WCS Americas Winter: Round of 8By: Soularion
A Chance To Rise
Saturday, Mar 23 7:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
- Round robin.
- All matches are best of 3.
- Top 6 advance to the playoffs.
- Playoffs: "Gauntlet"/"King of the hill" format based on RO8 ranking.
In contrast to WCS Europe, which has always had a deep middle and upper-class of players, North America has always been extremely top-heavy in StarCraft II. HuK and IdrA were dominant during SC2's nascent years, and there was a lengthy period where Scarlett was nearly the only player worth caring about in a global context. At present, it's clear that the scene has three stand-outs: Scarlett, Neeb, and SpeCial. Neeb's inclusion needs little explanation: he's the only player from North America region to win a WCS Circuit event, and he's been one of the best foreigners for all of Legacy of the Void. Scarlett, in comparison, has been far more inconsistent, but can still point to her IEM PyeongChang championship in 2018 as evidence of who she can be at her best. Since then she's returned to her inconsistent ways, but she's still a titan within the NA scene. Wait... where's SpeCial?
Neeb made top 8 at both IEM Katowice and WESG, getting eliminated by elite players in Stats and Maru. Scarlett finished top four at WESG, losing to Maru in a five-game third place match. On the other hand, SpeCial has struggled in 2019, getting eliminated from the WCS America RO16 by countryman Cham (who is the only representative from Latin America remaining), suffering group stage elimination at IEM, and losing to Scarlett in the first round of the WESG playoffs.
This is a development that has made the tournament more and less interesting at the same time. SpeCial's absense makes Neeb and Scarlett even heavier favorites to win it all, as SpeCial provided a rare Terran threat in the foreign scene. Due to the way the WCS Winter playoff gauntlet works, it seems very likely that one of Neeb and Scarlett will be waiting in the finals. However, SpeCial's absence is also an opportunity for the rest of the field, and we might see a new star emerge.
The 'rightful' heir to Terran throne would be MaSa. He certainly has the resume—he made the semifinals of a WCS championship back in 2016, and is the only player not named Neeb, TRUE, or Scarlett to win a WCS America Challenger tournament in the LotV era. He defeated both Scarlett and Neeb to win Challenger for WCS Austin in 2017 and very nearly did the same in 2018 with some extremely cheesy tactics. MaSa's problem isn't so much Neeb or Scarlett themselves—it's that he shares their problems with inconsistency. He's always struggled to get results on the main WCS stage where he must face the best from around the world. But he's already proven that he's truly elite within the NA scene, and MaSa is the player to watch if you're on the lookout for a legitimate dark horse contender.
The a potential problem for MaSa and the rest of the competitors is that this tournament is 'Americas' in name only. Enter China's TIME, the hottest commodity on the foreign Terran market. Granted, it's never been much of a market, but TIME is definitely a player to be watch out for. Reynor hogged the spotlight at WCS Montreal, but TIME's run to the semifinals with wins against Namshar, Kelazhur, Has, and HeRoMarinE was also quite impressive. Unlike MaSa, TIME has yet to prove he can beat Scarlett or Neeb in a high-stakes match. This will be an important test for TIME and for Chinese StarCraft. If he can can cause an upset and reach the finals of this premiere event, he'll become the first Chinese player to do so since XiGua in 2011.
The last 'obvious' candidate to make an underdog run is Cham himself, who already showed his upset potential by upsetting SpeCial out of the tournament. He's been quiet inconsistent on the WCS Circuit (noticing at trend here?), making top eight in two 2017 events but failing to advance past the groups stages in 2018. This event could remind everyone that the plucky Zerg who broke out in 2017 hasn't gone anywhere. Kelazhur and SpeCial have shown that Latin America is no 'minor' region on the WCS Circuit, and Cham has chance to continue to carry that banner.
There are three other players competing as well, and while they're not exactly favored to win, any one of them could come out of the chaotic round robin and reach the offline playoffs. Astrea is 'oddest man out' in the RO8 due to his almost complete lack of experience playing at this level. But looking at his WCS Winter performance alone, where he 4-0'd his RO16 group with wins over Kelazhur and puCK, you might pick him to make the playoffs. puCK and Probe round out the RO8 as the experienced veterans, having played in several WCS Circuit main events. However, neither of them have had much success lately, making it all the more important for them to reach the offline leg of this tournament.
This speaks to the fundamental question posed by this round robin: who will show up on gameday and book those precious tickets? With the exception of Scarlett and Neeb, every single player in this group stage has a lot to prove. For many of them, just making the playoffs at all would be considered a career landmark. But that can't be their mindset if they are to survive the group stage. This isn't just a chance to rise from the middle of the pack and get some lip service in future events—this is a chance to become a player that other pros fear and the fans truly respect.