If you were to look only at the championship winners who came out of MLG Spring Arena this weekend, you might think there were no real surprises. DongRaeGu winning a StarCraft 2 championship is just something we have come to expect by this point, and Team Solo Mid looked dominant from the beginning of the tournament.
But you probably wouldn't have predicted that DRG would take his StarCraft 2 championship from twelfth-seeded Alicia (Yang Joon Sik, Korean Protoss), who had just swept MarineKing out of the loser's bracket final. Or that Alicia would himself have had to fight his way past SaSe (Kim Hammar, Swedish Protoss) who finished fourth after an incredible run from the open bracket and the loser's bracket. Along the way, SaSe tore through some of the world's best StarCraft 2 players including Violet, Grubby, Leenock, Polt, and a better-than-ever Stephano.
You wouldn't see that Team Solo Mid got their League of Legends title after beating Counter Logic Gaming's North American team in a second consecutive best-of-three final that went late into the night and left players on both teams looking punch-drunk as they stepped out of their booths. Or that CLG NA got to the final with victories over Dynamic and the team that sent them down to the loser's bracket : Team Dignitas.
The top finishers might have been predictable, but both the StarCraft and League of Legends championships played out in a series of thrilling twists. It was the kind of championship Sunday that leaves you counting the days to the next MLG tournament.
If StarCraft 2 brought down the house on the second day of MLG Anaheim, League of Legend's brutal endurance gaming was the star of championship Sunday. Team Solo Mid looked like they were set to cruise into a championship, posting terrifying numbers in every match and running ruthlessly efficient gameplans that steadily ground down their opposition. Their games against CLG looked like they would go the same way, but CLG had a ridiculous ability to pull everything together for the big play.
It was agonizing to watch, because CLG always seemed like they were headed over a cliff. They would make bad exchanges early in the game, and let TSM open big leads in gold while steadily losing towers. But then they would pull out a miracle, using their incredible team-play and fight management to turn games around. Like in the final game of the first series, CLG managed to steal baron from TSM, then swarmed into TSM's base and just about sewed-up the victory before TSM could get back on their feet. Another baron steal in the second game of the second series prevented TSM from getting an easy win, and led to a complete turnaround that forced the issue to a game three.
But eventually there were no more miracles, or at least TSM got tired of giving opportunities for miracles. In the deciding game, they played their usual strong, core game, but got out of any team fights that looked like they were about to get out of hand. CLG was forced to initiate risky team-fights, and this time things just did not come together. CLG took defeats while TSM's players narrowly survived, and the moment half CLG's team was waiting on countdown timers, TSM was in their base laying waste to inhibitors and towers. TSM had timed their moment perfectly, and CLG simply could not bring enough firewpower to bear on TSM before TSM brought down the nexus. When they won their sixth game, after hours of nerve-racking play, TSM stumbled from their booth looking like they hadn't slept in days. Not being able to blink for five hours will do that.
At the start of this season, it seemed like every MLG tournament was just an opening act for a DRG - MarineKing final. It was also starting to look like DRG was in a slump, and that MarineKing in particular was destined to dash DRG's hopes at every MLG.
But at Spring Arena , DRG eked out a victory over MarineKing, and yesterday he demonstrated that he is every bit as formidable as ever. He didn't just beat MarineKing in their winner's bracket final, he dissected him. He had an answer for every single one of MarineKing's favorite tactics, and MarineKing went down 0 - 2.
But the real shock was to come later, when MarineKing lost 0 - 2 to Alicia. Alicia stayed cool in a tense game 1, holding a huge Marine / Medivac army at bay while MarineKing did everything he could to force open one of the ramps in to Alicia's base. Meanwhile he transitioned to the Colissi, Archons, and High Templars that would finally overpower MarineKing. MarineKing refused to back away from the fight until it was too late, and it cost him his third expansion and ultimately the game.
Game 2 was even more uncomfortable for MarineKing, as Alicia got inside his head and was always just a few seconds ahead of whatever MarineKing was planning. As he desperately tried to rescue his economy, a single Dark Templar stymied every one of MKP's attempts to land a command center on a desperately needed expansion. When MarineKing attempted to seize the initiative with an attack, Alicia was already moving his own army into MKP's suddenly undefended expansion. At the end MarineKing's homeless army got the Butch and Sundance treatment in Alicia's expansion.
But Alicia seemed unready for the pressure of a final on the main stage of MLG. He was clearly rattled in his first game against DRG, and while he won the second match with a crushing flank attack with some Colossi and Stalkers, the next two went to DRG without too much difficulty. While there were some good battles in each game, and Alicia managed his units well, he never managed to throw off DRG's gameplans the way he had MarineKing.
But the Summer season is only a month away , and it's already clear that things are changing. DRG and MKP are no longer as unreachable as they were at the end of the Winter season, and the "foreign hopes" continue to take higher and higher finishing positions in MLG tournaments. Alicia, like SaSe, Stephano, Grubby, and Puma, will soon have another chance to dethrone a newly-crowned king.
(Photo courtesy of MLG)