The grand finals started in mid October with the first rather negative reports on most pages. Almost all players, commentators, viewers and reporters agreed in one thing: the location was bad. It was badly organized, it didn’t have the certain ring to it and the atmosphere wasn’t anything like it used to be. The Autodromo, known from Formula 1 races, was a remote location, the players were spread on two hotels and had to take a long bus ride to get to the stadium. At the stadium it was hard to follow the games, the player stage was isolated and restricted for the viewers. A massive blow, but the ‘standard’ way for World Cyber Games – screwing up details or missing to provide stable streams just was part of the organization.
However, the more important news covered the groups, as these determined the eventual match ups. This first stage featured eight groups with six players in each, only the best two would advance – everyone had to face everyone in a best of one. No slips possible, if a player had a bad day it was automatically the end of line. Now was the time to show if the preparation paid off or not.
There were a few surprises along the way at day one. First off, and only important for the German audience, was Selectors performance. It came as surprise for his defenders that he was knocked out with a 0-5 during an offline event, despite him having one of the easiest groups. Secondly, the Russian Androide was placed in a rather strong group with the Brazillian ReasoN and the Chinese Terran Phoenix66. Chinese players and Androide – both very mystical creatures in the eyes of the fans. Any Chinese could be either relatively weak or one of the strongest players on earth; two Chinese even played in the KeSPA teams, PJ and Legendary. So, the first minor upset was the televized game between Androide and the Chinese Terran, in which Androide decided to play Zerg and dogde the mirror he did so well in only a year before. The game itself was odd, even by old standards. Terran opened with an aggressive two Barracks build to rush the Zerg. He also lifted his Command Center in the beginning for no reason at all. Android did a very good job countering the rush and transitioned into lurkers. It most definitely had its highlights, but overall it was a really weird game. As soon as one of the two players had a small advantage, the opponent would do a silly mistake to turn the game upside down.
Androide was the first favourite to drop out with an unneccessary loss against Phoenix66, finishing third in his group. Most of the others had rather easy groups and did quite well. IloveOov was in group with the KeSPA professional Legionnaire, an Australian Protoss – but Legionnaire was well beyond his prime and not a real danger. The only small danger in the Terran’s group was Lamer, a Bulgarian Terran player. But he, just like the rest of the foreigners, wasn’t a huge challenge. JulyZerg had a group with tons of second class players from smaller countries – at least in relation to other foreign players – with the exception of the Chinese Protoss Legend (aka. Lx). However, the Protoss couldn’t beat July and the Korean advanced on the first place as well. The Canadian Testie had a slightly harder group, which featured a couple of Europe’s finest – White-Ra, Raven, Squall and Maix were established players with good records, but eventually nobody could beat the random player. White-Ra and Testie advanced.
The Group of Death
To sum it up, the usual suspects made it through, Androide losing wasn’t a giant upset, just a bit odd. From a German perspective it went well, Selector was knocked out, Dashwriter made it out of his group. An ordinary year if it wasn’t for the infamous Group B, or how most pages called it, the Group of Death. Mondragon, Midas and Draco were seeded into it, along with the American Terran Artosis, the Russian Terran Escape and the WCG veteran Cobo from Malaysia. Even though Artosis nowadays has the status of one of the most respected commentators and a highly skilled Brood War veteran, back then, he was no match for the likes of Mondragon or Draco. The same was true for Escape and Cobo. There was simply no hope for them to take off one game of the favourites, even if they used smart cheese strategies or aggressive all-ins, neither the maps, nor the players would allow such nonsense.
The general consens was as follows: Either Mondragon or Draco would advance, both did not seem possible. Even if Midas was the weakest of the Koreans, he still was a professional with a lot of experience. Futhermore, Mondragon had his weakness against Terran, while the Terran was a known Zerg sniper. The first round started with one of the three most important matches: Korea vs. Germany.
As was to be expected, the German lost to the Korean, who completely overpowered him. Mondragon was always rather bad with Mutalisk micromanagement, at least compared to Koreans and other top foreigners. Then again, in 2006 Mutalisk harassment was still not that established and many players controlled them rather poorly. Meanwhile Draco won the mirror against Cobo – no surprises. In the next round Mondragon defeated Artosis, Draco defeated Escape and Midas lost to Cobo. Koreans losing to lesser opponents was another tradition of the World Cyber Games. In almost all cases, particularly during the group stages, the professionals would lose on purpose, in order to avoid meeting another Korean in the Knock Out Stages before the Semi Finals. This should guarantee that all three medals went to Korea if possible. In this case it’s a bit harder to decide if Midas lost on purpose or not, he lost to a massive Dragoon attack early on.
The next scheduled round had the second important match: Poland vs. Korea. It featured a Protoss vs. Terran on the four player map Gaia. Out of all maps used in the WCG 2006 Gaia was the only one which remained in public ladder map pakcs for a longer time frame. It was considered to be a standard map, relatively fair and easy to play, while allowing unorthodox strategies due to the many entrances to the expansion spots. However, in the late game it was harder for Protoss to face a good Terran. All three maps – Paranoid Android, Azalea and Gaia – had narrow pathings in their centers, allowing Terran to defend against overwhelming Protoss ground forces, as they’d run clumped into their area of effect units: Siege Tanks and Mine Fields. Consequently Draco’s best option, according to most fans, was to try something fancy in order to gain a vast early game advantage. But how do you design an opening against a South Korean top tier professional?
This was a giant uproar. While the game Midas vs. Cobo could have been a mishap, this most definitely was not. Midas tried to fight back and gain space, made a marvellous recovery, but Draco’s tremendous strategy paid off. Draco was almost through if he didn’t drop a game.