Making a list like this was always problematic. With nearly 5 years of gameplay there is a huge amount of information to parse. First, there is prestige of a tournament, measuring and making judgements on the GSL as compared to international LANS, tournament formats, and paths taken to the Championships. Next, the player’s level relative to the time must be considered with several caveats: the increased talent pool in modern times, the mass migration of KeSPA pros, and then the mass retirement of former KeSPA players and ESF players. Consistency over a long period of time as compared to peak/clutch has often been considered one of the most important measures, but their effect on the game itself is equally important. We must consider the innovation and creativity they used to make strategies as well as the refinement of pre-existing strategies, the meta in which they played and the outside factors they had to face during their reigns.
Another thing to keep in mind is the tiering of tournaments. A basic guideline is Blizzcons(Only 2013+) > GSL > OSL/SSL/Kespa Cup/WCS (2012 KR)/WCG KR/Blizzcon 2011 > International Tournaments. Blizzcon is at the highest because after 2013 it became the end all for the year, increasing the amount of pressure to win it. GSL is next as it has had the best format since Jan 2011, has the most preparation per round and has the best competition. The format and amount of players is what puts it slightly above the other Korean LANs like OSL, SSL, KeSPA/Hot6ix Cup, WCS KR 2012 and WCG KR. International tournaments are roughly below them, though depending on the player pool it can go all the way up being very close to GSL levels of prestige if many top players attended the event.
It is inevitable that many will argue for or against the inclusion or exclusion of certain players in the overall top 15 depending on what criteria you’ve used to judge their placing. However, as there is no definitive list to argue for or against, this is my attempt to codify a list of the all time greats as of this very moment.
You can read part 1 here: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/starcraft-2/500799-the-greatest-foreigners-of-all-time-part-1
You can read part 2 here: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/starcraft-2/501283-the-greatest-foreigners-of-all-time-part-2
You can read more about my criteria here: http://www.teamliquid.net/blogs/482944-the-process-of-creating-the-top-15-greatest-list
#5 | Scarlett, The Heiress of NA
- Top 4 WCS NA S2 2013
- Top 8 WCS NA S3 2013
- Top 8 Iron Squid 2
- Top 4 HSC IX
- 4th MLG Anaheim 2014
- 6th Red Bull Washington
- 3rd Red Bull NY
- Top 8 IEM Singapore 2013
- 2nd ASUS Northcon
- 1st RB BG NA
“Really?” - DRG moments after Scarlett chose Protoss in G3 of their MLG series
Scarlett was NA’s last hope just like Luke was for Obi-Wan. The CA/American region had never had the depth of the EU scene and it wasn’t until Scarlett’s break out at IPL that NA had a new potential Championship class player to talk about. So eventually when Idra and HuK’s peaks started to fade away, Scarlett was destined to be the Heiress to NA.
Which made sense in a way. While she never fulfilled the same role that Idra did, in terms of gameplay Scarlett was in many ways a superior Idra. She had equal or stronger mechanics (relative to their time periods) that was specialized in ZvT, particularly Zerg vs Bio. But she also had the patience to play long drawn out BL/infestor games. On top of that her ZvP was much stronger. They both played very economical greedy openers in every matchup and they both had trouble with the super aggressive 2 base Protoss attack style players like Daisy or PartinG.
Both of them even had their best career games against Bomber. Idra’s was at MLG, Scarlett’s at Red Bull. That was where the similarities ended however. Scarlett didn’t have any ragequit issues. She was completely fine with talking about the “brokenness” of Protoss, but accepted it as a reality that was a part of the game. Beyond that she focused more on creep spread as she recognized the importance of map presence more than many foreigners who found it a taxing chore.
She also inherited the role of Canada’s greatest player from HuK, though their personalities couldn’t be any different. HuK was a show man. He was loud, rambunctious, well-spoken and mischievous. When Scarlett started, Hot_Bid had to spend hours trying to pry words out of her mouth through volumes of awkward silence. And while the years seemed to have made her more social, she is still on the quiet side on camera, though much more well spoken. As far as I could tell the only thing the two shared was that they both 7 gated a GSL Champion (Sniper and DRG respectively).
