There are certain battles, certain periods of time that come to define the greats. Ma ‘sAviOr’ Jae Yoon war against the entire Brood War world from 2006-2007 gave rise to the term ‘bonjwa’, the most dominant player of the era. Jung ‘Mvp” Jong Hyun’s miraculous victories in 2012 cemented him in history forever as a gritty champion who refused to back down in the face of imbalance or five slipped discs, two in the spine, three in the back. In the modern day, Cho ‘Maru’ Seong Ju defeat over Park ‘Dark’ Ryung Woo marked his inauguration as the best SC2 player in the world.
The battle between Maru and Dark is a battle on three fronts. The most obvious level is between the fight between Maru and Dark themselves. As two of the best players, they were bound to class. The second level is a battle between Maru and the race of Zerg. Maru is a unique player and thus his innovations and ideas he brought into the matchup were of his own make and he therefore had to create his own path. The deepest level was the battle between Maru and himself.
Since his debut, Maru has been a micro based player. While he has shown he can play in the mid-game or late-game across the three SC2 expansions, he has almost always forced the game down a path where his superior mechanics and micro can win out. Tactically speaking, he forces engagements constantly trying to win out in little edges which parlays into bigger and bigger margins as he forces the enemy opponent to split their attention between their battle micro and their macro. While there have been moments and games where we have seen Maru play a more laid back macro style, it was never his primary strength, never the type of play he loved. He was always more Lee ‘MarineKing’ Jung Hoon than Mvp, more Lim ‘BoxeR’ Yo Hwan than Choi ‘iloveoov’ Yun Sung.
That all changed in the span of the first three months of 2018. In that time, three tournaments took place, IEM World Championship, WESG, and GSL Season 1. In those tournaments, his TvZ style went under a massive change that had implications for him as an overall player. In 2018, he is no longer the beast he once was from 2013-2015. In those years, his level of battle micro was arguably the highest we have seen from any SC2 player in history, regardless of expansion, patch, or meta. However those days were long gone and while he was still a great player, he could no longer rely on that as a crutch.
Instead of going all-in on his micro, he transitioned it into a large macro game. At IEM he used mass speed cloaked banshees to take map control, exert pressure on the enemy, and build up an unbeatable late game army. Where before, his high octane pressure was his only condition, now it was the first among many. It was as if I saw an architect build a bridge between MarineKing’s style and Mvp’s. It had MarineKing’s fast pace mid game that could crush an opponent, but had the foresight of Mvp’s hellion/banshee builds that transitioned perfectly into the end game. It was an amalgamation of their two great strengths melded into one player.
However such a path has never been treated on before. It was a path wholy made of his own mind and because of that, when Maru ran into problems, he had to solve them. It was a completely different style of game than someone like Lee ‘INnoVation’ Shin Hyung. In a sense INnoVation could be called the perfect Terran. There is never anything fundamentally wrong about his play and he executes to to near perfect action. Watching his games is like watching the world’s fastest railroad builders. You know where the path leads and you cannot stop the train from running you over.
However perfection cannot be improved upon. It won’t surprise you, it cannot go past your imagination. That is what separates an incredible player from a paradigm shifter. Someone who can break the game and forever change how it is viewed and how it is played on a macro level. sAviOr did this with his builds and tactics in Brood War. Mvp did this against the height of broodlord-infestor. Maru was going to do this now.
It wasn’t going to be easy as this was a path of his own creation so any mistakes meant that the only person in the world who could give him advice was himself. He could not look to others for inspiration as he was the trailblazer. The one who explored depths of Starcraft 2 that had hitherto been inaccessible and unseen.
At IEM World Championship, he played against two Zergs, Kang ‘Solar’ Min soo and Lee ‘Rogue’ Byung Ryul. In that tournament, Maru switched between both styles of play, his end-game mech style and his more high pressure bio-tank-liberator style. That tournament showed that the bridge between MarineKing and Mvp was not yet complete. He could play both styles and switch between them, but had yet to cohesively make them one whole. This was the problem for Maru that tournament as Rogue was able to destroy Maru before he ever got to the late game and took the series 3-2 in the semifinals.
That was an important loss for Maru to take as he continued to tinker with his play. We’d see the product of that tinkering at WESG. In the first group stage, he played against Mikolaj ‘Elazer’ Ogonowski. In the second map on Neon Violet Square, we start to see the bridge come together. Maru opts for his bio play, but instead of going all out on the attack, he only puts on minimal pressure and instead focuses on his transition into his bio-vikings-ghosts.
