The North American Star League began on April 12, 2011 to very mixed reviews. The huge new StarCraft 2 league's mission was to “foster the prominence of eSports and professional StarCraft 2 in North America through highly visible, organized, and invigorating competition.” The NASL invited 50 of the most well-known SC2 players to compete online in five divisions over the course of nine weeks every Wednesday through Sunday. While some thought the amount of SC2 content that NASL was pumping out was fantastic, others thought the over saturation of the league was excessive. At the end of the divisional competition the 15 top players and the winner of a 190 player Open Tournament were flown to the NASL Finals which took place last weekend, July 8-10, in Ontario, California.
With a $100,000 prize pool on the line, 16 of the world’s best StarCraft 2 players competing, and some of the most talented casters in the scene commentating, the North American Star League offline finals sounded incredibly promising. Unfortunately, the finals got off to almost as rocky a start as the league did itself three months ago. On Day One of the finals there were multiple issues including broken projectors, late start times, sound problems, and most importantly quite a few lackluster games. However, the NASL did what they had to in order to turn the event around and the final two days of the event were absolutely incredible. They fixed most of the production issues, rotated a variety of fantastic casters, fixed their observer, and overall, the event featured some of the best StarCraft 2 games I’ve ever seen.
Walking in to the venue for the first time was pretty surprising, in a good way. NASL had set up over 600 chairs for spectators as well as three giant projector screens to watch the games on. They also built two cozy soundproof booths for the players to compete in so that the audience could enjoy the casters on stage. Unfortunately due to projector problems on the first day of the event started a few hours late (standard in eSports) and it was hard to see and hear what was going on in the games throughout the day.
However, the biggest disappointment of the first day weren't the technological issues, it was Joseph "Liquid’Ret" de Kroon (Zerg) getting knocked out of the tournament in the very first best of three round by NASL’s Open Tournament winner Lee "TSL.PuMa" Ho Joon (Terran). In game one, Puma used a two Barracks Bunker rush strategy that can be very hard for Zerg players to hold off. The game was over in just a few minutes and the fan favorite Ret was very close to elimination. In game two, Ret started off with a safer build but it was still no match for Puma's relentless attacks with Hellions, Banshees, and Tanks. Just like that Ret was out of the single elimination tournament after coming in first place out of the entire divisional play over nine weeks.
Many fans of Ret were angry that the first place seed in the tournament had to play the winner of the Open Tournament in the very first round, saying it was unfair. Others say that the best player won the games and it would have happened in later rounds anyway. Regardless, it hit the crowd hard when Ret lost and throughout the rest of the day the Korean players absolutely dominated the tournament.
Park "ST.Squirtle" Hyun Woo, Park, "ST.JulyZerg" Sung Jun, and Jang "WeMadeFox.Moon" Jae Ho all rolled over their opponents. Moon literally rolled over his opponent Dennis "Mouz.HasuObs" Schneider with over 100 banelings during his first game. The roar of the crowd was deafening when Moon morphed all the rolly polly banelings, and in his post-game interview he mentioned that he saw JulyZerg make a lot of banelings in his game, and he wanted to make even more.
While fun to watch, most of the games during the day featured Koreans completely outclassing their competitors until the Jonathan "Alternate.DarKFoRcE" Belke vs. Han "TSL.aLive" Lee Seok series. In game one, Alive started with a quick Bunker rush strategy and followed it up by showing off his amazing multitasking abilities. He was constantly attacking every part of Darkforce's army on all sides and eventually Darkforce realized he was too far behind in the game and he had to admit defeat. But it was in game two where things got really interesting. Alive tried to Bunker rush Darkforce again, but this time Darkforce easily defended it and almost lost to the follow up attack a few minutes later. After defending that as well, Darkforce was able to pull ahead economically and gain map control with Mutalisks, Zerglings, and Banelings. Alive had no choice but to stay in his base and turtle. He had to macro up his own army of Marines, Tanks, and Vikings and for almost thirty more minutes the two went at one another. After countless drops, engagements, and counter attacks, Darkforce successfully forced Alive to quit as Alive had been mined out of his base and had no money left to make units.
