WCS Austin Challenger: NA & Europe Week 2We're continuing down the road to WCS Austin with more WCS Challenger matches. The North American and European 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 top four Challengers from each region will earn invaluable seeds in the RO32 at WCS Austin, the second stop on the 2018 WCS Circuit.
North American Challenger: RO16 Week 2North American super-fan and WCS commentator Ravi “feardragon” Pareek is back to give us more insight on the players competing in the Challenger tournament. (*feardragon's commentary was transcribed and edited from a voice call.)
Group C: MaSa, Cicada, PandaBearMe, Starkiller
MaSa: High ceiling, low floor
"MaSa wasn't playing much StarCraft in recent weeks, as he's another player who's been really busy with school. But it's usually not that big a deal that he's not playing as much. He's always been a player who relies more on mind games—picking the right builds and strategies, getting into his opponents' head and messing with them a lot. I've said this before in the past, and I still stand by it: I think MaSa plays his best StarCraft when he has no confidence in himself. And right now, I think that he doesn't have a crazy amount of confidence, because he'll go into this knowing he hasn't played too much.
MaSa has a huge range of volatility. He's probably the most volatile player in Challenger right now. If we look back to last year, he bombed out of Challenger for WCS Austin against some players he had no business losing to. And then, a few weeks later, he beat Neeb 3-0 and eats Scarlett twice to win the WCS Valencia qualifier."
The mystery of PandaBearMe
"PandaBearMe is a hard player to read. I know that he cares a LOT about StarCraft, and he puts a lot of time and effort into it. He's one of the guys who doesn't quite feel like he's around the NA scene that much—partially because he hangs out with the SEA region players a lot. In some weird way, it doesn't feel like he's a super active part of the NA scene. It feels like he randomly shows up, has a few good series and beats some good people. It's not like he'll make a deep run, but he'll beat some players you really didn't think he should be beating. It's not even something that happens over the course of a day—it's something that happens over the course of two hours. I actually think that PandaBearMe could even beat Scarlett at times."
Cicada and Starkiller: Underestimate at your own risk
"Cicada (formerly known as Voltz) and starkiller both get the exact same criticism from every player in North America. They are incredibly one-dimensional players. I don't want to paint it as just cheese. For example, starkiller, the way everyone describes him is that all he does is make Roaches and a-moves with them. The weird thing is, I think the entire NA scene has really negative impressions of both of them because they hear other people talk about them as one-dimensional. But I think that it's an inarguable fact that they still get results, and get them surprisingly often for players who are supposedly one-dimensional and not very good.
I think there's almost am underrated factor to them, where people don't seem to respect them compared to the results that they're capable of. They still have a lot to prove, but I think especially starkiller has shown that he can beat some pretty good players. They may be one-dimensional, but they're very good at that one dimension."
European Challenger: RO16 Week 2We had a few candidates lined up to provide their expert analysis on this week's WCS Europe Challenger group, but the scheduling just didn't work out. So, uhhh... here's Wax again.
Group C: Serral, Bly, PtitDrogo, Starbuck
For better or for worse, excessive hyperbole is deeply ingrained in StarCraft II esports. So if I could indulge myself for a second: Is Serral the most dominant player in WCS Circuit history? We're not even a year removed from Neeb's magnificent 2017 WCS Circuit run, where he won three out of four major tournaments. Yet, we easily forget that Neeb played a number of tight series, making him more of a clutch player than an unbeatable one. On the other hand, Serral in WCS 2018... Since the 4.0 patch (which I take to mark the start of the 2018 WCS season), he's played like he's in an entirely different tier from the rest of the foreigner scene. His stats back up the eye-test: Serral is 155-29 in games against fellow foreigners, and a ludicrous 41-5 in his best match-up of ZvP.
It's tempting to say that Serral winning Challenger Europe is a foregone conclusion, and the true competition will be for the remaining three seeds. However, given the famed depth of the European pro-scene, surely Serral's groupmates have a chance at causing an early upset?
There's no one better to begin with than Bly. The Ukrainian Zerg has been an emblem of chaos since 2010, and his brand of cheese has only become funkier, more complex, and more robust with time. Recently, TLO scored an upset against Serral in NationWars with some clever ZvZ play. Bly is quite a creative player in his own right, and there's no telling what he could do with sufficient preparation. Bah, who am I kidding? Serral happens to have an absurd 80%+ win rate in the Zerg mirror, and only has series losses to Elazer, Nerchio, and Scarlett. Under normal circumstances, ZvZ is the "anything can happen" match-up, but Serral is an abnormal player.
Against any other Zerg, I'd have given PtitDrogo a fighting chance. After all, he's Protoss, and those tricky Europeans always seem to have a few cards up their sleeve for facing Zerg. Alas, he's facing Serral, who has lost only a SINGLE series to a foreigner Protoss this season. That happened back in November, when he lost 0-2 to ShoWTimE in the WESG qualifiers. Some might say "Aha! So there IS a chance!" Perhaps. But seeing as how Serral responded to that defeat by ripping ShoWTimE's soul out in every subsequent match, maybe it's better not to offend Serral at all.
Finally, we have Starbuck, who's in a similar boat as Bly. Since the ancient days of WCS Europe Premier League in 2013, it's always felt like a crap shoot to guess who might win a ZvZ in the upper echelons of European competition. Alas, Serral is just breaking all the conventions about what a typical European pro is. On a brighter note, it's good to see Starbuck back in WCS again. He was actually a competitor in the aforementioned WCS Premier League of yore, going to ESL's Cologne studio to compete against the likes of MMA and duckdeok. He's back after last breaking through WCS qualifier in late 2015, and it will be interesting to see what he can do against players not-named-Serral.
Alright, now that I've sufficiently jinxed Serral, make sure to tune in and watch how it all falls apart!
Credits and acknowledgements
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax