Global Finals Race Heats Up at WCS ValenciaWritten by: Soularion
With two more events left on the 2018 WCS Circuit, the competition for Global Finals spots is growing more and more intense. Serral has dominated the WCS Circuit so far and it seems more likely than not that he will win another title before it's all said and done. That puts a premium on the remaining WCS Circuit points to be won, with every single point bringing the contenders one step closer to securing a top eight spot.
Headed into WCS Valencia, it's time to examine where the top players stand in terms of BlizzCon contention.
The Current Top Eight
#1. Serral - 8020 Points (confirmed Global Finals seed)
Serral is already double-booked for BlizzCon, having won both WCS Leipzig and Austin. He has more Circuit points than the current #2 through #5 players combined and he's heavily favored to win the remaining two events and achieve an unprecedented WCS grand slam.
Though Serral still needs one more trophy to match Neeb's three circuit titles in 2017, he's already reached an unprecedented level of dominance. In 2018, he's lost a single offline BO3+ to foreigner competition: a best-of-five against Scarlett during her IEM PyeongChang championship run. This is a better vs. foreigner record than even top Koreans such as Classic (two losses, including one to Serral), INnoVation (three losses), TY (two losses), Zest (six losses) and even Stats (two losses), and they don't even compete at WCS Circuit events. At this point, the expectation for Serral isn't just to win—it's to win in utterly dominant fashion.
#2. SpeCial - 2680 Points
SpeCial continued his run of bittersweet success by reaching consecutive semifinals on the 2018 WCS Circuit. At Leipzig, he lost to Serral after putting up a respectable fight, and in Austin he blew his best ever chance to reach a Circuit final in a loss to MaNa. SpeCial has repeatedly proven himself as one of the best foreigners in the scene, a fact best highlighted by his phenomenal performance at BlizzCon 2017 where he took out TY and Stats on his way to the semifinals. But until he actually gets over his bizarre RO4 jinx (six semifinal finishes so far) and contends for a trophy, it will always feel like he's underachieving. Barring a surprise early exit as in WCS Montreal 2017, we still expect SpeCial to collect enough points at the remaining WCS Circuit stops to confirm his BlizzCon spot.
#3. Neeb - 1810 Points
At this point last year, Neeb was in Serral's position with two WCS Circuit championships and a BlizzCon ticket in the bag. This year has been a letdown. At Leipzig, he was in position to create one of the greatest foreigner vs foreigner finals in recent memory: a titanic showdown with a red-hot Serral. Alas, he was upset in five games by ShoWTimE in the semifinals. It was a startling loss—not because of who he lost to, but because of how he lost.
In 2017, Neeb wasn't just the best WCS Circuit player—he was also the most clutch player with an 8-1 record in elimination matches. He wasn't as dominant as Serral is now, even dropping series in the group stages. But he always dug himself out of that hole, playing his best games under pressure. His loss to ShoWTimE signified that, perhaps, the era of Neeb was over. Even playing in front of an American crowd WCS Austin, Neeb failed to look special at all and was blown out by MaNa in a drab 3-0 sweep. Of all the players heading into WCS Valencia, Neeb has by far the most to prove. After the highs of 2016 and 2017, he was on pace to become the greatest foreigner of all time. In 2018, he has two more tournaments to get back on track.
#4. ShoWTimE - 1770 Points
ShoWTimE looked to be back to peak form after a fiery run at WCS Leipzig where he made the finals and earned himself 1440 points. However, he has done little to follow-up on that early momentum. He hasn't been particularly good at WCS Challenger and was eliminated from the group stages at WCS Austin. That was a snowball effect from his poor performance in Challenger, as his lacking of seeding put him in a difficult group with Scarlett, Kelazhur, and Harstem.
Like Neeb, ShoWTimE was one of the early success stories of the revamped WCS system. In fact, he was the first foreigner to win a WCS event, back when people thought the likes of Polt and Hydra would dominate easily. Yet, he's struggled with consistency after hitting that early peak, and he'll certainly be grateful that WCS rewards runners-up with plenty of points. No WCS finalist has ever missed out on BlizzCon, a fact the next player on the point rankings should be aware of as well.
#5. MaNa - 1650 Points
MaNa didn't even qualify for or attend the first 2018 event in Leipzig. In fact, 2018 seemed like it would be another nail in the coffin for MaNa, an incredible player from Wings of Liberty who struggled to reclaim his glory of old. Even a WCS finals run late into Heart of the Swarm wasn't enough to revive his career. But now, MaNa looks like he's for real, showing his best form in years. Not only did he make the finals at WCS Austin and give Serral a legitimate run for his money, but he followed it up by winning a seeded spot at WCS Valencia in the brutal European Challenger tournament. After his last finals in 2015, MaNa was quickly forgotten. He has an opportunity to make-up for that mistake and continue to be a championship contender all the way to BlizzCon.
