Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Starcraft II - 2019 Year in Review

The confetti has fallen on Blizzcon, which means it's time to take a look back at Starcraft II in 2019. On one hand it was a fairly dramatic year with unique high and lows, but as the year closed out it had become very consistent: Zerg, Zerg, Zerg, which wasn't the most dramatic thing. So, as has become normal here at Speculiction, let's take a look at some awards, best matches, and how predictions came about.


The players...

Feel Good Moment of the Year
This absolutely has to go to Soo winning IEM Katowice. Nothing has drawn the SCII community together like that. Seeing the photo of all the Korean pro-gamers at a restaurant afterwards celebrating makes the heart feel good, just as much as soo's tears of relief and joy.

Best Korean Zerg
Korean points leader, GSL champion, and Blizzcon winner, can there be any doubt that Dark was the best Korean Zerg in 2019? Rogue and Soo had solid years winning premiere titles, but Dark just blew them out of the water.

Best Korean Terran
Based more on his early year play versus late year play, Maru was still the best Terran in Korea, not to mention the only Terran from Korea to make it to Blizzcon. TY was on the cusp, but based on the fact he won nothing in 2019 compared to Maru's fourth consecutive GSL victory puts the baby-faced one on top.

Best Korean Protoss
Trap was second in points to Dark and did make it to two consecutive GSL finals, but is there anybody who would put money on Trap to take a premier tournament? I wouldn't. Taking a premier tournament, however, is something that Classic did (GSL Super Tournament), not to mention making it to top 4 at four other premier tournaments, as well as being a GSL finalist. Stats did win ASUS ROG, arguably the best tournament of the year, not to mention finished second at IEM Katowice, but Classic was just more consistent. Saying goodbye to the Chin-toss is not easy as he goes away for military service, but that blink DT final game against Rogue at Blizzcon is a nice farewell.

Best Foreign Zerg
One of the most contentious awards of the year, Reynor took two premier tournament titles, finishing second in two more, including Blizzcon. Both of his wins came over Serral, a player who took home three premier tournament titles, placed second in three more, and was top 4 at everything else except IEM Katowice. Mid-year Reynor was not as consistent or successful as Serral was overall, therefore I think the nod has to go to the Finnish phenom.

Best Foreign Terran
For the third year in a row (at least since this blog has been doing Year in Review), this award goes not to the Terran player who won the most, rather to the player who failed the least: Special. At least sniffing a premier trophy this year (he finished second in WCS Spring), it's the most “success” he's had, just not able to finish. Time and Heromarine both had consistent years and qualified for Blizzcon, but are still not able to keep up with Special, who was competing in both WCS and GSL.

Best Foreign Protoss
And once again, for the third year in a row, it's Neeblet. Winning one premier tournament (WCS Spring Americas) and consistently reaching top-8 in the rest, the award is his. Showtime had a solid year, and was the only other Protoss to make it to Blizzcon, but Neeb outshone him.

Most Entertaining Player
This has to be Reynor, I think. The energy, upset potential, and consistent development throughout the year, not to mention being the only one capable of taking down Serral on a regular basis, brought life to a lot of games that might not otherwise have had it. Tournament finals with Serral but without Reynor made for far less exciting SCII (Serral vs Special, Serral vs Elazer, etc.) I also considered herO for this award, but for the first time in his career, or least when he was in a hot streak, he seemed unable to finish the big one, and thus missed out.

Breakout Player
I guess this award has to go to Time. While he didn't win anything permier, he showed extremely strong matches, challenging even Serral, and made it to his first Blizzcon through consistent gameplay like we've never seen from him throughout the year. Hopefully he gets even better next year.

Comeback Player
I didn't put a huge amount of thought into this. I awarded the first player who came to mind: herO. He finished top 4 at IEM Katowice as well as at one of the Super Tournaments, but was at least always viable throughout the year, that is after an extended period lacking consistent, quality games. He is another player close to mandatory military service, so good to see him give his all before leaving.

Missing Player
I hate to give this award to Zest because I really like him. Except for a good run at ASUS ROG, he was mostly absent from the scene—not physically, rather in terms of success. Close to mandatory military service himself, one has to wonder: is that the last we've seen of Zest?

Player of the Year
This was the closest award of the year. Serral and Dark both had monster years, leading one to wonder what would a Dark vs Serral Blizzcon final have looked like? (We were one bad decision about Ultralisks away from knowing...) As mentioned, Serral won or took second in almost e-ver-y tournament he participated in, only slipping to 3rd-4th place in a couple of others. Dark took home a GSL, a Super Tournament, and the big daddy: Blizzcon, not to mention finished respectively in many other tournaments. In such a case, I have to go with consistency, and Serral was the more consistent player throughout the year. He was the one you knew, based on the evidence, that was extremely likely to get to the final two, and if it weren't for Reynor, likely he would have many more premiere victories. Dark was slightly less dependable. It was only at the end of the year that you believed he would dominate—like Serral. Alas, we will never see the Serral Dark final of 2019... Maybe in a parallel universe?

