Gold Series Team Championship Spring - Playoffs Previewby: TheOneAboveU
It’s finally time to crown new champions! After nine weeks of Regular Season play, the top five surviving teams of GTC will battle it out with each other in a gauntlet-style playoffs format over two days. Only one team can succeed the legendary Jin Air Green Wings as the champions in the end. Are we looking at another duel between the favourites from KaiZi Gaming and Dragon Phoenix Gaming, or can one of the underdogs slip into the Grand Finals and subvert our expectations?
The issue with the tournament not being able to be streamed on Twitch anymore could, unfortunately, not be resolved, so Wardi will not be able to cover the playoffs live (he was allowed to cast over the Chinese VODs for YouTube, so keep an eye on his channel over the next couple of days for that). In his stead, team Alpha X will broadcast the competition on their YouTube channel in English, so be sure to spread the word to anyone interested in following the playoffs.
The FormatFor those who don’t remember the last CTC playoffs, let’s go over the match format for a bit, since it’s pretty unique and interesting. The format essentially works like any other all-kill match, but with an interesting twist: players play a Bo2 instead of a Bo1. If one of the players wins 2-0, they stay in the match and the opposing team has to send out their next choice, just like in a regular all-kill format. If the match-up ends with a 1-1, however, both players are eliminated from the match, and both teams have to send out someone new. Overall it’s a Bo7, so one team has to score four times to win. This, of course, requires each team to have one ‘revive’ since some of them only have three players on their roster. If the overall score is 3-3, there will be a Bo1 ace match to decide the victorious team.
So while teams with strong ace players will have an advantage, as in every other all-kill format, the GTC version offers some unique opportunities to underdog teams. Never forget how, for example, massive underdog Firefly stole a map from Maru in the Grand Finals of CTC Season 2 last year, to eliminate the Terran from the equation.
The Teams:Seed #5: Brave Star Gaming
Dream (MVP, 16-3)
Despite a clutch ace match victory over KaiZi Gaming in the last week of the Regular Season, Brave Star Gaming come into the playoffs on the lowest seed. If they want to claim the championship in the end, they will have to run through the entirety of this deadly gauntlet. That mission is rendered all the more difficult by the recent departure of Hurricane from the team, robbing BSG of a good bit of depth from their line-up.
That said, the BSG roster is not one to overlook easily. Cyan is one of the most solid Chinese players in the league, and the 5-11 record he has amassed is a bit misleading when it comes to his actual in-game performances, which have been improving in the last couple of weeks. Cyan had a relatively weak start into this season, but has contributed more and more to his team’s overall performance as the season went on, including an important win over Solar in Week 5 to secure the victory over TSG, and a win over Nice in Week 9 to force the ace match against KaiZi, which Dream was able to secure for the team. His qualification for both the Chinese DH Masters Summer and the GTC All-Stars tournament also show that his recent improvement is actually enough to get some good results against his fellow countrymen. So, while Cyan won’t be favoured over any Korean player he might face, he’s an even match-up for any of the Chinese players bar perhaps TIME.
The newest addition to the team, Scarlett, has already greatly contributed to the team’s run to third place at NeXT Spring 2020, the other big Chinese team tournament, even if her GTC performance was rather average overall this season (she wasn’t able to play for the entire season, though, having been picked up while the competition was already under way, so the sample size is smaller than for all other players). Everyone knows that the Canadian Zerg is capable of both very solid macro play and deadly cheese builds, making her an unpredictable force in such a team match. She is one player, who could definitely snipe and eliminate a big favourite in this format. Not that there will be any of these in the first match-up of the playoffs, BSG vs. LP. Scarlett must have good memories about that particular match, since it was her, who won the ace match against LP during the NeXT Spring 2020 playoffs against Patience, enabling BSG to advance into the Winner’s Finals of that competition. The ace of Alpha X, Astrea, has mentioned in a Chinese interview series prior to the event that he holds Scarlett to be very dangerous to his team specifically, since they live and practice together in Korea, leading to her having well founded knowledge of his playstyle.
Then there’s BSG’s undeniable ace player, the TL.net Regular Season MVP: Dream. While the hype around him earlier this year has noticeably started to slow down after a lack of success in GSL and other individual tournaments, the Terran has continued to be a powerhouse in GTC, reaching a 16-3 record and being very much responsible for BSG making it into the playoffs. Dream is still lacking the killer instinct needed to consistently win against the best of his countrymen, that edge that is so hard to regain even years after military service. He is also vulnerable from below: Patience, to name an example, has masterfully shown he is able to mind game the Terran to steal an ace victory from him. The days in which Dream could be named as a similar calibre to players like INnoVation and Dark have not yet returned. They never may. But in GTC, Dream has earned his due respect: the Regular Season MVP might well be the key for another top 3 finish for BSG after their third place at NeXT Spring 2020.
