This weekend saw the Blizzard World Championship Series finals take place in Stockholm. Here's what happened ahead of the WCS World Finals in China later this year.
As the weekend approached at the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, there was a lot of speculation as to who would leave with the all-important tickets for the world finals in China. There were many familiar faces missing in the forms of NaNiwa, ToD, ClouD, BlinG, SaSe, Strelok and Kas; in their places were relatively unknown players like Orly, JeaL, StarEagle and Noticimus. The absence of some of Europe's most well known players left somewhat of a void in the player pool, creating an air of uncertainty. Some of these new faces were nearly unheard of in the competitive Starcraft 2 community and so the audience at large had no idea what to expect from them. Alongside these players were better known SC2 up-and-comers like LucifroN, VortiX and Britain's JonnyREcco. These players had showcased some top class play over the previous months but had not yet established themselves as consistent top tier contenders. This weekend would really show how they could handle themselves against Europe's best.
The favourites coming into the tournament were certainly the powerhouse Zergs in the form of Frances Ilyes "Stephano" Satouri, who recently signed with tem EG, and Artur "Nerchio" Bloch from Poland. Both players have shown they can perform consistently well against the very best the world has to offer; they would be massive roadblocks for anyone else hoping to get to the finals.
The first round was a big disappointment for British fans, as all three representatives were knocked into the losers bracket followed up by eliminations in the following three rounds. Former Warcraft 3 pro and rising SC2 star Grubby was also knocked down in round one by Russian Zerg sLivko. Despite this early setback, he became one of the weekend's most interesting stories, as he proceeded to smash his way through the lower bracket beating top players like Ret and Nerchio, showing he was no P v Z slouch. He finished in 5-6th place, securing one of the all-important paid trips to the World Finals and $1,200 in prize money. With his legions of Chinese fans from his Warcraft 3 days, Grubby is certainly going to draw a lot of attention at the World Finals in Shanghai.
After a shocking loss in the first round, Nerchio also dropped to the lower bracket but proceeded to power through several strong players including ThorZain, eliminating the home crowd favourite from the tournament entirely. His eventual loss to Grubby meant a finish in 7th-8th place, missing out on a top six finish and a trip to the finals. His salvation came in the form of his Zerg counterpart Stephano. Having already qualified for the World Finals before the tournament, coming in the top six meant that there was one additional slot left which Nerchio secured by defeating Russian Terran Happy in a 7th-8th place play off. Starcraft fans breathed a sigh of relief as past tournaments have shown that Nerchio can defeat the best players in the world and will probably be one of Europe's best hopes for victory in China.
As one of the strongest regions in Europe, the weekend was a massive disappointment for the Nordic nations. Only one of the six players made the cut and it was in the form of Danish Protoss Jon "BabyKnight" Andersen. Though he would not be the man many would have picked to qualify before the tournament, he has had several strong appearances this year and had a lot of confidence coming in to the event, stating he expected to make at least the quarterfinals and that a top six finish was a realistic goal. Finishing just above him in 4th place was Belarusian player Anton "LoWeLy" Plebanovich. Despite a long history in Starcraft Broodwar, he had yet to make a splash in the SC2 scene. Flying under the radar, he has maintained a relatively low profile since the release of SC2 with a few minor cup wins and some mid-tier performances. Even his sweep of the Combined European nationals without dropping a game netted him little in the way of attention. This weekend showed why we should have been watching as LoWeLy defeated strong opponents in all three match ups and secured his ticket to China. Time will tell if he can stand up to the best in the world or if he will just slide back into mid tier anonymity.
Possibly the biggest story of the weekend came from the brothers Duran; Juan "VortiX" Duran and Pedro "LucifroN" Duran. While many in the eSports scene will know LucifroN from his successful Warcraft 3 career, his younger brother VortiX has been a more recent addition to the pro scene. Both brothers tore through the upper bracket leaving a trail of bodies in their wake to make it through to the semi-finals. While VortiX prevailed making it to the finals, his older brother was knocked down by Stephano 2 - 1 in some of the weekends most exciting games. This left some disappointed as by this point many had hoped to see a battle-of-the-brothers final. They were not left disappointed for long however as the brothers did meet in the lower bracket finals and in some intense games the younger Duran proved to be the stronger defeating his brother 2 - 0 setting himself up for a rematch against Stephano in the finals.
Regardless of his outstanding performance in the tournament so far, VortiX went into the finals as the heavy underdog. His opponent Stephano has been hailed as the best foreigner for some time and had reached the grand finals of WCS EU with an 18-1 record--only dropping one map in the entire competition to date. On top of this, Stephano had already defeated VortiX in a best of three in the upper bracket final meaning--the Spaniard would have to win two best of three games to be crowned champion of Europe. After the first game it looked like Stephano would carry on his winning streak as with perfect macro and astounding engagements he blew his opponent out of the water. Yet VortiX was not to be outdone, and with extreme Zergling aggression, obscene micro and faultless transitions he took the first series 2-1. However, Stephano closed out the second set winning 2-0, showing why he is hailed as one of the best players in the world. He continues to dominate top competitions despite rumours that he practices very little. Top SC2 commentator Kevin "RotterdaM" Van Der Kooi even commented that Stephano had not practiced for 6 days before the tournament and had endured a gruelling 20 hour trip arriving just as the tournament was starting. If he can do so well in these conditions, is there anyone out there who can stop him?
This weekend was a huge success for the SC2 community and some huge landmarks were achieved. During the finals, the stream peaked at over 100,000 concurrent viewers, possibly the highest in Starcraft 2 history. With the winnings of this tournament, Stephano also became the highest earning player in 2012 eclipsing even the best Korean players. Another major shift in the scene is evident when looking at the players who have so far qualified for the World Finals. Even with the Asian continental finals yet to come, it is looking entirely possible that there will only be four Terran players in the entire field of 32, a big change from the earlier days of SC2.
All this means that we can now look forward to the WCS World Finals in November, where the winner will take home $100,000 and the title of World Champion.