This is a very big Power Rank. It's also not very traditional; instead of focusing purely on the rationale behind the numbers, I decided to do something more elaborate. In my mind, these players deserve more than just a number next to a name and a reasoning for why it's there instead of a potentially better number. This is the last time this year that we'll cover many of these players, and while WCS Mexico still happens before BlizzCon, it's a smaller event that features fewer players. For most of these people, this is their last shot. If they don't make a big impression here, 2016 will be a disappointment. Because of this, I've decided to focus on telling their stories rather than cold numbers and statistics. Of course I still genuinely think this PR is accurate, and I did research to help me make as much sense as possible. Without further ado, here we go!
PiLiPiLi has had an oddly decent year. He's found upsets over the likes of MaSa and Scarlett in online competitions, he's qualified for a major WCS tournament, he's beaten Hydra—it's been a positive year for what was once one of the lower rung-holders on the NA ladder. Still, he has yet to prove himself in an offline event, and his last appearance back in WCS Winter didn't show much of anything. He then got terribly unlucky with his Chinese visa, having to be replaced by eventual champion uThermal. He has the mind to pull out some dirty tactics, but it's neither as demented as Has nor as skilled as uThermal. PiLiPiLi faces an uphill battle against players who are simply stronger than his North American opponents, and it'll be tough to find much more than a map or two.
ShaDoWn is easily the biggest unknown of the tournament. He doesn't have in-region (or even in-country) success, he doesn't have any LAN runs, he isn't an established part of the European scene.. but, at the same time, Strange was in the same spot and he nearly took out Polt, so it's hard to say that any of these necessarily count ShaDoWn out. He beat DmC and Dayshi to qualify, and Dayshi in particular would have ranked a few spots higher—but his failure against Elroye in Valencia makes it very hard to trust him at his first major offline event.
Cham's top eight last season was one of the bigger upsets, even though he came from an easier section of the bracket. Combined with a Copa America championship, all was set up for Cham to be a rising star from Latin America... and he promptly fell flat on his face. He lost the next Copa America season to DarKLoVeR and Smile, and didn't beat anyone too notable to qualify through the NA qualifiers. Sure, wins over NoRegreT and HuK seem decent on paper, but neither of those players would rank highly at all. Cham for now seems like an inexperienced, inconsistent player, and while an upset isn't out of the cards, a second quarterfinals—especially given a harder bracket—is a rocky mountain to climb.
Most people would have expected XY to break out a lot earlier. He showed good potential in 2014, with his Leifeng run that saw him 2-1 Maru and 2-0 Rogue. But it didn't lead anywhere. He failed to qualify for WCS, and didn't make any big offline runs. 2015 was the same, relegating him to one of many Chinese players who might be good but vastly unproven. It wasn't until last season, with his massive Chinese qualifier run, that he actually found a way in. And he honestly did look good. A close 2-3 loss to Elazer is far from a bad result, even if he hasn't been great since. XY is a wildcard who excels at TvZ but lacks the consistency for anything greater. An upset—especially in his strongest match-up—is possible, but a run will be very difficult in such a big tournament.
Semper is a usual case. Like many NA players, he has a couple good sets but a lack of consistency in his region, and he doesn't have much offline experience to speak of. Or does he? His Kings of the North run was surprisingly good, and saw him knock both Scarlett and puCK out of the tournament before losing to the all-powerful Neeb. Similar to MaSa, facing him seems to get scary offline even when his online matches disappoint. As such, I won't count him out; it's on his home turf, he's generally unknown enough to slip under the radar, and a repeat of Kings of the North would see him fairly high up on the PR. Potential is there, but unlikely to be fulfilled, like many of these early entries.
This has been a bad few months for Kelazhur, potentially the worst since his big debut against TLO and Polt. His growth as a player has been natural until recently, slowly developing from an upstart into a solid player. However, he's faltered. He lost to Cham, preventing a repeat win of Copa America, and got crushed 0-4 by MajOr in the recent third season. He suffered a similar defeat against TRUE in Cheesedelphia, and qualified for WCS in fairly unimpressive fashion. Losing to both puCK and TRUE, but skating by over the likes of JonSnow, NoRegreT, and HuK. Is it bad? Not really, but at the same time it shows a halt in Kelazhur's progression. He's less threatening now than he used to be. Still, he can't be counted out, and he's good enough to watch out for.
Once upon a time, TooDming was actually a fairly scary player in WCS America; he had a great set against Scarlett that included a legendary donut surround, and in general looked like a strong-but-not-exceptional foreign Zerg, which put him at the top of the Chinese scene. Since then, though, he's failed to become more than that. While he's still solid and consistent and can be counted on to not disappoint, he's also unlikely to exceed his expectations. A run for TooDming will almost be up to his opponents underperforming rather than him shining. But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. He looked pretty strong in NEO, going 3-2 against PtitDrogo and 1-2 against Scarlett. If he shows up in similar form, we could be seeing an upset or two from him, but it's hard to count on him putting these results together to form a deeper run.
It's a testament to how odd and close EnDerr's run was that iaguz almost feels more fitting as a player. Historically as well as recently, iaguz has always been one of the best players in his region, and he a significant performance in Montreal has precedence based on his recent results. Going into WCS Spring he was considered a player of moderate strength, and his run showed that. He beat HuK convincingly, and lost to viOLet in a worthy fashion. Nothing since then has changed much for iaguz, and he should be considered in similar form for WCS Summer. Anyone in the bottom half of this PR should be scared of him, but anyone higher than that shouldn't have too many problems.