Seed #4: Team LP
Jieshi (4-12), Patience (12-6)
Impact (10-7), QzDdb (-), Wanted (-)
It’s always funny to read Team LP’s actual, full line-up when the playoffs come around, since they always sign up their entire roster for the tournament, even though they realistically only field three players. QzDdb is mostly occupied with being the main observer for the Chinese stream, and Wanted seemingly doesn’t belong to the upper echelons of Chinese competitors, so he’s simply staying in reserve. As such, they’ve never been fielded during the season and likely won’t see any action in the playoffs either.
Team LP’s key player is clearly Patience, with all his borderline insane builds and mind games, which somehow work more often than not, even against players you would easily favour over him. But while Patience and his style are the perfect recipe to snipe a favoured player, it’s very hard to really see him all-kill an opposing team as well. The sniper could as easily become the sniped, with how inconsistent and dangerous (to himself, as well as others) his playstyle is. Sure enough, Patience has been sent out as Team LP’s ace before, and won them some matches. Quite impressively so, sometimes. But if Patience, the man who gave his name to suicidal Blink Stalker usage, is your most consistent player, you are truly playing with fire.
Jieshi, who more and more seems like a Chinese version of Patience (we don’t know if Patience is corrupting him, but it sure seems like it), is another player who you could totally see snipe someone much favoured over him. That’s what he’s been trying to do all season long, basically. On a lucky day, and with good execution, Jieshi can definitely sacrifice himself to remove a key piece from the board.
Honestly, the Team LP wildcard is Impact, in a way. Once upon a time, Impact was in the position Dream is in right now: the most consistent player in GTC, even though nothing much goes his way outside of the team competition. But this super solid Impact is no more. The only players he’s really a big favourite against would be BreakingGG and his own Chinese team mates. The remaining Korean and Chinese players can easily take a map against or 2-0 him outright. Yes, he’s still dangerous. He’s shown a capacity to play some really nasty all-ins over the course of the season. But again, that’s not the kind of performance that will earn you an all-kill. It seems that Team LP is a squad of snipers. What it lacks, is something solid to fall back on.
Match History: LP vs. BSG
GTC 2020 Spring: LP 4-3 BSG
NeXT 2020 Spring: LP 3-4 BSG
CTC 2019 S2: LP 4-3 BSG
NeXT 2019 Autumn: LP 2-4 BSG
GTC 2020 Spring: LP 4-3 BSG
NeXT 2020 Spring: LP 3-4 BSG
CTC 2019 S2: LP 4-3 BSG
NeXT 2019 Autumn: LP 2-4 BSG
Seed #3: Alpha X
Astrea (14-4), Zoun (10-6)
The surprise performers of the season, Alpha X will await the winners between Team LP and Brave Star Gaming in what will definitely be a big challenge for them. So far, Alpha X have shown themselves to be preparation masters, using the time each week to research their opponents and plan ahead. The playoffs won’t allow them this luxury anymore, at least not in the same capacity as the Regular Season. Now, Alpha X must show that they also can stand tall in a different format.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the consistent performance of Astrea, who went 14-4 over the course of the season, taking maps against really big names like TY and Dark in very solid macro games, so it’s not like he always relied on some tricky snipe builds to win his matches. It very much seems like the biggest purpose of preparation for Astrea is to enable him to survive the first few minutes of the game without dying, after which he should be in a good position, since his macro game seems very powerful indeed. But that has also revealed his weak point: early game aggression. Impact not only used this in GSL to overcome him, he also won their ace match in GTC with a Ling flood. I could easily see Astrea all-kill a team like LP, if only macro games were allowed. Alas, no ‘honourable duel’ mode for StarCraft 2 exists, and so scoundrels and rogues stay a force to be reckoned with.
The American Protoss is not without help, of course, as Alpha X’s success so far was through and through a team effort. Zoun, the only Korean on the squad, has shown himself to be less consistent than his colleague, but nonetheless scored some big victories, such as against Cure, even when the odds looked bad for him. He still struggles with making the correct decisions sometimes, especially when faces with aggression in PvT, such as when he dropped maps to Coffee and Bomber due to taking some unwise engagements. But on a good day, Zoun is a powerful weapon to have in your arsenal, able to pretty much take a map from anyone.
The biggest question mark for Alpha X is BreakingGG. The Zerg actually had a splendid start into the season, basically taking a map every week, even against heavy favourites like Super. But somewhere along the way, BKGG lost his edge. His all-ins seemed less potent, less well executed. Perhaps people simply caught on, or he played against opponents who already knew him well, or prepared better, but he stopped winning that map every week, which also slowed down Alpha X’s overall momentum, since that single map win by BKGG helped a lot whenever Zoun was inconsistent. I’m still a believer in BreakingGG’s ability to secure those odd map wins, and it would be huge for his team if that BKGG could show up again for the playoffs.
