WCS Austin Challenger: NA & EuropeThe best StarCraft II players in the Western scene have started down the road to WCS Austin and they're just about to pull into a major, competitive pit-stop. The North American and European Challenger tournaments are set to begin on April 14, with the top four players from reach region winning precious seeds at WCS Austin.
The NA and EU Challenger tournaments have been restructured into a familiar, GSL-lite format: Sixteen players face off in double-elimination groups, with eight players advancing to a single elimination bracket. The games will take place over a number of weeks, bringing back the feel of old WCS Europe and America tournaments from 2013~2015. Let's take a look at the week one games!
North American Challenger: RO16 Week 1Despite the efforts of Neeb and Scarlett, North America has never been regarded as one of StarCraft II's stronger competitive regions. That's something StarCraft II commentator Ravi “feardragon” Pareek is well aware of, but he's never allowed his pride or hope to waver. Drawing on his years of experience in the NA scene, feardragon gave us his analysis on the upcoming Challenger matches. (*feardragon's commentary was transcribed and edited from a voice call.)
Group A: Neeb, JonSnow, Future, Epic
Theorycrafting a scenario where Neeb doesn't win a WCS Austin seed
"Neeb is in his most questionable form since 2016. In 2017, he DOMINATED the WCS Circuit—there was only one event he didn't win. But lately, not only in Leipzig, but also in online tournaments... Neeb is really not the Neeb we're used to seeing. He's still good, but he's not a GOD right now.
I don't think that Neeb loses to Epic or Future, but I legitimately think that Neeb is in weird enough form, or off-balance enough that JonSnow has a 15-20% chance of finishing first place in the group. That's not high, but it's a lot higher than you would expect for JonSnow vs Neeb. If that happens, and we get to the playoffs with Neeb in second place, and he faces off against Scarlett... I could realistically see a scenario where he doesn't win a seed to Austin. But I guarantee he's going to make it out of his group."
JonSnow looks to find his edge
"JonSnow could be called 'ConsistentSnow.' He's the working-man player. The way he came up in the scene, he never had this moment where he jumped up five levels. He's been a very slow and steady climber, gradually climbing up to become a top five NA player. But he just can't really seem to improve any faster. He was getting a little bit frustrated with that. But he doesn't fall down in skill level, either.
I can't recall how he phrased it exactly, but he said there are players who are 'dangerous,' and he feels that he has lost his 'dangerous' edge that he had in 2014. In 2014, he would take games off of players that were a lot better than him. He would either do some crazy cheese, or just pull off something crazy.
I think now, he's very consistent, he feels like he's leveled out a little bit. He's always been about gradual improvement over the course of the past three years. I think he's feeling the effects of slow growth, not being able to catch up with some of these other awesome players."
Future is the future?
"This is the first WCS event Future can compete in. He's a lot like Clem and Reynor. If you ask anyone who knows about the NA scene, 'Who's the up-and-comer you're on the lookout for?', EVERYONE says Future. This guy has been doing really well. One of his problems is that he plays to the level of his opponents. He's won series against Scarlett, but he'll lose series to players who are much worse than him.
The interesting thing about Future is that he's very cheesy and hyper-aggro to almost a ludicrous degree. But when it fails, or when things just settle into a normal macro game, he's actually still really good. It almost makes you question why exactly he plays that aggressive style. It feels like he takes more risks than he needs to.
I also think that in terms of his mindset—and I've heard a lot of other players say this—he's got an amazing mindset when it comes to improvement. Anytime he loses a series, he demands more practice games, where someone helps him work out that part of his game. But as a tournament player, I think he has a poor mindset. He gets frustrated, he tilts very easily."
Epic: Playing with house money
"A lot of things I said about Future, everyone was saying about Epic two years ago. Epic was the person everyone KNEW was going to become so much better, but he never really blew up. From what I saw, he just disappeared a few months, came back and played for a few months, and he was back at a competitive level. And then he took off again, because he kept getting busy with school. He doesn't seem to have the drive or time to be a top player, but he has the skill. Even if he doesn't make it out of his group, he'll probably think 'eh, I won some money.'"
Group B: Scarlett, Semper, Silky, Kane
The difficulty in measuring Scarlett's skill level
"I'm doing a documentary on NA StarCraft players—I've asked a ton of people about their opinion on how Scarlett has changed over the years. I think the big difference is back in 2012-2013, Scarlett was just so far ahead of everybody else in terms of mechanics. Everybody has caught up at this point. I think she relies a lot more on being very smart now, rather than mechanical prowess. But that can be less reliable in some ways.
Last year, she almost talked about herself like player who had retired. She would say things along the the lines of "sometimes, I still get that competitive pang to compete and win a tournament." So I was really happy when she did well at IEM PyeongChang. It's hard to say if she's still super-motivated—I think that she is after PyeongChang.
It's almost impossible to judge Scarlett's true form until you watch her first match of a tournament. For example, WCS Leipzig was one week before IEM PyeongChang. She lost to Namshar twice in the RO32 of Leipzig, and then she won PyeongChang a week later. Not to take anything away from Namshar, who is a very good player, but Scarlett wasn't playing at the same level, one week apart. Something seemed to change in a very short time."