After a very rocky year, MajOr has finally found his footing. He lost his first Copa America, but rebounding in Summer to 4-0 Kelazhur on his way to a championship. He's also grabbed surprisingly close sets against Hydra (TING) and SortOf (DH Valencia), proving his strength in TvZ. He's a mechanical player just like always, but this very well might be MajOr at his best. Dominant, in-control, stellar multi-tasking; MajOr runs the game at his own pace, leaving his opponent to catch up. However, like always, he struggles when his opponent can match his tempo. His macro and micro aren't as sharp as they could be, leading to games such as g1 vs Snute in WCS Winter where his freight train of multi-tasking slowly halted and never recovered. Still, an upset or two in WCS Summer would rebound MajOr to the top of the Latin American charts and make him a force to be feared going forward.
Has. Of the House Yoe, First of his Name, The Holy Cannon, Lord of the Pylon Walls, The Great Wolf, Humbler of Tyrants, The Most Sanctified Oracle and Protector of the Faith. The Patron Saint of the Photon Cannon has adapted well to the new WCS format, going from a fringe upsetter to someone who has had legitimate staying power in the Ro16. Most surprising of all is how poorly people have adapted to his play; first Bunny and then Happy were schooled by his surprising lack of `macro, and his ridiculous tactics. It's a hilarity to watch, but more than anything it has worked. Has remains the gateway between fringe upset and legitimate contender. Somehow he gets these upsets too easily for it to be fringe or surprising anymore, but at the same time he's so underwhelming by any conventional definition of macro play that it remains an upset. So, here's to another season of Has shocks—and note, with a crazy run here, Has could actually make Blizzcon. What?!
How did Serral end up here? It feels so long ago that he was a hyped name; that he had legitimate potential, and showed his class in macro games, and flaunted his power in an all-kill of Korea in Nation Wars. Legacy of the Void was meant to work for him. Macro play was good. Intelligent play was good. Aggressive play was good. Zerg was good. By all means, Serral should've been something more akin to a Nerchio or a Snute; instead, he's something similar to Bly or FireCake. He disappointed in Winter, he failed to qualify for Spring by losing to Optimus—nope, not Polt—and even his Summer run included an 0-3 against MarineLorD, the second of the month. While he has shown decent results against players similar to him in the PR, and beat Welmu 4-1 in a recent Finnish event, it's hard to trust Serral. He's been beaten back, and while class is eternal, is potential? Anything but. As one of the players who missed out on WCS Spring and is making a return to WCS Summer, Serral has the most on the line; he needs a run here, or else he's had a disaster of a 2016 and most of his hype will have dissipated.
It's odd to think about, but HeRoMaRinE was someone I was excited about last year. He had a couple great sets against MaNa in Challenger that I thought showed off his blend of mechanical ability and macro competence in a way that would produce at least a middle-of-the-pack foreign Terran, but then he sort of.. vanished. Whether pulled away by studies or just distracted, HeRoMaRinE didn't actually attend any of the WCS qualifiers until his return earlier this summer. His first match was fittingly against someone in a similar spot of recent-indifference: TRUE, who he 3-0'd in dominant fashion. He then proceeded to lose against Harstem and Scarlett, the two finalists of that event, which puts him somewhere in the 'maybe good?' tier that so many people seem to populate nowadays. His win against Snute in Regionals helped prove him as legit, but his losses against PtitDrogo and Welmu cement him as mid-tier. Is he bad? Probably not, but at the same time it's hard to call him good. With the right draw he could find a run, but it's not to be expected. This tournament isn't all impactful for his reputation. Even a middling result will be okay for the whole 'mid-tier foreign terran' schtick, while anything more will confirm him as what I've suspected.
MaNa's recent career can be summarized by his two trips to play in his home country of Poland. The first? He upset MarineLorD, beat Petraeus, and crushed ForGG's dreams of Blizzcon to grab a spot in his first grand finals in forever. The second? It never happened. He stumbled his way through PiLiPiLi, and a similarly weak PvPer in HuK awaited him as his last trial before playing against his rival Nerchio in front of a home crowd.. and he lost. It was an odd, befuddling series that helped prove MaNa as washed up after making such a big run in the WCS season. Since then, he's been back and forth. Didn't qualify for WCS Spring, beat Hydra online. 6-1 Dayshi, 2-1 Polt? 2-3 Reynor. If he shows up properly, he might make a quarterfinals and will probably look great; if he doesn't, he has a chance to lose against anyone in the tournament. Some people might think all foreigners have inconsistency built into them, but MaNa definitely embodies this trait right now. If he does find a run, awesome. It allows us to look past his otherwise bad 2016 and look at the great parts. If not? Well, it's a strong setback to one of the true legends still playing in WCS, and a potential stopping point for a very strong career.
Welmu has hit an odd run of form going into WCS Summer, which is a powerful thing in the right hands but can be squandered just as easily. In various online competitions, he's defeated Harstem, MaSa, Snute, Nerchio, uThermal, and a host of middling players. That's an impressive series of wins. As well as this, he's also showed up to HomeStory Cup in a form somewhere between 'beating Serral' and 'beating Scarlett'. That sums up where I think he's at right now. He's probably better than the worst, and probably worse than the best, but it's hard to pin-point exactly where he lies in between. Because of Welmu's history and the fact that he's never expanded on his hype as much as he could have, it leads to him getting a fairly low placement, but in all honesty if he shows up in Regional-tier form he could make a big run. Or he could show up in HomeStory Cup form and be midiocre. Or he could show up in any-other-tournament-in-2016 form and lose to anyone on this list. Who knows? Unlike MaNa or Serral or HeRoMaRinE, I don't think anyone actually expected much out of Welmu, so the fact that he's here at all is a big surprise, and anything extra is just icing to the cake.
