Inside the Championship: Serral on the Brink

  • Blizzard Entertainment

In Montreal, Joona “Serral” Satala finished off what has been a remarkable season for any World Championship Series (WCS) player, let alone someone of whom expectations were middling coming into 2018. He’s the first WCS grand slam winner—a self-created category of success for Serral—and is the undisputed top seed heading into the WCS Global Finals.

Having said that, Serral looked more vulnerable than he has at any other tournament in 2018, going 13-8 in the knockout phase (all Zerg vs. Zerg matchups) after a perfect 4-0 in the group stage. Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn and Julian “Lambo” Brosig gave him all the trouble he wanted in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, but it was in the finals against the smiley upstart, Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti, that had Serral desperately searching for answers. The rollercoaster ride of game six against Reynor is where we saw Serral struggle against a fearless tactically sound opponent (which is always a threat); show tremendous composure to stabilize and extend the game; and still find a way to use his championship pedigree to force the tap out.

Worker Count Before Battles
Battle at 12:00  Battle at 17:30 Battle at 29:25 
Reynor 63 50 21

Serral

56

52

43

Army Count Before Battles
Reynor 122 150 179
Serral 90 147 157

At the 12-minute mark, Reynor had his best chance to cripple the champ by taking out Serral’s third base with a Roach-Ravager attack from one angle and a Mutalisk flank from another. Most players would’ve been done in this situation, but Serral survived with strong Lurker usage and well placed anti-air defense. The difference was in perspective. Reynor’s approach in the first half of the game was to maintain his economic superiority using his army strength and positioning to threaten Serral at will, keeping the Finnish superstar off-balance. Serral responded with championship-level heart and focus by mirroring Reynor, defending with sound mechanics—all while continuing to peck away with attacks on Reynor’s worker lines.

The battle beginning around the 17:30 mark showed Serral’s determination as Reynor introduced a significant Viper threat to the fight with the confidence of a big bank and booming economy behind him. Solid Lurker placement and superior focus got Serral through the moment. Though he appeared to be on the back foot ahead of that fight (and afterwards), Serral correctly read that the mobility of Reynor’s main army was the Italian Zerg’s best defense. From that point forward Serral would consistently force Reynor to make decisions about army positioning and threat assessment, subtly testing 16-year-old Reynor’s nerves by regularly picking off handfuls of workers. It was the StarCraft II equivalent of being in half-guard in mixed martial arts: The player that appears to be at a disadvantage is well in control as long as they stay composed.

After surviving those two main attacks, Serral put on a master class in control, confidence, and composure for the remaining 15 minutes. All the dodging and parrying from Serral finally took its toll on Reynor. In the epic battle kicking off at the 29:25 mark, Reynor’s superior army seemed to provide an initial advantage, but just ended up being a ball of expensive fodder. Serral did a better job of focusing on his opponent’s high-value units so that, in the aftermath—with both players reeling from huge losses—the Finnish Zerg was able to finish the game with his bread-and-butter style of play, using cheap Hydralisks to mop up and force a seventh game.

Serral took this map, and effectively the series, by leveraging a defensive style that eventually lured Reynor into an all-out assault where the two exchanged expensive units, leaving the more composed champion in a comfortable position to do what he does best. Serral’s toolkit for the WCS Global Finals seems to be complete.