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StarCraft II WCS Season 3 Grand Finals: Day 1

The WCS crowd illuminated by blue LEDs watch the huge main stage of StarCraft.

The games have wrapped up here in Poland on the first day of the WCS 2015 Season 3 finals. Going in, home-country crowd-favourite MaNa, great non-Korean hope Lilbow and Brood War old hand ForGG were all looking to make deep runs towards the championship and a last minute qualification for the world finals at Blizzcon. There was also the small matter of fame, glory and prize money from winning the tournament itself. Here’s how it all played out.

Below you’ll find a summary of each match as well as an early recommendation as to whether the series as a whole is worth a watch. If you’ve got a little less time, I’ve picked out the best game from each too.

Zanster vs. GunGFuBanDa

Should you watch this series: The recommended game is a must.

The day began with a ZvP matchup between two players that were dark horses to say the least. Both have spent a lot of time in minor leagues but weren’t expected to get this far into such a stacked global tournament. It kicked off with a video package of an interview conducted with the players in the same room. Zanster rather quickly set himself up as the heel – when asked about GunGFuBanDa’s weaknesses, he said his play skill. He backed it up in Game 1, quickly dispatching the German Protoss with some well-timed attacks into misplaced forces.

The tide turned in Game 2, when some basic aggression countered Zanster’s incredibly greedy opening of expanding to two new bases quickly and delaying offensive units as long as possible. From there GFB was far ahead and every move he made opposed Zanster’s attempts to get back in the game perfectly. Facing down a far larger army including air units he couldn’t even hit, Zanster let it all tie up.

In Game 3 the map proved decisive with the awkward layout of Terraform allowing GFB to use his force’s teleportation abilities to dance across impassable terrain. He exploited a hidden Dark Shrine to use invisible Dark Templars to harass Zanster’s workers, but quick reactions from the Zerg minimised its impact. From there, Zanster pulled ahead despite a hidden base from GFB providing him with the income to fight back. Some incredible defence that made a 100 supply deficit feel like a close game wasn’t enough and GFB eventually fell to the endless swarm.

Game 4 began fairly normally, though Zanster chose to expand in an odd location. A probe ran through his base to a hidden bottom location, placing a Pylon to allow warp-ins from behind. When the attack began, despite Zanster having forgotten about the probe as he admitted in a post-match interview, his incredible reactions paid off again with an almost effortless defence. As with his strategies as a whole, GFB’s cute play wasn’t enough to defeat his opponent and, having been dealt with, Zanster was able to throw wave after wave of the Swarm until a final suicide attack was all the German had left.

Best game:Game 3

A lot of stuff to love in this game and it was by far the closest. GFB’s hidden base meant Zanster wasn’t able to crush him as expected and some incredible harrassment meant that, despite Zanster’s huge lead, the whole game felt close. Just one more Psi Storm towards the end may have turned the final fight and could have lead to a different victor. Definitely worth your time and a premium example of the power of harrassment and micro in the face of a superior enemy.

Winner:Zanster, 3-1


Lilbow vs. Hydra

Should you watch this series:Absolutely.

Very possibly the match to decide the tournament, with whoever wins here definitely favoured over everyone else in the bracket. Hydra was coming in the stronger and showed it in Game 1 when, with both players going for greedy builds, some good scouting let him get the drop on Lilbow’s planned unconventional attack. With a powerful force of Roaches, Corruptors and his namesake, Hydra crushed the initial push with relative ease and rolled all the way to Lilbow’s front door.

In Game 2 Lilbow felt ahead in the early stages, using his Mothership Core to expertly return to base without any casualties on his initial pushes while forcing Hydra to produce units en mass. A massive Zergling runby into his main base looked like it could be deadly but good reactions from the Protoss and well placed forces minimised its impact. After a huge battle that almost no units survived on either side, things looked even until Hydra’s massive production capability suddenly outstripped Lilbow. Stalkers outmatched by a mixed force of powered up Zerglings and Mutalisks, Lilbow GG’d out fairly quickly.

A shot of Lilbow at the start of Game 3 showed him nervous and it was certainly the correct emotion when his greedy build was effectively countered by a quick attack from Hydra that destroyed a Pylon, depowering Lilbow’s precious unit-producing Gateways. What was at that point guaranteed to be a quick end to the series was somehow turned around when the French player took every unit he had and sat between Hydra’s natural and 3rd base. Some good micro and the overwhelming power of forcefields allowed him to hold this position against Hydra’s depleted forces until a critical mass could be warped in and the ramp stormed. Hydra GG’d and some life was returned to the foreign hopes.

