A new balance patch may have been introduced at HomeStory Cup XX, but the tournament still ended with a very familiar final as Serral defeated Reynor to win his third consecutive HSC championship. Fighting his way up from the losers' bracket, Serral won two consecutive series against Reynor to lift the championship trophy, avenging his loss against Reynor in the BlizzCon semifinals and improving to 4-3 in major tournament matches against his rival on the year.
Though the grand final series score read Serral 2, Reynor 0, the path to the championship was hardly smooth for the Finnish Phenom. Serral just barely managed to nullify Reynor's winners' bracket advantage with a 3-2 victory in the first half of the finals. Game five on Acropolis was a particularly tense match, with Serral pushed to the brink of defeat on several occasions before barely taking down Reynor in a double-masterclass of late-game ZvZ.
After resetting the bracket, Serral was immediately put on the ropes in the deciding, best-of-three series. Fighting in a Roach-Ravager mirror on Disco Bloodbath, Serral found himself out-Serraled by Reynor's multitasking and harassment—featuring the bedeviling use of Roach drops—and went down 0-1 to start. However, Serral tied the series up with an equally impressive victory in game two, using Muta-Ling-Bane to pick apart Reynor's ground-based army before his defenses could become fully entrenched. With the championship on the line in game three, Reynor decided to go for Mutalisks himself. Unfortunately for Reynor, Serral sniffed out this intent in time to go for Corruptor-Roach, which gave him the edge he needed claim the final GG of the series and tournament.
In the post-match interview, Serral coyly dodged questions about whether or not he took his rivalry with Reynor more 'personally' than other matches, but acknowledged that the young Italian had pushed him outside his comfort zone in ZvZ and presented a difficult challenge.
Following the trophy presentation, Serral was invited by tournament organizer Take to make a celebratory dive into the nearby pool. Serral responded in the most Serral-esque way possible, calmly and efficiently stepping into the water—after which he was immediately followed by a by a throng of fans splashing in around him. It was an apt way to end the tournament, as it fulfilled the age-old pact of StarCraft: the players showed good games, and the fans brought their cheer.
Kong? Not for long: While Reynor suffered his third straight runner-up finish after WCS Fall and the 2019 Global Finals, it seems inevitable he'll return to his championship-winning ways in the future. Though Reynor under-performed at a number of earlier international events in 2019, he redeemed himself at the WCS Global Finals by defeating herO, Trap, and Serral on his way to a 2nd place finish. He proved his prowess again at HSC XX, taking playoff wins off Cure (3-2), Zest (3-0), and INnoVation (3-0) to reach the grand finals with a winners bracket advantage. Despite Reynor's finals loss to Serral, their overall record on the year (4-3 in favor of Serral in major tournaments) and content of their games suggests there's barely anything separating the two rivals, with either one capable of triumphing over the other on any given day. While it's unclear what format SC2 esports will take in 2020, one can easily envision Reynor lifting trophies once more.
Deep end of the pool: While the WCS Circuit is undeniably top-heavy, there's considerable depth in the tier beneath Serral and Reynor. Among the Circuit's Global finals representatives, TIME, HeroMarine, and Elazer were unable to survive the group stages at HSC XX. In their place, MaNa, uThermal, and Clem—none of whom came particularly close to BlizzCon contention in 2019—saw themselves making playoff runs.
MaNa was the stand-out player from this group, earning a top eight finish on the back of a series of impressive results. The Polish Protoss defeated SpeCial (3-0) and TaeJa (3-2) in the playoffs, and earned 1-1 ties against INnoVation, Reynor, and PartinG in the group stage. After MaNa's finals run in WCS Austin 2018, it was another example of how one never knows when he could make a surprising underdog run out of nowhere. And it's not just MaNa—that possibilities seems to exist for many players from the Circuit.
Korea Rides Again? 3rd and 4th place in the tournament went to INnoVation and Zest—both players who notably missed the Korean cutoff for the Global Finals. And while they certainly gave encouraging performances, fans should be cautious in interpreting these results. Perhaps they've been reinvigorated by the new patch and will soon return to championship form—or maybe this is just false hope before GSL Ro32 elimination. Given their erratic form and results throughout 2019, either could be the case.
While enthusiasm for Zest was somewhat staid by his 0-3 losses to both Reynor and Serral, INnoVation's performance was more intriguing. He managed to defeat 3-1 in their upper bracket match, a faint callback to his 4-3 victory over Serral in the WESG finals earlier this year. Unfortunately for Terran fans, INnoVation's subsequent 0-3 loss to Serral in their losers bracket rematch dampened hopes for the return of a fully-engaged, fully-powered Machine Terran.
Everything else: We'd be remiss to leave off without mentioning at least a few of the things that happened outside the actual competition at HSC XX. While the tournament was fascinating for anyone looking for a first impression of the new patch, the TakeTV crew put a strong focus on making HSC XX a celebration of everything surrounding the game.
First off, it was held at a gigantic, indoor water park, not-so-subtly sending the message that this was just as much a party as it was a competition. StarCraft luminaries ranging from Mike Morhaime to White-Ra attended in person, while David Kim and MC checked in via internet video. ShoWTimE took home a whopping $2 for winning the 'fastest-one-down-the-waterslide' tournament, while TLO won a more discrete sum at the traditional poker tournament. Tribute videos were made for the greatest stewards of the infamous Krefeld Couch, beginning with the late iNcontroL to kick off the show and moving on to ToD, DeMusliM, and RotterdaM.
Hey Kappa was performed live once more, replete with an 'NASL sound guy' technical error that couldn't have been more perfect if it had been scripted. The celebratory aura was so strong that RotterdaM finally caved in to years of requests for 'shirtless Rotti,' before being quietly upstaged by shirtless Artosis during the closing ceremonies (who provided it gratis without years of fan-clamoring).
I like to imagine there was someone at the Tropical Islands, an outsider to StarCraft but perhaps not to gaming, just looking on in utter confusion. An esports tournament held in a German water park in the middle of November (with an awful lot of Korean being spoken for some reason), with the co-founders of Twitch and Blizzard randomly in attendance, with a live rap performance of an internet meme song, with the head organizer breaking down in tears at least twice before it was all over—Wait, what?
And, said outsider would have wondered aloud "Man, I have no idea what's going, but these guys sure know how to have a helluva good time. I wonder how all this started?" At which point, Take, who happened to be walking by, draped an arm over his shoulder and started to say "Well, it's a long story..."