WCS Europe Winter: Playoffs PreviewBy: Soularion
Sunday, Apr 07 4:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
After a bloody round robin which saw ShoWTimE eliminated and Serral rendered mortal, WCS Europe has arrived at its pinnacle of intensity: the playoff gauntlet. Despite his missteps in the round-robin, Serral still looms large as the favorite to win. But the sharks have gathered after smelling blood in the water, and it will be no easy affair for Serral to win his fifth consecutive WCS Circuit title.
Round 1: Elazer vs Lambo
As is European tradition, the event will kick off with what is sure to be a bloody and tense ZvZ between two closely matched players who have played each other a gazillion times (Lambo leads 22-21 in map score). Both players finished the round robin stage with 3-4 records and victories against last-place players ShoWTimE and Rail. The difference between the two was that Lambo managed to defeat HeRoMaRinE for his third win, while Elazer managed to beat Lambo.
Their head-to-head from the round robin doesn't provide any solid hints as to who has the upper hand. Game one saw them jockey for position in ritualistic Roach/Ravager showdowns until Elazer pounced on a brief opening to slide a segment of his army into Lambo's base. Game two and three saw Lambo opt for more aggressive strategies, only for Elazer to hold on through sound defensive mechanics and good reads of the situation. So, a typical ZvZ between good players. While galaxy-brain Lambo might continue to try and test Elazer with aggressive builds to see if he's done his ZvZ homework, I'm picking Elazer to edge this series out as he did in the round robin.
Prediction: Elazer 3-2 Lambo
Round 2: PtitDrogo vs [Elazer]
The resurrection of PtitDrogo has been one of 2019's most enjoyable storylines, although it's probably harsh to suggest that he had been lying in a grave. But the last couple of years were, uhhh, less-than-great for the former DreamHack champion. However, Drogo was fantastic in the WESG group stage, topping his group with a 10-0 record, and then he brought that momentum to WCS Europe where he defeated everyone outside of Serral and Reynor during the round robin (Drogo wrote a lengthy blog explaining the strategies he developed for the two tournaments). However, it hasn't been a fairy tale return—WESG ended with him getting 3-0'd by Lambo, and his 5-2 match record from the WCS round robin masks a much worse 10-8 map record. Still, to see him play at this level again has been amazing.
Both Elazer and Lambo would provide PtitDrogo with a tough challenge. He defeated both in messy matches during the group stage, very nearly losing both sets 0-2 before eking out the victory. Indeed, PtitDrogo's ability to fight his way back from poor economic situations through good defensive play was the key point in both series. A series against Lambo would make for a dramatic WESG revenge match, though it would be interesting to see how he handles Elazer's most meticulously prepared all-ins as well. Whoever Drogo faces, it should be a close, intriguing match.
Prediction: PtitDrogo 3-2 Elazer
Round3 : Serral vs [PtitDrogo]
In the biggest surprise of WCS Europe, Serral comes into the playoff gauntlet as the mere #3 seed. The question on everyone's mind for the entire season had been "Who can beat Serral?" That question was promptly answered by Reynor as the up-and-comer put on an absolute show to dethrone the King of WCS. Then, Serral's long-time sandbag HeRoMaRinE got in on the fun, proving that you don't need to be an INnoVation to exploit the reigning champion's late-game ZvT weakness. For the first time in a long time, Serral looks genuinely beatable. Still, it's worth remembering he went 10-1 against the rest of the group with his sole loss being a misread of an early roach attack by Elazer.
While we're inclined to pity whoever has to face Serral in this minor redemption match, it's worth factoring in that whoever advances will have already proven their vs Zerg prowess by having defeated either Elazer or Lambo. Of the possible opponents, Elazer could potentially be the most dangerous due to big-time match experience (he was one of the few Zergs to beat Serral in a BO5 during the WCS 2018 cycle). But the cunning Lambo will also be hungry for vengeance after WCS Montreal, and he may have the key to beating Serral in his head, if not necessarily in his hands. PtitDrogo recent form can't be slept on either, although Serral seems like another tier of opponent from those he has defeated lately.
