Team Liquid's Clem On Top Of The World: Winning ESL Masters, StarCraft’s new patch, and IEM Katowice
Clem started the event with a pair of 2-0s and never cooled down en route to winning the largest and most difficult tournament of his career.
A little over three years ago, at DreamHack Masters: Europe 2020, StarCraft would see the beginnings of a new European legend. Young Frenchman Clément "Clem" Desplanches defeated one legend of the European scene after another to win his first major regional event. If anyone thought that showing was a fluke, Clem has dispelled that notion by retaining a spot among the best in Europe to this day. Internationally, however, the story is different. Clem struggled to recreate that success against the true final bosses of StarCraft: The top players from Korea. Online, Clem started taking some names, but offline, Clem had made little headway.
As such, when ESL Masters Winter rolled around in December 2023, many expected Clem to drop out early — a fair assessment given the event had 10 of the 11 highest rated players in the world, most of them from Korea. This time, however, was different. Clem started the event with a pair of 2-0s and never cooled down en route to winning the largest and most difficult tournament of his career. Standing on stage, the look of joy and relief was evident on Clem’s face. In just one event he banished his demons and announced himself as a legitimate contentender not just in Europe, but the world.
Add to that his tremendous performances in World Team League, where his tournament-best 28-6 playoffs record propelled Team Liquid within one game of the title, and, it’s clear that Clem is not only playing at his all-time best, but that he’s getting better every day. Having returned to France with his trophy safely on his shelf and the IEM World Championships only a few weeks away, we sat down with Clem to walk through his career-best finish, how he plans to duplicate the feat in Katowice and what his 10-year-old self would have thought about where he is now.
A lot has happened over the past few months. We had one of the biggest balance patches in some time earlier this fall, but you were one of the quickest to adapt. What do you think allowed you to adapt so quickly and put you as a legit contender heading into Atlanta?
I think that the recent patch was pretty good for my style. For example, in Terran versus Terran, the changes to the cyclone allow you to play a more micro oriented style, which naturally suits me. It also makes the games a bit chaotic, which I don’t mind all that much.
Would it be fair to say that the matchup is less positionally based now?
Somewhat, the focus shifts a bit from the traditional bio/tank style. The biggest moments are these really quick micro intensive skirmishes and my micro and speed have always been two of the things I’m most praised for. Add in the fact that widow mines are in style and I really feel like I have lots of moments where I can out control my opponents.
Last year you were in a similar position heading into DH Winter: Atlanta, having won the European Regional, but your finish was far below your normal standards. How were things different this time around?
Honestly, I think I’m far better than I was even a year ago. I’ve been practicing a lot more and the meta is favorable for how I play. For years I really struggled against top Korean Terrans, but I’ve been doing better as of late which is a real positive sign. In the end, I only played [against a] Terran once in Atlanta. It was actually my play against Zerg that got me most of the way.
So, regarding DH Atlanta. You only played two matches on your first day, winning both of them 2-0. How much of an effect did that have on you and your performance throughout the weekend?
It had a big impact overall. The fact that I was able to advance in four games instead of having to play as many as five series to get to the Round of 8 was huge. Less games mean less stress and less fatigue. Having that time off gave me time to think about the upcoming games in new ways and helped me stay in a relaxed mindset.
Is there anything in particular you do to keep yourself calm during events?
I just try to remind myself that I’m lucky enough to be playing StarCraft II professionally and enjoy the tournament regardless of the result. StarCraft is my job, but it’s also something I love and I think you can lose sight of that during an event.
Your round of 8 opponent wound up being Solar, who won the most recent Season of Code S. You ended up winning in the end, as Solar seemed to have no answer to your Cyclone-based opening. What made you decide to break out that specific build in such an important game?
Some of it had to do with the map. The third base is really far away on Site Delta, which makes the build a lot more powerful. It’s not something I came up with on the fly or anything, though. I won with it a lot during preparation, but I try not to use it too often. It’s one of those things where the more I do it, the less effective it will be.
Besides the map, did the fact that you were playing Solar instead of a more defensive Zerg like Serral give you extra confidence in your decision?
Builds like that can vary wildly in effectiveness depending on your opponent’s playstyle. Solar, for example, rarely makes roaches. He likes to go into ling/bane/hydra or to get a quick hive instead, both of which leave him vulnerable to the timing. Serral, however, is one of the best at scouting, so he’d probably sniff if out and make Roaches. Even if he couldn’t confirm that I was going for cyclone, there’s a good chance he’ll read the game and make roaches because it feels like a situation in which he’ll need them.
Speaking of Serral, you and him had to face off in the Round of 4. As you noted, he has a very different style than Solar. What was your approach going into that series?
I was really glad that I had a full day to prepare for my Round of 4 match. Serral and I play against one another a lot. I like to think I have a solid grasp on his tendencies, but he’s really smart and innovative when it comes to developing and choosing his builds. My general approach is to stick to my brand of StarCraft. I’m pretty confident that if I play to the best of my abilities I’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter if the game is short or long. Game 3 against Serral was a good example. It was super close the entire time, but I eventually won. Once I was up 2-1, I felt like I had a big advantage.
