Guest Article: The Way I Am: An Interview With Yoan “ToD” Merlo

Written by WellPlayed
Jul 26 2011, 8:38 PM EDT

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Editor's note: This article was written for last week's writing candidate showcase. We were not able to publish it last week due to circumstances beyond our control, but we're pleased to bring it to you today. Please note that the answers are loosely edited from ToD's responses, so the grammar may not always be up to our usual standards. Let us know what you think!

Written by Karthick "Kage" Gopal
Art by Carlos Joaquin (larger version here)

The Way I Am: An Interview With Yoan “ToD” Merlo

Origins
In the south of France lies a city called Arles. Till recently, Arles was best known as the residence of one of the greatest artists our race has seen – Vincent Van Gogh.

Another artist was born on the 20th of March, 1985 in the same city. An artist of eSports, all of 26 years old today.

Yoan "ToD" Merlo is a French Protoss player that might need some introduction to the StarCraft II community. A member of the French clan Millenium, one would mistake him for yet another European Grandmaster Protoss player, except this Grandmaster has a history few can boast of.

Yoan "ToD" Merlo, first appeared on to the RTS scene as a fresh bright-eyed lad who was introduced to Command & Conquer by his friend. When the original StarCraft was released, he quickly jumped on to the bandwagon as a Zerg player. After experimenting with the different races, he settled on Terran. He did fairly well locally but had no splendid success to boast about.

It was after a few years that Blizzard released a sequel to its immensely popular game, WarCraft II. Called Reign of Chaos, it quickly enraptured many gamers around the world. ToD was one of them, and he took it seriously enough to join a clan called Magic.

Hooked by the WarCraft lore, ToD went from a campaign player to a member of France's top clan. He didn't stop there; tackling the highest levels of the game, ToD went on to become one of the most popular and accomplished WarCraft III players in the history of the game. He played the Human race and has a variety of international tournament podium wins under his belt besides placing silver at the World Cyber Games 2006 in Italy.

He's here to make his presence felt in the world of StarCraft II has just recently won the representative spot for WCG France. He will be heading to compete in Busan at the end of the year.

That's enough from me, let's hear what ToD has to say.

On Broodwar, WarCraft III and StarCraft II

You know Broodwar was much harder to get good at I think. You could play the game for years and still not be a top player; it required a lot of specific skills to be able to actually compete with the best. StarCraft II, however, is in general an easier game to play but nonetheless it is still very competitive with a lot of players actually trying to go to pro and practicing tons.

The difference between the two? I would say WarCraft required a lot less speed than StarCraft II, I would say it was mostly strategy/micro based. Macro was a lot easier and the metagame there wasn't as important as it is in StarCraft II.

On His Nickname, ToD

When we were in the Magic clan, a lot of us decided to take different names. I thought a funny name to choose was ToDonte. It comes from the word Mastodonte, a kind of a prehistoric elephant. But my team mate kept calling me ToD and the name sort of stuck when I went into WarCraft III full time.

On His Current Team, Millenium

Oh, I think it's a great team, with many good players, but the team spirit is perhaps not the greatest. I'm good with Stephano and Adel, though I don't ever interact with LaLuSh or DieStar. Tarson is a brother. We don't usually practice together except with maybe Tarson but it's just a few custom games here and there. It's good to be in a French team because it's easier to communicate about important things with the management. But yeah I miss those times when I actually practiced more with teammates and we talked strategies more and I felt like their failure was my failure and their success was my success as well.

On Picking Protoss and Playing It

I didn't pick Terran because I wanted a change, when I first tried StarCraft II beta I played a couple of games in which I was Terran and my opponent was Kiwikaki as Protoss. That time I remembered thinking that the Protoss units looked much cooler than the Terran ones at that point I decided if I were ever planning to play SC2, I would be Protoss.

I'm glad I play Protoss. Dark Templars allow for great harass. The various openings you can go for to always keep your opponent on edge and try to surprise him is a nice benefit. Sentries also are really nice but these days all the maps have a super wide expand where it takes a lot of force fields to actually block your opponent's army.

On The Matchups With Protoss

Right now I really enjoy PvT, I'm learning to like PvP more and more, and I hate PvZ. I like to go for macro games, but I don't mind mixing it up and playing on one base.

My style can sometimes be similar as the one I had in WarCraft. Intense games with a ton of fights and lots of back and forth situations are most fun. There isn't anything in particular I hate to play against, yet, but sometimes you have to take gambles to get ahead; when it goes wrong I'm really annoyed, but it's part of the game we have to accept I guess.

But there are some things we have, like a Protoss Deathball in direct flight can be very deadly. But it's not impossible to stop, a lot of good Zerg players have been finding better ways to deal with that. They sometimes have great splits of units and all the time employing stuff like drops or Mutalisks or hit and run with a lot of Spine Crawlers at home can be quite hard to deal with.

And talk about dropping, Terran dropping few places with Medivacs almost always forces Protoss to split units and handle them which can be really hard to do with a simcitied base among other things and the lower mobility we have.

I think the key thing most players vs Protoss should realize is that if you can do some damage while macroing and get ahead, no deathball will save you.

