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DongRaeGu survives Zerg bowl at Red Bull Battle Grounds

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Park “DongRaeGu” Soo Ho had a rough start to the final day of the Red Bull Battle Grounds Global tournament. The StarCraft 2 veteran started the day with two lives, the same as rival Zerg Kang “Solar” Min Soo, but lost one quickly after challenging Kang in the first match of the day, and losing. That meant one loss to any of the other three remaining players would knock Park from the tournament.

All three remaining players had reason to eliminate Park, a former Global StarCraft League champion who recently left his team MVP to compete at more international tournaments, like the Battle Grounds.

Shin “Hydra” Dong Won wanted revenge for a day two loss to Park. Kang and Kim “Impact” Joon Hyuk had supposedly banded together to eliminate the rest of the field. But lucky for Park, the two supposed partners embroiled themselves in a bitter battle. After eliminating Shin, Kim picked Kang, hoping to bring the only player with multiple lives remaining into the elimination zone. He succeeded, but his partner was none too happy about it. Kang took revenge on Kim.

That left two men remaining. And Park ended up the better one.

Four Zergs lasted to the final day of the Red Bull Battle Grounds Global tournament in Santa Monica. Park “DongRaeGu” Soo Ho emerged as the champion. Park beat Kang in the final match with two aggressive builds that surprised the indomitable player, who even Park believed the favorite entering the tournament.

The Battle Grounds, which qualifies the winner for the $50,000 championship event in D.C., used the extra lives tournament format that made Red Bull’s June event a rousing success. Six players started the tournament with three lives each, challenging one other player to a best-of-three series each day. The loser loses a life. When a player has no lives remaining, they are eliminated from the tournament. Each day, $2,400 is split between the remaining players, with a $100 bounty awarded to every series winner.

The format injects needed strategy and emotion into a StarCraft tournament scene that's sometimes stale, adding a bit of a reality show vibe to an intense competition.

The tournament started with four Zerg players and two Terrans, but the Terrans, Choi “Polt” Seong Hun and Mun “MMA” Seong Won, couldn’t survive the Zerg frenzy on the first two days. The tournament thus ended with six straight Zerg versus Zerg series, the so-called Zerg Bowl, the ultimate Zerg competition.

Soo Ho managed to be the last man standing. According to him, that may not have been because he was the best player. Just, perhaps, the most wily one.

“I was doing a lot thinking determining map selections and builds,” Park explained in his post-game interview. “I figured Solar looked really good  in the other games so the chances of me beating him is slim if I played standard games.”

Park picked Catallena for the first map of their series, one on which he knew Kang’s scouting patterns. That allowed him to get his Zerglings into the enemy base and pull out a win.

“When that worked I immediately thought in the second game just go all-in... super all-in,” Park said. “And it paid off.”

Park used an extremely early eight pool to blitz the hatchery-first build Kang favored for the entire tournament. A typical speed rush builds a pool at nine, a timing that Kang is usually able to stop. But Park’s was that much faster.

“Solar, he knew that he was the strongest among the six of us at this week’s event,” Park said. “That’s why I think he constantly went earlier hatchery versus pool. I think his confidence is what hindered him in the end.”

Part of it was also Park’s experience as a tournament player. The twelfth highest earner in StarCraft 2 history with more than $220,000 to his name, Park is a veteran who was once considered the best Zerg on the planet back in 2012. That experience was apparent in his tactical approach to the final battle with Kang, showing no arrogance in admitting he didn’t want to face the powerful player on even footing, instead adopting smart and successful aggressive strategies.

It also showed in his smart player selection to end the second day of the tournament. Park picked last on Saturday. Instead of targeting someone like Kim or Shin “Hydra”  Dong Wonwho each had one life leftto increase his prize money earned on the day, Park played the long game. He picked Kang, who had three lives at the time, and took one of them. That put Kang in reach on the final day of the tournament, leading to his eventual fall.

The victory earned Park $3,900 and, more importantly, a spot at the final Battle Grounds tournament of the year, the $50,000 Washington D.C. event in November. He joins five players who have already qualified, such as Canadian Zerg terror Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn and Protoss prodigy Kim "sOs" Yoo Jin.

Two more will be added through the upcoming Detroit and online tournaments in the coming months.

Screengrab via RedBullEsports/Twitch