You and Serral play one another a lot since you’re both in the same region, but unlike him you participate in a ton of online tournaments. Why did you start playing in so many and how has it helped your game?
I’ve always found that playing online cups benefits me more than playing on ladder or doing custom games with other pros. Since something is on the line, people are more motivated and they put in more effort. The other main reason is that it gives me a chance to play against Koreans and Terran players much more than I normally would. For a long time I struggled against Koreans—especially Terrans, but the online events have drastically improved my results against them. When it comes to Terran versus Protoss, I play herO and MaxPax every week and that’s greatly improved my TvP as well.
After beating Serral you had to play Dark, who you play against all the time online. How did the dynamics shift playing offline instead of online and did you feel more comfortable since you had a five match win streak against him?
I actually felt better about my chances going into the finals than I would online. When Dark and I play, we do so on the NA Server which leads to a lot of ping on our ends. Playing offline was completely different. I was able to make the most of units and micro them more than I normally would be able to. Terran versus Zerg might be the most micro intensive matchup in the game. When you take all of that into consideration—my familiarity with his playstyle, my excellent record against him and the added micro potential due to the lack of ping—I felt really good going into the finals.
You’ve won plenty of events in your career, but this was your best chance to win the first title of your career in an event featuring Koreans. Were you feeling a tad nervous just because of the situation?
Most of the time, I actually feel better as tournaments go on. Every win is an accomplishment in and of itself and it gives me the sense of “playing with house money”. Of course I wanted to win. I wasn’t going to be complacent. But, just knowing in the back of my head that I already had an incredible event takes away some of that edginess and anxiety you usually feel ahead of matches.
Watching the match, there was an obvious difference in pace between the two of you, to the point that it just felt Dark had no hope of keeping up with your multitasking. Do you feel that during the game as well?
I don’t find Dark to be a slow player but, if i’m playing at my best, I usually am about to out multitask him. The issue with this is that Dark is also a really creative player, who plays a style of Zerg unlike anyone else. But, I knew as long as I had everything buttoned up back and home and on the watch for run bys, that I could gain control of the game.
In the end, you beat Dark 4-1 to take down the event. You’ve obviously won premier events before, but this has to go down as one of the signature victories of your burgeoning career.
For sure, Atlanta has to be the biggest offline event I’ve ever won. It’s hard to put into words, but it was very special and I’ll always cherish the memory.
Your rise to the top of the European scene came during the Covid Era and a win like this was a long time coming. Now that you’ve silenced a lot of your detractors, how do you put the best result of your career behind you and focus on an event like the IEM World Championships which is only a few weeks away?
I feel like I’m playing really well right now. Obviously I won in Atlanta, but I was also one of the most successful players in the World Team League. The only players who had more wins than me this season were Solar, MaxPax Serral, Dark. As far as the playoffs that were held in early January, I won more than 30 games and lost less than 10. I think I’ll do quite well in Katowice as long as I keep doing what I’ve been doing as of late. I know I have the potential to win, DreamHack Atlanta proved that, so I’ll be practicing pretty much nonstop until the event arrives.
Do you plan on changing any of your practice habits ahead of Katowice or going with the tried and true that has gotten you this far?
I’ll be sticking to the same script. Over the past few months, I’ve been working out the deficiencies of my playstyle and how to improve them or even turn them into strengths.The various online events should give me solid practice against all three races. As long as I keep playing with this focus and acuity I think I have as good a chance as anyone. It’s just a matter of getting comfortable in all three matchups and against the players I will face in Poland if I intend to win.
You’re also taking part in Master’s Coliseum 7—is it nice to have a sizable online event during the break between the 2023 and 2024 season?
It is, but I think it benefits all the players who participated, not just me. It’s going to be a marathon of an event for whoever wins it. But, once the dust settles, I think we’ll have a very clear picture as to who the favorites are leading up to Katowice.
You reached the Round of 8 during your first appearance in the IEM World Championship, but you haven’t managed to get back to that stage over the past three years.
Katowice has definitely been a thorn in my side, but I did reach the Round of 4 at Gamers8 earlier this year. I know I have the capacity to make deep runs in these World Championship events with a massive prize pool. You can’t take anything for granted, but I’m aiming for a spot in the finals. It’ll be one of the hardest things I’ve done and there are all kinds of things that can throw you off in a game or a match or even for the entire weekend.
It would be criminal of me to not mention Team Liquid’s most recent signing. Cure has been a pro for over a decade and has three final appearances in Code S. What is it like having another great Terran as a resource?
We haven’t played all that much in recent weeks, but I’m 100% going to ask him for some customs before Katowice. My detractors always say I can’t play against Korean Terrans, so it’s quite nice to have access to one of the best to play StarCraft II. I guess you could say a Korean Terran practice partner is something I’ve needed over the years. It’s going to be an incredible learning experience to practice and converse with him.
You’ve only been a top pro for about four years, but you’ve been playing StarCraft II for over a decade. How do you think your ten year old self, who was just learning the game, would react if you told him he’d grow up to be a multiple-time champion and one of the best players in the world?
When I was young and playing for fun, I always admired the pro players and put them on a pedestal like fans often do. If I told my 10 year old self that I’d be a pro playing for the most prestigious team in StarCraft II history, I honestly don’t think I’d have believed it.