Earlier this week, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn made StarCraft history at IEM Pyeongchang 2018, defeating two-time world champion sOs. Last night, she chalked up more wins against the world’s best. Scarlett is shaking up the modern StarCraft scene one game at a time, and shows no sign of slowing down.
Defeating Joo “Zest” Sung Wook and Lee “Innovation” Shin Hyung, Hostyn is the first female StarCraft II player to make the Global StarCraft League round-of-eight quarterfinals. Not only that, she’s the fifth-ever foreigner—or player not hailing from South Korea—to do so in StarCraft II.
The achievement looks good on paper, but with context, it becomes even greater. GSL is a bastion for the highest level of StarCraft play. Though I fell off the real-time strategy wagon around 2012 or ‘13, I still have fond memories of staying up late, my face lit by the warm blue glow, devouring new strategies from overseas to practice in my next ranked match.
In 2016, Hostyn qualified for GSL Code S, a difficult task for any foreigner. Some call her the “Queen of Blades,” a reference to in-game Zerg queen Kerrigan. She had talent, but she was about to face the world’s best in StarCraft.
In the 2018 GSL group selections, Lee manoeuvred to get a group he thought would offer him the best path to a top seed in the quarterfinals. One of the most decorated players in StarCraft II, Lee seemed to think he had masterminded his route to another GSL playoffs.
But by the time the games started, Hostyn’s aggressive tempo, sharp mechanics, and clever strategies didn’t just catch Lee by surprise—it surprised everyone. We got a glimpse of it in Pyeongchang, but Hostyn was firing on all cylinders in game 1 against Lee, where an early Zergling raid shattered the former GSL champ’s economy. You could see how he felt about it on the player cam afterwards.
Where Hostyn’s skill shone through most, for me, was a Hellion surround in game 2 against Lee. Hellions, mobile buggies with flamethrowers, are great at roasting packs of Zerglings. But where the ‘Lings lack in power or durability, they make up for in speed and numbers. Hostyn used those tools, alongside an uncommon build path, to take out Lee’s scouting party and put him on the defence.
StarCraft is, in the early game, all about timings. What a player does with their first few minutes sets the tone and pace of the match to come. Finding windows where one has an advantage, either due to upgraded units or putting certain tech on the field, is how a player gets ahead early on.
Hostyn’s strategy incorporated an early upgrade to her melee units’ attacks. So when her Zerglings came rushing out to meet Lee’s Hellions, they weren’t just fast—they were hitting harder than Lee might expect them to. Instead of a rough but even trade, Lee watched his buggies explode amid a host of ‘Lings, which would soon be knocking on his base’s front door.
Hostyn would proceed to 2-0 Lee, and alongside a 2-1 over Zest, she secured the top seed of a group designed for someone else’s success. In the post-game interview, she gave credit to her coach Jake “NoRegreT” Umpleby, an aggressive Zerg player himself who helped Hostyn plan out the strategies she employed against Lee.
A first at Pyeongchang, followed by a top-seed in the GSL. Hostyn is shattering the standard in StarCraft, and it’s incredible to watch. In a short amount of time, Hostyn has defeated players considered the best in the world at their craft. As commentators Daniel “Artosis” Stemkoski and Nick “Tasteless” Plott put it, this is our new reality. Whoever Scarlett plays next, it doesn’t really matter. She’s already shown she can beat the best on any given day—there’s no ceiling on what she can accomplish at this point.