Polt, Scarlett, Zest, 9 other StarCraft pros react to the current map pool

Thumbnail image courtesy of N/A / Blizzard Press

Blizzard has decided to approach Legacy of the Void's map pool with a dash of eccentricity. The seven maps that make up the pool have been a hugely debated topic amongst StarCraft players as they begin to find their niche in Legacy of the Void’s still-new meta. With that said, certain maps seem to favor one race over the other, and that, along with awkward pathing, has led to its share of frustrations.

Dusk Towers has proven to be one of the most standard maps due to its ability to fit into the current meta. The natural is easier to secure without suffering heavy punishment with early aggression. With that said, it might be considered too dull to play on because of the inherent ability to turtle and prolong games. There are also maps like Prion Terraces that have pros scratching their heads, as the natural expansion now has a gold mineral line that makes it more favorable for Zergs while also making it difficult to hold off early to mid game aggression. As a fairly new expansion, this creates a unstabilized structure for a fair game. From a viewer's perspective, these maps create exciting and unique matches. However some pros view playability as a trumping factor over uniqueness.

The map pool’s diversity is a hot-button topic for pros in the competitive scene. From two-time GSL champion Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung to Team Liquid’s Jens “Snute” Aasgaard, here are what some of the scene’s best players think of the current map pool.

Zerg Players

Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn

After a few months of playing on this map pool, I mostly like it. It's a much more diverse pool than we've had over the past few years which lets players have their own unique style by vetoing maps that don't cater to them (also helped by LotV being less figured out than HotS was).

There is only one map — Central Protocol — that I really dislike with the current game design. Having an open third, no ramp to main, short distances between bases, large air space around main, and open main; there's just too many things that are hard to deal with.

Jens "Snute" Aasgaard​ - Team Liquid

I was always in favor of standard-ish maps such as Coda, King Sejong Station, Polar Night, Whirlwind and Cloud Kingdom. Maps like Ulrena, Prion Terraces and Bridgehead for example, don't appeal to me in the same way.

I do enjoy the variety a little, each map plays out differently. Ulrena for example has some nice features to it. I just wish that they would help reduce randomness a little overall, and then it wouldn't be so bad. For example, on the previous version of Prion Terraces, there was a lot of luck involved with the opening build orders in ZvZ. To some extent, there still is. Central Protocol had issues with vertical positions initially being enabled. Some maps play out incredibly differently based on the spawns. Ruins of Seras horizontal is very different from Vertical and Cross. I don't think that's a good thing if the rush distance is too short. I don't mind four-or-three player maps as long as the rush distances are long, regardless of spawning positions — like Cactus Valley, or Whirlwind.

I think Dusk Towers is a great map that is well appreciated by players across all skill levels. It has the size of a four-player map, without the randomness. In general, I think the map pool isn't all that bad, but a lot of maps are just flat out in favor of certain races. I think that there are many maps out there that would create a better map pool as a whole with more room for stylistic vetos rather than vetoing maps because they're really bad in a matchup.

Shin "Hydra" Dong Won​ - ROOT Gaming

In my opinion, the best map for me is Dusk Tower because I like a straight map that I can play basic skills vs basic skills. I think Dusk tower is the most simple and flat map in the current map pool. I didn't like Lerilak before they patched it, but after they patched (blocking the thirds with breakable rocks), it's much better to play on than before. I like current map pool basically.

Stefan "PengWin" Mott​ - mYinsanity

Overall, I think it’s fair to say that the official Blizzard map pool has been nothing short of abysmal since release. Blizzard has said that they want unique maps so that we get a wide variety of strategies, but essentially we are stuck with maps where people will only do one or two strategies because abusing them is so much better than anything else. An example of this would be Ulrena where now, in ZvT and ZvP, it is almost impossible to hold a properly executed ling-queen drop all in even if the Zerg doing it is making a fair number of mistakes. Another good example would be roach-ravager-ling all ins against Protoss on Lerilak, or multi barracks reaper TvZ on Central Protocol. Even on a map like Ruins of Seras where it’s not really full of “abusable tactics,” the game will almost always be decided simply on the spawn locations and the advantages they give. The changes that have been instituted on Prion, Lerilak and Central are decent changes, but you can’t fix a complete failure of a map with a bandaid.

