Unsurprisingly, the Korean contingent was once again strongly represented as only 4 out of 16 players were flying non-South Korean flags. The almost decade-long domination was continuing on foreigner soil as players like JaeDong, InnoVation and MMA had set their sights on the trophy, seemingly disregarding any type of foreign opposition. Despite circumstances looking grim, the tournament was not a one-sided affair, but rather a pioneer, an example if you will, but I will reflect upon this later on.
The recap will be divided into four sections: Expectations and Production, Four days of War, Results and Aftermath, all of which are self-explanatory. They will reflect my experience and thoughts as a viewer so I would advise you to treat this piece as an editorial. Once this is clear, let us dive right in.
Expectations and Production
Neither casters, nor viewers were deluding themselves into thinking that more than one foreigner would or could break the top three. A vast majority of elite Korean representatives never left sight of the trophy which made the foreign squad's task incredibly difficult. Competition was stiffer than ever as InnoVation, JaeDong and Maru were just the beginning of the "potential champion" list. The caliber and diversity of Korean players and play styles definitely added to the quality of games. We had the quite (somewhat) ironic trio of regional champions Maru, duckdeok and Polt. All top caliber players, but with completely different strengths and weaknesses.
The foreign "legion" represented only 1/4 of the total contestants. Realistically, only NaniWa and Scarlett were carrying the heavy burden. Both have proven that they can take games off anyone from the Asians and have demonstrated endurance and experience in addition to making deep runs in the past with not one or two heavy upsets. On the other hand, no one really tried to predict how Welmu or Grubby would do given the fatal group stage draw which made all such efforts redundant as their future opponents ranged from recent OSL winners to MLG and Korean Super Tournament Champions.
A dark picture no doubt, but that did not take away from the foreigner spirit in Cologne. Swarms of fans did their best to cheer our small squad against their opponents and the results were definitely interesting.
Now let us touch a bit more on production. As mentioned earlier this was a heavily hyped event. The tweets about the "spectacular, incredible and secret" stage by Carmac along with casters and community figures swarmed Twitter days before the event. The time and effort put into advertising was incredible and I personally was quite surprised to see how well the competition was handled. Historically, most of the overhyped "super" or "one of a kind" events have let us down in quite the number of ways. Seeing casters and hosts gracefully "taking care" of delays and minor technical difficulties was pleasant to observe. I cannot recall even having a big number of delays which is a plus. The only technical downside would probably be the Twitter complaints about different regions having trouble with stream quality which although important is not enough to ruin the otherwise good impression.
The stage itself was, in my opinion, nothing special, but it suited the purpose of the tournament perfectly. ESL chose a space approach resembling MLG, but with a part of the construction going inside the crowd where the trophy stood a la DreamHack. The players did not have to go through a big crowd to reach the booths and the spectators could somehow "embrace" their champion once he/she "enters" the trophy part. Taking the best of both stages and implementing it in the best way possible.
Aside from this, we were once again spoiled by the casting from Artosis, Apollo, Rotterdam and the rest of the gang which this time really did their homework. We were given well-balanced casting pairs who were constantly rotating to give the most to the viewer which was a fresh break from the "power casting duos" we have seen in the past. Overall, the WCS Season 2 finals is a perfect example of how a big tournament should be held in terms of production. Of course there is a lot more to be done and it will never be perfect, but things are definitely going in the right direction.
Four days of War
The group stage action started immediately with the Protoss heavy Group A. EG's JaeDong quickly grabbed a 2-0 head start which spearheaded him into the 1/4 finals while Welmu was the first player to be eliminated. In the following struggle, SKT1's youngster Rain defeated the "Boss Toss" MC and ended his Season 2 run. Group B seemed to follow suit as First and Bomber made swift work of Polt and Grubby and earned their spots in day two.
Obama toss had a rather unfortunate campaign.
The first big surprise came from Group C where InnoVation and TaeJa were expected to wreak havoc. Interestingly enough, only half of that came true as two quick defeats sent the defending champion and STX ace packing, the critical blow being dealt by none other than the "King Slayer" NaniWa. After a draw for 2nd and 3rd place, Naniwa and duckdeok faced once more to determine who progresses into day three. This time, the Swede seemed more focused and dispatched his opponent with a clear 2-0, taking a small revenge for the loss in the WCS Europe playoffs earlier this season. With this victory, the Alliance player became the first foreigner that qualified for the bracket stage with all eyes being now on Team Acer's Scarlett.
