By Galen Andress
EG's Idra came into MLG Columbus as one of the favorites, and was able to walk out with a 4th Place finish, the highest placing among the non-Korean players. He even finished higher than two Korean Zergs, Moon and July, in his best placing since MLG DC in 2010. After such an impressive run in the deepest Starcraft 2 tournament to date on the Pro Circuit, we had a chance to talk with Idra about his run in Columbus, his recent tournament results, and all things inside and outside the game.
MLG: MLG Columbus was a bit of a landmark event for the international SC2 scene, especially in the US. What were your thoughts heading into such a competitive event, with some of the best Koreans and Europeans coming over to play?
Idra: Originally I felt good about it. There were plenty of good players from all over, but felt that I had a good chance to beat any of them. I felt significantly less confident going in after finding out that MC was coming in place of Bomber.
MLG: For the uninitiated out there, Bomber had some VISA issues and MC was brought over to replace him. Had you spent a lot of time preparing for Bomber leading into the tournament?
Idra: I didn't prepare specifically for him since he has a pretty generic ZvT style, but yeah – all of the biggest threats besides Losira were Terran so the vast majority of my practice went into ZvT. I played very few serious ZvPs going into the tournament, as Kiwikaki was the only big Protoss scheduled to go.
MLG: What exactly were your thoughts when you found out MC was replacing Bomber? Did you lose any confidence knowing that you had slacked a bit on ZvP practice?
Idra: Definitely. I had very little confidence in ZvP. Bomber's an excellent player but he's definitely beatable in ZvT; MC isn't in ZvP without a lot of luck. My confidence level in taking first in my pool dropped significantly.
MLG: Well despite your doubts, you beat MC 2-0 to kick off the action in Columbus Friday evening. Do you remember the series well? And if so, take us through your thought process during the series a bit.
Idra: In the first game, he opened Void Ray pressure and I double expanded. We'd been in a similar situation at the Dreamhack Invitational. I ended up with a big advantage, but this time I knew that I needed to get drop in order to put pressure on him. I did so and he fell apart. He held off the first drops reasonably well, but left his third base undefended. Killing it gave me enough of an economic advantage to attack and kill him a bit later.
The second game was really bizarre. He threw away all his Sentries while I was doing Roach/Ling pressure but he held it anyway. He then did really heavy Warpgate pressure that I managed to hold with some last second Spine Crawlers and reinforcements while doing a little damage with a Zergling counterattack. From there we were kind of even, and kept trading in center battles between our golds, until he messed up and left two Immortals out in front for me to Neural Parasite as I did a Roach/Infestor timing attack.
MLG: After that series, you won your next three series against Tyler, Select and Ret, and finished out the day 4-0 (8-0 in games). Heading into the tournament, everyone was calling your Pool the "Pool of Death," and you got through it with relative ease. How did you feel at the end of such a successful evening?
Idra: It didn't worry me at all short of MC. I was quite happy with the original group just because it didn't have a great Protoss in it. I'm very comfortable vs Select. I feel I have a good understanding of his style just because we've played in so many tournaments recently. I know Ret well and I feel quite confident in ZvZ, and Tyler just doesn't practice enough.
MLG: To start Day 2, you had to play TSL3 champion Thorzain in the final Pool Play match, who came out of the Open Bracket. He beat you 2-0 and spoiled your perfect record. What happened in that series?
Idra: Thorzain has a very smart, solid style. He opens 2 Factory Blue Flame Hellions into a slow Tank-based push in every straight up TvZ. I wasn't aware he played like this, and you either have to rush to Broodlords or play a very active counter attacking style to beat it.
I didn't respond properly and lost in the first game. Also that game, for some reason, I ended up very behind in economy early game and barely equalized worker count with a big Zergling counter. In the second game he did a quick Marine/Hellion elevator and I didn't see it coming, and you really have to be prepared to hold that build off efficiently.
MLG: Despite that loss you made it out on top of Pool C, earning a spot in the Winners Semis against MMA. We all know what happened in the first game (In case you don't, make sure you watch it now). When did you realize that he had killed his own Command Center, and that you were in a reasonable position when you surrendered?
