WCS Summer Preview: Back to Business as Usual, and that's OkayBy: Wax
Back in April, Reynor defeated Serral in the finals of WCS Winter: Europe and made StarCraft II fans around the world wonder if the Finnish Phenom's reign was over. In May's WCS Spring, Serral over-corrected for that momentary slip up by reclaiming the Circuit championship with a perfect 6-0 match record and overwhelming 17-3 map score. Along the way, he picked up a 3-0 revenge sweep against Reynor in the semis and then got his first ever grand finals sweep against SpeCial. Such a performance suggested that even if Serral is humble and says he doesn't care for the community's perceived rivalries, he'll still punish anyone who covets his WCS Circuit crown with Old Testament wrath.
With that in mind, the end result of this weekend's upcoming WCS Summer tournament can only seem like a foregone conclusion: another crushing championship run for Serral, who will seize his sixth WCS Circuit title overall.
Is anyone actually bored? I'm sure there are a handful of fans who would like parity, but there's a unique kind of entertainment to be had in watching a historically good player outclass his peers. In being so frequently one-sided, Serral games aren't the most entertaining in a 'neutral' sense. But the overarching story of his dominance makes his Circuit matches appointment watching for fans of competitive StarCraft II.
All that said, Serral has made writing the previews a bit tedious. It tends to boil down to the same formula, where we mark Serral as the overwhelming favorite and do our best to gas up the other so-called 'contenders' without actually saying any of them will actually win (oh god, we're casters). That's probably why Soularion decided to focus on some lesser known players in the section below, as a change of pace from ultimately futile hat-tipping (incidentally, we should congratulate him for indirectly predicting the top four of the previous tournament).
Still, just because something is familiar doesn't mean it's necessarily bad, just like apple pie tastes just as good whether it's your first or hundredth time having it. Likewise, we'd be remiss if we didn't give SC2 fans their regular dopamine hit from 'OMG, they said something good about MY PLAYER.' So I'll knock these out rapid-fire style, before I pass it off to Soularion to talk about the up-and-comers.
SpeCial: The first two games of his finals series against Serral at WCS Spring were closer than the 0-4 scoreline would make it seem. With his own games, as well as several HSC 19 games of partner/mentor TY vs Serral to comb over for information, he might be able to make the necessary adjustments to his late-game play to get the win.
Reynor: Say what you want about Reynor being 'just another' top foreigner (Terrans seem to trouble him in particular)—he's still the only player who made Serral look mortal in his ridiculous run of dominance since 2018. That's an advantage no one else has.
HeRoMaRinE: Big Gabe arrives on the scene with a perfect record vs foreigners at HomeStory Cup XIX. He seems just about due for another high finish that will lock him in for BlizzCon.
Lambo: Alongside Reynor, Lambo has been one of the best non-Serral Zergs on the circuit for the past year or so. On one hand, he's 0-10 against Serral all-time, so good luck getting over that hump. Still, a few of those losses were Serral barely eking out the win in a full-set series. He can't keep getting away with this! (Or can he?)
TIME: The rising Chinese Terran has been proving he's very much 'for real,' reaching the top four of WCS Winter: Americas and top eight of WCS Spring. I'm very much invested in his future success, since China and Netease might be supporting half of the SC2 esports ecosystem in 2020.
ShoWTimE, PtitDrogo, Harstem, uThermal, Scarlett, Elazer: These players have championship pedigree, having won [tournament] in [year]. Can they rediscover that old form?
Neeb: We're STILL waiting on a finals rematch from WCS Jonkoping 2017, when Neeb beat Serral 4-3. I'm starting to feel like this is Neeb's version of beating your more-skilled friend once and retiring against him forever (we've all done this). Hey Neeb, give us our f***ing dream-match already.
Rising Stars, Underdogs, and Other Interesting PlayersBy: Soularion
In the non-Korean scene, we've come to a point where the top players are clearly defined, and the competition is so tight that a single WCS event won't make or break someone's reputation. How many times have we seen a top tier player be upset one event, only to return stronger in the next?
Does this event truly matter for Serral, who has won so many already and is only just coming off of a narrow victory over TY to win HomeStory Cup? Neeb, SpeCial, Reynor, Scarlett, ShoWTimE and Elazer have been involved in the musical chairs of WCS dominance for so long that their careers are better defined by GSL runs, BlizzCon performances, and other feats of greatness in mixed-region events. Despite the considerable stakes in terms of prize money and WCS points, one could find the WCS Circuit tournaments feeling somewhat meaningless in the "who's best at StarCraft II?" sense.
However, discounting the Circuit discounts an entire group of players: the up-and-comers. One of Legacy of the Void's greatest achievements as an expansion is obviously the reformed WCS Circuit system. More than anything, it has provided the opportunity for new players to show themselves under the spotlight. It's allowed players such as ShoWTimE, Neeb, Elazer, Lambo, and Reynor to have successful careers and become stars, and given Serral and SpeCial the chance to become truly amazing.
