The title of StarCraft 2‘s “Best in the World” isn’t as cut and dry as it felt just a few months ago when 2018’s campaign had (mostly) come to a close. Lee “INoVation” Shin-hyung threw his name back into the discussion for the lofty accolade after winning WESG 2018 this past weekend, beating Joona “Serral” Sotala in a gripping 4-3 finals to win $150,000 USD.
While most esports titles have passionate, subjective debates rage on for years about who the best player or team is, StarCraft 2 experienced something of a rarity in 2018 when Serral ripped through the game’s western and Korean scene simultaneously, cementing himself as the undisputed king of the game by the end of that year. In that span, Serral won every single WCS stop in the Western hemisphere, won the GSL vs. The World tournament that pitted South Korea’s best against him, and then capped it off by winning the World Championship in November. While Cho “Maru” Seong Ju had a similarly impressive Korean campaign by winning all three major tournaments there in 2018, he fell well short of the finish line at Worlds, not even making it to the finals clash against Serral virtually every analyst predicted.
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Serral’s reign of terror might not be over, but it has at least abated. INoVation met Serral in the finals of WESG 2018 earlier today, and the two played an intense grand finals that went back and forth until a deciding Game 7 that saw the Korean Terran claim his first Major trophy since 2017. While losing by a 4-3 scoreline doesn’t remove Serral from the discussion of best in the world, it has re-opened it for others, with the most obvious contender being INoVation. Maru isn’t that far behind, either: he finished 3rd after completing a reverse sweep in the consolation finals. If there’s a debate to be had, it certainly begins with those three players.
WESG 2018 was an interesting experience. The games were fascinating and varied from quick romps to drawn-out, map-draining affairs, but it’s hard to suggest that there were any surprises. If someone were asked to identify the three best players heading into the tournament, they’d have likely indicated the top 3 performers, even if the order might have changed around a little. The only surprise came when Dark was eliminated in the Round of 8, but that was in a match against Serral. Scarlett, another foreign players with a pedigree for success, saw her stock rise slightly as she finished fourth and nearly beat Maru in the consolation finals.
If 2018 was the rise of a dynasty, 2019 could be the beginning of one of the most vicious struggles for relevance StarCraft 2 has ever seen. The divide between the best and everyone else seems to be widening as the game grows older, but it’s an incredibly tight pack vying for first place in every Major tournament, and there might not be any obvious favorites like there were last year. INoVation, Serral, and Maru represent a cerberus of talented, power-hungry athletes at the top of their game, but a resurgent TY, a curse-free soO, and an on-form Dark are all threats in every tournament they compete in. 2018 was a battle between Serral and Maru, but 2019 could be even more exciting.
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