Ever since the release of the original StarCraft, the game’s competitions have been dominated by South Korean pro gamers. In recent years, though, change has come. In part due to Blizzard splitting its competitive scene into South Korea and the World, the talent in the latter region has had more of a chance to develop. Foreigners started winning tournaments.
In 2016-17 it was American Protoss Alex “Neeb” Sunderhaft, who dominated both the international WCS circuit. This achievement would include his Korean competition. The next year was that of Joona “Serral” Sotala. The Finnish Zerg won seven premier tournaments, crowning his performance with 2018’s world championship title.
Who’d win the 2019 title? Would Serral be the game’s first back-to-back champion, or would a new challenger rise up?
Welcome to BlizzCon
Due to fan outcry, this year the StarCraft II Global Finals took place in the Blizzard Arena. This meant that all matches would have to be played in one day, to make place for other titles the next. It would be a long night, considering the schedule from the round of 8 to the grand finals.
Proceedings started off with a touching tribute to Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson. The former pro-player and commentator had been a prominent member of the scene since Brood War and his passing in July came as a shock to many. Last month Blizzard made a commemorative bundle featuring iNcontroL’s voice pack available for free in-game, but this was a fitting addition in memory of the big guy.
Then the games began. The round of 16 matches, played in Seoul, South Korea the week previous, had quickly proven that the Koreans were not ready to be counted out yet. Only two foreigners made it to BlizzCon proper. They were arguably the strongest ones, but also on the same side of the bracket. Suddenly, the tournament could go anyone’s way.
WCS Titans Battle for Supremacy
World champion Serral faced off with Korean Zerg Eo “soO” Yoon Soo first, in what ended up a much closer series than expected. Even though the world champion scouted each of soO’s attempts at surprising him, the latter played solid games that at times looked like he should have won them. But, by what’s also the strength of his opponent, he didn’t and Serral went 3-0.
Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti was up against the Protoss Cho “Trap” Sung Ho next. The only player who’d consistently given Serral a run for his money this year, Reynor still had a decidedly harder time with his opponent, winning the series 3-2 and giving us the highest IQ abduct slash recall of the year.
Uhhhhh, WHAT?! ?? #BlizzCon2019
— StarCraft Esports (@esportstarcraft) November 1, 2019
On the other side of the bracket, 2016 finalist Park “Dark” Ryung Woo took out the sole Terran Cho “Maru” Seong Ju in three rather one-sided games. Fortunately, Protoss player Kim “Classic” Doh Woo, on his last hurrah before military service, managed to defeat once BlizzCon winner Lee “Rogue” Byung Ryul as well, saving spectators from a Zerg-only top 4.
Which is not to say there would be no ZvZ. In fact, this would be on the menu for the very next series, where Serral and Reynor would decide which of them would make it to the final. Throughout the year, the two players had been taking turns eliminating each other from tournaments. Unfortunately for Serral, he’d decisively beaten Reynor 4-1 at WCS Fall. This meant it was now the Italian Zerg’s turn to defeat him 3-2.
In the other semi-final Classic, who’d played a strong PvZ series versus Rogue, had a lot more trouble with Dark’s style of Zerg. His all-ins did not have any effect as Dark just weathered the storm and rolled over his opponent in 3 games.
If not Serral, then Who?
This left us with a Reynor versus Dark finals. Knowing there would be five Zergs present, Dark had clearly come with some strategies prepared. In game one, he overwhelmed Reynor with a Muta-Bane transition and in the second he managed to cripple his opponent early with a map-specific Swarm host-Nydus build.
His game three all-in failed, however. With some excellent crisis management Reynor managed to hold Dark’s 12 pool to put himself on the board. Unfortunately, that would be his only win, with the next two games again being fairly one-sided affairs. Dark’s baneling control and Nydus plays ultimately won him the series and the crown.
Next year promises to bring a lot of change to the game. The upcoming balance update, while not far-reaching enough for some, does seem like it will rid us of the past year’s Zerg hegemony. But with the only StarCraft II announcement at BlizzCon a new co-op commander, there is uncertainty in what the WCS will look like next year.
It is known that this wasn’t the last StarCraft II of 2019. That honor befalls TaKeTV’s HomeStory Cup XX, to be played in Berlin at the end of the month. Here, it’s expect fans will see some rematches for last weekend. Considering the quality of these games, that’s something to look forward to.
Written by Xander Teunissen