MLG Raleigh: Infinity and Beyond
There’s a lot to be said for consistency, especially when discussing an event that is almost one-hundred percent reliant on a variety of technical components meshing together and working seamlessly for almost 72 straight hours. When dealing with powering and providing internet for 100+ PCs, televisions, and consoles, that kind of uninterrupted flow is the Holy Grail as far as event management is concerned, and MLG is coming incredibly close to delivering on that dream. Despite the looming threat of Hurricane Irene and power outages across North Carolina, somehow MLG Raleigh was able to withstand the storm with only minimal disruption to the live stream. That’s really damn impressive.
The steadfastness of the production was mirrored throughout every aspect of the event. Raleigh may not have been as intense as Columbus, with the first appearance of Korean exports such as oGsMC and Tastosis, or as gargantuan as Anaheim, with throngs of admirers surrounding any pro who stepped out of the player area, but it was still one hell of a time. There were great games, shocking upsets, and more than enough tension to fill the weekend, and even though there wasn’t anything too ground-breaking, it was nonetheless a strong showing for both MLG and the SC2 community. Although the event was definitely not stuffed to capacity, it was comfortably crowded; there were still not enough seats, but everyone had a good view of the action.
Many Beasts from the East
Korean players were once again the belles of the ball, taking the top six spots and allowing Slasher to keep his flowing auburn locks for another six weeks. This was widely predicted to be the outcome, but MLG Raleigh marks the first event where a Korean player left pool play with a losing record. Both LiquidHero and STTrickster went 2-3. At first glance this may seem surprising, but given that there were ten Koreans at the event, it’s certainly not indicative of any kind of lapse in their play. If the number of Koreans attending MLG stays this high or even continues to increase, not everyone will have a winning record, especially once the foreigners step up their game.
PuMa made a strong bid for first place, aiming to continue his winning streak from NASL and IEM Cologne, but he ultimately settled for fifth place after a surprising upset from NaDa, who was playing some of the best StarCraft II games of his career. HerO made a strong showing in his western debut before ultimately falling to DongRaeGu, who in turn lost to CoCa, who made it to the Grand Finals and lost to Bomber. Bomber was the favorite going into the event, and he certainly lived up to expectations, coasting to the Grand Finals with hardly a scratch and dropping only one game to CoCa.
TriMaster of the Universe
TriMaster was the unexpected hero of the event, tearing through the open bracket and making a big splash in the loser’s bracket before being knocked out of the tournament by EGHuk. Despite the defeat, TriMaster was able to beat iNcontroL and knock out both HayprO and IdrA along the way, and that combined with a 16th place finish put him on the map in a big way. It will take another tournament or two before it’s clear whether or not TriMaster can keep bringing the same level of results, but so far things are looking good for him.
Stories like TriMaster’s are hopefully going to become the bread-and-butter of MLG events. With Korean players coming in droves to battle for first place and win the love of their North American fans, the top place matches have lost some of their intrigue for those who don’t follow the Korean pro scene very closely. By no means will anyone refuse a chance to watch pros like CoCa and BomBer battle in the Grand Finals, but only bigger Korean names like BoxeR, NaDa, and MC will have a truly universal appeal. On the other hand, any foreigner who is able to make a dent in the Championship Bracket will have plenty of eyes on him as he is playing. The best players have every right to be taking the top spots, even if they’re all from Korea, but at a North American event, expect the underdog to be getting plenty of attention too.
Sundance revealed some preliminary plans for the 2012 season of MLG, and it looks as if the organization is changing the circuit to create more content and also reduce the insanity of their live events. The goal is to have more content overall, but the Pro Circuit will be divided into four “seasons” with online play throughout and a live event acting as the final hurrah, which means fewer events but more games to watch. It’s sad to think that we won’t be scheduling our lives around an event every six weeks or so, but think about all the great games that we miss seeing simply because so many players and rounds are being crammed into one weekend. During every event there are endless tweets and threads complaining about one decisive match or another that was missed simply because there can only be two matches streamed at a time. With the new “season” system, we will be able to watch games more often and everything will be spread out to allow a much wider perspective on the entire process.
MLG Raleigh may not have matched its two predecessors in terms of hype or crowd size, but it was a solid event with strong play all around and some great storylines to follow throughout the weekend. If this is what a “normal” MLG tournament is like, i.e., solid stream, great games, and a wide variety of talented players, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. Adding online content can only help, and if it means being able to watch more games throughout the year AND having more of the matches broadcasted at the live events, then nobody can complain about that. 2010 was the first year for StarCraft II at MLG, and it proved beyond doubt that there was an audience for the game. After a rocky start in Dallas, 2011 was MLG’s year to show us that they understand what we want and they can give it to us. They gave us a stable stream, more Koreans than we could ever hope for, and live events on both the East and West Coast. We responded by packing those events to the rafters and providing so many stream viewers that Sundance will be wearing an Evel Knievel jumpsuit at MLG Orlando. Now that the pieces are in place, 2012 looks to offer a much more comprehensive and fully realized vision of a seasonal league for StarCraft II in North America, and I can’t think of anyone more trustworthy to bring it to us.