by Jason Waddell
(5) Open Bracket Slaughterhouse
The Providence Open Bracket was one of the most brutal grinds the Starcraft 2 community has ever witnessed. Oz, Ganzi, sC, Puzzle, Tyler, Machine, Gatored, Jinro… and that's from the list of players that didn't advance to the Championship Bracket. The Open Bracket may have simply been a prelude to the main event, but was host to a star-studded lineup of matches that could on another weekend headline a tournament finals: MVP vs. Losira, MarineKing vs. sC, Leenock vs. Oz, Ganzi vs. Puzzle.
The Open Bracket filtered out all the players who weren't at the absolute highest level this weekend, and when the rounds were over, only four players remained undefeated: MVP, Nestea, Hero, and Leenock. These players were bullets launched into the Championship Bracket, and the momentum they carried from the Open Bracket pushed them deep into the tournament.
(4) The Incredible Miracle Duo Loses their Luster
A week ago, if you had asked fans who the best players in the world were, you likely wouldn't receive a wide variety of answers. MVP and Nestea were regarded to be on an entirely different level than the rest of the Starcraft 2 field. Each had won a trio of GSL titles, and despite the disadvantage of being seeded in the Open Bracket, were considered strong favorites to win the entire tournament. Fans braced themselves for a rematch of the Blizzcon finals, but it quickly became apparent that an IM finals was not in the cards in Providence.
The duo opened the weekend by each losing to Naniwa in the MLG Global Invitatonal. You couldn't call it fatigue from too many games played, as the main tournament had yet to begin. You couldn't really blame it on jet lag either, as Naniwa was on the same flight. You might call it a warm up, but the results were consistent with the play MVP and Nestea showed on Saturday and Sunday. No, for all the foreign fans had heard about the otherworldly abilities of Nestea and MVP, the duo looked surprisingly mortal after losing to Naniwa. Naniwa would beat Nestea again in the tournament proper, and to top it off, Pro Circuit grinder Haypro knocked Nestea out of the tournament. This just a week after Nestea's catastrophic meltdown in the GSL November Round of 16 against Huk.
Granted, you don't win three GSL titles by luck. But after Nestea and MVP both lost to Naniwa and nearly both lost Haypro, fans who were watching the IM duo in person for the first time must be wondering “so what's all the fuss about anyway?”.
(3) LiquidHaypro Rises to the Occasion
Throughout the 2011 season, Haypro had been a good player, but never a great one. He never cracked the cracked the Top 8, but he held his own against the cast of MLG regulars. In the past, a typical MLG performance for Haypro involved finishing somewhere near the middle of his group and quietly bowing out of the tournament with one or fewer wins in the Losers Bracket.
However, there was nothing quiet about Haypro's Providence performance. Sure, he opened with a, 0 – 2 loss against Leenock in his first match of the tournament, but who didn't get wrecked by Leenock over the weekend. Haypro's story starts in the Losers Bracket. First, he defeated the 15-year old American prodigy Illusion, who had already beaten the likes of KawaiiRice, Spanishiwa and Sheth. Then, he slipped past Select and Kiwikaki in three-game matches. Up next? Nestea.
Yes, the widely regarded best ZvZ player in the world Nestea. Haypro lost Game 1 against Nestea in less than five minutes, which would have been enough to make most of us mentally throw in the towel. It was an oddly familiar position for Haypro. Lots of hard work and preparation, but without another win, he'd be left out of the money once again. This time, however, Haypro pulled it off. With his back against the wall, Haypro won two games in a row against Nestea. Read that again: Haypro eliminated Nestea!
But he wasn't done yet! Haypro went on to face MVP, and took Game 1 against the Game-Genie Terran. MVP took Game 2 with an aggressive build on Shattered Temple. In Game 3, it looked like Haypro was going to follow in his countryman Naniwa's footsteps: defeat Nestea and MVP back-to-back. Haypro destroyed MVP's army, and was sitting and nearly double the supply of his opponent. All that was required to knock out MVP was to 1a his army around the map. Unfortunately, Haypro appeared to give his opponent too much respect. It was as if Haypro couldn't believe he had so thoroughly outplayed the best player in the world. Without Zerg pressure, MVP rebuilt his Mech army and eventually marched to victory.
We can't help but wonder what would have happened if Day 9 had been in attendance. The voice of Artosis surely said “when ahead, get more ahead”, but Day 9's advice is equally clear: “Just go [redacted] kill him!”
