Cool Things From 2019:by Ziggy
ASUS ROG and Assembly Embrace SC2 Once More
I'm not going to beat about the bush—recent history has proven it's easier to quit StarCraft II than stick around. Korean pros have left for the military with hardly any successors to fill their shoes, teams have dropped their SC2 rosters, and even Blizzard's support seems to be dwindling. If you had asked me—a semi-pro with a modest degree of competitive experience—how things were looking for the SC2 scene around July, I'd most likely have given you a tongue-in-cheek quip about how I should have invested my time in Dota2 or League. But then, ASUS ROG at Assembly Summer came back as a major tournament, and I realized, 'hey, maybe it's not all doom and gloom after all.''
I have to be careful not to oversell the significance of ASUS ROG/Assembly's return as a premier-tier tournament for the first time since 2015 (it kept being held as a smaller, local LAN). After all, with a $25k prize pot and no accommodation or travel support for the majority of competitors, it was certainly a smaller tournament than IEM Katowice, GSL Code S, or even a WCS Circuit championship.
But you know what? I'm glad that's the case. I'm glad the event was run by someone else than Blizzard, ESL, or the usual suspects. Because it was a standalone event that didn't have the notion of 'how we've always done things,' and maybe because it didn't have the restrictions of being a heavily Blizzard-branded event (yes, I know ALL these events are technically Blizzard-licensed), ASUS ROG had the liberty to be different.
It felt 'professional' without having to sell us the idea that it was, while at the same being casual and not having to force that either. The broadcast had all the meticulous polish of a top-tier tournament—at the level you'd expect from a flagship Blizzard or ESL production. At the same time, the organizers seemed like they were trying to deliver an experience that they themselves would enjoy, and not delivering a product for some faceless client or sponsors. Downtime was kept to a minimum, and pros were liberally invited to join the casting desk and liven things up. There was ample room for pros to banter and also provide insight, giving them a chance to participate in more than just a competitive capacity. No, it wasn't quite the legendary Assembly Summer 2012 tournament—2GD and InControl cracking mum jokes at each other? Yeah, go ahead and try saying ‘you can’t die from c**k, Geoff’ during an esports broadcast in 2019—but ASUS ROG 2019 was (almost) everything an esports tournament should be.
Some will undoubtedly point to the twenty-episode fun palace that is HomeStory Cup at this point. And while I agree that the TakeTV gang are second to none in delivering outside-the-game content, and I look forward to the air of levity that permeates each and every HSC event, the wallflower in me can’t help but dismiss it as a 'serious' esports tournament. After all, it doesn't seem like playing StarCraft is the first priority for many of the players at HSC (except for the Koreans, minus Stats). The point I’m trying to make is that finding the right balance between 'casual' and 'professional' isn’t as easy as it seems, if such a thing even exists at all (or, in other words, you can’t please everyone). But, at least for me, I thought ASUS ROG hit a homerun.
I'm quietly hoping Assembly sets a precedent for other organizations to return or increase their SC2 presence, or even convince orgs with no prior StarCraft II experience to finally give it a go. While ASUS ROG Summer was smaller than WCS Circuit stop, tournaments of this scale used to be the norm back during the heyday of SC2 (a typical DreamHack, IEM, or MLG was about the same size). As viewers, it's hard to know the answer to 'was the event financially worth it to the organizer?', but hats off off to ASUS ROG/Assembly for stepping back in and at least asking the question. Should they choose to host another major event in 2020, I'll take it as more proof that StarCraft II tournaments can still be worth the investment, even if it's not the newest or hottest game in the world.
With all that meta-esports talk out of the way, ASUS ROG Summer also proved to be a much needed breath of fresh air in terms of StarCraft II gameplay as well. With how Zerg-dominated the 2019 season turned out to be, it's not an overstatement to say a non-ZvZ final by itself is a highlight. While Zerg dominance only got worse after August, I feel like ASUS ROG Summer helped lift a stagnant metagame out of swamp. Each round boasted a comparably balanced racial spread, bar the slight Terran shortage—I did say ASUS ROG was only almost perfect. Still, the Terran players that survived managed to blow the roof off. Yes, I’m talking about that TIME versus Serral series from the Ro8—do yourself a favor and give it a watch if you haven’t, as words don’t fully do justice to how solid of a performance the Chinese up-and-comer treated us to.
There was one MAJOR slip-up: Not archiving any official VODs.
While that Bo5 did end with Serral reigning supreme, seeing the Finnish Phenom get dizzied and put on the ropes by a non-Korean, non-Reynor player was a welcome change of pace. Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back on the series, I have a feeling TIME had a real shot at lifting the trophy if had he not thrown his lead in game one on Cyber Forest. What I found most impressive was the wide spectrum of playstyles TIME utilized, and actually seemed genuinely comfortable playing. Players who don't win the championship often fly under the radar, even if they're flying high—TIME is a prime example. He’s been good for a while now, but to receive broader recognition, he might yet need to be ‘the best’, even if just once. Breaking out in StarCraft is hard—admire those who try their hardest to get there.