The Intel Extreme Masters 2012-2013 Season kicked off this weekend at Gamescom, featuring Starcraft II and League of Legends as the headlining competitions. Russia's Moscow 5 dominated the competition to take home $40,000 and crown themselves European Champions for Riot's Season 2. Meanwhile, four-time GSL Champion Jung "Mvp" Jong Hyun took home his first European championship, ending a long drought on foreign soil.
Eight League of Legends teams vied for three spots at Riot's worldwide Season 2 Championships in Los Angeles later this year, with over $1 million dollars up for grabs at the final. Among the teams looking to qualify were SK Gaming, FnaticRC, Curse EU, Counter Logic Gaming EU, and Moscow 5. All eyes were on Moscow 5 as the favorites, and Counter Logic Gaming EU as their recent rivals to be there once again in the finals. Moscow 5 did their part by taking out Poland's EloHell in the first round, and then escaped a close three-game series against FnaticRC in the semifinals. On the other side of the bracket, Counter Logic Gaming EU did their part against Alternate in the first round, meeting SK Gaming in the semifinals. The finals everyone expected would not take place, as SK Gaming led by Carlos "ocelote" Rodríguez was able to knock off Counter Logic Gaming EU in two straight maps to face-off against Moscow 5 in the finals.
SK Gaming gained much needed confidence after the win over Counter Logic Gaming EU, but it would not help them against Moscow 5 in the finals. The Russian squad put on a dominating performance, outscoring SK Gaming 41-4 in Champion kills over two quick wins, securing the championship.
"We were prepared for SK Gaming, as we were 60-70 percent sure we'd play them in the tournament," said Moscow 5 Captain Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin after the win. "We knew we had to counter, and that the first game is the most important. We knew that we were on the weaker side initially, and wanted to counter SK's aggressive play style. The only way to defend it is to be aggressive yourself."
Moscow 5 is now an astonishing 32-6 in offline tournaments against the best teams in Europe and North America, with winning records against every team except Counter Logic Gaming EU, and shutouts against 11 of 14 teams. They have earned the right to be called the best team in Europe, and possibly the Western world.
"They were the favorites coming in, and they proved once again that they are the team to beat in Europe", broadcaster Joe Miller told GameSpot. "They have attended events with major teams, and have only ever lost one (2nd at DreamHack Summer). It's going to be hard for anyone to beat them. I could even say going into the Season 2 finals, they're the favorites. Azubu Blaze are the only Asian team we have seen play well on foreign soil, so it's still somewhat of an unknown at this point."
MVP has already qualified himself for the IEM 2012-2013 World Championships at German technology trade show CeBIT in March of next year. Despite having a claim as the winningest and most consistent Starcraft II player, he has not had as much success outside of Korea. Although he won last year's BlizzCon, he had rather shaky performances at the MLG Winter Arena and the fifth edition of the Home Story Cup, where he was eliminated by Kim "GanZi" Dong Ju and Santeri "Naama" Lahtinen, respectively. He's had wrist problems from excessive playing, and was tasked with coming from the Gamescom Open Bracket, the first time the Intel Extreme Masters has implemented this qualification process in the league's seven-season history. His day began on Wednesday, one day ahead of everyone else, looking to qualify in the main tournament.
He did just that, earning the top spot in his open-bracket pool, qualifying himself for the main tournament. There he would be matched up against his longtime friend and GSL-champion teammate Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk among others, a player who he has had the unfortunate circumstance of competing against numerous times. He would take out NesTea with some incredible Raven seeker missiles (both had a good laugh about it afterward), and secure a bye in the first round of the playoffs. MVP's playoff run consisted of three tight Terran vs. foreign Zerg match-ups, including wins over Russia's Artem "sLivko" Garavtsov and upcoming Spanish superstar Juan "VortiX" Moreno Durán. The finals would see him up against Home Story Cup 5 Champion, Team Acer's Artur "Nerchio" Bloch. Nerchio was able to take the first map for a quick 1-0 lead, and built confidence going into the next games. Nerchio would take small leads in each of the next games in the series, but resilient macro mech play from MVP with the inclusion of Banshees and Ravens got him back in each game, and earned him the title.
"Before the quarterfinals, I kind of expected Nerchio to be in the finals because he's a really good player," said MVP after the win. "I think the strategies I made were actually a bit lucky to win in the end." When asked about his unparalelled consistency, he still deferred credit. "There's no big secret really. There's luck in this game as well, and if you have luck, you can win tournaments. I'm good at grabbing luck when it comes around."
The recent Starcraft II patches led some to murmur that Zerg have been buffed a bit too much, giving Terrans quite a lot of problems. Some have accused the game of becoming imbalanced. MVP was able to use a rather unseen mech-style this weekend to show how this may not be the case, and is instead just the evolution of the StarCraft metagame.
"MVP, throughout the entire tournament, came along and completely dispelled the myths that have existed since the patch 1.5 implementation," broadcaster James "Kaelaris" Carrol told GameSpot. "Seven of 10 series along the road to victory for our Terran savior came in the form of Terran vs. Zerg, where MVP was able to bust out some amazing mech variations, perfectly executed with mid-game Banshee incorporation and blistering hunter-seeker missiles. I'll never forget those explosions against NesTea as long as I'm involved in Starcraft II."
Fellow broadcaster Shaun "Apollo" Clark agreed.
"The finals started off with a bold double barracks play for MVP which was a big risk that didn't pay off but he proceeded to show his excellence against Nerchio with superior speed and incredible solid builds and strategies that the European Zergs just had no experience or practice against", said Apollo. "They were having to think on their feet against a player who had a mapped out plan on how to play the game and whenever that happens, its a clear win for the victor. A well deserved win for the four-time GSL champion, fighting against some of the best Zergs in Europe."