Sometimes StarCraft is a beautiful game of elegant balance and mechanical perfection, as great players apply all their expertise and skill to play StarCraft as it is meant to be played. This week's DreamHack Legacy of the Void championship, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, is not likely to be one of those times.
It's the first chance for a lot of western StarCraft fans to see how the pros are adapting to the new version of StarCraft II, but it's also going to be one of the first real tests a lot of those pro players will have faced in this thoroughly-revamped edition of StarCraft. With major changes to the economy that have tossed-out years' worth of established openings, and a raft of new and rebalanced units, this is a version of StarCraft that few people really know how to play yet.
As the overwhelmingly European field attempts to learn on the job, there are a few trends to watch for at this DreamHack, and a few big plays we hope to see.
Last weekend, Snute won a Legacy of the Void tournament in Shanghai by… mostly refusing to play Legacy of the Void.
That might be a little harsh, but there's not denying that he was richly rewarded for playing very conservative, aggressive early-game strategies that ended games before any mid or late-game units could be deployed. The fact that games start with so many more workers lets players get armies on to the map faster, and both Snute and his fellow Zerg finalist were mostly winning games with Zerglings and Roaches. When the chips are down, look for Zerg players to stick to the kind of StarCraft they're most familiar with rather than risking longer games that involve armies they don't fully understand yet.
The salad-days of the Terran Siege Tank drop, when a couple of Medivacs and Siege Tanks could play cat-and-mouse with enemy workers with impunity, have passed. The Siege Tanks now have to take a moment to collect themselves before they can open fire after the undergoing the strain of a siege drop, but that still makes them a more effective harasser than they've been before, and and it's going to be harder to keep workers safe in Legacy of the Void.
But the Protoss have gotten a similar kind of unit in the form of the Disruptor. At the Shanghai tournament last weekend, France's Lilbow picked Jaedong apart thanks in part to Disruptor drops that proved very difficult to shut down. Like the Siege Tank, the Disruptor takes a moment to get set, but it also punishes anyone who bunches up with a massive area-of-effect blast. Just the kind of thing that makes pulling workers or sending in Zerglings a suicide mission. A few good shots from either a Distruptor or a Siege Tank can swing a game, so look for a lot of aggressive drop play featuring these guys.
Wings of Liber...ation?
There's a lot talk that the Terran Liberator is overpowered at the moment, despite earlier efforts to nerf it during the beta. It is a pretty nasty Swiss Army knife of a unit: it can harass workers, it can swat large groups of enemy air units out of the sky, and it can provide a bulwark of support fire around Terran ground armies.
However, the Terrans competing at DreamHack are few in number and even the best among them have posted inconsistent results over the last year. If the Liberator is as broken as its critics claim, Terrans like Bomber and Bunny should manage some big upsets against their Protoss and Zerg rivals thanks to the many roles the Liberator can fill. But is the Liberator to jack-of-all-trades to have a big impact in a pro tournament right now?
The lategame mystery
Legacy of the Void lends itself to early knock-out punches. Thanks to the quicker start, you can have a decent army on the field just a few minutes into a match, and you can hit higher tech-tiers very quickly. So far, we've seen a lot of players stick to early-game units, and players who aim for longer games getting punished.
But there are some intriguing possibilities open to players who want to tech-up quickly. The Battlecruiser has a teleportation ability that means a fleet of the beefy bastards can appear anywhere at anytime and start mowing down anyone trapped beneath them. Protoss Carriers can launch fighters and leave them behind, which means that Carriers don't need to stay in harm's way to be effective. A handful of Zerg Lurkers can tear through a lot of ground armies like a threshing machine.
I'm hoping for battles that look like something straight out of a StarCraft cutscene: Carriers and Battlecruisers duking it out alongside Tempests and Thors, Lurkers and Ravagers causing entire armies to vanish in the blink of an eye. But the fact is, we don't really know how the late game is going to work at the highest level. This weekend, though, someone is going to figure out how to get beyond the kind of "old army, new timing" approach we've seen with Legacy of the Void tournaments so far, and give us our first glimpse of what a new era of StarCraft is going to look like.
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