As the last WCS Circuit event of the year, WCS Montreal stands as many players' final trial before either moving onwards to the golden gates of Blizzcon or down into the figurative hell of a hiatus likely to last a few months. Many will be judged by how they perform here, and only one or two players can truly seize the opportunity for glory when the stakes are at their highest. Three tiers of players are present at WCS Montreal. Firstly, the challengers: good players who have yet to prove themselves this year and require a significantly unlikely series of events to make Blizzcon. Secondly, the contenders: players who are almost certainly going to be present at Blizzcon and instead are searching for a championship which has so far eluded them. Lastly are the two champions who are largely allowed to sit and wait as the peasants bicker and fight among themselves. They have far greater challenges on the horizon.
The Challenger Tier
Despite her ability to routinely score awe-inspiring upsets, entertaining games and great runs, Scarlett has never won a premier tournament. Yet, considering the hometown crowd and the memories of both her upset over Nerchio last year and her run at WCS Canada which started it all, there might be no better time for her to win her first ever premier title. Otherwise, it's a closed chapter to a fairly disappointing year.
One of the many surprising players to emerge from a smaller region this year is Probe, who came onto the scene with two very strange tournaments (DH Winter and DH Leipzig) last year before largely sputtering out. However, he put together a very strong run at Valencia, and eliminated PtitDrogo at Austin as well. It's still going to take a significant boost in skill to make a run at Montreal, but it'll be interesting to see him try.
uThermal had potential. Ever since 2014 the Dutch Terran has had great potential, and while 2016 showcased that to its fullest with his championship in Shanghai, 2017 has showcased that in its worst possible light. He's failed to make a single round of eight, and his best shot was promptly halted 3-0 by Kelazhur, securing his place as no longer the best foreign terran. WCS Montreal finds him at his lowest point in quite a while, facing the daunting odds of having to win or going home for the rest of the year with bitterness in his mouth.
PtitDrogo, similar to uThermal, was a promising upstart a few years ago who grew into prominence with a surprising tournament win last year — in Drogo's case, Dreamhack Leipzig. While he did manage to go to Blizzcon last year, despite faltering in the qualifiers for the WCS Mexico event, he too hasn't grown too far this year. His only Ro8 — just like uThermal — came in Jönköping and was promptly shut down shortly after. PtitDrogo has unfortunately faltered when the moment is at its most essential, and WCS Montreal is his most essential moment of the year.
Despite iAsonu's absolutely confusing and often times awe-inspiring performances in Korea, beating GuMiho and Stats at IEM Shanghai and putting up a better performance against INnoVation than anyone would've expected in GSL vs the World, his WCS results have yet to match his upset potential elsewhere. Still, a round of four (and especially a finals) could be enough to shove him into Blizzcon as a very interesting dark horse.
Cham is another strange player from a smaller region, seizing the crown of the small-region upstarts when he eliminated Probe to make the round of eight at Austin. He stands far closer to Blizzcon than anyone would expect. While a round of eight repeat would technically move him into spot number eight, getting to the semifinals would give him a far more realistic shot, and edge him ahead of TRUE; the person who knocked him out of Austin, funnily enough.
Perhaps the most interesting player of the entire event to watch is ShoWTimE. His failure in 2017 was utterly shocking, the tale of a champion declined; from being potentially the best foreigner of the year prior to being someone several steps away from even participating at Blizzcon. Yet, unlike other people who have faltered this year, ShoWTimE isn't surrendering; he comes into WCS Montreal as the dominating victor of the European Regionals, with the wind at his back and the crown in his sights. This is do-or-die. One tournament run, ending either in soul-crushing disappointment or glorious conquest. There is no in between.
TRUE is the only person likely to go to Blizzcon from this tier, and his path to the Global Finals has been quite interesting. Contrasted against last year, where he made one amazing run at WCS Montreal to secure the champion's seed, this year it's been death-by-a-thousand-solid-runs. Outside of Jönköping, he's made two semifinal berths and largely looked in great form. As long as he makes the playoffs he should feel fairly comfortable, but all it takes is a couple of upsets and suddenly a good year looks like an awful one. Such is the fate of those who live in chaos.
It's easy to forget that Nerchio is still one of the greatest foreigners around. His strong start at Austin and consistency afterwards have placed him solidly as the current 4th seed for Blizzcon. That being said, all of his most memorable moments are negative. His failure to conquer his ShoWTimE-esque demons against Neeb. His near loss to TIME at Jönköping. His series against Dark in GSL vs The World, which began with him going down 0-2 in approximately three minutes. This past year has been nothing but hauntings by ghosts for Nerchio. Tournament after tournament, month after month, of narrow defeats and fiery bluster ending in the bitter feeling that things could have gotten better. To still be standing as the 4th seed after all of that is honestly confusing; everyone else in this category could see their momentum fade away. Nerchio is perhaps the only person who has nothing to lose from a storyline context, but is also going to head to Blizzcon regardless of his result here, a position of utter freedom.
Snute, while not being as drastic a case as ShoWTimE, has still made a surprising decline this year. Last year he was a contender for the best foreigner until the bitter end, a paragon of consistency with a great championship at WCS Mexico. This year, he's been bordering on disaster, saved only by a near-miracle at WCS Valencia — which promptly ended with a heart-breaking reversal against Elazer, up 3-1. Snute is still the man of steel, unable to ever be doubted, above being discouraged, marching forwards no matter what, but WCS Montreal will certainly be a trial. Similar to TRUE, a playoff berth will all but promise him a spot at Blizzcon, and even if he falters, there's a good chance he will attend no matter what. Still, this is a great opportunity to rewind time and remind the world that — despite the competition — Snute remains one of the greatest foreigners of all time.