On Favorite Maps In The Game (Note: this was during Season 2)

My favorite maps? Well there isn't any one that particularly stands out. My favourite used to be Jungle Basin, i just thought it was a good map for Protoss where you could force field easily, and it looked good; it kinda reminded me of Terenas Stand from WarCraft, I hated Shattered Temple at first but now I'm starting to like it a bit more. I'm definitely not a big fan of Testbug though. It's just too open and force fielding is so hard. Not to mention getting a third is next to impossible. Definitely not something I like there. I hope that tournaments work more and more toward changing the map pools all the time to keep the game fresh.

On His Grouping For Units And Buildings

I like to group almost all of my units in 1, except for Templars, which i put in 2 or 3, sometimes I use the second group for Colossi. i don't know if it's optimal but it's what I've gotten used to for now and i haven't figured what would be the best so I'm keeping it. Gateways on 4, Nexuses 5, 6 Robo or Stargate, 7 Forges, 8 second scouting Observer, and 9 first scouting Observer. I also put first scouting Observer on 3 at first until i have higher tech units. The Observer thing is still in "beta". I guess we could say since I'm still trying to add it into my gameplay but a lot of the time I forget. For now I want to focus on improving my understanding of the game and strategies, if one day I'm content with my skill and results then I will focus a lot more on improving my groupings, but for now I don't think it's what I should be looking at.

On Balance and Imbalance

I think a lot of high level players who play this game actually feel their race is the weakest, every day in my games I feel like roaches are too strong, so are Infestors and marauders, but Protoss players keep on doing good results in tournaments so there has to be a way, I actually troll a lot my friends and whine a bunch about Zerg every day as well but i do think that every race has a fighting chance right now.

Changes hmmm, on that I really feel it's too complicated to fix a game so I prefer to leave that to the people who have a lot of time to spend on this. I don't want to get into opinions but I think Roaches/Marauders are both really good vs Protoss. The Immortal doesn't counter as a good counter to either of them because of the slow move speed, buildtime, attack rate and price so perhaps something has to be changed in regards to that like making it 3 supply like tanks or something.

On Practice

You know the ladder is a good place to practice the basics of the game. The ladder works just like in WarCraft III so I'm already used to that system and I have been mostly only laddering with few a custom games in between. I'm not happy with my current level. I always feel like i could practice a lot more, but it's easy to get lazy when staying at home so I've been working on that and trying to practice a lot more than before.

I guess I know a lot about work ethics from the time I played WarCraft so I know how important it is to practice and how to practice correctly before a tournament etc that helped. I try to improve every aspect of my game all the time, my micro, macro and strategies almost all the time. Refining is very important.

A lot of people ask me on how to get better and I think to get better at first you need to play a lot so work on your mechanics and do some research on viable strategies. You have to understand what's good and what is not- that's very important. It's one thing to see a strategy employed by a a gosu player in GSL but doing it doesn't mean you will consistently win with it in ladder , you need to first understand why he did what he did, what is good about it and in which case would it be applicable. You can't blindly use it every time as there are probably 10 or more things that led to him make that decision.

What I did to get better was mainly watch as many replays and vods as possible but I have to stress that it's always important to really understand the strategies if you want to be able to make them work when using them. Sometimes you will see good things in the leagues but you have no idea about how much the meta game affected some of the choices of the players, so you have to narrow it down and take what you can use.

Right now I feel like I am not exceptional in StarCraft II at all so I have been working on just gaining general skill by laddering a lot, getting better vs cheese rushes and stuff and making sure decisions I take in the game are good.

On His Current Lifestyle

My lifestyle is not very healthy right now, which is another reason of why I think being in a pro-gaming house really could help with that. I just wake up whenever I wake up, I was planning on trying to wake up with a clock but i have been having trouble sleeping so I just try to get as much sleep as I can every day. I also have been trying to ladder some immediately when i wake up, either do some workout with some weights and then eat, or first eat and wait until i have fully digested to do it. I watch some vods/replays depending on what's available and I play some more. I live with my mom and brother, but my mom is at work for most of the day and my brother has been traveling a lot lately so I'm mostly only by myself. I don't go out much when I'm in my city except sometimes to go to the bakery or supermarket.

On Preparing for WCG and the Games In France

I was just practicing my game in general prior to the tournament. There was a tournament a month earlier than this one , which was my first LAN for StarCraft II and I finished second behind Adel, coming from LB i won the first bo3 2/1 and lost the second 0/2 I was disappointed, but I had not been playing for long and already I was giving him a hard time which was good. I went into that tour focused on Adel and Stephano because they were the 2 guys to watch out for. I was able to beat Stephano 2/0 in WB semi, at the time he was kinda struggling against Protoss i think. Then came the finals vs Adel, I decided to play without pressure, and just play my best with a feeling-based game to see what would happen and I won 2/0. He probably didn't play as well as he usually does but still he was undefeated for a long time in French lan tournaments so it felt extra good to be the first one to beat him at one. What gave me the edge is probably my experience of tournaments, I have been doing this for a long time, and I've become quite good at handling the pressure and focusing on 1 match at the time.

