earlier. Solar, notably defeated Dark 4-3 in the finals of the last SSL. It seems since then, Dark has focused on refining his ZvZ to the frightening point he is now at.
The final score of the TvT’s speaks for themselves. Both Gumiho vs TY and aLive vs INnoVation went the distance. Of the two, however, aLive vs Inno was the show to see. Whereas Gumiho vs TY played out as a cerebral game of chess. There was a very savage form of strategy being played between aLive and Inno. To the very end, neither player would budge. This was a pattern defined from the very first game, as INnoVation brought the game to an almost deadlock for several minutes after having his economy entirely wiped out.
ByuN vs Stats
Despite the final scoreline, ByuN vs Stats was arguably the best match of the day. Despite ending 3-1 for Stats, in a round with two full best of 5’s, at no point in this series was any player in clear control. Most of the games were won through almost unthinkable comebacks. Game 2 in particular featured both players trading commanding leads before the end.
Even aside from the incomparable ferocity of their competition, there is a fierce rivalry story building between both players. ByuN, the current World Champion, was the one to eliminate Stats in the Semifinals of the WCS Global Finals in November. They faced again in the Round of 32 at GSL 2017, Season 1, where Stats defeated ByuN 2-1 in the Group G Winner’s Match. Every time these two face is always a spectacle, and the ferocity of competition in their games continues to escalate.
aLive vs TY
A back and forth series if there ever was one. aLive and TY spent the first few games swapping roles of aggressor and defender. The first game on Newkirk had TY taking complete control of the game from the get-go through repeated harassment. One game later on Proxima, aLive dismantled TY in the same way, pinning TY into his base, unable to respond in any meaningful way.
Cactus Valley was the first game that showed a clear battle for control. aLive opened with Cyclone harassment, TY returning in kind with his Helions. By midgame TY had taken map control. After taking a favorable engagement on the open map, he sieged the base of aLive, forcing evacuation of his third and pinning him to his natural. Establishing a clear economic advantage, TY had Cactus Valley won. However, an eager attempt to end the game early resulted in a massive mis-positioning that left his third completely exposed. This allowed aLive to counterattack, forcing TY out of the game in one swift, decisive strike.
With his back against the wall, TY came into Honor Grounds determined to make a case. Similar to Game 1, TY pinned aLive down with harassment. While never establishing control, aLive did manage a valiant fight, finding retaliatory damage where others would have folded. Ultimately, he had no economy, and was eventually overwhelmed in one crushing engagement.
This brought us to Game 5 on Abyssal Reef. For such a scrappy series, this match could not have ended in a better way. This was a non-stop skirmish, start to finish, with both players clawing at the others base in a constant struggle to return economic damage. aLive started the game with an early push into TY’s third, forcing him to evacuate the Command Center back to his main. TY responded with a drop into aLive’s natural, while sieging a pair of tanks across the gap, completely decimating aLive’s worker count. He would then double around to aLive’s third, forcing lift-off and taking a massive economic lead.
Not even a minute later, aLive would make a retaliatory attack with Ravens into TY’s natural and landing Vikings into his main, managing to pick off at least 20 workers in the attack, leveling the game from a harsh disadvantage. Unfortunately, perhaps the most critical moment of this game happened off-screen around this time. As aLive made his retaliation attack, TY managed a drop into aLive’s base to finish off the third Orbital Command he bruised minutes prior. aLive continued to siege at TY’s base for several minutes, leveling himself economically and taking an upgrade advantage. When TY eventually did stabilize his base, the fact that he still had an Orbital Command to move to his third put him at an economic advantage from that point forward.
An advantage TY would further secure with a drop into aLive’s base, denying aLive the breathing room to rebuild a third. Unable to keep up with TY economically, aLive would eventually have his army wiped out in a retaliation attempt shortly after, ending the game and advancing to the Finals 3-2.
Dark vs Stats
Games 1 and 2 of Dark vs Stats were among the best of IEM. Proxima Station is a map with a secure pocket expansion and a tight choke point on its third. This makes it ideal for defensive strategies. With Zerg currently struggling against late-game Skytoss, Carriers are a natural choice on Proxima. While Stats dictated the pace of the game through constant harassment, Dark’s vigilant creep spread. It let him slowly march a blockade of Spore Crawlers deep into Stats’ territory and allowing Dark to push the burden of engagement onto Stats.
The need to stop Dark’s creep spread forced Stats’ eventual misstep, which Dark capitalized on without hesitation, Abducting Stats’ Carriers with his Vipers and running through the ground army with Ultralisks.
The Marathon Event
The second game on Newkirk may have been one of the scrappiest PvZs in StarCraft history. A marathon game with almost non-stop aggression on both sides. Multiple times, Dark looked just on the edge of breaking Stats, only to be pushed back. At one point, he even leveled Stats’ main base and all the air tech, only for Stats to survive by buying time through counter-aggression.
Stats’ resilient defense put Dark into a situation where he was forced to move into Stats’ side of the map. Having nearly completely mined out his side of field, Dark invaded to steal one of Stats’ last remaining bases. Stats responded by decimating Dark’s side of the map and boxing Dark into one expansion. Eventually taking the fight right to Dark, even after blanketing his army with repeated PsiStorms, the final engagement ended up being too close to call. Not until the final units were left standing did it become clear that Stats had just won the game.
