Will this be the year?
It’s the question on everyone’s mind: Can Serral be the first back-to-back WCS Global Champion? Can anything stop the Finnish Phenom on the biggest stage of all? Many have labeled this a foregone conclusion, an obvious bookend to another dominant year by the world’s most feared Zerg.
There are those who would disagree. Fifteen of them, in fact, each having battled their way through a year of grueling competition for the right to stake their own claims.
The Global Finals are nearly upon us. The groups have been drawn. The stage has been set. The story lines are in motion.
Of all the Round of 16 groups, Group A may be the most volatile. Top-seeded Korean player Park "Dark" Ryung Woo enters the Global finals on a nearly year-long roll, a #1 seed who capped off a fantastic 2019 with a GSL Super Tournament win. Yet his reputation as a “foreigner-killer” has been tested recently, with an early exit from GSL vs. the World at the hands of a certain Polish Zerg player (more on him later). And despite being an 8 seed, Tobias "ShoWTimE" Sieber has shown he can beat Dark in the past, splitting his games 2-2 at last year’s Global Finals against the Korean Zerg.
Meanwhile, ever-consistent Juan Carlos "SpeCial" Tena Lopez is coming off a career year that featured his first-ever Circuit finals appearance and a strong showing at GSL vs. The World. His opponent, Eo “soO” YungSu, may lack the recent consistency of the Mexican Terran player, but does have a 2019 IEM Katowice championship under his belt, showing that he’s nearly unbeatable when on form. With time to prepare for their matchup, SpeCial may prove a huge obstacle for soO to overcome on his quest for the elusive Global Finals gold.
It should come as no surprise that Group B has been dubbed the “Group of Death”. It would be enough to have 2018 World Champion Joona "Serral" Sotala in the group. As the perennial tournament favorite at the peak of his power, Serral once again looks unstoppable, with every player in the tournament seemingly accepting him as the best player in the world. Add to that his first round opponent, Kim "Stats" Dae Yeob - the man Serral defeated last year to win the Championship - and you already have a recipe for high drama and amazing games.
...But Group B’s starpower doesn’t stop there. Chinese phenom Li "TIME" Peinan makes his finals debut after displaying incredible consistency throughout the year, with particularly strong showings at GSL vs. The World and Assembly Summer. His opponent? None other than Cho "Maru" Seong Ju, the consensus “best Terran in the world” and winner of four of the last six GSL Code S tournaments.
Can TIME take the next step and challenge Maru for the crown of “best Terran”? Is this the day Stats gets his revenge on the Finnish legend? Will fans finally get the Maru vs. Serral series they’ve been clamoring for?
Group C features big names and big story lines. All eyes are naturally on Riccardo "Reynor" Romiti, the Italian upstart who managed to hand Serral a pair of losses this year en route to his WCS Winter and WCS Summer titles. While Reynor may be running hot in 2019, he’s failed to deliver against top Korean opponents as of late, and Kim ‘herO’ Joon Ho is a seasoned veteran with years of dunking on foreign opposition.
On the other side of the group, Kim “Classic” Dowoo managed to sneak into the event at the 11th hour, and is now looking to leave his mark on the StarCraft II world with a deep tournament run in his final season before his mandatory military service. With this kind of motivation it’s going to take a massive effort from his opponent to overcome - but luckily, Gabriel "HeRoMaRinE" Segat is up to this enormous task. With an incredibly consistent year behind him and huge showings recently against powerhouses Trap and Serral, HeRoMaRinE is primed for a colossal breakout.
If you showed a StarCraft II fan Group D at the start of the year, and told them Cho "Trap" Sung Ho would be the most consistent among the four players, they might believe you. If you told them he would also be the most successful, they might be shocked. And yet Trap has silenced the doubters at nearly every turn in 2019, making two consecutive GSL Code S finals and securing the #2 seed in Korea. The one thing that has eluded him, of course, is a tournament win - something he aims to correct at this year’s Global Finals. On the other hand, his opponent, Mikołaj "Elazer" Ogonowski, has shown that he’s incredibly dangerous for a 7-seed, having made a finals run of his own at GSL vs. The World back in August. With top-8 and top-4 Global Finals finishes under his belt, Elazer always brings his best game when the stakes are highest - and they don’t get any bigger than this.
Alex "Neeb" Sunderhaft and Lee "Rogue" Byeongyeol are enigmas. It wasn’t too long ago that Neeb was winning Korean tournaments and tearing up the WCS Circuit and Rogue was lying dormant after winning massive, 6-figure purses and collecting World Championship trophies. Yet those memories seem distant now, with Rogue once again surging just in time for the Finals and Neeb seemingly unable to break out of Serral’s oppressive shadow. Which version of each player will show up? Will Neeb shake off a heartbreaking GSL vs. the World loss to again show he can beat top Koreans on their own soil? And will Rogue show a repeat of his dominant 2017 Finals run with the aid of a well-timed hot streak?
With everything on the line, this year’s Global Finals is sure to be a fight to remember. The battle begins October 23 at 8:00 p.m. PDT with the live broadcast of the WCS Global Finals group stage from BlizzCon Opening Week on twitch.tv/starcraft.