Many people seem to agree that this is the worst map in recent memory since the Dreampool, and it’s frankly something of a travesty that Blizzard decided to keep the maps for a second season running and will only remove half of them next season.

Kudos to whoever made Dusk Towers though. That map is actually not horrible.

Terran Players

Choi "Bomber" Ji Sung​ - Afreeca Freecs

Out of the seven maps, Orbital Shipyard and Dusk Towers are the ones that have the best balance between the three races. I don’t like Ruins of Seras. If the starting point is vertical, the distance between the two teams is too close and so the strongest build is to go for an early to mid all in. Random factors also occur too often making the balance between the races very divided.

Choi "Polt" Seong Hun ​

In my opinion, the current ladder map pool is quite favored for Zerg, and I think it is one of the main reasons why Zerg players are performing very well right now. For example, Lerilak Crest and Ruins of Seras could've been a decent map in HotS, but they can't be like that in LotV. The game has changed a lot, but those two maps are very similar to the maps in HotS. The trait of the maps with wide main entrance were not too bad in HotS, but it is hugely favored for Zerg in LotV. Prion Terraces looks cool with a lot of gold bases, but the map maker should have thought of why almost all of the other maps have gold bases in the middle of the map or somewhere hard to secure. Dusk Towers is ok balance wise, but playing on that map is quite boring because the map forces players to take the third base in the early game.

Ethan "iaguz" Zugai ​

The changes they made recently were good changes, but I wouldn't be against just having a new map pool. Blizzard stated their goal was to not have a map pool dominated by four boring macro maps and a slightly weirder one and they certainly accomplished that.

As a nerd who likes a bit of consistency in his games, my preferred maps are the boring ones like Dusk Towers and Orbital Shipyard. The other change that made maps bearable was the adept nerf which made it harder for Protoss to cheese Terrans out on f******** maps like Ulrena or close air Ruins of Seras. Not impossible, but a good bit harder.

Lee "INnoVation" Shin Hyung​ - SK Telecom T1

I enjoy Orbital Shipyard and Dusk Towers because they are maps where you can secure your second base. Safely, I think of this as a map where you are simply having a match of skill. I don’t like Ulrena and Prion Terraces. Playing Ulrena versus Zerg is ok but there are small details in the map that make it difficult for me. Prion Terraces has a gold natural and it is difficult to block off an all in versus Zerg. On Ruins of Seras, If the starting points are diagonal, push and management is hard versus Zerg. While on the other hand, there is no good feeling versus Protoss and the opponent cannot do anything strategically. It is too hard to scout on this map.

Protoss Players

Théo "PtitDrogo" Freydière​ - mYinsanity

I think Blizzard did a good job creating maps that create a lot of different kinds of games. But this come at the cost of great imbalance, especially in PvZ where you just expect to lose always lose prion/protocol and hope to be lucky on Lerilak/Serras (close position is always pretty much gonna be a loss against Queen/ravager all-in if the Zerg knows what he's doing).

Overall there's a lot of very stupid situations created by the current map pool and its "unique" maps, but it seems that from Blizzard's point-of-view, these are entertaining and good for the game. So I guess that if the imbalance looks cool then it's alright.

Ahn "Seed" Sang Won​ - MVP

First of all, I don’t know why there is such an emphasis on gold mineral on Prion Terraces. It’s not just one, it’s two. The race that has the easiest time acquiring the expansion means Zerg receives a lot of advantages. Also, Protoss players who face Zerg have only a 10 to 20 percent winrate so I don’t understand why there is no patch for this map.

Second of all, Ulrena. This map is too close. Especially, the streets or the air space are too close so even though you know about the Zerg player's early strategy, there is almost nothing you can do to block it (early zergling, ravager, queen rush or fast queen and zergling drop, etc.).

Thirdly, Lerilak Crest is a map that has been around since beta, but is a map that really shows how lacking the map designer’s knowledge of the game is. If the entrances are this large, in a TvP, the Terran, or in the instance of ZvP the Protoss, the early damage you get due to the map is really hard to recover from. Before you make a map like this I think it is critical that they have to understand how the three races are designed. The current maps are the worst. I don’t understand how though the season changed, we are to keep playing these maps.

