Veni, Vidi, Vici? The International Era (Part 2)Written by Mizenhauer
This article is part of a cooperation between ESL and TeamLiquid.net for the IEM World Championship event coming up in Katowice. ESL has provided images, information and financial support for us to produce this article and others.
Read Part 1 here!
While Protoss calls upon singular heavyweights Neeb and ShoWTimE, and Terran fans remain optimistic that SpeCial and maybe even uThermal and Kelazhur can cobble together a run worth writing home about, the real powerhouse in foreign StarCraft has always been the Zergs. Names like VortiX and sLivko have faded from memory, but Stephano is back, others remain strong, and a new generation has emerged to reenergize the scene.
At this point, it’s redundant to lavish praise onto Nerchio. He has enjoyed notoriety among the ranks of the best for years, earning his first Top 4 finish at a premier event back in 2011; before finishing the job a little over a year later to win DreamHack: Bucharest. He returned to the finals four years later, part of a resurgent 2016 after a long fallow period. His skills sharpened by hunger, Nerchio backed up his bombastic attitude with a summer worth writing home about: second place at WCS Spring and a semifinals appearance at HomeStory Cup XIII, finally crowned with sweet triumph at Valencia. 2016 was his best year as a pro in four years and it looked to be a sign of an even brighter future.
The leap never came. At Austin he fell one game short of the championship, which turned out to be the highlight of his year. He never reached the semifinals again for the remainder of 2017. His typically strong performances against Koreans never translated to offline success either. During the interim Elazer supplanted Nerchio, giving credence to the newcomer’s brazen braggadocio. Foreign StarCraft is progressing at a record pace and Nerchio may be in danger of falling behind.
He will never be out of contention though. Nerchio’s history is a testament to resiliency in a highly fickle profession. He has built his career on being a rival to everyone and no one. Some might have been disappointed last year with his momentary flirtation with greatness, but Nerchio looks at his career through a different lens. Its longevity is what he is most proud of. For him, results are the product of realistic expectations and hard work. His level-headedness is a big part of his strength. He knew how to handle the demands of being a progamer, proving he was no flash in the pan while having years of wisdom on which to rely.
Snute is one of the few Zergs who can match Nerchio in the longevity department. While others have waxed and waned, Snute’s tenure is a largely steady line reliant on a congenial nature married to ferocious work ethic. These have eclipsed—and molded—a playstyle built upon flawless macro and a unique sense of strategy, a largely monotonous approach that works precisely due to its unwavering commitment. It’s brutally effective even if it’s distinctive in an ironic style, proving the linchpin to his constant presence at the top of the foreign Zerg hierarchy.
Snute has a rivalry but it is not with any player in particular. It is with himself and time. Even when he was a firmly entrenched pillar of the foreign scene, he was relentlessly critical of his own progress. Anything other than first place indicated a flaw to be fixed, mistakes that needed to be expunged; he once admitted that he sees himself lacking in talent compared to many pros.. The chronic self-flagellation worked as a powerful impetus for several years. For some time he and Nerchio, polar opposites in personality, served as the faces of European Zerg, vibrant beacons for fans who never warmed to the likes of DRG and Life. That eminence is currently in danger as new names are battling for time in the limelight. Snute and Nerchio are still formidable challengers, but foreign StarCraft II is more competitive than ever and they will have to work harder to maintain their rank.
Their fortunes could all change in a weekend. Snute must slog his way through the open bracket to reach the group stage; a stern test, undoubtedly, but not the greatest should he aspire to be a champion. Nerchio waits in the main event by virtue of the European Qualifier, one in which he lost to ShoWTimE but defeated Elazer and Serral. Though not a last gasp, it was a collective cry of defiance. IEM Katowice is an opportunity to sway fate and reverse a tide which has been swelling for quite some time.
