If you’re a Warriors fan at Cal, you have a bad history with 3-1 leads in seven-game series. But this time, Cal students were on the right side of a dramatic comeback.
The Cal Starcraft 2 team won a nail-biting series against the University of Waterloo in the finals of the Tespa Collegiate Series, or TCS, 2018: Starcraft Team Brawl, claiming yet another national title to add to the team’s impressive trophy case. Cal was down, 3-1, at one point in the series but managed to close it out with three straight wins in order to claim the championship.
The team, composed of junior Zerg player Nick “Silky” McNeese, junior Protoss player Ryan “IntuitioN” Quick and senior Protoss player Clay “Padre” Finney, didn’t exactly have high expectations going into the TCS. After an early exit in the first round of the Collegiate Starleague, or CSL, playoffs, most of the players would’ve been satisfied with a quarterfinal berth.
“We thought to ourselves that we can at least get a thousand bucks from this and get to top four,” Finney said. “Anything past that, we thought, would be hard-fought.”
Nevertheless, the team only dropped three matches in the 15-game regular season, good enough for second place in the standings. That secured it an automatic stop in the quarterfinals against the University of Texas at Austin.
Cal defeated Texas, 3-1, and later claimed a forfeit victory over the University of Toronto in the semifinals to earn a spot in the grand finals against the University of Waterloo.
Waterloo had finished first in the regular season standings and was slated as the favorite to take home the first-place prize of $10,500 in scholarship money. Despite all that, the Cal players were confident they could put up a fight, having beat them in the regular season.
“We were definitely worried because they’re obviously the favorite team,” Finney said. “But we definitely knew they were beatable because we beat them in the regular season.”
Part of that confidence comes from the fact that the entirety of Waterloo’s roster is composed of Terran players, which makes it easy to predict how the team will play.
“We know exactly how all the Waterloo players play,” Quick said. “We know they’re going to Mech almost every game.”
The series got off to an intense start. In a Zerg vs. Terran, or ZvT, matchup, McNeese managed to take significant map control very early on in the game. The Waterloo player turtled with his Mech-Terran build, stretching the game out to more than 30 minutes. Remaining patient, McNeese waited for this opponent’s economy to dry out in order to close out the game and secure an early series lead.
Waterloo would win the next three games to take the overwhelming 3-1 series lead.
Game two saw Quick in a Protoss vs. Terran, or PvT, matchup. Unfortunately, he lost a significant amount of probes to some early harass, which later snowballed to a massive lead for his opponent, allowing Waterloo to tie the series. Finney played in game three in another PvT matchup, but he misjudged his opponent’s build, and by the time he realized it, it was too late.
Finney was chosen again to play in game four, again PvT. He got off to a strong start but botched a recall to a dying Nexus. The game was fully lost after Finney unsuspectingly walked his few remaining Colossi into a series of widow mines. As he knew he should’ve won the game, the loss did not sit well with Finney.
“I thought I had just lost us the series,” Finney said. “I choked pretty hard.”
Still, the other players on the team remained cool and collected.
“Nick is almost guaranteed to win every game,” Quick said. “We know that if I win one game, we’re going to win the whole thing because Nick is easily the best player in the league.”
In a do-or-die situation, McNeese ground out a taxing 60-minute victory in a ZvT matchup. Just as in game one, the strength of Mech-Terran prevented him from ending the game quickly. The game almost ended in a draw, which would have forced a replay, but the Waterloo player failed to realize this. McNeese walked away from the match physically exhausted and somewhat nauseous with his eyes bloodshot, knowing very well that he would have to play one more time if the series went to a deciding game seven.
“I felt the will to win just overtake me in that whole hour,” McNeese said. “I was just really driven to win the game regardless of what happened. Everything just went out of perspective, and I just did what I needed to do to win.”
Before that, though, Quick had to win so the team could get the chance to play in a deciding match. He had to deal with some early pressure in the PvT matchup, but he successfully managed to deflect most of it. When the Waterloo player appeared to overextend himself, Quick took advantage of the opportunity and began his counterattack. He eventually finished things, bring the series to a tie and setting up a climactic final match.
“Ryan played out of his mind,” McNeese said. “I was just so impressed the whole game. He made every right move and capitalized on every mistake that Waterloo made.”
In game seven, McNeese made a gut call. On a bigger map than in previous matches, he changed up his build to include Swarm Hosts. Being one of the best players in North America, McNeese had the utmost confidence in his ability to outmaneuver his opponent. Using a series of multipronged attacks, McNeese overpowered the Waterloo player, and Cal completed the comeback to win the TCS 2018 title.
While this is the first Tespa title for the Cal “Starcraft 2” team, it builds on the legacy of excellence that surrounds one of the most winning teams in all of collegiate esports. Going back as far as 2009, the team has won five national titles — including the 2018 title — across a slew of different leagues, including this year’s TCS.
For Finney, who will be graduating at the end of the semester, the TCS was a final opportunity to leave an imprint on the Cal esports community.
“One of my dreams, transferring to Cal, was to play collegiate esports,” Finney said. “I have a lot of reverence for Cal’s legacy in esports.”
Looking forward, McNeese and Quick will be returning to the team next season. Though “Starcraft” as a whole suffers from a shrinking talent pool, McNeese believes that the community at Cal still has a good set of players who want to improve. Quick also hopes that this championship will generate another wave of interest to find some exceptional talent.
“When we went into the tournament, we didn’t have any super big expectations,” McNeese said. “It’s a pretty good feeling winning it all. When you don’t have any expectations, it’s a lot better.”