In a Game 4 where it was vital for Hydra to prove himself a stubborn wall, Lilbow chose a well-timed push with only Gateway units as his strategy. As he headed out, the Zerg’s seemingly psychic capabilities became obvious as he started research on the perfect counter – burrow-move Roaches – despite still not being sure what was coming. However, good forcefields from Lilbow meant a lot of Drone deaths and a quickly dispatched third base. As his deathball marched forward, Lilbow constructed a forward Robotics Bay to reinforce as fast as possible and pumped out an Observer, realising that all Hydra could have at this point that would worry him is a mass of burrowed, scuttling Roaches. As soon as it appeared many insects met their deaths and Hydra conceded. The score hit 2-2 and the impossible comeback was closer than ever.

One final victory was required. Lilbow chose a risky strategy of abandoning any hope of a third base and going all-in on a drop strategy that would try to secure territory above Hydra’s base, then warp-in more forces and annihilate him. It failed almost immediately, being spotted early and stopped by Hydra. Massively behind, Lilbow went hail mary, building up an army to push or die. A perfectly timed Colossus stopped Zerglings running into his base, who were then killed by good forcefields. Pushing across the map he still seemed out matched, but quick pick offs and taking the right fights allowed him to continue to take the lead. The crowd went wild as Hydra’s army melted and Lilbow, somehow, some way, took the series 3-2.

Best game:Game 3

There have been few games like this in all of StarCraft history. Nobody has ever been quite as dead as Lilbow was mere minutes before this game ended – in his favour. It was the turning point in a series that went from a depressing but unsurprising 3-0 for Korea into a French victory. They will be talking about this series and this game every time Lilbow is behind from now until the heat death of the universe, so you better get clued in.

Winner:Lilbow, 3-2

Semi-Final 1 will be Zanster vs. Lilbow.

I will now never bet against Lilbow for as long as I live. I was at the point of packing up and worrying how I was going to recommend any of his Quarterfinal games when he turned the third stomp around. Good luck Zanster. You’re going to need it.

Starcraft II Allied Commanders

Polt vs. ForGG

Should you watch this series: Probably skippable, a set of stomps.

Game 1 started with Polt grabbing some early advantage with fantastic individual unit control allowing him to fight effectively against ForGG’s identical forces. ForGG then took the upper hand with a large Hellion attack backed up by cloaked Banshees that proved too much for Polt’s small defense force. They traded positions again a few minutes later when Polt’s ‘Bio’ troops – comprised mostly of Marines and Marauders – managed to catch ForGG before his ‘Mech’ – Siege Tanks and other Factory units – was at a critical point. Taking out the third base and pushing into the natural, Polt didn’t deal the killing blow but was ahead as both players moved towards maxed out armies. When the key engagement came, more exceptional micro from Polt allowed him to dodge the main thrust of ForGG’s forces and flank them, taking out the glass cannon tanks before they could bring their power to bear. Polt marched across the map and took the game.

Game 2 went the opposite route, with some great play from ForGG allowing his timing attack with a pair of Hellions and a full Medivac of Marines to be extraordinarily powerful. He expertly micro’d his small group of units to be very cost efficient and managed to deny any counter into his own base. As ForGG flooded in with the follow up of a few tanks, his initial forces still alive and well and taking out production and tech buildings left and right, Polt gave the game up.

ForGG went same again for Game 3, with another one-base strategy that allowed him to do yet another well timed rush with Banshees and Tanks supporting groups of marines. This time Polt was a lot more ready for it, but the power of ForGGs units could not be denied and he managed to dash forward to snipe off the anti-air Vikings and protect his Banshees that could then rain death on Polt’s worker lines and prevent Polt’s own tanks from taking effect. Slowly pushing inevitably into Polt’s base, the killing blow came when the Engineering Bay was destroyed, preventing Polt from creating any more Missile Turrets to find and kill the cloaked Banshees. Polt headed to Game 4 knowing he had to win two or face elimination from the WCS.

Despite his previous losses, Polt once again went for a faster expansion and was punished for it as early as ForGG’s initial scouting attack with a pair of Reapers and a Hellion. Some poor control by Polt meant his initial Marines fell and a series of harassing attacks from every annoying unit in the Terran arsenal meant that once his second base was up and running, Polt didn’t have enough workers to saturate even his main. Taking a good fight in the middle he managed to do a lot of damage, but ForGG was so far ahead that his follow up was unstoppable. A failed drop later and it was all over for Polt.

Best game:Game 1

None of these games were particularly exciting, though watching ForGG’s consistent strategy throughout is interesting. Game 1 was the closest, with moments where both sides seemed to be on top, and it’s a good example of how on a knife edge ForGG’s early advantages balanced the game. Here he does just too little damage to be able to snowball it into total victory and Polt looks unstoppable. How quickly things change.

Winner:ForGG, 3-1

The main stage of the 2014 Proleague tournament.

Petraeus vs. MaNa

Should you watch this series:Predictably, yes.

The main event, as far as the crowd was concerned. After Lilbow proved that the Korean threat was not unbeatable, now it was time to see what the local boy had to show against a Zerg not many knew much about but had shown very strong play in the group stage. MaNa was the underdog as far as the predictions went, but were he to win it wouldn’t be the first upset of the day, or even the biggest.