When she finally retired from a lack of interest in the game, the role of NA’s hopes would strangely fall on a boy named Hitman, but that’s another story.
Difference between Scarlett and Sen:
While Sen was active for longer, Scarlett’s peak consistency was stronger lasting for about 1.5 years (though she wasn’t the strongest of the foreigners, that probably went to NaNiwa and Snute in 2013/2014.) But she was still a championship level foreign player and her overall runs were stronger than Sen’s.
#4 | HuK, All-in on SC2
- Top 8 GSL Code A 2011
- Top 8 GSL Code S August
- 7th MLG Anaheim
- 1st MLG Orlando
- 3rd MLG Winter Arena
- 1st DH Summer 2011
- 7th MLG Raleigh
- 3rd MLG Winter Arena
- 1st MLG Raleigh
- 3rd MLG DC
- 3rd RB Atlanta
- 3rd IEM American Championship
- 1st HSC III
“Without Starcraft, I think I’d be dead, on drugs or in jail.” - HuK on how SC2 impacted his life.
Two of the first statements that I ever heard HuK utter were, “I want to be the next Lim Yo-Hwan of SC2,” and “Top 3 Control.” Both were seen as controversial statements at the time, but for me they encapsulated a lot of what HuK was about when he first entered the SC2 scene in 2010. He had big ambitions and believed he had the skills to back them up. He didn’t want to just be big, he wanted to be the biggest. And not in the same way as the traditional pro.
After all, while Boxer was a legend, he was rarely first in line in discussions of the Greatest Player of All Time. Experts put names like Flash, NaDa, Jaedong and iloveoov before Boxer, yet the Emperor's influence could not be denied. That's because Boxer was the first to have such a large impact on the game and an impact on his entire scene and esports in Korea as a whole.
And while his first year of play wasn’t close to as dominant as what Boxer did in BW, it was incredibly impressive. Multiple championships and top placings in international tournaments, a Ro8 in GSL, consistently playing and defeating top foreign and Korean players, winning one of the big events of that year in MLG Orlando and a consensus belief that he was either Top 2 or 3 Protoss in the world along with MC and HerO. The results kept coming in until about mid 2012 where several things had happened. The onslaught of BL/infestor came into the meta, the game had become much more figured out and refined on all levels and HuK was burned out after having traveled to almost every single international event.
From that time period alone, HuK won his slot as one of the greatest foreigners to have ever played the game. But one of the most interesting things about HuK was that he never even thought of retiring. After a great player is finished with their run, the majority of them retire. In HuK’s case he kept sticking with it because he is in a sense All-in on SC2. Not just as a player, but also as a community member.
Among top pro players there are very few in both the foreign scene and the Korean scene that take their duty as a representative of the scene quite as seriously as HuK. The only other one I can think of is actually MC (which is incidentally why I think it’s both funny and fitting that they team together in archon mode).
HuK does a lot of everything. But if I had to characterize it, it would be comfort in inefficiency. What I mean is HuK’s builds aren’t all particularly super refined down to the last mineral, second or placement. The thing is he can do refined builds, but for whatever reason he seems to play worse with them as compared to his less efficient builds. As far his early success, I think it came from a few factors. He had better control, he was more comfortable playing the game his own way than the majority of the opponents he played against were in playing against him. He was also aggressive, something which a lot of players had trouble dealing with in the first year of WoL.
Difference between HuK and Scarlett:
HuK just had too many results overall and bigger impact wins relative to his time. This outweighed the fact that Scarlett had played in a more difficult era with the equivalent time of peak consistency.
#3 | Snute, Breaking Glass Ceilings
- Top 6 WCS NA S2 2013
- Top 8 WCS EU S1 2014
- Top 8 IEM Shenzhen 2014
- Top 8 IEM Toronto
- Top 8 WCS 2015
- Top 8 DH Bucharest 2013
- Top 8 HSC X
- Top 8 IEM San Jose
- Top 8 DH Winter 2012
- 1st HSC VI
- 2nd HSC VII
- Top 8 RB Detroit
- Top 8 IEM Shenzhen 2015
- Top 8 DH Stockholm 2015
- 2nd WEC
- Top 4 DH Moscow
- Top 4 Gfinity Masters 1
- 2nd Kung Fu Cup #1 2015
- Top 4 Gfinity G3
- 1st TakeTV Invitational
- 1st Seat Story Cup
- 2nd Millenium Show Cup
- 2nd Gigabyte 2013
- 1st ESET Masters 2013
- 2nd Campus Party Europe
“I've reached my limit. I can’t get any better.” - Snute in 2011 after beating Demuslim for the first time.
