After two days of action, the eight-man bracket was set for six Australians and two New Zealanders to battle it out for US$15,000 and the right to represent the Oceanic region at the World Championship Series world finals in Shanghai later this year.
There was an incredible amount of energy in the room and on the stream, which was helped by the constant cheering, whooping and screaming from the 300-plus crowd. An astonishingly unusual match between Queenslander Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender and Tilea “KnighTLight” Flavall which featured every unit in the Terran and Zerg arsenal that went for over an hour hyped up the crowd substantially.
When I walked past the nearby ATM, I ran into one of the Blizzard employees who couldn’t help but talk about how crazy the match was. That was the defining theme of the entire weekend: everybody – from the players, spectators, volunteers, photographers, journalists and staff from the Australian Cyber League and Blizzard – was completely absorbed in the action, wrapped up in the heat of the moment as banelings blew up zerglings, marines ran for their lives and infestors dictated proceedings.
The singular passion enveloping the room came to a head on Saturday when Nick “Tasteless” Plott was caught off-guard by a birthday cake that featured a giant nexus, a mineral line and the words “construct additional pylons”.
Despite his stellar reputation as a consummate professional, the moment – backed up by a fairly off-key but vocal Happy Birthday from the crowd and a birthday message from Neil Kaplan, the voice actor for hard-nosed marine Tychus Findlay – moved him to a brief moment of speechlessness.
But this was just the grease between the wheels, the moments spread in between matches to keep the crowd in good spirits (although the copious amounts of alcohol and the number of people spotted “double fisting” (ahem) was proof that people were enjoying themselves regardless).
The surprise defeat of Team Immunity’s Tim “MaFia” He in the upper bracket to Gamecom’s Yojun “YoonYJ” Yun early on meant that the amount of Zerg mirror match-ups were kept to a minimum.
While Yun has always been one of the most talented players, his end-game play didn’t garner much respect among the players. One remarked that he always tries to stay in a game versus the quirky Terran as long as possible on the off-chance that an opportunity will present itself.
That was the story of Yun’s weekend. Before the 15 minute mark, he was typically in an equal or better situation, but that little period between 15 and 20 minutes often proved hazardous. His army would either get caught off guard or the composition was completely wrong, irrespective of all the damage his excellent multi-tasking had done up to that point.
But if his weekend ended on a sour note, it was still superior to that of the New Zealanders who went out without a whimper. Despite Flavall winning over the crowd during his set with Pender, to the point where he received a standing ovation and a larger cheer as the loser, he was summarily knocked out in the first round of the losers bracket in a match that was played off-stream to his fellow countryman Thomas “JazBas” Cho.
Cho, a representative at last year’s Blizzcon, had an equally disappointing performance when It’s Gosu’s Bradley “tgun” Seymour ended his tournament in the following round. That match wasn’t streamed either, and the player’s lounge was off limits to media after Friday so the games weren’t viewable.
Jared “PiG” Krensel’s tournament was diametrically opposite to his performance in the WCS Australian finals. After preventing Pender from coming back from an entire best-of-three down on the Saturday to add $4,000 to his bank account, the Queenslander bumped him into the lower bracket. It was there that Krensel squared off against Ray “Light” Zi from Team Immunity – the only non-mirror Krensel played the entire tournament after playing more than 20 games consecutively against his fellow commanders of the Swarm.
Zi (pictured left), who made himself a bit of a target of hatred for Terran fans after he single-handledly sent 75% of the race’s representatives packing on Saturday, followed up his fifth Terran scalp with a 2-0 victory against Krensel. The commentators and crowd were fairly energised with his play, which always hovered on the border of nearly winning but extending just a touch too far.
A large part of that can be put down to his willingness to do damage and then continue to try and end the game. The final top three: Pender, Seymour and Team Immunity’s Tim “MaFia” He had no such reservations, with all three opting for more frequent, but less fatal counter-attacks that built an advantage which snowballed over time.
The match between Seymour and He was fascinating, particularly watching the change in He’s psychology throughout the series. Despite having a history as a former poker professional – several jokes were made about He’s poker face, which provided a wonderful contrast to Seymour’s much more animated demeanour – and a national champion in Magic: The Gathering, the experience of playing in the booth was clearly overwhelming. The cameras captured the look of dejection on He’s face, the total opposite to Seymour’s evident delight.
It took a well-thought out cheese from the Chinese-Australian to calm his nerves, but the deciding match between the two was the most important. The winner would join Pender on a trip to Shanghai later this year, while the loser would receive only a modest sum of money in exchange.
In what was a largely tense and cautious affair – neither player wanted to roll the dice – the pair found themselves evenly matched until Seymour made an incorrect read and switched into Ultralisks, predicting a continued ground assault. When his roach ball came under siege from He’s Brood Lords, Seymour lost the ability to fight on his terms.
Seymour gained a quick army advantage at the expense of a crucial expansion, and it all came down to a major engagement in the middle where Seymour burrowed under He’s army. His talent allowed him to trade evenly despite being caught off-guard, but the loss of the expansion saw Seymour’s funds quickly dry up and he was forced to tap-out shortly after.
What followed was a beautiful moment where several of He’s friends mobbed him on the stage and unfurled a banner to their clan, the name of which was laid over a montage of photographs showing all the members.
While an extra couple of thousand dollars was on offer for the finals, they were largely a formality. After Pender won the first match, both players were in a largely jovial mood. They knew the main event was over. They were going to Shanghai and the money was largely immaterial.
Nevertheless, it provided a wonderful finale to an event that has been the largest event for the local Starcraft 2 scene. Some believed erroneously that the event was the largest ever – that title goes to Shadowloo Showdown, which is the only true international tournament Australia has seen for quite some time.
But nobody was thinking about that on Sunday night. The only thoughts revolved around the organisation, production, quality and the possibility of what He and Pender could do overseas, and what kinds of parties the scene could throw in years to come.