(2) Naniwa's Validation
It's been a hell of a week for Naniwa, and an unforgettable weekend in his career. Naniwa entered Providence on the heels of a tragically disappointing GSL November showing, and quickly became the center of attention at Major League Gaming's season finale. After months of hard work but little to show for it, Naniwa shocked the community by defeating the world's most feared names in the Global Invitational. Naniwa topped both MVP and Nestea to win a title before most competitors had logged even a single match.
He then set his sights on the main Event, the Providence National Championship. As far back as Dallas, Naniwa had proclaimed that little other than the Providence title mattered. Yes he had won the opener, but as more top Korean talent flooded into Major League Gaming's Bracket, Naniwa appeared to have been left behind by the change in tournament landscape. His title ambitions seemed far-fetched, and his gameplay outclassed.
Naniwa, however, stayed focused on his goal. Amidst swirls of tabloid drama and misguided quotes, Naniwa kept his concentration on the task at hand. When his turn to enter the bracket finally rolled around, the Swedish Protoss defeated Nestea for the second time that weekend, and followed the feat with wins over Huk and DongRaeGu. In the end Naniwa failed to seal the deal as he lost four straight games against Leenock in the Grand Finals, but appeared to be a man with a renewed determination and a refined playstyle. With the pedigree Naniwa displayed over the weekend, it's hard not to be excited about Naniwa's 2012 prospects in Code S and at Major League Gaming Events.
(1) Leenock Blossoms
Leenock, one of the GSL's best kept secrets. Entering Providence, there were undoubtedly tens of thousands of fans who had never even heard of the 16 year old Korean Zerg. Even those who closely watch the GSL could hardly envision the terrifying abilities the have been brewing during Leenock's young career. Leenock has been bouncing around the GSL leagues for a year now, with trips to Code S, the Up-and-Downs, Code A and Code B. Fans never questioned whether he deserved to be in Code S, but they never truly put him in the title conversation. With players like MVP and MMA floating around, how could you?
Leenock has quietly been building his prowess. In GSL November's Round of 32, Leenock took second in his group with wins over Polt and Ensnare. In the Round of 16, he advanced second in his group again, with a pair of victories over Huk. He didn't look dominant, but definitely earned his keep.
When the Providence competitor list was announced, Leenock was little more than a statistic: one of the 14 Code S players in attendance. All the buzz surrounded the likes of MVP, Nestea, Bomber, MMA, and even players like sC, Puzzle, MarineKing and Ganzi.
Leenock carried on as only an innocent youngster could. Had nobody told him the odds? Did anyone warn him of the sixteen cutthroat matches he would face in a three day span? Did he realize that the road to the title would pass through five MLG Event Champions?
Maybe he blocked it all out, maybe he was naively unaware of the magnitude of the feat he was attempting, but somehow Leenock remained calm and collected throughout it all. In his pre-match interview leading into the Losers Bracket Finals match, Leenock's sentiment was clear: “I've come this far, might as well go home with a trophy.”
Leenock did the impossible in Providence. He advanced from the scariest Open Bracket in history without a scratch. Leenock didn't drop a single game in six rounds of play against the likes of Drewbie, Gatored and Oz. In the Championship Bracket he swept Haypro to extend his record to 14 – 0. It looked like Leenock had reached his limit in the following round, as DongRaeGu forced Leenock into the Losers Bracket.
The road from there? A daunting eight consecutive matches against an increasingly difficult gauntlet of opponents. To even reach the Top 8 from that point would have been a noteworthy feat. Leenock soldiered on. He swept the Emperor, crushed Slush, wrestled past MMA, forced Idra to tap out, and notched two more games won against Huk. Leenock wasn't done.
Leenock swept MVP. He overturned a 2 – 0 deficit against DRG to win 4 – 3 in an extended series. In the finals, Leenock faced his mortality yet again, as he opened to an 0 – 1 deficit against Naniwa. Any further slip would cost Leenock the tournament. His response? Four consecutive victories to claim the title. Leenock broke Naniwa. The young Korean Zerg found a weakness in Naniwa's style and ruthlessly exploited it. Neither Nestea nor DongRaeGu had managed to crack Naniwa's style, but the Korean prodigy found a way.
16 rounds. 34 game wins. 5 game losses. $50,000. 1 National Championship Title.
What did you achieve at age 16?