"I think it's highly likely possible to live off [progaming] in Norway, too, if you try hard enough. But the road is long and you'd have to be incredibly dedicated to StarCraft in order to get there. It's not for wussies." - Snute in 2011, when asked if it was possible to live off gaming.
Getting better at SC2 or any field of study/competition is a very complex and intangible thing. There are no milestones. Everyone understands that the more effort you put into practice, the more you should get out of it. The more you study the more you should learn. But in SC2 effort does not always pay off. Kas probably played the most ladder games of anyone but he only ever got a few results. Stephano was renowned for not practicing and he is widely regarded as one of the great champions of SC2 history. Fans tell foreigners all the time that all they need to do is to practice more. Yet many of them practice an equivalent or an even higher amount than the Koreans.
One of the BW coaches once said that what divided the good players and the greatest players in the end was talent as there was only so much pure effort you could put into the game. That is what makes Snute’s story all the more interesting.
Snute for my money wasn’t especially talented. I saw random bits and pieces of his games back in 2011. In fact one of the first SC2 articles I ever wrote was covering Snute in that ONOG Invitational where I saw him do a lot of aggressive baneling busts. If I had to describe Snute’s career, it was the everlasting grind. And each time he increased his skill in some tangible way, he’d hit a wall. He couldn't beat Demuslim or Kas or Beastyqt. But like Roland from the Dark Tower, he kept grinding away at the problem over and over and over. And each time he’d hit bigger and larger obstacle in his path. He wasn’t like a lot of others on the list because once they hit a certain point they’d shoot up straight to the top. In Snute’s case he had to fail. Because only in his failure did he learn how to succeed, to win.
Snute would keep practicing until he could win locals. Till he could get to GM. Till he could start qualifying for tournaments. The pivotal moment was when he reached WCG 2011. In a post tournament interview, Snute said
"I have thought several times in the past that I couldn't become better, but every time I proved myself wrong" and "when I was at WCG I promised a Korean friend of mine that I would beat MVP next year, so that's obviously goal number one. Goal number two is to become the best foreign Zerg, and the ultimate goal is to become the best player in the world. There is no other mindset.”
The Road Snute envisioned was probably even longer and harder to walk than he had expected. He won his first Premier event in 2012 at HSC VI, but in the coming year after going full-time he realized that there were even more obstacles to overcome. While Snute never did get the chance to beat Mvp, by 2014 he had become the best foreign Zerg. And in that year and the next he proved his skill by defeating both top foreigners and top Koreans. In some cases he’d beat the Koreans at the peak of their skills like at IEM Shenzhen 2015 after he beat both Rain and Classic in the group stages, both of whom had just recently won Starleague titles in Korea.
However for Snute, the path has been ever lasting. Of all the foreigners on this list, he is the only one I could say without any doubt could beat a GSL Champion days after the GSL Champ’s inauguration to the throne. The last hurdle Snute has to overcome is the hardest. The ability to close out series, to close out tournaments and to do so against the best competition in the world. Something no foreigner has ever done since Stephano. I’m not sure whether he will succeed or fail in the last leg of his journey, but either way I can say without a doubt that Snute is one of the Greatest foreigners to have ever played the game.
Snute reminds me in many ways of a Zerg version of 2012 Rain. From 2012-2014 he had a very strong ideal late game he would always try to get to by playing safely, and despite any disadvantageous taken from the earlier parts of the game, he would play it out and try to win from there. This all crumbled however when swarmhosts were nerfed and Zerg no longer had a theoretically perfect late game, causing Snute to stumble until he found a unique solution that he unveiled in his matches against Rain and Classic at IEM Shenzhen 2015 where he was given the nickname, “The Onion Zerg.” If there is a fundamental flaw in Snute’s play, it is that he is never able to close out the latter stages of the biggest tournaments despite beating the heavy favorite to win in the earlier parts of the bracket.
