MLG Dallas Preview
It seems that every MLG Championship event is somehow more stacked with top players than the last one, and the Fall Championship held in Dallas this coming weekend should be no exception. KeSPA players will be making their first appearance at a major foreign event, with four of them qualifying for group play via MLG's MvP Invitational. There is the usual stable of other great players in the group stage as well, and a massive open bracket chock full of players looking to make a surprise run (oh, and SKT.Rain as well).
Let's take a look at the groups individually, and see if we can pick out a couple of players capable of taking not only their groups, but the whole event. Also, any of these groups could be won in the end by an open bracket player, but it is physically impossible to guess which open bracket player will make a specific group, so I will be basing predictions off of the matchups that are known to be possible.
Group A: Leenock's Playground
- FXO.Leenock (Z)
- ROOT.ViBE (Z)
- San (P)
- Fnatic.Oz (P)
- STX.Hyvaa (Z)
- Liquid.HerO (P)
I do not mean to disrespect the other players in this group, but Leenock should be a strong favorite to take this group, which is tough to say with two great Protoss players in Oz and HerO on the other side of the draw. However, taking into account how well Leenock has been playing recently, as well as his very strong MLG pedigree, I think he could take this group quite easily.
Leenock is looking strong coming into Dallas (Image Source: thisisgame.com)
The American Zerg ViBE might actually pose the strongest threat to Leenock bulling his way through the winner's bracket, as his ZvZ is quite good, but he will have to find a way to sneak past San first. We have not seen a whole lot of San as of late, but he did manage to make it through the online qualifier, which bodes well for his current level of play.
Both Oz and HerO can definitely contend for this group, and could very likely PvP for a spot in the winner bracket final against Leenock; that is, if Oz can make it past Hyvaa. I have not been able to watch the MvP Invitational, so I do not know a whole lot about Hyvaa's play style, but he did defeat Rain 4-1 in the MvP playoff bracket before dropping out to Soulkey. It will be interesting to see how he fares against Oz after defeating KeSPA's best player so definitively in the same matchup.
Predicted Group Winner: Leenock
It will probably come down to winning ZvPs against either HerO or Oz for Leenock, but he should be able to take down either of those players with the way he is currently playing. A mirror match against either ViBE or Hyvaa should pose the greatest issue, due to the volatile nature of the matchup.
Group B: Foreigners and Flash
- NaNiwa (P)
- ItsGosu.HwangSin (P)
- FXO.BabyKnight (P)
- Grubby (P)
- KT.Flash (T)
- Quantic.TheSTC (T)
This is one of the more curious groups at Dallas, as it is the only group with more than one foreigner. The group also opens with the marquee match of the first set of games, with foreign favorite and PvT beast Grubby taking on the Brood War prodigy Flash. It should be an exciting best of three, and I think Grubby will emerge the victor.
One of the strongest foreign players, Grubby always shows great games (Image Source: d-esports.com)
In fact, I think Grubby stands a very good chance of taking this group; the strongest Koreans in the group play Terran, and as I said before, the Dutch Protoss excels in that matchup. The other foreign Protoss players could also make a splash here, with BabyKnight looking to make a name for himself outside of Europe, and NaNiwa coming out of his training den to prove that he is still one of the world's best.
Let's not overlook Flash or TheSTC though. If either can get past Grubby, I would favor them against any of the other players in the group. If they both win their first round matches and face each other right off the bat, I would give the edge to Flash, but in TvT, anything can happen. HwangSin could also pull off a surprise here, but against this level of competition, I just do not see it happening.
Predicted Group Winner: Grubby
If he can get past Flash, I really think Grubby can take this group. He has strong PvT, and he can be innovative in PvP, and most importantly, he drew a foreigner heavy group. He has been on the threshold of being a world-class player for some time, and Grubby might just break through here.
Group C: The Group of Death
- Azubu.ViOLet (Z)
- ROOT.MajOr (T)
- StarTale.Life (Z)
- TSL.Revival (Z)
- Woongjin.Soulkey (Z)
- Liquid.TaeJa (T)
Obviously, an open bracket entrant could change this declaration, but as it stands, Group C is far and away the toughest group at MLG Dallas.
The first player that sticks out is Life, fresh off of his GSL championship and looking to add another notch to his belt. However, he cannot look past his first opponent to the Korean foes down the road, as MajOr is as capable as any other foreigner when it comes to taking out elite opponents. Even if he gets past MajOr, life does not get any easier for Life (pun intended), but he should still be favored to take this group.
