Dave Oliver, Blizzard Entertainment
With the 2018 season officially underway, the World Championship Series (WCS) Challenger series has given us our first taste in what to expect from the coming year. We have a lot of familiar faces among the 16 qualifiers, and it’s going to be a great show to see who will come out on top as the first Circuit champion of 2018.
European Zergs Still Reign
Last year, we saw Zergs absolutely terrorize the WCS Circuit. Qualifiers produced Zerg-heavy tournament seeding, and bracket stages were full of high-level Zerg versus Zerg matches. With all the major changes made to the balance of the game late last year, there was a question as to whether Zerg would still dominate the tournament scene. While the overall dispersion for qualified Leipzig players leans more toward Terran this year, the European scene is still all about those top Zerg players.
In the Zerg-heavy bracket stages for the European qualifiers, we saw Mikolaj “Elazer” Ogonowski, Joona “Serral” Sotala, and Artur “Nerchio” Bloch rise above the rest to qualify directly to WCS Leipzig. The only non-Zerg to qualify was Marc “uThermal” Schlappi, who’s been showing incredible growth and improvement the last two years. If he keeps up this pace, he could be a strong championship contender to watch in the WCS Circuit this year.
The Usual Suspects from North America
North American StarCraft II has eased into a comfortable place. We typically see the same faces qualify for each WCS event, and for good reason. Alex “Neeb” Sunderhaft is supremely talented, having won three of the four Circuit championships last year. Crowd favorite Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn is making big waves in the elite Global StarCraft II League in Korea. Bang “TRUE” Tae Soo is one of the most consistent players in the region and is almost always present in the quarterfinals or semifinals. And Maru “MaSa” Kim has been a strong player for years, often making a splash at Circuit events. Seeing these four once again make the roster for a Circuit event all but guarantees some incredible series in Leipzig.
2017 was an incredible year for Diego “Kelazhur” Schwimer. His growth as a player was explosive last year, and he said in a post-game interview that if he wasn’t going to take a championship in 2017 that he’d make sure to do so in 2018. If his rise continues into this season, that’s not a far stretch. The other Latin American player to qualify was the ever-popular Juan Carlos “SpeCial” Tena Lopez. When he showed up at WCS Austin with a highly aggressive Korean style, he looked unstoppable. If not for Neeb’s indomitable skills, SpeCial may very well have been the force to beat throughout early 2017. He’s bound to make an equally great splash at this year’s events, so keep an eye on him as we head into Leipzig.
Seither Surges Ahead
The Australia/New Zealand region has always been extremely passionate and talented at StarCraft II. Though they only have two slots available to qualify for Circuit events, we typically see a highly contested struggle between three top-tier players. Sean “Probe” Kempen is a consistent force to be reckoned with in the region, and this Challenger series was no different. But the standout performance belonged to Sheldon “Seither” Barrow. Seither crushed each of his series without dropping a single game all the way to the finals. While Probe managed to take him down in a close ace match, it was an incredible final series. Unfortunately, Seither isn’t able to attend Leipzig, so his spot will be filled by Cameron “Yours” Foster. Yours gave an incredible performance throughout the tournament and has been rising through the ranks in recent years. WCS Leipzig will be his first time on the global stage, so it’s going to be exciting to see how he performs.
WCS Leipzig kicks off the WCS Circuit on January 26, and it’s going to be interesting to see the first major event after all the balance updates and tweaks from late last year.