Idra: Not until after I talked to my teammates 10-15 minutes after the end of the match. I had no clue he'd killed the CC until they told me.
MLG: What happened in the second game?
Idra: I scouted and held off his bunker rush completely, but that situation is a bit of a coin flip as there's no way to tell if they're going CC or 4 Rax, and you have to make pure drones or pure lings in response to one or the other.
MLG: When you realized that you probably left game one a bit too early, did it have any effect on your mental state at all heading into the rest of the tournament?
Idra: I don't think so, no. Most people say I was tilted for the MC series, but if you look at the games that wasn't the case at all.
MLG: You get a little bit of criticism for leaving games too early. Does preserving some stamina have any effect on your decision to leave games? Or do you just think that there's no point in wasting time in a lost game?
Idra: I find playing out losses very frustrating, though I have come to realize that it would be worthwhile to give people more time to make mistakes.
MLG: After beating Slush 2-0 in the Losers Bracket, you met up for a rematch with MC for a spot in the Top 3. In your second meet up, you went for a lot more early aggression. Was it the maps or were his openings the main factor there?
Idra: Yeah, I went all-in on Shakura’s Plateau. He had a Nexus up much earlier than my Hatchery, which is a really bad economic position for Zerg to be in. Typhon Peaks is a difficult map to play long ZvPs on, as there are a ton of very tight chokes and easily defensible expansions for Protoss. However, its natural is very wide open and exposed, so I felt a Roach/Ling timing would work well on there. On Tal'Darim Altar, I went 15 Hatch, aiming for a macro game, and got cannon rushed. The Pylon block can always be defended, I just made a mistake with my Drone control.
MLG: You were the subject of some taunting from the Korean players in Columbus, namely MC's throat slash and MMA's Hadouken gesture. Do you like that you're seen as a bit of a rival with the Koreans, and that they see you as enough of a threat to try and get in your head with a little trash talk and taunting?
Idra: A lot of them do those ceremonies in the GSTL; I don't know if they did them after games against other foreigners though. If not, I'd assume it’s just because they know me from my time in Korea. Some of them certainly dislike me, but with MC at least it’s just messing around though. I can't really consider myself as much of a rival until I start beating them.
MLG: Your response always seemed to be a simple “single-finger salute,” rather than something flashy in return (laughs).
Idra: Yeah, I personally hate those ceremonies. I think they're cheesy and annoying.
MLG: You created a little bit of a buzz by bringing a female companion with you to Columbus. Did lady luck have any effect on your hot start on Friday?
Idra: It definitely helped me out having her there. She's incredibly supportive about everything to do with the game. I went off with her and talked between every match and she really helped me keep a level head. At Dallas this year, I won a pretty intense match against Huk and went on to lose in silly games versus TLO because my mind wasn't really in it. That could very easily have happened when I played Select after the MC win. It helped a lot having someone there purely for moral support.
MLG: Bear hugs from Geoff (InControl) just don't cut it, huh…
Idra: He means well, but I'm always afraid he'll break something.
MLG: Zerg as a whole did very well in Columbus, taking five of the Top 8 spots. You've been very open with your criticism of Zerg being the weakest race for the majority of SC2's lifespan; do you feel like the results in Columbus were an anomaly, or that Zergs have begun to solidify timings and regain control of the various matchups?
Idra: There were a number of strong Zergs seeded into Championship Pool Play, as well as July coming through the Open Bracket. The Zerg players who performed well were simply a lot better than the competition, barring Slush who was a bit of an anomaly. Dreamhack and Homestory Cup can be cited for Protoss dominance, and the GSL Super Tournament for Terran dominance. You have to look at gameplay, not tournament results, if you really want to examine balance.
MLG: Looking at gameplay, the most significant change to Zerg over the last few months has been the Infestor buff. Do you feel like an improved spellcaster was a step in the right direction?