Game 1 spent a long time with both players scouting and maneuvering very well and posturing around the map. Attacks were rebuffed easily but with few losses for either side. MaNa moved towards a mid-game strategy while Petraeus went for his personal favourite of pushing for an incredibly strong endgame utilising Ultralisks and Zerg’s very powerful casters. MaNa left it too late to engage and by the time he did was outmatched by the incredible power of the maxed Zerg force. He lost half his units before he could recall, so Petraeus rather simply moved across the map to wipe him away.

Game 2 kicked off for MaNa with a quick warp prism and attempted drop, but Petraeus had his first Zerglings in the best possible position to prevent any shenanigans and it was easily deflected. Some great mid-map fights followed, with MaNa barely saving his units with good micro and killing off a lot of the Zerg forces, but the engagements were too far from Petraeus’ base to be turned into an actual advantage. Once his force reached the creep, MaNa found himself outmatched by a Zerg who had exploited all the time he liked to build a huge swarm. His strike was blunted and army surrounded, with only a pair of Immortals surviving via Warp Prism dropship. At that point there was little MaNa could do as Petraeus once again spread across the map and headed for the lategame. A final attack did very well considering how far behind he was but it was too little, too late. Petraeus took a two game lead.

MaNa varied his tactics in Game 3 by placing a Stargate close to his opponent’s base and starting to harass him with a pair of Oracles early on. As the commentator’s said, slowing down Petraeus’ incredible ability to macro and follow his gameplan was MaNa’s only hope of stopping him reaching that unbeatable 200 supply of slimy death. The harass was effective but not crippling as MaNa transitioned to Stalkers and Sentries. A long fight took place moving steadily towards Petraeus’ base as MaNa harnessed the power of Blink to its absolute fullest, sniping off Infestors while his Sentries forcefielded the majority of the Zerg forces away. Follow up Infestors looked like they could cripple the army as there were no Sentries remaining to stop the oncoming wave, but more good play from MaNa and well placed reinforcements let him push into his opponent’s natural and take the game. It was officially not a sweep and the crowd responded with enthusiasm.

MaNa continued his rushing plan in Game 4, this time charging straight for a Templar Archives to start Blink research as soon as possible. Petraeus failed to see the Archives, but did spot the proxy Pylon that was to be used as a staging location, quickly taking it out. Equally, his perfect Overlord positioning meant he saw the initial Stalkers, but backfired when they managed to snipe one and supply block him at a key time. That miniature stumble meant the army of Stalkers outmatched the Roaches built to defend against them and immaculate Blinks from MaNa meant Zerglings were rendered ineffective. A long fight ended with many gooey Zerg corpses and another victory for the crowd favourite, forcing it to a climatic Game 5 for the series and, indeed, the day.

In Game 5 it was a matter of when, not if, MaNa would be pulling out another strange rush strategy to try to slow or stop Petraeus before he could reach his critical moment. It seemed like the initiative had been stolen away when the Zerg expanded to a gold base as the first move of the game. After deflecting his initial Zerglings, MaNa threw down a huge number of Gateways and a proxy Pylon from a probe his opponent hadn’t even managed to see yet. A clever move allowed Petreaus to destroy a different Probe, making him believe he was safe as MaNa massed Zealot after Zealot close to what was supposed to be the Zerg’s natural expansion. Rushing at the right time, with the whole crowd standing up as he marched up Petraeus’ ramp and put down Pylon after Pylon to reinforce, he quickly took the upper hand. A few shaky moments when Spine Crawlers looked like they may scupper the plan were dashed aside by the arrival of the Mothership Core. With that, Petraeus gave the GG, the crowd rushed the stage to loft MaNa into the air and anyone who wasn’t paying attention would have thought the Polish Protoss had won the whole thing.

Best game: Game 3

The closest of MaNa’s victories and the turning point in the series, this wasn’t one about individual impressive games. All of them seemed predictable past the initial few minutes but after two losses, MaNa’s chances did not seem good. Seeing him turn it around with a change in tactics is good, but I’d strongly recommend the full series, up to and including the final game. You’ll never hear a crowd so hype for such a cheesy strategy.

But that was only the quarter-finals.

Semi-Final 2 will be ForGG vs. MaNa

With this crowd? In this place? I think MaNa could take on the Archon Mode of Brood War Flash and current world points leader herO. ForGG, likely the strongest player left in the tournament, will need to pull out all the stops to stop the one we’re already calling The Champion of Kraków

That’s the end of day one of the WCS Season 3 Finals. We’ll be back tomorrow with coverage of the Semi-finals, the Legacy of the Void reveal event and the Grand Finals. I’ll also be hunting down every member of the development team, players and anyone else with a mouth and some knowledge to provide exclusive interviews that will be going live over the next week. With rumours swirling, including a possible “Brood War mode” coming with the expansion, it should be an interesting day to say the least.