Unlike most of the other players this low on the list, PtitDrogo won a tournament this year. So where did things go so wrong? Well, PtitDrogo seems to be the antithesis of the European elite. When the other elites in Europe are down (ASUS ROG, Dreamhack Leipzig) then PtitDrogo steps up and looks very strong. When they're strong, he's down. It's still odd how often he's down however. In his many ventures into China, the only thing PtitDrogo has showcased is his inconsistency. For a player who once used to be beyond choking, PtitDrogo has definitely gained it as his success has grown; he looked bad against MaSa as of late especially. But, is he beyond repair? Maybe not. He beat uThermal, Elazer and Nerchio in the qualifiers to Shanghai, and didn't look out of his league against MaSa as much as he looked nervous and flustered. He also beat ShoWTimE in two Bo5s in a row, which is an impressive feat even though it happened online. PtitDrogo has the skill to accomplish a big run here, and reclaim his Blizzcon spot, and get back on top of the world he seemingly held in his hand back in Leipzig. But will he do it? That's the eternal question, the one that plagues almost every once-upon-a-time champion. It's not a question of sadness, however. Seed found his series against Life. jjakji found his series against INnoVation. MarineKing found his Hot6ix. Even years and expansions apart, sparks can be reclaimed. Worlds can be reconquered, if only in the glory of a moment or a series or a tournament. PtitDrogo's career isn't over, and his tournament victory doesn't hang over it like a shadow of what could've been. His championship is forever a marker of what can be, if things go right, no matter how far or how bleak or how unlikely.
Compared to Neeb and MaSa, who have progressed with unmatched ease and unexpected swiftness, puCK must be getting a bit impatient. Not to mention the stinging 2-3 loss against MaSa in Spring; if he had won that, maybe he could've been in the Canadian terran's footsteps right now. Maybe he'd be the one on a fiery run. Maybe he'd be the one almost beating ShoWTimE. But he didn't. Looking at the year for him, all of his biggest victories are in places where they don't matter. He beats Hydra and Polt, but fails at the main tournament. He beats MaSa to qualify for Valencia, and then loses to Stephano. IEM Shanghai was a good chance at glory; Elazer is a strong player, but by no means unstoppable, and a win there would've proven him as worthy of hype. In the same breath he managed to avoid getting embarrassed, yet ultimately failed. The determination he shows is almost beautiful; he has a way of hanging on, of avoiding falling back into being 'just another NA player', despite hitting series after series where he just doesn't quite do enough. Being a pro player at times must be heart-breaking. Knowing that if you fixed one thing, or did one build better, or micro'd one fight in a slightly different way, all the glory would have been yours. But, instead, you have to watch someone else. Isn't that horrific? It's this edge of 'almost' that puCK has lived on for the past few months, the stinging knowledge that—while undefeated—victory is still far. Maybe he'll find his run in Montreal, or maybe he'll come up short. I don't expect a crushing victory, or even a win at all, from puCK, but I do expect him to fight, and continue to fight regardless of the result. That's what he's always done.
Bunny was supposed to be different. He was introduced to the scene by being the first European to win a relevant, offline championship in HotS; he followed it up by taking Polt to an amazing 5-game series in the semifinals of WCS; he got up to the semifinals again after a great 3-0 over StarDust. It was at that moment he hit a wall, losing 1-3 to Lilbow in devastating fashion. The moment was his. The finals could have been his. Sure, he would've most likely lost to Hydra—but it was a step. Maybe afterwards he would've followed in Lilbow's footsteps, a foreign terran who could actually win an event, who could compete with the very best. But that never happened. It gets easy to point at LotV and say that it caused his recent slump, and the expansion is the reason why he's been so invisible as of late, but honestly he's never looked the same since that loss to Lilbow. He picked Starbuck in Challenger and lost 1-3. Since then? He went on a hiatus in terms of offline playoffs—lasting months—and only resurfaced now. It's been a grueling, difficult year for Bunny, including a humiliating loss to Has, and I don't believe HomeStory Cup was a significant turning point. While he made his first playoffs since his loss to Lilbow, he also made it over souL and Namshar. His only significant win was over SortOf in the Ro32. Still, that's something! Bunny was on the path to being something extraordinary, something legitimately great; and that 'was' will haunt him for perhaps the rest of his career. Unlike PtitDrogo or puCK or Serral, Bunny got closer than any of them. He was in the big tournament, against a Korean. He was in the semifinals. He was in the game five. He wasn't able to win then, and he hasn't been back since. In all likelihood, WCS Summer won't represent a significant change for him; but maybe he'll get a win. Maybe he'll get two. Maybe he'll get back onto that path he left behind, and start taking steps—and maybe one day we'll see him on that finals stage again.
