Serral Takes Even More and Neeb Sends a Message in Challenger Playoffs

  • Padraic Murphy

The StarCraft II World Championship Series (WCS) North American and European Challenger playoffs have come to their dramatic conclusion, and the best professional players in the North American and European regions fought tooth and nail to make their marks in StarCraft history. It was also one of the last chances to collect as many WCS Points as possible ahead of the approaching WCS Global Finals.

In the European Challenger playoffs, Joona "Serral" Sotala reigned supreme once again, but he did not claim this crown without stiff competition. Throughout the third season of Challenger, Serral fell on four maps—more than he has lost in any other 2018 Challenger season. Furthermore, Serral’s opponents in the semifinals and finals—Julian "Lambo" Brosig and Mikołaj "Elazer" Ogonowski, respectively—seemed to be in their best form. Serral was far from untouchable in both matches. Despite his eventual victory, there were moments where the Finnish Zerg seemed outclassed by his peers.

In North America, Alex "Neeb" Sunderhaft had a near-perfect run, losing only one game in the playoffs. Although Serral’s dominance has overshadowed Neeb’s year in the eyes of many fans, Neeb has proven that he belongs near the top of the StarCraft II scene. When faced with the top opponents that North America has to offer, Neeb put on a show that would make any StarCraft II fan smile. Making his way through Jarod "JonSnow" George, Maru "MaSa" Kim, and Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn with only a single game loss to MaSa is a staggering feat. It was a clear example of how much work North American pro players have ahead of them if they want to rival Neeb.

Many of the players competing in these two Challenger playoffs were fighting for the last of the WCS Points available. The points secured in each season of WCS Challenger play a key role in deciding who heads to BlizzCon. While some of the players in the Challenger playoff brackets find themselves near the top of the WCS Circuit point standings, most are treading water just short of the top eight qualifying spots. Serral and Mexican Terran player Juan Carlos "SpeCial" Tena Lopez have clinched qualification for the 2018 WCS Global Finals. This leaves six spots from the WCS Circuit undecided as we prepare for the very last WCS Circuit tournament of 2018: WCS Montreal.

As bittersweet as it is to crown North American and European Challenger champions for the last time in 2018, there’s still a massive amount of StarCraft II action to look forward to before the year is over. Be sure to mark your calendars for Sept. 7, as WCS Montreal will decide the final list of players advancing to the WCS Global Finals.