That leaves us with the elephant in the room. Two elephants, really. The first one is that Alpha X’s biggest ally, preparation, won’t be as much of a factor in this format. But it’s really hard to say how much exactly that will affect their performance here. How many maps precisely were won due to preparation over the course of Regular Season? Where would they stand without it? Hard to estimate. Elephant #2 is the ace question. Yes, Astrea has impressively shown that he can take maps against people like Dark and INnoVation. But can he do it in the ace match, with all the pressure on him? Can he do it two times in a row, when an ace calibre player gets revived? While underdogs should profit slightly from the format of these matches, Alpha X remain a bit outgunned in that department, so should they advance into the next round, they’ll fight an up-hill battle indeed. However, I don’t see them having to take on the underdog role against BSG or LP. They’ve earned as much reputation from their fairy tale run so far.
Seed #2: KaiZi Gaming
Dear (8-5), Nice (5-5)
Bunny (6-2), INnoVation (8-4), TIME (6-0)
Really, it wouldn’t surprise anyone, if we’d actually end up with KaiZi and DPG in the Grand Finals, just as in NeXT Spring 2020. It’s what we had expected at the start of the season. What was unclear before, was merely the order of things: who would secure the #1 Seed? In the end, DPG showed themselves to play the much more consistent Regular Season, while KaiZi Gaming had to struggle a surprising amount, ending with a 5-3 score that really doesn’t look all that impressive. But that doesn’t mean that much, when it comes to the playoffs. DPG had to battle through the Lower Bracket at NeXT, after KaiZi had sent them there, to come back and claim the championship. There’s no reason why KaiZi couldn’t win after having to play a series before the Grand Finals.
That said, it’s not inevitable for KaiZi to advance here. They do hold an advantage in this format, clearly, over the three teams in the earlier rounds, and they certainly won’t hesitate on using their best line-up with INnoVation and TIME both being fielded, surely. But BSG has defeated them in two different formats so far (here, and in NeXT), and Alpha X also managed to get one up on them during this season; those results cannot be fully disregarded, even though you get the feeling that KaiZi did not take the Regular Season as serious as they should have.
They can field the best player China has to offer in TIME, heavy favourite against any fellow Chinese player still in the tournament, and able to take maps against most of the Koreans still left. They have a choice of fielding another dangerous Terran player in Bunny, who’s proved to be very solid when called upon, or one of the Chinese team league’s all-time greats in Dear, who definitely showed some holes in his play both here and in NeXT, but who will be difficult to beat for anyone. And then they can field the Machine that is INnoVation, who really only has equals on DPG, and could steamroll over the other three teams by himself if need be. His performance in the All-star tournament preceding these playoffs should be an impressive show of force in this regard—you don't 4-1 Dark every day. Additionally, KaiZi Gaming's players will be doubly motivated if faced with DPG again, since the team owner promptly doubled INnoVation's prize money for winning the All-star event against a player of their big rival team. So, perhaps, a nice additional bonus is in the cards in case of a triumph.
No, anyone facing KaiZi Gaming in Round 3 of these playoffs will likely face elimination, even the risk of being all-killed, if there’s no miracle in their favour, like FanTaSy’s all-kill for Pixel 1 against KaiZi last year in CTC Season 2. The odds clearly are in favour of a rematch between the two big-money teams, founded and built up for exactly this very purpose.
Seed #1: Dragon Phoenix Gaming
Firefly (8-8), PartinG (7-1)
So far, Dragon Phoenix Gaming seem to have things under control when they meet their big rivals from KaiZi Gaming. While they lost the initial playoff match in NeXT, their lower bracket run eventually led them to revenge in the Grand Finals, taking their first team title on their first try. They also won the big clash in the very first week of GTC. Both times, Dark vs. INnoVation proved to be the key match-up with the Zerg proving his worth and taking the deciding points for his team, though both Cure and Firefly contributed heavily on the two occasions. It’s likely that, should KaiZi and DPG clash once more, we may be looking at history repeating itself, and the ZvT between the two former SK Telecom T1 team mates proving decisive.
There are some other points to consider: Firefly, as mentioned in the description of the format, has practical experience in derailing the opposing team’s plans in this format, though it’s hard to see him perform another miracle like against Maru last year. The best usage for Firefly would be against whichever player is fielded by KaiZi that is not TIME (who is his nemesis) or INnoVation (who seems mostly immune to cheese). His win over Dear in the NeXT finals was critical to DPG’s triumph, and Bunny, while dangerous, is not as solid as INnoVation. Firefly could take maps against both of them.
As to DPG’s third player (for who doubts that Dark will be used), it’s hard to decide from an outside perspective, since the team knows so much better how both are doing in practice right now. I will say that when PartinG was fielded in NeXT, he didn’t do all too well for the team, while Cure so far has always carried his weight and then some. TIME has previously beaten the Terran, but at the same time Cure is another player with a chance to take out INnoVation, while PartinG’s style doesn’t seem particularly well fit to do that. Letting PartinG prepare a snipe build could be an option, but seems pretty risky as well. A line-up consisting of Firefly, Cure, and Dark is probably the best DPG could field, and it has the bonus of having defeated KaiZi Gaming in a Grand Finals before, though in a different format.
Should any other team make it this far, mad respect to them, but I’ll be inclined to say that they already used up most of their luck to even get here and will probably get demolished.
Credits and acknowledgements
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com & Liquipedia
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com & Liquipedia