In the past, launch events have not really piqued my interest; the type of thing that seemed a huge expense for something that ultimately wasn't worth it. After flying to Versailles, France for the Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm launch though... everything changed.
The event was held in Palais des Congrès and hosted by ReDeYe and consisted of an intense eSports match between some of Europe's finest: Stefano, Grubby, Lucifron and White-Ra, commentated by the legendary Tasteless and Artosis who had flown in all the way from Korea. The post-match analysis was carried out by Apollo.
The tournament kicked off not long after the start of the event with a best of three match system, consisting of two semi-finals and one final. First up were Grubby, playing as Protoss, and the home team favourite, Stefano, playing as Zerg. With this being the new addition to StarCraft II, we saw the new units from Heart of the Swarm come into play and new tactics to accommodate the changes the expansion brings. The Oracle from Grubby was the first to make an appearance; a quick flying unit that can only attack ground units and is strongest against SCVs, Drones and Probes. Grubby used the Oracle to slow down mineral gathering for Stefano by taking out some of his Drones, giving him an early advantage in economy.
Next, we saw Grubby bring out the Mothership Core. This unit is a defensive unit and, whilst not hugely strong, it has the 'Mass Recall' ability which teleports all units within a certain radius of the Core back to the Nexus it was created at. This allowed Grubby to hassle Stefano further without losing a lot of units, by recalling them before Stefano could get his army together. This pushed Grubby further into the lead and not long after this, Stefano surrendered the first match.
Round two and with the knowledge of the Oracle and Mothership Core, Stefano produced more air defense, especially around his Drones. However, Grubby adjusted his tactics and went for a more land-based strategy. This match was a lot longer than the previous one and we saw Stefano bring out Swarm Hosts; another unit new to Heart of the Swarm. These units are land based and burrow into the ground, slowly releasing swarms of locusts from their backs. If used properly, these can be highly effective for continuous harassment. Grubby produced some Colossi but Stefano managed to spot these early on and brought out Vipers. These are very strong against Colossi and if that wasn't enough, they can grab units from a distance and drag them to their position. This showed to be deadly for Grubby and his army was brought to dust fairly quickly. Grubby managed to hold his ground for another ten minutes but in the end, he lost this match.
Final round of this semi-final and we saw Grubby bring out the final of the Protoss' new units, the Tempest. This is a flying unit which doesn't have great damage but has a huge range. Having a half dozen Tempests in your army can really make a different and it did for Grubby as he won the last match, pushing him forward into the final.
Next up was Lucifron, playing as Terran, and White-Ra, playing as Protoss. White-Ra is known for his 'special tactics' (obscure builds that end up winning) and brought them out quite early on to win the first match but not before Lucifron could bring out a couple of Hellbats which are strong against light ground units. The Hellbat is an evolved form of the Hellion from StarCraft II and can switch between a Hellion form and a Hellbat form. Both use a flamethrower to char and burn their way through an enemy crowd but sadly, this wasn't enough.
In round two, Lucifron changed tactics and brought in the final new unit from Heart of the Swarm, the Widow Mine. This is a modified version of the Spider Mine but rather than exploding when an enemy is within the proximity, the Widow Mine will fire a missile and can continue to fire missiles periodically until destroyed. Not only this, but this a cloaked unit which can be devastating to the opposition if the correct precautionary measures are not taken. Match the Widow Mine with the rest of Lucifron's army and he came out on top of this battle, winning the match.
The last match pitted two armies constantly in battle with each other but finally, after half an hour, White-Ra came out victorious.
In between the semi-finals and the final, we were given two treats. First, we were shown an animation by CarBot depicting the opening cinematic from Heart of the Swarm (which can now be found on YouTube by clicking here). Secondly, two models entered the stage wearing the two phases of Sarah Kerrigan both as the Terran and the Zerg form.
After this, the only thing left was the final: Grubby, playing as Protoss vs. White-Ra, also playing as Protoss. With this sort of match up, the competitors would have to adjust their tactics accordingly. Both Tasteless and Artosis were certain that there would be three rounds in this best of three but they favoured White-Ra to come out on top.
The first match commenced and both players began to set in for a mid-to-long match, slowly building up their armies, resources and bases. There were a few minor battles but it all came down to one large battle. Both sides were Void Ray heavy but Grubby had something that White-Ra wasn't expecting, a Dark Templar (a cloaked unit). White-Ra hadn't prepared for this and shortly before the final battle, Grubby managed to slip this DT into White-Ra's base and began to take out his probes and pylons, halting his construction. Then, the final battle began but due to the Void Ray's beams, it was difficult to tell who had won. The dust settled, the smoke cleared and Grubby came out victorious and just after, White-Ra "gg"ed.
Apollo then showed us another new feature in Heart of the Swarm which allows you to go into the replay, pick any point during the game and start the game again. He started the game from just before Grubby's DT ran into White-Ra's base and let them take control of their units again. White-Ra now knows that Grubby has a DT but due to a technical fault, failed to defend his base and again, Grubby won the match.
The second match started and to keep a chance of winning the final, White-Ra had to win this one. He changed tactic this time and went heavy on the Stalker front, upgrading armour, weapons and shield before committing to an all-out attack on Grubby. Luckily, it paid off and White-Ra managed to take the second match.
Quiet fell over the auditorium as the third and final match started. Both players began to gather resources and build up their armies. Grubby went in for an early attack but was pushed back. White-Ra responded with an attack but Grubby was able to push him back. This match went on to a very late game where near most all of the resources were being eaten up. Both armies were equally large. Grubby moved in for a final attack and managed to defeat White-Ra's army but only just, leaving him with only a few units left on the field. With resources running low, he spawned in a few more Stalkers and went for it, pushing into White-Ra's main base and causing White-Ra to surrender - Grubby was victorious.
The StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm European launch event was a fantastic night and really got me in the mood to play the game again. The changes look like they have given the game a new lease of life and could help to kick some of the top eSports players off their podiums as new blood floods into the swarm. Only time will tell, but until then: we'll see you on the battleground.