Chris "HuK" Loranger​ - Evil Geniuses

In general, I feel like they are good maps. I'm happy to see Blizzard trying to keep the map pool fresh. At the same time though the balance on them isn't perfect but at least Blizzard are making steps in the right direction, especially listening to the community and pro feedback.

For me, as a pro player, I will always want maps that aren't difficult as a Protoss player, but more importantly as a fan of the game,I just want to keep seeing new maps. I think the most important factor is to not let the map pool get stale, so new maps constantly would be a lot more preferable for me as a fan/spectator and even pro player.

Joo "Zest" Sung Wook​ - KT Rolster

I like Dusk Towers because it is generally considered a very balanced map. A map like Orbital Shipyard because you can secure your expansions pretty safely. For maps I don't like, it would be Prion Terraces and Central Protocol. For Zergs, Prion Terraces is a map where they can acquire gold minerals very easily so it is hard to face them. On Central Protocol, the distance between the opponent and me is close but our expansions are far apart from each other. Therefore, it is an open terrain so it is hard to play on it.

The interviews in this article have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Skye Bui has a passion for dry humor and esports. Follow her on Twitter.

Starting anew: WCS Summer Circuit Championship Roundup

Thumbnail image courtesy of Twitch

As region-locking came into effect, one Code S-level Zerg went against the grain and decided to risk it all to come compete in the foreign scene. He left behind his home, his family, his friends, all his established connections in Korea. He joined a North American team, and hoped to make it big outside of Korea, just like the legendary globe-trotting Koreans of the Wings of Liberty days.

He succeeded, bursting onto the scene with impressive mechanics and stage experience. It wasn't long before he won a championship, achieving more in a few months of North American play than he had in years in Korea.

Sound familiar? That's because that's Hydra's story, not TRUE's. But there are quite a few parallels.

When Hydra first made the leap across the Pacific in 2015, he was going against the tide of Korean players returning to Korea from Europe and North America after region-locking first came into effect. In his first tournament, he looked unstoppable, before Polt pulled off a remarkable comeback win. Still, he netted himself a title in Season 2 of that year, earning himself more in 2015 than in the entire 2012-2014 period.

Hydra flourished in the foreign environment, not only defeating foreigner after foreigner, but drastically upping his win rate against Koreans as well. Just a few months later he was in the finals of the combined WCS Season 1. A few months after that, he stormed his way to a championship in Season 2.

Hydra wins WCS 2015 Season 2, 4-2 over Lilbow.

TRUE had more success in Korea than Hydra did. He was a regular Round of 32 performer in the GSL, and made the semifinals in 2014. In DreamHack: Moscow and DreamHack: Tours, he also made the semis, before losing to Curious in the finals at DreamHack: Valencia in 2015.

TRUE joined Psistorm Gaming near the end of last year, and from there worked to obtain a visa to compete in the now even more strictly region-locked WCS Circuit. Throughout the process he struggled in Korea, only reaching Code A in Season 1. He once again made Code S in Season 2, but somewhat astonishingly forfeited his seed to move to North America once the visa came through.

Unlike Hydra, however, TRUE didn't have the same instant impact in the foreign scene. He reached the quarterfinals of HomeStory Cup XIII, but fell there to a somewhat-resurgent Scarlett, 3-2. He didn't compete in either DreamHack: Valencia or IEM Shanghai.

TRUE's defeat at HomeStory Cup sparked a great deal of discussion in the foreign community. Was it true that Korean Zergs were actually just bad (they have been struggling greatly this year)? Had foreigners closed the skill gap so dramatically? The foreign scene had gotten used to a beatable Polt, Hydra and viOLet, but TRUE was fresh from Code S.

Then along came the WCS Circuit Summer Championship, and we get at least of few answers.

First of all, TRUE is good at StarCraft. His micro intensive Zergling usage and strong tactical sense makes up for some occasionally sloppy macro — or perhaps it causes it. His heavy counter-attack style is reminiscent of Life and, as we saw in Valencia, the young Italian Reynor. Most of his games ended not with a decisive fight, army against army, but with an economy-gutting Zergling run-by or Baneling drop. And in a TvZ meta that is still dominated by Roach/Ravager compositions, TRUE routinely used Zerling/Baneling compositions against HeRoMaRinE and Polt, even using the seldom-seen Mutalisks in some games.