#6. Elazer - 1610 Points
It's been a whirlwind journey for Elazer, who started as practical nobody in 2016 before becoming one of the top foreign stars with a run to the BlizzCon semifinals. 2017 was an even bigger success, as he won a WCS championship (the only one Neeb didn't win all year) and ended Dark's foreigner-killing streak at BlizzCon. This year? Well, as you can see from his ranking, he's not on the same trajectory. 2018 has been littered with speed bumps—some unfortunate (getting Neeb early in the WCS Leipzig bracket, having a tough IEM Katowice group) and some caused by poor play (getting absolutely thrashed by SpeCial at WCS Austin). Elazer won his first ever championship at least year's WCS Valencia; after a half-year of strife, Elazer will hope that Spain will be kind to him once more.
#7. Nerchio - 1560 Points
Once upon a time, Nerchio was the best Legacy of the Void player worldwide, dominating the scene while recording historic win-rates over absolutely ludicrous sample sizes. That was during the beta. Since then, Nerchio's had a mixed bag of success in his favorite expansion. He was elite during the 2016 WCS Circuit, making the semifinals in Winter and playing an amazing seven-game series vs ShoWTimE in the Spring finals. He started strong on the 2017 WCS Circuit by reaching the grand finals of WCS Austin before losing to Neeb.
Since then? There's been a lot of disappointment. Neeb snatched the torch from Nerchio and ran with it all the way to BlizzCon, winning championship after championship. Nerchio hasn't been bad—he rarely ever is—but he hasn't been the elite, championship contender that we're used to seeing. His place at #7 accurately reflects his play this year: solid, but not particularly impressive.
#8. Snute - 1555 Points
Snute, who reigned as the best foreigner over the course of Heart of the Swarm, initially made a strong transition into Legacy of the Void. He made the grand finals at WCS Winter 2016, GPL Invitational, and WCS Valencia and WCS Montreal in 2017. Throw in a splattering of semifinal finishes and you've got one of the most consistent players in the scene.
So, what happened this year? Mediocrity settled in, as not even a player with the dedication and work ethic of Snute can always be in the title picture. He lost to SpeCial in a five-game series during WCS Leipzig and got beat down by his teammate MaNa at WCS Austin. Perhaps his string of finals losses has worn him down, with that blown 3-1 lead against Elazer haunting him. Or maybe it's just dumb luck, a part of the variance any competitor has to go through. Either way, it's difficult to imagine Snute missing Blizzcon after seeing him there for two consecutive years, but he's just barely holding on to the #8 spot.
Within Striking Distance
#9. TRUE - 1470 Points
When TRUE first arrived on the WCS Circuit, he lived up to his reputation as a former KeSPA pro by winning his first event while making all the foreigners in attendance look outclassed. It was an absolute worst-case scenario for the WCS Circuit: a player who had been mediocre in Korea had come and conquered the Circuit. It seemed like damning evidence that foreigners just couldn't compete. TRUE's 2017 wasn't quite as good, but he did make three semifinals and earned himself a spot at BlizzCon.
In 2018, the narrative has changed. TRUE has been shaky in WCS Circuit events, managing RO8 and RO16 finishes in the two previous events. But it's not because his skill has regressed to the WCS Circuit level—he actually enjoyed surprising success when he briefly returned to Korea to take aim at the GSL. He qualified for Code S, and made it to the quarterfinals of the Super Tournament before being eliminated in a close, five-game series against Dark.
Much like the Zergs who are just above him in the rankings—Snute, Nerchio, and Elazer—TRUE is looking to rebound and regain his form of old. WCS Valencia will prove to be a bloody battleground, and at least one of these four Zerg stars will find his BlizzCon chances looking grim.
#10. Lambo - 1305 Points
If not for MaNa's captivating finals run, Lambo would have been the star of WCS Austin. The German Zerg crushed TRUE in the RO16, dominated Nerchio even harder in the quarterfinals, and looked like he had a real chance of beating Serral in the semifinals. Even in defeat, he earned the honor of being one of the few Circuit players to put up a solid fight against Serral when utter humiliation would have been the expected result for much of the WCS field.
Lambo showed that his WCS Austin run was no fluke by finishing top three at the recent HomeStory Cup, even pushing soO to five-game in the process. The future is ripe with possibilities for Lambo. There's even a timeline where he makes an Elazer-esque run to BlizzCon and we end up looking back at WCS Austin as Lambo's breakout tournament instead of MaNa's moment in the sun. Only time will tell.
