The Swedish pro's surprising Round of 32 Elimination in WCS Europe is a head-scratcher.
Going by the WCS Global Standings, Johan “NaNiwa” Luchessi – who was shockingly eliminated in the European Premier League Round of 32 this week - is the most successful non-Korean player in the world. Yet he never seems to be “the foreigner hope” the way Ilyes "Stephano" Satouri was before his recent retirement or the way Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn increasingly, is. Where NaNiwa is concerned, it’s the things he hasn’t accomplished that seem to come up more.
First-place trophies have been in short supply for him at major tournaments, and his career has played out against a background of public acrimony, disputes with teams, and a general churlishness that compares poorly to the charisma and good humor displayed by so many of his peers and less-accomplished rivals.
He recently unloaded on the notion of MOBAs as valid eSports, saying, “When I see a tournament such as LCS, The International and so on, I think it's like winning the lottery. There seems to be a lot of nice guys in dota who don't deserve any hate. It's not meant as a personal attack on anyone.
But when I hear people who wins thousands of dollars in a American moba tournament and think they are king of the world I just want to laugh at them for not realizing how easy their game is in comparison.”
This is awkward considering he is teammates with the current world champion Dota 2 squad, but awkwardness is par for the course with a player like NaNiwa. He’s famous for displaying poor etiquette when he loses matches, and sometimes even before he starts. He’s not a poster-child for StarCraft or eSports, and in a community that sometimes operates more like a small town than a global sport, NaNiwa is easier to respect than admire or love.
An Early Exit
His round of 32 elimination on Tuesday at the hands of Park “ForGG” Ji Soo and Kristoffer “TargA” Marthinsen only adds to the Swedish Protoss’s contradictions. While ForGG has been one of the strongest competitors in Europe for a while, TargA was not supposed to be in NaNiwa’s league. In fact, NaNiwa’s round of 32 appearance was supposed to be a formality. He was going to go through.
Except NaNiwa was coming off a tough weekend qualifying for IEM New York next month. He’d looked frustrated and inconsistent throughout that process, and that trend continued today. His first series against TargA went well, but ForGG beat him with an ease that belied his 2-1 series with NaNiwa. When NaNiwa had to face TargA again, it was hard not to wonder if he was simply out of ideas and energy. His scouting was poor, and while he knew TargA well enough to fake it for a while, TargA was a crucial step or two ahead when it mattered.
A Tough Road Ahead
So where does this leave NaNiwa? The road to the WCS Global Finals just became very hard for him, since he will be denied the WCS points he needed to maintain his position in the top 16. He will need miraculous performances at Bucharest and New York to survive this setback.
NaNiwa had a bad day when he could ill-afford to, but that shouldn’t obscure what he’s accomplished. Only two weeks ago, he was one of two non-Korean pros in the Season 2 quarterfinals, having earned his ticket by vanquishing a heavily-favored Lee "INnoVation" Shin Hyung. For all his personal foibles, he is a great player whose longevity is not only impressive, but whose performance since Heart of the Swarm has been superb.
2012, arguably his most difficult year, was also the year that he tried hardest to toe the line and be a better team member. His career is a reminder that sports are a bad place to go looking for morality plays. The same brashness and combativeness that make him hard to relate to are also the qualities that have let him take the fight to so many great Korean players time and again. To judge from his reaction to his defeat, he’s already preparing to mount his comeback.
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