Difference between Snute and HuK:
Snute has had a larger consistent peak with more results against more opponents over a longer period of time. Yes HuK had some big wins, but the breadth and depth of Snute’s career made too much of a difference, especially when you add in that he played in a harder era had his style broken down twice (at the end of WoL and the Swarmhost nerf) and was still able to keep at a level where he could (and did) upset GSL/SSL Champions.
#2 | Naniwa, Me Against the World
- Top 4 Blizzcon 2011
- 2nd MLG Providence
- Top 8 GSL S2 2012
- Top 8 GSL S3 2012
- 6th WCS EU S2 2013
- Top 8 WCS Season 2 Finals 2013
- 2nd TSL 3
- Top 8 MLG Anaheim 2011
- Top 8 MLG Winter Arena 2012
- Top 8 MLG Winter 2012
- 2nd DH Stockholm 2013
- Top 4 MLG Spring 2013
- 2nd IEM NY 2013
- Top 6 MLG Columbus 2011
- Top 8 DH Summer 2011
- Top 8 DH Summer 2012
- 1st MLG Dallas
- Top 8 IEM Kiev
- 2nd 2011 Battle.net Invitational
- 2nd HSC III
- 2nd Fragbite Masters 2013
- 1st MLG Global Invitational
“You can say anything you want about NaNiwa, but the guy has balls.” - Stephano about Naniwa at WCS 2015
In the foreign world, we care about the virtue of ambition above all else and the strength to carry that ambition to its fruition. It’s not surprising when you think about it. There are very few foreigners that can challenge the Korean players and even less who can win consistently enough to win titles against them. In that sense, NaNiwa is one of the most beloved foreigners. Here was a man who decided to bet his entire career on winning one MLG tournament (MLG Dallas) in 2011. He ended up winning that tournament and going full time into SC2.
Yet when it comes to looking at NaNiwa’s carer, a consistent pattern always shows up. NaNiwa, despite all of his skill and all of the incredible players he’s beaten, has not won a tournament since that MLG Dallas. Perhaps it is because NaNiwa cares too much. Like Snute, in NaNiwa’s mind the only true goal worth pursuing is to be the best in the world. Not to just be the best foreigner in the world, but to be the best, period.
So every time he gets to a finals, he starts losing focus, he starts losing control, and he loses the finals. One of the biggest tournaments of all time was MLG Providence. It was easily a GSL caliber event and NaNiwa had made it all the way to the finals only to lose by exactly 1 game. If he had won that 1 game, I’d argue that would have been the biggest win any foreigner had ever done in the entirety of SC2. Yet he was always just one step away and for someone who wanted to be the best more than anything, that was probably devastating.
Yet in NaNiwa’s pursuit of glory, pursuit of greatness he ignored everything else. He couldn’t control himself the way other players or large community casters could in public. He’d rage at anyone or anything at any given moment. If you asked him a question he’d tell you exactly what he thought about anything at that exact moment in the most blunt language possible. And sometimes he’d go out of his way to tell you.
So here we have a man whose very personality created a massive conflict among the foreign fans and community. They disliked his personality and his antics, but none of them could deny his passion or his work ethic. All of this came to a head multiple times throughout his career in Hot6ix Cup, his loss against Mvp in GSL, his rivalry against ThorZaIN, and eventually the IEM Katowice incident.
There will never be a figure quite as controversial as NaNiwa. A player that could inspire both admiration and disdain in equal amounts in his pursuit of everlasting greatness.
NaNiwa has gone through multiple phases in his career wavering from a cheesy to an intense macro player back to a 2 base player to a kind of free form sOs-esque player. If I had to quantify his strengths, it would be his control, particularly his forcefields and a great sense of build orders and build order refinement. He also had a really great sense of when to attack. His fundamental flaw became PvP once the oracle was buffed in HotS. That was something NaNiwa never recovered from.
Difference between NaNiwa and Snute:
NaNiwa had a large body of work before Snute (2011-2012) and while Snute caught up in 2014-2015, there weren’t enough major runs to contend with NaNiwa’s place as second.
