After weeks of across-the-board Protoss dominance, ever-slower Swarm Host stalemates, and growing doubts about the current balance and design of StarCraft 2, IEM Cologne reminded everyone why they fell in love with StarCraft in the first place. What started out looking to be another standard Protoss vs. Protoss competition took a sharp turn as players like Choi "Polt" Seong Hun and Lee Jae Dong made a strong challenge for the title against Protoss stars like Jung "Rain" Yoon Jong and Song "HerO" Hyeon Deok.
Cologne was one of those tournaments where you could have taken just about any quarterfinal or semifinal and stopped the tournament right there, the games were so good. Polt, in particular, seemed like he had destiny on his side as he survived one tough series after another on this road to the finals. Every time he looked like he was about to lose, he made another miracle materialize out of thin air.
Polt the Quick
The most surprising thing about Polt is that he still has the ability to surprise. He's been one of the world's most famous Terrans for years, a known-quantity, and yet each time he unleashed his faster-than-the-human eye aggression, it left his opponents stunned. Even watching from the observer's point-of-view, Polt's simultaneous attacks seem to happen out of nowhere. You'd see the first drop heading for the main, but what you wouldn't notice was the second drop taking out a fourth, or a mob of Marines and Marauders rushing into the third to snipe an upgrade.
Then there was his final game against Kim "Classic" Doh Woo, where he somehow knew exactly where an Observer was hiding and steered his game-winning Medivac drop around its vision. The surprise attack, which shouldn't have even been possible, was Classic's undoing.
Jaedong carried the Zerg standard deep into the tournament, winning a grueling five-game series against Jo "Patience" Ji Hyun in the quarterfinals. He booked his ticket for the semi-finals with one of the most surprising games of the tournament, where he faced down a Protoss doom-army with the exact wrong composition and too few units and somehow turned the game around.
Here Comes the HerO
In the end, however, IEM Cologne belonged to Team Liquid's HerO, who had all the answers at all the right moments. That's how HerO usually plays: unlike someone like Polt, HerO's games have a certain momentum. If he's playing ahead, he's very tough to beat. He doesn't give games away and he doesn't leave things to chance if he can help it. But if he starts to fall behind, he has trouble finding that one unexpected move that could turn the game around.
At IEM, HerO broke that pattern by playing some of his toughest StarCraft yet. He was on the brink of elimination against Jaedong, reeling after an attack backfired horribly. But he stabilized and advanced, then drew an over-confident Jaedong into a fatal attack off-creep.
His final series against Polt was tremendous, and showcased both players' greatest strengths. Polt went down 3-1, then got absolutely crushed near the start of their fifth game. He looked like he was doomed, and then somehow he just started hitting HerO everywhere at once. HerO went from being absolutely in charge of the game to losing almost of his mining Nexi in just a few short minutes. HerO could not match Polt's intensity, and was slowly battered to pieces under the onslaught.
If their fifth game was Polt at his very best, then their sixth was classic HerO. Even though he was a bit behind, he shut down most of Polt's drop harassment and then invested heavily in High Templar to counter the worst of Polt's bio force. This time, it was Polt who got overwhelmed by all the action on the map, losing tons of units in a series of failed harassing attacks. Like a martial artist, HerO had used Polt's own action against him to win the IEM Cologne tournament.
While HerO took $10,000 for the win, both he and Polt are now guaranteed slots at the IEM World Championship in Katowice, with its $100,000 grand prize. More importantly, IEM Cologne showcased StarCraft 2 at its very best, silencing (for at least a weekend) all the debate and anxiety about balance and faction design and returning the focus to where it belongs: on the great games, and great players.
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