The games....

Tournament of the Year
IEM Katowice was great, as were the two GSL Super Tournaments and GSL vs. the World, as well as WCS Spring and Summer. But I think the award has to go to ASUS ROG Assembly. A pleasant surprise, something SCII needs a lot more of, it quickly pulled together the world's best players and delivered some of the most exciting matches over a four-day stretch. A pseudo-fill in for the Dreamhacks and IEMs we used to get so much more regularly, it was great for SCII's swan song to see so much truly international, quality play over a long weekend.

Match of Year
Before I get to the actual match of the year, I must lament. 2019 was not the greatest year in SCII for me, particularly toward the end when it was clear Zerg was OP. When the playing field is not fair in any game, I switch off, which is what I did a fair amount of in the late summer and fall. I watched Blizzcon to see if the several-week break allowed Terran or Protoss to break the Zerg meta, but alas, it was inherent. That being said, I did watch a number of high quality matches throughout the year, and have a few to share.

Honorable Mentions
Classic vs Rogue – Blizzcon Top 8 (Classic playing in what might have been his last match ever)
Serral vs. Stats – ASUS ROG Semifinals
Serral vs. Time – ASUS ROG Quarterfinals
Innovation vs. Serral – WESG Finals

Match of the Year
Match of the Year, as is fitting for 2019, is a ZvZ: Serral vs. Soo in the quarterfinals of IEM Katowice. The first big tournament of the year, Serral was looking to add the one big trophy he'd missed the previous year. Soo, well, what more needs to be said about the perpetual Kong—the master of second place, now driven by looming military service and inner demons. From a different perspective, you have likely the best late-game Zerg player ever in Serral, taking on likely the best early-mid game player in Soo. In short, Serral seems his most vulnerable in the early going, just as Soo seems to falter after fifteen minutes as more complex units are needed. One the master strategist, and the other the master tactician, who would win? Well, you can watch to find out for yourself if you don't already know, suffice to say they are some of the hardest fought matches you'll ever see. Blood, sweat, and tears—when indomitable hunger drives both players. Map #3 should go down in history as one of the greatest SCII games of all time.


Looking back, I see I didn't post the draft I had written of “Starcraft II – 2019 The Year in Preview”, so you'll just have to trust me about the following predictions. (When you see how ridiculous some are, it will be easier to suspend your disbelief.) My comments are in italics.

  • Soo wins a GSL (I was wrong, but soo did win IEM Katowice, making for at least half a point when considered in context.)
  • Parting wins a premier tournament (While not coming true, Parting at least showed us a glimpse of what used to make him one of the most exciting players on the scene by getting a fair distance in a couple of big name tourneys.)
  • Serral's WCS streak comes to an end (It took two WCSs, but it did happen, at the hands of Reynor)
  • Three predominant Korean players retire (I'd have to look back, but I think seeing Fantasy, Classic, and at least two others off into the sunset whose names slip my mind at the moment, qualifies.)
  • Innovation returns to form and wins a GSL (Wrong. Innovation was not off the radar, but certainly close to the edge, WESG being his lone, but huge, premier win, especially over Serral. The machine seems to be winding down.)
  • Special wins a premier tournament (Close but no cigar. Actually, it wasn't that close. Serral crushed him 4-0—but he still made it to the finals.)

Elephant in the Room...

The elephant in the room is OP Zerg. (I was going to write: “SCII has been zerged.”, but decided against the bad pun.) The simple stat proving this is, of the sixteen premier tournaments in 2019, Zerg won ten (by five different players: Reynor, Rogue, Serral, Dark, and Soo). Of those ten, five were ZvZ. Indeed, three were Serral vs Reynor, but even Blizzcon, the culmination of a year's worth of tournaments featured Reynor and Dark. While I agree ZvZ has become an exciting matchup, no longer just roach v roach, it gets old quick knowing something deeper in game design is at fault. We can't blame the players; they are just exploiting what is available. But game designers for certain should be challenged to come up with ways of re-balancing the game. If the state of affairs in 2019 continues into 2020, there are going to be more viewers than just me fading away. After all, virtually knowing the outcome of a tournament before the tournament actually occurs saps a lot of the enjoyment. Blizzard, please do something. (I just watched Homestory Cup XX on the new balance patch, and voila, Zerg dominance and ZvZ final... Not sure that fixed it...)


Geoff inControl Robinson – RIP. I didn't always appreciate your toilet humor, but your intelligence, sensitivity, and all around passion and participation in SCII are and will be missed. There is truly a hole in the scene. My condolences to your loved ones left behind.

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