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StarCraft 2

uThermal, PtitDrogo, and JonSnow talk balance and expectations for WCS at Dreamhack Austin

It’s a beautiful time of year. The birds are returning from their southern migration, the sun is poking its head out from behind the clouds at last, and the grass is turning from yellow brown back into its vibrant green. Most would attribute this change in nature to the coming of Spring. However I instead believe that its all due to the return of WCS Circuit this weekend. For anyone who may be unfamiliar, the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series is divided into two parts. Players may compete in WCS Korea or WCS Circuit to win WCS points. At the end of the year, the top eight players in each region, as ranked by their WCS points total, attend the World Finals at Blizzcon, Blizzard’s annual convention. Last year was the first run of WCS Circuit. It was the premier of a region locking system in SC2, enabling foreign pros to regularly fight for the title of ‘best professional outside of Korea’. On Friday April 28, that battle will return at the WCS Dreamhack Austin Open tournament. The brackets are set, the qualifiers for direct seeding are complete, and its time to take a closer look at WCS Austin!

Perenial fan favourite Root Kelazhur, as seen at WCS Austin 2016. Kelazhur recently returned from training in the BaseTradeTV house in Korea (courtesy of Dreamhack and Blizzard Entertainment)

Austin will mark the resurrection of many of the storylines that were fostered in 2016, as well as some new ones. Fan favourites such as Snute, Nerchio and ShoWTimE are still in amazing form and will surely be looking for first place finishes at every tournament they attend this year. Players who made huge waves last year such as uThermal, Neeb, and True will look to continue their success and disprove any fans who are doubtful of their success. Meanwhile, the opportunity exists for players to rise up to that incredible level of success and become fresh faces in the top four of WCS Circuit events. Serral, for example, is marked by many as the best Zerg outside of Korea right now. One of the biggest points of conversation in the SC2 scene in recent months has been the balance of Protoss. After Stats’ reliance on the Adept in the GSL Season one finals, fans rebooted the age old discussion on whether or not Adepts are too inherently powerful. The discussion continued as Protoss players piloted Adept army compositions to success. The balance conflict culminated in Terran players crying foul and despair when it seemed that no Terran was able to defeat a Protoss wielding an Adept/Pheonix army composition. When fan favourite and Team Liquid Terran uThermal briefly uninstalled the game to take a mental break, many fans interpreted as a direct result of TvP. On April 13th, Blizzard responded with a community update, pitching the idea of nerfing the Adept. Blizzard presented the possibility of nerfing the cooldown of the Adept’s shade ability, or nerfing the unit’s health. The put these concepts to the community to gather feedback, and four days later on April 17th, the Adept found itself with 10 less health thanks to the new balance update. This change has been met simultaneously with joyous welcome from many Terrans and Zergs, and disappointment from Protoss players. Was it fair for Blizzard to change the game so close to the first Circuit tournament of the year? Many are unsure, while many more vehemently agree with the nerfs coming into the game as soon as possible. I spoke to some of the best Circuit players of their respective races about these issues and their expectations for WCS Austin. PSISTORM’s Jared "JonSnow" George, Team Liquid’s Marc "uThermal" Schlappi, and mYinsanity’s Theo "PtitDrogo" Freydiere. I was surprised to find that each of the players agreed that the Adept was deserving of a nerf, even the Protoss titan Ptitdrogo. Drogo remarked that he thought Pheonix Adept was ‘broken for sure’ but that he wasn’t sure what could become the new meta game army composition for Protoss in PvT.

