Week #102 of the ESL Opens saw Solar win the Korean cup, MaxPax triumph in Europe, while ByuN came out on top in the Americas. This had some minor impact on the pre-Katowice standings, as ByuN was able to grab 12 points for his performance. Speaking of Katowice…
The last dash for EPT points: The handful of EPT points available in the weekly cups are becoming more and more valuable as the season comes to a close, with cup #105 seeming to be the last edition to award points this season.
ByuN (#15, 703 points) is qualified for the Katowice play-in stage, but has a small chance of overtaking DongRaeGu (#14, 716 points) to earn a group stage seed with a series of great cup performances (he would also need DRG and RagnaroK to flop at DHM: Last Chance). [Correction: This scenario doesn’t appear to be possible.]
Meanwhile, in Europe, Lambo’s (#6, 738 points) excellent finals run in NeXT Season 2 (beating Zoun and Dark to reach the finals) has placed he and ShoWTimE (#7, 733 points) in a neck and neck battle for the #6 seed in Europe, with the #6 seed qualifying directly for the group stages at Katowice. With just five points separating the two players, and neither of them qualified for DHM Last Chance, every last point from these remaining EPT Cups is invaluable.
There is also a wildcard group stage seed that goes to the player with the most combined EPT points who did not qualify ‘normally’ out of their region. Given the various Korean forfeitures due to military service, this slot seems likely to be contested between Lambo, ShowTimE, DongRaeGu, RagnaroK, or ByuN. There’s no guarantee that RagnaroK or DongRaeGu will earn any more points at DHM: Last Chance, so it’s imperative for everyone to earn as many points as possible in the Open Cups. This week, ByuN was the only player to make any progress by gaining 12 points.
KR cup: Despite the aforementioned battle for a RO24 spot at Katowice, DongRaeGu did not choose to participate in the Korean Cup. Also, Dark seemed to lose interest as well after failing to win his fourth KR cup in a row last week. That still left Armani, ByuL, and Solar to fight for Zerg, while ByuN, Cure, and Percival carried the Terran banner. Cup regulars Cyan, herO, MacSed, Nice, NightMare, TriGGer and Zest among others represented Protoss.
Without Dark, the bracket looked a lot more friendly than in the recent KR cups. Top seed Cure managed to beat NightMare in the first round, but surprisingly dropped a map against the far lower ranked Protoss. This crack in Cure’s TvP armor turned into a full-on break against herO, who defeated Cure 2-0. That was just one big victory in a great PvT run from herO, as he also defeated Percival (2-0) and later defeated ByuN (3-2) in the semifinals.
Solar came out of the bottom side of the bracket, defeating ByuL (2-1), Cyan (2-0), and Armani (3-0) along the way. Armani had a solid PvZ run before running into Solar, defeating both MacSed (2-0) and Zest (2-1), but couldn’t dent the KZ Zerg in the semifinals.
To start off the finals, herO tried to take advantage of Pride of Altaris by taking the gold base as his first expansion, prompting Solar to all-in off 2 bases. Using a lot of lings, some Roaches, and some Ravagers, Solar was able to flood herO’s gold base and break through the sim-city defense. In the second game on 2000 Atmospheres, herO managed to assemble a powerful army of mainly Void Rays, Immortals, and Disruptors. Solar tried to batter herO down with Hydra-Ling-Bane, but never did quite enough damage to stop herO’s army from getting stronger. Eventually, Colossi were added to the Protoss force as well, and a powerful counter-attack from herO put the series at 1-1.
After moving on to Blackburn, Solar went for a standard 3-Hatch opener while his opponent opted for an Adept build with 2 Gates in the middle of the map. Solar scouted it out and made a flood of Zerglings that stopped the offensive before it got out of hand, destroying the proxy gates in the process. herO was thus stuck on 2 bases with very little production, and it looked like Solar might end the game with a Baneling bust. However, the game actually ended up stabilizing with herO taking a third base and teching to double stargate Phoenix. Eventually, he built up a fleet of Carriers and held off the Hydra-based attack of Solar to win the game.