On His Most Memorable Win

My favourite wins in StarCraft II would be qualifying for WCG, as well as winning a lan called re-zo beating adel in finals. This was special because Adel had never lost a lan tournament in france at the time and was called Mr 100%. The competition was fierce, I qualified 6 times out of 6 in WarCraft III from 2004 to 2009. This was my first attempt in StarCraft II and France has some very good players. Like Adelscott and Sarens were there. I was really happy I was able to beat them.

In WarCraft there were tons of matches like winning extreme masters felt great, so did winning WEG masters, especially after almost not making out of groupstages, IEF masters was also crazy, I was playing mostly only dota for around 2 months just watching some wc3 replays here and here and i managed to win the tour beating the likes of Moon,LikE and xiaOt playing a super versatile and dominant game. Oh and how could I not mention my first major win in an international tournament at CPL 2005 in Dallas, I practiced like crazy for this tournament, actually I remember RotterdaM giving me pointers on how to play vs Orc which helped a lot when I faced Elakeduck in WB finals.

On His Then Team Mates From 4Kings

I talk with Grubby from time to time, but not on a daily basis, FoV i haven't heard from in a while i think he might have gone to army, and FuRy i talk to almost every day. I play SC2 just with FuRy, actually i played with him yesterday evening! i think he is quite underrated and can beat a lot of good players out there, he always gives me a hard time even though i think i'm quite decent vs Terran. I don't play with Grubby, just met him a few times in ladder but he also underrated in my opinion, I heard a lot people bash on him because he doesn't perform like in WC3 which is stupid if you ask me, he finished 3rd at copenhagen games. When I see him play I always feel like he has improved quite much since the previous time, his score in NASL really didn't reflect his true skill & potential.

On the Koreans

I think there are a lot more pro players in Korea so the practice there in general is just that much better, there are some non Koreans who can compete with them but with time passing by I think the Koreans will just gain more miles and get ahead.

A common mistake I notice is that the Chinese scene is also often forgotten but in WarCraft III at first there was 1 player who could compete with the best and suddenly there were many many who tried to go pro and practiced tons and there was a time where I think china might have been better than Korea at it. We saw SC2 being released there late and immediately some players playing ridiculous amounts of ladder games, in the Stars war tour also there was 3 Chinese in the top 4 and they all beat very good players on their way to there so we need to keep an eye out for the Chinese scene you know as well not just focus on the Koreans all the time. I think if the Chinese took this game more seriously and played more in international tournament they could do some serious damage.

But why aren't we at that level yet? I think the problem is that we don't have many progaming houses in Europe or the US. We need more of those where a rigorous practice schedule would be adopted and then EU/NA players could really be able to compete more with Koreans but it is so developed there already that they are pulling ahead right now.

But is all hope lost for the Foreigners? Of course not. We saw some foreigners going to Korea and doing great there so i really think it is just about mindset and practice, I'm not saying it's easy, you obviously need to be very dedicated and an extremely hard working individual like Jinro or HuK for example showed us a way in which we can compete at that level too.

On Being Away From Home, In China, and During the WarCraft III Days

The experience was great, I made a lot of new friends and had a ton of fun. I'm not sure what you mean by growing culturally but I learnt that living with other people you have not grown up with is not always an easy thing. It taught me to really respect and try my best to accommodate to other's habits and general manners because not everyone was raised the same way. Figuring out what's ok and what's not ok for me and others was a lesson I learned. Some of the things we take for granted aren't so in the case of the Chinese.

What was difficult there was probably the language barrier, but anyone who goes to live in a foreign country should invest some time into learning the local spoken language to be able to manage everyday's life. I did that slowly, but surely. I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends who are fluent in Chinese helping me with many things (I'd like to mention a special shoutout to Jason).

The things I enjoyed the most was perhaps the freedom away from home, I could whatever I wanted to- Go to club and party all night, eat whatever food I wanted every day. I learned to take care of myself, wash my own clothes, pay my bills , and since we never had any coach in WarCraft III, I learned to manage my practice all by myself to prepare for tournaments. China is a great place for e-sports, the fanbase is huge and the fans are truly passionate so it was a pleasure to play in front of huge crowds who really understood the game and often cheered at times where a general audience might not have understood what really was happening in the game.

I think going back to Asia is definitely a possibility, i'm actually going to to Korea in December for WCG, and I would like to practice there for some time. I'm currently looking for a pro-house in which i could stay for 2 weeks before the WCG finals to practice at. I'm most looking forward to the practice in Korea and the food as well which I dearly miss, I'm quite the Korean food expert and it's my favorite too so there will be a lot of bbq eating once I get down there :p

Shoutouts

Shoutout to my team, and to everyone who entertain me on a daily basis in our skype conf, FuRy, RotterdaM, DeMusLiM, MajOr, Apollo, Nightend, Tarson etc ~ Also big thank to our sponsors, MSI, Winamax and materiel.net . Thanks to everyone who supports me out there, you can find my fanpage at www.facebook.com/YoanMerlo which I try to update as much as possible. gg gl hf ~ !