It was exactly what professional StarCraft 2 needed after a tumultuous week: a championship-deciding seven game series between the sport’s most successful player and a brilliant newcomer. Each player stared annihilation in the face, and each player had to battle his way back into the series. No matter who won, history would be made. A win for Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun would give him his fifth Global StarCraft 2 League title, a feat unlikely to be repeated any time soon. On the other side, Lee “Life” Seung Hyun had a chance to walk the Royal Road to its end, becoming the first GSL champion to claim the distinction by winning on his very first appearance in Code S.
More than just a compelling narrative, however, the GSL finals were also a fascinating guessing game between two masters of their respective races. Life had fought his way to the finals with a deadly, aggressive style that relied heavily on zerglings and banelings to pressure his opponents almost from the start of each game. No Terrans had found an answer for it. But Mvp had more than a week to prepare for the match, and he’d identified the weakness in Life’s openings. His reliance on roving bands of cheap units made him vulnerable to Hellions, particularly a ten minute blue-flame Hellion timing.
Easier said than done, however. The first game, on Cloud Kingdom, opened perfectly for Mvp. He hit his timing and devastated Life’s worker count, slaughtering 20 drones in the first attack. It was a heavy blow to Life’s early game, but Mvp’s successive Hellion attacks fizzled and Life was able to survive long enough to make a successful Infestor / Brood Lord transition. Meanwhile, Mvp’s Hellion opening had led him into a mech build of Thors, Siege Tanks, and Vikings. Mvp staked everything on a huge slugging match, but he did not have the air power to clear the sky of Life’s Corruptors and Brood Lords, and by the time he realized the math was against him, it was too late to escape. He lost his whole army in the exchange and while he held on for a few more minutes, he was never again in the game.
Game 2 was even less successful for Mvp, in some ways. He never made a timing attack, and 13 minutes into the match, Life’s harassment was backing Mvp into a corner. Mvp knew what was coming, and waited for the inevitable Infestor / Corruptor / Brood Lord “death ball” with a ton of Vikings. It was a remarkable moment, Mvp demonstrating his patience, letting his expansion nearly go down while building up his air force, and then revealing that Life had flown his units into a tremendous semicircle of Vikings. He shot down Life’s air units and forced him to fall back, but it proved a momentary setback. Proving the strength of late-game Zerg with a strong economy, Life quickly followed-up with a group of Ultralisks, which mooted Mvp’s air advantage and were strong enough to shrug off blows from his weakened tank force. Game 2 once again went to Life.
At this point, it seemed suicidal that Mvp would continue trying to win games with a mech army. It had failed twice and Life looked like he would coast to four wins unless Mvp tried something different.
Mvp, however, knew the problem wasn’t with his gameplan, but with his timing and exact composition. In Game 3 on Antiga Shipyard, he once again hit a blue-flame Hellion timing early in the match… and this time he laid waste to Life’s natural and main. 29 drones died , and almost all the Hellions managed to escape Life’s Mutalisks. The economic damage, and his failure to extract anything in exchange for it, caused Life to GG.
Mvp finally had his gameplan working. Game 4, on Whirlwind, went even better. The ten minute Hellion attack got 20 drones, and the follow-up attacks got about 20 more. Life sent his Infestors forward in a desperate attempt to use Infested Terrans to thin out Mvp tank force, but all he succeeded in doing was wasting energy. Mvp’s counterattack devastated Life and forced another GG.
Even though the series was now tied, the camera caught Life leaning back in his chair and laughing, totally unfazed. He chatted amiably with his coaches, like nothing at all was amiss, and made ready to get his tournament on track.
He successfully contained the ten minute Hellions, losing only ten workers, and he and Mvp initiated a series of small, bloody exchanges. Zerglings and drones were dropping like flies while Mvp burned through his Hellions to get them. However, Mvp was able to establish a solid defensive line and, as Life shifted around the map trying to find a weak point that would let him wipe out Mvp’s fourth base, Mvp was able to get an attack of his own moving forward against the now-depleted Zerg, and he won his third game in a row.
Life no longer looked calm or happy. He’d gone from a 2-0 lead to being one defeat away from giving up the championship. He engaged in intense discussion with his coaches while preparing for Game 6, trying to find a way to counter Mvp.
In the end, it may have been Mvp himself who gave Life a way back into the tournament. He pushed out too aggressively across Ohana in Game 6, and ended up losing an expansion and a number of Hellions early in the game. Deprived of map control, and without enough Hellions to credibly threaten Life, Mvp was now in a trap similar to the one that killed MarineKing. He couldn’t build up a large enough force to really shift the balance of the game, but he also needed to try and reassert some map control. The results was a series of Zergling surrounds that slowly stripped Mvp of his army, leaving him far too weak to do anything about Life’s game-winning Brood Lords and Infestors.
Everything came down to Game 7 on Daybreak. Once again, Mvp threw Hellions at Life, and once again, Life was ready. But this time, Mvp was more willing to fight rather than simply dive into the mineral line and go for worker kills. His Hellions torched a ton of zerglings and a queen, then managed to pick off a few drones. Life’s attempt to reply with Mutalisks failed as he encountered Mvp’s bunkers. It looked like Mvp’s match to lose.
But Mvp had trouble applying pressure, and Life used that breathing room to put together another Brood Lord / Infestor army. For Mvp’s Terran mech build, there was no corresponding endgame. It seemed, by the end, that Mvp had indeed found Life’s vulnerability to Hellions, but that early-game strategy led the Terran player to a very dangerous place if he did not get out to a commanding lead.
Between the Infestors’ fungal growths, the Brood Lords’ range and ground attack, and Corruptors’ anti-air, it was very hard for Mvp to have the right composition. Here in Game 7, he didn’t find the balance. His army got picked apart toward the middle of the map, and few units even managed to retreat. The balance shifted decisively in Life’s favor, and while Mvp gave everything he had to defend base, desperately holding on the ramp and pulling workers, there was never any real hope he might be able to turn things around. As his last siege tanks exploded, Mvp surrendered and StarTale’s Life became the first Royal Roader in GSL history.