For all the finals of significant tournaments played out in StarCraft2 history there have been surprisingly few finals which delivered in all respects: hype of the match-up, the actual play of the two finalists and the closeness of the outcome. Perhaps this plays a role in fans' insistence on calling every 4:3 big final "the best SC2 match". GSL in particular has been guilty of delivering a lot of underwhelming finals.
The reasons leading to those anti-climactic outcomes can be narrowed down to factors like seeding and single elimination, but instead of delving into those areas I'll instead present '10 Great SC2 Finals That Could Have Been'.
To keep the speculation within the realms of reality I've set a few basic guidelines for putting this list together. I aimed to find finals match-ups which were actually likely to occur in terms of the expectations before the match, or how well the played matched-up with the person he eventually lost to, as well as didn't require a lot to change to provide us with that final. So usually that means a close semi-final or a quarter-final which would have led to a somewhat easy semi-final route.
I've also looked to only provide replacement finals for events where the actual final was not as thrilling as the occasion perhaps called for. So those finals already heralded as great, exciting and particularly memorable have not been interfered with purely for the sake of speculation. This is not a 'Top 10', so I've arranged them in chronological order.
1. Clash of the GSL Champions - Mvp vs. MC (2011 GSL World Championship)
Event: 2011 GSL World Championship
The final: Mvp vs. MarineKing
The final that could have been: Mvp vs. MC
The World Championship was only the sixth GSL tournament, but it posed the first legitimate opportunity for two of its past champions to face off in the final, on the biggest stage of all. MC was the reigning champion, having won GSL March Code S, and Mvp was the champion of the season before that, GSL January Code S.
Had the first two Code S champions met in the final it would seemingly have been a clash for the ages. MC was not only the reigning GSL champion, but the only two time GSL champion to that point. Mvp, on the other hand, had been the world's best player at the beginning of the year, and now was relegated to a fight back through May's Code A, having been knocked out of Code S.
MC was well known for his strength against Terrans, while Mvp's weakest match-up was vP, and it had been a loss to Genius that had seen him eliminated in the up/down of GSL March. HuK had taken a map off Mvp in the World Championship Ro16 and San ended up taking one from him in the semi-finals also. A win for MC in this final would have made him the first back-to-back champion, the first three time champion and the only multiple time champion to that point. It would also have changed the way people thought of Mvp, making for an interesting shift in power.
It was not to be though, Mvp handled his side of things against San in the first semi-final, but MC fell 2:3 to MarineKing in the other. MC had famously eliminated MarineKing 3:1 in the quarter-final of GSL Open Season 2, en route to his first GSL title. Up 2:0 in this series MC saw it all slip away, MarineKing winning three maps in a row to take the series. It was the first Best-of-5 series loss of MC's career and more importantly the first GSL final tease that was not to be.
Despite appearing in a combined 12 GSL finals, out of a total of 19 held so far, the trio of Mvp, NesTea and MC, the championship faces of the league and the only players to reach three or more finals each, never once faced each other in a GSL final.
Instead Mvp met MarineKing in a rematch of the GSL January Code S final, the only difference being MarineKing managing to take two maps, avoiding a clean sweep, before falling all the same to the Game Genie Terran.
2. Another Final for the Greatest of All Time - NesTea vs. NaDa (2011 GSL May Code S)
Event: 2011 GSL May Code S
The final: NesTea vs. InCa
The final that could have been: NesTea vs. NaDa
With Mvp battling his way through his first Code S season in GSL May, and MC having been eliminated in the Ro32, it seemed NesTea had been tagged in to that season's championship. The Zerg master escaped a tight semi-final against sC, but then stomped InCa into oblivion in one of the most one-sided finals in GSL history. Quite the anti-climax for anyone who had been pulling for the underdog.
Instead, a glance across the bracket reveals NaDa losing to InCa 0:3 in their semi-final match-up. It's easy for someone to look at that result now and assume things would always have gone that way, but in fact NaDa had looked, going in, to have a legitimate chance at reaching the GSL final. Brood War's most accomplished bonjwa had beaten Genius 2:0 in the Ro16, beaten InCa back in GSL January Code S and was 6:2 in maps vs. Protoss to that point in his GSL career.
