After three weeks of matches, the regional championships of Dreamhack Masters Summer have come to a close! In Europe, Reynor bested his rival Serral to reclaim the throne, while in North America, Neeb quelled the upstart Astrea to continue his reign.
For the first two weeks of Masters Summer, keeping the status quo was the theme as favorites prevailed in four regions. SpeCial won his seventh straight title in Latin America, while Has achieved the same feat in Taiwan. Also, TIME came out on top in China, while RiSky won in Oceania. Serral looked like he was on course to continue that trend in Europe, with his nemesis Reynor slumping ever since losing in the finals of BlizzCon 2019 (even North American champion Neeb commented on Reynor's recent decline). While Serral also had recent moments of weakness—most notably being eliminated from TeamLiquid Starleague 5 with ZvZ losses to Reynor and Elazer—his overall form in 2020 looked to be superior to that of any of his European peers. Once Serral defeated Reynor 3-2 in the upper-bracket of Masters Summer, he seemed like he would cruise to yet another European title.
However, Reynor flipped the script in the final two days of the tournament. Down in the losers bracket, he swept both MaNa and HeroMarine 3-0, and then iced the red-hot Clem 3-1 in the losers final to earn a rematch against Serral. Reynor was undaunted by Serral's one-map winners bracket advantage in the grand finals, and took an emphatic 4-2 victory (4-1 in actual games played) over the Finnish Phenom to emerge as the European champion once more. Reynor's victory tied his head-to-head record vs Serral in grand finals at 3-3, and reaffirmed that European championships were still a two-man race.
Third place finisher Clem had his best showing in a major tournament yet, proving his success in ESL Open Cups wasn't just smoke and mirrors. His close, five-game loss to Serral in the winners bracket was particularly impressive. However, his tournament run did end with back-to-back losses to Serral and Reynor—until Clem's results prove otherwise, he's still the best of the rest, leading the pack of players chasing the two dominant Zergs of the region.
Fourth place went to HeroMarine, another monster in the weekly ESL Open cups. Though he had prior success against Reynor in some earlier 2020 competitions (including those ESL Opens), he wasn't at all capable of denting the reinvigorated Reynor and his Lurker-based TvZ style. In any case, Clem and HeroMarine may soon have a chance to challenge Europe's top Zergs again, as they'll be joining Reynor and Serral in the Dreamhack Masters Summer Season Finals.
For fans who are hopeful for a European victory in this ersatz "GSL vs. The World" tournament, things are looking up. In the post-finals interview, Reynor said he felt like he was playing at his highest level ever, even better than when he came in second place at BlizzCon. Speaking about overcoming his slump, he credited both increased ladder practice and a change in mindset. Apparently for Reynor, perception is indeed reality, as he said "when I think I'm playing good, I just start playing good—for me it's usually the mindset that makes me change."
Masters North America also told the story of a past champion coming back from a slump. Like Reynor, Neeb had given fans reason to doubt his form in 2020, putting in poor performance in several competitions (notably, open bracket elimination at IEM Katowice). But, in Neeb's case, there was no obvious successor to his regional throne. Scarlett was in relatively good form with two GSL RO16 qualifications, but had a historically poor record against Neeb. Astrea and Future had emerged as new powerhouses in the region, but didn't quite have the resumes to present themselves as Neeb's equals.
And, thus, Neeb ended up proving that the North American scene still runs through him (sans SpeCial, due to ESL/Blizzard's rather convenient classification of Mexico into Latin America). Though the rising stars Future and Astrea made their mark by tag-teaming to eliminate Scarlett, neither was able to triumph over Neeb in their matches. Astrea came closest in his initial winners bracket match against Neeb, narrowly losing 2-3. However, Neeb seemed to learn from that match, and took a convincing 4-1 victory over Astrea in the grand finals.
It was a victory that had some fans saying "Neeb is back"—Neeb himself might argue he never went anywhere. Certainly, he expressed as much confidence in his post-match interview, suggesting that besides the European Zerg duo of Serral and Reynor, there was no one who particularly worried him in the Season Finals.
We'll soon learn if that confidence is well-founded. The line-up for the DreamHack Masters Summer Finals is now finalized, with sixteen players from both the Korean and non-Korean scenes set to battle it out for $57,000 in prize money. The Season Finals will be held between July 16-19, with a GSL-style group stage leading into an eight-player playoff bracket.
Grand Finals Match Recaps
Commentator RotterdaM noted that Reynor's victory over Serral in the Masters Summer might have been his most impressive one yet, and there's certainly a case to be made to that end. Reynor began the series with a solid win on Ever Dream, where the two rivals decided to feel each other out with mirroring moves. They stared each other down as they went up to four bases, teching up to Roach-Ravager armies while preparing Baneling drops at the exact same time (a recurring pattern in their past matches). This time around, Reynor proved to be the superior multi-tasker, with his Baneling drops inflicting far more damage than Serral's. That was enough to tip the scales in Reynor's favor, and he finished Serral off with Roaches and Ravagers.
Serral opted to bring out the cheese in game two on Golden Wall, going for a twelve-pool Zergling rush—expanding behind it rather than going for offensive Spine-Crawler variation. Reynor was able to execute a solid defense against the early Zerglings, losing some Drones but coming out with a slight advantage on balance—mostly in terms of gas mined. Both players took their Gold Mineral expansions, and there their paths diverged: Serral opted to skip Zergling speed and went straight to Roaches, while Reynor went for the typical flood early-mid game Speedlings. Serral was playing a dangerous game trying to use a small number of Roaches against the master of Zergling runbys, and he ended up paying for it. Reynor's focus was razor sharp, and he used the exact moment Serral opened up his natural wall to execute one of his signature speedling runbys. This gave Reynor even more of an advantage has he prepared a +1 carapace Speedling-Ravager composition—the perfect counter to Serral's coming +1 Roach all-in. Serral's attack was completely crushed, and he GG'd out of the game
Though Serral was down 1-2, he wasn't dissuaded for going for another aggressive strategy on Deathaura. After both players took three bases to start, Serral drew the sword once more with a Roach-Bane-Ling attack off forty Drones. While Serral's forces killed off over 20 of Drones before Reynor managed to hold, Reynor's initial greed meant that the two players ended up in an oddly even-ish situation.
