Great rivalries: JulyZerg vs. iloveoov

'Great rivalries' explores the battle for supremacy between BW masters JulyZerg and iloveoov.

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Choi 'iloveoov' Yun Sung and Park 'July' Sung Joon are both remembered as among the greatest StarCraft: Brood War champions in the game's history, yet their rivalry often goes overlooked in debates over the best. Older fans will point to the immortal Lim-Jin-Rok (BoxeR vs. YellOw) and modern fans can cite the Lee-Ssang-Rok (Flash vs. Jaedong), but the battles of July and iloveoov not only played a significant role in their own careers, but helped define the future of the Terran versus Zerg match-up.

Between the two of them they can boast five OSL and three MSL titles. They shared the position of top ranked KeSPA (Korean esports Association) progamer for 23 straight months, iloveoov accounting for 12 of those months and July 11. They won a combined total of more than $300,000 in prize money, split almost evenly between the two. Yet beyond their sheer success they couldn't have been more unlike each other.

iloveoov won the golden badge, awarded to those who accomplish the feat of winning three MSL titles, while July never reached the final of an MSL. iloveoov was able to secure two OSL titles, but it was July was the master of the OSL, winning the golden mouse, awarded for three OSL titles, and reaching five finals. iloveoov never lost in a major final, while July failed twice on the finals stage.

One was the unrelenting monster of Terran macro, the other was a hyper-aggressive Zerg beast. One had famously low APM, for a top tier player, and the other was amongst the fastest out there. One out-thought his opponents, the other overwhelmed them. One's aggression manifest in his control of economy, the other's aggression was expressed as hesitationless offense.

Their careers overlapped in so many ways, the universe seeming throwing them together for a reason, and the key battles they fought would end up being amongst the most memorable of their professional eras. This is the story of the great Korean Brood War rivalry most forget.

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A battle of rookies

The first four meetings for the two players ushered their rivalry into the world without any fanfare at all, almost entirely unnoticed by most of the BW's fans. iloveoov was the highly touted rookie, tutored and hand selected by the mighty BoxeR, while July was just another solid Zerg. When they first met in the qualifier for the TriGem MSL in mid August of 2003 iloveoov swept the series to move on into the main tournament. He rampaged through that MSL, dropping only two maps en route to the title.

Their next two meetings were much the same, iloveoov pushing aside another Zerg. It wasn't until the Spril MSL that the two met in the main bracket of a real tournament. iloveoov was the two time reigning MSL champion and had lost only five maps total across both campaigns. July was making his debut into the main portion of an individual league. The Terran player from SK Telecom T1 was the #3 ranked KeSPA player, while July was all the way down at #24. By now iloveoov was quite a different animal from the rookie who had first met July early on in his career, he had recorded a 33:3 run from 2003/10/23 to 2004/02/03 that still stands today as the best run of all time. In line with the rankings, iloveoov won again and the rivalry remained one-sided and without spotlight.

July had not simply rolled over in their MSL match, he had really brought some excellent plays, but iloveoov showed great marine and medic (m&m) unit control, splitting and evading lurkers to barely lose any. Going SK Terran, adding in science vessels, oov took an entertaining victory and again cemented that this match-up was his playground.

2003-08-18 Fall MST Qualifier

-iloveoov wins 2:0

2003-09-24 iTV Newcomers

-iloveoov wins 1:0

2003-10-08 Fall MTL Qualifier

-iloveoov wins 1:0

2004-06-10 Spris MSL

-iloveoov wins 1:0

The unbeatable defenses are tested

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To appreciate the significance of the next meetin of the two players, just under a month after the previous one, requires a little context on iloveoov's career at that point in time. The Terran had fully assumed the mantle of protege to BoxeR, as evidenced by his two straight MSL titles. His best match-up was TvZ, where he held an unbelievable 27:0 win-rate in televised maps against Zerg. oov's style predicated on mentally abusing his Zerg opponents, perfectly constructing a pattern in which he would build up the economic advantage which would inevitably overwhelm the Zerg.

The Zergs of the day were not passive, they used low econ play and timing aggression to win against other players, but iloveoov was uncheesable, always keenly aware of when and how to build his advantage without giving the Zerg indication of the right timing window to hit. It wasn't that there weren't holes there for the Zerg, oov practically made a living out of cheating and delaying his factory to build another command center, it's that the Terran could do this in a manner which left the Zerg uncertain of how to aggressively punish such play.