A pair of youths itch to replace them as the foremost names in international StarCraft. Elazer and Serral are 20 and 19 respectively, yet they have made considerable inroads towards assuming those positions. Serral and Elazer appear to be superior players in every way. They are faster, more decisive, possessing of superior micro and ruthless instincts. Their game sense is just as advanced as their mechanics, a rarity when it comes to younger players.
Elazer’s career has been a tale of overachieving, stumbling afterwards and ultimately proving his mettle. The first feather in his cap was reaching the BlizzCon semifinals in 2016, but the brutal manner in which Dark exsanguinated him reminded viewers he had a long road ahead. Some fans expected regression after that loss, but Elazer reached the semifinals of three WCS events in 2017, winning in Valencia. The torch of best European Zerg unofficially passed from the old guard to the new phenoms during a seven game series in which Snute crumbled at the critical moment.
Elazer debuted at BlizzCon as a shy, inexperienced player in over his head. In comparison to his contemporary Nerchio, he was relatively reckless: while he was set on decimating all in his path, Nerchio adopted a more sage approach that respected Korean skill and its inherent threat. When Elazer returned a year later, the transformation was astonishing. He dealt Dark his first loss against a foreigner in over 30 matches with characteristic bravado and style. He may have lost to Neeb in Leipzig, but there is no doubt Elazer is the future of foreign Zerg.
His counterpart didn’t have the same prodigious start. Unlike Elazer the Finnish phenom Serral neither made it to BlizzCon 2016, nor won a WCS title in 2017. His best result was silver at WCS Jönköping; in fact, it was the only time he made past the quarterfinals all year. He ended up a group stage loser in the WCS Global Finals last November. Yet his dearth of accomplishments didn’t dampen the fanfare surrounding him. Possessing the highest MMR on the European ladder and owning a 10-2 mark in their head to head battles, Serral’s genius was unmistakable. His ascent to the top of the scene seemed to be divine mandate. All he had to do was wait for the opportune moment.
WCS Leipzig fulfilled all the grandiose expectations of his future. We assumed that the path to WCS glory had to go through Neeb, but it was ShoWTimE awaiting Serral in the finals. The German Protoss became an afterthought in the face of Serral’s momentum. The resulting victory was a showing as dominant as any logged by Neeb a year earlier. With a championship finally under his belt, the future was pregnant with possibility. The Year of Serral was just around the corner, or so the most optimistic fans hoped.
That narrative was taken behind the woodshed and shot without hesitation. If anything, his exit at IEM Pyeongchang was a bigger surprise than his success a month earlier. Scarlett had managed to squeak into the Round of 16 of GSL with some help from beleaguered Rogue, only to bomb out of WCS Leipzig before single elimination play even began. Scarlett has been adored for years, but the results were scattershot at best. Her mastery of flavor of the month compositions and supreme mechanical ability never strung together enough wins to garner a title. Serral was supposed to be her superior in every tangible department with the advantage of riding a wave of confidence.
Scarlett must not have been listening. If there’s one thing that defines Scarlett, it’s the sense that she believes her destiny is entirely in her control. Scarlett beat Serral 3-1 in the quarterfinals, felled Elazer 3-1 in the semifinals and ripped off sOs’ head in the final. It wasn’t a new Scarlett by any stretch of the imagination. But here she was, a pro who debuted way back in 2012, showing that maybe the next great foreigner was standing before us all along. She is in form and has proven she has everything it takes to crush Koreans and foreigners alike.
IEM Katowice draws nearer and fans of foreign StarCraft II will be looking for a champion to lead them to the promised land. Neeb made history by winning KeSPA Cup on Korean soil, and followed that up by reigning undisputed in 2017. In his wake a host of eager challengers follow. Some are worthy champions in their own right, others are grizzled veterans looking to rejuvenate their careers. So many others are within shouting distance of the next step. Who better to turn to than the player who slapped sOs away as if he were a mere gnat? Is it possible the answer was Scarlett all along?
Read Part 1 here!