TRUE was in form this event, tearing through Snute 3-0, Harstem 3-0, and a surprisingly strong Welmu 3-0. His first lost was to the similarly in form HeRoMarinE, but he took that series 3-1. With only a single dropped map to Polt in the final, he finished the tournament with a 16-2 record.

That dominance from TRUE distracted from a host of side stories that played out through the three days of competition. The strength of the Korean contingent was one such storyline. While TRUE and Polt took over the tournament, TRUE's spiritual precursor, Hydra, had a disappointing first round loss to Welmu. viOLet, meanwhile, lost to MajOr, who showed some of his old talent. A mixed bag, at least.

Snute's first-round elimination comes after a strong showing in China

TRUE's run also underscored a disappointing first round loss for Snute, fresh off a title in China and still one of the most dangerous foreigners in 2016. Similarly, TRUE overshadowed an exceptionally strong performance from HeRoMaRinE, who fought his way through three tough matches against ShoWTiMe, MarineLorD and MajOr.

Finally, a great showing by the hometown hero Scarlett made up for MaSa's unexpected defeat, but it was Neeb who had the strength to move on to the semifinals to face Polt, as he beat the Canadian Zerg 3-0. Neeb would lose that now classic matchup, giving Polt the edge in their career head-to-head, 4-3.

Overall, this is TRUE's first real tournament in the foreign scene, and he nailed it. He won, and he won in his own style, tearing apart his opponents with counterattacks and being almost irresponsibly reliant on a Zergling/Baneling composition.

He looked just about as strong as Hydra did when he first came to America in Season 1 of last year. But this time when the Korean Zerg met Polt in the final, the Zerg won. If that is anything more than an interesting coincidence, WCS players should be very, very scared of TRUE.

TRUE has broken into the scene, now all remains is to see how far he can go. Like Hydra, Polt and viOLet, TRUE is here to stay, and that opens up a lot of opportunities for more showings like this. After losing to Polt in Season 1, Hydra barely skipped a beat before winning it all in Season 2. It was only later that the ROOT Gaming Zerg slowed down — or the rest of the competition sped up.

TRUE has already won his championship, what's next?

Christian Paas-Lang is an esports journalist from Toronto, who shed a tear when he typed out l-i-f-e in this article. You can follow him on Twitter.

WCS Summer Championship Staff Picks

Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard Press

Ahead of the WCS Summer Championship, the staff at theScore esports took the opportunity to sit down and predict some of the outcomes of the tournament.

Who will win the WCS Summer Championship?

Christian Paas-Lang: My head and heart say Neeb. It seems like he's been getting more and more comfortable at LANs as the year goes on, and this is his time to really step up. Add that to the fact he's been in Korea and I think he has the edge to win it. My guess is that he'll meet Snute in the final and take the set 4-3.

Simmy Fong: My head says Neeb will win. He’s been so consistent leading up to this tournament, constantly improving and he’s been training in Korea. It would be incredible to see him play against his rival, Hydra, in the finals, but I think it’ll be Neeb taking on viOLet with a 4-2 victory. My heart says that MaSa deserves to finally win a championship and what better place to do it than on home turf.

Connor Dunn: I’ve been a huge Snute fan ever since his amazing series against CJ.herO at IEM Toronto. He’s also coming into this event on a hot streak after defeating recent IEM Shanghai Champion uThermal en route to his first place finish at NEO Star League.

Navneet Randhawa: I think Neeb will win, but my heart says Snute. Although Snute was knocked out of IEM Shanghai during the Round-of-16 to uThermal, he was able to bounce back and win the NSL 2016 International shortly after. But with that said, Neeb's been on the rise for some time now, and I feel like this will be his tournament to shine. The finals will come down to Neeb vs. Snute, and Neeb will take it 4-3.

Who will do the best from each race?

Paas-Lang: Zerg - Snute has a very tough bracket, but has a chance at the finals. His real challenge will be whoever comes out of the top bracket in the semifinals (ShoWTimE, MarineLorD or MaSa) as well as Hydra, but Snute has been so consistent this year that it's hard to bet against him. Ever since WCS switched over to a weekend format, Snute has been crushing it.

