Just four months ago Artur "Acer | Nerchio" Bloch was a European Zerg with potential, but who had yet to make a deep run in a big tournament, and was followed by a swirl of accusations regarding his online play. With the HomeStory Cup V title and a runnerup finish at IEM VII Cologne added to his resume Nerchio has staked his claim to being one of Europe's elite players.
In this interview Nerchio discusses the impact his schooling has on his practice schedule, the turnaround in his matchup with Protoss in general and MC specifically, as well as the run which took him all the way to second place at IEM VII Cologne.
Your studies interfered with you being able to compete in offline events back in 2011. What is your school status now? Does school work get in the way of SC2 for you?
I am still studying at university and I will be attending the second year. Right now I have a three months holiday which is going to finish in one month, so we can say I played full-time for a little while. I don't plan on leaving my studies to go fully pro, because I don't think it would benefit me too much and it could even hurt me more than it would help because I like to have something else in my life that I can concentrate on.
I don't have a set plan but I'd like to work in e-sports if it's possible, if not then I will just use the money I've won in tournaments to improve my skills in computer related topics, so I can earn money that way. School doesn't get in the way of StarCraft2 too much because I still spend as much time on StarCraft2 as I want to and I wouldn't play more even if I quit university.
Looking back at your first few offline events you either won the tournament (Battle of Berlin) or were knocked out by the eventual champion (IEM VI Cologne, SEC 2011 and HSC IV). How would you assess your level in that period from around August 2011 to March 2012? Is to the bracket draw the reason you weren't able to put up results like you have since?
So to start off, I think I am a pretty stable player and I usually do quite well at almost all tournaments, opposite to what some people say. I don't really have any problems playing at LAN tournaments, but in the past my matchups weren't really balanced. I had very good ZvZ and quite good ZvT but pretty bad ZvP, which made me lose in a few tournaments. I also didn't play enough against Koreans at that point and I was caught off-guard a few times. Right now I've fixed my ZvP and had the opportunity to play more against Koreans, so they are not as scary for me as they were before.
To win tournaments, you also need some luck in dodging the players you don't really want to face, and I can tell you that almost every player in StarCraft2 has somebody that he doesn't like to play against.
Prior to HomeStory Cup V there was a lot of discussion online over whether you were cheating or an online player, since you were doing so well in online competition. With your run of high LAN placings that seems to have been pushed aside but what was your reaction to those kinds of comments? Since there are still some European players who perform very well online but haven't been to many LANs or placed highly at them what would you say to the community about drawing conclusions about players like these?
As I said, I did pretty decently at LAN events, but people didn't really notice it because I was always out after the group stage or in the early stages of the brackets, usually against Koreans that then went on to win the tournament. I only care about real criticism, not hate that comes from nowhere, so I always listen to people that have things to say that could help me, and at the same time I have fun reading hundreds of comments that I am cheating or anything like that.
I don't know why but people in StarCraft2 community jump to conclusions too quickly, and if there's topic on TeamLiquid that actually doesn't make sense it can still hurt the player a lot. People should understand that some people might not be interested in going to LANs and just enjoy playing comfortably from home in online tournaments. I did it for a long time and it felt good, but I also like lans, some people might not and that's not really a problem for me. There is no reason to destroy somebody's career just because he did well in much lower stake online tournaments compared to offline.
The first two times you faced MC he beat you 3:0 and 2:0, but since then you've scored 3:1 and 3:0 victories over him. Why the drastic turnaround in results when matched up against him?
I think MC is not in as good shape as he was before, but I also do better the more I play against somebody. The first Bo5, where I lost 0:3, I got completely demolished by MC. The next match was much closer and even though it was 2:0 for MC, it looked much better than before. I learn from my mistakes and can use my opponent's playstyle to my advantage, but of course it's not possible when I meet somebody for the first time. Also, I fixed my ZvP since the first time we met, so I guess that might have helped as well.
Do you consider yourself the favourite to win the next match you two play? Do you think you have a psychological advantage against him right now?
I don't believe in psychological advantages too much actually, or at least it doesn't happen to me and even if I lose a lot against a certain opponent it won't affect me in the next match. It's hard to say how my next match against MC will go, but I think it will never be as one-sided as it was for him in our very first meeting.
You have an excellent record against MaNa online and beat him to win WCS Poland. Are you the best Polish SC2 player overall? Which Polish players should we be aware of in the West as good players?
I don't like to say I am the best, but certainly me and Mana are top two in Poland right now, with a lot of players behind. There's Diestar, Tarson, ParanOid, Tefel, Matiz, Indy, Forte and a few other guys that have decent results, if they really do their best. I think Mana doesn't really like to play against Zerg, so it gives me some kind of advantage over him. So he needs to change his ZvP completely or I think I will still be winning most of the games, even if he's able to take a bo3 here or there.
At HomeStory Cup V of the 27 total maps you played 22 of them were against Protoss and you won 18 of those, ~81%. Plus all of your playoff games were against Protoss. How were you able to be so dominant against Protoss in Krefeld?
I think HomeStory Cup V was really a tournament where I did very well against Protoss. I am not saying I liked the fact that most of my opponents were Protoss, because I am still not a fan of playing ZvP, but I am not one dimensional and I am able to mix a variety of strategies, so it might help me a lot. On the other hand Protoss players have been doing the same things for quite a while now so it's obvious that Zergs are close to perfect at holding the same builds from Protoss all the time.
Protosses can't play so greedy vs. me and it actually helps a lot, you simply can't leave any player completely free, so he can do whatever he likes. Playing a lot of similar games in one tournament, which was ZvP for me at HomeStory Cup V, helps a lot as well with polishing builds and faster reactions to what's going on in the game.
