Reflections on a Decade: The Best Games of Competitive StarCraft II, Part II: Heart of the Swarm
Part 1: Wings of Liberty | Part II: Heart of the Swarm | Part III: Legacy of the Void
In our last article, we went through the best competitive games of the formative years of StarCraft II. As gameplay advanced and mechanics were honed, StarCraft II’s first expansion, Heart of the Swarm, loomed. With the addition of now-iconic units such as Widow Mines, Vipers, and Oracles, StarCraft was about to get a lot more dynamic. Here are our picks for the best games from this era.
INnoVation vs TaeJa
WCS 2013 Season 2 Finals Round of 16, Game 3 (August 23, 2013)
Played on Newkirk Precinct
Commentated by Artosis & Rotterdam
2013 is the second year in a row we’ve selected a TvT (Terran vs. Terran) as the best game of the year. As with 2012, this game featured Bio against Mech. But that’s where the similarities end. When Lee “INnoVation” Shin-hyung faced Yun “TaeJa” Young-seo in the WCS Season 2 Round of 16, neither player used unconventional playstyles, nor was the game mired in chaos. Instead, both players showed the pinnacle potential of their respective unit compositions: Mech for INnoVation and Bio for TaeJa.
What’s remarkable about this game is how well both players minimized the weaknesses of their respective compositions. Traditionally, Mech is considered passive and immobile, while Bio feels more maneuverable, at the cost of being weaker in direct engagements. To combat Mech’s traditional passivity, INnoVation utilized Heart of the Swarm’s newly introduced Hellbats in combination with Medivacs as a mobile arm to augment his Siege Tank backbone. Meanwhile, TaeJa’s take on Bio included a higher-than-normal proportion of Siege Tanks in order to control space as his skirmishing forces continuously scoured the map.
With players so evenly matched and confident in their respective abilities, the game featured constant action and an improbable string of massive, seemingly game-winning fights. Thanks to the vertically symmetric layout of Newkirk Precinct, these fights began to feel like a cartoon, the players taking turns to unleash revenge with increasingly powerful weapons and armies.
As Taeja and INnoVation threw the totality of their resources at each other, efficiency determined the final victor. After countless map-spanning battles, the outcome pivoted on a mere two bases—the only bases left with minerals to mine. By the end, we knew we’d witnessed the zenith of competitive StarCraft II: Thoughtful strategic positioning, agile on-the-spot decision-making, and pristine technical execution.
2013 Honorable Mention
Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn vs Choi “Bomber” Ji-sung
Red Bull Battlegrounds NYC Quarterfinals, Game 3 (November 23, 2014)
Played on Habitation Station
Casted by Day9 & DjWHEAT
Bbyong vs Flash
SanDisk SHOUTcraft Invitational Semifinals, Game 3 (June 7, 2014)
Played on Waystation
Casted by Artosis & Totalbiscuit
Alright, this is the final TvT, we promise.
Starting in 2012, long-time professional StarCraft: Brood War players from the official Korean Esports Association (KesPA) circuits began transitioning to StarCraft II. Though they would take a bit to catch up to long-time StarCraft II players, some of whom had been playing since 2010, “KesPA” players had certainly hit their stride by 2014, finishing near the top of many tournaments.
One of these newcomers was Lee “Flash” Young-ho, undisputedly the best player ever to touch StarCraft: Brood War. While his StarCraft II play never reached the level of his Brood War prime, he consistently placed top 4 in tournaments and showed us unique takes on how to approach Terran. True to his Brood War roots, Flash’s TvT gameplay often involved massing an unstoppable Mech army, splitting the map, and starving the opponent out. His opponent in the game we’re talking about was Jung “Bbyong” Woo-yong, another Brood War veteran who was on the rise, hopeful to make a name for himself.
The stage was Waystation, an unconventional map featuring multiple island expansions that would prove to be pivotal.
By 28 minutes into the game, Flash had a solid lead with a strong Mech army. He moved across the map to deliver a killing blow. Bbyong, realizing he had no hope of winning a direct engagement with his less impressive Bio force, opted for a desperate counterattack.
Normally in these situations, the players eventually have to fight, and the Mech army usually prevails. But as both players ravaged each other’s bases, Bbyong revealed his ace-in-the-hole: He had been massing a secret air army the whole time. In a decisive engagement, Bbyong took control of the skies, and though he was unable to save any of his bases, he did preserve a lone Orbital Command on an island expansion.
Here the game effectively restarted, with Bbyong developing his lonely plot of land in the cold vacuum of space, while Flash controlled the mainland. From here, no one could have predicted the eventual outcome.
2014 Honorable Mention
Kim “Cure” Doh-wook vs Cho “Trap” Sung-ho
Red Bull Battlegrounds Washington Semifinals, Game 1 (September 21, 2014)
Played on Catallena
Commentated by Day9 & Tod
Dark vs Dream
KeSPA Cup 2015 Season 2 Semifinals, Game 2 (July 12, 2015)
Played on Coda
Commentated by Valdes & Wolf
When a maneuverable Terran army of Marines, Marauders, Widow Mines, and Medivacs meets an equally maneuverable Zerg army of Mutalisks, Zerglings, and Banelings, gameplay takes place in constant skirmishes instead of decisive battles. We think fans will agree that this clash is fun to watch, and nowhere was it seen more than in the late-Heart of the Swarm 2015 era.
From the Terran side, no player was more emblematic of this era than Cho “Dream” Joong Hyuk. At the height of his career, Dream was known for tempo-based Bio play featuring paradelike pushes of constantly reinforcing infantry, Marine splits that would have made MarineKing jealous, and Thor micro—oh, that Thor micro. Though normally thought of as one of the most immobile and clunky units in the game, Thors can demonstrate surprising mobility when paired with speed-boosted Medivacs. Dream was the best and most prominent practitioner of this tactic.
In the game we’ve chosen as the best of 2015, Dream faced his teammate, Park “Dark” Ryung-woo. Though not yet at his BlizzCon-winning 2019 form, Dark was still regarded as one of the best Zergs at the time, one of a handful who could have stood up to the onslaught from this class of Terran.
With two top players facing off, this game featured constant Medivac drops, Mutalisk harass, Zergling counterattacks, pushes and counter-pushes. There were no lulls in the action, no breaks to breathe, just unrelenting solid play from both sides.
2015 Honorable Mention
Koh “Gumiho” Byung-jae vs Lee “INnoVation” Shin-hyung
GSL 2015 Season 3 Ro16, Game 1 (September 11, 2015)
Played on Iron Fortress
Casted by Valdes & Wolf