Without the gifts of fast hands or mechanical brilliance, iloveoov used his mind and forethought to secure victory over his Zerg foes. Many Zergs tried to solve the riddle that was ZvT against iloveoov, all had failed in the 27 times the experiment had been run. The most fearsome streak in professional BW, orchestrated by the game's greatest mind, seemed unassailable. That is, until the era of JulyZerg.

The Gilette OSL of mid 2004 was the first time either played had qualified for an OnGamenet StarLeague, the most prestigious of the individual league competitions in professional BW. To reach a match with each other they each had to dispatch some former champions. iloveoov had beaten two Protoss OSL champions (Reach and Nal_rA ) in the group stage, then eliminated Zeus, the previous season's finalist, in the quarter-final. July had defeated Zeus and Casy in the group stage, then eliminated XellOs in the quarter-final.

Despite having both done their share of legend killing, it was iloveoov who was the overwhelming favourite heading into their semi-final. Not only was he the three time reigning MSL champion, but his undefeated TvZ record in televised matches spoke for itself. A player who wins the first OSL he qualifies for is labeled a 'royal roader' and fans fully expected iloveoov to join that esteemed company. Instead, his record was immediately brought to an end.

Breaking the impossible streak

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July won not only the first map of the series, but the second as well, to put the Gorilla Terran on the brink of elimination after two maps. iloveoov had postured in the first game with a group of troops, as if suggesting pressure that the Zerg should fear and prepare for. Instead that force was killed off entirely and July immediately struck with a timing window to finish the game in barely over 10 minutes. Not only had oov lost a televised TvZ, but he had been outright embarrassed in doing so.

The second map was another one-sided beating, as iloveoov decided to play the role of aggressor only to find himself desperately hanging on against the overwhelming offensive power of July. Initial attacks rebuffed, iloveoov could not deal with the mutalisk micro of his mechanically gifted opponent, following up with a force that soon had the Terran typing out. Another map was over in under 12 minutes of play. So much for the mind games of SKT's MSL ace, now he would be battling similarly in the series, his hopes for a finals appearance barely alive.

Games three and four saw iloveoov ensuring his defenses were sound and he didn't take any risk that could be so drastically turned against him. July continued to decide upon timings to attack from, but the tanks of oov were here now and held off that aggression. iloveoov took both maps to send the series to a deciding map. oov had won all three of the Bo5s in his career to that point, while July had never played one. Perhaps the Zerg was unprepared for the big pressure moment.

The deciding map was the same as the opener to the series (Nostalgia) and for the first time a game would reach 15 minutes on the clock. July initially chipped away with the odd lurker, then he decided upon a full attack right at the defensive tank line of the Terran. In a sight that must have struck a smile across the faces of oov's past Zerg opponents, July repeatedly used the defiler's dark swarm to create a path for his lings and lurkers to get in and crush the initial defenses. iloveoov tried to push out, only to find his marines mopped up by ultralisks.

If he stayed in his base he would be overwhelmed, if he pushed out his forces would be crushed. iloveoov had been beaten outright by a Zerg and his streak and rookie OSL season were finished. July took the series and would go on to win the final and his first OSL title. One of them had walked the royal road, but it had been the Zerg underdog.

2004-07-02 Gilette OSL

-July wins 3:2

An immediate rematch

Less than a week after their OSL semi-final clash, the two met in the 7th iTV Ranking League. July again proved the weakness in the previously perfect paradigm of oov's TvZ, winning a clean two series sweep.

2004-07-08 7th iTV Ranking League

-July wins 2:0

Five weeks later they meet in the final of the league, by virtue of being the two top ranked players in the league. The KeSPA ranking had by now seen iloveoov take the top spot, due to the way points decay, and he would have an opportunity to get revenge on his Zerg nemesis in a Bo5. The first time they'd met deep in a tournament iloveoov had been a champion and the favourite to win easily. Now July could also boast champion status and recent form suggested he held the upper hand as the game clock counted down the first map.

July once more was the irresistible force in their match-up, overwhelming and outmuscling his Terran opponent. iloveoov had been used to being the conductor in his matches, orchestrating every movement and response from his opponent to his end. Now he found himself pushed and pulled around the map, unsure of when to attack, when to defense and when to take a risk. The latter had always been his strength, knowing how to walk the line of a build, cutting corners to get ahead, and when to build a secret expansion to surprise an opponent. July was a ravenous beast whose hunger could not be sated, but with the taste of marine blood.

When 'The Cheater Terran' had lost the OSL semi-final to July, fans questioned if he would ever win an OSL title to go along with the MSL trophies in his cabinet. Now they questioned if his style of TvZ itself would ever be successful again, July had seeming found his weakness and was merciless in exploiting it.