Semper sapped by studies
"Semper is super busy with school right now (note: he's currently attending law school), and there were points in time where he was on the verge of dropping out of the ladder qualifier. Not because he didn't have the MMR—he just straight up didn't know if he had enough time to play the minimum fifteen games a day because school had picked up too much. I fear for him because he might not necessarily be in the best form.
What I like about Semper in terms of play style is he has a lot of grit in his play. There's not many players I think about in this way—I think it's almost an underrated trait. Within the game, Semper just doesn't give up. He's the player who will be down a lot of supply, and he's actively working on ways to bring himself into a game when others would have tapped out already. And then, he DOES it. And you go, 'HOW?' I think that's one of his strong points."
Silky is no 'NA Zerg'
"Silky is a very standard player in a lot of ways. I think one thing that's notable is he plays more like a Korean Zerg than an NA Zerg. He plays almost entirely on the Korean ladder, so he's just always used to playing there. He picks up a lot of things there. He watches a lot of GSL—Dark, soO, etc—and he tries to emulate their playstyle. When people say NA Zerg, a lot of people think of NoRegret or something, whether that's fair or not. So he doesn't play quite like that kind of 'NA Zerg.'"
Kane the mystery man
"Kane is the complete question mark. I don't know what to think about him right now. I've seen him on the ladder for at least two, three months. He's just so hard to read, because he's highly ranked on the ladder, but that's a different environment. He's probably thinking to himself right now 'man, I've already caught up with all these kids and I've only been playing casually for a few months.'" (note: Kane's recent blog post on TeamLiquid.net was literally titled "Post-Retirement," and the last line read "By the way, I started playing SC2 again casually and LotV is so much fun!")
European Challenger: RO16 Week 1Unfortunately, we couldn't find a European scene expert to break things down like feardragon was able to do for NA, so you're stuck with some irreverent remarks from Wax. Hopefully this situation can be remedied by next week.
Group A: ShoWTimE, HeRoMaRinE, DnS, Hellraiser
At first glance, the German duo of ShoWTimE and HeRoMaRinE look like the obvious favorites to advance to the quarterfinals. That sucks for the rest of us, as that means we'll have to keep typing out their obnoxiously capitalized ID's for at least another week. "Cut them some slack, they probably just thought those ID's looked cool when they were twelve," one might say in their defense. Perhaps, but this is a WCS where Neeb became Neeblet (and then Neeb again) and MajOr became SpeCial. There's no rule or tradition preventing a player from changing their ID. Why, then, would anyone refuse to make the smallest of adjustments to make everyone else's lives easier? I can only conclude that the two take some sadistic pleasure in the inconveniences they are causing around the world, and cackle with sinister glee at our minor annoyance.
ShoWTimE is one of the few players in Europe who is capable of making Serral look mortal. On that merit alone, he must be the second best player in Europe, or something close to that. HeRoMaRinE—who's adamant about being more of a streamer than a progamer every time I talk to him—still manages to do well whenever he shows up to a big international event. Amidst the chaos at IEM Katowice—where mostly everyone but Serral got killed by Koreans—HeRoMaRinE actually came out looking stronger with victories over Snute, Kelazhur, and Elazer.
But let's not sell the two other players short—throughout StarCraft II's competitive history, Europe has been second to only Korea in terms of depth. DnS has been battling it out with Stephano for the #1 spot in France for most of 2018, and has recently been putting his Korean training to good use in a variety of European competitions. Hellraiser looks to prove that Avilo over JonSnow wasn't the most egregious snub of NationWars V, making an impressive run through the online qualifier to represent Ukraine in WCS Challenger. He plays Protoss, so you can't discount the possibility that he will bulls*** his way through the group (bringing up about balance is a solid move when you don't know anything about a player, because 2/3rd of readers will nod their heads and agree anyway).
Group B: Nerchio, uThermal, souL, Clem
On one hand, I want to cheer for Nerchio, because his posting has added a lot of flavor to the TeamLiquid.net forums over the years (the flavor is salt). On the other hand, who knows what kind of delicious, balance-complaining outbursts we might see from Nerchio if he gets eliminated from a three-Terran group? An angry tweet? Leaving without a GG? An actual in-game tirade? The possibilities make me giddy.
The Terran who is most likely to ruin Nerchio's day is uThermal, who has enjoyed a solid first-quarter in 2018 after slumping in 2017. The results might look a bit drab: top 16 WCS Leipzig, top 16 WCS Katowice, top 12 WESG. However, those tournaments were filled with interesting morsels, such as victories against INnoVation and Hurricane at IEM Katowice (where he quietly placed second best of all foreigners), and narrow defeats to Classic and Neeb at WESG. Aligulac.com even has him as the #1 foreign Terran by a solid margin—Finnish fans will say that's all you need know.
Alongside Reynor, Clem is one of the young European players who has the potenti—OMG look at this adorable Liquipedia profile picture. Anyway, Clem is just sixteen years old, and crushed his qualifier bracket to get here.
Finally, we have souL, a player who will be remembered forever in foreigner legend for eliminating Stats from IEM Katowice with a proxy-two-rax. Surely, that's where Maru drew his inspiration from when he went on to proxy-two-rax Stats in the GSL finals. When others were saying "just play like Maru," Maru was saying "just play like souL."
Credits and acknowledgements
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax