My notes for 2020 include the fact Europe is drawing ever closer to Korea in terms of talent. Certainly Korean stars are aging or going to the military, and almost zero fresh blood is rising to take their place. But at the same time, talent in Europe, and to a minor degree in NA, is meeting the challenge. Koreans still occupy the majority of success in non-region locked tourneys, but it's not always Koreans lofting the trophy anymore.
And of course no notes on 2020 can escape COVID. Rendering all tournaments online, audiences didn't get to see what zero ping looked like. All battles were micro time delayed, which may not be visible to the casual observer, but is certainly a factor to be consideredwhen looking at success. Players either adapted, or didn't. Secondly the feeling of being in person, of having Home Story Cup, of camaraderie between the players and community—all different. Webcams are great, but nothing like sitting on the other side of monitors from your opponent and feeling the energy of the crowd.
But enough of my notes, here are the year's awards:
Comeback Player Award – Gotta be Byun. Can only be Byun. Watching him beat Serral, Reynor and Maru in the ASUS ROG tournament was amazing. Cure also deserves consideration. After getting dropped from JinAir Greenwings, he went on a rampage, winning several minor tournaments and getting all the way to the GSL final where a combination of TY and nerves appeared to get the better of him. Cure was also one of the few people to give Serral a real challenge, even beating him upon occasion. But Byun's ASUS ROG victory, as well as showings in other tournaments, not to mention all after coming back from the military, were truly inspiring. No other progamer who has returned has had that level of success. (Parting's Blizzcon/Katowice run is an honorable mention, as is Dongraegu's numerous upsets and sustained victories.)
Where Were You Player – This was a clear answer for me—and I hated writing it as he is one of my favorite progamers: sOs. The king of antics, the guy able to pull off the wildest strategies, and a consummate original in the world of SC2, his presence, or rather lack thereof, was sorely missed. SC2 more a psychological game than anything else, let's hope he re-finds his motivation next year. If not, thanks for the memories sOs; you will go into the SC2 Hall of Fame.
Best Tournament of the Year – ASUS ROG was excellent, as was Team Liquid 6, but I have to give the slightest edge to Blizzcon/Katowice 2021. The group stages were excellent. The round of 8 sizzled. And the final three matches—two reverse sweeps and a decent (not great) grand final capped off an awesome week of SC2.
And now to the player awards:
Best Foreign Terran – For the first time in several years, Special is not the best foreign Terran. Winning Dreamhack Winter Europe, placing high in a number of other tournaments, top Terran points getter, and occasionally taking down tier S players, it's Clem. No question. In one year, Clem achieved heights Special, unfortunately, still dreams of. (Still rooting for you, Special.) Honorable mention here goes to HeroMarine. If it were only the weekly ESL tourneys in scope, he would be god.
Best Foreign Protoss – Joining the classic standoff of Neeb and Showtime this year is Astrea. He and Neeb having the most epic of PvP duels, watching Astrea rise has been wonderful. But while Showtime was the most consistent foreign Protoss, he didn't achieve the heights of success of Neeb. Winning one of his region's seasonal finals and placing in the top 4 of one of the global season finals, neither Astrea or Showtime can say the same. Not a year to put on a poster for Foreign Protoss, but Neeb was the best of what there is.
Best Foreign Zerg – Reynor or Serral. Serral or Reynor. They fought head to head in some of the biggest matches of the year, and took home some of the most important trophies of the year. Five premiere victories for one, two for the other. 2,830 points for one, 2702 for the other. So close, so close. But based on his Blizzcon/Katowice performance, I think we have to go with Reynor. Serral was more consistent throughout the year, but Reynor took home more hardware, including the biggest piece, showing he had it when it counted most.
Best Korean Terran – This was a tougher one to call than I initially thought after looking into the details. TY dominated GSL, but was less successful in other tournaments. Maru, for example, won King of Battles, one of the GSL Super Tournaments, and placed top 4 at Blizzcon/Katowice, a tournament TY dropped out in the Ro. Of 8. Maru was also a GSL finalist. Finalist yes, not a winner because he lost to TY. TY a 2-time GSL winner, multiple time top-4 finisher in premiere tournaments, the more consistent player, and Koreas' top point getter, he gets the nod for Korean Terrans.
Best Korean Protoss – I was not on the Trap hype train last year. He had limited success, yes, but it was not convincing he would be able to get over the hump and actually win a premiere tournament, something which Stats did. In 2020 Trap threw that monkey off his back. It took him the entire year, but he finally found his groove, beating Serral in an amazing series to win the Last Chance global final, as well as two Super Tournaments. He gave hope that all is not lost for Protoss. Zest and Stats, while not winning anything premiere, deserve mention as both having had strong years, placing second in some of the biggest tournaments.
Best Korean Zerg – Not really a big choice here. Has to be Rogue. Winning the first IEM Katowice, winning a GSL, and the top point getter among zergs in Korea, it's clear. Dark was the only other player to win a premiere tournament, which isn't enough to topple Rogue.
Player of the Year – Whereas in years past this award was semi-straightfoward, or at least a showdown between two players, in 2020 the success was spread a little more evenly. TY was extremely successful in GSL, but less so outside Korea. Reynor and Serral dominated Europe and the world, but were challenged by a young guy named Clem. Maru won a number of tournaments. Rogue won the first Katowice and a GSL. In fact, when writing the draft of this article in December, I didn't know who it would be. I needed Blizzcon/Katowice to see who would not only step up, but step the highest. That obviously has to be Reynor. Taking down several tournament favorites (Dark, Zest, and Maru), not to mention engineering two reverse sweeps in a row to get to the final, as much as I dislike zerg, he has to get credit where credit is due. 2020 was his year—by a hair or two, but decidedly his. Congrats, Reynor. Keep smiling.
Matches of the Year
And lastly, matches of the year. As usual, I keep a side list of great matches, and at the end of the year I go through and look at them, selecting some honorable mentions as well as Match of the Year. Here they are:
Serral vs Zest IEM Katowice semis
Rogue vs. Maru IEM Katowice semis
Parting vs Maru - GSL 1 Round of 8
Cure vs Innovation - GSL 1 Semi-final
Soo vs Innovation TSL 5 - Grand Final
Astrea vs Neeb - NA Grand Final Season 1/Spring-Summer
Parting vs Cure - ITAX Super Series #14
Astrea vs Neeb - Dreamhack Fall - Final (not Grand Final)
Clem vs Reynor - Dreamhack Fall - Final (not Grand Final)
TY vs Maru - GSL Season 3 Final
Showtime vs Serral - ASUS ROG - Group Stage
Serral vs Byun - ASUS ROG Quarters
Maru vs. Reynor - ASUS ROG Quarters
Reynor vs. Dark - Blizzcon/Katowice quarters
Reynor vs. Maru - Blizzcon/Katowice semis
Trap vs Serral – Last Chance Finals
Trap vs Stats – Super Tournament #2 Finals
Reynor vs. Maru Blizzcon/Katowice semis
Serral vs Byun ASUS ROG Quarters
Parting vs Maru - GSL #1 Round of 8
Trap vs Serral – Last Chance Finals
Maru has been participant to a number of tense matches at the tail end of tournaments. Stubbornly playing his own bio-macro style, he often refuses to adapt when losing and instead buckles down to play his own way, harder, better, stronger. Dark can be just the same. In the first Super Tournament of 2020, both players found themselves playing in the Finals, and at the top of their games. I won't spoil how the match turns out, but suffice to say the swings of momentum occur regularly in game, and massively out game. But only one could win... May the most stubborn live in glory.