As awesome as the second game of the series was, the third game was without a doubt the best game of the day. It started out with Alive taking an early lead on Darkforce with a two Factory Reactor Hellion build that roasted tons of Darkforce's Drones. Alive then held back and played defensively, and both players sat back, consuming their respective halfs of the map and rushing to hit the 200 supply limit. Once both playeres were maxed out, Alive decided that it was time to roll out with his massive army of Tanks, Marines and Thors. He pushed into the center of the map and forced a huge engagement. Darkforce saw him coming thanks to some amazing creep spread, and rushed in with Zerglings, Banelings, and Mutalisks before Alive could siege up in a good position. Darkforce showed some amazing micro when he chased Alive's marines with Banelings, giving his Mutalisks time to kill alive's Tanks, and bringing in three Infestors at the end of the battle to fungal all of Alive's Medivacs preventing them from escaping. After losing all of his core army units (Tanks and Medivacs) Alive was forced to play defensively again, which gave Darkforce all the time in the world to transition into Infestors and Broodlords, a very scary unit combo for Terrans to deal with.
Even though Darkforce could not attack alive head-on, he put pressure on Alive with Nydus Worms all over the place, forcing Alive to run around in circles inside his base, not giving him an opportunity to push out. By the time Alive secured his bases, and the Nydus harass was finished, and Darkforce had the scariest Zerg army I've ever seen. About 15 Broodlords, 15 Corruptors, and 15 Infestors. It was time for the final battle, and Darkforce pretty much rolled over Alive like he wasn't even there. With a wall of Broodlords and some very nice fungal growth, Darkforce, the foreigner, forced Alive to finally tap out, much to the crowd's jubilation.
While Day One of NASL did hold a few entertaining matches, the whole production fail was worrying to say the least. So when we entered the venue on Day 2, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The projector issues had been entirely fixed overnight and the games started on time. Day 2 was mostly one great game after another, with the highlight match being between Chia Yang "fNatic.Sen" Cheng vs. Jang "OGS.MC" Min Chul. This series was a best of five and it came all the way down to a nail biting fifth game.
The first game went to MC who was able to pull ahead early with Stargate unit harass. Game two, MC went for air harass again but Sen was able to survive despite losing a lot of units. In the end, Sen was able to reinforce his army after a huge engagement with MC which MC couldn't hold off. Game 3 was very close, and MC got three early Zealots into Sen's expansion and they almost killed a Hatchery. Sen then immediately saw through MC's strategy to make Dark Templars and held it off brilliantly. Since MC's plan didn't work, Sen was ahead and kept this advantage until the end of the game with a big Zergling, Baneling, Roach, Infestor attack.
By the fourth game the crowd was really rooting for Sen to pull through. He was the only foreigner left in the NASL and the people really wanted him to win. The game was quite long with both players macroing up to a big army at the start instead of using too much early aggression. To defend against MC's air attacks Sen tried to make Corrupters and Mutalisks. MC noticed Sen's strategy and changed his own, going for a large ground army push. The two engaged one another and Sen lost the battle but managed to stay in the game until he was on seven bases. MC then transitioned again in to Colossus and Void Rays. The Void Rays were able to kill off Sen's massive amount of Broodlords which would have done great against the Colossus. However, even though Sen eventually managed to kill the Void Rays, they had done enough damage to Sen economically that MC was able to build up a huge army that Sen couldn't defend and won the game.
The fifth and last game of the day wasn't quite as exhilirating as the fourth. Sen was able to hold off MC’s initial air harass and take a third base early in the game. Unfortunately, MC also got a quick third base and was able to macro up a fiercer force of stalkers and colossus. After a sad engagement from Sen, MC was able to hold on to his lead for the rest of the game and win the series.
Saturday proved that NASL was working as hard as they could on making their event work. They fixed a lot of problems from the first day and offered fantastic games all throughout the second day. On Sunday, the main problem with NASL was that the games started way ahead of schedule. Players weren’t even aware of the time switch, causing them to rush to the venue and a lot of spectators didn’t know about the change either and many people missed the third place game between Sen and JulyZerg. However, the mind blowing grand finals between Puma and MC almost made up for every complaint surrounding the live event. Here’s a breakdown of the finals.
In the first game, MC opened with his standard phoenix build for harassing while Puma went for a fast expansion. MC kept his Phoenixes alive all game and continued to do damage with them, and it looked like he was ahead and in a good position to win but Puma micro’d amazingly in all of the big battles with clutch EMP's from his Ghosts and crushed MC in the final battle despite being down by over 30 supply.