After this soft reset, Serral teched up to Spire for Mutalisks, while Reynor stuck with a ground-based force. Serral's handful of Mutalisks didn't get much harassment done, but they ended up being quite useful if only because they removed Reynor's Overlord vision on the map. When Reynor gathered his Hydra-Roach-Ravager army to move out, Serral was able to maneuver his Roaches for a perfect backdoor attack. For Reynor, returning to defend or pressing on with his attack were both painful options, and he opted for the latter. While Reynor made an impressive amount of headway against Serral's defending Lurkers, he couldn't quite break through and was forced to surrender the game.
With the score tied 2-2, the two players headed to Eternal Empire for their next clash. This time the two players reverted to the passive macro pattern from game one, closely mirroring each other while going up to four bases on either side of the map. Their tech options diverged at Lair, with Reynor making Spire for a brief Mutalisk detour, while Serral opted to make a beeline to Hive tech. Serral's fast tech turned out to be a bit too ambitious—not only did he struggle to defend cleanly against the Reynor's Mutalisk and Speedling harassment, but he was also woefully unprepared for the mass Roach-Ravager attack Reynor was scheming behind it. That follow-up attack sealed the game for Reynor, putting him one map away from the championship.
Reynor proceeded to close Serral out on Ice & Chrome in the longest game of the series. The early game followed a similar outline to the previous game, with both players macroing up to four bases, Reynor going Spire, and Serral going for quick Hive tech. Only this time, Reynor decided to stay on Muta-Ling for a bit longer, getting +1 air attack and adding Banelings to his composition.
Four bases proved too hard for Serral to hold safely against Reynor's hyper-mobile army, and Serral was eventually forced to give up his fourth base. This put Serral in a terrible position, with Reynor seizing total map control, taking additional expansions, and Droning up with complete impunity. Serral was left with no option but to turtle hard with Hydra-Lurker-Roach and play for the late game, but Reynor refused to take his foot off the gas. With a considerable economy advantage, Reynor could afford to slam Banelings into Serral's fourth base, setting him back to a three-base economy once more.
By the time Serral had stabilized on four bases, Reynor had already finished his complete transition into a matching Lurker-Hydra-Viper army, but with a significantly better economy behind it. Still, Reynor seemed to recall the times Serral had piloted the Zerg Hive-army to incredible comebacks against him, and played his lead out with sufficient caution. Reynor refused to allow any miracles—he used his superior bank to take good trades, wore Serral out, and eventually forced the final GG.
Game one on Eternal Empire was what can only be described as a "crazy macro game." It was the best game of the NA tournament, and was even good enough to convince some PvP haters to change their minds. After some typical early game PvP shenanigans, the game developed into a mid-game battle of positioning between armies of Disruptors and supporting Stalkers. Astrea broke the deadlock by slyly teching up to Carriers, giving him an aerial threat that didn't have to fear instant annihilation from purification novas. Astrea used this advantage to slowly exert more control over the map, taking over crucial, contested expansions. However, Astrea's Carriers would become the reason for his downfall in the end. While Neeb had ceded much ground, he was able to eke out some Tempests to give him the ultimate ultimate long-range attrition composition. Neeb patiently chipped away at Astrea with his range advantage, and was ultimately able to wring a GG from Astrea's hands at the end of a 36 minute brawl.
Neeb went for an abrupt change of pace in game two on Golden Wall, proxying a Robo and a Gateway for an all-in attack. However, the suspicious Astrea successfully scouted out the attack and prepared accordingly. After a successful defense, it was all too easy for Astrea to snowball his superior economy to a victory.
Game three on Ice and Chrome saw the two players clash in another late-game macro match, this time with Astrea bringing Archon-Immortal-Chargelot-Phoenix against Neeb's Stalker-Disruptor composition. Once again, Neeb's sneaky switch to Tempest tech ended up being the key to victory, as he completely nullified Astrea's own switch to Colossus tech.
Down 1-3, it was now Astrea's turn to gamble with a proxy strategy on Ever Dream. Astrea opted for a proxy-Gateway for early game Stalker pressure, but expanded behind it to keep his options open. This early game gambit didn't quite go the way Astrea wanted it, as he was unable to stop Neeb's expansion while he lost 6 Probes to a sneaky Adept back at home.
Astrea transitioned to Disruptors, looking for the huge purification nova hits that might get him back into the game. Meanwhile, Neeb went for the more conventional Chargelot-Archon-Immortal composition, and sensing a chance to finish Astrea off, cut Probes to go for a kill-move. However, this move backfired when Astrea's audacious forward-Blink onto Neeb's key Warp Prism stopped the attack in its tracks. With a Probe advantage, Astrea looked like he had a window to get back into the game.
Unfortunately, the tables quickly shifted back into Neeb's favor. A Zealot runby from Neeb quickly equalized the Probe count yet again, while Astrea risky move out onto the map was punished as well. Astrea simply couldn't protect his crucial Disruptors from being picked off by Neeb's forces, and the loss of two Disruptors and a Warp Prism pushed the game beyond the point of no return. Astrea GG'd out, finally ceding the Masters NA title to Neeb.