Red Bull eSports is handing out some awards to some of the most memorable StarCraft pros.
2013 was a transformative year for StarCraft 2. The revamped WCS format profoundly changed the competitive landscape, old guard Korean players and teams completed their transition to StarCraft 2 in earnest and started making their mark, and a number of rising stars had their first breakout successes while a few of the old guard said their farewells.
With twelve months' of StarCraft now in the rearview mirror, here are a few of the players whose achievements are worth honoring before the focus shifts to 2014.
Social Media Master: Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi
NaNiwa is one of the very best StarCraft pros outside of Korea, but his use of Twitter this last year was truly next-level. We got to watch him not JUST put a bounty on another player to keep him out of NaNiwa's way for BlizzCon…
...but then he publicly reneged on the deal and started getting the full deadbeat treatment from TaeJa.
Or there's his running commentary on racial balance in StarCraft 2 and the character it gives the game, all served up with an espresso shot of pure bitterness.
He wasn't too fond of the 3-hour marathon by Firecake and MaNa, either.
Here's the thing, though: NaNiwa throws bombs at the targets he feels need blowing up. NaNiwa's feed is an entertaining stream of trash-talk, calculated bad manners, and sharp critique from the sidelines, but it is also refreshingly unvarnished. NaNiwa's attitude may be a turn-off for some or a source of affection for others, but what comes through in this Twitter is a real desire for the game to be better, and for audiences to genuinely support their favorite players, and show respect to those who combine talent with hard work.
There is a kind of embittered idealism to NaNiwa's rants, a Kanye-esque inability to keep his mouth shut when something offends his sensibilities. More importantly, as the only non-Korean to make it to Blizzcon, NaNiwa is the rare eSports firebrand whose ego writes checks that his body can, in fact, cash.
Rivalry of the Year: Choi "Bomber" Ji Sung and Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn
This one is easy. These two players fought four great battles over the course of the year, including the year's best single game. Bomber stopped Scarlett's near-miraculous run at the Season 2 WCS Finals, then lost to her at Red Bull Battle Grounds in a wild series, and finally the two met played twice more at at IEM Singapore in late November. In 2013, Scarlett and Bomber are even: two wins and two losses.
But it's more than great battles that make up a rivalry. It's about where the players are at in their own careers. Bomber had a year of redemption, proving that he was every bit as good as he'd promised to be, even if he often fell short of hopes and expectations in the past. Scarlett, meanwhile, was in an uphill struggle to become an elite StarCraft 2 player despite hailing from a far less accomplished region at a time of growing Korean dominance. Their rivalry encapsulated their journeys and added to their growing reputations.
Most Creative: Baek "Dear" Dong Jun
The most interesting thing about Dear's back-to-back Championship wins is that he repeatedly found crazy "get out of jail free" StarCraft plays that rescued him from bad situations. It wasn't that his gameplans were perfect or that he knew how to snipe his opponents, it was that he had an uncanny knack for making the right move at just the right time to bail himself out of trouble.
Dear didn't look like he should have beaten Soulkey in this match at the Season 3 Finals. He kept finding himself at a disadvantage, and all Soulkey seemed like he needed to do was just close the deal.
But that was the exact moment when Dear threw a different timing at Soulkey and basically caused him to come undone. It happened again and again for Dear, and it got him a back-to-back GSL and season title. Nobody else improvised as brilliantly under such intense pressure.
This is Part 1 of our StarCraft II Awards. Check back Tuesday for the second part, including our pick for Player of the Year.