Written by TheOneAboveU - @TL_TripleM
Let slip the dogs of war, beat the drums, blow the horns: The Round of 16 of NationWars V is here. 16 nations will enter, and only eight will advance into the next stage. Four GSL-style groups have been drawn, all of them will be played out over the next week. Will the favorites tremble as the meek defeat the mighty? Or will the traditional powers tighten their grip on the StarCraft II world?
The qualification rounds have seen a high number of all-kills—seven of fifteen matches ended this way—and with the amount of star power available in some countries, we will surely see a few more one-man-shows.
Still, overall the competition should be much closer now in the main event, as all the teams are battle-hardened, having stepped over other nations to earn their spots. One man may not be enough to achieve victory anymore, especially as nations with deep line-ups begin to clash.
Group A: China, Italy, Canada, Norway
China (TIME, Cyan, MacSed) vs. Italy (Reynor, MiaNonna, RuinBlaster)
None of these two teams have a glorious record in the NationWars series, but at least Italy has already avenged their 0-4 defeat at the hands of France in the previous edition of the tournament. With that bit of business checked off their to-do list, Reynor and the boys move on their next goal: make it to the round of 8.
Really, as far as success is concerned, both China and Italy can already be quite happy with themselves. Neither country has been especially prominent in international StarCraft II competition (though China has enjoyed heroic runs from the likes of Loner, Jim, iAsonu, and others), and an RO16 exit for either nation would surprise few.
Well, perhaps that's changed for Italy as of late. Zerg prodigy Reynor is on a roll, following his top eight finish at WESG with an all-kill of France in the NationWars V qualifying match. Under NationWars' one-revive all-kill format, it's completely realistic for a single ace to carry a nation to the quarterfinals (see: uThermal and the Netherlands in NationWars IV).
The other Italian players may help bear the load, but there's no question that Reynor will decide Italy's ultimate failure or success. China have their own young talent in TIME to lead the team, and he's backed up by a solid, experienced line-up of MacSed and Cyan. While TIME hasn't delivered on the hype in the way Reynor has, he has the assurance that victory and defeat do not rest so heavily upon his shoulders.
Unfortunately for China, they've already been all-killed by Reynor in NationWars: a little over a year ago in the qualifiers for NationWars IV. TIME and MacSed were on that China line-up—and while they may have improved—it's hard to think they have improved as much as Reynor.
Canada (NoRegret, Jig, Bioice) vs. Norway (Snute, Scythe, Poseidon)
Canada made it through the qualification round in one of the few collaborative efforts we’ve seen so far this tournament, but the roster can't help but look considerably weaker without the presence of IEM PyeongChang champion Scarlett. NoRegreT is certainly a veteran of the scene and a clever tactician to boot, but will his magic be enough to inspire his teammates to a victory against one of the most accomplished nations in NationWars history?
Norway is a NationWars powerhouse, having won the championship in the first two iterations of the tournament. Of course, several years of have passed since then, and many of Norway's key players have left StarCraft II. One man, though, remains. Snute is still here to lead Norway as its captain and ace, looking to reclaim the championship for his country. As one of the most accomplished and consistent international players in StarCraft II history, he alone may be too much for Canada to handle.
Europe looks strong in this group, China being a close third, while Canada is reduced to a wildcard position.
Predictions: Italy and Norway to advance!
Group B: South Korea, United Kingdom, Mexico, Taiwan
South Korea (INnoVation, soO, MMA) vs. United Kingdom (DeMusliM, RiSky, RazerBlader)
What is there to say here, really? Of course, defending champions South Korea are the big favorites to win the entire tournament. Of course, the United Kingdom—not traditionally a powerhouse in StarCraft 2 anyways—is a huge underdog in this match. INnoVation and soO are favored against almost every single player in the entire tournament. The only shadow of doubt comes from the inclusion of MMA, who is still in the process of recovering his form after returning from military service. He is a highly decorated StarCraft-veteran for sure, but has yet to prove whether or not he’s ready for the big stage after his comeback. At the very least, we know he hasn't been able cut it in Korean qualifiers. But then again, neither have most foreigners... Without a doubt, MMA's presence weakens the Korean line-up, which could have included another GSL championship-class heavier-hitter. It's a blessing for all the other nations.
Will it be enough to save the UK, though? Probably not. They had a spirited showing in the qualification round to defeat Australia, but that’s not going to be enough to deal with South Korea. MMA may lose a match, and tiredness and lag may factor in. But with INnoVation and soO as the core of the line-up, South Korea probably have a relaxed night ahead of them.
Mexico (Cham, SpeCial, JimRising) vs. Taiwan (Has, Nice, ExpecT)
Neither of these teams struggled in the qualification round, with Mexico earning a 4-1 victory over Denmark while Taiwan took out Russia 4-2. Cham showed why he's an underrated and dangerous player with his all-kill of Denmark, but Special will be the key to Mexico's success as he has been in every former iteration of NationWars. At his best, SpeCial ranks among the best of the foreigners, which is why his recent missteps (including a group stage exit from WESG) have to be concerning to his home country.
