Stage Set for Red Bull Battle Grounds Grand Finals

Polt wins in Detroit to join some of the best StarCraft 2 players in the world in Washington, D.C.
Polt after winning Battle Grounds Detroit. © Cameron Baird
By Rob Zacny

It was always going to be Polt in the final, wasn't it?

It's been the one constant of the 2014 Red Bull Battle Grounds season. Polt will always be there at the last step, right on the cusp of qualifying for the Grand Final in Washington, D.C. Even when he has looked vulnerable, as he has over the past few months, he always finds a way to make it to the final.

Red Bull Battle Grounds Detroit would be no different. But with Detroit being the last chance to qualify for Washington, Polt desperately wanted to write another ending and break his streak of second-place finishes. The only trouble was, Yun "TaeJa" Young Seo was his opponent, and nobody is better at winning tournaments than the Terran prodigy.

Unfazed by Familiarity 

Throughout the final day of Battle Grounds, everything was going the two Terran players' way. Polt seemed like he might be in trouble after Kim "viOLet" Dong Hwan knocked down Ko Seok Hyun in a Zerg vs. Zerg upset. Polt's play against Zerg has looked especially vulnerable ever since Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn smashed him at Red Bull Battle Grounds North America, and there might not be another Zerg who knows Polt as well as his friend and housemate viOLet.

But Polt was unfazed by the matchup. He admitted later, "It's not a normal matchup. He knows pretty much everything about me, I know pretty much everything about him. Because of that, there are some mind games. We have some weird games."

That familiarity didn't stop Polt from overpowering his buddy with his aggressive style. While viOLet came back in their second game, destroying Polt's economy with a perfectly timed Baneling bust, Polt seized control of the series in game 3 and never let go. By the end, Polt was able to completely blind viOLet to the rest of the map, while Polt tortured him into surrender with relentless drops and pressure from the front.

The only player who looked like he might be able to best polt was TaeJa, who put a definitive period on Mackenzie "Petraeus" Smith's unlikely run to the quarterfinals. He treated Son "StarDust" Seok Hee no more gently, dominating the Protoss player in a 3-1 series. That set up the climactic finish to Battle Grounds Detroit, and Polt's long and winding road to Washington.

Polt and Taeja during their Finals matchup. © Cameron Baird

Terran Showdown

Polt's last final at Battle Grounds Washington, against Choi "Bomber" Ji Sung, had been an unmitigated disaster for him. Of all the matchups he could have faced, a Terran vs. Terran against one of the most prolific champions in the world seemed like a worst case scenario. A big part of the issue for Polt was that there were few Terrans around for him to play in tournaments.

"Terran have been struggling for a long time, so I didn't have Terran opponents for a long time. So I didn't practice it," Polt said. "I focused on Zerg or Protoss because most players I played were those races. But right now my WCS group has three other Terrans, so I had to practice TvT a lot. So I've gotten much better right now."

It showed. Their first game was probably the closest, as both players launched aggressive early attacks at each other. TaeJa's arrived first and was threatening Polt's base and workers, but what he didn't know was that Polt had a force of his own waiting outside TaeJa's doorstep.

"There are two ways you can play TvT," Polt said. "First is defensively, second is offensively. The defensive thing is, I used to play like that. It's good. It's very solid. But the bad thing is your opponent has all the map control. I didn't like that at all. In every matchup, the most important thing, in my opinion, is map control. So even if I lose some economy or army, I always try to get map control. But it's impossible when you play defensively. Nowadays, most Terrans try to go offensive, so crazy things happen."

Did they ever. Polt's army burst into TaeJa's natural with Marines and Medivacs supported by Vikings. TaeJa had Siege Tanks in place, but not much infantry to shield them. So he was forced to try and hold the attack with a scratch force of workers and Hellions. Too late, he realized his force was overmatched and tried to evacuate. The Command Center went down to the Vikings, who then landed to help break TaeJa's army and kill off his Tanks.

"Like I said, I learn more when I lose. I lost to them. They beat me. So they were better." Then he smiled. "At the time. But I've learned a lot."

The damage was done, and Polt had successfully traded a lot of his army and workers for TaeJa's base and Tank force. That gave him a critical edge which he rapidly built into a victory.

And then he was off and running. TaeJa never got on his feet in the series as Polt seemed to hit him harder and faster in every game. Faster than anyone could believe, Polt had 3-0'd TaeJa and finally broken his curse of second place finishes.

James celebrating with Polt after the Finals. © Cameron Baird

Mr. Polt Goes to Washington

Despite all his setbacks this year, Polt never lost faith in his play. He explained later, "I have had my practice methods for a few years, and I'm really sure it's a good way for me. But the thing I didn't like was that I got too much pressure from getting second-place again and again. So what I changed this time, I didn't think about Washington, D.C. Or getting the trophy. Any of that. I was just focusing on the match: TaeJa."

It was a remarkable act of mental discipline. The field at Battle Grounds Detroit was arguably the toughest Polt has faced in any Battle Grounds event, save perhaps Battle Grounds Global. But he knew he could calm himself down for this final.

"If this was the first time I tried to qualify for D.C., maybe I couldn't have controlled it," he admitted. "But I've experienced this a lot. I went through Global, NA, Atlanta… everything. So it was possible."

Despite having had such a tough year, and a seemingly cursed relationship with Battle Grounds, he said there were a lot of benefits from his struggles.

"Losing makes you learn more than winning," he said. "I've learned a lot. That's been good. The only bad point is, if you're a slump and keep losing, the thing you really need is winning a match. That part wasn't good for me."

Now, with his victory over TaeJa, Polt is guaranteed a spot at the Grand Finals in Washington. Waiting for him there are Bomber, Scarlett, and DongRaeGu… all players that have bested him this Battle Grounds season. Polt isn't worried, though.

"Like I said, I learn more when I lose. I lost to them. They beat me. So they were better." Then he smiled. "At the time. But I've learned a lot."

Polt will get his Red Bull Battle Grounds final exam on September 20-21 in Washington, D.C. Whether he's learned enough during this difficult campaign remains to be seen.

For more Red Bull Battle Grounds coverage, follow @RedBullESPORTS on Twitter. 

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