Though most of us expect Serral to win, we'll still be eager to see how close (or not) the games are. If he's truly still the foreigner king, then he should have no problems stomping whoever arrives to challenge him. But if he struggles to advance past this stage, then we'll know there's a real problem.
Prediction: Serral 3-0 PtitDrogo
Semifinals: HeRoMaRinE vs [Serral]
HeRoMaRinE being guaranteed a top three placement makes this one of the best tournament results of his career, and there's nothing fluky about it. He fought his way back from being a game away from elimination against ShaDoWn (yes, that happened) in the RO32 to having a strong 5-2 performance in the round robin.
Now, HeRoMaRinE must be wondering 'Is it really going to be Serral AGAIN?' as he looks down the bracket. In 2018, he was eliminated by the Finnish Phenom at WCS Austin's EU Challenger, WCS Austin itself, WCS Valencia's EU Challenger and then WCS Valencia itself. He ended the year with a 1-11 record against Serral in WCS events. For HeRoMaRinE, tournaments ended when it was time to play Serral.
But a funny thing happened when they played in the WCS Winter round robin a couple of weeks ago—HeRoMaRinE won. Not only that, he looked genuinely comfortable, edging the champion out in two straight-up macro games. It's an ironic twist of fate that the patient, late-game oriented play HeRoMaRinE has spent months, if not years, perfecting is not only viable, but perhaps the strategy Serral struggles with the most. Of all the ways Serral could get eliminated, losing to HeRoMaRinE would be the closest thing to poetic justice.
But will it happen? Does anyone really believe Serral's time is over? For someone who has won four straight WCS titles, bowing out to HeRoMaRinE would certainly be a disappointment. HeRoMaRinE may be a problem, but champions are defined by their ability to solve problems, and Serral should be expected to find a solution come this match.
Prediction: Serral 3-2 HeRoMaRinE
Grand Finals: Reynor vs [Serral]
Going into both WCS events, the obvious finals seemed clear. America would get Scarlett vs Neeb, a title match between two of the scene's titans. Europe would get the reigning king versus the next generation, a rematch of WCS Montreal, in Reynor vs Serral.
Reynor vs Serral encapsulates the overarching story of European StarCraft: the new versus the old. While Korea struggles to find new blood to replenish its ranks, Europe struggles to protect its veterans from hungry upstarts and late-bloomers. Lambo, HeRoMaRinE, and Reynor forced their way into the championship picture, with the latter almost toppling Serral at WCS Montreal 2018. At the same time, we've seen the decline of great veterans—Snute retired, Nerchio continued his slow decline, Elazer's ascension stalled, and ShoWTimE got stuck in a rut. Old or young, veteran or newcomer, no one is secure in their position in Europe.
Except for Serral... ...?
Serral is the oldest of the young, considering his age and his status as a 'prodigy' within Europe for so many years. The prophecy that Serral would ascend into being a truly great foreigner began in Heart of the Swarm, and compared to his peers he's a grizzled veteran now. In 2018, Serral was a singular force of change on the WCS Circuit, wiping away all other dynasties and legacies to establish his own. And while it was a glorious reign, the laws of EU StarCraft dictate that eventually, even Serral must fall.
Reynor's meteoric rise in 2018 cannot be overstated, even if it was overshadowed by Serral's own ascent. Though the WCS Montreal runner-up struggled in some early competitions (blowing a 2-0 lead to Neeb at WESG and losing to Creator at IEM Katowice), he's frequently demonstrated the brilliance that saw him reach the RO16 in his Code S debut and take Serral all the way to the game seven of a grand final. There was no more brilliant moment for Reynor in 2019 than his WCS Winter round robin victory over Serral, where he outclassed the titan of Europe with amazing Lurker mechanics and clever unit compositions. Reynor vs Serral is more than a match. It's a battle for the heart of Europe, the heart of WCS, and the heart of Zerg itself. It's a battle that threatens to end Serral's dynasty.
Prediction: Reynor 4-3 Serral.