For most of the hashtag's life, #TheYearofHarstem had been more of a meme than an actual thing. But in 2016, it seems like it's finally come true. He's won not only one tournament, but two; making him the only player to win two premier tournaments in LotV so far. But, were these runs really impressive? Well, yes and no. GSI was definitely underwhelming: very close sets against Has and iAsonu made the wins over puCK and Snute less impressive. But, HomeStory Cup was big. It was a run that reinforced and improved his reputation, showing off his skill in wins over MaSa, Snute and Scarlett even though he still struggled with GunGFuBanDa. Harstem is odd. He doesn't do very well against the very top—Snute as an exception—but tends to do extraordinarily well against players slightly above his weight class, and very badly against players below it. This was shown in his loss against MaSa before MaSa became good, at WCS Winter. It was also shown in his disastrous loss against Jim in WCS Spring, which is a good amount of what's holding him back here. We've seen what Harstem can do. We know he can eliminate some strong opposition, and we know he has enough clutch to win championships. But, can he do it in a WCS setting? Whether it's the added pressure or the single elimination bracket—Harstem is prone to looking bad early in tournaments—something just hasn't clicked for him so far. If it does, perhaps he'll reclaim the quarterfinals he should've earned in Spring. If not? Maybe it's not the Year of Harstem after all.
viOLet comes in at the worst of the Korean imports, and it's not hard to see why. He's been largely invisible, and fairly disappointing when he does show up to tournaments, but not disappointing enough to warrant a low spot. He's done rather poorly in NA, losing to MaSa and MajOr before Winter as well as JonSnow before Summer. He might not play enough to call him bad, but his rare excursions into NA rarely show him off. In fact, at times they make him look downright out of his league compared to the likes of Neeb and Hydra. The JonSnow upset is especially damning considering that ZvZ is meant to be his best matchup, and oddly enough, his ZvZ expertise was shown off in a 3-2 win over Nerchio later that month. His IEM Shanghai run, largely good but not extraordinary, and his Regionals performance is all we have to go on, and it's not much. His history paints him as a player destined to forever be in the middle; overshadowed by Polt, underneath Hydra, and now crushed by Neeb as well. There's one exception to this: IPL 5. It's crazy to imagine that the viOLet today is the same person who took a top two finish at arguably the most stacked event of all time, but it is. It's an eternal reminder of what viOLet is like at his best, of how his roach-centric playstyle can come together and turn solid play into stellar. But, he's far from that now. And unlike other players, I think viOLet is very consistent. He'll show up, make a quarterfinals, and then lose to the first championship class player he comes across. It's harder to say how he'll fare against the upper-middle class that he's a part of, but honestly? I don't like his chances here, especially in non-ZvZ matchups.
The most recent addition to the Korean imports of WCS, TRUE has had an odd couple months. Which is fitting, considering the Korean Zerg is anything but usual; from proxy-hatches to ridiculous games to the oddest rivalry of all time against FanTaSy, TRUE is a whole lot of weird fun to follow. It's worth noting that he hasn't done very well in Korea this year, perhaps fueling his decision to move onto greener pastures. Are they truly greener, though? Maybe. His HomeStory Cup run was mixed; bad Ro32, awesome Ro16, expected Ro8. Since then? He's played in a lot of smaller competitions, and has held consistently against the lower tier of NA and EU alike. I think TRUE embodies chaos more than he embodies inconsistency. It's less that he's a good player who underperforms, and he performs according to the moment and the opponent. TRUE will do TRUE, meaning TRUE will either show up and cause a big upset or go out without much of a bang. My very optimistic ranking of him is mostly due to him having big highs; on a good day, he could beat ShoWTimE. That's huge. Of course, his habit of having sharply good days and sharply bad days should even out over the course of a tournament, making him more mid-tier-but-dangerous than legitimately top-tier, as it's unlikely for him to have a string of good form. In Korea, TRUE was always the weirdo who couldn't make a big run. Maybe he'll find a new identity in WCS, or maybe he'll stay the exact same with that same charm we've always loved.
In the same breath, Scarlett is in her best form since at least early 2014 and remains entirely unstable. She's always been inconsistent: a player with ridiculous, out-of-this-world peaks and questioning, eye-rolling lows, with 2016 being no different. Her return to the scene came off well, considering how mediocre her play had been for the past two years. With seemingly renewed passion, Scarlett has climbed back into the good graces of the NA scene; and, according to this PR, is the third best player in the region. She showed up well to Spring, beating FireCake and looking competitive against Nerchio, who was then the strongest ZvZer in the west. HomeStory Cup was even better, as she defeated Nerchio and lost the finals narrowly to Harstem. From her GPL 'debut'—the first tournament in LotV where she made an impact—to now, one of her core matchups has been ZvZ. It was core to her initial upset of Elazer,and her WCS Spring 'success', while it encompassed a good amount of her HomeStory Cup and her NEO run. NEO was significantly less important, however. I hesititate to say she excels in the matchup due to her close matches and tight series, but a 7-2 scoreline starting with GPL is a good series winrate and it's been very important for her. If this ZvZ excellence can continue, we could see a resurgence of Scarlett. In a time where NA players are legitimately good thanks to MaSa and Neeb, it's amazing to watch one of the legends of the scene continue to have relevance not only in terms of being a candidate for fringe upsets but due to legitimate skill. There's a whole lot of new in WCS; Scarlett is one of the few representing the old.
Speaking of old, does anyone remember when SortOf was first hyped up back in 2011-2012? It's weird to think that he didn't really accomplish anything, and that remains true in 2016. He isn't here based off of an honest offline success, but because of his WCS Regionals performance. It was a strong run without a doubt; he looked dominant against uThermal, PtitDrogo and the impressive-at-the-time Welmu, then played an excellent set against ShoWTimE. Leaving that run as an exception and not the rule, SortOf would get placer lower but not anywhere near the bottom. He's shown himself to be a mid-tier player with recent offline wins over Lilbow and Bunny, as well as a very tight set with ShoWTimE. His Valencia performance helps reinforce his Regionals run, although he didn't play anyone in the middle; he beat the lower tier and lost to the very best. That makes it very hard to place SortOf, and might reckon him closer to someone like Happy in WCS Winter. Good form, obviously not bad offline.. but how far does that get you, really? Online form has always been hit or miss. MarineLorD has gone all year with only one big run to his name, but according to online events you'd think he's one of the biggest players in the scene. Still, it's far from being an inadequate measure—Nerchio, ShoWTimE and Neeb are all about as big online as they are offline, giving the very top a fair bit of accuracy. I see online as being a 'what if?', as being a showcase of how things can go if everything works. SortOf has faced these demons before. He's had the pressure on his shoulders, and he's crumbled, and he's felt the pain of failing to capitalize on an opportunity. But, in a twist that most people wouldn't expect, he's been granted a second chance. WCS Montreal is SortOf's chance to reclaim all of the chances he might've squandered or failed to exploit earlier in his career, and bring his skill together for one more run, good or bad. That's not to be underestimated.
