Written by Nigel Gower
Fittingly it is the band Europe that sang the ‘Final Countdown’ and Sheffield for many will serve as the final countdown for many European hopes. The battlefields are set, with invites still to be attained and travel awards for the World Championship very much on the line, this final event will go a long way to cementing who will be Europe’s challengers this summer.
(Two man-made Pokémon out of 5)
Sheffield is known locally as the Steel City, and all the players in attendance will no doubt be steeling themselves for the task ahead. While the venue will lack some of the power and gravitas that the Crucible Theatre located nearby, rest assured Ponds Forge will see many fiery battles over the weekend. With a field size for the event expected to sit at just over 100 Masters, players will be aiming to win and collect $2000, 200 championship points and the title of Regional Champion. With the absence of some of the main protagonists on the circuit this season, the shift of focus turns to those fighting for Day 2 invitations to the World Championships, with a slew of players looking for a big result this weekend.
The Race to Nashville Day 2
One of the most compelling stories that will play out over the course of Sheffield is how results will shape the race for European spots for Day 2. With the Top 16 in the region gaining a coveted spot, as well as the Travel Award for their troubles, this Regional will play an influential role in deciding who will be successful. It is worth noting that even after this Regional Championship, local events such as Mid-Season Showdowns, and the upcoming North American International Championships may further shift the board. But, given the financial cost, particularly of the latter for no guaranteed payoff, this is crunch-time.
The puzzle centers around nine players all within striking distance of each other:
|Position||Player Name||Current CP|
|13th||Andrea di Francesco||880|
|18th||Jens Arne Mækinen||744|
There are however some caveats to this list. Andrea, Luca, and Leonardo all not making the trip, though this effectively only counts Leonardo out of the running given the other two are still inside the Top 16, and the local events may still provide them with opportunities.
The last player to mention is Rob Akershoek, who will be part of the commentary team, alongside Baris Ackos and Lou Cromie, bringing us streamed matches over the weekend for the Video Game.
Players to Watch
Going into the event in the best position of the group attending chasing Day 2, Wiegel has already had an excellent season to boast about. His win in Bremen back in September in the 2017 format means the German had a great springboard going into the new format, and has duly followed up his success with a string of CP finishes. His dominance in his local scene back in Germany has done much to supplement his consistency in the major events. Notably scoring CP in the European International Championship and Leipzig, more recently he made Top 16 at Sindelfingen back in mid-April. The consistent manner Jonas has gone about his season bodes well for Sheffield and will be aiming for a strong finish assert his credentials on the biggest International stage.
Amongst the field, there will be several home favorites that will be looking to put their stamp of authority on proceedings. Perhaps the most notable of the UK contingent will be Anderson, who as of writing sits 16th in the CP Standings and in the thick of the Day 2 invite chase. Barry is certainly no stranger to the sharp end events; his numerous World invites includes a Top 16 finish in 2013, and a Top 8 in 2016, so surely will be keen to claim his place in the Day 2 field in Nashville. Barry’s results this season have also been relatively solid, a Top 8 at the Bilbao Special event last September, but more recently a Top 4 at the Regional in Malmo which he cut using the highly unorthodox choice of a Jynx which neatly complimented his team. With so much on the line, a solid result here will likely cement his position in the standings, though any points would likely be sufficient. With Baz’s years of experience in high-pressure situations, as well as a sharp mind to reading and adapting board positions, both will be key in knowing how to manage the occasion and the nerves to score those vital points.
In the same way that Jonas has been a major force in his local scene, Gavelli has dominated his local Italian turf over the season, recently stringing PC and MSS results over the past few months alone. This is also with very stiff competition in each given the dominant force of Italy in the European race this year. As of writing, Michele comes to Sheffield on the fringes of the Top 16; given his current form, he would be expected to score precious points to vault him to a safe position, if not make a solid run to top cut the event. This year has also seen the Italian reach the Top 8 of Sindelfingen, and we know that Michele is more than capable of competing at the highest level, with his impressive performances from 2017 which culminated in his worlds appearance that year. If his local performances are of the caliber we know he can produce, fireworks will definitely fly!