Terran - As long as Polt has been practicing, he should be able to take advantage of a relatively easy road to the semifinals, where only SortOf could surprise him.

Protoss - Neeb does the best. Neeb wins. America is great again.

Fong: Zerg - It’s tough for me to pick just one. viOLet had improved a lot going into Shanghai as he defeated the Valencia champion Nerchio in a close 3-2 and just barely fell short of appearing in the Grand Final after losing 3-2 to the eventual champion uThermal. viOLet needs a strong showing here if he wants to go to BlizzCon.

Terran - The easy answer would be the Shanghai champion uThermal, but I predicted Neeb to win the tournament so that wouldn’t work. On the other side of the bracket we have MaSa who time and time again finds a way to impress me in these stacked tournaments. With no Protoss in his path until potentially the quarterfinals, he has a great chance to place higher than any other Terran at this tournament.

Protoss - Neeb is going to win, what more is there to say?

Dunn: Zerg - It feels like ages ago, but Snute actually took second place at the Winter Championships in Katowice. There’s just no way you can count him out when it comes to going far in an event this size.

Terran - I feel like it’s either Polt or uThermal but with the way the brackets worked out, Polt has a higher chance of going further with uThermal likely having to face Neeb in the Round-of-16.

Protoss - The obvious choice is Neeb. He’s earned the respect of the entire Starcraft community while being known as the strongest foreign Protoss. And with second place finishes at both DreamHack Austin and IEM Shanghai, he’s got the results to back it up.

Randhawa: Zerg - Snute is an A-grade student — he always produces good results, though 2016 has been a blend of second and 3-4th place finishes.

Terran: Polt will probably make it in the quarterfinals or semifinals, but then lose to a foreigner. His preparation will definitely be there, but it won’t be up to speed against his opponents the deeper he gets into the tournament.

Protoss: It’s Neeb! Do I Neeb to say more?

Who will underperform, who will over-perform?

Paas-Lang: I think that even after a strong showing at IEM Shanghai, viOLet will underperform in Montreal. He's strong, but he has a very tough bracket ahead of him and I think MaSa or PtitDrogo has what is takes if Kelazhur doesn't. Similarly, I don't think uThermal can repeat his impressive run from Shanghai.

Polt will over-perform simply because he's been out of the picture for a while (Round-of-32 in Valencia, did not participate in Shanghai), but my real answer is Elazer. I think he has a real shot at the semifinals depending on how strong Polt is right now.

Fong: Polt has been quiet ever since he won the Winter Circuit Championship, placing 3rd-4th in spring, and completely missing in summer. I’m not sure how much he’s been practicing and he hasn’t been streaming nearly as much. I expect him to beat ShaDoWn but he could very well lose in the next round to SortOf.

Hydra has had a mental block going up against Neeb in the past few tournaments, but now that they’re on opposite sides of the bracket we could very well see him tear his way through to the semis.

Dunn: I am expecting Nerchio to perform relatively well (especially after his first place finish at DreamHack Valencia) but unfortunately I just can’t see him getting past either Neeb or uThermal.

Masa is my pick for over-performing. He has to be kicking himself for sleeping in at DreamHack Valencia and missing his matches. Hopefully that will light a fire under the young Terran player and he can show the world what he’s really made of.

Randhawa: Hydra’s last big win was at DreamHack Austin back in May, but since then, he hasn’t been able to perform as well. Neeb took him out 3-1 during the Spring Circuit, and 3-0’d him during DreamHack Valencia and IEM Shanghai respectively. Lucky for Hydra, Neeb is on the opposite side of the bracket. However, I feel that his play won’t be up to par.

We’ve called MaSa the “King in the North” for many years since he wins all of the local Toronto tournaments. This has been a good year for him, so I think his preparation for this event will be that much greater, and he will show us some great games.

Which Canadian will go the farthest?

Paas-Lang: MaSa is the only sensible answer here. He's by far the strongest Canadian this year. He has a long way to go in the upper bracket, but unless Scarlett has come back from Korea with her old strength, I don't see her getting past Nerchio, let alone "literal god" Neeb.

Fong: MaSa desperately needs all the points he can get here to make it to BlizzCon. I think he’s easily the best out of the Canadian players participating and has the strongest drive to make it far in this tournament.

