Photo: Carlton Beener (via Blizzard)
While Finland's Serral has toppled the dreaded Koreans at major tournaments such as the WCS Global Finals and GSL vs. The World, the IEM Katowice trophy has remained out of his grasp. TL.net caught up with the Finnish Phenom ahead of IEM Katowice 2020 to see if he has what it takes to triumph this time around, but also to crack bad jokes about Dark, hats, and a variety of other topics.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
Wax: What have you been up to since HomeStory Cup XX?
Serral: Well I took a break at the end of last year. Basically after HomeStory Cup, I took like two or three weeks off from StarCraft completely. Then, basically after Christmas I started practicing again.But I don't really play online cups anyway, just not really my thing, but I've been practicing lately, a good amount.
Congrats on the T-shirt! You finally have merch.
Well, it's not special merch yet, but maybe something nicer is gonna come later.
Did you help design the logo? Is it actually your signature?
Well, obviously the hat thing is something that I wanted to include, but no, I didn't design it completely myself. I brought a signature on paper, and they changed it a little bit so it's a bit nicer, they straightened up the curves and that kind of stuff.
Isn't it weird to release a shirt with a picture of a hat instead of releasing an actual hat?
Well, making a hat takes way longer, doesn't it?
I don't know?
It's way more complicated.
Have you made a hat?
No, I haven't.
Well, how do you know?
Because I'm an EXPERT on these things.
Are you going on all the hat Reddits and stuff? Looking up all the best hats and only wearing the finest ones?
No, my hats are under $10 each. They aren't the finest ones.
So you're not an expert, you're a hat commoner.
Well, are you saying you need to buy the most expensive hats to be a hat expert?
You don't have to wear them but you should know about a wide range of hats. You only know about the under $10 range of hats.
You said in your latest interview with ENCE that you don't see yourself stopping in the next three years, now that the ESL Pro Tour has been confirmed for that long. Do you still feel the same kind of motivation as before?
I mean, I'm pretty motivated still. Obviously, when I say im going to play for the next three years, it's basically always a bit of a hope since you never really know. I kind of want to go one year at a time and watch how it continues, but obviously that's the goal, that I would be able to play for the next three years. And right now, im pretty motivated to keep going at least.
You're doing fine mentally, but do you feel like you're slowing down physically?
Mmm, I can't say... ...I actually feel a BIT slower nowadays, but not really too much change, yet.
How's the state of the game? Balance-wise, or just in terms of how fun things are.
I don't really know what to say without any big tournaments going on yet, but I don't think too much changed honestly and everything's been pretty similar.
Just, mech's a bit broken, but that's about it. But at the same time, no one plays actually mech, so maybe... I mean, like every time I watch—I'm trying to watch Korean games, right? Because I'm playing against Koreans in [IEM Katowice]. And every time they play mech they win, but they never play mech [that much] at the same time. They so rarely play mech, but they never lose with mech. I don't know why they don't play mech—it makes absolutely zero sense to me. But they just don't play it. But every time they play it, they win, and it's not even close.
And this is exactly my... When I'm thinking about the theory through my head, I don't know how to beat mech. But I still beat it sometimes, and then I watch the replay, and then I see that the enemy made many mistakes, and that's why I won. It's kind of iffy, but it isn't really a problem.
So how does it feel being on the other end? Being the one that can't win when both sides reach end-game armies?
What do you mean? We never could win. We always relied on mistakes, that's Zerg's whole soul. Luckily other people make so many mistakes, or I never would have won anything.
You said you've been watching Korean games, but the top guys like Dark and Maru haven't been playing much at all. Normally you'd have Code S or some GSL to scout with by now. Does that make it harder going into IEM?
Well, it's the same for them as well. I haven't really shown anything, I've been completely [hidden] except for the IEM qualifier. Obviously it's a bit scary, but I don't think there's going to be anything completely unexpected coming out of them. I mean, I'm not really too scared of it, but obviously I need to be bit a bit careful in case there's something interesting coming out.
Solar said he always picked you to win tournaments last year, but said it would be tough for you this time around.
I mean winning's always tough, it's never easy.
Fifty-fifty as usual?
Maybe forty-five with this balance. Five percent because of mech, simply. Well, I mean, I don't even think mech's that broken, but I just wanted to say that I've never seen mech actually lose.
ZvP is pretty much the same, it's just that late game is a bit different. I mean, late game is in a better direction, but it's still kind of similar, honestly. Just no mass Infestors—the mid-game, early game is pretty much the same.
Let's go back to some stuff from BlizzCon. Did you feel particularly bad about the loss to Reynor in the semis, or was it easier to take since you knew it's pretty even between you two?
I mean, I don't think back on it too much anymore, but obviously im a bit sad about that loss. Well, last year I lost actually at the three biggest tournaments, WESG, IEM Katowice and BlizzCon. Yeah, I kind of always lost a bit in a dumb way. Actually the Reynor one was probably the smartest. Like, not the dumbest lost from [those three]. The INnoVation loss in WESG was super dumb, the soO loss was also kind of wasn't really supposed to happen, in my opinion.
Those things... I mean, I still think about them a bit, but I don't really care about them too much anymore, since it's already gone.
Interesting! From a fan point of view, everyone was looking at the Reynor loss as a big throw.
Well, I think it was obviously a slight throw... ...Actually that specific game, the last game: When he was taking his fifth base, at that point I had my Ultras out, and when I was pushing there, I had five Ultras behind my natural wall, stuck behind an evo chamber. And I think I would have actually won the game if the evo chamber wall hadn't been there.
That happened to Jaedong once, but he won the game. Uhhh, nevermind.
I still think... I didn't really throw against soO, obviously he was just kind of playing better that day. But against INnoVation, the last game was kind of dumb, I should have won that easily, I think.
I thought it was interesting that after Dark won, he said in interviews that he was disappointed he didn't get to face you.
Mmm, what do you want me to say? *laughs*
Well, for him, it seems like it's not just about winning the title...
...but proving that he can beat you, since he never beat you...
At IEM Katowice he beat me 3-0.
...in 2017, before you...
I mean, I don't think it matters too much to him honestly. I mean, it wouldn't matter too much to me, at least. But I don't know if it matters to him, honestly, who he beats in the finals.
You're living rent free in his head, you don't think so?
Well I'm not sure what that exactly means.
That you're always on his mind, that you have a kind of psychological edge.
Like I said, I'm not sure if he's thinking about me that much. That's just his interview move, his special move.
It's all for fun, for show?
Well, not for fun, but you just need to be confident in interviews and say 'I would have wanted to beat him in the finals', that's how it has to be.
Who's good these days? Who's gotten better ahead of IEM Katowice?
I mean it's the standard people who have the best hopes, but from the improving guys, Clem has been improving the most for sure. And I think he has a pretty good shot, but at the same time, tournaments are always about other things than just being good.
Like what other things?
Well, not dying to dumb stuff. I think that's what the Europeans lose to most of the time. They kind of just fall apart, and die to the dumbest of things in tournament play.
So it's not just about being good—it's not being bad.
Any final comments or shoutouts?
Well, shoutouts to all the fans. Let's make a nice a nice IEM Katowice and have a fun time there.
Also, come to my meet-and-greet at Assembly Winter this Saturday. I'll be there at 2:00 PM Finnish local time.
Take a picture with Serral, shake his hand, ask him for Zerg tips. Maybe he'll actually give you advice!
I mean, I always give advice to people.
Isn't it usually just "don't die?"
That's pretty good advice, isn't it?
You can follow Serral and Ence on Twitter at @ENCE_Serral and ENCE.