Jens Arne Mækinen
The past couple of years have seen the Nordic region of Europe produce some exciting new talent that compete with the established powerhouses of Europe. This year, Norway’s Arne Mækinen produced an inspired performance, with his trusty partner Nidoking, in the Oceania International Championship to finish as the Runner-Up to Alessio Yuri Boschetto. Since then, Jens has readily traveled to other events and has been a consistent runner, amassing points wherever he has been able to. Of the five main protagonists, the Norweigan is the one I have the biggest question marks over how he matches up compared to others on a consistent basis. As a result, I will personally be interested to see what Jens brings to the table in Sheffield, whether an iteration on his Internationals squad, or something fresh, and consequently how well he does through the event.
Tas of the five has the biggest task ahead of him if he is to pull himself inside the Top 16 in Europe. Given the 100 point deficit to make up, realistically the German will need to pull off a finals berth to stand any realistic chance of being inside the cut. Or even a Top 8 followed up with an MSS win for the same general effect, so there is some degree of good fortune and results needed to go his way. However, Serkan has solid finishes this year with two Top 8 Regional finishes, both achieved in Germany, in addition to his Top 32 from the European International. He’s greatly impressed many this year, and his stock from his peers is on the increase as a result. Plus Serkan was one of the first non-Italian players to qualify to Worlds (back on the 12th of November incidentally) from Europe, that’s nothing to sniff at!
Outside of the main five, one name that stands out amongst the crowd is Kyriakou. When discussing the legacies around UK players, few truly match the gravitas of Ben. Twice a UK National Champion back in the Gen 5 era, and a frequent face at the World Championships, there is little doubt that despite the passage of time he’s matured well with the game. Even as an elder statesman, in the face of real life creeping up on him, he still powers in performances reminiscent of his prime. We’ve seen that this year with a Top 4 at Sindelfingen and a Top 8 in Leipzig, using lesser-seen Pokémon such as Suicune, Breloom, and Florges to devastating effect. One of the big unknowns though is given there is nothing on the line for him to chase, how seriously will he commit to a strong squad and go all out for the title? Arguably, Kyriakou is at his most dangerous when he plays with less serious squads, perhaps we might see him bring out something unbelievable to shock us all against the meta.
What about those Day 1 invites?
While the local scenes may provide players with late June tournaments to break through the threshold, Sheffield will remain a prime opportunity to late a late surge of points for those still on the hunt. There are around 50 individual players who are within 100 points of their invite, with the bulk of those only requiring a CP-earning finish to break the 300 CP barrier. That number increases dramatically when taking into account those that can make it to Worlds off the back of claiming the Sheffield title. Here are a few names either confirmed to be attending or who will be chasing their invites if they are attending:
- Lee Provost
- Eden Batchelor
- Koen van Leeuwen
- Maxime Muller
- Mathias Sucholdulski
- Jonathan Evans
- François-Xavier de Lageneste
- Anthony Liuzzo
- Sam Plassgård
The Smart Money is on…
Okay, so this might be a cop out to a few of you, but Boyt has always been a crowd favorite with his penchant for unusual Pokémon choices and unconventional methods of attacking the metagame. When they work for him, it’s hard to argue against them really. When not doing an accurate portrayal of a homeless man, Jamie is likely the only player inside the Top 8 attending, though the circumstances of a home Regional help matters. Therefore, he certainly will be high on the list of potential winners despite the number of serious contenders in the field. However, this event is one where the weight of needing to do well will be lower as those around him in the standings are not making the trip. The triple-Regional Champion has already claimed a title earlier this season from Malmo back in February, and has looked in terrific form with his semi-final run in the Trainer Tower Open. Sheffield may yet provide Jamie with a fresh testing ground for ideas to take forward for Nashville, so expect the creative juices to be flowing in his team!
I wish everyone the best of luck if they are competing in Sheffield and, if like myself, you are going to be at home, I hope you will join me in watching events unfold over the weekend on the stream.