Code S Semifinals: Maru vs TrapSaturday, Apr 06 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The second semifinal match of the season offers us the classic tale of David vs Goliath. On one side, we have one of the greatest and most accomplished players in StarCraft II history in Maru. On the other, we have Trap, an enigmatic underdog looking to establish a lasting legacy.
Yet again, Maru is on the cusp of making history. At the start of 2019, his situation seemed much changed from his surreal dominance in 2018. It seemed as if the burden of expectations had finally began to chip away at Maru’s aura of invincibility as he gave uncharacteristically poor performances in international competition. IEM Katowice saw Maru knocked out in the group stages with losses to Neeb, Leenock, and Trap. WESG saw Maru nearly cede the bronze medal to Scarlett in a series where he was so flustered he seemed to forget Terran buildings could fly. He looked nothing like he was in his prime, and many StarCraft fans started to wonder if the era of Maru was finally over.
However, GSL Code S has remained a sanctuary for Maru, even if its walls have started to crack. With a decisive 3-1 victory against a soaring Dear in the quarterfinals, Maru has come within a match of attaining four consecutive GSL Code S finals appearances, a milestone reached only by soO in 2013-2014. With another win beyond that, Maru could even replace his record of three consecutive Code S championships with an even more insurmountable tally of four. It's astonishing that Maru is even in a position to challenge these records and keep the question of 'how far can Maru go?' unanswered.
Standing in Maru's way is Trap, a player who comes from the traditional underdog mold. Maru won three consecutive Code S championships in 2018—Trap lost in three consecutive RO16 groups, all in the decider match. It continued a curse of mediocrity that had persisted since late 2013, with Trap achieving a top 16 finish or worse in fourteen consecutive GSL Code S competitions (including qualifiers/Code A eliminations). We frequently praised Trap for looking like a top-tier player for a game or even a series, but it seemed empty without a playoff appearance to show for it. However, Trap finally broke that accursed streak this season and is writing history for himself—if not yet for GSL Code S as a whole. Not only did he advance from his RO16 group with a victories against INnoVation and sOs, he defeated the Terran titan TY 3-2 in a close quarterfinal series to reach his first ever Code S semifinal. At long last, the elusive GSL trophy is in sight.
Even though Trap has momentum behind him, the cold reality is that many of these fairy tale runs end here in the semifinals. A best of seven is an entirely different arena from those before it, one often reserved for the grand finals alone in other tournaments. Not only is a Code S BO7 one of the most mentally stressful and taxing experiences in StarCraft II, it's also the ultimate test of strategic preparation. True championship mettle is tested here, and it’s no wonder that the cast of GSL finalists has become familiar over the years.
There are plenty of GSL tournaments that demonstrate this survival-of-the-fittest mechanism. Neeb strung together an impressive series of wins and emerged as a foreigner hope, but he crumbled in the semifinals after TY forced a tie in a game that would have sent Neeb 3-1 up. Curious once hoped that he could ascend from gatekeeper to champion, but was completely blown away by the cunning Rain. Cure was the Cinderella of Code S on two separate occasions, but the clock struck midnight in both semifinals. When ByuN and GuMiho made their championship runs, it was inspiring precisely because Korea's elite protect the Code S finals stage so fastidiously against the unworthy.
However, Trap finally seems to have some luck on his side, as this best of seven against the king of Code S has a silver lining: it's a Jin Air team-kill. Team-kills have historically been a huge unbalancing factor in StarCraft II, due to layers upon layers of mind-games forged through countless practice matches. It's no coincidence that Maru's teammates Rogue and sOs were two of the few players to make him look vulnerable in 2018 (albeit, outside Code S). sOs thoroughly dismantled Maru in both the Super Tournament and at BlizzCon last year—we don't know the team etiquette in these scenarios, but perhaps Trap can lean on the master of forbidden builds for advice. One can envision a series where Trap is able to bamboozle Maru with a litany of cunning strategies. After all, Classic already awaits in the finals, having twice overcome his weak match-up with meticulously crated build orders.
Classic's run has forced us to think about the possibility that there's no such thing as favorites versus underdogs, or David versus Goliath at this level of StarCraft—that it really comes down to the prepared versus the even more prepared. Unfortunately for Trap, Maru has proven himself to be latter in every single Code S series for over a year.