It’s been a rollercoaster year for competitive gaming, with highs like the success of the World Championship Series preliminaries and The International DOTA 2 finals balanced out with a host of unfortunate incidents that saw players get banned, robbed, dropped, entire teams implode in a torrent of drama and events themselves collapse under the weight of their own ambition.
But all things considered, Australia has had a solid year. We’ve sent players to America, China, Europe and South Korea for multiple games, with solid showings in DOTA 2, Heroes of Newerth, Halo and StarCraft 2. And that solid showing has continued this past weekend, as Tim “MaFia” He and Andrew “mOOnGlaDe” Pender battled it out in the SC2 section of the World Championship Series.
The year’s been good to both players, even if the groups weren’t. Tim He has enjoyed a gradual rise to become one of Australia’s top three Zergs (Pender taking pole position and third going to Jared “PiG” Krensel, who supplanted Team Immunity’s Bradley “tgun” Seymour with a string of improved performances this year) and only the second recognised Australian to make Grandmaster on the Korean server.
The former poker player and national Magic: The Gathering champion also had the strongest online performances out of all the Australians, making it deep in a few of the TeamLiquid Starleague qualifiers after sending a number of known foreign pros packing. (Pender and Seymour put in strong performances as well, while some other Aussies took some big scalps, but He progressed the furthest.)
But the Chinese-Australian has yet to expand his prominence beyond our local shores; even the TeamLiquid assessment of the group stages denigrated the Sydneysider as “the second place finisher in the Oceania qualifiers” – and that was their best judgement, despite his progress in their own, branded tournament.
Given that his group included three Protoss players: the GSL semi-finalist Rain, BabyKnight from Denmark and Quantic Gaming’s State, He’s task was always going to be difficult — three Protoss players is more than you usually see at any Australian tournament. And the mountain was, unfortunately too tall to climb, but He still received US$2000 for his troubles.
Strangely that was the same result for Pender, which was typical of the rollercoaster year that the Queenslander’s had. There’s no doubt he’ll be massively disappointed: Pender is probably the most talented individual to ever represent Australia over the last decade, and has done so off a string of results earnt through astonishingly difficult groups.
Even the Queenslander’s “worst” performances have been more than respectable. Take the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Cologne earlier this year. Pender only won two matches out of five, leaving him unable to progress to the next stage of a tournament that has traditionally been his calling ground.
That’s despite the fact that he put Bomber, the recognised Korean in his group, to the sword. It wasn’t even remotely close. Two of the matches he lost went to a third game, which Pender, if you’ll allow one of my pet phrases, binned completely. Even the commentators at the time acknowledged that the Queenslander would have progressed on a different day — and keep in mind, we’re talking about his worst performance.
Jared “PiG” Krensel was in Germany as well, and he’d just finished defeating Pender in the finals of the Australian leg of the World Championship Series. He’s no slouch himself, but Krensel could only manage 1-10 in his group (although his group also contained MVP, Nestea and Violet, three of the most fearsome Koreans for an upcoming foreigner to face).
The point is that while other Australians most certainly can beat Pender, they haven’t proved themselves capable of reaching the highs he’s scaled. The recent Major League Gaming event in Dallas is a case in point: the Queenslander finished alongside BabyKnight and Suppy, the American Zerg who knocked Mafia to the lower bracket in the same event, as the second-highest finishers among all foreigners.
Every other Australian at the event, including all the members of Team Nv (with the exception of New Zealander JazBas) and Team Immunity, failed to make the Championship Bracket. Pender was two rounds away from the group finals.
But that wasn’t enough to qualify from a group that included the Canadian Zerg Queen Scarlett, the Korean Protoss wunderchild Creator and the Polish Zerg Nerchio. There was a moment where Pender looked like he might take out Scarlett in the third game, but her control with banelings vastly outmatched the Australian and he was left with an insurmountable economic disadvantage.
One small hope for Australians, however, was that at least foreigners managed to perform bizarrely well. IdrA, one of the few foreigners to truly experience the life of a professional gamer throughout Brood War, enjoyed a small resurgence in the group stage by 2-0’ing teammate Stephano and a member of the Korean pro-team Samsung KHAN, RoRo.
And despite the fact that Koreans swept the podium, only 4 Koreans made the quarterfinals. Parting and Creator, the winner and runner-up consecutively, were the only Koreans to sweep their group, and both came within a whisker of getting knocked out by the North American talent Suppy and the Spanish Zerg Vortix.
Of course, that won’t make our boys feel any better. But I’m proud of them, irrespective of the result. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get that far and the experience will play a major part in making their future performances all the better.
Photos via the ever-awesome TeamLiquid.