Time to Shine
It seems crazy that we’re over halfway through the WCS year to November’s BlizzCon, and yet we’ve only had a single WCS event. Barring the pipe dreams of trucking through the IEM Gyeonggi Open Qualifiers (congrats iAsonu), having the resources to live in Korea and chase the big one in the GSL, or grinding it out in one of the toughest brackets in recent history at IEM Katowice, foreign Starcraft players have had just the one chance at Dreamhack Austin to show off their talents.
That’s all changing pretty soon. WCS Jönköping kicks off this weekend, followed by a third event in Valencia next month, before the quartet concludes with WCS Montreal in early September. It’s a schedule packed to such an extent that weirdly some of the qualifiers for Valencia have already been played, meaning that there are qualified players here who know that they have no such guarantees next time round. For all the pride and honour of succeeding in the first half of the year, it’s in this second half that champions will be made, and BlizzCon status finalised.
Our sixteen qualified players here have the luxury of advancing straight to the third group stage (Ro.32). While that might not seem like that much of an advantage—they’d all surely be expecting to breeze through the first two groups anyway—it does at least secure them from a early rick or a dodgy bracket draw.
If the qualifiers were anything to go by though, WCS Jönköping might be one of the most predictable events we’ve had in a while. Zerg dominance was fairly notable in all regions—a 10 / 5 / 1 split between Z / T / P—possibly leading to one of the most wildly skewed playoff distributions we’ve seen in a while. The EU Challenger bracket led to a 4/4 sweep for the swarm, with a 29-19 map record in ZvX (and ShoWTimE accounting for a whopping 8 of those wins alone).
Serral continued his upwards trajectory in 2017, sweeping his way through the bracket in ZvZ and ZvP alone with a near-flawless run—only dropping a single map to Zanster in the first match of his run. Given his dominance of the EU scene following his return to full-time play, and his breakout success at Katowice earlier in the year, he should be considered one of the very top contenders in Sweden this weekend.
Joining the Finnish phenom are the ever-present Polish duo of Elazer and Nerchio. The former has so far failed to live up to expectations set by his red-hot performance at BlizzCon 2016 (albeit with the limited chances he’s been given); crashing out in the open bracket of IEM Katowice, while failing to qualify for WCS Austin. Meanwhile, Nerchio too has gone somewhat under the radar—usurped somewhat in the past 12 months by the stratospheric rises of Neeb and Serral. He’s no longer the biggest fish in the pond, and it’ll be fascinating to see how he’s rebounded from losing to Neeb in the final of WCS Austin. Finally, rounding off the quartet is the Swedish hope Namshar—mark him down as a dark horse to emulate his countrymen of the past in making a playoffs run in Jönköping.
From the NA qualifiers comes the tournament’s sole protoss qualifier. Scarlett and Neeb are without a doubt the region’s two heavy hitters, and both looked a clear step above the rest of the pack throughout their challenger bracket. They’re developing quite the even rivalry (a career 36-38 record tilted in favour of the Canadian), but that hides the fact that in 2017, Scarlett has won 6 of their 7 matches, with her loss coming in their only LAN encounter at WESG. What price a rematch here? Joining them is the relatively untested pair of JonSnow and Semper. While they’ve been around for a while now, with scattered offline appearances alongside regular online play, both are looking to establish themselves as regular competitors in the WCS scene this year. This is JonSnow’s second qualification in a row after WCS Austin, where he knocked out Harstem in the Ro.32, and a similar performance here could cement him as a top 3 zerg in his region.
Latin America gave us the not-so-surprise pair of MajOr and Kelazhur. The pair have dominated Starcraft in their region for years now, and both have met expectations by sealing qualification in dominant fashion. MajOr in particular will be one to watch after yet another rebranding, and his top 4 finish in Austin will probably be more indicative of what we’ll see from him here than his harsh elimination from the GSL following herO’s 4-0 cheese-stravaganda speedrun attempt. In similar “everything as expected” news, Oceania saw iaguz and A.N. Other qualifying, with Seither the latest to step up to the mantle after beating out Probe. The Man With The Beard is a longtime fan favourite, and while his results have declined notably from his peak in 2014-15, he’s always a welcome presence at events either on stream or on twitter. His compatriot Seither has been vocal about his liberal application of cheese, as well as his desire to get at the hordes of EU zergs on offer, so could well be one to watch if you want to see some bug extermination.
Meanwhile, perhaps this is the tournament where the Chinese finally get it together? Since 2015, no Chinese player has managed to make it to the quarterfinals of an actual WCS tournament—remarkable given how much hype they received in isolation in the buildup to the region lock. Veterans TooDming and iAsonu are once again the pair sent to bring glory to the motherland. The latter in particular has been quietly impressive this year, with a standout run at IEM Gyeonggi—performing wildly above expectations in the open bracket qualifier, not to mention knocking Solar out of the main event—while dominating his region.
