In the first season of the IGN Pro Team League, Team Liquid will look to replicate their success from the final edition of IPL’s Team Arena Challenge, where they came within one series of taking the entire tournament, qualifying them for the Premier Division in the new IPTL format.
Liquid’s history in team league play is a tale of two eras: pre-TaeJa and post-TaeJa. Before the acquisition of the Korean Terran in March of this year, Liquid was a strong foreign team with a couple of Korean players to add some luster to the lineup, but just did not stack up against the deep rosters of the GSTL-caliber teams. They were able to win the small team league event put on by NASL, but other foreign teams were the only competition. The primarily foreign Liquid roster was not competitive when invited to participate in GSTL 2012 Season. TaeJa was unable to attend the first match against ZeNEX, where the ZeNEX Zerg Life all-killed Liquid, and in the second match HerO was the only player to manage any game wins off of NSHoSeo, taking two maps as the last hope for Liquid before losing.
In the time since the lackluster team performance in Korea, TaeJa has become one of the very best players in all of Starcraft 2, and brought Team Liquid to a whole new level of team league performance. Their IPL TAC 3 campaign began with a bang, with Zenio all-killing Dignitas in the first round and a 5-1 trouncing of Mouz by Sheth and HayprO. Then the foreign foes so easily swept aside by the backup players of Liquid were replaced by Korean teams, beginning with Prime. Things seemed dire for Liquid, as they quickly fell behind Prime by a 3-0 margin before TaeJa came in and worked his magic, disposing of the entire Prime team, securing his first all-kill.
In the next round of the winner’s bracket, Liquid did lose to SlayerS and fall to the loser’s bracket, but that only served to provide the team and TaeJa more opportunities to shine. Their first match was a team effort, with TaeJa, Ret, and HerO all taking sets in a victory over MVP. The next clan war came against StarTale, a team with a roster chock full of Code S players, and Liquid once again fell behind at the start, losing four maps to Ace and Life. The situation was dire, and the best players for StarTale had yet to come into play. TaeJa, however, was unimpressed, coming in as the last player for Liquid and once again cleaning house, defeating Life, Curious, Squirtle, and Bomber in succession to steal victory from the jaws of defeat.
Not content with this achievement, TaeJa scored another four kills in a win over SlayerS to send Liquid the TAC 3 finals in San Francisco, and there met the team who made it through the winner’s bracket unscathed, Incredible Miracle. In the first best of nine series, IM led off with arguably their strongest player, the most recent GSL champion Seed. After he took game one from Ret, Liquid brought the big guns out early, relying on TaeJa to deal with the powerful IM Protoss. No coaching decisions were necessary after that, as TaeJa all-killed the Korean powerhouse team. However, a second best of nine series followed since Liquid came up through the loser’s bracket, and lightning did not strike twice for the community favorites. Seed avenged his defeat by ending another TaeJa streak after only two victories, and then proceeded to finish off the rest of the team.
Clearly, the key to Liquid’s success is the Terran superstar TaeJa, especially in a stacked field like the Premier Division of the IPTL. It is not much of a stretch to consider him the most consistent Terran player in the world right now, and he needs to bring that consistency to every clan war this season for Liquid to have a chance at advancing from the group stage. TaeJa is excellent in all matchups, but has a particularly good TvZ. This could prove to be quite advantageous, as Liquid’s group features Stephano and DongRaeGu as opposing team aces. Obviously, there are a number of other great players between the rosters of EG, MVP, and SlayerS, but TaeJa should be considered the favorite in every set he plays.
The other major threat for Liquid is their longest tenured Korean, the Protoss player HerO. With the arrival of TaeJa as ace, much of the pressure that was on HerO to take maps from the opposition’s best players is now gone, which should help avail some of the nerve issues he has been known for in the past. Frankly, HerO could actually be an ace on many great teams, and an absolute boon to have as a major backup for the frontline player. His creative play makes him an especially strong PvP player, and his other matchups are solid as well, as you can expect from any player who has won a Dreamhack Open. Expect him to flourish alongside TaeJa this season.
A stable of Zerg players form the rest of the lineup that we will likely see in the IPTL: the Korean Zenio, and the foreigners Ret, Sheth and TLO. Zenio has been sitting around the border of Code A and Code S for a while, the sign of a player with great potential but not the ability to pull off his best play on a regular basis. After taking that into consideration, he is still the third best player behind his Korean brethren, and the most reliable Zerg. Liquid will look to use him in the leadoff role often, trying to grab a couple of wins behind his well-balanced style of play.
The foreigner Zergs are all wild cards, players who with a win here and there can make a big difference for the team. When Ret is on top of his game, he can out-macro anyone with his Brood War-trained mechanics, but his decision making is lacking. Sheth is a good player, but just not on the same level as the high-caliber opponents he will be facing in this league. TLO, with his creative play that borders on the ridiculous, can steal a win if he catches a foe off-guard with a wacky build. Any maps taken by these players at this level of competition should be viewed as a gift, making life easier for the core of Korean stars.
Liquid was somewhat lucky to end up in Group A, as the only other foreign team—Evil Geniuses—is also in the group. To add to that, the arguably strongest Korean teams Incredible Miracle and StarTale, along with the massive amount of Code S players they bring with them, are in Group B. This should create easier match-ups for TaeJa and HerO, who will have fewer players of equivalent skill to play against. Even so, the group stage will be a challenge, as MVP and SlayerS have skilled players of their own, and possess greater overall depth in these best of nine scenarios than Liquid. The match versus EG is almost a must win for Liquid, as having a 1-0 edge before facing off against the Korean squads will give them a much better chance of advancing.
The match against EG will take place on September 11th, and is also the first match of the IPTL Premier division, so be sure to tune in!
Written by Kyle Elliott
Source : feeds[dot]ign[dot]com