With most of the other finals I've outlined in this article I'm aimed to find match-ups which look juicy based on the magnitude of the names facing off, the histories of the two players or the storylines that could have been created. This final falls into the latter category, as while it's pretty unlikely NaDa would have beaten NesTea in the hypothetical finals match-up suggested here, it would have been a spectacle for early SC2 fans.
On one hand you have the most accomplished BW player of all time, and then on the other side the champion of the second GSL Open season. Then throw in that the two players would have met in the aforementioned season NesTea won his first title, had NaDa not been beaten by BoxeR in their quarter-final series. It would also be an interesting situation to see two players advanced in years, with NaDa 26 at the time and NesTea 28, competing for the biggest SC2 title in the world.
One could even have imagined implications stretching beyond the boundaries of merely StarCraft 2: would NaDa reaching the finals have lured some of his BW fans into watching that match, at the very least? Would a final featured the most decorated BW player ever have made a splash in more mainstream press?
Instead the world was treated to InCa reminding us of a definition of madness: doing the same thing again and again while expecting a different outcome.
3. The Battle for Optimus - Polt vs. MarineKing (2011 GSL Super Tournament)
Event: 2011 GSL Super Tournament
The final: Polt vs. MMA
The final that could have been: Polt vs. MarineKing
The final is best remembered for being MMA's second deep individual league run, after he had shed the label of being a team league ace player only with his win at MLG Columbus two weeks prior. That subsequent run ended up being stopped dead at Polt's hands in the final, failing to win a map.
What this tournament could have been though is MarineKing's best chance at a GSL title. Going into his semi-final against MMA the Prime Terran had reason to believe he was the favourite in many regards. MarineKing had previously beaten MMA in an up/down match in GSL May. Experience-wise the edge lay heavily towards MKP, as he was playing in the fifth GSL Bo5 of his career, in comparison to MMA playing in the second Bo5 of his entire SC2 career, across all tournaments.
MKP had only lost GSL series to Terrans called Mvp at this point in time, boasting a 59.38% GSL map win-rate against all Terrans and a monsterous 77.27% map win-rate against Terrans not called Mvp.
In the series MarineKing went up 2:0, only to lose the last three maps and the series, paralleling what he had done to MC in the World Championship semi-final. Not only had MKP been in a good position to reach the final, but there he would have faced team-mate Polt. Combining MKP's strength vT and his intimate knowledge of his opponent one has to imagine this could have been MarineKing's best shot at a GSL title.
Oh, and the winner would have been crowned "OptimusPrime" according to the rules of the Prime team.
4. A ZvT Test for the Emergent Foreign Master - Stephano vs. MMA (IPL3)
The final: Stephano vs. Lucky
The final that could have been: Stephano vs. MMA
After narrowly missing the ASUS Summer final it proved to be IPL3 where Stephano brokeout as a legitimate elite level foreign player. In the final he faced the Korean Lucky and it was a one-sided 4:0 win for the Frenchman. The final he could have played would have been a much more tantilising treat, in terms of opponent, match-up and the competitiveness of the match.
While Stephano ran through the bottom half of the bracket, Lucky found himself facing MMA in his semi-final match-up. Lucky had never accomplished anything of note in individual leagues to this point in time. MMA on the other hand had already racked up a solid resume, finishing 1st at MLG Columbus, 2nd in the GSL Super Tournament and 2nd at MLG Anaheim.
The SlayerS Terran was also a monster in ZvT. Not only had he never lost a series to Zerg, but he had crushed the same LosirA at MLG Columbus who went on to reach the GSL Code S final about seven weeks later. Fans could understandably expect MMA to take the series against Lucky, but instead Lucky ran over him 3:0 and set-up the ZvZ final.
MMA's experience level and pedigree would have dwarfed Stephano's, at that point in time, but all the more reason it would have made for an exciting test for the Frenchman. A win over MMA in the final would certainly have fast-tracked him into the elite echelon, as wins over TheStC and Lucky don't carry the same weight. Instead Lucky swept MMA, was swept by Stephano and the French Zerg had to wait until ESWC to slay a Code S monster Terran, when he took down MarineKing.
