Finland Wins NationWars 2019by Wax
Serral led Finland to the NationWars 2019 championship, scoring four of five victories in Finland's 5-3 triumph over South Korea in the live finals in O'Gaming's Paris studio. The Finnish ace concluded his brilliant tournament run by taking two wins each off INnoVation and Stats, ending the tournament with a combined 24-2 record. Finland also received a surprise contribution from the ZhuGeLiang, who scored an upset against soO in the finals.
The first three games, or Proleague portion of the best-of-nine finals began with Serral taking out INnoVation by hitting hard at the Terran's weak timing during a BC-to-mech transition, ripping through porous defenses with a swarm of roaches, ravagers, and corruptors. Korea was quick to recover a point, with Stats casually shutting down a cannon-rush from Finland's dedicated cheeser TheMusZero. Many expected ZhuGeLiang to be more easy pickings for the Korean side, but the Finnish Zerg proved he was anything but a glorified cheerleader by out-muscling soO in a Roach-Ravager war.
The 'all-kill' half of the finals began with Korea repaying the favor and surprising the Finns, as Stats overpowered Serral in what was more or less a straight-up macro game. Serral found himself in the unfamiliar position where his roach-ravager-baneling army was NOT dominating the Protoss forces as he made his transition to hive, and Stats able to finish his foe off before an invincible late-game army could be assembled. ZhuGeLiang was sent out next for the Finnish side, but everything went as expected this time around with Stats winning easily after dealing heavy early game damage with oracles and adepts.
With the Koreans up 3-2, Finland opted to bypass TheMusZero and moved directly to using Serral's sole 'revive' (double revives were removed in the revised NW rules). Taking the new format into account, this effectively meant the revived Serral would have to go a perfect 3-0 for Finland to win the championship, with no second chances remaining except a miracle ace match victory by ZhuGeLiang or TheMusZero. Fortunately for Finland, Serral handled the high-pressure situation in his usual manner: by not being fazed at all.
Having learned his lesson from his earlier loss, Serral adjusted his game and smashed Stats when he went for a similar game plan. Facing INnoVation next, Serral completely picked apart his opponent's mech with mass vipers to put Finland up 4-3 and force Korea to send out their ace. That duty ultimately fell upon Stats—one of the few Koreans with relatively sustained success against Serral—but he was unable to repeat his previous upset. Serral outplayed Stats in the mid-game once more, ravaging his economy with runbys and baneling drops en route to a one-sided victory.
Foregone Conclusions and Alternate OutcomesIn hindsight, it might feel like Finland's victory was a foregone conclusion, one determined the moment the rosters and rules were announced back in August. But that would be giving far too little credit to Reynor and his multiple victories over Serral in high-stakes matches this year. Indeed, Finland's toughest challenge may actually have been its semifinal match against Italy, where Serral just happened to best Reynor this time around (even if this was a rare clash where the games looked largely one-sided). If you ran this bracket back one-hundred times, I feel like we'd seeing Italy advance to the finals at decent amount of the time.
And if Italy did reach the finals, who's to say Reynor couldn't have taken his country all the way to the championship?Sure, there's no ZhuGeLiang (who's had some pro-level success in the past) on Italy to score an upset, meaning Reynor would have to basically go 5-1 or 5-0. But this was hardly the fearsome Korean side we expected back in August, when Stats had just taken out Serral at Assembly Summer, and INnoVation and soO still had some of their championship aura left over from IEM and WESG. No, this Korean side looked much diminished from then, and had barely won 4-3 over Canada in the quarterfinals. A Reynor all-kill—if unlikely—would hardly have been out of the question (if anything, Reynor could have called his old landlord NoRegreT for tips).
The Kids Are AlrightLike HSC XX before it, NW2019 mostly reaffirmed what we already knew. Serral is good. Reynor is good. Korea is still pretty good, even when they suck (somehow). At the same time, NW2019 also gave us a small glimpse of the what the future might bring.