Adding an MLG to his trophy case would give Life a strong case for best player in the world right now (Image Source: thisisgame.com)
Two established players who could represent a threat to our GSL champion are the Korean-turned-quasi-foreigner viOLet and Liquid's star Terran TaeJa. viOLet can disappear from the general Starcraft conscience only to show up and utterly dominate a foreign event, while TaeJa showed a couple months ago that he is among the highest tier of Terran players, and he will be looking to avenge his early fall in this season of Code S.
Soulkey has been one of the more consistent of the KeSPA players who came over late, taking a quicker hold of the new game than most, and maintaining that ability enough to make it to this event. It will be interesting to see how he handles an MLG-style event, having played almost entirely in events where he has had preparation time. Revival could have done quite well in some other groups here, but in this company, he is entirely outclassed.
Predicted Group Winner: Life
Though he could find himself ZvZed out by either viOLet or Soulkey, Life has a distinct advantage over this entire group. He even dominated his closest competition, TaeJa, on his way to the GSL title last season. Life is also my pick to win the whole tournament; his aggressive play style should catch most opponents off-guard as they will not have time to prepare for him, but he can also macro with the best.
Group D: Anything Could Happen
- coL.Heart (T)
- StarTale.Bomber (T)
- Acer.Scarlett (Z)
- ESC.Daisy (P)
- SKT1.soO (Z)
- LG-IM.First (P)
This group is a cornucopia of players that are either unproven, unpredictable, or utterly predictable (here's looking at you, Heart).
If he has one of his good-Bomber days, I think Bomber should take the group, but the chances of him playing at his best throughout the whole group are slim, and we will likely see some bad-Bomber. His most difficult match might be his first, against Scarlett. That series should set the tone for the group; if Scarlett can beat Bomber, she will have taken a huge step towards proving she is capable of dominating the world's best, and not just the NA scene.
Bomber will be looking for his second MLG championship (Image Source: thisisgame.com)
Heart and First should both do well in this group, and could very well take it, especially if both Scarlett and Bomber cannot meet their high expectations. Criticize his play as often as you want, but Heart wins games, and First has shown at other MLG events that he is not just some guy sitting in the shadow of his teammate Seed. They are both consistent players, and that trait is crucial in a progaming career.
Once again, I do not know a whole lot about the KeSPA player, soO, but we should probably expect the standard mix of strong mechanics and innovation, with a little bit of a lack in game experience. That skill set is particularly scary in a Zerg player, so soO could have a good day in this group. Daisy is a heavy sleeper here, and probably won't be able to stand against the talent present.
Predicted Group Winner: Scarlett
If I was going to choose one group that I think could be won by an open bracket player, it would be this one, but I'm going to trust in Scarlett. As I said before, we'll have a better idea of just how good she is after her early series versus Bomber. If Scarlett wins that, I think she wins the group.
The Open Bracket: Rain Means Business
It takes tremendous talent and execution to make it through an MLG open bracket, and this edition has some new faces that could make a tremendous impact on the tournament.
The big name here is SKT.Rain. Apparently, he has forfeited his Code S spot to participate in this tournament, and that means the KeSPA Protoss isn't coming to Dallas to "do well"; he is here to win, and he could very well do that. He should dominate his segment of the open bracket, and unless he ends up in Group C with Life and TaeJa, he should crush his group stage as well. Expect him to perform very well.
Other Korean faces that should be considered favorites to make it through the bracket include SK.MC, TSL.Polt, Axiom.CranK, EG.JYP, and Quantic.Golden. Keep a close eye specifically on Polt and MC. They are both emotional players with huge foreigner fan bases, and they should be able to feed off the energy of the crowd.
Expect big things from mOOnGLaDe and the other SEA players (Image Source: novede.com)
Also, look out for the players from Team Nv and Team Immunity. These stars from South East Asia do not usually make it out to these MLG events, and will be looking to show just how strong their scene can be. Expect at least one of them to make it through to the group stage, particularly the Australian Zergs mOOnGLaDe and MaFia. Show your support for these teams, as events can only improve if SEA teams make their way out, and they will be more likely to fly their players out if the fans want it.
Let's not forget the droves of other very talented players who will be present in Dallas. It's always cool to see an American player or two succeed on such a stage in their home country, showing the world that players from the USA should not always be taken lightly. Any player can have a really good day and blow through some tough competition to make a name for himself, and it is these underdog stories that help make eSports as thrilling as it is.
KeSPA Player Profiles - I highly recommend reading this write-up by Axslav, profiling the KeSPA players who qualified through the MvP event. If you are like me and were not able to watch their road to Dallas, this piece will help you acquaint yourselves with the KeSPA players Soulkey, Flash, soO, and Hyvaa, describing their styles and who they beat to make it this far.