Dave Oliver, Blizzard Entertainment
The first event of the World Championship Series (WCS) Circuit has come and gone, and we were witness to some amazing games of StarCraft II. After some intense series and a handful of upsets, Joona “Serral” Sotala claimed his first premier championship and took home the first of four Circuit trophies for 2018. But his unstoppable tear through the bracket wasn’t the only highlight of the weekend.
The Return of ShoWTimE
In the annals of top European players, Tobias “ShoWTimE” Sieber is one of the biggest contenders for the absolute best of the region. In 2017, that wasn’t apparent. His highest placement of the season was at WCS Austin, where he was eliminated in the semifinals. In two of the four Circuit events, he wasn’t able to make it past the group stages at all. It was a Zerg-dominated year in general, but it was difficult to see someone so remarkably talented at StarCraft II fall so early in these high-profile tournaments. Going into this year, it was unclear how ShoWTimE would perform. If Leipzig showed us anything, it’s that ShoWTimE is back in his best form, and he’s ready to once again show the world why he’s a contender for best in Europe.
An interesting development this year is the prevalence of Stargate openers for Protoss players. It looked like even if the player intended to focus on a strategy centered around Gateway or Robotics Facility units, they would still often open with a Stargate. It makes sense considering the removal of the Mothership Core. Without the ability to quickly defend with Pylons, Protoss players were left without a core source of protection. But opening with a Stargate lets them create quick Phoenixes and Oracles for highly mobile defense. If an attack or harassment never comes, those units can be used for harassment of their own. And even if the bulk of the game is played with a ground-based army, those early Stargates can be used to transition into a full-on Golden Armada in the late game with a Mothership, Carriers, Void Rays, and Tempests. The flexibility and early-game defense of Stargates have made them a staple in nearly all maps and matchups for Protoss.
A Case for Ghosts
Ghosts have always had a niche role for Terrans. They’re typically brought out in the late game for their ability to EMP spellcasters or Snipe high-value targets like Brood Lords. Even then, they’re mostly used in small numbers to get value from their abilities before letting the main army mop up.
But this weekend, we saw some unique Ghost-based play from Juan Carlos “SpeCial” Tena Lopez. In one game, we saw him mass Ghosts in order to deal with a high number of Vipers, Brood Lords, and Infestors. Having constant Snipes available gave him an edge in his engagements, but having so many vulnerable units left him open for some devastating Fungal Growths as well.
In an even more interesting strategy, SpeCial made a very quick Ghost Academy and started making Ghosts along with his initial Hellions. The idea seemed to be that Hellions are phenomenal against Drones and Zerglings, but Queens shut them down. With a few Ghosts in tow to Snipe the Queens, it’s possible to plow through the Zerg’s early defenses and take an early win. While his quick Ghosts were scouted and his strategy fell apart, it’s an interesting, if not a little cheesy, strategy that would be great to see at its full efficacy.
Leipzig gave us a thrilling start to this year’s season, and there’s a lot more StarCraft II to come. The Global StarCraft II League (GSL) continues its first season, the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) in PyeongChang, and the IEM World Championship in Katowice are all coming in the next month. Keep an eye on all these phenomenal players as they continue to evolve over the course of the 2018 season.