For better or for worse, 2019 was one of the least variable years on the WCS Circuit, with a small group of players regularly placing high at every event. TIME was the only real 'surprise' on the year, edging his way into the top eight in multiple tournaments (I'm counting Reynor as a 2018 breakout).
And while the Serral-Reynor duopoly looked too strong to be toppled, NW2019 hinted at where upheaval might come from in 2020. Clem was one of the stand-out performers of the tournament, leading France to a fourth place finish with a 15-6 record in the tournament. And while he couldn't overcome Reynor in the 3rd/4th place match, he managed to take a game off the Italian ace with stylish, hyper-aggressive bio play, and nearly battle-meched his way to triumph in a rematch (Reynor closed it out for the Italians).
Croatia's Goblin showed he's not just the indie act that only RotterdaM has heard about ("maybe later" we said, as he offered us the mix-tape for the 20th time), joining Stats in being one of only two players to defeat Serral in the entire tournament. He also scored three wins vs Poland in the group stage, but fell one win short of an all-kill to advance Croatia to the playoffs.
And while it was just two up-and-comers who really stood out (shout out to Skillous, I guess), one could say two is a lot in the big picture of things. After all, Neeb, Serral, and Reynor arrived in a slow trickle starting in 2016, but gradually ended up drastically changing the face of foreign StarCraft. And before they had their breakthrough moments, few would have dared predict they've enjoy so much competitive success.
Of course, I have to repeat the same old words of caution about over-hyping anyone over a mostly online tournament. The MarineLorD corollary applies: MarineLord never lived up to the GIGA-hype of all-killing Korea to win Nation Wars III for Korea, despite becoming a very good player and France's #1 for some time.
But, then again, if we were cautious about hype, it would defeat the entire of purpose of hype and fandom in general, wouldn't it? So, until the next major offline event, we might as well go out into the internet and talk up Hellraiser, Goblin, Reynor, Clem, Skillous, NoRegret, ButAlways, and anyone who entertained us for a game.
Fussing Over Formats: NationWars is FineTying into the 'inevitability' of Finland's win, some fans were critical of the NationWars format, which seemed rather individual-centric for what was ostensibly a team tournament. Indeed, even with modified rules that introduced a 'Proleague-style' portion to begin each series, it still left the door open for a super-ace player to all-kill. Serral carrying Finland to the title with a 24-2 really drove that point home.
Personally, I think don't think there was so much a format problem with NationWars as there was a roster problem. Many teams, including two of the best in Italy and Finland, had extremely lop-sided rosters where the non-ace players were so far detached from the competitive sphere that they earned zero WCS Circuit points 2019. When that's the case, the matches are always going to suck in some way, regardless of the format.
Let's think about what Finland vs Italy would have been like in a true, KeSPA Proleague style best-of-five. First off, you'd have to suffer through even more matches between the non-ace players. Remember all those CreatorPrime vs MVP.Super matches everyone skipped over? We'd see even more of those, but with basically amateur players. Even worse, depending on the line-ups, the match could end without Serral vs Reynor happening at all. People look back at Proleague with rose-colored glasses and think about the epic ace-matches, but tend to overlook all the 3-0's and 3-1's where the aces never met (or didn't even play at all in some 3-0's).
On the other hand, any all-kill or hybrid all-kill format cheapens the 'team' aspect of a teamleague, as we saw in NW2019. But despite that drawback, it at least guarantees a clash between the aces, which is a major draw in these kinds of tournaments. O'Gaming can't magically strengthen the Finnish or Italian SC2 scenes overnight (though one could argue hosting NW provides an indirect boost), but at least they can deliver Serral vs Reynor.
Basically, when you say you want Proleague, what you might really mean is that you want all the countries to have a deep pool of evenly matched, pro-level players. But that's something we all want, regardless of format, regardless of tournament, and regardless of game.
Credits and acknowledgements
Written by: Wax
Written by: Wax