With the passage of time the new become the old, and sometimes the old are violently supplanted. Even the latest batch of players like TIME and Reynor are basically well-established figures on the Circuit, with a number of deep runs through WCS tournaments. So, who's next? Who are the players to watch out for? What makes them worth caring about, and how far will they go?
The first name to be mentioned as far as new players go is the one who shocked us most recently: goblin. The Croatian Protoss was one of WCS Spring's big winners, making it all the way to the quarterfinals in a run that saw him upset Cham, Namshar, Lambo, Probe and most importantly PtitDrogo in a full best of 5 series. goblin follows in the footsteps of Hellraiser, another up-and-comer who will be covered later, as a tricky protoss who succeeds as a wildcard with his unpredictable builds. However, he's not all cheese—unlike Has (perhaps the most successful player of his ilk) he has legitimate army control and some level of micro ability. That wasn't enough to stop him from getting mauled 0-5 in the group stage of the online QLASH Invitational 2, so we'll be looking to see if he's more Has than sOs at WCS Summer.
If goblin is somewhat of a 2019 Has, Clem is certainly easy to compare to Reynor. Not due to play—he plays an entirely different race—but because of age. In some ways he's an older player, technically qualifying for a WCS event in 2016 only to forfeit due to only being 14. The French Terran's debut was delayed until 2018, but it wasn't until 2019 that he finally made the playoffs. While some critics will point out that a fast start is not necessarily an indicator of success, Clem's excellent Ro16 series against ShoWTimE from WCS Spring (VOD) makes it easy to be optimistic. Still, he has not yet risen to the elite level of foreigners, performing poorly at HomeStory Cup and failing to go far in the last EU Challenger Tournament. We recommend fans have patience regarding the youngster. Not everyone can be a Maru or Reynor—players like Serral, Trap, and TY also debuted in their early-teens, but it took them a while to realize their full potential.
Of all the players on this list, SKillous might be particularly unfamiliar to the general audience. Prior to WCS Spring, he was a regional Russian talent who played mostly online and in smaller local events, and wasn't even the best known player from his own country. Despite this complete lack of resume, SKillous came out at WCS Spring and reached the top 24, upsetting the more established souL and TLO along the way. In the biggest match of his career by far, in the Round of 24 at WCS Spring, he challenged MaSa by playing for mid-game skirmishes with few gimmicks and absolutely no fear. While he lost the series, he gained a lot of my respect, and could be someone to look out for going forward.
Denver is someone who actually broke out towards the end of last year, making the top 16 at WCS Montreal on the back of wins against TooDming, Harstem, and souL. However, his 2019 results haven't been so impressive. In WCS Winter: Europe, he lost a tight series to Lambo and then Hellraiser to fall out of the group stage. He followed that by not even attending WCS Spring. Denver has more experience than many of his peers previewed here: he's taken a map off INnoVation offline, he's been in those close WCS series and he's won online series against good opposition. He's the type of player that makes you wonder if he had a true breakout moment at WCS Montreal 2018, or if his run was just indicative of the sheer depth of Ro16-32 level talent in the EU scene.
Of every rising star in Europe, Hellraiser might be the most consistent. After a top sixteen finish at WCS Winter: Europe, Hellraiser continued his march by fighting his way to a top 24 finish at WCS Spring. Hellraiser lives up to his name, embracing the griminess of Protoss in its most visceral form—cannon rushes and all. Still, it works, with alarming frequency. At the latest HomeStory Cup, he defeated ShoWTimE and Bunny on route to a top 12 placement. At a tournament where players like ShoWTimE, PtitDrogo, and Namshar were eliminated in the group stage, Hellraiser survived like a cockroach after a nuclear explosion (or an Immortal absorbing 500 roach shots by hopping into a Prism). He's actually had a better year than Bly so far in terms of WCS results and could be the player who gives the Ukrainian audience an exciting, main-stage moment at WCS Summer.
The aptly named Future seems to be the next in line for North American stardom. Astrea could contest this point, certainly, given his top six run at WCS Winter: Americas. However, some other signs are pointing to Future. He really started to grab our attention last December when he beat SpeCial and MaSa to win Cheeseadelphia #8. He had a solid run in NA Challenger, where he beat puCK, Semper and TLO before losing 2-3 to Neeb. He plays standard styles while being able to mix in just the right amount of crafty builds and timings to keep his opponent on his toes, a hallmark of all good Terrans. The big knock against him is that he hasn't actually achieved anything in a WCS Circuit main event. In WCS Winter he was eliminated by DisK in the group stages while he was eliminated by Silky in the qualifiers for WCS Spring. This will be his first time playing in a live, WCS Circuit event with a Challenger seed. Can he make it to his first Ro16, and perhaps even go beyond that?