Taiwan, well, we all know what they have to offer: Chaos, confusion, straight up anarchy. It’s Has. While Taiwan has never had had a great impact on NationWars in terms of results, everyone looks forward to their matches as they might be presented with a dose of absolute madness. Nice's improvement in the 2018 season is also worth noting for Taiwan, as they might be able to save their lucky roll of the Has-Dice for the most difficult opponents. However, their overall line-up is just too inconsistent and too light on individual strength to succeed here.
Predictions: South Korea and Mexico to advance!
Group C: United States, Netherlands, Germany, Sweden
United States (Neeb, avilo, MCanning) vs. Netherlands (uThermal, Harstem, Optimus)
The United States have proved to be quite entertaining so far, but entertainment won’t mean much going forward. Luckily, they have one of the very best foreign players in Neeb to cover the most important department: actually winning StarCraft II games. The question really is whether or not he can carry the team in such a stacked group.
The Dutch line-up is probably the finest they have ever fielded in NationWars. Technically, it's the same line-up from NationWars IV, but form is what tells the tale. uThermal is playing at his highest level since his championship run at IEM Shanghai, Harstem is coming off an all-kill of Peru in the qualifying round, and Optimus now has a full year's worth of experience on the WCS Circuit under his belt. They certainly have the depth to take on Neeb and the United States. Yes, the Protoss powerhouse will have two lives. So will uThermal, however. The United States has no lack of a certain type of "star-power," but the Netherlands look favored in this StarCraft match. America First? In NationWars V, it might be American Third.
Germany (ShoWTimE, HeRoMaRinE, TLO) vs. Sweden (SortOf, Namshar, Zanster)
Germany enter the tournament off an impressive top 4 finish in NationWars IV, fielding the same successful line-up. However, it may be even stronger this time, with HeRoMaRinE showing very good matches lately, ShoWTimE being solid and dangerous as ever, and TLO providing a very experienced backbone to the team. The Germans can also use all of the three races, allowing them to exploit match-up and map advantages against the all-Zerg line-up of Sweden.
The Northmen are a dangerous bunch, fielding three very skilled Zerg players. However, none of them has had the individual league success to match ShoWTimE, the German ace. Despite fielding a line-up with no glaring weakness, Sweden also find themselves lacking any obvious strength. Depth may matter in NationWars, but only when there is a strong ace to anchor it. It's part of the reason that Sweden—despite its accomplished history in StarCraft 2—has never made it very far in NationWars before. Can this Zerg trio be the first to change this?
Predictions: Netherlands and Germany to advance!
Group D: Poland, Ukraine, Finland, Brazil
Poland (Elazer, MaNa, souL) vs. Ukraine (Bly, Kas, DIMAGA)
Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not 2011. You'd be forgiven for being confused upon looking at Ukraine's line-up. Bly, Kas and DIMAGA are, indeed, all still active, and did not need to use a time machine to get here. Unfortunately, we don’t really know how effective this old-school trio is really going to be, as they received a walkover against Chile in their qualification match due to scheduling issues. Bly, once the wildcard of any Ukraine line-up, is now its backbone. He can still be as aggressive as ever when he deems it necessary, dishing out 'conventional Zerg wisdom' to great effect. Kas and DIMAGA were macro monsters once upon a time, but their skills have not aged well as Bly's.
Were this be 2011, Ukraine might be favorites. As it stands now, Poland look much better than their neighbors from the east, even without the iconic Nerchio. Elazer is more than a worthy replacement as Zerg ace (though some Polish fans may have preferred both), MaNa is more than a match for any of the Ukraine players as a fellow old-school stalwart, while souL has shown his potential to be a difference maker with his 2-1 victory over Stats at IEM Katowice. Get your nostalgia goggles ready, because this is going to be a blast from the past. Or, maybe, a blasting of the past.
Finland (Serral, ZhuGeliang, TheMusZero) vs. Brazil (Kelazhur, Erik, TurkeyDano)
Similar to Italy or the US, Finland’s success in this tournament hinges on the performance their ace. In this case, it's WCS Leipzig champion Serral. The Zerg is going through his opponents at the moment like the White Death through the ranks of the red army, slaying even top-tier Koreans like Classic at WESG. It’s going to be extremely hard for any team to stop this guy. Of course, we would be remiss to not mention ZhuGeLiang, who has shrewdly removed the variance of ZvZ for Serral wherever possible in the past. But ultimately, it's going to be up Serral to see Finland through to the next round.
Brazil enjoyed a nice morale boost in their qualifying round, as their substitute player TerraN achieved an all-kill against Bolivia. They'll need to keep their spirits high, because they're facing the brunt of a brutal winter storm. In 2017, Kelazhur might have been capable of stopping Serral. However, the Brazilian ace does not seem significantly improved since his breakout year, while Serral has elevated his game to a whole new level.
Predictions: Poland and Finland to advance!