WCS Americas Winter: Playoffs PreviewBy: Soularion
Saturday, Apr 06 4:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
The first act of the 2019 WCS Circuit will come to a close this weekend as twelve players contend for the WCS Americas and Europe titles. The round robin stage gave us a hint of what we might see in the playoff gauntlet—Europe suggested that Serral was vulnerable while the Americas looked to be a top-heavy race. We begin our previews with the WCS Americas gauntlet, and predict how things might play out.
Match 1 : Cham vs Astrea
Our only guaranteed match-up the playoffs is one of great intrigue as two dangerous underdogs face off. Cham, whose handful of major upsets in WCS 2017 once marked him as a rising star, seemed more like a flash-in-the-pan player in WCS 2018. However, WCS Winter 2019 has seen him gradually up his game in every round, eliminating SpeCial in RO16 and putting in a solid (if unspectacular) round robin performance where he secured a playoff spot with a 3-4 record. While Cham didn't score any big upsets, he did win against all the players he was 'supposed' to beat, including Astrea.
Astrea, in comparison, is extremely untested and inexperienced. Technically, he's been competing at the high end of the NA ladder for years, but this is the first time he's playing for major stakes in a live tournament. Astrea's biggest strength so far has been in his PvT play, and he looked ultimately outclassed by both Cham and Scarlett. He's been successful in PvZ largely due to his ability to weather a storm of attacks from opponents, which he did a decent—but not good enough—job of against Cham in the round robin. Regardless of what happens here, Astrea must be commended for how far he's come. He was a long shot to even make the top 16, and now he's playing with house money.
Prediction: Cham 3-1 Astrea.
Match 2 : MaSa vs [Cham]
Neeb and Scarlett lived up to expectations in the round robin, nabbing the top two seeds as the two overwhelming forces in WCS Americas. The bigger question of the RO8 was 'Who will take third?' MaSa and Cham both seemed like perfectly fine candidates, but both fell short of that target. Going by resumes, MaSa seemed the definite, next-best player in North America, given that he had defeated Neeb and Scarlett in multiple WCS Challenger tournaments. But even after a mediocre round-robin, the mercurial MaSa could make up for it with a brilliant run in the playoffs.
A series against Cham looks good for MaSa—their series during the round robin was competitive, but MaSa edged Cham out by having more sound mechanics all around (well, and by bunker rushing). The interesting question of such a format is how much Cham will have prepared for for MaSa when he already has a match with Astrea ahead of him. Cham might be able to duke it out in a macro game with MaSa, but the series could end surprisingly quickly if he's not ready for MaSa's infamous TvZ proxies.
Prediction: MaSa 3-2 Cham
Match 3: TIME vs [MaSa]
TIME was definitely the surprise player of the round robin. Not only did he beat almost the entirety of the American 'middle tier'—perhaps an expected result for someone who placed top four at a WCS Circuit event—but he actually scored an upset on Neeb by executing two hard-hitting tank pushes. However, a 0-2 loss to Astrea revealed that TIME isn't in that too-good-for-NA tier yet, and he's going to pay for that loss by playing one more series against a member of the NA pack.
Could this come back to bite him? Funny enough, the person TIME is most worried about facing is here could actually be Astrea, who beat him both in the round of 16 and the round robin. MaSa could be the easiest opponent, as TIME broke out at WCS Montreal by sweeping Kelazhur and HeroMarine. TIME is currently on a ten match winning streak against foreigner Terrans, including a WCS Winter match against MaSa. If TIME can play up to his level from his last WCS tournament, this series should be a minor speed bump for China's new ace.
Prediction: TIME 3-0 MaSa
Semifinals: Neeb vs [TIME]
Neeb lost the contest with Scarlett for the #1 seed, and the audience might be better served as a result. Neeb is the player who's more likely to give up that 'random' loss you wouldn't expect, and showed it in the round-robin when he dropped a 1-2 set to TIME. As chance would have it, that loss has made TIME the significant favorite to play Neeb in the semifinals, and we could entertain the idea—at least for a second—that Neeb could actually be an underdog in the bracket.
Despite upsetting him earlier, a number of factors work against TIME. His TvP has been inconsistent at best throughout the tournament, as seen in his struggles with Astrea. While his upset against was Neeb significant, it wasn't the type of upset to read much into during a playoff setting. Neeb is the more experienced player, and has also been given a couple of weeks to strategize for his likely meeting. On the other hand, TIME's likely scenario to win the championship involves a full, three-race gauntlet. In some ways, this set is reminiscent of Neeb vs Reynor from WCS Montreal, with Neeb acting as the final test for an up-and-coming player coming off of a strong result in the last tournament. However, TIME still seems a step below Reynor as a prospect at this time, and it's difficult to see him making that next jump quite yet.
Prediction: Neeb 3-1 TIME
Finals: Scarlett vs [Neeb]
If everything goes according to chalk, we'll arrive at a much anticipated finals. Scarlett and Neeb have been the titans of the American scene for nearly all of LotV, and have played 38 BO3+ tournament matches in that time (Neeb is ahead 23-15). Ever since Scarlett first took a break from the game at the start of Legacy, Neeb was there to take over her place as the North American champion.
When Scarlett returned in 2016 to reclaim her throne at WCS Summer/Montreal, Neeb thrashed her in a 3-0 drubbing. Since then, Neeb has had the upper hand in the match-up in both career resume—he won KeSPA Cup, won three WCS Circuit events, and went to the Code S semifinals while Scarlett 'only' made the quarterfinals—and in head-to-head match score. Neeb also has a nasty habit of beating Scarlett in Canada, as he crushed her in WCS Montreal 2017 as well (they haven't met offline since). Even in this tournament, where Scarlett won the round robin match and earned her spot in the finals, Neeb was able to quite comfortably edge her out in their individual match, leaving Scarlett to rely on TIME's upset to secure her top seed.
Still, a wind of hope blows for Scarlett. She's been on an upswing similar to early 2018 when she won her first major, international title at IEM PyeongChang. She made an impressive top four run at WESG, including a competitive series with Maru. Beating Neeb here would be a satisfying way to take revenge and reestablish herself as a true title contender in the foreign scene. In 2018, it was Scarlett who started off on fire, only to watch Serral steal her thunder and overshadow her long-awaited triumph. Perhaps, in 2019, Scarlett will get her just due.
Either way, for all the talk of upsets and up-and-comers, this is the only finals that would do this event full justice. Neeb and Scarlett have been peerless for so long, and their direct and indirect battles for dominance has been at the core of the North American scene for the entirety of Legacy of the Void. Not only that, but a championship for Scarlett would feel a tinge hollow without a victory over Neeb, where as a championship over Neeb would be truly vindicating. Neeb vs Scarlett at the end was how WCS Americas was meant to play out. Sometimes, the destined way is the best way.
Prediction: Neeb 4-1 Scarlett. Because Neeb doesn't like fun.