After a few days of HotS play it's time to make up the balance that the new game has caused. What players have been able to adapt and gain new momentum, and what players have crumbled under the pressure of change?
One of the main points of talk here at CeBit is the seeming rejuvenation of Jos "Ret" de Kroon, the Dutch zerg who had been slumping and dealing with issues for seemingly most of 2012. With attempts to get back into shape, stop smoking and chance basically his entire lifestyle Ret seemed preoccupied for the better part of the year. He tried sports psychologists, new apartments, changed practice regimes and simply taking breaks, but none of it initially helped.
However, his relative stubbornness and seeming "outdated" game helped him in the shift from Wings of Liberty to Heart of the Swarm. Whereas other players had to get used to a completely new meta-game de Kroon had always kept his open mind about units and builds, resulting in him being one of the only players to successfully pull off Swarm Host strategies.
Whether this could sort his motivation and psychological speed-bumps remains to be seen, but at least for now Ret is on fire.
On the other side of the spectrum Jens "Snute" Aasgard had a terrible showing to say the least. Coming off of an emotional victory in TaKe's apartment in Krefeld the Norwegian zerg seemed to have nothing but good news going for him. He got picked up by team Liquid, gained an astronomical amount of fans and was considered amongst one of the players with the brightest of futures.
But now it seems the pressure might be getting to the 'new kid on the block'. After achieving what could be considered a premier win at a highly contested international event all eyes were on the youngster to become the new Leenock, a force to be reckoned with at seemingly all events he attends.
Regardless of how hard it is to live up to the expectations of the fans in general, he definitely dropped to an all-time low in the last 6 months or so here at CeBit. With a hopeless 0-5 scoreline and just 2 out of 12 maps going his way Snute was mentally drained after his group stage. Given the practice might've been far from deal for him, very little people expected him to have this kind of showing, slowing down to a virtual standstill.
A definite fan favorite, and one that has undergone a lot of changes in his life lately, Kim "viOLet" Dong Hwan was one of the players that could use Heart of the Swarm as an accelerator in his career. In Wings of Liberty viOLet managed to fight his way up progressively from contender to top player, but the greatness of the "traditional Koreans" such as MC, Mvp, MMA or NesTea have eluded the American adoptee until now.
Now that the playing field has been evened out and viOLet is undoubtedly up to par apart from perhaps on terms of experience this might be his time to shine. Not only does the new patch suit his original play-style very well, being an aggressive and independent player in terms of strategy. The new mutalisks and hydras help this greatly, allowing for him to stay in his comfort zone and improve on his already existing form.
Meanwhile outside of the game the environment has changed drastically for viOLet. As lover the of the American lifestyle, he's had to sadly give up his American dream for now to return to Korea. As a part of the AZUBU team, being the first player they picked up, his training regime has drastically changed from being a lone ranger to part of a fully fledged all-Korean team with all the strategical and structural advantages that it offers. Just like a lot of Korean teams they have been hitting the new game hard, resulting in a steam-roll so far at IEM, one that could probably extend into the most upper of echelons of StarCraft.
The Bosstoss himself came back to Hanover to defend his IEM title, which he won so triumphantly last year, with great expectations to boot. Obviously Jang "MC" Min Chul was one of the greats of Wings of Liberty, one of the big winners and consistent performers. However with that experience also come some definite downsides.
MC barely ever got criticized, and in all honesty how can you if he's the player who has racked up the most prizemoney out of all players to ever play the game, but if he was criticized it was about his rather static and in some minds even cheap play style. Although MC could play anything at any moment his standard go-to build was a very micro intensive and timing based 2-base all-in. He enjoyed major success with all the iterations of this build he thought up and became a house-hold name as such, but seemingly in Heart of the Swarm this strategy has fallen off.
Although he didn't play terrible he did lose to Ret, a result that previously would have been basically inconceivable, as well as dropping to both Koreans in his group with 2-1 losses. In comparison to his results of old MC has gone somewhat cold, but admittedly with a bit of scaving up he could quickly become a player to get out of the groups again.
A final mention goes out to the on-fire Choi "YongHwa" Yong Hwa and his accomplices at LG-IM, who have been on an absolute tear. Especially YongHwa, with amazing all-kills in team leagues, and podium placings at highly rated tournaments such as WCG and HSC, has went from an invisible Korean to perhaps the new "viOLet" story in Protoss form.
The entire team LG-IM made no secret of the fact they spared no time or effort to gain an advantage over the competition, hitting Heart of the Swarm harder than most of the other teams. It seems the strategy has bore fruit for them as well, as so far the 3 LG-IM players that have played have lost a total of just 2 matches combined, resulting in a 100% advance rate from the groups into the brackets, and 2 first places in the 3 groups that have been played. The entire team are positively hot and could see a return of the monopoly that LG-IM had during Mvp's peak.