#1 | Stephano, Untouchable
- 1st WCS EU 2012
- 2nd WCS EU S1 2013
- 1st IPL 3
- 6th IPL 4
- 3rd RB Austin 2012
- 3rd MLG Spring Arena 2012
- 6th MLG Spring Championship 2012
- 6th MLG Summer Arena
- Top 8 Iron Squid 2
- 2nd ASUS Winter 2012
- 1st NASL 3
- Top 8 DH Valencia 2012
- Top 4 HSC VI
- Top 8 HSC VII
- 3rd ESWC 2012
- 1st ESWC 2011
- Top 4 DH Summer Open 2012
- 3rd ASUS Rog Summer 2011
- 1st Lone Star Clash 1
- 1st Lone Star Clash 2
- 4 kill of Team Korea at IPL5
“I had a dream.” - Stephano on why he used roach/hydra to defeat Ganzi
JulyZerg once said that at the very height of competition in Brood War, mechanics no longer mattered. It was all pure psychological warfare and whoever cracked first was the one to lose. And while the game has changed, JulyZerg's maxim on the eve of his Golden Mouse victory remains true. Skills aren’t enough to take you to the top of this game and stay there. You need an incredibly strong mentality that can handle any amount of pressure.
For my money, Stephano was mentally the strongest foreigner there has ever been and top five strongest mental players that SC2 has seen (the others are Mvp, Life, Taeja and sOs). In an earlier article I wrote how Nerchio’s greatest strength was his consistency, his ability to always play the exact same way he did in practice as he did in real matches. Stephano was like that, except in Stephano’s case he sometimes played even better than he did practice (though according to all rumors, he didn’t practice a ton) and could pull inspiration out of nowhere at any time regardless of the conditions. He could have lost his keyboard, gotten drunk, had a terrible flight, just walked into the venue barefoot and he’d still give you at least a Top 8 run if not win the event.
Stephano was crowned the day he landed in Atlantic City and took his first trophy at IPL 3. Since then his results have been the best of any foreigner and he was legitimately Top 5 or Top 10 Zerg (depending on who you asked) for the entirety of 2012, in a year where Zerg was in abundance because of BL/infestor.
Stephano was such a loved figure that despite basically being the father of the build and the composition, he was one of the most lauded players in the world. When other people rode BL/infestor to victory, they were derided as patch zergs. When Stephano used BL/infestor,they talked about his victories with both respect and admiration.
It is hard to quantify exactly the kind of impact Stephano had on the scene both as a player and a figure. The truly strong foreigners are often talked about in Korea. Players like Jinro, Scarlett, Snute, NaNiwa, HuK and Idra all come to mind. But no other foreigner was talked about in awe and fear as Stephano, both in Korea and abroad at the height of his powers. No other foreigner had ever affected the meta as much (and subsequently got a race nerfed) as much as Stephano.
Beyond BL/infestor he was also responsible for 3 hatch ZvP play, the max roach builds, the roach/hydra vs Terran builds and he was one of the first players to use swarmhost in ZvP when HotS came out (though as far as I could tell it was a mutually created comp used by a lot of different Zergs at the same time period, so no one really gets credit for its creation). Along with his incredible tournaments runs, that created the greatest foreigner of all time, and he did it off the back of only 1.5 years of play. The greatest foreigner ever. Even now, when he says that it would take him just two weeks to get back to the top if he was serious, there is a small part of me that thinks he could do it.
Difference between Stephano and NaNiwa:
When we look at their peak periods of time, NaNiwa was a top foreigner from the second half of 2011 to the end of 2013. However his actual peak was from the second half of 2011 to the end of the first half of 2013. He then slumped for a year (still a top 5 foreigner, but no longer dominant) and then revived for the latter half of 2013. His total peak lasted about 1.5 years and he had another year as a top 5 foreigner. Compared to that, Stephano was the best foreigner for the last 3 months of 2011 to the end of the first 3 months of 2013, making that a total of 1.5 years.
