StarCraft 2 2016 Year in Review: New Beginnings (II/VII)

2016 has proven to be as defining a year as any in the history of professional StarCraft 2 competition. Not since the earliest days of the game and the deployment of expansion-packs has the scene altered so drastically. With almost all the major professional tournaments and events wrapped up for the year, it’s time to employ some 20-20 hindsight and attempt to take full measure of the changing nature of professional StarCraft 2 competition.

Providing a brief recap of the major events, highlight reel games, player and team developments and, of course, a sprinkling of scandal, this multi-part series will be broken down into installments roughly corresponding to the World Championship Series seasons, major events and developments in the scene. It will cover:

Content:

Part I: Transition (The release of Legacy of the Void and the new WCS System)

Part II – New Beginnings (WCS Circuit Winter/Season 1, ProLeague Round 1)

– WCS Circuit Winter/Season 1

– ProLeague Round 1

– Player and Team News

– The Takeaway

► Part III – Korea Rising (WCS Circuit Spring/Season 2, WCS Korea Season 1, ProLeague Round 2)

► Part IV – Setting the Stage (WCS Circuit Summer/Season 3, WCS Korea Season 2, ProLeague Round 3)

► Part V – End of an Era (KeSPA Cup, ProLeague Playoffs, BlizzCon/WCS Global Playoffs)

► Part VI – Beyond WCS (BaseTrade.tv, Wardi, Gauntlet, and the SC2 Community)

► Part VII – Epilogue

The WCS Circuit series technically began with 2016 DreamHack Open: Leipzig, which gave out 5,000 WCS Circuit Points along with it’s $50,000 USD prize pool, but the 2016 WCS Winter Circuit Championship remained the big tournament draw early in 2016. Qualifiers began in late January, the event itself would be held March 2nd-5th. Although it was not the the first “foreigner-only” tournament under the new WCS system, it would be the biggest as of yet. All eyes were focused on the remaining “foreign” Korean players (Polt, Hydra, and viOLet), and how their results would stack up in the new format.

2016 WCS Winter Circuit Championship

The WCS would return to Katowice, Poland for another seasonal finals after a triumphant WCS 2015 Season 3 Finals just a few months prior. While some players would make it to Poland on invites based on prior results, the rest would have to fight their way through regional qualifiers.

The Polish National Qualifiers predictably saw Nerchio and Elazer qualify, and the bevy of Regional Qualifiers integrated smaller SC2 Professional events as WCS qualifiers. This allowed the winners of China’s GPL (XiGua), Latin America’s Copa América (Kelazhur) to secure spots in Poland for their impressive victories, as well as the winners of regional events that saw PiG (who replaced a retired Petraeus) and Has book their tickets to Katowice.

While online server-based qualifiers filled out the majority of the remaining spots in the 32-player playoffs (Europe & Americas), the most intriguing innovation to the qualifying system was online Ladder integration. For the first time ever, the top sixteen players on the European and Americas ladders would be invited to a WCS Qualifier Tournament.

By late February, the brackets for the Winter Championship were set:

cfp1uu5rpi0c1456514606262
from Intel Extreme Masters/ESL

The tournament in Katowice would prove an unbridled success. The games were amazing, the crowd both live and online were engaged and a lot of the bad-blood and naysaying overshadowing the new WCS system seemed to evaporate, at least temporarily.

Highlights include Bunny vs Has, Nerchio vs ShoWTimE , Dayshi vs Polt , viOLet vs MarineLorD , and of course every game from the Semi-Finals to the Finals.

SPOILERS:

It came as close as it possibly could to a non-Korean winning a WCS Seasonal Championship in consecutive seasons, but Snute could not compete with Polt “Captain America” in the Grand Finals. The three remaining Korean players in the WCS Circuit system took 3/8 spots in the Quarterfinals, 2/4 in the semi-finals and, as stated, the championship itself. Still, the “foreign” scene was competitive throughout the tournament, and the relative lack of Korean talent did not seem to effect either match quality or viewership interest.



2016 SK Telecom Proleague Round 1

Korea’s Team-based Proleague ran throughout 2016, and although unbeknownst at the time, it would be the final season of the long standing Korean team tournament.

Featuring seven teams competing for the top-4 playoff spots, Round 1 of 3 began in February 2016 and continued through to the playoffs at the end of March. The six-week mini-season saw teams SK Telecom T1, Jin Air Green Wings, KT Rolster and Afreeca Freecs qualify for the playoffs over Samsung Galaxy , CJ Entus and MVP. With so many games played between so many great players it’s hard to settle on which were the best games, but here are some highlights:

Week 1: KTTY vs SamsungSolar (TvZ)

Week 2: KTStats vsSKTelecomMyuNgSiK (PvP) & Afreeca aLive vs JinAir Cure (TvT)

Week 3: JinAirsOs vs KTZest, (PvP)

Week 6: JinAirRogue vsSKTelecomImpact (ZvZ) & JinAirMaru vs SKTelecomINnoVation, (TvT)

The Round 1 Playoffs are worth watching all the way through, but if you’re pressed for time the penultimate match is highly recommended, sOs vs InnoVation.


Match-fixing Scandals:

Life_Champion_BlizzCon_2014
Life at BlizzCon 2014 from Liquipedia.net

At the end of January, arguably the biggest name in the StarCraft 2 Professional Scene, Lee “Life” Seung was arrested in Korea on Match-fixing charges (details can be found here). This was huge. Life had just made it back to the BlizzCon Global Finals for a second consecutive year, having won it all in 2014. He was the second highest-earning StarCraft2 Pro, and these allegations of match-fixing would essentially end his career and destroy his legacy as one of the best players in StarCraft 2. It was a sad day for fans, and another layer of the everything-is-peachy facade of the Korean StarCraft 2 scene was violently stripped away. The game’s credibility and viability had been challenged. At this juncture the question loomed heavily over fans and players alike: Would StarCraft 2 in Korea, and globally, ever be able to recover?



Players and Teams:

Scarlett set a Guinness World Record as the Highest Earning Female eSports Athlete.

Team Acer would disband on March 1st[1], leaving Bly, Scarlett, DarkHydra and ParanOid teamless. This would be the fourth major StarCraft2 team to shut down in the last six months (Prime, Axiom, and SBENU).



The Takeaway:

The Good- Successful WCS Circuit Events and high-quality Proleague continues.

The Bad- Life’s disgraceful match-fixing.

The Ugly- Prospects for Korea’s StarCraft 2 scene moving forwards.


Up Next: Part III – Korea Rising (WCS Circuit Spring, WCS Korea Season 1, ProLeague Round 2)

part-3
from Blizzard Entertainment

Images used in this article are reproduced without the express permission of their copyright holders under Fair Use as defined by USA federal copyright law (17 U.S.C. 107) as nonprofit review/commentary with full credit given to original creators and copyright owners.

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