In game 2 both players opened up with fast expansions and went for a macro game. MC teched quickly to Phoenixes again while Puma went for fast Medivacs and did a perfectly timed drop before MC could bolster his Phoenix count. MC was starting to pull ahead with really good Phoenix harass until Puma started drop harassing all over the place. The most amazing part of the game was when Puma ended up killing MC's Twilight Council when the Charge upgrade was about 99% done. The crowd went absolutely nuts. Despite being down by about 20 supply, Puma quickly moved out to attack before MC finished re-upgrading Charge, and proceeded to outmicro MC's slow Zealots and win the battle decisively forcing the end of the game.
In game 3 Puma opened with a two Barracks into a fast expansion build. MC went for a Stargate for the third game in a row, choosing to make Void Rays this game and going for a 3 Warpgate and Void Ray timing attack rather than Phoenix harass. Puma would have been in good shape to stop this but he was way too aggressive trying to push up MC's ramp. Plus, MC had perfect forcefields that trapped Puma's units. MC’s counter attack with Void Rays and Stalkers and did a lot of damage, with Puma barely staying alive, and being stuck inside his main base until 11 minutes into the game. MC used his huge economic advantage and some nice Phoenix harass to easily close out this game and stay in the tournament. In game 4, Puma walled in quickly to go for for fast cloaked Banshees so MC was suspicious and expecting something funny. MC made a fast Robotics Facility and three Gateways to be safe from anything that Puma threw at him. As it turns out, MC's build countered Puma’s perfectly. Both players expanded and, Puma, realizing that he was behind because MC was ready for his fast cloaked Banshees took a secret 3rd expansion at a hidden base. Puma's two Banshees were sitting outside of MC's expansions for a long time, causing MC to sit in his base and defend, giving Puma enough time to get his 3rd base up and running. By the time MC felt safe to move out, Puma's extra macro had already kicked in and he had enough units to hold off MC's two base timing attack. From there, Puma played very patiently and waited until he got the perfect unit composition of Marines, Marauders, Medivacs, Vikings, and Ghosts to deal with MC's army and won the first big fight of the game.
In Game 5, MC went for a one Gateway expansion, while Puma went for cloaked Banshees again. One Gate expo is very strong versus Banshees if you follow up with a Robotics Facility, but unfortunately MC was feeling very aggressive and built six Gateways, aiming for a timing attack. MC was caught with his pants down as a Banshee flew into his expansion with cloak and did some serious damage, and flew away at the last second to keep the Banshee alive. Puma only built two Banshees all game but he kept them alive for a very long time, alternately poking into MC's main base and expansion and doing economic damage as well as forcing MC to sit in his base while Puma macro'd really hard. Puma then started drop harassing non-stop and applying pressure from every possible angle. MC did an amazing job of holding it off and barely using any units. Once both players maxxed out, Puma decided it was time to go for the win, attacking MC head on outside of his base, but MC had the perfect unit composition of upgraded Zealots, Stalkers, Archons, High Templars and Sentries to deal with Puma's huge biological army and crushed Puma's attack. MC's counter attack took out Puma's fourth expansion and gave him map control, which he used to double expand and switch to Colossus. Puma was behind and forced to fight in some bad spots and MC held on and outmacro'd Puma to take the game.
In Game 6, Puma went for a fast gasless expansion into four Barracks. MC knew what he was up to and built a fast Twilight Council, going for a Blink Stalker attack. MC used the terrain of Tal'darim Altar to blink in behind Puma's expansion and did some nice Stalker harass, but Puma was able to hold it off with a non-stop stream of Marines and Marauders from his four Barracks. MC however expanded behind his harass and it turned into a fairly normal game. It was very tense, reminiscent of the Game 7 of TSL 3 finals on this same map and positions. Both players stayed on two bases for a long time, afraid to make a mistake that might lose the game. They both decided to take third bases at around the same time, and even though it had looked like Puma had an advantage after stopping MC's early pressure, it seemed like he was scared to engage and MC was allowed to get the perfect unit mixture to deal with the Puma’s army compostition. Once both players were on three bases, Puma started to drop harass, but MC was completely ready for it this game after being harassed so hard in the previous games. Puma won a big battle in the center of the map, catching MC a little bit out of position and ending up ahead by around 40 supply, but Puma moved up MC's ramp and tried to end the game. MC's macro was perfect, along with some clutch storms and he was able to hold Puma off and even the supplies again. MC then moved out into the map and denied Puma's fourth base while getting his own fourth base up, until Puma promptly dropped MC and killed his expansion. The game seemed to be even again, and Puma started mass drop harassing, trying to do some damage and find an opening to attack. MC however saw everything and killed three Medivacs full of units for free and was able to win a big fight a few minutes later because of that. After that, Puma was just too far behind, MC had map control, and he had expanded everywhere while denying Puma's expansions.
