The Uncrowned Kingby Wax
Dark in the Code S Season 2 Finals
2019 Global StarCraft II League - Code S Season 2
On June 15th, 2019, Dark defeated Hurricane 4-1 in the Code S semifinals to earn the first Code S grand finals appearance of his career.
My reaction was to think, 'Wait, what? No, I don't mean that I was shocked that a Zerg beat a Protoss player in the current environment. It just took a moment or two for me to recall that, oh right, this sixteen-time consecutive Code S participant, eight-time major tournament finalist, BlizzCon runner-up, and SSL champion, never actually reached the Code S finals (apologies to the hardcore Dark fans for who have felt this black mark on their soul for every waking day of the last few years).
Since Legacy of the Void, Dark's Code S finishes are as follows. 2016: Ro16, Ro16 – 2017: Ro16, Ro16, Ro4 – 2018: Ro4, Ro16, Ro16 – 2019: Ro4, TBD. That's pretty good, but hardly great. Some of those finishes you can blame on bad luck, as Dark has frequently been tangled up in brutal groups-of-death in the Ro16. His three semifinal losses are understandable in hindsight: 3-4 to INnoVation (who went on to win), 2-4 to Maru (the start of his four-peat), and 3-4 to Classic last season. However, while context can help explain a situation, it's not an excuse. When you add it all together, the result is that this supposed 'best overall Zerg of LotV' has never been a true championship contender in Code S.
And still, I feel that Dark is completely deserving of his fearsome reputation. Some of that is due to his impressive non-Code S resume. While the aforementioned BlizzCon runner-up was his most visible accomplishment, his 1-2 record in three SSL finals might hold more sway with the Korean elitists (the intense level of competition in the SSL has slowed its erasure from fan-canon). He's also performed well in Korean 'weekenders', placing runner-up in a Super Tournament and two KeSPA cups.
But what speaks to me most, and I imagine this is true of much of the SC2 community, is simply the quality of Dark's play over the last 4 years. For the longest time, there was a StarCraft player archetype that I thought only Terrans could fulfill: the unbeatable, late-game juggernaut who possesses an equally powerful all-in threat. I mean players like iloveoov ('If close, bunker rush. If far, CC first' goes the old Brood War adage), Flash, INnoVation, Mvp, or Maru—all the B-word baiting titans of StarCraft when they were at the peak of their powers. The other factions' best players have always seemed different, achieving greatness by somehow 110% utilizing their lopsided talents. For example, sOs and his evil genius-like aptitude for formulating strategies, or soO and his overwhelming macro mechanics during the middle act of the game.
For me, Dark is the player who changed all that. Maybe we should have seen it coming when he made his 2012 broadcast debut by beating MC (still a championship-caliber player then) with Brood Lord-Infestor in the GSTL. It would have been easy to conflate him with a patchzerg then—but no, this guy was actually born to be a master of the Zerg late-game. We just had to wait until LotV to see it, when Zerg's Hive compositions became too complex and unwieldy for just any Zerg pro to use. Until Serral and Rogue came along, it seemed like only Dark had the precision to use every part of the Zerg swarm as a synergistic, cohesive whole. He was the exception that proved the rule: Zerg was doomed if they split the map, unless you were Dark.
Somewhere along his development curve, Dark also mastered the shadier Zerg arts, adding a bevy of Roach-Ravager all-ins, proxy-Hatches, Baneling busts, and other such pages to his playbook. This balanced him as a true dual threat player, with opponents forced to weigh every bit of greed against the risk of a deflating, fast defeat. (While a player like Flash seemed to use all-ins with almost scientific precision to maximize his win-rate, Dark's approach has always given off a more 'don't make me waste my time' vibe. Maybe that's just me.)
Dark may no longer be peerless in LotV Zerg excellence, but years of being the shining example of what Zerg can be at its best has earned him the undying faith of many. If the TL Power Rank defaults to putting Dark at a high spot in months with little or mixed information, then that bias has been mostly (if not fully) earned.
Headed into his grand final match against Trap, the full-on Dark apologist in me wants to say that he'll take this long overdue Code S title with ease. After years of unusually difficult Code S opponent draws, Dark finally got lucky with a cakewalk bracket in the playoffs (though not quite a 'group of death', he still had to play in the hardest Ro16 group yet again). The Dark apologist also says that jinxes and curses are just ex post facto narratives we peddle to make StarCraft more interesting, trying to attach some rhyme or reason to coincidence. This time, Dark is the better player, and the better player usually wins.
And still, there's a lingering feeling of doubt that Dark's history of Code S underachievement isn't just a slightly aberrational sequence of events. Sometimes he lets down that blustery, confident exterior and admits that he suffers from the self-doubt and fear of any normal, human competitor. After defeating the completely outmatched Hurricane, Dark said he was more stressed than he had been in his entire career while preparing for that match. The doubter in me says that when you strip both Dark and Trap's reputations away, this Code S finals is between two first-time finalists who have never competed in this specific environment. The doubter wants to remind everyone that the head-to-head record is in Trap's favor at 6-2 in BO5+ matches. The doubter concludes by saying that to claim Dark and Trap are on even footing is being too kind to Dark.
My attempt to reconcile such thoughts leads me to believe this match is closer than I initially thought. I attach a lot of meaning to a player's body of work, and in that regard Dark is in a totally different class from Trap. But I also fall back on the (admittedly boring) position of "I don't trust you until you prove it to me" for many of my predictions, and in this case, neither player has proven anything at this stage of Code S.
Whatever the result, this season will end by fulfilling its tagline of "Renaissance." The Renaissance marked the end of the so-called "Dark Ages." Will Trap end Dark's run in this season of Code S, or will Dark end his personal Code S title drought?
Prediction: Dark 4 - 3 Trap