In game four on Hardwire, herO once again went for Stargate play, building a few Void Rays before transitioning to Carriers. Solar tackled the issue differently this time, and used Nyduses to bring some Queens and a lot of Hydras in between his opponent’s second and third bases. The creep allowed him to build Spore Crawlers and he eventually pushed into his opponent first base, forcing a tradebase that lasted several minutes, with Solar eventually winning because of superior production.
On the deciding map of Berlingrad, herO decided to be super aggressive with 3 gates proxied near his opponent. He killed the expansion of Solar rather easily, but the Zerg was able to unpower all the gates by killing the single Pylon as well as the Probe that herO sent across the map to build another. Solar then followed by trapping herO inside his main for a long time, and even pulled off a damaging Zergling runby when he finally took his expansion. All that economic damage forced herO to all-in Solar with a few Zealots and two Void Rays, but Solar was more than prepared and forced the final GG out of herO. With the victory, Solar claimed his 10th EPT KR gold medal.
Upset(s) of the day: Amateur Korean Terran Madongsuck beating TriGGer 2-0 was a surprise, even with server advantage. Also, Armani got a nice result for himself by taking out Zest 2-1.
However, the biggest upset for me in this cup was herO beating Code S champion Cure 2-0 in what is widely considered to be his best match-up of TvP. Cure beat nearly all the top Protoss players during his Code S playoffs run, and maintained his good TvP form in online tournaments as well. Since his return from the military, herO had a 9W-24L map record against Cure, and Aligulac.com gave him only about 31:69 odds to beat Cure, so congratulations on the victory!
EU Cup: Both Lambo and ShoWTimE needed at least a semifinals appearance to get some points, but neither of them managed to go that far. Lambo progressed through the bracket with wins against Hyperion (2-0) and Gerald (2-0), but lost against MaxPax (0-2) in the quarterfinal round. Meanwhile, ShoWTimE had his hopes dashed even earlier, losing to PtitDrogo in the RO16 (1-2). ByuN could have benefitted from some points as well, but he also fell out in the RO16 with a 1-2 loss to Rattata (all the usual caveats about server advantage apply).
Still, there was more than one Korean player trying to brave the EU server cup, with Solar taking out GuMiho in the RO16 (GuMiho had managed to defeat Harstem in the previous round). However, Solar’s quest to win a double was ended in the quarterfinals, as PtitDrogo defeated him 2-0. Not content with defeating Solar and Die Mauer, PtitDrogo went on to also take out SpeCial 3-1 in the semifinals and earn his second ever EPT Cup finals appearance (the Mexican Terran defeated Rattata and goblin in previous rounds). His last finals appearance had come in cup #8, where finished runner-up to HeroMarine.
The top side of the bracket played out more predictably, with HeroMarine getting to the semifinals without much trouble nor any maps dropped (wins vs. BabyMarine, DisK, and Spirit), while MaxPax only lost a single map against MaNa on his path to the semifinals. The semifinal clash between MaxPax and HeroMarine was a rematch of the cup #93 finals, when MaxPax had won 3-2—the exact same result repeated itself this time around (amusingly enough, HeroMarine won 3-1 shortly after in the DHM: Last Chance qualifier).
The finals was quite one sided, which was not a huge surprise considering PtitDrogo’s 1-7 head-to-head record against MaxPax at the time. Since the opening game was on Blackburn, both players went for a typical PvP Phoenix war with MaxPax going for a faster Carrier transition. It turned out to be a winning move, as the game progressed into a weird tradebase scenario where MaxPax was the only player with units that could actually hit buildings. After winning that first game, MaxPax went for his standard opening in game two with an expansion into Void Rays, while PtitDrogo opted for a Stalker all-in off 1 base to counter it. Using a lot of Shield Batteries, MaxPax was able to defend without much trouble to go up 2-0 in the series. Finally, on Pride of Altaris, both players used Oracles to harass early on while macroing up to 3 bases and Blink Stalkers. MaxPax took slightly better trades throughout the course of the game, which eventually compounded into a glaring advantage and a 3-0 victory.
