The Next Challenge

2012 was, for a very long time, the best year of my career. I went from being a kid who dreamed of one day playing the best players, to being one of the best online players, and eventually, one of the best players in the foreign scene, period.

It took me a few offline events to prove my class, but somewhere along the way, I went from competing with the best to beating the best.

I wouldn’t say I was the type of guy who was completely focused on winning. I just loved StarCraft and I wanted to play my best all the time. I think that’s why I liked playing the Koreans so much.

I played MC a couple times that year and back then, he was one of the best players in the world. It was exactly the sort of challenge I was looking for. We traded games back and forth, but I think I got the better of him since I won in the events that mattered most.

I took him out in the semi-finals of HomeStory Cup, an event I went on to win by beating another Korean in the finals. I beat MC in the quarterfinals when we played in Cologne. I wound up making the finals of that tournament as well. These days I remember that final more than HomeStory Cup even though I didn’t win.

I loved the challenge.

When I played Mvp in the finals of IEM Cologne, he was the undisputed best player in the world. I’ll always remember how I held his 2 rax in the first game on Ohana. He’d won Code S, the most prestigious tournament in the world three times already, but I felt comfortable against him at that moment.

He beat me pretty convincingly in the next three games, but it felt really good to go against someone of his stature. That was part of what I wanted to do when I became a pro after all.

I got placed in a tough group at the Battle.net World Championships, something I remember being angry about before the event started. To this day I don’t handle travelling east very well and it’s fair to say I didn’t play my best at that event.

It’s not that my opponents were any better than me, but I dropped out in the group stage nonetheless. It wasn’t the end to the year that I’d hoped for, but I felt I could keep my momentum going into the future.

Things didn’t turn out that way. I’ve said it before, so it won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but I didn’t enjoy Heart of the Swarm very much at all.

In Wings of Liberty, I felt I could control the pace of the game. The new expansion was completely different though and it always felt like the games were slipping out of my grasp. I was still studying at the time and the fact that I had to split my attention between school and StarCraft simply meant that I didn’t play as much.

My goal back then wasn’t to win. It was to at least stay in Challenger and collect the paycheck. It was nice if I made it to Premier, but that wasn’t a real focus of mine. School was more important.

I finished up with university at the end of 2015, just as Legacy of the Void was coming out. Heart of the Swarm wasn’t the expansion for me, but it turned out Legacy of the Void was just my style.

From the very start, I felt like I was capable of recapturing my 2012 form.

The first WCS event of the year was held in Katowice, at the Spodek Arena. I’m Polish, so it was great to play in front of the home crowd in the big venue. I think the pressure might have finally gotten to me during the semi-final where I ultimately lost to Polt, but the fact that I had made it so far confirmed that I was back.

I put a lot of work into my Zerg versus Terran and got revenge on Polt in the very next WCS event. Beating him put me into the finals where I ended up playing ShoWTimE.

ShoWTimE had come out of the easier lower bracket, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t good – in fact, I think ShoWTimE and I were the best players in Europe that year. We had a pretty good rivalry going. I had this feeling that I needed to beat him to do well in tournaments since he was going to make a deep run every time.

I was disappointed with how the final ended. He did an adept all-in I knew was coming, but I didn’t play as safely as I could have. My younger self was more trusting in my instincts, and would have responded better, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to hesitate more.

All in all, I was happy with how the series went. I was playing good StarCraft again, putting up consistent results. That had been important to me from day one.

I’ve always thought that StarCraft II isn’t only about skill. If you’re the absolute best player, sure, no one can touch you, but otherwise the bracket you get and the opponents you face play a big part in how successful you are.

I played ShoWTimE early in the next tournament, Dreamhack Valencia, but I thought my road to the final was pretty easy after that. I thought I’d have to play Neeb in the finals, who I didn’t think I could beat, but I got lucky again.

Neeb shockingly lost to MarinelorD, who made it all the way to the finals. I was really confident in my matchup against Terran. For the first time in years, I thought to myself ‘This is me again’. I won that match 4-0. It had taken a little luck, but I’d won my first title in four years.

Just like in I had in 2012, I ended the year at a Blizzard World Championship event. It was called the WCS Global Finals this time around, but I didn’t do any better than I had in 2012.

It was an interesting experience to say the least. I got hit hard by jet lag after getting off to a great start and ultimately lost the final match of the group stage to Elazer, an up and coming Polish pro.

I was upset, but in that moment, I just wanted him to do as well as possible. It was kind of heartwarming to see him make it all the way to the semi-final, especially since the Polish scene had been on the decline for most of that year. The fact that we had new blood was great. It didn’t matter that his rise had come at my expense.

2012 was a great year; the year in which I legitimized myself as a top European pro. Yet, despite the early exit at BlizzCon, 2016 was even better. I was unable to carry my success into the new year in 2012 and was hoping I wouldn’t repeat that failure four years later.

For the most part I managed to do that. Blizzard had tightened up the WCS system and there were fewer tournaments to go to, meaning every one of them felt even more important. I think that’s why my loss to Neeb at WESG really stuck with me, I threw away a decisive game and ended up losing a ton of money because of it.

WCS Austin took place a few months later. It was the second tournament in my career where the bracket really worked in my favour. All the best players got stuffed into the top portion of the bracket while I had an easier go of things in the bottom half.

I won all the matches I was supposed to, but Neeb was waiting for me in the finals.

He was a god back then; I’m surprised I even won two games. Still, it was a good result. Along with two Round of 8 performances in two of the other WCS stops, it was enough to get me to BlizzCon.

Sadly, I didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity. I was up a game against soO in the first match of the tournament, but I ended up dropping the match, partly because I failed to prepare for a build I had a hunch soO would go for in game two – just like when I played against ShoWTimE a year earlier, hesitating cost me the match.

It’s been a recurring theme of the latter portion of my career. I’ve been hesitating more and more and it’s cost me some important matches. 2012 Nerchio would have won that match… but I’m not that player anymore.

You could say I’ve plateaued in 2018. I didn’t make a finals like I had done the two years previously, but I still made it to BlizzCon. On top of that I was one of four players to make the quarterfinals in three or more of the four WCS Circuit events.

As my career has gone on, I’ve started to value consistency more than anything else. Winning one tournament is great, but staying on top for all these years – as I have – is the kind of career I’m looking for.

I took some time off to focus on studying during Heart of the Swarm, but other than that I’ve been one of the best players in the European scene since 2010. That’s why 2016 stands out so much to me: maybe some people didn’t believe I had it in me anymore, but I focused on Legacy of the Void and became an elite player once again.

As for the future, I like that things are more competitive than they’ve ever been in Europe.

The young kids are really good, but I’m keeping up with them just fine. I don’t see myself going anywhere. I never thought I’d say it, but thanks to Serral, we are the strongest region in the world. If he keeps it up, we’re all going to have a tough time.

I’ve always loved a challenge, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image Credit: Dreamhack, ESL & Red Bull

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