StarCraft 2's eSports scene might revolve primarily around the core events hosted - or sponsored - by Blizzard, but that doesn't mean there aren't places to look for exciting games - such as SC2's recent NEO Star League 2016. This international Major was one of the rarer opportunities for Korean, Chinese and American/EU StarCraft 2 players to compete against one another, and that alone made for some interesting match-ups. 16 players from across the world - 4 Chinese players, 2 South Korean and 6 international - all came together to battle first through a group stage and, then, in a knockout to the final. We've talked about some of our favourite moments from the NEO Star League 2016 during last week's Ginx eSports Live that aired on 21 August, but you can tune in each week to get the very best coverage of the eSports events that week. Here are some of our favourite moments from the StarCraft 2 tournament...
NEO Star League 2016 Group Stage - Time vs Marinelord
This was perhaps one of the most interesting matches in the initial group phase, with 16-year-old Time going up against a strong player in Marinelord. Despite his age and relative anonymity, however, Time managed to come out on time with a great SC2 play. Time's signature aggression came through here as he took both matches with relative ease, taking on opportunities that many would have overlooked before it was too late. Whether it was Time's underdog status that held Marinelord back - the latter not really knowing what to expect - we won't quite know, but what is for sure is that the two games that were played were always in the young Korean's hands. In truth they weren't the most confident wins - which explains why Time was later handily dispatched by Scarlett in the Quarterfinals - but it is clear that this is a player many will need to keep an eye on for future games.
NEO Star League 2016 Quarterfinals
For the most part the quarterfinals played out much as we could've expected. uTherm proved himself in the first game against Bly, taking the strong Terran play he'd displayed in the group stage to take the series 3-1 in the best-of-five. Elsewhere Snute continued to show his form as he took out PittDrogo by winning three straight games, continuing to make the strongest of cases for the Zerg. This meant Snute would go on to play against uTherm - an expectedly tense encounter - in the best-of-seven semifinal round. What was a surprise was PartinG's knockout in the quarterfinals, though that's not quite as much a shock when you consider the results that Cyan - mostly an unknown player for a lot of people - would later go on to post. It was a tough best-of-five for both players, in fact, but ultimately it was Cyan that would continue further into the tournament with his 3-2 victory with the series. The last quarterfinal of the NEO Star Ladder 2016 International was left to Scarlett and Time, the latter having made a name for himself earlier in the tournament's group stage. Ultimately it wasn't to be for Time, however, who lost three games back-to-back, unable to go head-to-head against the SC2 play of Scarlett. This lead to a semifinal game for Cyan and Scarlett, which would go on to be one of the best game's of the event.
NEO Star League 2016 Semifinals - uThermal vs Snute
What stood out for many watching live was how Snute had learnt to adapt to uThermal's early aggressive strategy after previously encountering one another. It was by utilising his typical late-game strategy that Snute could eventually come out on top, understanding the intricacies of each action when he's controlling such a large army while still managing to survive the early skirmishes. It showed an evolved player, and was one of the reasons that Snute stood out as one of the most significant players of the tournament. With that said it wasn't the simplest of series' for Snute. All seven games were played and though he took an early 3-1 lead - requiring just a single win to claim victory - uTherm still managed to pull back another two games to equalise before Snute finally crushed in the final game.
NEO Star League 2016 Semifinals - Cyan vs Scarlett
The second followed a very familiar pattern to uThermal and Snute's game earlier, with all seven games being played and a tense 3-3 series decider. The difference here was that it was Scarlett - who was the favourite for the series - that took a 3-1 lead after Cyan's initial first game victory. This meant Cyan had to really play his best if he was to succeed further into the finals, but he certainly managed to pull out all the stops. It was an incredible series, however, with many still high on Cyan after he held back popular and trophied player PartinG earlier in the tournament. But was most impressive was the micro play that Cyan had on display, adapting to the problems he was having playing against Scarlett's strong leads in each game and then playing smartly to come out on top. Once Cyan had managed to get that leverage, it was clear he was the dominant player of the series and began to go on the aggressive to take the final seventh game rather comfortably.
NEO Star League 2016 Finals - Snute vs Cyan
Having seen the way Cyan played in his semifinals, the expectation that more familiar player Snute would have come out on top wasn't quite as strong as you might have once thought. Snute begins by continuing his initial game plan against uTherm, trying to build into the late game and overcome whatever assaults Cyan was able to send his way, ultimately taking out the Korean star in the initial game. Cyan attempted to recoup but, what no one expected, was Snute's new approach that he would go on to introduce in this series. Rather than build into late gate units like Ultralisks, Snute instead opts for a swarming strategy with low tech units. It's a novel approach that Cyan would not have been expecting and so, when he was already two games down, it became hard for Cyan to utilise an adaptive strategy that had won him the semifinals. It should be noted in particular that this strategy would not have worked for Snute if not for his exceptional planning and micro control. There's a clip in our video below that exceptionally highlights Cyan's positioning - who was able to assault a late-gate Protoss army from Cyan in every possible angle, utterly crushing the Protoss as a result. With the numbers on his side and the strategy refined, there was nothing stopping Snute in the final and he took all four games of the best-of-seven finals without many opportunities for Cyan. It was certainly a series to watch out for.