Around the Map is The Meta‘s weekly, rapid-reaction roundup of the preceding seven days’ best esports events.
Header illustration by Gareth Damian Martin
Marc “uThermal” Schlappi wasn’t even supposed to compete in Intel Extreme Masters Shanghai; he was a last minute replacement for a Kazakhstani Protoss player plagued with ongoing visa problems. But the Dutch Terran’s impressive run took lots of fans by surprise—me included. I mean, it’s just surprising to see a foreign Terran player winning a major tournament at all. A foreign Terran hasn’t won a premier tournament since Wings of Liberty (2010), let alone a foreign Terran who was invited to the tournament a week before it was set to begin.
I’m usually a Protoss kind of gal, but I was actually hoping that Nerchio would take the title. Maybe it was the pressure of coming off a huge win at Dreamhack Valencia last month, but Nerchio got knocked out by Korean Zerg player, viOLeT, who then went on to face uThermal, but ultimately lost in a 3-2 series.
On the other side of the bracket, North American Protoss player Alex “Neeb” Sunderhaft was absolutely destroying his opponents. Until he faced uThermal in the finals, not one player was able to take a map from him—he 3-0’ed TooDming, Hydra, and ShoWTimE. Neeb is a relative newcomer to the StarCraft II scene; he only started playing full-time after graduating high school this June. Despite that, he’s already proven himself one of North America’s top Protoss players, if not one of the top players overall.
Neeb took risks against uThermal in the finals, but still played really well. There were, however, a few moments where he slipped up—moments that really seemed to shake him. uThermal had a huge advantage in overall positioning; he used his Liberators to push Neeb around the map, especially on Apotheosis. And if that map wasn’t bad enough, uThermal went into the next map (King Sejong Station) with proxied Widow Mines, taking the round—again—decisively. Neeb is notorious for getting nervous in big matches, and it’s likely that’s ultimately how uThermal took him down.
The awarded 1,000 World Championship Series circuit points aren’t enough to push uThermal into the 2016 WCS Global Playoffs, but he’s certainly in better standing than he once was. As for the $16k in prize money, uThermal has pretty realistic plans. He just wants to get his driver’s license.
If the first Halo Championship Series season finals were a little bit of a disappointment from a spectator’s standpoint, it’s only because Counter Logic Gaming’s unrelenting dominance was exactly what everyone expected out of them—no fault of theirs. Quite the contrary: these guys are a god squad in the making, and it seems as though no other team even comes close. The team’s captain, SnakeBite, is particularly fascinating to watch for his constant flawless execution of focused, aggressive plays. Enigma6 seemed like they had a shot at victory in game one of the grand-finals bracket, granted, but a harmless fumble proved fatal as CLG got the flag return, and then the capture, and rode their momentum to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 4–0 win.
What’s perhaps more interesting to watch is the relegation portion of the coverage, where teams like OpTic Gaming, Denial, and EnVyUs competed to hold their place in the Pro League. By far the biggest highlight of the weekend was Saturday’s epic game-one Capture the Flag between OpTic and Denial on Fathom, in which the teams tied four consecutive times before going to a tense sudden death.
In sudden death, the teams began a fourth replay where the first capture would mean victory, and OpTic were quick to press the advantage and snatch a cap. Denial ultimately took games four and five before OpTic sealed their fate in game six in what had to be one of the most intense series anyone’s ever seen. It was an incredible broadcast, and it proved that the marquee event—the winners’ bracket—isn’t necessarily always the most entertaining part of a tourney.
We’re going to see a lot of speculation, lineup changes, and overall rejiggering throughout the Pro League between now and the fall 2016 season. Evil Geniuses’ Snipedown summed up the question on everyone’s minds with a tweet asking, in so many words: who can possibly challenge CLG for dominance? We’ll get closer to an answer in the HCS Pro League’s second season, but no team is going to topple them without a fight.
Since this was the last weekend of regular play in the LCS summer split, there wasn’t too much riding on any single match—and maybe that’s what made them so fun to watch. The most hyped matchup, between first place contenders Team Solomid and Immortals, wasn’t just compelling because it would determine playoff seeding, but because both of the teams are currently playing at such a high level in the North American scene. The series gave us a look at TSM in their most showy incarnation: On top of out-CSing former TSM ADC Wildturtle by more than 100 creeps, Doublelift also scored a highlight reel-worthy pentakill, Bjergsen played out of his mind on Zilean, and TSM took the series in a commanding 2-0 victory.
The game also put Doublelift within striking distance of a 1000-kill regular season—which would make him the first player to pass the threshold in the North American scene. In their Sunday best-of-three series against NRG Esports, TSM seemed to be having more fun than anyone else we saw this weekend. After a handy victory in the first game, TSM’s toplaner Hauntzer locked in a crowd-pleasing Teemo pick for game two, which was so meta-breakingly awful that NRG took the victory with relative ease. Even now, the reason for the troll pick isn’t exactly clear (some hypothesize that it was a throwaway game meant to pad Doublelift’s kill count), but it was one of the weirder League games we’ve seen this season, with tons of disjointed skirmishing and a whole lot of Teemo cheese.
When it became clear that TSM was going to win the series at the end of game three, the question became whether or not Doublelift would be able to secure his thousandth kill before TSM outright won the game. The final push of this match should be familiar to anyone who’s asked a buddy for the last kill to secure a penta, only to have it stolen at the last second by a smartass teammate, with Doublelift continually getting robbed by overzealous teammates. To secure Doublelift the kill, TSM eventually ended up pulling a 5-man dive into the NRG fountain. Yes, it’s score padding, yes, it’s at least a little bit petty, but moments like these are what make pro-level League of Legends relatable to plebs (like me) who just want their Silver IV buddies to notice their badass plays.