In terms of longevity, NaNiwa won out, but in terms of the peak and consistent peak, Stephano was ahead of NaNiwa. More than that, Stephano played more Top 10 players than Naniwa over the course of their respective careers. Finally, he was a great innovator of the game, easily the most influential foreigner on the SC2 meta there has ever been. The only two knocks against Stephano's career is that the majority of his peak was during the BL/infestor era and his years of play didn't last as long as NaNiwa. But even with those things added on, Stephano was just above NaNiwa in every major criteria.
Here are a list of the players the notable players they beat on their runs:
- Top 4 Blizzcon 2011 - Sen, DIMAGA
- 1st MLG Dallas - No one noteworthy
- 2nd TSL 3 - Ret, Hasuobs
- Top 6 MLG Columbus - Moon
- Top 8 DH Summer 2011 - Ret
- Top 8 MLG Anaheim - Sheth, Idra
- 1st MLG Global - Mvp, Nestea
- 2nd MLG Providence - Nestea, HuK, DRG
- Top 8 IEM Kiev 2012 - No one noteworthy
- Top 8 MLG Winter Arena - Grubby, Sheth, Nestea, Leenock
- Top 8 MLG Winter Championship - JYP, MC
- Top 8 GSL S2 2012 - Puzzle, Ryung, Genius, Virus
- Top 8 GSL S3 2012 - TheSTC, Creator, Keen, Genius
- Top 8 DH Summer 2012 - Slivko
- Top 8 DH Winter 2012 - ForGG, Feast
- 2nd DH Stockholm 2013 - TLO, SortOf, Jaedong
- Top 4 MLG Spring 2013 - TheSTC, Jaedong, Dear
- Top 6 WCS EU S2 2013 - Lucifron, MMA, Vortix
- Top 8 WCS Season 2 finals 2013 - INnoVtion, Duckdeok
- 2nd IEM NY 2013 - Hack, Hack, San, HyuN
- DH Winter 2013 - HyuN, Leenock
- 3rd ASUS Rog 2011 - Sen
- 1st IPL 3 - vioLet, Inori, TheSTC, Lucky
- 1st ESWC 2011 - Marineking, MaNa
- 2nd ASUS Rog Winter 2012 - MaNa, elfi, Puma
- 1st NASL 3 - HerO, MC, Alicia
- 3rd MLG Spring Arena 2 2012 - Ganzi,Ryung, MC, Heart
- 3rd RB Austin - vioLet, Parting, Squirtle
- Top 4 DH Summer 2012 - Keen, Nerchio
- Top 6 MLG Spring Championship 2012 - Polt, Alicia, JYP, Ganzi
- Top 6 MLG Summer Arena 2012 - Revival, Ryung, HerO
- 1st WCS EU 2012 - Lowely, Lucifron, Vortix, Vortix
- Top 8 DH Valencia 2012 - no one noteworthy
- 3rd ESWC 2012 - SortOf
- Top 4 HSC VI - MMA, Marineking
- Top 8 Iron Squid II - MaNa, Mvp, MMA
- 2nd WCS EU S1 2013 - DIMAGA, Thorzain, Babyknight, ForGG
- Top 8 HSC VII - MaNa
- 1st LSC 1 - Grubby, Polt
- 1st LSC 2 - Ganzi, Crank, Bomber
- Team World vs Team Korea 4 Kill - Life, MC, DRG, Seed
In pure players beaten, Stephano has just faced more Top 10 level players over the course of his career, despite his career lasting a shorter time than NaNiwa's. Even though Stephano lost out on longevity a bit, he had a higher peak, higher consistent peak, innovated his race and won international LANs. That was most notable when you realize that NaNiwa only ever won 2 international LANs: one a weak MLG Dallas, the other a weird one segregated into a 4 man live tournament at MLG Global Invitational. On the other hand we have a player who won IPL 3, ESWC 2011, NASL 3, WCS EU 2012, LSC 1 and LSC 2. The two edges that NaNiwa had were that Protoss was weaker than Zerg in 2012 and his career lasted longer than Stephano's by about 9 months (After Stephano's retirement in 2013 to the end of 2013), however that wasn't nearly enough to make up for Stephano's peak, his consistent peak, his innovation and the players Stephano has beaten.