In the final day of competition at the MLG Winter Championship, there was a sense of inevitability to most of the matches. MarineKing (Korean Terran player Lee Jung Hoon) and DongRaeGu (Korean Zerg Park Soo Ho) were on track for a rematch following their duel in the Winter Arena Final. They were dominant in their pools , and few of their competitors looked like they could string together enough solid games to upset either. When DRG and MarineKing met in the winner's bracket final, it was almost a sure bet that they would be meeting again in the Championship Final.
Still, a lot of great StarCraft 2 happened along the way. While DRG and MKP were rarely (if ever) in serious trouble, they faced opponents like Complexity's Heart (Terran Korean Kim Min Hyuk) and Parting (Protoss Korean Won Lee Sak) who were capable of inspired play and last-minute rallies that sometimes made it look like neither MKP nor DRG would make it to the Final.
Heart was nobody's favorite two place well in the Winter Championship. He was the lowest-ranked player in his championship pool, but went 5-0 while upsetting upsetting players like HuK, Violet, Ret, and Socke.
It looked like his run was reaching its end when he lost to DRG in the upper-bracket semi-finals . Rather than curling up and dying, however, Heart went down to the lower-bracket and defeated fellow-Terran Ganzi before soundly beating Canadian Protoss HuK (who had just blanked NaNiwa and eliminated Parting). This brought Heart into another matchup with DRG, who had gone down to the lower-bracket after losing his winner's final to MarineKing.
With his back against the wall, Heart played some of the weekend's best games, and forced DRG to do the same. He got a hard-fought win against DRG, badly lost the next match, and now faced elimination. DRG looked like he had their final game in the bag with an early Zergling rush on Antiga Shipyard that left Heart teetering. But somehow Heart retook the center, then started tormenting DRG with a now-familiar pattern of raids and drops. Finally, Heart launched a full-on assault that started to demolish DRG's expansions. DRG, on the cusp of disaster, threw everything he had into a swarm of Brood Lords. In a last-ditch attack, they charged into Heart's center behind waves of cheaper units, forcing Heart to recall his army.
The ensuing battle slowly ground both armies to dust, but the Brood Lords stayed alive, and Heart had nothing that could answer them. Despite having no more harvesting and only the ruins of a few bases, DRG forced a GG from Heart with the very last units he could field.
Their series showed why DRG has a strong case for being the best StarCraft 2 player in the world. He does not get rattled, and he always has more weapons to fall back on. When macro is failing him, his micro is as deadly as anyone's. When he loses a match, he has a plan to win the next one. When things turn against him, he finds a way to steal the initiative from his opponent. That said, Heart nearly won two of the games he lost to DRG, and he beat everyone else he played. He will be one to watch at the next tournament.
Another King in Ohio
If DRG was great at the Winter Championship, MarineKing was near-perfect. His upper-bracket match against Parting was never really in doubt, although Parting did beat him in the second game with some of the best Protoss micro of the weekend, fending off a series of MarineKing's attacks with nothing but Psionic Storms. But from Day 1, MarineKing was marked for a title fight.
He also seemed stronger than he did at Arena , and he explained that his skills have improved a lot from playing in the MLG, where he gets a considerably more diverse experience than in practice matches against his teammates. He seemed to be everywhere at once, impossible to pin down in the center of the map but never far from it. He was quick to abandon failing strategies and use them to transition into better ones. He never panicked.
He lost the first match of the Final, tying the extended series at 2-2. But from then on, it was all MKP as he shredded DRG's gameplans with disruptive, perfectly timed raids. Even in the final game on Metalopolis, when DRG pressed him hard by destroying MKP's Engineering Bay, nerfing his beloved Marines, MKP never quite went off the offensive. He maintained constant pressure, eventually provoking a pitched battle at the entrance to DRG's natural expansion. As quickly as DRG could kill off MKP's units, more replaced them, and eventually DRG's Roach line started to break. MarineKing popped the champagne by calling MULEs down into the melee, just as DRG brought it to a close with a GG.
After the match, MarineKing admitted that he approaches DRG differently than other opponents. "DRG is the most firm player I know. So if I just play safe and normal, there is no way I can actually beat him." Hence the relentless aggression that allowed him to dictate each game, even some of the ones he lost.
But more of the Terran players are borrowing from MKP's playbook, with Terrans doing much better in Columbus than they did at the Arena. More players are being exposed to MKP's style of play, even without facing him, and it seems likely that DRG will have some answers for MKP the next time they meet.