In the scene of Starcraft 2, the term ‘royal roader’ is used for someone who captures a major title on their first run through. Originally coined in the Brood War days for the OSL specifically, the term had spread to any major recurring tournament in the Starcraft 2 yearly season. There have been a few very notable names among those who have walked the “royal road” including: Lim-Yo “BoXeR” Hwan, the pioneer of eSports as we know it; Yoon-Yeol “NaDa” Lee, the winningest Starcraft player of all time; and Jaedong, one of the most recent Brood War bonjwas.
Almost two years into the GSL, the world’s premier Starcraft 2 event, there had been no Royal Roaders. We can attribute this to a lot of things: Frequency of international tournaments, the relegation of the GSL being the only broadcast tournament in Korea, and the divided player and fan bases. But, the fact remains that other than the very first GSL champions, there had been no other to rise to the challenge on their first try.
Enter Hyun Woo “Squirtle” Park, one of team STARTALE‘s best players. Despite being STARTALE’s ace in the team leagues as a PvT sniper, until now Squirtle had not seen much success in the individual league. Squirtle had qualified for the Code A tournament previously, but until this current season, had not reached the pinnacle of the Starcraft 2 tournament scene in Code S. Many had initially detected Squirtle on their radar when he took 2nd place at IPL3, an international tournament held earlier this year in Las Vegas. He lost to FnaticRC’s aLive in the Grand Finals in two very decisive best of 5′s. To some, this contributed to the “faceless Korean dominance” phenomena that the international Starcraft 2 scene had suddenly been afflicted with, having countless talented but then-unheralded players suddenly spring up in foreign tournaments and dominate over those who were not of South Korean nationality. To others, they saw the first major victory of a great player, and the first major loss of another.
On the other side, enter Jong Hyun “MVP” Jung, arguably the world’s best Starcraft 2 player to date. MVP had previously won three championship crowns, tied with teammate Jae Duk “NesTea” Lim. Having not won a GSL since his 4-1 victory over Jung Hoon “TOP” Kim in GSL August of last year, some were beginning to suspect that MVP had been losing form. After crushing through foreigner hope Johan “NaNiWa” Lucchesi in the Quarter-Finals and Lee Sak “PartinG” Won in the Semi-Finals, it looked as if the MVP of old was back. In a venerable sea of Korean Terrans, MVP has surely risen above and shown the world just how much talent is required to stay at the highest levels.
The matchup itself is interesting on paper, with Squirtle boasting a 52% win rate over Terrans and MVP sporting an even more impressive 64% win rate over Protoss. Both players are known to be excellent in the matchup, Squirtle being the aforementioned PvT sniper for team STARTALE and MVP being solid enough in all 3 matchups to now have major titles against all 3 races (defeating NesTea at Blizzcon 2011, MarineKing and TOP in the GSL, and now Squirtle).
For the first three games of the series, it looked as if MVP was going to walk away with the trophy and continue the curse of boring GSL finals (barring of course, the epic MVP team-kill grand final of DongRaeGu over Genius). But Game 4 saw something a tiny bit different, with Squirtle waiting patiently to snipe MVP’s economy and army at the same time with some excellent strategy.
Game 5 deserves an article all of its own. To those of you who have not already, it is heavily suggested that you watch the VODs before you read the rest of this article. In a game that is without a doubt the best single game of Starcraft 2 to this point, we saw many firsts. We saw the first island base being taken in a GSL final. We saw the first game where a Terran had nearly maxed out on BattleCruisers while the Protoss had a Mothership on the field. We also saw the first PvT Archon Toilet with High Templar’s using Feedback on full-energy Battlecruisers. We saw Mass Recall on island bases 40+ minutes into a game. We saw Nukes, Planetary Fortresses, you name it odds are that MVP and Squirtle had built at least one of in the game, save for Phoenixes and of course Carriers.
Game 6 seemed to ease the tension in what could have been the most epic comeback in Starcraft 2 history. MVP setting up a gigantic contain around Squirtle’s natural on Dual Sight, constantly stimming and controlling small groups of infantry to poke in and poke out while siege tank fire covers ahead, while simultaneously setting bunkers up. For a while, Squirtle looked to be in a terrible position with Vikings and Siege Tanks crowding the packs of units that Squirtle had. Eventually, a key warp-in of Zealots and High Templar afforded Squirtle the opportunity to cut-off any and all reinforcements that MVP had planned on using and forced MVP into a fight that he narrowly lost.
With the series tied at 3-3, MVP decided to do one of the ballsiest strategies in this situation given the context: he decided to cheese. Squirtle scouted appropriately and could sense that there was some sort of cheese, getting an early Gateway and attempting to Chrono Boost out Gateway units. By the time MVP’s two Barracks proxy had started pumping out Marines, it looked as if Squirtle was heavily prepared. Marines and SCV’s attempted to run up Squirtle’s ramp with moderate success, pressuring the Protoss player into microing his heart out. Squirtle narrowly avoided defeat several times, forcing Bunker cancels and even destroying a whole army before MVP could reinforce completely. Yet it was Squirtle who would make the final mistake as he overextended into MVP’s territory and sacrificed one too many units for free, as well as any chance he had of becoming the first ever Starcraft 2 “Royal Roader”.
The timing for this final could not have come at a more pivotal point in Starcraft 2′s competitive life. With the advent of Brood War Proleague integrating Starcraft 2 and the KeSPA/MLG announcement regarding Brood War pros playing Starcraft 2, we may yet see a technical “royal roader” in Starcraft 2. But the question will be if whether it is a former high-level Brood War pro, or if it will be someone who was not well known before the switch. Given the headstart some of the current Starcraft 2 players have had, the answer to this question may surprise more people than is likely.