A conflict in balance: Playoffs recap + semi-finals preview
» Cinderellas' death: The round of 16
The playoffs of every major tournament are the absolute final test of every players' skills. They turn question marks into exclamation points (or dots) and, sadly for every fan of tournament underdogs , withers down stories that blossomed the earlier days.
LiveZerg, Seiplo, Protosser and Cytoplasm were such Cinderellas that were all spelled off by the evil event favorite witches. To their bad luck, Seiplo and Protosser drew the shortest sticks and got play Koreans in the Ro16, namely Monster and Polt. The Swedish protoss was on his way to write chapter two in his miracle book (first introducing his work at DH Winter '11 grounds), but Monster was just too big an obstacle and he fell 1-2. Protosser, who also had relatively easy path to the Ro16, was beaten hard by Polt 0-2 and packed his bag. No shame, surely, as since when it is unnatural to lose to GSL's Super Champion?
Cytoplasm and LiveZerg - two zergs that were in no one's sight prior to the actual tournament - were cast out by the Sweden's pridest warriors Sjow and Thorzain. Sjow would eventually lose 0-2 to Polt but Thorzain is still to play Socke in the Ro8 and he also is the last hope of the host country to be represented at the semi-finals.
The Ro16 was not a swamp where only previous no-names died, however. Sase fell to Genius, Elfi to Ret, Hyun to Nerchio and Morrow to Socke, stripping the quarter finals of four strong candidates for the top eight finish.
» The conflict in balance: The quarter finals
We are only April but after three very Korean MLGs, similar in feeling Assembly Winter and the almost comical GSL-gone-abroad theme of IPL 4, there came the popular notion that Koreans already won 2012. Not too big a surprise, surely, but seeing them come in such strength and numbers made the foreign scene a little bit anxious to say the least.
Fortunately, DreamHack started as and will end as something entirely different. There were just five Koreans so a six in the top eight affair was already mathematically impossible. After Puma finished last in his Ro32 group and Hyun was destroyed in the Ro16 by Nerchio, only three of them were left - Polt, Genius and Monster. It was good to have the almost forgotten West vs East conflict reminded to us, and in equal proportions to that.
Polt gave the marching pitch for his compatriots and owned up Sjow in a typical, one-sided, GSL-flavored fashion. After all, Polt was a guy that stayed in Code S for seven straight seasons and many of them during the GomTvT era so, yeah, he knows his mirror matches. Sjow was punished for every positional mistake (not really isolated incidents) and he had accept the fact that he will not be the DreamHack champion this time.
In QF #2, Ret met Genius in three-set series in which the Flying Dutchman thinned out the Korean presence with a very dominating macro play. Ret was in the lead in game one but was slapped back to reality after a blink into his unprotected brood lord army brought him down to his knees. Ret's confidence would be even more shaken in game two on Shakuras as even though earning a 100 supply lead by stopping Genius' early push, Ret still had immense troubles making the protoss tap out. Fortunately, by the middle of game three, it became clear that Ret shall not be defeated here and there's a top four place (at least) waiting for him.
A short break was followed by Nerchio meeting his second Korean in a row. After teaching Monster some late-game ZvZ, Nerchio was confident enough to type a jape in the chat channel. Uninformed on how the Korean player took it, the DreamHack audience, both online and offline, then witnessed Monster use lings and banelings to punish the moments of Nerchio's overconfidence. Even though the Polish zerg is very familiar with the following concepts, he will surely wear it as a brand to spine up while tech switching and not drone while under ling/bling pressure.
The last round of eight match had Socke being filleted at the butcher tools of Thorzain. The last remaining Swede showed no mercy to the protoss and marine/maraudered him uncontestedly twice in a row to advance to the semi-finals where Monster would be his opponent.
» Can they do it?: Semi-finals preview
Well, if anyone can in fact do it, it'll be Ret or Thorzain: both Europe-bred, highly skilled players and both with rich history of SC2 excellency to back community's high expectations of them.
Polt, however, hails from a very recent 4-1 Assembly championship against Stephano, who is arguably the best zerg, if not the best player in Europe. Known for his exceptional prowess in ZvT, seeing the French destroyed so easily was an upset of its own. What is Ret bringing to this table: a heavy macro-oriented build that can either go hugely in his favor or backfire to his death. If he wants to make it to the grand final, Ret will have to be an impregnable fortress as it will be not long before Polt's medivacs start raining down on him. And as a final note: remember that this is still a European tournament and if IEM Kiev thought us something it's that Korean terrans are somewhat vulnerable to those 13-minute brood lords.
Thorzain versus Monster is our second semi-final and our Europe-bred terran is building up momentum with each game. He's fighting on home turf. He's the last remaining Swede. He went 6-0 in the Ro32, 2-0 against Cytoplasm and 2-0 against Socke. In fact, in all eighteen games he's played so far, Thorzain had only dropped two maps to Naugrim in the Ro64. He was also the one to give DongRaeGu (yes, the same terran killing machine who is still invulnerable to any eventual a comments about his recent Code S drop-out under this article) a hard time in Valencia. On the other hand, Monster is still a new name to the international scene. In Korea, he has beaten terrans better than Thorzain and lost to terrans worst to Thorzain so there is no proper way to address this match-up in terms of predicting it. However, this is still a "The Last Swede" versus "The "low-tier" Korean" duel so there is no way it can end boringly, isn't there?