At Blizzcon 2018, Joona ‘Serral’ Sotala from Finland made history by defeating the South Korean player Kim ‘Stats’ Dae Yeob 4-2 in the grand finals, becoming the first player to break the Korean dominance on the StarCraft II scene.
Serral became interested in StarCraft about two years before the release of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty. At that time he didn’t use to play the game competitively. Interestingly, he points to his brother as the reason he started playing the game at all. He began thinking more about competitive gaming with the release of Wings of Liberty and joined his first team in 2012, but didn’t make a huge splash initially. He finished 7th/8th during 2012 WCS Finland Nationals and received $200 in prize money. The first big success he mentions was winning his first Finnish event in 2013. From that moment, his appetite for success began to grow. Being a reasonable young man, he did not consider leaving school to focus on the game, but decided to become a full time pro player once his education was complete.
Climbing to the top
After the release of Heart of the Swarm, Serral was starting to get noticed. He joined Ence eSports and participated in 2013 DreamHack Open: Bucharest, where he performed well enough to be mentioned during the tournament recap at Team Liquid’s website. After the team was disbanded, he moved on to play for mYinsanity in 2014. The Finnish star began to shine more brightly with the release of the last expansion, Legacy of the Void. In 2016, he won Assembly Winter 2016 without losing a single game during the group stage, quarter finals or semi finals, eventually defeating Namshar 4-2 in the ZvZ grand final. That year he also won Take’s Penthouse Party, defeating HeRoMaRinE, the German Terran player, 4-1 in the finals. In 2017, he entered the big arena after qualifying for IEM Season XI World Championship. He was able to reach the quarterfinals where he hit a brick wall in the form of Dark, a South Korean Zerg player who defeated him 3-0. After many successful games in WCS Jönköping and TaKe’s Penthouse Party 3 he then qualified for 2017 WCS Global Finals. The final tournament of 2017 worth noting was WESG qualifier in Spain where he climbed all the way to the finals and beat Nerchio, the Polish Zerg in a stunning 4-0 victory, claiming the largest prize in his career thus far.
In 2018, Serral was already a star, but all of his previous successes paled in comparison to what he managed to pull off that year. First, in the semifinals at IEM Katowice, he was losing 0-2 against Trap and was just one game away from dropping out, but managed to get back on his feet and win the series 3-2. However, he eventually lost against Classic 0-3. He won a total of 7 major tournaments that year, with the iconic victory at 2018 WCS Global Finals, where he beat the South Korean Protoss player Stats 4:2 and earned $280,000. At that point, Serral has achieved the goal no other westerner managed so far – he became the first non-Korean World Champion. His success was repeated 2 years later by Reynor, an Italian Zerg player. Between 2019 and 2021, Serral continued to impress by either winning tournaments or at least reaching the final games.
Not just StarCraft
Though SC2 has become an important part of his life, Serral has other hobbies as well. He enjoys spending quality time with his family and plays golf with his dad and older brother (who used to play SC2 professionally as well). In an interview, he mentioned he is not very good at golf, but likes the fact that it is an individual game, which makes it easier for him to improve. A relaxing, outdoor sport such as this also serves the young champion as a much needed break from sitting in front of the computer screen.