What does it take to be a Champion? Alongside talent, practice, and commitment, it is hard to be consistent in a game as difficult as Starcraft 2. Serral dominated 2018, even winning Blizzcon, and has already won the WCS Spring 2019 title. Let’s see what makes Serral such a terrifying opponent.
Conquering the World
Joona “Serral” Sotala is a Finnish Zerg player of Starcraft 2, who last year defeated almost everyone and gained, alongside a plethora of tournaments. He has the reputation of being the best player in the world. Before 2018 he was good but never had any tangible and consistent success. Something changed last year, his abilities were polished to almost perfection, and his final test was defeating Stats in the Blizzcon finals, winning the most important tournament of the year.
Before Serral, Starcraft 2 was considered a game where the elite would always be the Koreans. Even if there were many amazing western players like Scarlet, Showtime, or Special, they could rarely win series against the Korean powerhouses such as Innovation, Maru, Stats, or Dark. However, Serral proved everyone wrong and managed to be crowned the first Westerner to win Blizzcon.
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— ENCE (@ENCE) January 31, 2019
Many casters have tried to analyze and discover the secret strategy that allows a Westerner to defeat the Koreans in Starcraft 2, and most of them end up saying “Serral is just THAT good“, because what he does is not as evident as they expect, and obviously to hype him up.
Some of the casters go a little bit further and get closer to the truth. Serral actually does not use any strategies different from other Zerg players, he does prefer macro games but he is far from being the only one. In the Starcraft 2 meta, there is a standard build that prepares you to almost everything and using a race that is reactive by nature such as Zerg makes sense to follow these builds. He just executes them more precisely than any of the other players.
Excellence by making less mistakes
It is impossible for anyone to play Starcraft 2 perfectly, as our capacity to overlook each and every action is limited. In fact, it is amazing how pro players manage to get such high APM (actions per minute) while playing, managing several unit movement and economy at the same time. But Serral has come to be considered the best because he almost never makes mistakes.
Whether it is Spores placement, Queen positioning, Zergling run-bys, Overlord scouting, or any other in-game action and strategy, Serral has practiced some more to find the most optimal way to do them. He executes these strategies as precisely as possible. His success comes from making fewer mistakes than his opposition and making each unit count.
This feat was previously thought to be Korean-exclusive in Starcraft 2, everyone just “accepted” Koreans were better and made fewer mistakes, and westerners could only beat them using unusual strategies, or “cheese“. But Serral proves that effort and excellence can come from anywhere.
Changes for 2019
After the macro-focus flawless way of playing Starcraft 2 that Serral showed us last year, even he has started making changes to his playstyle, showing that staying on top is even more difficult than getting to the top. In 2019, we have seen Serral be more creative, more aggressive, taking risky decisions to surprise his opponents, and considering he won WCS Winter, it has proven effective.
When you become the guy to beat, all your strategies will be seen by thousands, so improving and surprising other players becomes harder and harder. It’s like chess, if a player always takes the optimal choice, then it becomes predictable.
Moving from always going for macro games with Hydralisks, we have seen more Roach/Ravager games from Serral, and he is even doing Proxy-Hatcherys in some games. It is not 100% effective, but for any champion not staying stale is the priority.
A Person to Admire
Whenever you watch an interview with Serral, you can sense the type of person he is. Whenever he wins, his voice breaks, and he is very respectful. His most impressive quality is that he does not consider himself the best. He always acts hunble when asked about his success. And when you do not consider yourself the best, you will always have room to be better.
Serral is a Champion. He has shown us that good skills and effort is not limited to an elite, and even in victory, we can improve ourselves. That is why he is the best Starcraft 2 player right now.