When I walked into the DGL area this morning, there were a lot more empty chairs, but everything felt a lot more tense.
Clusters of people were grouped around players who were finishing their final playoff matches; hands over mouths, sombre faces, eyes glued to the screen.
The periods of strained silence were broken intermittently with shouts, cheers and high fives. The FPS crowd were by far the rowdiest, jumping out of their chairs and trashtalking their opponents after every round. The streaming room sat neglected as crowds formed behind the players themselves.
I didn’t fight through the morning traffic for the FPS though. I was there to watch the best Starcraft 2 players in South Africa duke it out for over R20K worth of prizes. And what a final it was.
Noone expected much of a fight going in. Protoss player [bvd] Skiblet, as good as he is, was facing South Africa’s own Starcraft export, PandaTank, who’s played on the big stage in international tournaments. The match was a best of five, and a lot of the people I spoke to were expecting a swift 3-0 for the panda, maybe a 3-1. That’s not exactly how things played out.
Game 1 was somewhat uneventful, with a typical blink stalker vs blink stalker back and forth that is common in PvP. PandaTank tried to siege his way up Skiblet’s ramp, but a few bad engages left PandaTank with the smaller army while Skiblet opened up an economy lead.
After one or two more bad fights, PandaTank saw the writing on the wall and conceded, conserving his energy for the rest of the games.
As the victory screen splashed onto the screen, there was a gasp from the audience in the spectator’s lounge and a burst of applause – Skiblet easily winning the first game wasn’t quite what people were expecting.
Game 2 was more of a battle. Both players went with a gas-heavy opening, with PandaTank choosing to tech up aggressively into fast Dark Templars while Skiblet chose to expand to his natural. PandaTank made a quick push to Skiblet’s base with a Stalker/Dark Templar composition, managing to snipe the expansion but losing a lot of units in the process as Skiblet had observers ready for him.
Skiblet then countered with some Dark Templars of his own, and caught PandaTank off-guard without adequate detection. It looked to be a done deal, but Skiblet chose to take the safer route and pull back out of the base after doing significant damage, choosing to expand and put himself further ahead rather than try win right away.
A few minutes later he returned with an even bigger army and finished the job. It was now 2-0 to Skiblet, and the crowd couldn’t believe it. Jaws were on the floor across the room; Skiblet was one win away from taking down the end-boss, and it was starting to look like he could really do it.
Game 3 was an epic, lengthy macro game. The game started off similarly to the previous one, with both players opting for a standard opening – PandaTank again going more tech-oriented. There was a bit of light harassment from both players as they scouted, but then they both settled comfortably into their natural expansions.
The real turning point of the game was Skiblet’s decision to tech into fast Phoenix. He moved out with five of the agile flyers as a probe hit-squad, nipping in and out of PandaTank’s base, managing to pick off 2 probes at a time without losing a single phoenix.
Not only did this put PandaTank behind on probes, weakening his economy, it also forced him into investing precious minerals into static defences, giving Skiblet both the economy advantage and map control. The phoenix squad even managed to pick off a couple of stalkers and sentries that were caught out in the middle of the map.
PandaTank decided to respond with a push, moving on Skiblet’s base with a stalker/sentry composition, only to be swiftly sent packing by the stalker/immortal ball sitting at Skiblet’s entrance. Meanwhile, Skiblet continued to harass PandaTank’s mineral line, putting himself further ahead.
Skiblet began to tech into colossi, which resulted in PandaTank responding with tempest production. In the mid-game the armies appeared to even out, with small skirmishes and trading back and forth. This eventually culminated in a massive fight in the middle of the map, with both sides having a ground composition of stalkers, immortals, archons and sentries. The real decider was Skiblet’s colossi vs PandaTank’s tempests.
It was a tense minute as both armies essentially a-moved each other, seeing who would walk away the winner. Skiblet’s colossi were decimating PandaTank’s front line while his tempests whaled on Skiblet’s colossi, trying to race them.
After the dust settled, Skiblet came out on top, with a significant chunk of army left while PandaTank’s last couple of ground units hobbled to safety. The problem for PandaTank, however, was his anti-colossi units were now gone.
While this battle was going on, Skiblet was producing more and more colossi, and after winning the fight he quickly advanced on PandaTank’s base, catching him without any real way of dealing with the lumbering death-machines.
It looked like it was all over as Skiblet waltzed through PandaTank’s base, setting everything on fire. The crowd was already starting to go ballistic, and the commentator was declaring a gg. Then, seemingly from out of nowhere, PandaTank came out with a huge ball of Dark Templars, catching Skiblet without any detection and forcing him back. The DTs chased him all the way home, dealing significant damage to Skiblet’s army it ran for cover.
It looked like PandaTank might be able to claw his way back into the game, but the damage to his economy was too great. Skiblet returned with a replenished army to finish the job, ending his clean sweep of the Protoss legend.
The spectators couldn’t believe it, and I’m sure PandaTank couldn’t either. Congrats to Skiblet on a fantastic performance, and for delivering what would be one of many upsets throughout the day.