It might seem like a quiet time in eSports, with the MLG now looking ahead to its Spring Championship in Anaheim (June 8 – 10), and with the GSL season having just concluded with MVP’s victory over Squirtle. But fear not: this Memorial Day weekend still has plenty of StarCraft 2 action thanks to the Red Bull Battlegrounds in Austin.
The 16-player tournament kicks off with pool play tomorrow at 2 P.M. Eastern time, but it starts broadcasting tonight at 9 P.M. Eastern with a pre-show panel featuring all the competitors and casters. After Saturday’s pool play, the top two players in each of the four pools will compete in a bracket playoff on Sunday.
Red Bull has put together an unusual field, a mix of well-known StarCraft 2 pros and some virtual unknowns. On the one had you’ve got players like GanZi, HuK, Bomber, Stephano, PartinG, ThorZain, Violet, and MC. On the other you’ve got Illusion and LastShadow, who are nowhere near as successful or well-known. The eclectic player roster, however, does have the benefit of mixing things up a bit, letting us see some unfamiliar matchups and giving less-established players a decent shot at victory.
The total prize pool is $41,000, with $15,000 alone going to the first-place finisher. The stream is free online, and tickets are still available if you find yourself in the Austin area. Casters for the tournament are Sean “Day” Plott, Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham, Mike “Husky” Lamond, and Rob Simpson.
I won’t be blogging this event, since I will hopefully be spending much of my weekend standing over a grill and drinking beer with friends while we catch the odd StarCraft match, but I will be back on Tuesday for a recap.
The main thing I’m watching for this weekend is whether the other races will have found any answers to the Zerg juggernaut that took the top 3 spots at the MLG’s Spring Arena last weekend.
When I talked to Day and djWHEAT about the Spring Arena, both identified the latest balance changes to the Zerg Queen as a major element of the Zerg surge. The Queen’s range went from 3 to 5, which finally gave the Zerg a strong early-game defensive unit that went a ways to neutralizing early Terran and Protoss rush tactics. Instead of having to run a different defense for everything that other races could throw at them, Zerg players could now fall back on the Queen to answer most early threats.
“Suddenly, all this money that you were dumping into these emergency scenarios, you don’t have to dump anymore,” Day said. “Zerg literally has more money to play around with, so we’ve seen Zergs be a lot more flexible of late. As in, literally, the last week.”
Both Wheat and Day were very cautious about saying whether this represents a balance issue. As Wheat pointed out, some Terrans claim the latest balance change has effectively destroyed an entire opening (early pressure with the reactor Hellion), but others think they will be able to adjust to the new balance with a bit more time and experience.
This weekend certainly represents a chance to put their theories to the test. Zergs Violet and Stephano finished first and third at MLG Spring Arena 2, respectively, so their performance this weekend will give us a clue as to whether the Zerg are still enjoying the same advantages they had at MLG last weekend.