Going into the last two games of your group at IEM VII Cologne you were sitting on a 1-2 record and many would have said you faced the two toughest players in your group, on paper, in the last two games: PuMa and ForGG. You managed to win both games and actually win the group itself. How did those final games play out in comparison to your expectations for both players?
Actually this IEM was one of the first tournaments where I studied replays of my opponents. I didn't have to do this against ForGG, because I knew his playstyle and that he only uses one build against Zerg, which I've faced a ton on the European ladder. He was winning against me on the ladder most of the time, but I knew that I could win if I came up with something stable that could fend off his hellion/banshee aggression.
I studied a few games of PuMa on the maps I'd be playing on, so it was quite easy for me to counter his mixed style of being greedy and cheesing. My starting games in tournaments are always the worst, so it didn't go so well but I knew I could win all my games. Even against SortOf and Demuslim I was ahead, but then I lost the lead because of poor mechanics and I fixed it in my later games.
How close was viOLet to beating you in your 3:2 semi-final? What do you think was the deciding moment which gave you the series and the spot in the finals?
It looked like he was playing very greedily in of all his games, and never used aggression or any kind of all-in, so I was just more greedy than him and used the fact that he over-reacts to small signs of pressure coming from his opponents. My ZvZ is not in the best shape at the moment, especially with the muta vs. muta that happens a lot these days, but I was confident I could take this series.
I think there wasn't really one special moment that decided the match, all of the maps were really close and could have gone either way. I think that at some point in the last game he was ahead, and so he could have won the series, but I was calm enough to bring it back.
A disappointing performance at HSC V contributed to many saying Mvp wasn't the best player in the world anymore and that his level had dropped. Going into the final against him what were your expectations of him?
I don't like to make world rankings, since they can change from match to match and one player can be the best in the world in one series and fall off in the other. I had fun playing against Mvp, as always when I face very good opponents, I like challenges and this one was too hard at that point to overcome.
I thought it might be easier for me after the first game, where I defended 2 rax, but he looked really solid in the next games and, even if I didn't play my best, I didn't see too many ways to win the game, with his perfect defense in addition to the sick amount of drops he was doing. I didn't underestimate him, since I saw him beat other good Zergs and I knew it will be hard.
One of the key games of that final was on Cloud Kingdom and saw Mvp using a mech build which one of the GSL commentators broke down after the match. What did you think of that build and, being as Mvp used it six other times in the tournament, were you prepared to face it?
The idea of that build is actually used a lot by terrans right now, which is a hellion-banshee opening, but I failed to defend his harassment and lost a lot of drones in the process. Even after losing so many drones I was doing quite alright, so I think if I'd done a better job at killing his hellion/banshee attacks I could have taken that game. The main point I noticed was that Mvp shut down almost every path of my counter-attacks, I tried to run-by here and there but everything was blocked or covered by his mech army.
In general I am more impressed by Mvp's late game. He seems to know the timings of a late game Zerg army much better and when other terrans start to make vikings Mvp already has 10 in the skies. If we also consider his use of raven/viking vs. Zerg air, which zerg has a hard time dealing with, then the chances of winning are really slim because you simply can't win the game with just ultralisks if you are even with a Terran as good as Mvp. You need ultra/broodlord switches, but Mvp is really well prepared for them, so it's actually really hard to beat him if he has comfortably entered the late game.
You're now 22nd on the list of SC2 prize money won, and in the last four months you've won over $17,000. How do you feel about where your career is right now? What do you think the future holds?
I am surprised at how much I could earn playing StarCraft2, because before I started playing I didn't even expect to win one dollar. I don't feel the need to be the very best of StarCraft2, in general, considering how hard it is to beat all the Koreans, but being at the top of the foreign scene makes me happy and motivated enough to continue playing. I think I can keep on playing the game for a few years more, as long as the e-sports scene is alive and I still have fun playing it.
Being as you study alongside your SC2 career what is your perspective on how much practice is needed to be competitive against the world's best players? Would you be better if you had the practice schedule of some of the Koreans? Is it necessary?
I wouldn't be better if I had more time, because I simply wouldn't feel like playing more than I do now. Koreans for sure play more than almost everybody else, there are a few hard working exceptions in foreign scene, but in general Koreans are playing more and nobody can deny that. If you want to keep your skill level, probably two hours a day is enough, but if you want to keep improving you probably need more. I think for Zerg it's not a big difference to play on the Korean or European/North American ladder, because we have only to work out safe builds vs. everything, and you can do it pretty much in every game. On the other hand, for Protoss or Terran it would be more beneficial to train in Korea.
It's rare that Eastern European players attend North American events, like MLG. Is there a reason you personally stick to European events? Do you have plans to attend the North American circuit in the future?
I will probably attend more US tournaments in the future, for example IPL5 that I qualified for, but in general it's obvious that people want to visit the closest LAN possible. Not many people like to travel more than 20 hours, which is really tiring, and after that it's hard to do your best.
What is your assessment of VortiX's surprise run, beating the likes of ForGG and SuperNova, to top four at IEM?
It's not surprising at all, he was doing very well on ladder and it was obvious that sooner or later he would show up and do well at some of the tournaments. His ZvT is especially impressive, and he is able to beat every Terran in europe, so I don't see why couldn't he beat some of the Koreans.
The final words belong to you.
Thanks to Team Acer and all my fans, I created a twitter account just lately and I will try to stream as much as possible in the future, but there are quite a lot of LANs coming up, so it might not work out so well.