Metagame Evolution at IEM Katowice

  • Blizzard Entertainment

Playstyles from Korean and Circuit World Championship Series (WCS) players clashed last weekend when the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice took place. While most of what we’ve seen at the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) and Global StarCraft II League (GSL) remains consistent, it’s been interesting to see how players with that experience interact with western strategies and trends. Let’s look at some of the most interesting metagame developments coming out of our first Global Event.

Becoming More Flexible with Adepts and Phoenixes

One of the most popular builds among professional Protoss players is creating a huge number of Adepts and Phoenixes. With how mobile these units are, it makes sense. Terrans are fond of dropping hostile forces in multiple places at once, and being able to respond quickly is a necessity. This army composition was a staple for nearly every Protoss player at IEM Katowice as well, and it had a variable rate of success.

Surprisingly, an Adept and Phoenix composition proved unable to keep up with the multi-drop strategies of the Terran players at Katowice, which is the main strategy it’s meant to counter. As Kevin ‘RotterdaM’ van der Kooi stated at the event, it’s likely that Terrans at this level are simply skilled enough to outmaneuver this popular composition. He pointed out that the longer a game goes, the weaker it becomes against Terran opponents as they get a large force supplemented by Liberators, Widow Mines, and Missile Turrets, which can shut down this style. Additionally, it’s a popular enough strategy that most players at the event have had plenty of practice against it.

What makes this army composition even more vulnerable is many players’ unwillingness to transition away from it in response to the enemy. If the Protoss player can get value and map presence early and often with these highly mobile units, they set themselves up for a quick advantage to exploit. But as Jared ‘PiG’ Krensel points out, many players will throw away their advantage by refusing to transition to Robotics Facility units for the late game. While Tobias ‘ShoWTimE’ Sieber made a great attempt at making this transition in his second game against Koh ‘GuMiho’ Byung Jae, one particular Protoss player showed an elegant transition strategy once his Adept and Phoenix army started feeling those diminishing returns, and it’s no surprise that he was the one Protoss to survive to the semifinals.

Kim ‘Stats’ Dae Yeob recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of the Adept and Phoenix army, and he does use it when the situation calls for it. But in the face of a massive bio force, he recognizes the value of reworking his tech to favor units from the Robotics Facility. Being flexible as the battle calls for it wins games, and it’s likely we’ll see a change in mindset for Protoss players after seeing how effective Stats was at Katowice.

Getting Value with Ravens

One of the most versatile units in the Terran arsenal is the Raven. It provides mobile detection, has a powerful Auto-Turret ability, can create a defensive Point Defense Drone, and can deploy a high damage Seeker Missile in some niche situations. The Auto-Turret is by far the most popular ability of this unit, particularly to harass enemy mineral lines.

A rising trend in GSL has been an inability to get enough value from Raven harassment. At this level of play, players are so quick to react to an incoming Raven that they’re able to pull their workers to safety while hunting down the slow, vulnerable Raven. For a unit that costs 200 Vespene Gas, losing a Raven without killing enough enemy workers hurts more than it helps.

At IEM Katowice, we saw a reluctance to try early Raven harassment, and that may be due to this risk of making a bad trade. There was still plenty of Raven play, but many times it was used to supplement a push or add to a defense. While the pros in Poland didn’t make use of the Point Defense Drone too often, Auto-Turrets were great for dropping on top of Siege Tanks, littering the field as Adepts use their Psionic Transfer to dive into a fight, or zoning off reinforcements long enough for a pushing army to take out an enemy base.

As we continue through 2017, it’s likely we’ll continue to see Ravens used in conjunction with Vikings to patrol for drops, establish map vision and overall presence, and secure air superiority for containment tactics with Siege Tanks and Liberators. Raven harassment may continue to wane in popularity unless Terran players can get more consistent value from the early investment.

European Infestors

The Infestor is a unit whose popularity has been slightly declining in Korea, but was used to great effect in Katowice. A part of what’s made the Korean meta forego the Infestor is just how powerful a basic Roach and Ravager force is. With proper positioning and great Corrosive Bile connections, players can win games earlier, without more sophisticated armies. It’s still a powerful unit and used in the GSL when the situation calls for it, but it’s a reactive tech instead of part of the planned build.

In Europe, the metagame is a little different. Early Infestation Pits are relatively common, and it’s a tactic that’s unheard of in the Korean scene. It’s also far more common for Europeans to research Glial Reconstitution and Muscular Augments for faster Roaches and Hydralisks respectively. There’s an innate benefit in that Korean players are unlikely to be practiced against that kind of style, but there’s the counter-argument that if it’s unheard of in Korea, there’s probably a good reason.

Although the European Zerg metagame trends didn’t win any games in the brackets stages, we’ll need to see how they evolve over the course of the year. With Hydralisks getting a small health increase and Corruptors getting more movement speed, we may see the Roach and Hydralisk speed upgrades becoming more popular for more mobile Zerg forces overall. The value of early Infestation Pits hasn’t proven its worth on the global stage yet, so it’ll be interesting to see how that strategy finds its rhythm throughout the year.

Light on the Cheese

Another thing professional players showed us in Katowice was the lack of desire to fully commit to an early all-in cheesy strategy. On the Terran side, Lee ‘INnoVation’ Shin Hyung and Jun ‘TY’ Tae Yang felt comfortable opening with the occasional proxy strategy using either two Barracks or a Factory, but both of them planned to fly their buildings back and transition to a normal style once their early damage was done. For Zerg players, Park ‘Dark’ Ryung Woo was the most aggressive player in the tournament, and he regularly started with an early Spawning Pool with gas to get Zerglings with Metabolic Boost, but he always had a plan to transition into standard play in case his initial attack was repelled. The same can be said about Protoss openers using a proxy Pylon along with a Mothership Core’s Photon Overcharge, which Song ‘herO’ Hyeon Deok and ShoWTimE used a few times throughout the tournament. In the few cases we saw them at Katowice, the Protoss player often had an elegant plan to transition back into a standard build.

Dark’s early all-in attacks are masterful and really tense to watch, but they do carry an element of risk if he’s unable to get enough value to make the early investment worth it. It’s not surprising that professional players would be wary to take huge risks with so much on the line in a tournament like this, but it can also be an excellent way to surprise the enemy and take an early advantage. At BlizzCon 2016, Mikolaj ‘Elazer’ Ogonowski tried some cheesy strategies and earned some quick, anti-climactic losses, and that seemed to dissuade him trying too many all-in openers at Katowice. It’ll be interesting to see if players like Dark and Elazer continue trying to squeeze more value out of aggressive openers and if Terran players will try to emulate the insane value ‘ByuN’ Hyun Woo got from his exceptional Reaper pressure against Kang ‘Solar’ Min Soo.

As we move forward from Katowice, make sure to keep up with all the upcoming events on the WCS website, and let us know which games were your favorite on Twitter.