The rest of the tournament up to the finals was a murders row of Zerg players: Sasha ‘Scarlett’ Hostyn, Artur ‘Nerchio’ Bloch, Riccardo ‘Reynor’ Romiti, Joona ‘Serral’ Sotala, and Dark in the finals. Throughout the run Maru continued to experiment. He’d swivel between the bio and mech styles and add on different things as he went on. Against Scarlett he tried to put in more Thors and Cyclones to abuse the terrain on Eastwatch. Against Reynor, he starts to consider a transition from his bio style into the ghost-raven army. In the semifinals against Serral, he nearly dies to an early game attack in the first game while using his banshee mech opener and goes back to the safer bio style to only transition back into the mech end game. He even experiments with Battlecruisers in the third.
The finals against Dark and the rematch against Dark were the most pivotal series of Maru’s development and potentially the entire year of 2018 for SC2. Up to this point, Dark has rightly made a name for himself as the best late game Zerg player of Legacy of the Void. He is arguably the best end game Zerg player we’ve ever seen across all expansions if you exclude the broodlord/infestor era for obvious imbalance issues. He was to be Maru’s final test in his growth.
The first hurdle was too much. In game 1 on Backwater, Maru got to play his style unhindered in the early game. They went to the end game where both players battled it out. It was Dark’s end game army and resource management against Maru’s ultimate composition. Dark was able to grind Maru down and win the first game. In the second game, Maru used his Eastwatch build that used more thors and cyclones to pin down and defeat Dark. While it was a victory, it was not one that could be replicated on any other map.
The third map was a typical Maru victory. He used his superior mechanics and tactics to bully Dark and when he had an advantage, he created a two pronged attack that put Dark into checkmate. Even up 2-1, the question still remained the same. Could Maru’s endgame style defeat Dark in the end game?
Games 4 and 5 tell us that he couldn’t. Dark was able to hit timings that killed Maru before he could get his end game composition sustainable (in terms of energy, infrastructure, and position). The path that Maru was creating had one final roadblock and Dark was not budging. In that moment 3-2 down, Maru did what he always did when he was down, bunker rush. This was something that had helped Maru defeat Jung ‘Rain’ Yoon Jong to win his OSL. It was also a tendency that Won ‘PartinG’ Lee Sak used to consistently destroy Maru.
For whatever reason, Dark was completely unaware of this pattern and Maru was able to secure the series victory for Maru. He had won over his rival 4-3, however in the actual macro games where Maru was trying to trailblaze, it was clear that Dark was the superior.
The two would meet again soon after in the GSL Season 1 semifinals. This was a critical moment for all of Starcraft 2. While we have only talked about Maru’s TvZ, the reality was that his style of play was mirrored across all of his matchups. Not as unique, but the idea was similar in that he could win in every phase of the game against every opponent. The only person he could not beat was Dark in the end game.
While he had been able to squeeze through with a 4-3 victory, if he was able to make his style defeat Dark in the end game, he’d have no equals left in the world. This semifinals was to be the inauguration for Maru as the world’s best SC2 player and a living God.
That is what happened. There were three critical large macro games the two players had in the series: game one, game four, and game five. Maru won all three, though Dark had made it competitive. On smaller maps (relative to the gargantuan maps), Maru used bio/medivac as his base rather than the speed banshees. The reasoning was because they were more robust than the banshee even if they didn’t do as much harassment damage (though in Dark’s case he was able to shut it down consistently). Instead he went for safe pressure, enough to hinder Dark while he transitioned into his end-game. In addition to that, he put a larger focus on simcity of his bases so that his bio could be more effective on the defensive side as this was what he lacked in the IEM finals. On Darkness Sanctuary he opted for the banshee build while hiding a base.
Among the three macro games, game four was the closest, but Maru showed all of his strengths. He was able to pressure in the mid game to build up for his late game. When Dark went for his all out attack that had shut down Maru in his IEM attempt, Maru was able to continually hold the line with his simcity, his counter attacks, and the earlier pressure from the bio meant that Dark was not in a position to easily remax into a strong Zerg army and try again.
With that semifinals victory, Maru had killed the final enemy and has become a God of Starcraft 2. It forced him to evolve, grow, and change. To find and define the entire meta of Starcraft 2. To reshape his own game so that he could be able to beat one of the greatest end-game players we have ever seen. That challenge, that battle has made Maru evolve and he now stands as the world’s best player. He has won GSL Season 1, GSL Season 2, and WESG 2017. Though he is not invincible, he stands second to none. Starcraft 2 is now Maru’s world, we merely live in it.