The regionals portion of DreamHack: Atlanta wrapped up with Clem and Neeb winning their fifth regional EPT championships in their respective competitions of Europe and North America.
With the DreamHack regionals and GSL Code S having concluded, the full list of seeded players at the DreamHack: Atlanta main event (November 18-20) has been completed. The complete list of open bracket players will be finalized close to the start of the event.
For the past three years, the constantly shifting power dynamics at the top of the European scene have been one of StarCraft II's most compelling stories. The DH: Atlanta regional was another thrilling chapter in the ongoing saga, with Clem defeating both Serral and Reynor to claim the championship.
On the surface, it might have seemed like a continuation of Clem's reign from the DH: Valencia regional. However, the summer months between Valencia and Atlanta had seen Serral go on a rampage and look like an utterly dominant player once more. Rather notably, he took a 5-1 victory over Clem in the finals of HomeStory Cup 21. By winning back to back EPT Europe championships, Clem slammed the brakes on a new Serral dynasty and reminded us that European competition remains highly unpredictable at the top.
Clem's prospects of winning the tournament didn't seem good in the earlier rounds of DH: Atlanta. He only finished second place in his round-of-36 group, ceding the first place spot to a fantastic GungFuBanda (the German Protoss earned a career-best top eight finish in the end). This caused Clem to be seeded against Serral in the first round of the playoffs, where Serral seemed to continue his domination from HSC 21 with a convincing 3-1 win.
However, Clem managed to keep his cool and turned crisis into opportunity. Over the last four days of the tournament, he went on a magnificent run through the lower bracket that culminated in 4-3 reverse-sweep victory against Reynor in the grand finals. Clem had perhaps the most difficult lower bracket path possible, having to defeat Lambo (3-1), MaxPax (3-1), and ShoWTimE (3-0) before getting a chance to rematch Serral in the losers' final. That match ended up being a complete 180 turn from their first series in the playoffs, with Clem imposing his will on the Finnish Phenom in a 3-1 victory.
The grand finals against Reynor was a microcosm of Clem's entire tournament run, as he was put in a dire position early on by going down 0-3 (Reynor started with a 1 map advantage due to being the winners' bracket player). Reynor seemed to be playing ZvT at the highest possible level, deflecting all the Terran attacks and finding devastating backdoor attacks to consolidate his leads. However, just as Clem came back through the losers' bracket gauntlet, he came back in the grand finals. The next four games saw Clem show off his own signature strengths, beating the Zerg player down with a barrage of multi-directional attacks. Even Lurkers didn't give Reynor a reprieve, with Clem adding in Ghosts and continuing the onslaught.
Fittingly, the final game on Waterfall was also a comeback victory for Clem. Reynor seemed to stabilize and then take a lead in the mid-game, getting in a painful Baneling attack on a key Terran expansion. However, Clem navigated the perilous situation beautifully and sailed to victory, with multi-directional strikes again being the key.
After the games, Clem credited his improved mindset for helping him win the championship. Being down 0-3 in the finals might have made other players despair, but Clem said he was actually able to play with less pressure when the situation looked nearly hopeless.
The final standings have confirmed Clem, Reynor, Serral, and ShoWTimE as Europe's seeded players at DreamHack: Atlanta. The tournament did not bring a significant change to the EPT: Europe standings—as it stands now, Clem, Reynor, Serral, HeroMarine, Lambo, ShoWTimE, and Elazer would be the region's representatives at IEM Katowice 2023.
As it turns out, even becoming a full-time university student can't stop the greatest North American player of all-time from winning his region. Neeb bulldozed his way through the NA regional in one of his strongest runs yet, beating his key regional rivalsScarlett (3-1) and Astrea (3-1 and 4-2) along the way.
Despite "only playing a couple of games every couple of days" since starting university, Neeb hardly looked rusty at all. In fact, he looked like the stronger macro player against Astrea in the finals, with the Alpha X Protoss only able to take two maps with cheesy strategies.
Asked to explain how he could play so well despite being a full-time student, Neeb implied that the mental focus from studying carried over to StarCraft. That may seem nonsensical to the many fans who have tried to balance academics and their StarCraft II hobby, but there's no arguing with Neeb's results.
Neeb and Astrea are now virtual locks as the North American representatives at IEM Katowice 2023, while Scarlett is a heavy favorite to be the third NA representative.