INSIDER ESPORTS - Alex Gardner returns to Insider eSports with a daring statement: A foreigner will win gold in StarCraft at the World Cyber Games 2009 Finals.
The World Cyber Games have been around for an amazing 9 iterations, spanning the globe over this time. This year in Chengdu, China, the tournament will celebrate its 10th anniversary. It's amazing to see how far it has come along in those ten years. And across all 9 previous tournaments, only 2 games have appeared every year. StarCraft: Brood War and the FIFA series. In their initial announcement, StarCraft: Brood War was announced as an official title for WCG 2009's Grand Final event in Chengdu, China. At this time, FIFA has not been and signs point to exclusion due to sponsorship disputes between EA and the WCG organizers.
For the past 9 years, the Korean professional players have dominated the Brood War tournament, taking all 9 gold medals, along with 5 silvers and 2 bronze medals. No other country has had a strong a showing at the WCG Grand Finals in ANY game.
However, the reason I write this - the reason you are reading this - is because I think that 2009 is the year a foreigner can take the World Cyber Games StarCraft:Brood War tournament. 2009 is the year it will happen, or it will never happen at all. A few different things have led me to believe in this theory.
First, I'd like to state that all signs point to a StarCraft 2 beta within the next few weeks. It's a few months away at maximum. I will bet all of my life savings that Blizzard has sent a mass amount of beta keys to the 12 professional teams in Korea, and that they will be testing it out heavily. Their job most likely depends on it.
As has been stated in several interviews and several articles, all parties believe that the Korean scene will make a complete switch, and very swiftly at that. StarCraft 2 in, Brood War out. If the top Korean players want to hold their positions, the beta phase will be crucial. Of course, they won't be ignoring their regular practice regiments, but they will be surely making some time to work on their mechanics for the new game and working out the best strategies.
With how low in regards the World Cyber Games is held comparative to the OSL and MSL and even Proleague in Korea (even though Stork won the Grand Final in 2007, he was still considered lacking of a major title until he captured his first OSL in Fall 2008), it is a sure thing that practice for these events will be at an all-time low. Again, not all practice will be gone, but much more focus will be put onto the other higher paying leagues.
To contrast that, foreign players who are going to the tournament have literally nothing else to practice for, save a few small cash leagues and clan leagues. These guys will have all of their practice time to focus literally on one tournament. I highly doubt that any of them will walk into the tournament unprepared.
Another fact is that foreign skill level seems to be at an all-time high. Recently more and more foreigners are displaying high levels of play, and with more reasons to play like the TeamLiquid Star League (offering a 10,000 USD cash prize pool in its first season), foreigners have more motivation to practice outside of regular preparation.
Not to mention the fact that just a few months ago, we had 2 American players on Korean professional teams. A short while ago, Tyler "NonY" Wasieleski left the eSTRO progaming house for uncited personal reasons, but it would be foolish to think his skill level did not improve while he was there. In his first Courage tournament, a monthly tournament in which amateur players in Korea must win to secure a progaming license, NonY placed second, a feat that was quite impressive. In the meantime Greg "IdrA" Fields is still practicing day in and day out with CJ Entus with the hope of securing a spot in some of the Starleagues. He had a good showing, taking a game off STX's YoonJoong, who finished in the top 4 of GOMTV's 1st AI Classic.
Outside of those two American players, the foreign field looks as strong as ever. Recently, Krzysztof "Draco" Nalepka of Poland has come out of retirement. Nalepka also had a stint in Korea, by virtue of a tryout from OGN SPARKYZ. Although he eventually left, he is considered one of the strongest foreign players to this day. Plenty of other strong foreigners including Mondragon, IefNaij, Strelok, and many more all could pose a threat to make a run.
Outside of the foreigners are the Chinese players. While technically not Korean, the Chinese community is often sectioned off to itself. They have a strong, although not as strong as Korea's, eSports scene that supports StarCraft and they also have a very strong roster of players in their country. As has been demonstrated by the newly formed Fnatic.SC team, very few foreigners can stand up to the might of these players, though it can be done. The Chinese had a strong showing last year, taking three round of 8 spots, tied with Koreans. Yin "Lovett" Liu was even strong enough to take a game off of Samsung KHAN's Stork, the eventual runner up. While 1 game may seem like a laughable statistic, to take one game off of any ace level Korean progamer is an accomplishment in itself.
2009 will be the best shot that a foreigner has to take the gold medal in a very long time. Regardless of a 1st place victory, I can assure you that the foreign scene will make a strong showing this year in Chengdu. Anything less will be considered a failure by the players who regularly follow the scene. Many good things lay in waiting, but we will have to wait until November to see what exactly they are.
Photos taken from WCG.