Group D defied every prediction as last minute replacement aLive cruised through with a 2-0, followed by the "Queen of Blades" Scarlett, who defeated both Maru and MMA 2-0 to become the second foreigner passing the group stage. For the two Korean Terrans this was a heavy disappointment. Maru could have used a deep run here to cement his status as consistent major threat, while MMA missed yet another chance to show why he was considered an equal to MVP many moons ago.
The 1/4 finals kicked off with First narrowly beating EG's aLive who somehow managed to lose his momentum after an excellent performance the day before. Afterwards came the much anticipated clash between The Tyrant JaeDong and Alliance's Naniwa who seemed more than excited at the opportunity to add another bounty to his long list of eliminations. Unfortunately, the Zerg player dismantled the Swede, losing only once( the second time someone took a map from him in the tournament. Despite putting on a good show, what the Protoss had to offer was not enough to bring down the solid play style and relentless aggression of the former Brood War champion.
In probably the most anti-climatic match of the playoffs, TaeJa made quick work of SKT1's Rain who was overwhelmed by the Terran's attacks. The Protoss could not find an answer and succumbed to a top 8 finish while his opponent continued his foreign tournament dominance after winning Assembly Summer 2013 roughly three weeks earlier.
In the last match of the 1/4 finals, the only remaining foreign hope had to face Bomber who looked on top of his game. In a very promising start to the series, Scarlett grabbed the first win which sadly, did not throw her Korean opponent off balance. The Terran quickly retaliated and not only managed to equalise, but also took game 3, now standing on match point against Team Acer's star. Scarlett demonstrated incredible composure and held attack after attack in game four, answering the constantly switching strategies of the StarTale Terran with pinpoint decision making and equally cost-effective macro management. When the time came, The Swarm took it's victim and the series was tied 2-2 once again. The fifth game however, went Bomber's way as the relentless aggression and impeccable use of Widow Mines and Hellions rewarded him with multiple enemy casualties ranging from Drones to Mutalisks. The last foreign hope fell, but in my eyes, she established herself as the best non-Korean player at the moment surpassing Naniwa by a good margin.
The semi-finals continued the trend as JaeDong crushed First with a convincing 3-0 to become the first grand finalist, patiently awaiting to see who will face him. The other match went "the distance" with TaeJa and Bomber exchanging blows with each other while trying to outwit the opponent. Korean TvT has always been incredibly interesting (with a few exceptions of course) and this series gave us another dose of non-stop action featuring massive siege compositions, an incredible comeback, crisp decisions, marine drops and world class micro. In the end, the fairy tale was complete as both JaeDong and Bomber, players who have always had incredible tournament runs, but somehow always ended up second, now had to face each other for the ultimate prize of Season 2.
Unfortunately, the final lasted not more than 45 minutes as Bomber completely dismantled his countryman. In four consecutive games, the terran dominated the Brood War legend and by sticking to his macro-oriented strengths, wacky Wings of Liberty-ish strategies and non-stop Marine/Widow Mine aggression, he managed to end his two-year dry period. Bomber won his first major tournament since MLG Raleigh while JaeDong had to add another second place finish to his record.
StarCraft 2 WCS Season 2 Final Standings:
2. Jae Dong 'Jaedong' Lee - 20,000$
3. Kang 'First' Hyun Woo - 10,000$
4. Young Seo 'TaeJa' Yoon - 10,000$
In addition to this, the statistics show that more than 115,000 concurrent viewers tuned in to see the grand finals which is more than satisfactory considering that the number is taken into account excluding Chinese and Korean streams. Unofficially, they would add a bit more than 50,000 viewers.
The battlefields are now quiet. The season is over and it is time for preparation to begin as Season 3 is just around the corner. Looking back at this event I do believe that it wanted to somehow compete with the aforementioned two grand finals. In that regard, it was not up to par. Player exposure seemed lacking and the language barrier makes things a little bit harder for StarCraft enthusiasts to "connect" with their Korean stars. There are other reasons why the event still cannot compare, but honestly, should it?
I see this as the first non-Korean big event that tried to have the "grand final" atmosphere surrounding it and did its absolute best to push the limits especially in the production and planning department. ESL did a very good job, but they are still behind. This, however, did not make the competition any less enjoyable. Naniwa advancing, JaeDong completely stomping his group, Bomber's micro, Scarlett's subtle smile as the crowd was cheering for her were just some of the moments which made the event memorable. As I said earlier, this should be the starting point of Season 3, the example of how a big tournament regardless of hosting company or competition stage, should be held in terms of quality, organisation and punctuality.
