WESG 2018-2019 has concluded for StarCraft II. The event took place this year in Chongqing, China, once again giving Western viewers a tough schedule to follow. The StarCraft II community knows WESG for being a mixed bag. The tournament offers a strong prize pool and amazing talent, but production woes often interfere. Production wasn’t the main story this year, however, as we saw incredible upsets, unlikely matchups, and some awkward moments among players.
The finals were between two legendary titans, Joona “Serral” Sotala and Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung. Serral, one of the title’s newest all-stars, was vying to continue his reign and take home yet another trophy. INnoVation, on the other hand, has returned to glory after one of the longest careers in SCII history. Known simply as “The Machine,” INnoVation represents StarCraft II‘s old guard.
Serral and INoVation are turning into the biggest StarCraft II rivalry we’ve seen in years. It began at Homestory Cup 2018 in last December, where the two first met in a grand final match. At the time, INnoVation was busy trying to get back on top, while Serral was hot off the heels of his BlizzCon World Championship win. Serral was victorious at Homestory Cup, but INnoVation had other plans for the future. Serral’s offline win streak ended at IEM Katowice. INnoVation, already knocked out of the group stage, managed to bring Serral down in a long and intense series including two 45-minute games. These hyper-late game losses gave fans a worrying glimpse into Serral’s biggest potential weaknesses.
The highly anticipated best of 7 was a relentless back-and-forth, with each player trading a win after the other. Serral won an absolutely insane game 2 where he slammed down a proxy Hatchery at INnoVation’s own gold base. The series continued to display aggressive builds until games 5, 6, and 7. Eventually, Serral would lose out to the late-game Terran army of INnoVation. Serral’s weak link was confirmed, and the Finnish Phenom left $110,000 on the table. Many are left wondering if Serral can improve his late-game ZvT and turn the tides against his new arch-nemesis.
StarCraft II fans rarely see a healthy dose of player drama. While it’s not incredibly important, sometimes it’s just more entertaining when the unexpected happens. After Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn’s clean victory over Juan Carlos “SpeCial” Tena Lopez, she crossed the stage for her customary handshake. While SpeCial accepted her handshake, he did it without eye contact, clearly snubbing his housemate.
Another Terran player gave spectators a moment of pause when Cho “Maru” Seong Ju left his first game against Scarlett during the third-place finals match. King’s Cove was fully mined out when Scarlett lost her final flying unit, a single Corruptor. Maru’s flying Vikings and buildings were an obvious draw condition for the game. Scarlett’s army was too big for Maru to kill, but of course, she could not destroy all of his units or buildings. An odd pause took place, while both players discussed the situation with admins.
Eventually, Maru would tap out, giving the victory to Scarlett, who should have had no way of winning the game. Speculation has run rampant as to why Maru decided to forfeit rather than draw. WESG rules contain some confusing caveats regarding draws, but we have no reason to believe Maru shouldn’t have attempted the draw. Maru did take the victory overall in the best of 5, securing his third-place prize winnings.
Production, the good and the bad
A giant screen behind the talent displayed WESG’s beautiful, unique artwork, which was mostly white. Every time the camera cut to the caster desk, viewers were blinded. A cardboard version of the art was finally swapped in, sparing our eyes. Furthermore, WESG expectedly repeated its history with scheduling issues. It is reasonable for a broadcast to fall behind, as games can go unexpectedly long. WESG, on the other hand, often starts games long before or long after they were scheduled. Dedicated fans stayed up until the early hours of the morning, only to tune into scheduled games that were halfway complete already.
Concerns did not end there. The games were broadcast in a blurry resolution, sparking memories of early GSL streams from 2011. Some players were forced to play on Chinese game clients. Pro players are tough when it comes to playing in less-than-ideal situations, but having the entire game in the wrong language must be distracting at the very least. The broadcast would also see sound issues, cuts to the wrong casters, and frequent technical delays.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as WESG used its immense budget to bring SCII fans some unique features. Picture-in-picture, used during live games, gave fans a welcome solution to StarCraft II’s endless multi-pronged attacks. Finally, we were able to see that fourth base fall as primary battles occupied the spotlight. Spectators saw post-game eye-tracking vision, showing us where the pros give their attention in heated moments.
A dual-foreigner semi-final
Serral faced Scarlett in the WESG semi-final round. Excluding the region-locked WCS events, we can’t think of a time when two foreigners faced one another for a spot in a major tournament’s finals. Game 1 was an explosive spectacle. Multiple fights happened across the map nonstop. Tensions ran feverishly high as the two Zerg masters put every fan on the edge of their seat. INnoVation may have lifted the trophy for the Koreans, but we should not ignore a double-foreigner semi-final, especially when the talent on display was top-notch.
How can WESG improve?
WESG has a bad habit with how they name their events. Technically, this was the WESG 2018 event, which happens to end in March of 2019. Liquipedia displays this event as “WESG 2018,” possibly confusing hopeful viewers. General awareness of the event would go a long way.
The prize pool, while extremely large for StarCraft II, has horrible distribution. INnoVation took home a cool $150,000 grand prize, while the players who failed to make top 8 went home with nothing. Big prizes draw big attention, but StarCraft II’s continued success relies on new talent entering the scene. Better prize distribution would help the community grow and give more players a reason to attend.
It’s obvious from watching WESG that there’s huge investment involved. An epic stadium, incredible technology, and big winnings are the makings for a world-renowned tournament. We hope that WESG organizers can do better in 2020 with the serious issues still plaguing the tournament’s success. Better scheduling and more quality checks on production could turn WESG around. It’s poised to be one of the most important and anticipated annual esports events in the future.