Sean “Probe” Kempen is used to being the underdog in StarCraft II tournaments. It’s a place so many Australian esports players are used to being when they come face to face with the world’s best, and a status they love turning on its head.
That’s what Legacy Esports’ high-flying Protoss player is looking to do when he battles his way through the third group stage of the 2019 WCS Winter Americas this Sunday. From top-tier Chinese and Mexican representatives, to some of the best players American and Canada have to offer, there’s just a few superstars of the game standing in his way.
“I am the underdog in this tournament, so it’s going to be pretty tough.”
“I only have to take a series here or there, and I think I’m in a great place to achieve that,” Probe said of making it through to the WCS playoffs.
“It’s a feeling that I have a lot though, sometimes people will doubt me and that’s when I turn around and win the next LAN or WCS Challenger event.
“Being the underdog is something that I very much enjoy, because it takes a lot of pressure off. There’s some people might even be thinking I’m favoured to get through to the playoffs, but I’ve got my work cut out for me because of a few factors ahead.”
Probe, who earned his place at the WCS Winter Americas competition that began back in February through the Asia Qualifier, feels he’s had an “interesting” road through to the final eight, but not one that has been “too challenging”.
In the first stage, Probe found himself in Group E against Li “TIME” Peinan, Alexandre “DisK” Corriveau, and Joseph “Future” Stanish. With the tournament based online and running through the American servers, Kempen knew he had to level the playing field if he wanted to compete.
“I saw what my group was going to be, and I thought it was sort of tough, so I headed to America to stay at the Root [Gaming] house and take advantage of the zero ping there,” Probe said. “Because the tournament was played on the US West server and I was there it gave me a big advantage, and I managed to only lose to TIME and make it out in second.”
Probe fell to Chinese representative TIME in a tight 2-1 series that saw the Terran player come out ahead, but his key results came against the North American representatives. A strong 2-0 over Future and a 2-1 win against DisK shot the Australian through to the second group stage.
It was here that Kempen found himself standing along among the Oceanic representatives – a tough group draw for SYF Gaming’s Sheldon “Seither” Barrow saw the other Australian involved in the tournament dumped out of the running off the back of two 2-0 defeats.
Lifting the Southern Cross-adorned flag high, Probe moved on to Group Stage 2, where he was drawn into the second pool with Maru “MaSa” Kim, Xue “Firefly” Tao, and the man responsible for sending Siether home, Invictus Gaming representative Wu “Coffee” Yishen.
It was more success for Legacy Esports’ star. He opened the group by avenging Seither with a 2-1 win over Coffee, before a 2-1 defeat to MaSa put his tournament life on the line.
In a Protoss vs Protoss mirror match-up, Probe came out victorious as he claimed back-to-back wins on Kairos Junction and Port Aleksander to bag the 2-0 win and shoot himself into the final eight. The step into the third group stage also brought with it at least 300 WCS Circuit Points.
Probe, who had recently returned to Australia to continue his studies while playing StarCraft professionally, took on an excited air when he spoke about the possibility of locking a spot at the year-end 2019 World Championship Series Global Finals, hosted at Blizzcon each year.
Playing at LAN tournaments, seeing all the other competitors that he has formed connections with since he first began his career nearly five years ago, and just being involved in the top-level scene of StarCraft, all mean so much to the 22-year-old Protoss whizz.
Kempen recently attended IEM Katowice in Poland, where he placed 45th-60th, as well as the 2018 World Electronic Sports Games hosted in Chongqing. He finished 25th-32nd at the Chinese-based event.
Although neither tournament coughed up circuit points or prize money for Probe, it was still something he said he’d “enjoyed a lot”, especially as he knuckles down to get university finished from 2019 onward.
“I’m always trying to travel to play, and always keeping focus on improving,” Kempen said. “I didn’t do particularly well at either IEM or WESG but that’s alright. I plan to keep attending these kind of events and keeping my face in the scene.”
“My timetable has even worked out really well with the major events that are coming up on the horizon, so that’s really cool. I might miss a few quizzes but that’s okay. I’ll just have to sit down and catch up at some point.”
Ahead of Probe now however, are some of the best competitors the ongoing Americas tournament has to offer, including table-topping stars Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn and Alex “Neeb” Sunderhaft.
Both Hostyn and Sunderhaft have suffered just one map defeat in their entire campaign thus far, and come into the last eight with 4-0 match records across the two groups.
“I believe I can realistically get fifth or sixth in this group stage, people like Neeb and Scarlett are extremely tough,” Probe said of his chances to qualify for the WCS Winter Americas playoff bracket. “I’ve also already lost to the two Terran players MaSa and TIME this tournament so that really sucks.”
“Looking at the rest of the field, Cham is also really good but I have some special prepared for him so that’s okay. It’s hard because I think I can beat Astrea and puCK, I’m pretty confident about our match-ups, but they live on the west coast of America so they’ll be playing on zero ping while I’m back here in Australia.
“It sucks a bit that the players I’m confident with will have an advantage over me, but again that is that kind of underdog place so we’ll just see how it goes. I think that I can get fifth or sixth and that will get me through to playoffs.”
Regardless of if Probe can pull out a result against the other WSC Winter Americas final eight, he said he was already “really happy” with how everything had been going in 2019.
The Protoss player especially praised Legacy Esports, with whom he has now spent more than 18 months playing for in the StarCraft scene. For Kempen, who has spent time with three different organisations in his career, Legacy feels like “one big family”.
“Legacy is really cool in that there’s this big backroom family of media guys, and producers and things,” Kempen said. “Because the org is involved in games like League of Legends and other titles, there’s all these players that are also around.”
“I first started off with Ecko Esports in the scene, and that was a really small player-based org that I had a lot of loyalty to because they gave me my first big break in the scene, and then I was with Root Gaming in the US as well.
“Now, Legacy has this really family-based atmosphere and I absolutely love being involved with them. It’s a lot of fun and no matter what I’m competing in or where I’m going they make sure it’s all really cool.”
The 2019 WCS Winter Americas third group stage will begin this Sunday (AEDT), with the first games to be played at 4am. The top six players will move into the playoff bracket – to be played in early April – while the bottom two players will be eliminated from contention.