This weekend promised to be a great one (opens in new tab) for StarCraft II fans, and it did not disappoint. On the one hand, MLG Spring Arena 1 wrote another chapter in one the best stories in eSports right now: the incredible rivalry between the world's greatest Terran and Zerg players, MarineKing and DRG. For the third straight MLG tournament, the two cleared the field of pretenders to square off in a seven-game series. Meanwhile, DreamHack EIZO Open played host to one of the feel-good stories of the year, as the unassuming Swedish Terran ThorZaIN (Marcus Eklöf) carved his way through a crowded field and far more successful players to take a championship in front of his hometown crowd in Stockholm. The cheering was so loud that windows were probably shaking in Helsinki.
This was also a weekend that really showed how these games and tournaments do not happen in isolation. What made DreamHack and Spring Arena so special is that they were so rich in backstory. ThorZaIN wasn't supposed to make it to the finals. People knew Thorzain, or thought they did. He wasn't a champion. Just a last month he was at the Red Bull LAN in Orlando (opens in new tab) , admitting that he was clueless about timings and couldn't execute drops. He was afraid to leave his base, for crying out loud!
So ThorZaIN's entire run through the brackets had an air of the miraculous, and you could sense it from the crowd as they willed him through the semifinals. And the payoff, in his final series against a fellow Terran, Korean player Polt, was a masterful, dominating performance. After dropping his first game, ThorZaIN proceeded to strangle Polt with ruthless siege tactics, while tormenting him with multiple Medivac drop-raids. By the end, ThorZaIN no longer looked improbable. With Polt boxed in behind a huge arc of Marines and Siege Tanks, ThorZaIN suddenly looked inevitable.
A similar dynamic was at work in New York, where DongRaeGu (Park Soo Ho, Korean Zerg) met MarineKingPrime (Lee Jung Hoon, Korean Terran) once again in an MLG final (check out Rod Breslau's coverage for GameSpot for a good summary of Day 3 (opens in new tab) ). Coming into the weekend, DRG had looked like a man about to enter a downward spiral, his GSL championship suddenly old news after getting cut to pieces (opens in new tab) by MarineKing at the MLG Winter Championship in Columbus. He had already dropped out of GSL Code S competition, meaning his hopes for a title-defense were dashed. He was losing to players he once eliminated without a second-thought. And he had already lost to MarineKing twice in a row. The casters for the event, Tasteless and Artosis, noticed that DRG seemed subdued and uncertain as he headed into bracket play. He looked like he was doubting himself, a far cry from the figure he presented only last month.
Is that true? It's hard to read some of these players, through the filter of a livestream and imperfect translation. There is the ever-present desire on the part of casters, analysts, and writers to fit things into a narrative. To shoehorn people into playing compelling roles: the Villain, the Underdog, the World's Greatest, the Burnout. The players themselves sometimes awkwardly embrace the showmanship that is expected of them, trash-talking each other with a self-consciousness that verges on embarrassment at times. It's easy to read too much into the headline matchups, to lose sight of the fact that these players all know they'll see each other next weekend, or the weekend after, doing battle in another city over another prize pool.(opens in new tab)
At the same time, there are moments when the stakes really are high. How high only became apparent after DRG beat MarineKing (opens in new tab) in their seventh and final game, when he took off his glasses and buried his face in his arms, fighting back tears. Just as MarineKing finally got his first major victory at the Winter Arena earlier this year (opens in new tab) , after a series of traumatic final-round defeats, DRG was able to prove at this Arena that the field hasn't passed him by. That he remains MarineKing's equal, at least. The question of who is best has yet to be answered.
The casters said that DRG slew a legend yesterday. Nonsense. Nothing about the weekend was definitive between the two players: they traded series wins but both came out of the weekend with a 5-5 record against each other. Both are still at the top of professional StarCraft II. If anything, a legend grew yesterday. In a game where the field changes so rapidly, when players rise and fall every season, the MarineKing - DRG rivalry has endured through three consecutive MLG finals. It looks like we'll see this matchup a lot more in 2012, as each player pushes the other to greater heights, and their familiarity inspires new tactics and creativity. They now stand apart from the rest of the field, each now playing against a single opponent.
(Photo credit: Team Liquid.net)