ESL Major Series Round of 8 Preview
The ESL Major Series StarCraft tournament's Round of 8 is about to kick off, but this awesome of a lineup can't go without an epic preview. Read on to find out who's in, who's hot and who's on a short road out of the tournament.
(Z) ToT)Mondragon( vs (T)CJ_IdrA[Media]
(P) ESC.IefNaij vs (P) ESC.Arew
(P) ESC.Dreiven vs (T) SawyerZZZ
(T) ToT)Ret( vs (Z) ESC.DinOt
Amidst many other one-off tournaments, the ESL Major Series has churned through the Round of 16 on to the quarterfinals, and what a quarterfinals we have! Eight top caliber players have emerged from the dust to face off for the four berths in the semifinals. This Monday, we'll witness these eight players vie for their right to the top four and a seed in the next ESL Major Series. Before we preview the matches, let's take a look at the players and how they got here.
Christoph “Mondragon” Semke is one of the best known foreign StarCraft players out there. The German Zerg player has qualified for the past 3 World Cyber Games Grand Finals as well as a fourth in 2004, and finished 3rd in 2007. In addition, he leads his team, Templars of Twilight, one of the strongest and most renowned teams. His name is one that is feared and respected by competitors everywhere, especially in ZvP, where he is the arguably the best foreign player in the matchup.
For a recent time after WCG, Semke had been rather quiet in the Brood War world, but he's back in action. He's made the Round of 8 for the Valor tournament, and he's back to defend his title in this tournament. His Round of 16 group was tough, with a top ZvZ player and two other strong European players. He only managed to beat Marius “mTw.HoRRoR”Overhageböck, relegating him to 3rd place, but thanks to the ESL's intriguing format, 3rd place qualified him for the relegation matches. However, things seemed to be stacked against Semke when he drew Krzyztof “Draco” Nalepka, the Polish Protoss who spent a stint in Korea 2 years ago, as his opponent. However, fate seemed to align itself with Semke, and he beat Nalepka 2-1 to continue his title defense in the Round of 8.
Greg “IdrA” Fields needs no introduction. The American Terran won an invite tournament over a year ago to join Korean professional team eSTRO and has since been traded to top Proleague performer CJ Entus. His mechanics are excellent, he plays to win, and he is a gamer to be feared by all non-Korean gamers.
Fields has finally seemed to hit his stride, qualifying and advancing in several foreign tournaments lately. He has made the Round of 8 in Valor, advanced far in the Ansadi Star League, as well as the SC2GG Star League. This run has come shortly after he was highly criticized for his failure to perform in foreign tournaments, including TSL, WCG USA 2008 and the proverbial straw on the camels back, Broodsport #1 against F91. Fields qualified into, in my opinion, the strongest Round of 16 group, against Jos “ret” de Kroon, Eugin “Strelok” Oparyshev and Tomek “Sawyer” Więdłocha. However, Fields breezed through the group, losing only one game to de Kroon in their best-of-three series. Fields's dominance put him on top and helped him avoid relegation matches.
Canadian Protoss and Razer TSL champion Jian Fei “IefNaij” Wang is the first of a ridiculous four ESC.ICY-BOX players qualified for the Round of 8, and one of seven total players from the team who qualified for the entire tournament. This just goes to show the kind of dominance that a team like ESC displays in the foreign Brood War community. Wang made waves when he won the TSL over the favored Krzyztof “Draco” Nalepka in a wonderful series, and has been rocking the community since. His reaver play is simply ridiculous and is the highlight of his game.
He has been as active as any other Brood War player recently, making the Round of 8 in the SC2GG Star League, the semifinals for the GameOutLoud Invitational as well as laddering for other tournaments. In the Round of 16, Wang had to face Pavel “BRAT_OK” Kuznetsov, Kristijonas “Kr” Barisas, and teammate Oleksii “White-Ra” Krupnick. However, he breezed through the group similar to Fields, dropping single games to Barisas and Kuznetsov. He managed to come out on top, avoiding relegations.
Vytautas “Arew” Graiciunas is another ESC Protoss player, hailing from Lithuania. Graiciunas is one of the quieter ESC players in terms of face-time, as he's only recently played in the WCG 2008 Grand Finals in terms of major events. He hasn't been seen much in the recent springing up of tournaments, but he has been solid for ESC in clan leagues to make up for it.
Graiciunas came from Group D in the Round of 16, along with Semke. He beat Semke, but lost to his other two matches, putting him in 3rd. However, he overcame ToT Zerg Rafal “GOsia” Kontowicz in the relegation matches with a 2-1 score, putting him through to the Round of 8.
Grzegorz “Dreiven” Kordek is yet another ESC Protoss player to qualify for the Round of 8. Kordek is well known for his “BBQ Toss” nickname, in reference to him almost missing his entire group for the TSL's Round of 32 of qualifiers due to a holiday BBQ. Kordek went on to advance to the Round of 8 in the tournament before losing to RoX's Pavel “BRAT_OK” Kuznetsov. However, Kordek is a great player none-the-less.
