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Blizzard’s World Championship Series Finals this weekend in Shanghai to crown first-ever StarCraft 2 world champion


This Saturday and Sunday, 32 top StarCraft 2 pros from around the world will compete in the Battle.net World Championship in Shanghai, China for the honor of being the first official world champion in the history of the sport. The winner also gets $100,000, the biggest first-prize since StarCraft 2 launched.

The tournament streams here and begins at 10 AM local Shanghai time, also known as 2 AM GMT / 9 PM Eastern. Why yes, that does mean that nearly the entire tournament takes place while we Americans are asleep. Good thing we didn’t do anything important LIKE INVENT THE GAME.

I’m sorry. That was uncalled for.

Anyway, the World Championship emphasizes the international StarCraft 2 scene, bringing together 24 players from five continental finals (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Oceania) and eight players from direct national seeds. The result is a tournament that could be described as “Korea versus the world”, although the United States is close behind with six StarCraft 2 pros to Korea’s seven. The mix of races is similarly lopsided: Zerg have 15 players competing, and Protoss have 13. Terran have four. So prepare for a lot of mirror matches.

Blizzard have assembled the usual suspects to cast the games. Household names (well, household names in any proper eSports-watching house) like Sean “Day[9]” Plott, Nick “Tasteless” Plott, Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski, and Shaun “Apollo” Clark will be calling matches. Backing them up are Ben “MrBitter” Nichol, Kevin “Rotterdam” van der Kooi, Alex “Axeltoss” Rodriguez, Thomas “Khaldor” Killian, James “Kaelaris” Carrol, and Nicholas “Axslav” Ranish, who are not quite as ubiquitous on tournament broadcasts. Michael “Adebisi” Van Driel will be observing the matches.

Looking over the competitor list, Jung “Rain” Yoon Jong would seem to be a clear favorite. He comes to the World Championship already on a roll, having just won the latest OSL season and put in a very good performance at MLG’s Fall Championship. He’s got a fairly easy group, and a lot of his biggest rivals will be watching from home this weekend. In fact, one of the most surprising things about the WCS Finals is who won’t be there.

StarCraft’s missing titans

Many of StarCraft 2’s biggest names are missing entirely, having been eliminated in the bloodbath that was the Korean Nationals tournament. Regular GSL Code S competitors wiped each other out right and left, so you won’t find Mvp, MC, DongRaeGu, Polt, Leenock, or any number of other major players in Shanghai this weekend. While the large international contingent is good for giving different regions players to rally behind, it also over-represents lower-caliber players. While Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri has emerged as a truly elite Zerg in this last year, having won six major tournaments so far this year and medalled at several others. it’s become impossible to say the same about Greg “IdrA” Fields, who has not been a major presence in tournaments all year. His Canadian teammate Chris “HuK” Loranger has likewise struggled to find a good finish, yet they will both be there this weekend.

You also have some near-unknowns competing this weekend. Australia’s Tim “MaFia” He has enjoyed some success in the Australian and Oceanian tournaments, but he’s largely untested in the broader StarCraft 2 community. In fact, he’s better described as a professional progamer, having enjoyed success in Magic: The Gathering and competitive poker in addition to his StarCraft 2 career. While his story is fascinating, it remains to be seen whether he can hold his own against StarCraft’s elite.

In some ways, these issues illustrate the difficulty of trying to identify the world’s top StarCraft 2 players through a single tournament. When so many elite players are absent, and the format is biased toward global representation, it’s hard to argue that this weekend’s competition will truly determine “the world’s greatest.”

Of course, championships are always arbitrary. They’re really more for us, the spectators, than they are about uncovering some Platonic truth. We get the drama of a single match where everything is on the line. The winner takes a new title and the loser becomes an also-ran, whatever their respective achievements.

But that illusion is harder to maintain in StarCraft 2. This weekend Blizzard crowns its world champion… and then the next week DreamHack Winter crowns its season champion and the week after that IPL5 will host both the GSL Code S final and and its own StarCraft 2 tournament, and each of those tournaments will likely have an even more demanding lineup. No matter how championship matches shake out, StarCraft is like tennis or gold: players are judged by a body of work.

What Blizzard have really accomplished here is organizing a major tournament across several different regions and leagues that, if it doesn’t perfectly reflect who are the best players in the world, at least reflects the people who love and play the game.