In some ways, Elazer is very similar to MaSa. They're both consistently above the middling players in Europe, but neither of them have seemed to crack the very top quite yet. Elazer lacks a ShoWTimE figure; someone he can take sets off of and look great against. But at the same time, he lacks a good amount of the worry. Elazer's been in this position for three seasons now; on the very cusp of making it big. Looking at all of the tournaments he's attended in 2016, Elazer has only lost to ZvZ upsetters (viOLet, Scarlett), the players above him in the PR, and a set against MaSa in HomeStory Cup. He's also only beaten players below him in the PR, leaving him as an awkward gatekeeper of sorts. Not as sharp or as refined as the very best, but with enough skill to smack down anyone else. It's a very strange thought to almost be assured of beating the players below you, yet never quite the players above you. It's not like Elazer has failed to get close; his sets against Hydra in WCS Winter and Dreamhack Austin were very good, just like his set against ShoWTimE in Valencia, but he's missed that final step. Elazer now sits as the holder of the very competitive 8th spot for Blizzcon; tied with viOLet for 7th. MaSa and uThermal are both very scary and very much looking forward to seizing the spot from him, so if ever there was a tournament to show up strong in and claim that spot as his, it would be now. It's very possible Elazer will continue his trend. Beat up two solid players, lose to Polt or Nerchio in the Quarterfinals; qualifying for Blizzcon but failing to rise above his current self. But maybe slow and steady does win the race?
MaSa is a slow bloomer. Most players either falter or erupt in glorious fashion to win a championship or reach a finals or score a big upset; instead, MaSa has improved slowly tournament by tournament. He performed well at WCS Winter, setting the stage for his future. He beat Neeb at Kings of the North, his first significant championship. He thrashed FireCake at Austin, a solid European Zerg at the time. He made the Semifinals at WCS Spring, albeit after taking opportunity with a fairly easy bracket. He upset ShoWTimE at HomeStory Cup, as well as Elazer, but stumbled against Harstem and faltered momentarily. Even Shanghai was good, as he once more sparred with ShoWTimE and showed off a very competitive series. I find myself unsure if MaSa can actually pull off a tournament victory, or even a finals, but his raw skill and his consistency have to be commended regardless. He reminds me of MajOr, only more capable of performing offline. MaSa could grow into being a Neeb-like figure, a legitimate tournament contender with boundless consistency, or he could eventually hit a wall and stay around the same level he's at now. Good, but not great. Exceptional, but not extraordinary. It's in Montreal, on home turf, against the best players in WCS that he'll have to prove where he is and who he can be. Futures are made in final steps, and this is going to be the biggest tournament of the year for MaSa; if he fails hard, it'll be the tournament that cost him BlizzCon. If he shows up big, it'll be the step that sent him into the very top.
After a WCS Winter where he looked on top of the world and in his best shape since beating Hydra last WCS Season 1, Polt has definitely rested on his laurels a bit. He lost to FireCake in Austin after failing to adapt, he got thrashed by Nerchio without the brilliance he showed in Katowice, and he disappointed big even against the likes of MaNa and Strange. Even though he has victories against uThermal and Elazer, he was also one decision away from getting knocked out in the first round by a player nobody knew in a very ugly series. Polt's fundamentals - his mechanics, his strong grasp of TvT, his decency in TvZ - are still there, but it seems as though the brilliance and stunning quality of his play that brought him such success for so long is on hold. His placement in this PR depends entirely on which Polt shows up. If it's the Polt of the past few months, he deserves a spot here - it looks low, but without his brilliance Polt is simply a good-to-great mechanical terran with excellent TvT who has failed to get much of anything done in terms of results recently. If it's the Polt of Winter, you could make an argument for putting him all the way up at #1 - or at minimum, he'd round out the top four. Maybe he's just putting his skill on hold for BlizzCon, or maybe the foreign scene has grown a lot. But Polt is no stranger to this. He went through the same cycle last year, looking great early on and less great in the middle of the year before bottoming out in Season 3 and rebounding for BlizzCon. Don't expect the world-beating, brilliant, tactically genius Polt to show up; he very well might, but the past leads me to believe that a more mechanically focused Polt will show up and do just about alright. At the same time, this is not Polt's destiny. Unlike almost anyone else on the list, Polt can slump with no problem; he can falter, and stumble, and look bad in a tournament, and nobody will be able to doubt him because he's recovered from it so many times. Polt does not die. He does not ever seem to permanently get weaker, he only gets wounded in the moment. He's a player shaped by struggle, molded by conflict. He wouldn't be great if he didn't have something to overcome, and Polt embodies that upsetting of expectations more than almost anyone else. So who knows. Maybe he shows up to Montreal in peak form, just to prove me wrong- I'd happily watch in awe just like everybody else.
