March 8 - Professional Starcraft II players squared off in best-of-five matches today as the playoffs of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) World Championship started in Hanover, Germany.
The playoffs began with the game's three races represented by four players each. By the end of today's play, three players from each race still remained. That overall balance was not mirrored for the four non-Korean players who started in the playoffs, as Ret remains the only hope for a foreigner victory after Stephano and Nerchio were knocked out in the first round and Mvp destroyed MaNa in the quarterfinals.
In the first round of playoffs, First battled against Dream; in January, both players faced each other in the IEM Katowice grand finals, at which First took the victory 3-1. Dream seemed on a path for revenge after winning the first game. Unfortunately for him, IEM participants experienced déjà vu as First won the next three games, again taking the series 3-1.
Mvp continues to be the favorite to win the tournament, destroying MaNa 3-0 in the first match of the quarterfinals with constant drop harassment. In one game, he even managed to annihilate MaNa's forges - which were more than halfway complete in researching +2/+2 upgrades - with a particularly potent bio drop. This incredible medivac play exhibited by several of the tournament's Terran players had fans asking: Can Protoss or Zerg players even counter Terran drops?
PartinG answered this question in the last match of the day, using high templar and blink stalkers throughout the series to defend against YoDa's medivac drops. After winning the first game of their quarterfinal match with this strategy, PartinG built a proxy robotics facility, attempting the strong immortal, stalker and sentry play for which he is known. However, the force was with YoDa as his early reaper luckily scouted the structure, giving him ample time to build several bunkers at his natural. Although PartinG ultimately destroyed these bunkers, they gave YoDa just enough time to build medivacs and barely hold the attack, winning the game and tying the score 1-1.
Riding on the success of this victory, YoDa then took the third game after sniping the nexus in PartinG's main base with a well-timed drop. Not ready to be out of the tournament, PartinG tied the match back up by placing high templar throughout the map to prevent drops, building tempests to force a fight from YoDa and winning the long fourth game.
As if the other games were not exciting enough, both players thrilled fans by building proxy structures in the final game of the match. YoDa first created a barracks near the Protoss base for reapers; after defending, PartinG built a proxy stargate for oracles. YoDa sensed a disturbance in the game and immediately built widow mines and a bunker for defense. PartinG's two oracles and gateway units attacked YoDa's bunker and units; YoDa pulled SCVs to repair, but the oracles' damage seemed too much for the bunker. At the last second, YoDa blew up the oracles, repaired the bunker and held PartinG's final attack to win the game.
Tournament play will resume tomorrow with the final two games of the quarterfinals: Ret versus YongHwa and viOLet versus First. The winners of those matches will face off in the second semifinal of the day, right after Mvp takes on YoDa. The tournament is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. CET (4:30 a.m. EST / 12:30 a.m. PST).
You can view VODs of today's matches online to relive the action. Be sure to check back here tomorrow for a recap of the final games!