What is more, heavy advertising via constant Twitter and/or Facebook posts was finally implemented and results were clear. I would be lying if I said that observing tweet upon tweet upon tweet from Carmac about the "godlike" stage was not annoying, but this type of aggressive "releases" is the way to go. Little touches like a unique trophy and observer interviews were also more than welcome as "every little helps". We can only hope that with the new Season coming we will see a new and improved WCS with additional DreamHacks and IEMs having the same (even better) quality.
One more final loss. One more second place.
Non-game related antics aside, the WCS Season 2 Finals gave us all the player stories and drama we wanted. Starting with the obvious one - the battle of the ever second (in StarCraft 2) JaeDong and Bomber, going through Scarlett's amazing performance, Maru's international debut, the domination in the Grand Final and last, but not least, the transfer saga surrounding Team Acer.
It was rumoured that a Korean star would sign with the European team. Scarlett did hint that the player would help her with her ZvT, confirming that it would be a Terran. However, the announcement was delayed due to the mystery future signing still being legally bound by contract to his current team, thus delaying the reveal to September 1st. Surprisingly, all fingers point towards Season 1 champion InnoVation who did not have the best of runs at gamescom. Luckily, all will be answered in just a few days.
Lastly, a big thanks should go to every single person involved in the inception of this year's final. I sincerely hope that more progress awaits as fans are still loudly cheering for their beloved players.
*All images are copyright of their respective owners.
Former lead editor and interviewer for SK Gaming
Follow me on twitter - @Adddler or LINK
iNNERFiRE - multi-game journalist and Editor-in-Chief: 2012
onGamers - League of Legends Feature Producer: 01.2014 - 02.2015
SK-Gaming - League of Legends Lead Editor: 11.2012 - 08.2015
My journey into eSports started in 2004 when I accidentally caught a small video on TV from the WarCraft 3 WCG 2004 final. I opened up the SK Gaming website from my father's laptop and never stopped reading to this day. In early 2010 I started writing at a Bulgarian news website simply because I disliked how the current editor was handling his job and with time, I got to be Editor-In-Chief. My main writing interests back then were StarCraft 2, QuakeLive and League of Legends.
Fast-forward to 2012, after a small hiatus and moving to England to attend university, I decided to start writing news posts again, inspired by a couple of industry figures who have taken their turns taking eSports writing to a new level. With the beginning of IPL5, I was given a trial with SK Gaming which was successful and I never looked back.
In early 2014, onGamers presented me with an incredible opportunity to join their ranks which I took. Although I believe my 2014 was rather poor (in terms of work ethic and results), I have made changes during the winter break to ensure that sufficient effort will be made to repair that. Unfortunately, due to the collapse of the team, the project was at a stand still which marked the end of my stint with the oG crew.
I continued producing 1 on 1 interviews with SK members until July 2015. After that, other commitments arose and I figured I could not provide the flow of content I promised my superiors and took a step back, leaving SK.
If you are an eSports fan who is looking to get into writing or simply want to chat about eSports across the years, you can always find me on my twitter - @Adddler . Below you can find some trivia about me.
BroodWar / StarCraft 2
BW pro: sAvi0r and Flash (for different reasons)
BW race: Terran
BW series: Hana Daetoo MSL
SC2 pro: Creator and Stephano (different reasons)
SC2 race: Terran
SC2 series: ThorZain vs Polt at DreamHack Open 2012 and any big final played by King MvP
StarCraft related article: God of the Battlefield
Pro: Alexey 'Cypher' Yanushevski
Map: Aerowalk, BloodRun (100% Eastern European choices)
Series: Cooller vs Cypher. Especially the brilliant defensive Cypher game on Aero (game 4).
Rivalry: Rapha vs Cypher
Quake related articled: The Quadra Interview and the one and only Cypher PoV
League of Legends
Pro(s): FORG1VEN, Faker, WeiXiao, NaMei and Mata.
Position: AD Carry
Series: All the World Elite games at IPL5, KT Bullets versus SK Telecom T1 K OGN Summer 2013 Final and LPL Summer Final between StarHorn Royal Club and EDG (The perfect Jinx game by Namei).
League related article: Most of TeamLiquid.net's takes on the 2012 and 2013 OGN tournaments.
Team: Fnatic (2008-2009)
Series: AGAiN vs Fnatic at WCG 2009. Literally broke a cup after the game. One of the most emotional series for me as a spectator.
Gfinity League of Legends - August 2013 (SK Gaming)
EU LCS Week 5 London - June 2014 (SK Gaming / onGamers)
GamesCom 2014 Cologne - August 2014 (SK Gaming / onGamers)
EU LCS 2015 Week 7 Spring Split - March 2015 (SK Gaming)
Intel Extreme Masters Season IX Katowice - March 2015 (SK-Gaming)
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