No player in Starcraft II is as polarizing as NaNiwa. Not even Idra and Stephano, for all the dramatic headlines they produced, could divide the fans between love and hate like the Swedish Protoss.
Balance whining, excuse-making, and yelling inappropriate comments toward players and organizations is a shared trait of many progamers, but where it might make a different progamer endearing, it's what alienates NaNiwa from a large subset of fans. The difference is that NaNiwa's outbursts don't come with a nudge and a wink, an implicit understanding that this is all for entertainment, it's all for esports, and he's in it together with us as part of this greater endeavor.
No, NaNiwa is the true esports outsider, the man who plays solely for himself. That is not to say he's not grateful for support, but he has never been one to play for his fans. He plays so he can win and be the best in the world, and he is completely unapologetic about how everything else is totally insignificant compared to that goal. Playing good games for the sake of entertaining spectators is out of the question, and the thought apologising for playing a certain way would never in a million years appear in Naniwa's head. He plays solely to win, and his burning passion for victory can be a curse, perhaps more often than not. To Johan Lucchesi, Starcraft II is more than a game, more than a career, it's a fundamental part of who he is. Even his fans dislike his flaws - they are just the ones who find more to respect than to hate.
The byproduct of NaNiwa's approach is that nothing short of winning is satisfactory, both for himself and for the public. Famously, NaNiwa felt merely "okay" upon winning the semifinals in MLG Dallas, because his true goal lay ahead in the finals and at MLG Providence. By those standards, you can see why the worst of NaNiwa comes out when he is losing to continental Zergs in the Challenger League.
When NaNiwa is winning, the fans love him as one of the few foreigner hopes. By taking second second place at MLG Providence 2011 against some of the best players in the world, he was hailed as the hero who would fight the Korean invasion.
When NaNiwa is losing, he is quickly thrown under the bus. After playing poorly in the Blizzard Cup and probe rushing Nestea in a pointless group stage game, players, fans, and organizations called for his head (GomTV decided to take it). He was the villain, representing everything wrong about esports.
It doesn't matter to NaNiwa if he is a hero or a villain. All that matters is if he is a winner or a loser.
Naniwa, much like fellow Blizzcon attendee Mvp, knows that mind games play a significant role in Starcraft II, and that playing fair is overrated. Playing quick and dirty is and has always been a trademark – from the frequent and deadly 4gates at MLG Dallas 2011 to a clutch proxy 2gate in New York more than two years later, Naniwa's desire to win is and has always been reflected in his play. There is none of the ”honorable” play so many players fall victim to – he'll do what works, and he'll win with it. If that means consecutive cheeses or extremely greedy openings, he'll do it if it helps him win. His high-risk style doesn't make him any friends and it certainly does build upon the idea that Protoss is an gimmicky and cheesy race, but the success he has had with his ”victory at all costs” approach to the game cannot be denied. It suits him, and there are few players with an attitude better suited for playing with such a style than Naniwa. At a tournament like Blizzcon, where the competition could hardly be any tougher, perhaps such an approach is the best.
Another thing going NaNiwa's way in the face of such competition is that he always plays up to the occasion. The flipside is that he sometimes plays down to the occasion as well, losing to players he has no business losing to, but there is no one at Blizzcon who he would be underestimating. These are opponents that can bring out NaNiwa's highest level of play, a level that can topple even GSL champions.
The tournament will be difficult, but the position of the underdog may be the one that suits NaNiwa best. He is recognized as threat, but not the first one others will prepare for. This allows his fantastic preparation to shine and allows him to bring to the table what no one else has seen and no one else has prepared for. It doesn't matter if you're an uncelebrated EG Zerg or a Tyrant with a legacy as a champion stretching all the way back to Brood War, Naniwa is the kind of player who will defeat you one way or another. The higher the stakes, the better the play. And there is no more high-stakes tournament than Blizzcon.
This is MLG Providence all over again. The tournament that all other tournaments have led to, the ultimate goal at the end of the year. This is the tournament where all the odds are stacked against NaNiwa, where no reasonable person would believe in him to win the championship. Two years we saw the best of NaNiwa, even as he fell just short of being crowned champion of the world. This time around, he can make that final step.
WCS Grand Finals
Brackets and info on Liquipedia
Brackets and info on Liquipedia
1: Soulkey - The Tragic Champion
2: INnoVation - The Man in the Machine
3: Jaedong - In Search of Lost Time
4: Polt - Prince of the Tides
5: HerO - Fire and Ice
6: Dear - The Unending Royal Road
7: Maru - The Prince Who Would be King
8: Bomber - I Fought the Law (And I Won)
9: MMA - Out of Exile
10: MC - Cash Rules Everything Around Me
11: TaeJa - Fire and Ice
12: sOs - On the Cutting Edge
13: aLive - The Iconoclast
14: Mvp - The King
15: duckdeok - Faceless