Hydra is the best Korean in the WCS system, and he placed #7. Whether a comment on the decline of Korean imports, or on the rise of the foreign scene, or on the craziness that has been this year for WCS, it's a fitting tribute to the effort and dedication from everyone involved. Hydra - once considered the scariest man alive, with enough raw skill to defeat anyone from the west any day of the week - is no longer a fairy tale. He's not a monster. He's not someone you speak of in front of campfires, eating nerds alive and making the next foreigner in his tournament bracket shake in his boots. He has a weakness; notably, Neeb. In offline competitions, Hydra has been eliminated in his past three tournaments by Neeb. Combining all three, he's only taken one game. It's a brutal revenge for Hydra claiming his first championship of the year over the American Protoss, and it must be haunting him going forward. But just this once Neeb isn't in his bracket! They won't meet until the finals, meaning that for the first time in a few months we can finally get a judge of Hydra's skill relative to everyone else, not just Neeb. On one hand, he has performed well; he has a ~66% offline winrate, and hasn't shown much weakness outside of Neeb. The big question - that only Montreal can answer - is whether Neeb has stopped him from winning tournaments, or if Neeb has just stopped him from losing to other people. He definitely hasn't looked invincible. He's shown very tight sets against Namshar, Happy and SortOf, as well as two competitive sets against Elazer including one in Austin where he ended up winning the tournament. Hydra is in a strange place, somewhere between the middle of the scene and Neeb; his placement looks off, until you realize he's only played two sets all year against people above him who aren't called Neeb. It's just difficult to judge where Hydra is at due to the one-sided rivalry he's fallen into, but at the bare minimum one must question how we got here. If someone were to predict in early-mid 2015 that Hydra would get 9-1'd by an NA player across three tournaments, they'd be laughed at. But here we are. It's not even similar to his rivalry against Lilbow; his sets aren't close, he's lost more, and he's simply seemed figured out. Neeb has cracked the Hydra code. The big question is; who else?
For almost the entirety of the year, MarineLorD has been split into two people. He's been excellent online, one of the best in Europe; right behind Nerchio and often trading sets with him. However, he crumbles and disappoints offline. Until Valencia. For that one brilliant run, MarineLorD looked like the top player he could be if not for his nerves. He crushed Harstem, Bly, Stephano, destroyed Neeb, wrecked Snute; there are quite a few elite players in that list, and all of them were crushed under his foot without MarineLorD so much as dropping a game. The finals against Nerchio wasn't even badly played. It was more of a comment on how excellent Nerchio's ZvT was in that moment than MarineLorD playing badly, despite the 0-4 scoreline. He followed this up by crushing his way to qualification, going 13-1 in Qualifiers. It's a ridiculous run of form; across qualifiers and Valencia, Nerchio took more games off of MarineLorD than everyone else combined. At MarineLorD's best, he does things right. He plays his style - whether mech or bio - right, keeps the right cards up his sleeve, and picks the right engagements. He has great macro, solid micro, and the only thing that's kept him back this far is his unfortunate habit for slow starts in tournaments.
It happened in Valencia too; he lost his first set to Rail, before going on that ridiculous run. A disappointment against TIME of all time people in NEO reminds us of his mortality. His controversial behavior, and the ladder scandal that saw him not attend WCS Spring and reliant on a miracle to make BlizzCon, all make it easy to dislike him. But you cannot deny the man's abilities. One more time he'll need to go all out to win the tournament. This isn't technically his last shot; WCS Mexico still awaits if he wants to go. This is just his best shot to make something out of his high level, something grandiose, before the year wraps up as a massive disappointment for the French Terran.
Topping off the Terrans - and therefore considered the Best Terran in the West - is uThermal, a player I've very much enjoyed watching for years now. Unlike most foreign Terrans - made fun of for being all mediocrity and no style - uThermal is all style. He loves reapers, and his use of them was core to his IEM Shanghai run. It's something that mirrors Maru quite well, which uThermal himself references in name tags when performing online; indeed, the fearlessness and reckless 'might as well' attitude he often plays with is reminiscent of Maru and pretty much nobody else. So, why hasn't he broken out earlier?
The answer might be opportunity - a lot of his big tournaments were ended by very strong opposition - but a lot of it might also be something in him clicking, as the duo of tournaments in China definitely showed uThermal in a new light. He beat Snute, Elazer, viOLet and Neeb to win IEM Shanghai. That's a good list. Three very good Zergs, plus one of the biggest players in the scene. Top it off with a strong NEO performance that included a very tight 3-4 loss against the admittedly more experienced Snute, and you have a great two tournaments. If uThermal can carry his momentum going forward, he can be a real threat in Montreal. Especially in TvZ, his marque matchup. His TvP isn't bad either, proven by his set against Neeb that showed a lot of cleverness, although he hasn't played the matchup much offline. It's worth noting that TvT is definitely his weakness; this was shown big time against Polt in WCS Spring, and was my reason why that tournament didn't mean more to him.
In hot form, with all the wind in his sails, uThermal is one to look out for.
Snute did it. Obviously NEO Star League is far from the biggest tournament out there, and his set against uThermal wasn't as decisive as he might've liked, but Snute finally won something significant; and he didn't even stutter against the upstart Cyan in the finals. It's been a surprisingly tumultuous year for Snute, once pinned as the foreigner to watch after making back-to-back finals in GPL and WCS Winter. Neither final went his way back then, and he went on a bit of a hiatus from playing for the trophy; especially marked by a devastating loss to Guru in the Round of 32 in WCS Spring. It was an upset that could've broken someone. To come so far, to push so hard, and to fail twice, and then lose out before you ever could've expected at the hands of a rookie. It's a devastating feeling, and it's a testament to Snute's dedication and work ethic that he's overcome it.