Dunn: If MaSa beats MajOr in the Round of 32, he could easily make it to the Semifinals. Unfortunately I don’t see Scarlett going far, even with the home crowd advantage, just because of the way the bracket turned out.

Randhawa: If MaSa is able to pull it together, he will be the Canadian who will go the furthest. It has been some time since Scarlett has achieved the greatness that was a few years ago, Semper is on the right path, but not quite on the same level as MaSa. So here’s to our Toronto boy MaSa.

Who's a dark horse to watch out for?

Paas-Lang: I feel like I always pick either Serral or Elazer, so this time I'm going to pick another European Zerg, SortOf, who has a very strong run in Shanghai and I feel has a chance to cause a ruckus in the lower bracket.

Fong: Cham made a name for himself at the Spring Circuit Championship surprising many by taking out Bly 3-0 and Jim 3-1 to make it to the quarterfinals. We haven’t heard much from him since but he’s definitely who I would look out for.

Dunn: While MaNa has won several events this season, he has expressed multiple times that he is having a tough time understanding the current meta. Maybe he has found a playstyle that works for him and can fly under the radar coming into this major event.

Randhawa: Katy Perry. But in all seriousness, uThermal. He will definitely beat Serral in the Ro32, but the face-off with Neeb in the Ro16 may prove to be an intense matchup. He did defeat Neeb in the IEM Shanghai finals with an outcome of 4-2, but I really hope Neeb can make it out.

Red Bull sponsors Nerchio

Thumbnail image courtesy of Jakub Patrowicz / IEM Katowice 2016 / ESL

Ahead of DreamHack Montreal, Red Bull has sponsored Artur "Nerchio" Bloch as their first Polish esports athlete, the organization announced Tuesday.

Nerchio recently placed first at DreamHack Valencia with a 4-0 win over Alexis "MarineLorD" Eusebio, 3rd-4th at HomeStory Cup XIII and second at the 2016 WCS Spring Circuit Championship. Nerchio's breakout tournament was HomeStory Cup 5 in 2012, where he defeated Choi "YongHwa" Yong Hwa and Jang "MC" Min Chul to take first place.

Nerchio is currently part of EURONICS gaming, and will stay part of that organization. His Red Bull partnership is a personal one, much like Team SoloMid's League of Legends player Soren "Bjergsen" Bjerg and Super Smash Bros. Melee player William "Leffen" Hjelte, whose Red Bull sponsorships are separate from their team affiliations.

Nerchio's first tournament with Red Bull will be the 2016 WCS Summer Circuit Championship at DreamHack Montreal, from August 12-14.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

uThermal to leave AT Gaming after DreamHack Montreal

Thumbnail image courtesy of AT Gaming

DreamHack Montreal will be March "uThermal" Schlappi's last tournament with AT Gaming.

uThermal recently won IEM Shanghai with a 4-2 victory over Alex "Neeb" Sunderhaft and recently placed 3rd-4th at Dreamhack Leipzig. He joined AT Gaming in 2013 after leaving LowLandLions.

"During the contract negotiations it became clear for both parties that with the performances from uThermal this last year, with among others winning IEM Shanghai, it is time for him to make the next step in his career," AT Gaming wrote in a statement posted to Facebook. "We’ll make a grand post about this later this month, but we wanted to announce this now, so other organisations have the time to pick uThermal up."

AT Gaming's only remaining player is Terran player Vincent "Optimus" Klerks.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

MorroW retires from StarCraft 2

Thumbnail image courtesy of Team Property

Stefan "MorroW" Andersson has retired from professional StarCraft 2, according to a Tweet.

The Swedish player entered the Brood War scene in 2008 before making the jump to Wings of Liberty in 2010. He came in first in IEM Season V — Global Challenge Cologne, the first LAN major to use SC2.

He's previously played for mouseports, apeX and Western Wolves, and has been a member of Team Property since 2013.

RELATED: The most Memorable moments of StarCraft 2 in 2015

MorroW is the latest in a exodus of old pros from the SC2 scene, including Juan "VortiX" Moreno Durán and Ahn "Seed" Sang Won most recently.

Sasha Erfanian has been described as "a Human Zerg Rush." Follow him on Twitter, it'll be great for his self-esteem.

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