WCS Austin Challenger: NA & Europe PlayoffsThe group stages of the North American and European Challenger tournaments have concluded, and now it's time for the playoffs! The stakes are high: the top four players from each region will win invaluable seeds in the RO32 of WCS Austin, as well as flights and lodging for the duration of the tournament. But even after securing WCS seeds, the playoff players will have plenty of incentive to try and finish as high as possible, as extra WCS points and prize money will be awarded based on their placements.
North American Challenger: PlayoffsNorth American StarCraft insider and WCS commentator Ravi “feardragon” Pareek returns to give us his insight on the final stage of the tournament. (*feardragon's commentary was transcribed and edited from a voice call.)
Sunday, May 13 6:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Neeb vs PandaBearMe: A Foregone Conclusion?
"The rule of North American StarCraft is that anyone can beat anyone else, but I'd say PandaBearMe only has a 5~10% chance.
Neeb looks like the old Neeb. A couple of players in the North American scene have described Neeb to me as a kind of player who's so confident that he shouldn't even exist. He's a bit infamous for it. For example, in BaseTradeTV tournaments he'll be like 'Yeah, whatever, pick whatever maps, I don't need to veto or pick any maps. Get it done, we'll just play, and I'll beat you anyway.' He just has this ridiculous degree of confidence. He's so much better than everybody else at standard play that he gets away with it. I think there was a period of time where he kinda fell off, toward the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, but it seems like he's just mechanically more sound again. He's just looked ridiculously solid lately. That's the old Neeb. It's the way he used to win games.
I think that taking a bit of break from the game has been really helpful for him, because I know he wasn't playing as much for a short period of time after BlizzCon. I think that just having that time away from the game isn't something that Neeb gets very often.
It's rough for PandaBearMe because it's a best of five. He has to get into really good positions off of aggressive openers, or he has to punish Neeb with all-ins. That's REALLY hard to do, because Neeb is absurdly good at defending. PandaBearMe has to pick the right openings and just predict what Neeb is going to do, because Neeb is a predictable player a lot of the time. Off any advantage he can gain, he needs to use it to win outright. Maybe there's room in one or two games for something like a surprise Muta tech-switch or something that just catches Neeb off guard."
Semper vs puCK: The best match-up of the entire Challenger Playoffs (wait, what?)
"This is the match-up I care the most about in the entirety of WCS Challenger Europe and North America. This is the most interesting and fun match to me. This is because puCK is an insanely flashy player who has been playing in Korea and been getting insanely, super freaking good lately. Semper is also a really flashy player, and both of them like to play scrappy macro games, which is the most fun style of StarCraft that exists. Both of them play macro, but at the same time try to be aggressive and make lots of things happen with small amounts of units.
In general, the way I would describe puCK's playstyle is that he is a big macro player, but always tries to have some form of aggression—Warp Prisms, Blink Stalkers or anything—out on the map. He just gets a lot of value out of his units with superb micro. Semper is a type of macro Terran you don't see super often. He is so good at positional play and detaching units to go for drops. Honestly, he doesn't control that well most of the time, but he's just so good at forcing his opponent to reposition their army while putting on pressure from different angles. That's how he pulls his opponents apart. It's why games involving these players tend to create weird, scrappy situations.
Semper has been able to prepare more recently after being busy with academics, but puCK has been playing more in the middle and long term. I give the edge to puCK, but I still think Semper has a really good shot. This is probably 55% puCK favored, 45% Semper.
MaSa vs NoRegreT: MaSa's series to lose
"The funny thing about this match is that NoRegreT has taken a very strong stance about no longer wanting to be considered a pro player. He just happens to be good enough to play in tournaments and do really well, because of course he wants to cash in if he can. But he considers himself to be a content creator, house manager, tournament organizer, and more recently a commentator. But he's still relatively good at the game and in-form.
MaSa has always been a weird one, because any time he enters an event, he could either bomb out 0-3 or win the whole thing. I always bring up this example from the 2017 season: During the North American qualifiers for WCS Austin, he bombed out almost immediately to players he shouldn't have lost to. Two months later, in WCS Valencia qualifiers, he went on to 3-0 Neeb, beat Scarlett twice, beat a bunch of really good players to win the North American qualifier. He was at the absolute bottom of his motivation at that point, and wasn't really playing. So, MaSa is really hard to predict.
One thing I noticed is that MaSa tends to do better when he's not confident in himself. He's not feeling really great about the game right now, and he's really disliking the state of balance right now for Terran. I think he's still favored to win this, a 70/30 favorite. He's still a top NA Terran player for a reason. But if he just BOMBS out, that wouldn't be a huge surprise to me.
I think this should be a 3-0 or 3-1 for MaSa. My other prediction, which is weirdly specific, is that NoRegret is gonna take one game off of MaSa with some cheese, and MaSa is going to immediately follow it up with a 3-rax Reaper or proxy-2-rax or something, a 'f*** you, I'm going to cheese you better.'"
Scarlett vs JonSnow
"Everyone says Scarlett has this on paper. Everyone has a lot of faith in her, and not just because she's a fan-favorite. It's been a while since she had her sick run at IEM PyeongChang, but she's still been in GSL and done well for in tournaments overall. JonSnow, people tend to sleep on a lot. He's almost like aLive, where people say 'yeah, aLive is a good player…' but nobody really gives him the respect he deserves for the consistency of his results. JonSnow is kind of like that, where he's super consistent. However, he doesn't have an edge, a threat factor the Code S level NA players like Scarlett and Neeb have.