2004-08-14 7th iTV Ranking League

-July wins 3:1

#1 meets #4

In December of that year our rivals found themselves drawn into the same Ro16 group in the IOPS OSL. Despite his suffering at July's hands in the last matches, iloveoov was very much on top of the BW world. Still ranked #1 by KeSPA, he had won a third consecutive MSL title, to earn the golden badge, and taken his first OSL title after all, even slaying mentor BoxeR in the final. While July had moved up to #4 in the KeSPA rankings by now, he had reached the quarter-final of that OSL but gone no further.

In the game, iloveoov pushed out to the base of July with a force of marines and tanks, seiging the tanks and beginning to chop away at the many sunken cologny defenses of the Zerg. July chose to morph his group of mutalisks into guardians, and his risk would pay off, allowing him to push back, kill off everything and move all the way in to force the end of the game. StarCraft's superman still could do nothing against his kryptonite.

"I'm aware that this strat wasn't used in televised games for the last few years. I had my natural and island expo, so I had 3 gases and that made it possible to do this strat. I was kind of freaked out when the SCV bothered me when I was trying to build my natural hatchery. And I had a "Finishing Blow" to end the game easily but oov gave up before I used my finishing blow so I can use it next time without it being known."

-July, speaking about his guardian and hydralisk strategy against oov (2004)

2004-12-17 IOPS OSL

-July wins 1:0

Matching up again in the MSL

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The great thing about iloveoov and July's rivalry was that their status as two of the world's best players meant fans did not need to wait long for the next installment of the saga. Six days after their OSL game, the two faced off in the third round of the lower bracket of the You Are the Golf King MSL. July was sat on a 9:3 map score over oov in their last four meetings, but oov was in his kingdom of the MSL, where he was the reigning three time champion.

The opening map was Luna, which the stats said was favoured to Terran in this match-up, but oov showed he was no ordinary Terran. July attempted a drop which was dealt with without damage to the Terran's economy. SK Telecom's Terran monster went three port wraith, forcing July to start building hydras to counter it. oov was able to handle the hydras with m&m and use his wraiths to kill off a lot of drones in July's base, putting him ahead economically and leaving July needing a miracle. There were to be no miracles and iloveoov took the opener. Fans of Terran play could rejoice at the brilliance of oov's build, pulling out an entirely unexpected and non-standard attack to catch his opponent unaware.

In the second game iloveoov held off an early attack and again massed wraiths. July seemed reliant on trying to heavily press his micro advantage against his low APM opponent, expecting to beat the Terran just from raw physical skill alone. oov continued to defend well and pick apart his Zerg opponent. Just like that their rivalry had seen another streak broken, as oov had won a series after so many key losses. He left the stage and July staring into the monitor, wondering what he could have done differently.

2004-12-23 You Are the Golf King

-iloveoov wins 2:0

Rematched in the OSL playoffs

After so many meetings in 2004, 2005 saw both players meet each other less, as July was the one succeeding and oov's stock dropped. His KeSPA ranking had remained #1 until April, mainly due to the way the points system had a kind of in-built lag, but his own performances of note before next meeting July were a quarter-final finish in the EVER OSL in May and a fourth place in the UZOO MSL in the month of July.

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Meanwhile, July had established himself as the best player in the world, winning the KT-KTF Premier League in January, finishing runner-up to NaDa in the IOPS OSL final of March and winning the EVER OSL in July. Had iloveoov not lost to XellOs in the quarter-final of that OSL then the two would have faced off in the semi-final, instead it was July again going to an OSL final in the month bearing his name and again leaving with the trophy.

From April onwards he had overtaken oov as the #1 KeSPA player and when they met in the So1 OSL quarter-final, in late September, he had held that position for six straight months. That feat was made all the more impressive since he had been the first Zerg in history to every reach #1 on that ranking. iloveoov still held the advantage in their career trophy hauls, with four individual league titles (3 MSL and one OSL) to July's two (both in the OSL), but there was little doubt who the better player was right now.

The reigning OSL champion scouted oov going for an eight rax and responded by nine pooling. Just as oov was known as uncheesable, so July was famed for being an adept defender of bunker rushes, today that proved not to be the case though. iloveoov's victory showed a kind of full-on aggression he had not needed to use against Zergs in his heyday, when he could out-think and out-maneouver then constantly. Now he used aggression against the most aggressive of Zergs, and won!

The second game of the Bo3 was played over a week later and this one was a truly epic affair. A desperate game saw both players going behind at times, losing all their units and expanding in long game. Eventually oov had done enough to secure the right opportunity and finished off his Zerg nemesis. With that 2:0 victory oov had put together two series wins in a row and moved on in the OSL.

2005-09 So1 OSL

-09/29-10/07 iloveoov wins 2:0

The first fight in the finals

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In March of 2006 iloveoov and July met for the first time in the first of a major individual league. iloveoov had taken the #1 KeSPA rank back at the beginning of the month, ending July's 11 month run atop the board. The Zerg had not qualified for the LG CYON MSL, while iloveoov had made another deep run, going all the way to third place.

Still, the nature of oov's elimination was as much against him as the run was in his favour. His two series losses in the tournament had come at the hands of sAviOR, the reigning champion and a player entering his own godmode. Losing to July had been one thing, his skillset seemed polar opposite to oov's and their battles were a beautiful clash of styles, but sAviOr was beating oov at his own game.

Similarly cursed with slow hands, sAviOr played a macro style and used superior positioning and decision-making to defeat his opponents. The Zerg had 2:0'd oov in the upper bracket and then eliminated him entirely with a 3:0 thrashing. iloveoov would go into the OSL final two less than two months later with a little insecurity in his once unbeatable TvZ.

On the road to the final, iloveoov had beaten only Terran opponents, while July had only beaten Protoss players. Everyone was in the dark as to how they would approach the series and who to favour. For July the weight of history no longer rested solely upon oov's shoulders, if July won the final then he would become the first player in history to accomplish the feat of winning three OSL titles, which would grant him the first ever golden mouse.

"It's his 4th finals appearance in 6 OSLs. July is the most diligent player I've ever seen. Coming into the semis he practiced a couple hundred games and devised the best build order for himself. He always plays aggressive from the beginning, so he must have been tired, but he never said a word while practicing. That kind of intense drive surprised even me. 'Only champions know the taste of being on top' is also a reason why July is so strong. On top of all this the Golden Mouse also provokes his competitiveness."

-Hae Tae Gi, Pirates of Space Head Coach, on July's OSL final (2006)

The golden mouse had been forged originally with BoxeR in mind, who was the first to attempt a third finals win, albeit it originally prior to its inception. He had not only missed his first chance, but the Terran hero fell twice more. NaDa's IOPS win had given him two OSL titles, but the "Genius Terran" had not return to the final and had a chance at the unique trophy. July would be the first Zerg to challenge for the honour, and sought to do what BoxeR had been unable to. The special trophy stood on its stand and July merely had to reach out and grab it with his play.

"July is the player that made me rethink my TvZ. He taught me how scary all-in rushes can be. I will prepare well for the finals, and show good form."

-iloveoov, speaking on his OSL final after finishing the semi-final (2006)

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The problem for July was that not only had iloveoov won their last two meetings, but the maps favoured the Terran in this instance. Some fans even suggested the OSL was rigging the final, via the map pool, to ensure July did not win the first golden mouse, leaving BoxeR the chance to still come good on that feat. The opening map (Cultivation period) stood at 10:2 for Terran. iloveoov showed he would be the one dictating the pace on this map, pushing early and fast. No amount of sunken colonies could stop the rampaging gorilla, July was forced to type out in seven minutes flat.

The second game July came out determined to be the first to make a move. Attacking with early lings he decided to make fighting skills the determining factor, trying to out-control his opponent. ling after ling streamed from the Zerg's base to iloveoov's, but the Terran was just able to hold on enough to keep his strong economy a factor that would give him a good chance to win. iloveoov went into full on "Cheater Terran" mode, seemingly producing more units than should have been possible, massing them in his base.

July's attacks had not done enough, his follow-up was not timed or maneuvered so as to be able to strike hard enough or precisely enough. oov was up 2:0 and the series was turning into a rout. With the third map Rush hour, perhaps oov's best, that golden mouse was a million miles from July's thoughts.

July was able to get a little confidence early in the third map, picking off a dropship and getting good scouts off on oov's build. Going mass hydra, he would meet iloveoov's m&m force in the middle of the field, a huge battle raged and somehow the Terran came out overwhelming in favour of it. The control monster Zerg was being beaten out in all-out micro war. July would continue to lose expansions and hydras until the stomp was complete. What had been billed as potentially an all-time great OSL final, instead ended as one of the most one-sided. There would be no golden mouse for July this day, iloveoov had just moved level on two OSL titles.

Crucially, for iloveoov, he had beaten July in a full Bo5 series. Before that he had prevailed more often in the Bo3, but lost out in their Bo5s. This win, map imbalance aside, also marked the clear change in oov's approach to TvZ. Rather than the days of risky command center first builds, now he integrated some of the key changes that Midas would solidify, using the map distance to decide whether to rush early or not. The holes July had been able to push through before no longer existed, this was a new kind of TvZ.

"I always used interviews strategically. That’s why I would mock my opponents, or pretend to be strong. I thought all of that was momentum, and I would even ask my fans to post things on message boards like 'ILoveoov is really good' etc. When I played JulyZerg in the Starleague final, I thought mentality was particularly important. Honestly, I was scared and nervous. After I admitted he was a strong opponent and said honestly what I felt, I was able to go into the game with confidence and get a good result."

-iloveoov on using interviews as a component of mind-games (2006)

2006-03-04 ShinHan2005 OSL

-iloveoov wins 3:0

Fighting to represent Korea overseas

In August the two players matched up in the semi-final of the Korean WCG qualifier. Neither was on top anymore, with ChoJJa now #1 in the KeSPA rankings. July's form had dropped off heavily, failing to make it into the OSL or MSL that season. iloveoov had fallen out of the OSL in the group stage and made it to the quarter-final of the MSL, but no further. A win in this semi-final would ensure the winner went to the WCG final, held in Monza, Italy. The winner would still need to prove themselves in a third place decider for the final spot.

This meeting of the two players was no one-sided stomp like the last few, but it still yielded the same result: a victory for iloveoov. This one was a three map affair and put iveloov through to his first ever WCG Grand Finals. In the third place decider it turned out July would be joining him in Italy, as the Zerg defeated ChoJJa.

2006-08-06 WCG Korea

-iloveoov wins 2:1

Battling in another final

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Two and a half months after the qualifier, July reached the final of the WCG and found iloveoov waiting for him. Faced with the harder side of the bracket, July had needed to beat Midas 2:1 in his semi-final to earn a rematch. iloveoov had been granted the easier side, not even dropping a map on his way to the final.

Both players had continued to drop off in their careers. iloveoov had slipped to #4 in the KeSPA rankings, while July was down at #8. July had been eliminated from the previous OSL in the Ro16 and failed to even qualify for the MSL. iloveoov had failed to qualify for either. At the end of 2006 the next generation of players was, unbeknownst to the top pros of the time, about to descend upon them, with the TaekBangLeeSsang (Bisu, Stork, Flash and Jaedong) just around the corner.

Clashing over a WCG gold medal, the series, perhaps fittingly, went the full three games. July was hopeful as he opened the series up with a victory, but struck back immediately with a strong response in the second. The decider was classic iloveoov, July could not push his old rival and fell to another silver. Adding the WCG had helped complete the career accomplishments of iloveoov, but of course it was only sweeter coming against the man who had caused him the most trouble in his time.

2006-10-22 WCG

-iloveoov wins 2:1

A team league tussle

On the 20th of January 2007 both players were in team league action, as their teams met in the final of the Sky ProLeague. July's MBCgame and iloveoovs SK Telecom T1 were tied at 2:2. In less than seven minutes of typically aggressive action, the MBCgame Zerg had beaten his rival, putting his team up 3:2. The series went to seven games, but July's men came out on top to win their second ProLeague title.

2007-01-20 Sky Proleague final

-July wins 1:0

Joining forces

In May July became available as a free agent on the market, where SK Telecom T1 promptly decided to snap him up. Over the years his rivalry with iloveoov had been resigned to the server, as respect had grown between the men. In SKT the two would even play as the 2v2 team for a while. Their last official meeting took place in the Ro32 group of the GOMTV MSL Season 2. It had been 14 months since July had finished in the Ro16 or better in an OSL or MSL, showing the degree to which he had fallen.

iloveoov had maintained some consistency, reaching the Ro16 of two OSLs. In their single map meeting it was July who won, helping claw back another map in the overall career match-up between the two. July finished in the quarter-finals of that MSL. The two would have met in the quarter-final of the next season's MSL, but both lost, July losing to TheManiaMST and iloveoov falling to Mind.

2007-05-17 GOMTV MSL Season 2

-July wins 1:0

July was the best Zerg in the world at one point in time, "Tushin" - the God of war. iloveoov was "The Cheater Terran", an impossibly dominant player in the realm of psychological warfare. When the two met the BW Earth shook and the world watched. What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? In BW that question was answered by this great rivalry.

Photo credits: Fighterforum, FOMOS, MBCgame

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