DreamHack SC II Masters - Summer Finalsby Wax
Korean Region Play-in
Is this the epilogue to Code S Season 1, or the prologue to Season 2? No matter: it's more top-tier Korean StarCraft!
Cross-region 'season finals' are set to be held for the first time since 2013, pitting sixteen players from around the world against each other in a mini-BlizzCon tournament (read about the revamped ESL Pro Tour Format here). In Korea's case, the top six players from the most recent Code S are invited to the season finals, which has necessitated the creation of 5th-6th place matches to decide who qualifies (all semifinalists were directly invited).
Play-in Match #1: Dark vs MaruAs luck would have it, this means we get the epic Season 1 semifinal that many fans were looking forward to before TY and PartinG joined forces to send the entire season off the rails. Dark and Maru, two of the best players in Korean StarCraft II history, are set to face each other again for the first time since the finals of Super Tournament #1. If you remember how exciting that all-out, seven-game war was, then this rematch should be appointment watching. Instead of disappointing us with a proxy-Barracks and Roach-Ravager laden disaster, Dark and Maru actually combined to play a series of excellent macro games that proved why many fans regard them as the best, most physically gifted players of their respective factions.
As usual, it's hard to get a feel for how good Maru is headed into this match, due to his sparse participation in online tournaments. The only official matches he has since losing to PartinG in the Code S semis come from the GSL Season 2 qualifiers, where he went on a perfect run with 2-0 wins against Terra, Patience, and Zest. In the case of Dark, we've had quite a few more chances to see him in action. He's destroyed lesser opponents as one would expect, crushing Dynamite and Bomber in the GTC and smashing a relatively soft pool of opponents to win Kung Fu Cup #18 (the toughest opponent he faced was Solar). He had a tougher run through the GSL qualifier than Maru, dropping a map to Astrea and losing a series to soO, but he qualified nonetheless.
Ahead of this match against Maru, the biggest data point we have for Dark is his recent 2-5 loss to top Terran INnoVation in a June 8th IntoTheAlpha-X (ITaX) showmatch (VOD). While you can't read too deeply into a $150-ish exhibition match, I felt there were a handful of concerning points for Dark fans. First off, INnoVation won straight-up twice with 2-Rax Bunker-rushes, and basically broke even the second time around (unfortunately for Dark, the game where he went pool-before-hatch ran into a standard opener from INnoVation). Second, Dark went for his dubious "hey, what if I made Lurkers for no reason?" move again, which INnoVation laughed off with his Battlemech + Liberators. Connected to that last point, Dark didn't really seem to know what his ultimate end-game army was supposed to be once he split the map against INnoVations' mech. That's a pretty damning flaw, especially for a player whose impeccable late-game army management was once his greatest strength.
All-in-all, there's not much reason to believe Dark is any better than he was when he lost to Maru in the Super Tournament finals back in March. When consider his overall losing record to INnoVation in his last few months, his 0-3 drubbing at the hands of TY in Code S, and how hard he struggled to beat TaeJa in Code S, it actually seems like his ZvT has declined. It doesn't help that the 4.12.0 patch has given Terran a few minor boosts in the TvZ match-up, as couldn't afford to give away the slightest of edges to begin with.
While I can see Dark stealing a series victory with audacious, "surely he can't do this again" barrage of Roach-Ravager all-ins, I think most of the scenarios point to a Maru victory.
Prediction: Maru 3 - 1 Dark
Play-in Match #2: Dear vs TrapOh, there's also a Protoss vs Protoss, for people who are into that sort of thing. PvP has been criticized for being a volatile match-up decided by build order rock-paper-scissors, and the newly implemented battery overcharge ability was created explicitly to steer PvP toward more macro-oriented games. While there's been plenty of ladder and cup play since the patch, there's nothing like a GSL BO5 (okay, this is technically an ESL/DH best of five) to serve as the big, rubber meets the road moment for balance changes.
I'd say Trap and Dear are excellent test candidates—no Protoss is free from the temptation of cheese (except maybe 2012 Rain), but these two definitely belong on the more standard side of the Protoss Preference Spectrum. They're also quite evenly matched, tied 12-12 in all-time head-to-head map score, and they're not terribly far apart in the Aligulac.com PvP rankings (Trap at 2564 points vs Dear at 2484). Trap does happen to enjoy Disruptor play more than most Protosses (though it's become more commonplace in general), so if there's going to be any composition asymmetry, it's probably going to start on Trap's end.
Now, I think it's worth pointing out that even if everything works as intended, and this series ends up being decided in giant Zealot-Archon-Immortal mirror battles, RNG is still going to rear its ugly head in terms of whose player's Zealots charge less stupidly than the other's (or as casters would call it, who takes the "better engagement"). And I bring that up mainly because Dear once said PvP is all about praying for your Zealots to get good charges in the game-deciding fight. Still, I suppose that kind of RNG is still better than that of losing a match due to executing the wrong build against an unscouted proxy-robo.
Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right, Dear vs Trap.
Prediction: Trap 3 - 2 Dear