After 16 years, a foreigner has finally won a Premier tournament on Korean soil. The last time a foreigner won a Premier tournament was Guillaume "Grrrr..." Patry's 2000 Hanaro OSL win. At the time that the Canadian player made history, his successor was only two years old.
After his victory, theScore esports caught up with 18 year-old Alex "Neeb" Sunderhaft to talk about his win, upcoming tournaments, his time in Korea and his thoughts on the current state of the game.
Firstly, congratulations on your win! This is the first foreigner Premier victory on Korean soil in 16 years and your first Premier title. How do you feel about this win? What does it mean to you?
This win means so much to me I can’t even put it into words. I always thought I’d be mediocre at best and after two years of playing Terran as a low-tier foreigner, I never thought I’d ever do anything significant. But here I am now with people saying that I made esports history so I’m still kind of coming to terms with it — that I’m not just a low-tier foreigner.
What did you think of your opponent’s gameplay during the finals? Do you think Trap was prepared?
I think Trap played very well strategically, always making an effort to abuse the fact that I’d go Stalker/Disruptor every game. However, like the other Koreans he didn’t have as much experience as me just playing a solid mid/late game rather than winning early on, so I’d do well in the mid/late game despite [Trap's] small early game advantage. In the past, I would have lost every game since there was very little comeback potential in old PvP but now with Disruptors the games stabilizes every time because the Koreans currently don’t seem to play with this in mind.
Has it sunk in that this win is already part of SC2 history? You’ve generally been very humble about your accomplishments, but this win will completely change how many pros and fans see the competitive scene.
Probably not yet. I’m still getting situated since I came back to America the day after KeSPA cup. I still feel exactly the same as before I won in terms of my personality, so the win hasn’t changed me much, but yeah it will probably change the way I’m viewed.
Stephano, NaNiwa and Jinro are considered some of the best foreigners of all time playing in Korea, but none of them ever got past a Korean semifinal. With your win, some will argue that you have already surpassed them in accomplishment. How do you feel about that? Do you agree?
I don’t agree, both Stephano and NaNiwa at least played in times where all the Koreans were experienced and trying their best. Jinro, like me, hasn’t shown enough consistency or long term results, but Stephano and NaNiwa were competitive with top Koreans for a few years so they are above me I’d say.
From the group stage onwards, you beat Rogue, Zest, Pet, Stats and Trap, who together hold a handful of titles and some of the best Proleague records in Korea. Does it feel particularly good to be beating these types of players, or are you used to it by now?
Now I think I’m used to it, but when I went into my first match against Rogue I was so nervous that my hands were completely numb after the first game. The referee in the booth actually asked if I was in pain and needed a break because I’m sure it looked really bad. After I beat Rogue I was completely fine and played confidently against all my other opponents.
When we last talked at Kings of the North you said PvP was your strongest matchup, and it clearly showed in this tournament. How do you feel about your matchups overall?
It’s just a recent thing where I’ve been doing well in PvP. My best matchup is probably still PvZ because I’ve been doing consistently well there, but it’s hard to say. With the metagame changing so much my confidence in each matchup changes a lot as well.
Do you think training here in Korea has helped you significantly? ByuN mentioned you practiced with him before the GSL finals. Did you get a chance to practice with him or any other top tier players before or during KeSPA Cup?
Yes, my training in Korea was a huge help since playing custom games allows me to direct my practice how I want it to, rather than play ladder games where some of my games could be useless when I’m preparing because I’m playing versus the wrong race or wrong playstyle. Over the 2 months I was in Korea I played custom games with ByuN, Ryung, GuMiho, Patience, Solar, Pet, TRUE and viOLet.
How intense has your practice been coming into the tournament? Did you change your routine? This win will also be talked about in the debate over KeSPA training/infrastructure techniques vs. non-KeSPA pros.
I didn’t play that much honestly. I prepared a lot for the first group stage but after I made it out 4-0 I barely played at all before my Ro8 and semis/finals games.
Did you feel you had any special advantage going into the tournament by being relatively new to Korea? If not, is there something else in particular you think gave you the edge to win?
I don’t think so. I feel like all the Koreans knew somewhat how I played so I don’t think I had any significant edge going into the tournament other than the fact that I play Protoss.
I know it's very soon afterwards, but what kind of response have you been getting from Koreans pros, as well as fans? I’ve seen people like Golden saying things like “give him Korean citizenship” and Stats was complimenting you in the recorded interview before your match. Is there any difference between how they’ve looked at you before and after the tournament?
I don’t think there was that much of a difference. The SC2 community is pretty small so most people of the Korean pros/fans probably knew of me before the tournament and they are all really respectful to everyone so it feels about the same to me. I’m sure there are some people though that hadn’t heard of me before KeSPA Cup but know who I am now.
With this win behind you, what are your realistic goals for BlizzCon?
I’d like to just make it out of groups. I still feel like the same player I was before KeSPA Cup even though everyone expects me to win every tournament these days.
In terms of balance and maps, could you briefly tell us what you think of the state of the game right now?
It’s very tough to talk about balance because there is definitely some imbalance in the game but it’s hard to tell where it comes from or how exactly that imbalance affects the outcome of the game. For example, I think PvT is imbalanced but it’s not like Protoss units just deal 20 percent more damage than Terran units or something like that. It’s much more subtle and either race can create situations where it’s much easier for them to play well than for the other race to play well. So basically I like to avoid talking about imbalance. PvZ seems very balanced right now though and PvT is imbalanced for both races in certain situations but probably favors Protoss overall.
Going forward, what are you planning? Are you going to take a break? Scarlett mentioned that you guys are going to Brazil this month for WESG, and HomeStory Cup is also approaching.
I'm probably not going to take a break with so many tournaments in the next few months but I might play less after BlizzCon/WESG and skip a few tournaments next year depending on how I feel.
Congratulations again, do you have anything to say in closing to your fans?
Thank you for making what I do worthwhile and giving me a reason to work hard, I love you all.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Christian Paas-Lang is an esports journalist from Toronto waiting for the "DIE, DIE, DIE" voicepack for SC2 Reapers. You can follow him on Twitter.
Navneet Randhawa does stuff and things at theScore esports and is not... a literal god. You can follow her on Twitter.