The True Protagonist - Trap in the Code S FinalsStart time: Saturday, Sep 28 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Well boys, it's time to find out if the 2019 season of GSL was just a young adult fiction series where Trap was the true protagonist all along. After spending years as Maru's side-kick on Jin Air, Trap enjoyed a brief moment in sun during Code S Season 1 by reaching the playoffs for the first time in five years. Of course, he was quickly knocked to the wayside by the heroic Maru in his pursuit of a legendary fourth championship. In season 2, Trap was given an even bigger chance to shine, actually reaching the grand finals of Code S. Alas, he was only being built up to be torn down, making us care just enough about him to feel bad when he was thrashed by the sinister Dark.
Now, in Season 3, Trap has defied to odds to reach a second consecutive final. In one of the biggest upsets of the season, he defeated superstar teammate Maru in semifinals, abruptly cutting short an intensely hyped Maru-redemption plotline. After such a masterful performance, not only have we been forced to wonder if this season of Code S is Trap's tournament of destiny, but if he'll end up as the top Korean player for the entire year.
Seriously, is J.K. Rowling scripting this s***? It feels like I'm back in high school and reading Order of the Phoenix, trying to digest this "LUL what if Neville Longbottom was the chosen one all along?" plotline that came out of nowhere.
All of these late-career surges in Legacy of the Void make sense with the benefit of hindsight, but it's still hard to fully wrap my head around Trap's awakening. It's kind of weird—somehow I fell into the trap of thinking 'if it's never happened before, it will never happen ever' about Trap escaping his Ro16, DESPITE the fact that he actually made it to the top five of Code S in the past, and despite the fact that he actually won a championship in at MLG Anaheim 2014 (a softer tournament than GSL Code S, but not a cakewalk like some later foreign events).
And it's not like Trap was incapable of momentary greatness. Trite as it may sound, Trap played numerous games and series that made me think 'if Trap always played like this, he'd be a champion,' from a simple group stage beatdown of TY in Code S to an upset against Dark in a highstakes IEM Katowice match (message GGemini19 for countless more online tournament examples). Perhaps it speaks to how long Trap was stuck in his Ro16 prison (five years) that I thought his once intriguing potential had been completely lost.
Was it really as simple as flipping a switch in one's mind? That's how Trap's interviews throughout the 2019 season have made it seem. Trap's more successful teammates had always given glowing testimonials about how strong the 'in-practice' Trap was, but it was easy to brush that off as empty compliments. Whatever the reason, Trap has been transformed from group stage filler to legitimate GSL player of the year candidate. He currently stands at #2 in the WCS Korea rankings and has taken quality wins off the likes of INnoVation, TY, Classic, and Maru throughout the season. There's still plenty of StarCraft II left to be played this year, but it's quite likely that Trap ends up being the best Protoss of the year, with an outside chance of becoming the best player, bar none.
PvT is where Trap has been the most imperious. There were shades of prime Rain and Zest in his latest series against Maru, where he seemed confident in his ability to defend against any attack and win in a macro game. That's a recurring pattern for all-time great PvT players, with the utterly dominant ones falling into that macro-mold.
However, that won't do Trap much good against Rogue, and he appears to know it. In his post-match interview after the semifinals, Trap said that Rogue seems more comfortable facing him than teammate sOs. That didn't come as much of a surprise, even considering sOs' yearlong slump. PvZ isn't a match-up where the best players can just turtle and expect to grind out a win after a late-game slog. That has been possible in certain metas of the past, but for the most part, the most fearsome PvZ players have been the most sinister ones. They're the ones who are willing to smash a Zerg's kneecaps before they can even stand up—exactly how sOs became the only two-time WCS Global Champion.
Even without taking style into account, PvZ has been an understated weakness for Trap throughout his breakout year. When you look at all GSL competitions in 2019, Trap has struggled to record even a 50% win-rate in PvZ. It's telling that all of his notable victories have come against Protoss and Terran opponents, while he was unable to overcome Solar and Dark when they confronted him in Code S (admittedly, Trap played very few PvZ matches in GSL).
When we expand our view to all competitions and not just the GSL, Trap's PvZ remains statistically unremarkable. At the time of writing, he stands at just 40-28 in matches (58.82% win rate) and 106-92 in games (53.54% win rate) over the 2019 season. In terms of win rate, that's worse than players such asZest, sOs, Dear and even PartinG (Trap's win rates are just barely better than Hurricane's). And yes, while you could say Trap's record isn't quite as inflated with wins against foreigners in online cups compared to others, that's more a knock on those Protoss players than a credit to Trap.
The big statistical positive for Trap is that he's been on a heater since the latest balance patch in August, and is currently on a four-match winning streak for a 4-2 record. A 3-2 win over Solar in the Olimoleague weekly finals is Trap's most impressive win during that period, where he even managed to beat Solar after he assembled the deadly Brood Lord-Infestor combination. Still, the games weren't exactly the cleanest, and are open interpretation. My personal takeaway wasn't that Trap is a late-game master—it was more along the lines of 'where was the Solar that crushed Maru in the late game?' and 'Serral woulda crushed that.
But Rogue isn't exactly Serral, neither in terms of current level nor style of play. He has the reputation of being a great late-game player, but his Season 1 match against Classic was really the last time he proved it to us in a major offline match. Also, Rogue has historically been fond of cheeses and all-ins, making me wonder if all this hubbub about late-game ZvP will end up being meaningless in the end. This may very well end up being a mirror of Trap's Season 2 finals match against Dark, where Trap's ability to scout and defend against Dark's cheeses was the deciding factor. Of course, there's the chance that none of the above stats or observations will come into play. This is a team-kill finals after all, where all of our limited information could be rendered useless as two players who are deeply familiar with each other bring out the mindgames.
How does this plotline end? In the YA novelization of SC2 esports, Trap would end up being shunted to the sidelines yet again, getting some kind of consolation prize (maybe beating Reynor in quarterfinals of BlizzCon) while our main character Maru fulfills his destiny by destroying Serral's horcruxes and winning BlizzCon. Fortunately for Trap, he's not beholden to anyone else's script, nor is he obliged to please the fans. It's within his power to make the story of Cho Sung Ho and the story of StarCraft II one and the same, reveal himself as the true hero, and earn himself the perfect ending.