Upset(s) of the day: There was no huge upset this time around, but GuMiho beating Harstem 2-0 while playing from Korea was a nice feat, given that the Dutch Protoss managed to beat Maru 3-1 in similar conditions in the TSL8 european qualifier. PtitDrogo beating ShoWTimE by itself is a slight upset, but his entire run is noteworthy with wins over Solar and SpeCial.
NA Cup: Even though the NA cup starts at around 1am in Europe, ShoWTimE and Lambo have to fight for each and every point for the Katowice spot, and they decided to try their luck in this cup as well. Unfortunately for the German duo, they could not get any points in NA with Lambo going out in the RO16 against GuMiho (1-2) while ShoWtimE fell to ByuN in the quarterfinals (1-2).
Speaking of ByuN and GuMiho, the two Korean Terrans were on fire as they went on to meet in the finals of the cup. GuMiho was especially hot, beating not only Lambo but HellRaiser (2-0) and SpeCial (3-0) as well. The Mexican Terran had been on a roll with wins against NightMare (2-1) and Classic (2-0), but couldn’t quell the momentum of GuMiho.
Meanwhile, ByuN struggled a lot in his path, only getting a sweep against Canadian Protoss before having to go the distance in all of his remaining matches. Despite the close scores, ByuN still grinded out wins in the end, defeating Cham, ShoWTimE, and top seed Zest to reach the finals opposite of GuMiho.
The grand finals was another grueling affair for ByuN, as he narrowly came out with a 3-2 victory. The finals started with a 20-minute brawl on 2000 Atmospheres—ByuN was in control for almost the entire match, but GuMiho managed to make a game-winning move late by seizing a good position in between ByuN’s bases. This allowed GuMiho to trade favorably and march into his opponent’s main to win the game. The next game on Hardwire was kind of a reverse version of the first map, with Gumiho slightly in the lead for the whole game until ByuN commandeered a good position in the middle of the map with his Marine-Tank army. ByuN used his control of vision to encircle and flank GuMiho’s troops, allowing him to inflict severe damage almost at almost no cost to himself, leading to the series-tying victory.
In game three on Berlingrad, both players went for the standard double-gas quick Factory build, but Gumiho only built 1 reaper before his Reactor, while ByuN went for two. This small difference snowballed into a victory for ByuN, as he killed off GuMiho’s solo Reaper and wreaked havoc in GuMiho’s main with his Reaper duo before any new defenders could be produced. Ultimately, ByuN dealt enough economic damage to force his opponent to GG.
Even with the 2-1 lead, the series was not easy for ByuN, and Gumiho tied the series back up on Glittering Ashes. While GuMiho’s proxy 2-Barracks Reaper build actually put him behind to start, his greedy follow-up and good trades over the course of the game propelled him to catch up with his opponent. Moreover, GuMiho managed to start his upgrades earlier, and took advantage of his 2/2 vs 1/1 upgrade timing to go for the kill.
Fittingly, ByuN was only able to clinch his cup victory after a final, exacting battle on Curious Minds. An action-packed, 25 minute TvT macro game ensued with the momentum swinging back and forth, but ultimately it was ByuN who prevailed to take his 4th EPT NA gold medal.
Upset(s) of the day: Like the previous two cups, NA cup did not feature any jaw-dropping surprises, although a lot of underdogs took maps off of stronger players. Namely, Zest dropped maps against HonMonO, Maplez, and Rattata (this one being less surprising), while ByuN lost maps against basically everyone including Cham and TriGGeR.
All things considered, my pick for upset of the day would be SpeCial beating Classic 2-0. Juanito has been putting in work these last few weeks of EPT Cups with some strong results. While Aligulac views SpeCial and Classic as being nearly dead even, personally I don’t think this gives enough credit to Classic. Classic has improved a lot since his return and Aligulac probably underrates him—I think it was commendable for SpeCial to beat him without dropping a map.