5. A final worthy of the big stage in Paris - Stephano vs. MC (ESWC 2011)
Event: ESWC 2011
The final: Stephano vs. MaNa
The final that could have been: Stephano vs. MC
Most of my selections in this article have required only one of the semi-finals to end up with a different outcome, and in cases where it was plausible or even likely for that to be the case, but for this example I'm going to extrapolate a little further, but with good reason.
The first ESWC final in SC2 is famous both for crowning Stephano and seeing MaNa lose a series most, including him and his opponent, expected him to lose. The problem was that MaNa's PvZ was infamously weak at the time, he'd gotten to the final off of the back of Bo3 PvP series win and Stephano was not only a top foreign Zerg, but also a practice partner of the Polish Protoss'. All of these factors combined to make the final less than inspiring, with little to surprise anyone in attendance.
While Stephano's victory over MarineKing in his semi-final helped cement the Frenchman's status as an elite foreigner, and potential world beater, it was in the other side of the bracket where I think the interesting match-up lay. MC was defeated by MaNa in the quarter-final, with the Pole then going on to beat Grubby in another PvP in the next round. This is back during the era when complaints about PvP from Protoss players were seemingly ubiquitous.
Firstly MaNa had only gotten out of his group after winning in tie-breakers, so his spot in the playoffs could have ended up going to unknown Zergs biGs or sYz. That would have yielded a match-up against one of those two or Socke for MC, all very favoured for the Korean. Had MC have beaten MaNa in the first place he would have faced Grubby in the next round, who was still less than a year into his "official" SC2 career. MC's chances of reaching the final were good on many grounds.
In the final Stephano's ZvP would not only have gotten a chance to be tested against two time GSL champion MC, but the spectacle of the final would have been increased immensely with the help of MC's showmanship. The home country hero Stephano, slayer of MarineKing, facing another elite GSL Code S Korean. Instead the world got a MaNa who wasn't quite ready to win a big title yet, facing his worst match-up and someone who knows his game well.
6. A better underdog story - MC vs. MarineKing (HomeStory Cup IV)
Event: HomeStory Cup IV
The final: MC vs. Sound
The final that could have been: MC vs. MarineKing
HomeStory Cup IV was MC's road back to being considered a championship. As 2011 had progressed the two time GSL champion had settled into top placings abroad, dropped out of GSL Code S and generally looked far from the player who had previously been threatening to take every title in SC2, at home or abroad. At HomeStory Cup IV the Korean Protoss returned with some fanfare, beating Stephano in the second group stage, sweeping Nerchio in a Bo5 quarter-final and, after a close PvP series with JYP, mopping up Sound 4:0 in the final.
MarineKing had overcome a surprise loss to Delphi in the first group stage to reach the playoffs with an 11:2 record in maps, beating both MC and Stephano in the second group stage. In the first round of the playoffs he faced off against viOLet, then a player who had yet to break top eight at a significant tournament, in a TvZ he was expected to take. Instead the Korean Terran was pulled into a full five map series and eventually lost out to his fellow countryman.
viOLet then moved on to a semi-final against Sound, a Terran who had never done anything in terms of placings at the time and hasn't since. Sound had surprised many by taking down DIMAGA in the second group stage, and then edged a five-map series with ReaL in the quarter-final. In a back-and-forth series Sound emerged victorious and went off to his destruction at MC's hands.
One has to wonder though how MarineKing would have fared in the final against his Protoss nemesis. MKP would have been a big favourite over Sound in their semi-final, making his route there plausible if he'd overcome viOLet. The history between MarineKing and MC at that time was that MC had beaten MKP en route to the GSL Open S3 title, lost to him in the semi-final of the GSL World Championship, beaten him at MLG Orlando in the lower bracket and lost here at HomeStory Cup in the second group stage.