Kordek's recent history includes narrowly missing the field for several tournaments while making the cut for the GameOutLoud Invitational's semifinals where he lost to eventual champion Jos “ret” de Kroon. He also is fresh off of a top 8 finish in DreamHack's Summer 2009 StarCraft competition. In the Round of 16, Kordek was placed into an extremely difficult all Polish group, with Krzyztof “Draco” Nalepka, teammate Jarek “Yayba” Pociecha and Rafal “GOsia” Kontowicz. Losing only to Kontowicz, Kordek managed to take first place in the group and move directly to the Round of 8.
Tomek “Sawyer” Więdłocha is the least known player out of all eight qualifiers, but that doesn't mean he isn't a threat. The Polish Terran was one of seven Polish players to qualify for the Ansadi Star League, but unfortunately was eliminated by fellow Pole “Kazio”. He provides strong performances for ZZZ in clan leagues week in and week out, however.
Wiedlocha came out of the EMS' “group of death” in third place, beating only Eugin “Strelok” Oparyshev. However, in the relegation match, he managed to shock everyone by sweeping Pavel “BRAT_OK” Kuznetsov to move on to the Round of 8.
Netherland's top player, Jos “ret” de Kroon, is another powerhouse player in this star studded round of 8. de Kroon is one of the aces for Templars of Twilight, with a strong Zerg, and what is considered the best TvZ outside of Korea. His play is strong and any Zerg opponent he faces should fear his bio Terran play, as it is truly amazing.
de Kroon has been playing like a man possessed lately, winning the GameOutLoud Invitational as well as DreamHack's Summer 2009 StarCraft tournament. Additionally, he is qualified for the Valor top 8 and making the top 16 in the Ansadi Star League. He is the third player to advance from the group of death, along with Fields and Wiedlocha. His only loss was to Fields, where he managed to take the only game that Fields would lose in the group stages. In the relegation matches, de Kroon bested Lithuanian Protoss Kristijonas “Kr” Barisas in two straight games to move on to the Round of 8.
Last but not least, we have Chilean Cristobal “DinOt” Lledo, a fiery young Zerg who has made splashes in the Brood War scene lately. Lledo's big break was in the TSL, like many others, where he made it as far as the Round of 8 before being ousted by eventual champion and future teammate Jian Fei “IefNaij” Wang. His ZvZ was commented on by Semke to be “Korean-esque” at one point, and is definitely his strong point.
Lledo has been seeing a lot of exposure with the recent explosion of small tournaments in the foreign scene. He made the top 16 in Valor before losing out to teammate Eugin “Strelok” Oparyshev. He was also in the Round of 32 in the GameOutLoud invitational. His run to the Round of 8 was quick and easy, beating everyone in his group soundly, thus avoiding the relegation matches.
Match 1: ToT)Mondragon( vs. CJ_IdrA[Media]
This match is easily the headliner match of the day, with IdrA and Mondragon squaring off in a best-of-five series. IdrA's Terran vs. Zerg is simply awesome, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to display it. However, Mondragon seems to have fate aligned with him somewhere, and should never be counted out. He'll especially be practicing his ZvT too – his Round of 8 match for Valor is against Russian Terran BRAT_OK.
All things considered, I'm predicting an IdrA victory in the match, but not without effort. It should go a full five games, and a win by Mondragon would not be an upset by any means.
Prediction: IdrA 3:2 Mondragon
Match 2: ESC.IefNaij vs. ESC.Arew
Protoss vs. Protoss isn't a forgiving matchup, and IefNaij isn't a forgiving player in it. His reaver control single-handedly wins him games, and he's the clear favorite against Arew. The teammates squaring off should be pretty standard. Arew might have something creative up his sleeve, but in a best-of-five, you need more than tricks to come out on top.
This prediction is easy: IefNaij in three. I don't see Arew coming to the table with anything more than a few cheeses to try and take down his teammate.
Prediction: IefNaij 3:0 Arew
Match 3: ESC.Dreiven vs. SawyerZZZ
If any of the three matches is unpredictable, it's this one. Dreiven's PvT is questionable at times, and Sawyer is a complete wildcard. However, I think Dreiven's pressure-situation and big tournament experience should pull through for him. He's been in the spotlight before, and he's been in best-of-five series against more well known opponents before.
The prediction is my least confident, I'm at about 60% on this one. Not knowing much about Sawyer leaves the table wide open. The fact that he beat BRAT_OK to qualify makes it even more difficult. However, I think Dreiven just has what it takes here to come out on top.
Prediction: Dreiven 3:1 Sawyer
Match 4: ToT)ret( vs. ESC.DinOt
If the first match is the most intriguing, this match is a close second. We get to see ret's awesom TvZ in action against DinOt, who is seemingly on fire lately. These two just met in the Esports International playoffs, where ret came out on top 2-1, but that's not to count DinOt out. His ZvT is very good, and he should be considered a threat to almost any player.
Predicting this match is fun, because if either player upsets my prediction, I'm not going to be surprised in the least. Both players are hot right now, and both play exceptionally well in series play. In the end though, I have to go with ret, who is arguably the hottest player in foreign Brood War right now.
Prediction: ret 3:2 DinOt
That's it for this week. The games will be streamed Monday at 19:00 CET, which is 1 PM EDT, with Mondragon vs. IdrA kicking things off. Be sure to tune in, because these games will be awesome to say the least.