Of all the young men from faraway lands to become known this year — Cham, iAsonu, TIME, Probe — Kelazhur is certainly the greatest of all. He's definitely been known prior, specifically as a player with underrated potential whose skill didn't quite translate offline yet, but 2017 was a magnificent step forward in that regard. He's made two round of eights and a semifinals, and has a Blizzcon spot essentially certain. As a result, WCS Montreal wouldn't be too significant, except; there's a contest which matters more for Kelazhur. It's the battle for best foreigner terran, as well as best Latin American player, a battle he's been waging with SpeCial/MajOr for the greater part of this past year, coming to a head at their fatal showdown in GSL vs The World. That was a punch to the stomach for Kelazhur's brilliance, and Montreal is his one true shot to prove himself superior.
Of course, that GSL vs The World bloodbath means that SpeCial is almost certainly the best foreign terran currently. It's a title with historically little meaning, but SpeCial earns it regardless, and earns it by being immensely consistent. During Austin and Jönköping he was only stopped by a transcendant Neeb, and he promptly beat him — the only person to beat him all year in a WCS Bo5 — in Valencia. Of course he ended up disappointing hard against Snute, which must leave him with a certain sting. There's a disappointment which comes when you get a good result you knew could've been better, and for SpeCial, Valencia was that almost-seized crown jewel. WCS Montreal would make a fitting replacement, and seal SpeCial as likely the second best foreigner of the year; however, if he falters, Kelazhur is hot on his heels, and he could quickly see his success dampened.
Serral is the prince of WCS, and the Kingdom sits in his lap. He broke out in Jönköping, utterly crushing Elazer to become, at the time, the best foreign zerg. His following best-of-seven showdown with Neeb showcased his talents every bit as much, proving that he is beyond any doubt one of the most talented players in the scene currently. Then Valencia came. Not bad, surely, but to see him lose to TRUE before facing an anticipated rematch with Elazer came as a bit of a shock. The same feeling of near-disappointment came against ByuN in GSL vs the World, leaving viewers with the sickening feeling of an oncoming storm. Not one predicted, nor seen on the weather channels, but seen in looming grey clouds. They could part and Serral could go on to prove himself with another great run at Montreal, or they could disrupt what has otherwise been a near-coronation of a year, rendering Serral a whole lot less comfortable come Blizzcon.
If Neeb is the King, and Serral is the Prince, it's impossible to find a title which quite fits the utter bewilderment that is Elazer. Last year's Blizzcon was far from predictive for many players. PtitDrogo is unlikely to return, Snute is still an absolute monster, ShoWTimE is no longer an elite player, and Neeb didn't even falter slightly in his return to the WCS circuit — he's also no longer called Neeblet anymore, thank god. However, for Elazer, it really was. Everyone's eyes were on Nerchio, ShoWTimE, Neeb and Snute to represent the foreign scene, and while they certainly proved their elite status, it was Elazer who was the last to stand. Not only that, but he did so by eliminating fan favorite Nerchio and utterly demolishing ShoWTimE. He was the king who was never meant to be, the boy three or four degrees of separation away from the succession line who managed to sit on the throne regardless. At Austin, Elazer lost in the Regionals to Bly and didn't even attend the event. He wasn't even there. He didn't even have the chance to lose. At Jönköping he made a resounding loser's bracket run over SortOf, Snute, the previously deadly Bly, ShoWTimE, prior idol Nerchio and somehow-amazing Namshar to make the finals of the European regionals and subsequently qualify for the event. He could've very easily lost to Snute and been out again, and just another blip on the radar. Another uThermal. Another PtitDrogo. Another ShoWTimE. Another flash in the pan, momentary zerg. But he went to Jönköping, made the semifinals, and then followed that up with an astonishing comeback against Snute to win Valencia. Elazer is the champion which should've, and easily could've, never happened at all. Born from the blood and sweat of the newly found WCS system, and working his way to being the single best zerg in all of WCS.
However, there's still one player greater, and to anyone who followed the foreign scene recently it shouldn't be surprising to see Neeb at the absolute top. He crushed Austin, winning the Regionals and the main event. He crushed Jönköping. He had a strong run at Valencia and nearly won that as well. Adding to this his achievements last year, and you have someone who has appeared in five premier finals, won three of them, and has consistently looked to be one of the greatest foreigners of the scene. The King of North America. The only foreigner in Starcraft 2 to win a tournament on Korean soil. The American hero. WCS Montreal is a chance for Neeb to return home and do what he does best; he has no stake in this game. While everyone else is battling over WCS seeds, over pride, over whether or not they'll be at Blizzcon at all, Neeb has already won. He could forfeit every match for the tournament and still be the first seed of WCS going into Blizzcon. He could retire right now and still be the only North American to appear in a Premier final since Scarlett in 2013, and the only one to win a Premier title since IdrA in 2011. As of right now, he has as many championships as the rest of America combined. He doesn't need anything else to be great. Neeb is a youngster and a veteran. An upstart and a champion. The bright star in the long-standing dark of North America, and, for literally every second of this WCS circuit, the best foreigner in the world.