In Bo5s they were tied 1:1, and with the most recent being MarineKing's reverse sweep, coupled with the Terran winning their group stage game at HomeStory, it seemed as though MarineKing would have had a legitimate shot at testing MC in the final. It would also be the first final they had played in, despite the sheer number of tournaments they had played in and having made so many finals between the two of them.
7. GSL Champion vs. GSL Champion - MMA vs. NesTea (Iron Squid)
Event: Iron Squid
The final: MMA vs. Symbol
The final that could have been: MMA vs. NesTea
The final four of the first Iron Squid was an all-Korean affair, as it would prove to be the next time also. When Symbol faced off against MMA in the final it was the SlayerS man who took the title, adding to his collection of SC2 titles. The final score read 4:2 but MMA had led 2:0 and 3:1 in the series, firmly enough in control to secure the title.
A more enticing finals match-up lay at the semi-final stage, where three time GSL champion NesTea faced Symbol. With Iron Squid essentially being Symbol's breakout tournament as an individual league player he had nothing on his resume to suggest he was a threat to make the final. NesTea, on the other hand, was sitting on a ridiculous 80% map win-rate vs. Zerg in GSL, and was thusly famed for his ZvZ mastery.
NesTea had never played MMA in an offline BoX and being as only Terrans named Mvp seemed beyond his range this would have been quite the firework show, one imagines. That NesTea was the only one of the group of multiple time GSL champions (MC, Mvp and MMA) to never win a foreign title, though with far less experience of attempting such a task, the implications of a victory would have also made NesTea's claims to a top spot in the game's history even better.
8. The fourth final, a chance for revenge - DongRaeGu vs. MarineKing (2012 MLG Spring Championship)
Event: 2012 MLG Spring Championship
The final: DongRaeGu vs.Alicia
The final that could have been: DongRaeGu vs. MarineKing
DongRaeGu had been quite the blowtorch for the first half of 2012. The Korean Zerg had finished 2nd at MLG Winter Arena, 2nd at the MLG Winter Championship, 2nd in MLG Spring Arena and 1st in GSL 2012 Season 1. The problem is that those first two MLG runner-up finishes had both been at the hands of MarineKing. In the first case DRG had fought up through the lower bracket to reach the finals, there winning the first Bo3 but falling in the second. MarineKing had won his first significant title in SC2.
The second MLG saw DRG lose only to MKP, in the upper final and the grand final. At the MLG Spring Arena 1 DRG had overcome the obstacle in his way, edging MKP out 4:3 in the final, the third they had played consecutively. So at the MLG Spring Championship, when the tournament reached the upper bracket final and saw DRG facing off against MKP everyone knew the very recent history that dwelled between the two. With DRG finally overcoming MKP in the upper bracket he had a finals spot locked up, where once could be forgiven for expecting to see him face MKP for a fourth time, this time with the upper bracket advantage. At last he would have a very public opportunity to avenge his previous two losses to the Prime Terran, tying them up 2-2 in finals.
Instead Alicia upset the party by taking out MarineKing in the final match of the lower bracket, then being taken out by DRG in the eventual final. The dream final would have been the fourth rematch for the two in a final that year, with DRG in position to make this one his.
9. Battle of the Best in the World Outside of Korea - TaeJa vs. Stephano (2012 Dreamhack Open Valencia)
Event: 2012 Dreamhack Open Valencia
The final: TaeJa vs. ForGG
The final that could have been: TaeJa vs. Stephano
When September's Dreamhack Open Valencia rolled around Stephano and TaeJa had been the two hottest players in the world outside of GSL competition. Both had put together very impressive resumes for the year, showing consistency and championship caliber.
Stephano had won NASL3 and WCS Europe, as well as finishing 2nd at Assembly Winter, 5th-6th at IPL4 and two MLGs, 3rd at MLG Spring Arena 2 and top 4 at Dreamhack Summer.
TaeJa had won ASUS Summer and MLG Summer Arena, also finishing top 8 in two seasons of GSL Code S back-to-back and making top 4 at the MLG Summer Championship.
The problem for fans is that the two foreign tournament monsters had only played never played a single BoX series against each other. In the second group stage that changed, as TaeJa took down Stephano 2:1, with both progressing to the playoffs. There Stephano looked to have a decent route set-up, with a quarter-final match-up against ForGG and TheStC having taken out VortiX in the first quarter-final.
