In a tournament where every other RMP fell to a counter-comp cleave setup – even Europe’s beloved Ensidia – SK US’ victory is all the more remarkable. The only blip on SK’s radar in Columbus was a mirror-match defeat at the hands of Complexity. Without wanting to gloss over the loss too easily, the team’s record after that means we can easily chalk the coL game up to experience.
From that game onwards SK Gaming USA went on a streak of wins unprecedented in tournament play. 3-1 victories all the way to the final simply defy argument: they were the best team there by some distance. Not only did they overcome the previously undefeated counter-comp, but they overcame them three times – each time with a convincing 3-1 score. Only in the final did eMazing Gaming win two games against them, but it hardly mattered by then, with SK running out 6-3 winners.
But with a whole summer season spreading out in front of us like a sun-kissed ocean, a victory in the first event takes on a much wider significance. Most obvious is the fact that America means business this year – at least three guys from America do, anyway. Considering the loneliness and distance from home of their surroundings, Ensidia did well to claim third place. But they were beaten by a stronger SK team and didn’t have the answer to eMg’s hunter/dk/paladin setup. Given that fact, an all-American final was not particularly surprising but SK looked like a team that could have beaten all-comers.
Whether eMg will be able to replicate their performance at later events is very questionable, however. Counter-comping only gets a team so far before they run into a team whose superior skill transcends class balance. SK’s victory, then, was a victory for skill over setup; a victory for ability over class balance; a victory, in short, for WoW as an esport.
But then again, how many tournaments have been won by genuine counter-comps? Not many, to be sure. You can talk about the perceived imbalance of rogue/mage/priest all day long, but the teams that play that line-up and stick to it are generally the ones that succeed. We can look back to the performances of all three SK teams at IEM to see the attraction of learning one comp to its full potential.
SK US: went into the tournament with a flavour of the month setup, forcing Realz to play an unfamiliar class. Result? Knocked out in the group stage with just one win.
SK EU: went in playing their default RMP and topped their group in the first stage. Swapped the mage for a deathknight in some games and ended up in fourth place. Not a bad result by any means, but disappointing by the team’s own high standards.
SK Asia: played their default lineup, RMP, in every single game and finished second. But for an error of judgement in the grand final, they would have finished first.
The lesson here, though somewhat over-simplified, seems obvious. Pick a comp (preferably RMP, it seems), learn it, practice it, perfect it. Counter-comping might steal you a few wins against unprepared teams – just like eMg did at MLG – but in the long run, it’s a poor substitute for genuine skill.
That being said, there is another lesson to be learned from MLG: come prepared. The fact that eMg managed to topple so many teams was testament to the rust many teams seemed to be carrying. eMg only had a Plan A – train the healer, the closest they had to a Plan B was along the lines of ‘train another cloth-wearer.’ But because the other teams hadn’t prepared for their set-up, it didn’t even matter. This was especially true of Ensidia, who looked completely lost against a BM hunter.
SK, on the other hand, had eMg’s number all weekend long. The aggressive play-style of Joe 'Enforcer' Morrone put eMg in a position they were not used to: on the back foot. Mark 'Pookz' Rendon gave Realz the room he needed with perfect peels, while managing to keep himself out of the firing line too. Ryan 'Realz' Masterson swapped from aggressive and defensive with impeccable timing. So much so, in fact, that I almost made this column about a new candidate for best priest in the world. With a lack of true international competition, however, I think I’ll save that one for the future.
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