#11. HeRoMaRinE - 1200 Points
Another one of the year's rising stars, HeRoMaRinE doesn't have Lambo or MaNa's highlight run (although his performance back during 2016's WCS Summer event was very impressive). However, what he does have is quiet consistency. It's extremely easy to overlook him, especially due to the stigma around foreigner Terrans, but HeRoMaRinE may very well join SpeCial in representing Circuit Terrans at BlizzCon. However, in order to make it there, HeRoMaRinE will have to make a big run at either Valencia or Montreal. There are new expectations on HeRoMaRinE now, with his steady results demanding a breakthrough performance on the big stage. We will see if HeRoMaRinE can withstand the pressure.
#12. Kelazhur - 1025 Points
Previously the second best Terran on the WCS Circuit, Kelazhur may be the player who has fallen the furthest since 2017. He's always been difficult to pin down as a player—did he notch together an extremely unlikely series of tournament results in 2017, or was he just showing his normal level of play? In any case, it's sad to see Kelazhur fall a few notches as he's intensely fun to watch when his strong macro and smart game-sense are working.
Kelazhur impressed at WCS Austin when he eliminated ShoWTimE from the group of death, but his 0-3 loss to Serral in the RO16 prevented us from seeing more of him. Hopefully he'll be in good spirits at WCS Valencia, and perhaps find some success with easier bracket draws. Seriously, ShoWTimE, Scarlett , and Harstem in groups, and then Serral in the Round of 16? Ouch.
#13. Scarlett - 925 Points
Yeah. Scarlett's in 13th place. How is that possible? She's the second most successful foreigner of the year, having attained the incredible feat of winning IEM PyeongChang on Korea's home turf. Unfortunately, that IEM event didn't award any WCS points alongside its generous payday.
Let's not mince words here: Scarlett has under-performed on the WCS Circuit, and there wasn't any bad luck involved. It's due to her own poor performances at key Circuit events. While she was making a quarterfinal run in the GSL, she was also eliminated in the group stage of Leipzig at the hands of Namshar (in her supposed best match-up). Then, she was eliminated from IEM Katowice by Guru and TRUE. Most recently, she was eliminated from Austin by Nerchio in a 0-3 sweep. The players who defeated Scarlett were good, but they weren't the cream of the crop. It's a testament to the ruthless nature of WCS Circuit competition that someone as talented and skilled as Scarlett now sits with more WCS Korea points than WCS Circuit points.
Scarlett's dream-like start to 2018 is turning into a nightmare. Will WCS Valencia be the tournament where she turns things around?
Challenger SpotlightThe top stars of the WCS Circuit get the lion's share of attention, but we can't forget that the WCS Circuit is a truly global competition where players fight tooth and nail to earn seeds through their regional qualifiers. The Challengers at WCS Valencia deserve a shoutout.
Seither (#16) and Has (#17) are both regional heroes, but they couldn't be any more different as players. Seither is Australia's #1 who has yet to display much flash on the big stage, while Has is all flash and no substance [Editor's note: How dare you]. The Taiwanese Protoss is certainly entertaining to watch, but doesn't have the skills to mount a serious title run. Also joining them from the SEA and Taiwan regions are HuT and Rex. HuT is making his Circuit debut at Valencia after eliminating Probe an an upset. Rex has a little more backstory, being a long-time rising star in the Taiwanese scene who made a surprising run through the qualifiers to earn his first seeded spot at a circuit event. He qualified over the much more established Nice, who narrowly lost 2-3 to Elazer back in Leipzig.
XY and iAsonu earned spots through China's GPL, and are both established regional stars who are playoff caliber in WCS. TIME, arguably the best Chinese player, was knocked out early by iAsonu in the playoffs.
Namshar is the 'surprise' seed from Europe's deep talent pool, actually making it all the way to the EU Challenger finals after beating HeRoMaRinE, Nerchio and Snute. He's definitely shown flashes earlier this year, most notably by eliminating Scarlett and playing a phenomenal series against eventual finalist ShoWTimE during Leipzig. He's the unofficial hipster pick to make a dark horse run to BlizzCon—put your support behind him now and tell your friends later 'I was a Namshar fan before he was popular.'
Finally, NA brought us a pair of surprises. puCK proved that he wasn't lucky that TRUE cancelled his Challenger participation last season, defeating the Korean Zerg 2-1 in the group stages en route to a second WCS Circuit seed. It's definitely a nice result for the American Protoss (even if TRUE defeated him 4-1in the finals), and it'll be interesting to see if he can carry his good form to Europe.
The bigger surprise, however, is definitely Silky. Somehow, Silky 2-1'd Semper and 3-2'd Neeb in order to get the semifinals, then got struck down by puCK, 3-0. It's arguably the strangest result of this Challenger season, but it says just as much about Neeb as it says about Silky. Games four and five were both incredibly lazy performances by Neeb that led to early defeats. But of course, a win is a win, and Silky wholly deserves his spot at WCS Valencia. One man's mistake is another's opportunity, and Silky has his chance to make a splash at Valencia.