Honestly, I do think JonSnow has a decent shot at this. I'd say this is maybe only a 60/40 advantage to Scarlett. ZvZ allows for some crazy situations where an underdog can overcome a favorite.
I still think Scarlett is on another level versus foreigners. The weird thing about Scarlett is that she's so good, but sometimes in the exact same tournament, or even in the exact same series, she can also look really bad and drop games to people. A really good example is that she'll beat a top level Korean, and then drop a game to an NA player like Future. She's a lot of reason the "any NA player can take games off every other NA player" idea exists. Her best is still somewhat inconsistent, and there's still room for Scarlett to randomly do poorly in a tournament.
Semifinals and onward
"If things go as I predicted, and puCK faces Neeb in the semis, I think he can take one or two games. I can even see a world where he upsets Neeb because he has that level of volatility as well. People keep telling me I'm wrong, but I legitimately think puCK on a good day, can beat anyone in the world. It doesn't happen very often, and puCK just plays out of his mind sometimes. It doesn't make sense how good he can play, and also how BAD he can play when he's not feeling it.
MaSa versus Scarlett should go Scarlett's way, but again, MaSa is this mystery box where I don't even feel comfortable putting numbers on his chances. I could see him losing to literally anybody in this bracket 0-3, and I could see him beating anyone in this bracket 3-0, except for Neeb. That's what I love about NA, it's so unpredictable.
If Neeb and Scarlett face off in the finals... It never matters what form they're in when they face each other. It's always a 50/50. The two just know each other way too well. They know exactly how each other plays. I remember Scarlett was telling me how she used to send her Overlord scout in whenever she saw Neeb had made a Stalker. Neeb would move his Stalker away from his wall to chase the Overlord, and Scarlett would run in with Zerglings at that exact moment. Neeb would jut continuously do this every time going, "yeah, I know you're going to come in with the lings, but this is just what I do." They have this weirdest mind game situation that occurs whenever they play."
European Challenger: PLAYOFFSWhoops, looks like Wax lied about finding a European expert yet again, and thus the poor, poor readers will have to be satisfied with his ramblings.
Saturday, May 12 12:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
A musing on foreigner history
My mind wandered back to the WESG main event the other day, thinking about how amazing it was for Serral to be the only player to go undefeated against foreigners. All the members of the mighty Korean delegation—Maru, Classic, and Dark—managed to drop maps to international opponents. Perhaps it's because Serral is a resident of the WCS Circuit, and has thus been able to remove all elements of volatility from his matches against his peers. Korean pros often underestimate, misjudge, or simply don't care to learn about their foreign foes—Serral knows precisely how to dissect and destroy them. I started to wonder, 'wait, is Serral the most dominant player in the history of inter-foreigner competition?'
Then I checked myself. 'What about Stephano? THE greatest foreigner of all time?' It was time to fire up Aligulac.
Serral's competitive stats against foreigners since the 4.0.0 patch/WCS 2018 season are beyond disgusting. He has a 160-30 (84.21% win rate) win-loss record on maps, and an insane 51-5 (91.07%) record in best-of-three or longer series. For Stephano, I put in an arbitrary one year date range between October 1st of 2011, a period during which he won four major titles. Stephano was slightly behind in overall map win rate, with his 350-89 record giving him a 79.73% win rate. However, Stephano still had a nearly identical win rate to Serral in BO3+ series with a record of 148-18 (89.16%). The most notable difference between the two was in their Zerg vs Zerg stats—it's Serral's second best matchup at a 84% win rate, while it was Stephano's glaring weakness at a 'mere' 69.9%. While Stephano's status as the GOAT foreigner isn't in question, Serral is certainly building a strong case to be called the most dominant in inter-foreigner competition.
Regardless of how you rate Stephano's career greatness, things don't bode well for him in this present day match-up. He's continued to make strides toward the re-entering the elite tier of the European scene ever since making his 'official' comeback to full-time progaming, but right now he's just another member of Europe's hungry pack of contenders. On the other hand, Serral is Serral. Appreciate and absorb the history in this match-up, but don't expect an upset.
- feardragon is insane for saying puCK vs Semper is the most interesting match-up of the weekend, especially when ShoWTimE versus uThermal is on the card. If Serral has cemented his place as Europe's #1, then ShoWTimE is equally secure in his place as #2. As for uThermal, he's had some rather interesting tournament results in the last few months: 2-1 vs INnoVation at IEM Katowice, 1-2 vs Dark and 2-3 vs Classic at WESG, and 2-2 vs the Korean team in NationWars V. C'mon, those are pretty exciting results, unless you're some kind of GSL-only elitist, in which case you wouldn't be watching WCS Challenger to begin with.
- Knowing my luck, HeRoMaRinE will probably win and send his awfully capitalized name to WCS Austin, where mOOnGLaDe will make a surprise return as a caster. Also, I'm not sure how to take Nerchio's newly wholesome attitude. I'm touched AND dismayed.
- Elazer went 4-4 on maps in his GSL group, which is as well as you can do without actually advancing to the RO16. That would suggest he's favored in this match-up, but I'm still kinda hoping PtitDrogo wins the match so the legacy of terrible NationWars V fan-voting persists well after the tournament is over.
Credits and acknowledgements
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax
North America analysis: feardragon
Europe 'analysis': Wax