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MLG Winter Championship, The Ruckus in Columbus

MLG Pro Circuit LogoYes I know the title doesn’t rhyme. Let’s be serious, though, there’s going to be some serious chaos in Columbus this weekend, and I’m going to enjoy every blood soaked moment of it.

The last major MLG event resulted in Leenock’s ascent from the open bracket to the champion’s pedestal, proving that MLG’s year-long seeding process was ultimately compromised by the Korean variables.

This year, MLG has mixed up the formula, using a controversial pay-per-view “Arena” event to help generate its initial batch of groups. This event pulled together 32 top players from all over the world and pit them against each other. When the dust cleared, MarineKing emerged touting a well deserved top seed and a $10,000 check. Columbus, however, presents far more dangerous obstacles. With Leenock and NesTea out due to GSTL and injury respectively, predicting the top finishers just became a lot more hazy.

Pool Play

Let’s begin with some group assessment. The placements in each group determine important byes in the Championship bracket, so a lot is on the line right from the start:

Group A

Players: MarineKing, GanZi, MC, Sase + 2 open bracket seeds

Are you kidding me? Poor Sase, holy crap. The Swedish Protoss was seeded into this group after Leenock and NesTea had to withdraw, and frankly may have enjoyed more psychological success in the open bracket. I don’t think he’s got a shot against such top tier competition. MarineKing has been on an absolute tear since he all killed Team HoSeo in the GSTL. His victory at the Winter Arena finally hoisted the perennial runner up into the champion’s circle. His creative use of his factory to block army movements mid-battle deserves historic recognition. In fact, any time I see that from now on I will simply say “Wow, that guy got MKPed,” or “He sure MKPed him with that factory.”

GanZi will have something to prove after his recent departure from SlayerS. He’s certainly established that he has what it takes to go toe to toe with the best, frequently battling through close series with your Mvp’s and your MMA’s. All out victories have been in short supply, however. If his free agency serves as a chip on his shoulder, he could be more dangerous than ever.

Speaking of dangerous, I don’t think I can say much about MC that hasn’t already been said. I guess it’s worth noting that his PvT, thanks to a series of tournament matches against PuMa, has improved markedly in the past three months. It will no doubt help tremendously in this group.

Group B

Players: DongRaeGu, DeMusliM, NaNiwa, HayprO + 2 open bracket seeds

HayprO surprised everyone at Providence, fighting his way to 7th place with impressive wins. The question is, does besting NesTea mean he has the chops to face recent GSL champ DRG and NaNiwa in competitive play? Probably not, but here’s hoping. DeMusliM is the groups’ second underdog, typically underperforming at large events but often displaying great prowess in smaller bursts. He’s been working very hard at the EG house, and obviously managed to qualify for pool play at a very tough Arena event. Still, I don’t think he’s ready for this group’s top tier.

DRG is floating on cloud 9(J?). After besting his teammate in the GSL finals, his worst enemy is probably himself. GSL champs have a history of falling off the gravy train for a while after earning their victories. If he’s overconfident, he could find himself with a much longer road to the finals than his usually stellar multitasking would merit. NaNiwa certainly won’t hesitate to knock the top 3 Zerg off his high horse if he’s given the opportunity. While he’s not necessarily a crowd favorite, the solemn Swede’s reputation for lack of sympathy is unparalleled. He’s a nerd devouring machine.

Group C

Players: HuK, viOLet, Ret, Socke  + 2 open bracket seeds

Group C is a little less cruel and a lot more nebulous. HuK hasn’t had much success since his stellar Code S runs last year. Despite placing third in the Arena, his path was notably less difficult than many of the other top finishers. Still, credit where credit is due, he beat Oz and Socke in impressive displays of PvP skill. He’ll need more than PvP against viOLet and Ret. While he managed to best Ret 2-1 when they battled in NYC, I’m not so certain it’s a feat he’ll repeat with ease. The Dutch Zerg has quietly been having a very good 2012, racking up wins at smaller invitationals left and right.

ViOLet’s situation is similar. He’s slowly but surely been climbing the professional ladder, racking up little wins here and there throughout the past several months. He’s yet to translate them into a title quite as dramatic as an MLG, but I’m pretty convinced he hasn’t plateaued. He beat SuperNoVa in February, and this group will give him every opportunity to continue his crescendo.

That leaves Socke, who’s kind of like the grizzled old veteran (yes, I know he’s only 25, but his SC2 career is longer than most) in the band of younger, more plucky children. He probably doesn’t have the speed or strength to keep up, but there’s always the possibility of a well orchestrated moment of wily awesomeness. I don’t think he can best his competition, but I will be rooting for him nonetheless.

Group D

Players: Oz, PartinG, Grubby, TheStC  + 2 open bracket seeds

Yikes, that’s a lot of PvP. Grubby, despite being a fan favorite, is going to be in some serious trouble against the Code S caliber play of Oz and PartinG. I hate to say it but they’re both just on a different plane. PvP is the second most unforgiving matchup (surpassed only by ZvZ). If Grubby manages to beat even one of them I will be tremendously impressed.

TheStC was a regular bulldozer back in the beta, but has had a relatively uneventful career since then, often staying out of the spotlight. Of course, that makes him a bit of a dark horse, but let’s not get carried away. I think Oz and PartinG will easily take this group, and the battle for third and fourth place will be much more fascinating.

The Open Bracket

Despite the new qualification format, it should not be lost that the winner at Providence came through the open bracket. There are some fearsome players in there, most notably Stephano. The french (or is it American?) Zerg is surpassed perhaps only by DongRaeGu in his ability to dispatch Protoss opponents. His play seamlessly molds safety and aggression, relying on intense periods of macro in very specific windows followed by onslaughts of units. If anyone is from the open bracket is going to have a good showing, it’s him.

Let’s not forget his competition, though. Sheth, LosirA, Mvp, and, yes, IdrA to name a few. The Arena seeding is more accurate than last year’s debacle, but I still don’t think it counts for much. Of course, that’s part of the excitement. I have little idea who will dominate, who will fall, and who will surprise us all.

And that’s exactly how I like it.

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