Finally, we come to Taiwan / Hong Kong / Macau / Japan, and the outrage of everyone bar the players in attendance that Has has failed to qualify for a WCS event since the region lock. It’s fine I guess—at least we’re guaranteed to see him at Valencia. In his stead, they’ve sent a Swede and a pensioner. Hmmmm.
To be fair Winter (and here we should be probably stress again, not that Winter) probably isn’t exploiting the system as much as some others. His interview here is well worth a read on his adventures in Japan, as well as a story of how Has offraced him in a winner-takes-all qualification match for Jönköping, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fares back ‘home’. Meanwhile, who actually knew that Sen was still active? He’s seemingly old enough to retire for real, let alone merely from playing Starcraft, and yet he’s still here schooling fools left and right. This is his first offline appearance since 2015, and if that’s not enough to make you happy then you probably have no soul.
On the open bracket side of things we can see a veritable who’s-who of the foreign SC2 scene. The participants will be coming in mostly from all across Europe, but there are some familiar names from the rest of the world as well. In true DreamHack fashion, these players will have to go through two massive group stages first, a charnel house of broken dreams and terrifying upsets.
A surprising name to crop up among the throng of players is none other than Stephano. Once the pinnacle of his race, we haven’t really seen the legendary Zerg in a while. He’s been sporadically active this year, and while he still stands head and shoulders above the rest of the French scene based on his results, this will be a rare chance to catch him in the wild. He’s intensely familiar with Jönköping both inside and outside the venue, and it’s going to be interesting to see if he’s packing any extra surprises this year. Following hot on the Zerg heels is Snute, looking to get another shot at BlizzCon later this year. Unlike Stephano, the Norwegian Zerg has been astoundingly diligent this year. In Austin he couldn’t move past the Ro16, now he’s hungry for a better result.
TRUE made it to the semifinals in Austin, and it’s safe to say that the winner of DreamHack Montreal still has a very good shot at a title. Just like Austin, he first has to get past the group stages, which quite honestly should be a breeze. The fan-favorite TLO will make another showing in Jönköping. He’s a true veteran of the scene, still cramming as many events as possible into his schedule, but whether he’s able to stand up to the competition remains as elusive as ever. Speaking of fan-favorites, Ukraine’s most well-known Zerg player will be another familiar face at the venue. Bly’s run didn’t quite extend to the playoffs in Austin, so here’s another chance to rectify his WCS point tally.
Other Zerg players to watch out for include the Swedish duo of Zanster and SortOf. They’re on their home turf now (as much as the Swedish Bible Belt is anyone’s), but they will need more than just knowledge on how to pronounce the city’s name. The Finnish player ZhuGeLiang will be joining his countryman Serral. The two met just last weekend at a small regional tournament in Finland, and ZhuGeLiang’s second place is sure to be a confidence booster for the international leagues.
On the Terran side of things, the ever-positive uThermal will be making a case for himself. While he hasn’t been quite as active as his team mate Snute, the Dutch player still represents some of the best the EU Terrans have on offer. A very interesting name to keep an eye on is TIME, one of the new generation of players hailing from the Chinese scene. He qualified for WCS Austin, but was unable to make it to the playoffs. This time around he has to wade through all the group stages, and it’ll be curious to see how the new blood will fare. Watching upcoming players is becoming a rare treat these days.
In a surprising twist, both PtitDrogo and ShoWTimE failed to make a run through the qualifiers. They both had a showing at BlizzCon last year, and it’s certain that they’re both eyeing the same tournament for 2017. Either one of them can make a deep run in the group stages, and it’s more than likely we’ll see at least one of them in the playoffs.
The Polish Protoss MaNa is treading familiar ground, with a victory at Elmia all the way from 2012. Like TLO, he’s been attending tournaments in Jönköping roughly ever since the festival picked up StarCraft 2, and just like TLO, he’s going to have his work cut out for him. Another Protoss to note is Harstem, who seems to bask in hot weather. However, just like so many others, his WCS Austin run was cut short before the playoffs, so perhaps Jönköping’s long daylight hours will be a boon for him.
Let’s not forget, as is always the case at Elmia, the tournament is a great chance for some of the lesser known players. There’s always the chance for surprises given DreamHack’s tried and true format of having some of the largest group stages possible. Whether an upcoming talent will be able to prove their mettle in Jönköping this summer, who knows, but every year it’s exciting to speculate.
It’s almost midsummer, so kick back and enjoy one of the classic StarCraft 2 tournaments with a cold beverage and some good BBQ.