It wasn't easy. He lost to Harstem in HomeStory Cup after an otherwise good tournament, he got crushed by MarineLorD in Valencia, lost to Neeb in Austin. He was always in contention, but inevitably someone would show up and Snute would lose to them, stopping him in the Semifinals. Shanghai was even worse, as Snute went up against uThermal in the first round and got crushed 3-0 by two reaper builds; uThermal went on a massive tear through the tournament. And then they played in NEO. There's a universe - many universes, even - where Snute gets crushed by uThermal, uThermal wins the tournament, and the Dutch Terran gets a two-for-one in China. But not this one. Snute finally got what he's worked so hard for, beating the promised son and crushing the finals without breaking a threat. It's probably not the tournament he wanted to win, and certainly not as important as a WCS Winter or even a Dreamhack Valencia, but it's something. It shows Snute that it can be done. That all this hard work can pay off in a moment of perfection. Many people are coming to Montreal in hopes of forging new identities, or dispelling a bad few months, or trying to prove themselves offline. Snute is one of the few looking to replicate something, just on a bigger stage.
How has Neeb not won a tournament yet? Seriously. How? He lost to PtitDrogo in Leipzig, and I thought that was great; Hydra in WCS Winter, that's fine. Hydra's scary, brutal, and Neeb came to the tournament with immense nerves playing quite poorly. Even Nerchio in Spring made sense, even if in heartbreaking fashion; but it was then that I noticed something. Is a 2-3 against Nerchio bad? Of course not. But it's not Neeb. That game five, filled with intense decisions and macro play on a wild map, should've gone to him. If Neeb was a king, he would've proved his superiority in macro play and made better decisions and closed out the series. But he didn't. It's something that repeated itself in Valencia with a questionable set against MarineLorD, and once more at IEM Shanghai; he lost the finals to uThermal, a player who doesn't have anywhere close to Neeb's form, after 3-0ing Hydra and ShoWTimE back to back. It's a slippery slope, and Dreamhack Montreal has an impressive amount of pressure because of this. Not because of BlizzCon implications; barring complete disaster plus bad luck, Neeb will be attending the Global Finals. It's not to prove he isn't bad, or to prove he's good; we all know Neeb is amazing. He's a smart, skilled player who makes good decisions with solid execution and plays well on a consistent basis. But is he a champion?
That's a haunting question. It isn't a question anyone wants to ask; good play should be enough for most. But, on paper, Neeb is better than uThermal. He was better than MarineLorD too, and he was definitely better than MaSa at Kings of the North. But his total championships? Zero. Going into Dreamhack Valencia, Neeb had won 31 sets in a row. He managed to make that 35 before eventually losing to MarineLorD, which an absolutely ridiculous statistic - not even ShoWTimE and Nerchio, the only two players you can argue are above Neeb right now, could match it. But he didn't win that tournament. And he didn't win IEM Shanghai, and he lost to Bly in TING. Dreamhack Montreal - and to a lesser extent WCS Mexico - is his chance to finally overcome himself, and to truly cement his place in history. Neeb is still a very young player, and it seems like simple destiny that he'll become a champion of the west one day. Dreamhack Montreal is a chance to realize his fate, and a chance to claim what should be his. Back in 2013, Scarlett went on a tear through WCS Season 2, reaching some of the best form a foreigner has ever reached. But she didn't win that tournament. All of these historic Scarlett tournaments - WCS Season 2 America, WCS Season 2 Finals, Red Bull NYC, ASUS RoG 2013, MLG Anaheim. She didn't win a single one of them. The last thing Neeb wants is to be that player; to be left with that drive for a championship long after his peak. Just because he loses in Dreamhack Montreal, especially if it's in similar fashion and he goes out after beating a big player, doesn't guarantee him that unfortunate fate. But a win would erase it; it would give North America their first significant championship in years - at home. A beautiful thought.
ShoWTimE's win at WCS Spring was ridiculously well-earned. It started off like a disaster; he narrowly dodged a bullet against SortOf, and then dodged an even harder bullet against Guru, two players who have neither experience nor skill on their side against a player with the consistency of ShoWTimE. He ended up having to fight a nerve-wracking seven game series against Nercho in a grand finals that very nearly didn't happen, and he got beaten in game one in devastating fashion, and it went back and forth and back and forth; and he won. It's a feat only Lilbow has managed to compete with, and it almost automatically puts ShoWTimE into the all-time greats of Europe. Will it last, though? It's easy to rest on one's laurels. Lilbow did so, going from WCS champion to retirement without so much as a good result in between. One could argue for Polt - the WCS Winter champion - doing something similar, failing to reach that peak in Spring or in any small tournament since. When you work your entire life for one moment, for one grandiose series of sweet seconds, it's easy to stop. It's easy to say that you did enough, and that you don't need to accomplish that again. ShoWTimE will be a great player, and will be regarded as a great player, even if he never wins a single tournament ever again - even if he loses hard in Dreamhack Montreal, falls out of BlizzCon, and becomes irrelevant in 2017, he will have done more than any German player ever has in the history of Starcraft. So why try?