Dark’s position on the map ended up being the pivotal factor. After trading out his army, Stats was able to Warp-In a reinforcement of Stalkers at the nearby WarpGates right outside of Dark’s base.
From this point forward, Dark seemed completely unwilling to play a late game, opting for early all-ins and timing attacks. Stats’ resilient defense would prove too much for Dark, however, allowing Stats to close the series, advancing to the finals 3-1.
Without question one of the closest finales in the history of StarCraft 2. This match could have been a best of 11 and I would put the odds on the series going to the final map.
If you ever wanted a guidebook on defensive PvT, this game is it. Stats took control of Newkirk from the get-go just through his airtight defensive play. TY played an aggressive game, attempting to find economic damage. His attempts at harassment were consistently deflected on multiple fronts though. From here, Stats just played the game by the book. Returning harassment damage but never compromising his defensive positioning as he teched up into splash damage.
After crippling another aggressive push by TY with a single Purification Nova, Stats would safely push out after playing a highly cost efficient game, eventually overwhelming TY with relative ease.
Proxima, on the other hand, could not have gone more differently. TY opened the game with a widow mine proxy can, getting in massive economic damage in the early game as Stats failed to accomplish much with his own Oracle. TY’s harassment game was much more on point in Game 2 compared to Newkirk.
This economic lead TY took in the early game would pay dividends in the late game, allowing him to hit a window of vulnerability for Stats as he attempted to tech into High Templars. TY hard engaged into Stats just before PsiStorm could complete, ending Game 2 in dominant fashion.
This took us to Abyssal Reef. If you’ve been following, you already know this is going to be amazing. This one, beautiful map put out one amazing game after the next for all of IEM; and this may have been the best in show. TY took early control of this game, dealing near crippling damage, taking out Stats’ third. Within minutes, Stats would retaliate with an Adept drop, closing the economic gap. Able to stabilize just a bit, Stats teched into a Templar Archives almost immediately, clearly not wanting a repeat of Proxima.
This would end up paying off, as Psionic Storm would complete as TY attempted an engagement. Several PsiStorms would cripple TY’s army, letting Stats take the fight and forcing a retreat, putting himself in a favorable position.
Unable to take Stats in a head-on engage, TY split his forces up, resorting to multi-prong harassment. Several defensive PsiStorms would prevent TY from getting any real economic damage, but kept Stats at bay. Unable to mount a full on attack into TY’s base without leaving himself exposed to harassment, Stats attempted to transition once again into Thermal Lance Colossi and Tempests.
With Colossi on the field, Stats made another attempt at sieging TY’s base. Expertly taking advantage of the general low mobility of Stats’ comp, TY outmaneuvered him, making a beeline to his base. This baited Stats into splitting his army in an unfavorable position, allowing TY to get a surround. With Stats’ army split up and superior positioning that prevented him from even retreating, TY easily took the engagement, ending the game.
Paladino Terminal and Bel’shir Vestige
What followed from here were two quick harassment focused games, back to back. On Paladino, Stats quickly overwhelmed TY with a Phoenix, Double Oracle push, ending the game and tying the series once again. On Bel’shir, TY decimated Stats’ economy with Helion harassment, coupled with a Widow Mine drop. TY then quickly followed up, showing us for the first time his Liberator, three Siege Tank push. With his economy in shambles, Stats was unable to mount a defense.
TY returned again with his Helion, Widow Mine harassment. Stats however was much more prepared, deflecting the Helion attack with seemingly little effort and intercepting the Widow Mine drop with a few defensively positioned Stalkers.
From here TY followed up again with his three Tank push, though instead of having his Liberator cover his Siege Tanks, this time he sent his Liberator to harass the mineral line of Stats’ natural. This time, in a much more stable position and without the Liberator complicating matters, Stats easily took the engagement.
With his push stopped, TY returned to drop attempts. At this point however, Stats’ defense was as airtight as in Game 1.
The game entered a deadlock at this point, with both Stats and TY trading failed attempts at economic harassment. TY would eventually find his opening. Again, taking advantage of the low mobility of Stats’ army, TY would make a doom drop into Stats’ base. Stats would lose both forges in this attack and TY would further secure his upgrade advantage.
TY pressed his advantage further by sieging a mass of Liberators over Stats’ fifth base, forcing every probe in the area to evacuate. At this point TY seemed to have a near unbreakable hold. Stats in turn would exploit the lack of mobility of TY’s Liberators to maneuver out of their attack range. Stats would lose all of his Colossi in the attack, but would succeed in wiping out the bulk of TY’s Liberators.
After a short period of trading bases, Stats would eventually corner the rest of TY’s army to end the game and bring the series to Game 7.
This was a short and one-sided game sadly. It was an unfortunate end to one of the closest, most intense finals in StarCraft history. TY again returned with his three Tank, Liberator push, and Stats fumbled the engagement hard. He left only one Stalker to deal with the Liberator, and initially forgot to focus fire his other two Stalkers. By the time Stats attempted to correct this oversight, both TY’s Liberator and Siege Tank had gotten in several seconds of near uncontested damage, nearly wiping out Stats’ ground army by the time the Liberator went down.
TY closed the series 4-3, becoming the IEM Katowice Champion.
Featured images courtesy ESL.
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