Ptitdrogo on Terran and Zerg: "Terran have guns and Zerg have 90 hp hydras, no fair !" (courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and Patrick Strack)

uThermal told me that he has felt that Protoss has been too strong in PvT for quite some time now. He spoke about how TvP in the foreign scene has always felt imbalanced to him but that it was traditionally possible for Terran players to find answers or ‘at least to sneak out some wins in tournaments’. Recently though, uThermals said that he has found TvP to be a nigh impossible matchup. uThermal gave me an indepth run down of his views on the Adept and the two (then) potential nerfs, saying that ‘the adept is probably the most broken a unit has been since bl/infestor being dominant in all three matchups. If they want to bring a fix mostly for PvZ, they should continue with the adept shade cooldown increase, as that is mostly important for PvZ. If they want to bring a fix mostly for PvT, which seems to be the biggest issue, they should continue with the HP nerf, as that is mostly important for PvT. The shade is a big issue for zergs as it is simply too hard to keep up with adepts being able to shade just 2 seconds after their recent shade finishing, which is insane. Against Terran the shade is not the biggest problem, they are simply too strong for bio units to deal with.’ To put fan concerns to bed once and for all though, uThermal told me that he did NOT uninstall SC2 because of TvP. ‘It is true that I uninstalled starcraft, that it was because of TvP though is something that the people on the forums made up :P. I just decided it was better to uninstall for a while so I couldn't touch the game, I needed a break for a few days. I reinstalled a few days later when I had to play in the Gauntlet cup haha.’ Meanwhile, in ZvP JonSnow told me that he believes that the matchup is fairly well balanced right now, if not a little quirky. ‘The corrupter buff was a good idea and nerfing adepts wouldn't hurt either. Adepts have always been a little too prevalent, ZvP just feels weird feels like half the protoss units are god mode in ZvP and the other half are useless’. As for the nerf to Adepts, JonSnow believes that while the shade nerf would have been appropriate, the health nerf was perhaps too excessive. Unsurprisingly perhaps, none of the players provided me with any specific details about the builds they may be employing with/against Protoss. JonSnow told me that he was going to ‘just gonna yolo as far as Protoss is concerned’, while uThermal said that he was going to practice hard to find some new build orders and try and claim a few victories. Speaking to their goals in the tournament, Ptitdrogo told me that he wants to win in Austin, and JonSnow aims to play with as little stress as possible and make it into the top 16 in front of the home audience. ‘Home audience is always nice, and I've been to this venue before so it's gonna be fun and it should be easy to get situated’. uThermal has more tempered expectation for his performance in Austin. ‘Uhm.. honestly after my results over the past year, I can only really be satisfied with winning the championship. However, I think a top eight here would be enough for me. Realistically I'm just not actually that good at the moment, I know I seem like the easy pick for the best foreign terran, as that's what I have been for the past year but right now I wouldn't even rate myself in the top five. I would consider myself worse than any of MajOr, Kelazhur, MaSa, Beastyqt, Optimus or HeRoMaRinE.’

uThermal gazing upon his trophy after winning IEM Shanghai 2016 (courtesy of ESL)

Despite a touch of self doubt though, uThermal still believes that he has the chance to succeed. ‘I have about a week left to practice, so I will see what I can get done but I am not too hopeful, I think it would be wise for Terran hopefuls to root for any of the other top terrans attending :P. I do think I have a chance to perform well, I always think of myself as someone who is not that good in practice but is really good at playing tournaments, I seem to perform better playing on stage and in booths, so we'll see. I've been losing a lot of practice and in online cups, I even saw people criticizing my performance in my recent online matches, but in the end they are never really connected with how I do in actual big events. As always I will be aiming for the championship but, idk kev. ^_^’

The story of SC2’s balance has been particularly interesting in recent weeks, but it is not cause for concern in regards to the quality of games we’ll see this weekend. When you put some of the best pro gamers in the world together to duke it out in one of the most high stakes tournaments in esports, you can guarantee that the games will be undeniably top tier. If you are interested in watching WCS Austin this weekend, the broadcasts begin on April 28 at 2:00 PM EST on twitch.tv/StarCraft. You can find the groups for the RO80 here : https://wcs.dreamhack.com/2017/04/24/wcs-austin-groups/ If there is a player who you wanted to watch on stream but they aren’t on twitch.tv/StarCraft, try checking out one of the community caster streams to find them! GLHF to all of the competitors at WCS Dreamhack Austin, may the best player win!