The drive for competition is a beautifully morbid thing. Beautiful in the way it drives people; you can see this in Snute, working hard and practicing before tournaments start and after tournaments end, doing anything he possibly can to earn a championship. You can see this in the celebration of victory, and the pride players such as Sen felt after they got their big tournament. But, after Sen won TWOP, he was never that good again. He got his moment of immense glory, and that's where the morbid nature of it comes in. Glory can taint someone, ambitions can wither away; you could see this in ShoWTimE after he lost to Nerchio in Winter. He's felt both sides of the coin. He's had tournaments where he was the champion and tournaments where he came in last place. You could see the morbidity of fate in players like Bunny, forever striving and never succeeding. Or PtitDrogo, who rose to one big tournament and will forever be haunted by that height; once you've seen the peak of your potential, every failure brings back what could've been. What could be. What should be, if only the volatile nature of StarCraft didn't exist; if only that reaper attack didn't come, if only he didn't flank, if only I didn't move out right then, if only I researched banshee speed. It's a terrible fate, and the easiest way to avoid it is to do something even more chilling; to give up. To admit that you've done all you can, and you've hit a peak few will ever accomplish. It's very rare to see a player who can do the third option and continually strive for more, and any player who ever rises beyond one championship must forever be remembered as doing something beyond great; something beyond the boundaries of achievement.
I bring this up because ShoWTimE has not had a particularly kind couple months. Far from a disaster; his online form is very good, but you can feel the shadows closing in. HomeStory Cup was bad, with him getting eliminated by MaSa and TRUE - that's what WCS Spring could've been. Eliminated by players who aren't bad, but are far from the very top. That's how WCS Summer could be. Dreamhack Valencia was better, but still not perfect. He started with a 2-0 lead over Nerchio and gradually fell apart, eventually losing to the Polish zerg. He should've won. He won in WCS Spring; why not now? It's these questions that haunt a champion, and Neeb being so close to his heels isn't helping. A failure means that Neeb overtakes him for the title of best Protoss. A victory means repeating a championship on the biggest stage, and doing something very few foreigners have done before. Being a champion is perfection in the moment; but as ShoWTimE has learned, the crown takes its toll.
Sitting at the very top of the list is Nerchio, a player who doesn't have Neeb's run of form or ShoWTimE's championship or as many finals as Snute or the recent championship of uThermal. Instead, what Nerchio has is simple; a lack of weakness. Nerchio has played more Legacy of the Void games than anyone on this list, and about ~160 offline games (with a winrate of 67%, offline) to top it off. Starting with WCS Winter, it's hard to point out much wrong; he beats almost everyone, and only sometimes loses to the very best in their very best form. It takes a ridiculous amount of effort to take down Nerchio. Since Leipzig, he's lost five offline sets. Polt in peak form, Snute in peak form, ShoWTimE in peak form, Scarlett in peak form, and the odd set against viOLet at IEM Shanghai. I suppose his biggest weakness may be ZvZ; his ZvT is excellent - genuinely, I think it's one of the best in the world, and the best in WCS by a mile - and his ZvP is consistent enough to beat ShoWTimE/Neeb without being as dominant as his ZvT. For whatever reason, Nerchio's ZvZ has just lagged behind slightly; he lost to Stephano, he lost to Scarlett, he lost to viOLet. If not for those three sets, who knows where we would be right now. If you gave Nerchio the ability to win ZvZ, we wouldn't have a close race for first. We would have a monster, someone with utter dominance in practically every aspect.
When I put Nerchio at the top of my WCS Winter power rank, I spoke about his ability to make things close when it shouldn't be. That's almost irrelevant now; the only person to beat Nerchio in an offline set that didn't go the full distance since that PR was Polt, who showed up as the best player in WCS in the best form with very smart tactics and a game plan designed to take Nerchio down. Even if Nerchio loses, it is meant to be close. It is an achievement to beat him, something earned only by the very top players; especially in a matchup that isn't ZvZ. Nerchio shows something nobody else in the foreign scene does. The power to execute. Other players have big ideas, and smart builds, and intelligent decisions, and well-planned games. Nerchio has a good amount of this - maybe he isn't as smart as Polt, and maybe he doesn't make the right decision as much as someone like ShoWTimE or Neeb, but he makes up for it by executing properly. What I saw in Nerchio vs ShoWTimE's game one was a player who had a grandiose ideas and the prowess to back it up. It's the same thing I saw when Nerchio tackled MarineLorD and managed to get a ridiculous flank every single engagement- he did not take fights unless he could surround from every possible angle and utterly destroy his opponent. Nerchio plays the game on a different level from every other Zerg in WCS in the ZvP and ZvT match-ups, and it's a shame that his ZvZ isn't the same way.
Is Nerchio the next star? We won't know until Blizzcon, and we might never know, but perhaps. Maybe ShoWTimE is. Maybe Neeb is. The one weakness of the WCS format is that, while it has bred talent very effectively, it doesn't let us see this talent go up against Koreans. And because of the injuries the Korean scene took, we may never know what Nerchio or ShoWTimE or Neeb could do against the very best playing at their very best, which is the greatest shame of all. All of this effort foreigners have put in, from Neeb rising up to Scarlett resurfacing to Nerchio playing over 1000 competitive games in LotV so far - more than ShoWTimE and Neeb combined - to ShoWTimE proving he's more than last year's WCS run, to Snute's eternal work; all of this effort and competitive drive means something. Sometimes this game hurts. You lose a really important match, you disappoint your fans, you have a bad tournament, you have a bad year. You put in effort, you don't see the returns. Beyond that, though, is something gorgeous. The moment where you win. The moment where everything clicks, and everything works.
Going into Dreamhack Montreal, thirty-two players are fighting for the right to clutch that moment. Some may define it differently than others, but everyone is fighting for the same thing, and someone will find it. At the end of next weekend, someone's life will be better than it was going in. Isn't that a beautiful thought?
Editors: Olli, lichter
Photos: Red Bull
Editors: Olli, lichter
Photos: Red Bull