Yesterday's games at the MLG Spring Championship comprised probably the best single day of eSports I've seen. The afternoon was full of some incredibly tight League of Legends matches and a lot of exciting StarCraft 2 pool and open bracket play, and the evening featured an increidble 3-game series between MarineKing and Stephano that saw one of the most perfect plays you could ever hope to see, and a miraculous comeback victory to close out the series.
It was a perfect end to the day's StarCraft 2 matches, which featured some great play from players like Puma, SaSe, Alive, and many, many others. Perhaps it's just me, but this weekend's StarCraft 2 has seemed more competitive than usual. We have a number of foreign players highly placed in the championship bracket, and some less familiar faces alongside them. Polt is going up against Alive, and perennial contender MC is squaring off against Monster (Tak Hyun Seung, Korean Zerg) who battled into the championship bracket from a very low placement in the open bracket, knocking out Huk (Chris Loranger, Canadian Protoss) along the way.
But if there was any match that stood out on Saturday, it was the battle between Stephano (Ilyes Satouri, French Zerg) and MarineKing (Lee Jung Hoon, Korean Terran). After losing to MKP in game 1, Stephano picked notoriously Zerg-hostile map Entombed Valley for the second game. MKP achieved a huge wall-off in front of his natural using a line of barracks. This also gave Stephano center map control and deprived MKP of a lot of his scouting, but MKP still managed to get a momentary advantage by baiting Stephano into with four Hellions. Stephano's forces got a bloody nose and swiftly pulled back, and for a moment it looked like MKP had found the advantage that would let him roll-up the map.
Then Stephano unleashed a huge fungal attack that crippled MarineKing's entire army just as Stephano turned around and attacked. As the crowd in Anaheim went crazy, Stephano destroyed MKP's army and plans and kept up the pressure until MKP let himself be caught out of position, which cost him his second army and the game.
Game 3, however, was simply unreal. MarineKing's attempt at getting early pressure with Marines was derailed by a Roach push from Stephano, and for a moment MKP looked like he was about to lose his natural expansion in the first eight minutes. He fended it off, then charged out with more Marines and Medivacs. The attack went poorly, however, and left MKP's troops out of position as Stephano hammered his natural. MKP looked like he was seconds away from conceding, fending off the attack but too late to save any of his workers. With his economy in shambles and Stephano in control of half the map, MKP's cause looked hopeless.
But with nothing to rely on but a horde of Medivacs and a slowly growing mob of Marines, MKP was back in his element. He quickly started pushing back in to the center of the map and won a series of exchanges against Stephano. Then both players went at each other's bases, but MKP was in a better position and ripped down Stephano's third while lifting his own base to save it from Stephano's army. Then Stephano's natural fell, and MKP stormed up the ramp. Stephano had secreted Banelings there, and unburrowed and detonated them right underneath MKP's infantry. But it was just slightly too late, and MKP survived with enough infantry to begin dismantling Stephano's main. Stephano GG'd while the crowd went berserk and MKP seemed in a state of shock inside his booth.
It was everything you could have wanted from a match-up between the weekend's top players , and set up the traditional ending to an MLG winner's bracket : a battle between DongRaeGu and MarineKing. Don't count Stephano out, however: he is only three series from getting back to the MLG Spring StarCraft 2 final.
After that, StarCraft 2 continued with the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) exhibition match, which featured Korea's top Brood War players beginning their transition to StarCraft 2. While it was an exciting moment in the history of StarCraft, it was undoubtedly an exhibition match featuring guys who don't really play StarCraft 2. Korean Zerg Jaedong (Lee Jae Dong, sensibly enough) made a foray into postmodernism with a Queen-Infestor rush that was so bizarre and unforgettable that he briefly started trending worldwide on Twitter.
League of Legends had some great games in Round 3 of the winner's bracket, particularly the long, closely fought duels between TSM.Evo and Fnatic, and Solo Mid and CLG.EU. Both series went to game three, and hinged on very slight differences in timing and some crucial lapses. The TSM-CLG.EU match is particularly worth watching for CLG Froggen's (Henrik Hanssen, Danish AP Carry) amazing play.
The evening's games seemed a little less interesting. In Round 4, it was a bit clearer who the best teams were and neither Solo Mid nor Dignitas really seemed to have much trouble securing their slots in the winner's bracket final. While the night's loser's can fight their way through the loser's bracket to return in the final, these final round of League of Legends show the slightly more polarized LoL competitive field. There are championship teams and there are good teams, and it does not seem like many teams fall in-between.
The upshot is that both StarCraft 2 and LoL fans have a lot to look forward to as play resumes today. Things start off with CLG NA against CLG EU and Fnatic against Dynamic (happening right now). Then, at 2:30 Eastern, Solo Mid faces Dignitas in the winner's final. The Final begins at 6:30 Eastern.
StarCraft 2 resumes at 1 P.M. Eastern with play in the loser's brackets. I'm particularly excited to watch Sase vs. Grubby and Alive vs. Polt. But whatever happens in the lower bracket, you can't miss the DRG-MarineKing rematch at 3 P.M. The Championship Final will take place at 8 P.M.
If you haven't yet, you can still buy the HD pass for today's games for $10.