Idra: I think it appeared to address a few key problems in ZvP, the Voidray/Collosus ball mainly, but in reality all it did was force Protosses to have a little more unit control. This hasn't really come about yet, but you could see it in Huk's play at Homestory Cup. Lots of other Protosses still just put everything on one Hotkey and keep it in a big ball, a couple of Fungals get cast and everything just dies. Whenever Huk is facing Infestors he just builds pure Blink Stalkers and spreads them out as much as he can. Blink Stalkers PvZ have no sufficient counter right now.
In ZvT it appears pretty strong for Zerg, but Terrans have yet to really incorporate Ghosts in their play, and you can’t expect to beat a Broodlord/Infestor army without EMP and Snipe. In every patch so far people have started out saying that Zerg has become overpowered until Terrans and Protosses rediscovered timings and got used to macro games.
MLG: Heart of the Swarm is just around the corner. If you were able to take over the role of lead multiplayer design, what changes would you implement?
- Allow Fungal Growth to be cast while burrowed
- Increase Hydralisk speed
- Decrease Ultralisk size
- Make Fungal Growth a slowing spell instead of freezing spell
- Decrease Marine rate of fire
- Lower Collosus damage
- Make Forcefield destructible with no target priority
- Increase Stalker damage and give them slower movement speed or higher Blink cooldown
MLG: It appears that there will be new units added into multiplayer as well. Any thoughts about what we're likely to see? And what would you like to see?
Idra: I think they have enough trouble balancing the game as is. Terran and Protoss feel like complete races to me. Zerg might be okay with a Hive-tech spellcaster, but I feel that Zerg is very likely to become overpowered if it's a worthwhile unit.
MLG: Some people believe Infestor/Broodlord is already the strongest late-game composition at the moment. Agree or disagree?
Idra: Disagree. Against Terran, either large numbers of Ghosts or a couple of Ghosts for EMP and Vikings for Broodlords can handle it just fine. Against Protoss the combination is too immobile, and is dealt with by Blink Stalkers with Collosus and Storm support. I feel even Ultras are better than Broodlords vs late-game Protoss. I think a late-game Blink Stalker-based army PvZ is by far the strongest thing in the game.
MLG: Starcraft 2 has been out for almost a year now, and you've been playing it competitively since the beta. Give us your thoughts on how the game has developed, and how the scene surrounding it has grown, especially in the US and Europe.
Idra: The game is developing pretty naturally as an RTS. I feel there's a number of design and balance flaws, but I've talked about them a bunch. Lots of different strategies have popped up; some became obsolete and some didn't. Overall, people are a vastly better now than they were a couple of months ago.
In terms of the scene, the growth in America is absolutely huge. MLG has gotten gigantic very quickly. IEM, Dreamhack and a bunch of small but relevant one-time tournaments are doing well in Europe. Surprisingly, Korea seems like biggest disappointment, but only because everyone is used to the scale of Korean SC1 from them. They still have an ongoing league with $40,000+ for first place that's capable of supporting a good number of full-time pro teams. Generally speaking, this is what everyone hoped for when SC2 was announced. It's definitely making a good push for eSports to become mainstream.
MLG: A year and a half ago, roughly, when you were playing for eSTRO, would have have imagined that Korean pros would leave their teams in favor of foreign teams, like Rain (Fnatic) and Twilight (FXO) recently did?
Idra: No not at all, and I think it will still be very rare. Generally I think only Koreans who can't cut it in GSL will even consider the move, unless foreign SC2 grows bigger than I expect it to. The Korean leagues are always going to be most important to them.
MLG: You've recently started doing a little bit of casting, appearing both on the EG Masters Cup and the NASL. Do you enjoy getting to step back from the game a bit and offer your insight for viewers?
Idra: I do enjoy it a lot, especially with the right co-caster. For me, it's really just talking about the game, which I always enjoy doing, and with a good play-by-play guy like DJ Wheat it's incredibly easy for me to do that and sound smart, which is quite nice. NASL with Gretorp and InControl was a lot of fun too, as we all know each other very well and we were able to just relax and have fun with it.
MLG: Since MLG Columbus, you've played in two major tournament over in Europe, Dreamhack and Homestory Cup. Were you happy with your results? And do you enjoy traveling overseas to compete?
Idra: I do enjoy traveling. Unfortunately, it's one of my weakest traits as a competitive player. I don't deal with lack of sleep and bad food well at all.