After going up 1:0 against the former BW pro Stephano accomplished one of the more memorable throws in recent SC2 history, losing a second map which had seemed all but in the bag. Droning up while ForGG attacked the French Zerg failed to capitalise on his success to that point in the map, the series going to a third map. In the third map everything seemingly went right for ForGG and Stephano ended up having to show off 500 APM skills just to delay death by a few minutes, finally falling to his former Millenium team-mate.
ForGG went on to beat TheStC in the next match and then lose 2:3 to TaeJa in the final. In putting this article together I've purposely ignored finals which were close or entertaining, since even if a better match-up on paper could have been potentially formulated it seems a little pointless to wish for better finals than those which are already pretty good. In this case though I think this final isn't as good as the 3:2 first appears on paper, with the reverse sweep no less.
Firstly TaeJa had handled ForGG in the semi-final of ASUS Summer, so I don't think many were expecting ForGG to be able to beat him over a Bo5. Then ForGG's 2:0 lead seemed like classic frontrunning, as he found himself overwhelmed on the following three maps and unable to find a decisive play to look to end the series. Likewise the early deficit looked more like TaeJa collapsing mentally early on, as opposed to being massively outplayed.
For fans we are left to wonder what would have happened had Stephano not thrown that second map vs. ForGG. A win over TheStC in the semi-finals seemed pretty likely, being as Stephano was 2:1 in series over him, beating him at IPL3, losing to him at MLG Orlando and winning most recently at the MLG Summer Championship. That would have left the two players whose positions amongst the world's elites were based off wins in foreign tournaments to battle for the Dreamhack Valencia title.
Instead the world still awaits a Bo5 between the two. They met a second time in a Bo3 at Dreamhack Winter, with TaeJa winning again.
10. The Fight to Be the King of Korean Protoss - PartinG vs. Rain (2012 Blizzard World Championship)
Event: 2012 Blizzard World Championship
The final: PartinG vs. Creator
The final that could have been: PartinG vs. Rain
PartinG's victory at the Blizzard World Championship was the Protoss player's first event tournament title, having been halted before the top spot in all of his previous deep runs. In the semi-final of GSL 2012 Season 2 he had been a victim of Mvp's now legendary TvP run to a fourth title. At WCS Korea PartinG had finished third and then at WCS Asia he'd been the runner-up.
In the final he ended up facing Creator, who had been vying for the title of best Korean Protoss with a TSL4 title, beating Life in the final, and a win at WCS Korea. The final ended up 4:2 to PartinG and he took home the 100,000 USD for first.
I think the case could be made though that the more interesting finals match-up would have been against Rain. The SKT T1 Protoss had been battling the other two names as the breakout Protoss of the year, all having been far from deep runs in significant tournaments prior to that. In Rain's case that was primarly since he had been off playing BW and then stuck behind the KeSPA Korean wall. Since the integration period began he had impressed mightily, putting up his own semi-final GSL finish against Mvp, in Season 4, winning WCS Asia and taking the first ever SC2 OSL title.
Those last two results are part of the reason this match-up would have been so interesting as a storyline, as not only did Rain's wins there stake his claim to being the king of Protoss, but he also beat PartinG in both of those tournaments. In the quarter-final of the OSL he took down the StarTale Protoss 3:1 and then in the final of WCS Asia Rain beat PartinG 2:0 in the first Bo3, clinching the title then and there.
So PartinG would have been facing the hottest Protoss in the world, in terms of recent placings, but someone who had beaten him in two BoX already, all for a difference of 60,000 USD in the first and second place prizes. That would have been quite the stage upon which PartinG would have needed to prove himself.
Of course things didn't play out like that. Creator edged the 3:2 series win over Rain in the semi-final, and Rain had lost to BabyKnight in the group stage in PvP. With his later WCG win and runner-up finish in the Blizzard Cup PartinG ended the year seemingly on top of his Protoss brethren.
(All photographs courtesy of their respective owners)