In the end it all came down to this final game with $25,000 on the line. It was MC, known by many as the God Protoss versus Puma, a relatively unknown player who punished everyone throughout the entire Open Bracket and the finals. And luckily for the fans, game seven was almost unbelievably fantastic.
In game 7, Puma was very bold going for a second Command Center before even building his first Barracks. MC scouted it right away and went for a fast three Warp Gate rush to counter it. This is when things started to get crazy, as MC attacked with his first Zealot and Stalker and Puma had almost no units and was trying desperately to build a Bunker on his ramp. MC's Probe was still alive in Puma's base thought and he built two Pylons in the corner while Puma was distracted by MC's units. Once MC's units were cleaned up, Puma pulled all of his scvs in his main and attacked the Pylons, knowing that if units were allowed to warp in to his base that the game would be over. Puma somehow managed to kill both Pylons at the very last second before the Warp Gate research finished, with the casters screaming and the crowd going nuts. MC wasn't finished however, he built a Pylon outside of Puma's base and ran three Stalkers inside. His Pylon was perfectly positioned so that as long as those Stalkers were alive and gave vision, he could warp in behind the Bunkers inside Puma's main base. A crazy micro battle ensued, and Puma pulled almost every SCV he had, knowing that he had to crush this attack and push MC out of his base. After MC was pushed back he was way behind, but with so much money on the line he still tried to pull ahead. He expanded and tried to make a comeback, transitioning into a six Gateway attack. Unfortunately, Puma had an economic advantage from the start and his army was easily able to hold it off with the help of the four Bunkers on top of his ramp. Puma continued playing safe, knowing that if he could just macro well and get the unit composition that he needed, that his lead would take home the victory. Both players took third bases at the same time and as soon as Puma's Medivacs, Ghosts and upgrades finished, he rolled out to attack with about a 40 supply advantage. MC had no hope of stopping this attack, he was just too far behind and was forced to GG.
When the game was over, the crowd went absolutely insane. MC and Puma got out of their booths and gave one another a hug. During Puma’s post-game interview he was asked how he was going to spend his $50,000 and he replied saying, “My skin is not that good, so I would like to spend the money on my skin care.” He’s now been dubbed by the community as the Skin Care Terran.
Overall the NASL Finals event was definitely a success. “I couldn’t have asked for a better finals,” Russel Pfister, President of the NASL said. The NASL team worked through the hard first day of the live event and made an enjoyable show for all of the live spectators. The finals were simply amazing and will be remembered by StarCraft 2 fans for a very long time. For all of the criticism the NASL received throughout season one, they really did pull off something great and season two will only be better. To purchase a season two ticket you can head over to NASL’s website.
Here is a breakdown of the prizes for the NASL season one winners:
1st. Lee "PuMa" Ho Joon (Terran) - $50,000
2nd. Jang "MC" Min Chul (Protoss) - $25,000
3rd. Chia Yang "Sen" Cheng (Zerg) - $10,000
4th. Park "JulyZerg" Sung Jun (Zerg) - $5,000
5th-8th. Jonathan "DarkForcE" Belke (Zerg) - $2,500
5th-8th. Kyung Hung "SeleCT" Ryoo (Terran) - $2,500
5th-8th. Jang "Moon" Jae Ho (Zerg) - $2,500
5th-8th. Park "Squirtle" Hyun Woo (Protoss) - $2,500
9th-16th. Jos "Ret" de Kroon (Zerg) - $500
9th-16th. Shawn "Sheth" Simon (Zerg) - $500
9th-16th. Stefan "MorroW" Andersson (Zerg) - $500
9th-16th. Dennis "HasuObs" Schneider (Protoss) - $500
9th-16th. Choi "Zenio" Jung Min (Zerg) - $500
9th-16th. Han "aLive" Lee Seok (Terran) - $500
9th-16th. Oleksey "White-Ra" Krupnyk (Protoss) - $500
9th-16th. Lim "BoxeR" Yo Hwan (Terran) - $500
Special thanks to Drew, Joshy, Ben, Justin, Russell, Duran, and Primadog, and Rachel for your help at NASL with this piece. All of the in game images were taken from the VODs of the finals. You can watch them on justin.tv/NASLSeasonone.