Dreamhack prompted mixed feelings. I was feeling and playing terrible for the group stage matches, but managed to advance anyway; then I drew MC first round. I certainly feel I'm better than a Top 16 player in that tournament, but MC's a respectable player to lose to.
Those games were pretty upsetting themselves though. I got big advantages early on in both games and played well. It's just very hard to play against someone who really takes advantage of Protoss' strengths like MC.
At Homestory Cup, I felt good early on. I lost a couple of silly games in the group matches, but started out 4-0 in the bracket phase. The Crevasse game versus Huk was just absurd though. I scouted 6 Gate, he was planning on doing 6 Gate pressure, and in response to me scouting that he throws down a Nexus and has Stalkers out in front so it can't be scouted. I have to make units or the 6 Gate can flat out kill me. This puts him way ahead on economy and then the efficiency of a Blink Stalker army is pretty much unbeatable. Scouting a heavy pressure build and then being punished for responding to it was pretty obnoxious. The Shattered Temple loss to Huk was my own fault, as was losing to two cheeses from Tarson.
MLG: Did you enjoy your stay over at TakeSen's place for Homestory? It seemed like a pretty cool atmosphere for a tournament.
Idra: Yeah, it was quite nice; lots of fun. I'm staying with Ret in the Netherlands now.
MLG: Awesome. Just vacationing there or looking to play in tournaments?
Idra: Just vacationing. There aren’t really any tournaments here for some reason.
MLG: Staying as far away from the Protoss as possible?
Idra: (Laughs) We've all been playing Protoss against each other to laugh at it.
MLG: How is your Protoss?
Idra: I make Blink Stalkers, so really, really good.
MLG: Your F key works just fine too, I assume, right?
Idra: It is quite a good F key.
MLG: You've been back in the States for around a year now. Are you still happy with the move? And how is life in the EG house?
Idra: I am happy with the move. Practice is definitely worse, but EG is getting a proper team house with a lot more players in it so that will be improving in the near future. I'm very happy to be back with my teammates and just in my home country in general.
MLG: Every time you come out to MLG Events, in between matches you've got a line of fans asking you so sign… everything, and take pictures. Do you enjoy the attention and getting to interact closely with fans?
Idra: It's pretty amazing and I certainly enjoy it, especially at MLG. I've been to tournaments in most major eSports countries now and nothing compares to the fans at an MLG Event. It gets overwhelming at times, though. They actually had to kick me off the Featured Stage because there were so many people waiting for autographs.
MLG: And we're definitely going to see you in Anaheim, right?
Idra: Yeah, certainly.
MLG: Awesome, well we look forward to having you. What are you doing with yourself outside the game these days?
Idra: I had been waiting for the next Game of Thrones episode to come out every week. I don't know what to do with myself now that season is over. Machine and I go to the gym pretty regularly and I talk with my girlfriend as much as possible. Other than that, I'm mostly focused on practice and SC2 related stuff.
MLG: What about the furry orange companion that occasionally makes an appearance on your stream?
Idra: He's probably pretty lonely right now, as I've been in Europe for about 2 weeks. He's hardy though.
MLG: Does he do usual cat stuff, like try and find a hot keyboard to sit on?
Idra: He sits in my lap while I play but he's well trained. He only really likes Machine's keyboard.
MLG: Hopefully one day Machine will learn to deal with a Catling rush. Well I think that's all we've got for you, thanks for your time. Shout outs before you go?
Idra: I'd like to thank everyone who likes me; also my team, Evil Geniuses and all our sponsors: Intel, Steelseries, Monster Energy Drinks, Kingston HyperX, 6pool Gaming, Intel Extreme, and Bigfoot Networks.
Will Idra be able to make another strong run against some of the best international SC2 competition when the Pro Circuit returns to Anaheim? Make sure to tune in July 29-31 to find out!
If you want a chance to take on Idra in Anaheim, or come out and watch him try to make a run at another MLG title, StarCraft 2 Competitor Passes and Venue Spectator Passes are on sale now in the MLG Store. Grab one today!