WCS Spring Preview: Clash of KingsBy: Soularion and Wax
After a season of experimentation in which the WCS Circuit was split into two tournaments with fresh formats, the regions have been reunited into a traditional WCS Circuit Championship. After ruling over their respective fiefs in the Americas and Europe, the time has come for Neeb and Reynor to try and claim the unified WCS Circuit title. But more importantly, 2019 Global Champion Serral looms over all the contenders as the favorite to reclaim his crown.
Serral: 2018 WCS Global Champion, 2018 WCS Circuit Grand Slam Winner (4 of 4 titles)
It was inevitable that we'd indulge in the narrative of Serral being 'dethroned' after his 3-4 loss to Reynor in the WCS Winter Europe finals. 'Who can beat Serral?' was the burning question at the heart of the WCS Circuit, and Reynor deserved to be celebrated for answering that question by avenging his loss to Serral at WCS Montreal by winning the WCS Winter title.
However, as much as we loved the drama of that moment, we knew that Serral's arc was far from over. He's still widely considered the best foreigner in the world and he's yet again the favorite to win a WCS Circuit tournament. If you look past the narrow 3-4 loss to Reynor at WCS Winter, you'll recall that Serral absolutely destroyed PtitDrogo and HeRoMaRinE in the playoff gauntlet. The latest European Challenger tournament in the lead-up to WCS Spring further reaffirmed Serral's stature. Serral went 5-0 in series and 12-3 in maps, defeating Nerchio, Elazer, souL, uThermal, and ShowTimE on his way to winning the Challenger title. On the other hand, his supposed usurper Reynor limped through the group stage after getting upset by MarineLorD and then lost to uThermal in the playoffs (thus failing to win a direct seed into group stage #3).
Still, Serral goes into this event as something he hasn't been in a while: a mortal. For the longest time, he's been the overwhelming favorite, more an inevitable force of nature than a living, breathing competitor. After failing to win WESG, IEM, and WCS Winter in 2019, that aura of total invulnerability is gone. Perhaps it's just splitting hairs to say he's the 'huge' favorite to win instead of an 'overwhelming' favorite. But if that means his opponents now truly believe they can take him down, and are no longer waiving the white flag before the matches even begin, it could be all the difference in the world.
Reynor WCS Winter: Europe Champion
Any criticism Serral has received for his 2019 'decline' could just as easily be converted to compliments for soO, INnoVation, and Italy's very own Reynor. At WCS Winter, Reynor didn't seem intimidated at all when the Finnish Phenom reached the finals after brutally sweeping PtitDrogo and HeroMarine in the playoffs—Reynor still beat him straight-up in a seven game series. It capped off a fantastic tournament run from Reynor where he went 11-1 in series with an impressive 24-9 map score in the toughest region of the WCS Circuit.
Dominant ZvZ has played a huge part in Reynor's ascent, as Reynor hasn't lost a single ZvZ series in WCS Circuit tournaments in the 2019 season (his overall ZvZ win-rate is a more 'modest' 67%). With Zerg being the power race of the WCS Circuit over the past couple of years, this is one of the biggest advantages a player could have.
Yet, despite having the power to defeat the Circuit's final boss, Reynor has shown vulnerability against players of other races. Neeb took out Reynor 3-2 in the RO16 playoffs of WESG, while the not-so-formidable Creator was able to contribute to Reynor's elimination at IEM Katowice. Reynor's recent 1-3 loss to uThermal in WCS Europe Challenger further suggests he has not conclusively separated himself from the rest of the famously tough European pack. If Reynor wants to truly become known as the best foreigner and take on Serral's mantle, he's going to consistently beat that tier of players. Viewers should be cautious about penciling in a Reynor vs Serral rematch—plenty of things could go awry before we arrive there.
Neeb: WCS Winter: Americas Champion, 3x WCS Circuit Champion (2017)
In the wake of WCS Europe's storm, Neeb's championship run in WCS Winter Americas definitely went overlooked. And it was not without good reason—Neeb has simply been consistently better than his regional peers for nearly two years now. SpeCial and Scarlett can match Neeb when they're playing their best, but SpeCial's surprise RO16 elimination took a lot of the wind out of WCS Americas early on. When the best version of Scarlett didn't show up for the finals match against Neeb, it couldn't help but feel like a routine tournament victory for the American.
In a way, the more natural response to Serral's 2019 'decline' isn't to crown Reynor as the new king of the Circuit—but it's to look for Neeb to revive his 2017 dynasty. The shadow of Neeb's WCS Circuit inconsistency throughout 2018 looms large, but perhaps it's symbolic of his progression as a player since winning three Circuit championships in 2017. His career advanced past the phase where he needed to prove himself on the Circuit—he would instead by defined by what he achieved at mixed-region events such as GSL Code S (where he reached the top four) or IEM Katowice (where he helped eliminate Maru). Even without Circuit success, Neeb has managed to keep himself in the conversation for the best foreigner-not-named-Serral. However, for the fans, it would be fantastic to see the 2017 version of Neeb return to the Circuit and finally deliver the Neeb vs Serral dream-rematch we've been desperately awaiting.
SpeCial: Code S RO16, 4x WCS Circuit semifinalist
Though not quite a king, we couldn't resist talking a little bit about one of the more peculiar lords of the realm.
Admittedly, it's not like SpeCial's WCS Circuit results warrant him being included in this conversation. Top four is his best finish at a WCS Circuit event, and he's been eliminated from the group stages on a number of occasions. His WCS Winter Americas performance was one of the most disappointing in his career, as he failed to escape the RO16 in one of the weakest 'premiere' events ever.
So, why talk about SpeCial? Well... He reached the top four of BlizzCon 2017. He eliminated Classic at BlizzCon 2018 to become the only non-Serral foreigner to reach the playoffs. He just 4-0'd sOs in GSL Code S, making it to round of sixteen for the first time in his career. Slumping or not, sOs is one hell of a player, and not someone who loses to foreigners often. To beat him the way SpeCial did, outsmarting him tactically, is extremely impressive and reminds us that "SpeCial with preparation" is not just a meme. The potential of SpeCial is just too intriguing to pass by. He's the Batman StarCraft—give him enough data and time, and he can prepare a strategy to beat anyone.
Unfortunately, the rapid-fire format of the WCS Circuit doesn't suit SpeCial's style. But if you're looking for a dark horse to cheer on, why not pick SpeCial? The man is due at least a finals appearance after getting eliminated in six major semifinals, and he's bound to deliver us a very explosive Terran gun-show.