Gold Series Team Championship: by: TheOneAboveU
2020 Spring Season
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 bracket over two days. Only one team can claim the throne that has been left empty by last season's champions Jin Air Green Wings. Will we see the twin titans KaiZi Gaming and Dragon Phoenix Gaming clash again in a repeat of NeXT Spring? Or can one of the underdogs follow in the steps of Pixel 1 and sneak into the grand finals?
Playoffs Day 1: Saturday, Jun 27 10:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Playoffs Day 2: Sunday, Jun 28 10:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
SCBoy will be streaming the tournament via Douyu..
Unfortunately, the Twitch streaming rights issue regarding Chinese StarCraft II has not been resolved (it seems to be affecting the ESL Pro Tour as well), so there will be no English language Twitch stream. Long-time CTC/GTC caster Wardi has stated that he plans to release some VOD's later on his YouTube channel.
The Playoff Format
Let’s go over the match format for a bit, since the SCBoy Team Leagues like to tinker with interesting but rather complicated formats. At the core of it, the format is similar to all-kill style. The twist is that each match is Bo2 instead of a Bo1. If a match ends 2-0, the winning player stays in the match and the loser is eliminated, just like in a regular all-kill match. However, if the match-up ends in a 1-1 tie, both players are eliminated from the match, and both teams have to send out a new player. Similar to Nation Wars, each team has one 'revive' where an eliminated player can play again. The first team to score four eliminations/kills wins the series. In the exceedingly rare case of 4-4 tie (only possible if there's a 1-1 draw between the last two surviving players), players can be revived once more for a final best-of-one ace match.
So while teams with strong ace players will have an advantage due to the all-kill element, the GTC version gives the underdogs a little bit more breathing room by making 1-1 draws a double-KO. For example, the massive underdog Firefly stole a map from Maru in the Grand Finals of last year's CTC Season 2, taking down the Jin Air ace in an advantageous trade.
The Final Five: Playoff Teams Rundown
Seed #5: Brave Star Gaming
Dream (MVP, 16-3)
Brave Star Gaming come into the playoffs as the #5 seed, and need to run the entirety of this deadly gauntlet if they're to win the championship. Their mission has become even more difficult with Hurricane's departure from the team, dealing a huge blow to their roster depth.
That said, the remaining BSG roster is not one to overlook easily. Cyan is one of the most solid Chinese players in the league, and his 5-11 regular season record is a bit misleading compared to his actual in-game performances. Cyan had a relatively weak start this season, but became a more positive contributor as the season went on. Most importantly, he took a map off Solar in Week 5 to confirm a victory over TSG. His qualification for both the Chinese DH Masters Summer and the GTC All-Stars tournament (Chinese players qualified via their GPC ranking) proves that he's one of the better players in China at the moment. That makes Cyan a solid pick against any Chinese player (except possibly TIME), and an outside threat to go 1-1 against a stronger Korean player.
Scarlett, a mid-season addition to BSG, ended up being an astute acquisition as she helped them reach third place at NeXT Spring (the other big Chinese team tournament). In contrast, her GTC regular season performance was rather drab, picking up a 3-3 record. The Canadian Zerg is capable of both solid macro play and deadly cheese builds, though the current meta probably favors the latter. She's definitely someone who could punch above her weight and snipe an enemy team's ace in this format, where just a single map win is enough to eliminate a player. In particular, Scarlett might be feeling good headed into BSG's first playoff match against Team LP, as she scored an ace-match victory against Patience back in NeXT Spring. Looking further down the bracket, Alpha X's ace player Astrea mentioned in a Chinese interview that he regards Scarlett to be very dangerous to him specifically—with both players training at the same teamhouse in Korea, Scarlett has become very familiar with his playstyle.
Then there’s BSG’s undeniable ace player and the winner of TL.net's Regular Season MVP award: 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 quality needed to consistently win against the best of his countrymen, as that edge that is hard to regain after nearly two years of military service. Regarding the upcoming match, Dream might be looking for revenge against Patience after dropping an ace match to him in the regular season.
Long ago, Dream, INnoVation and Dark fought together to win SKT Telecom a Proleague championship. If Dream can carry BSG through the first few rounds of the playoffs, he'll have a chance to greet his old teammates as enemies.
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. Even though they only ever field three players, they still registered their entire line-up for the playoffs. 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 somehow leading him to being a huge net-positive player in terms of wins. But while Patience and his style are the perfect recipe to snipe a stronger opponent, it’s very hard to see him racking-up a ton of kills like a prototypical ace. If the man who gave his name to suicidal Blink Stalker usage is your most consistent player, you are truly playing with fire. The sniper could just as easily become the sniped, with how inconsistent and dangerous his playstyle is (to himself, as well as others). While you have to like Patience's chances to upset in a BO1 ace match, he's going to need a lot of help in order to even get to that position.
Jieshi, who's starting to seem more and more 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 sniping someone much favored 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 enemy piece from the board.
Honestly, the Team LP wildcard is Impact. Once upon a time, Impact was in the position Dream is in right now, racking up the most regular season wins while carrying his team through the CTC. But this super solid Impact is no more, and his individual tournament performances seem to be suffering as well. The only players he’s really a big favorite against would be BreakingGG and his own Chinese team mates. The remaining Korean and Chinese players can easily take a map against him or 2-0 him outright. Yes, Impact is 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 who could eke out a 4-3 win with the perfect match-ups, but could just as easily fall apart against a strong ace.
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 team 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 vastly different format.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was the impressive 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. Unlike other Protoss underdogs, it’s not like he always relied on some cheesy 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's in a good position to win with his solid macro play. 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 he could just survive every early game without incident. Alas, no ‘honorable duel’ mode for StarCraft 2 exists, and so scoundrels and rogues could very well ruin his day.
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 he faced with early aggression in PvT (he dropped maps to Coffee and Bomber such matches). 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 favorites 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 just prepared better. In any case, he stopped winning that map every week, which also slowed down Alpha X’s overall momentum, since having a Chinese-quota player who can regularly win a map is a huge boon in the GTC format. 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 benefit 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 that much respect from me, due to their 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 just ended up with KaiZi and DPG in the Grand Finals, just as in NeXT Spring 2020 (it probably wouldn't disappoint many fans either). It’s what we had expected at the start of the season. What was unclear before, was merely a small detail: who would secure the #1 Seed? In the end, DPG showed themselves to be much more dominant in the Regular Season, while KaiZi Gaming had to struggle a surprising amount, ending with a 5-3 score. But that doesn’t mean that much, when it comes to the playoffs. DPG actually lost to KaiZi in the initial rounds of the NeXT playoffs, and needed to come back from the losers bracket to win the championship. There’s no question that KaiZi can beat DPG in a single series.
That said, it’s not inevitable that KaiZi to advances to the finals. BSG has defeated them twice this year—once in NeXT, and once in the GTC match (albeit, in a largely meaningless match in the final week). Alpha-X was also one of the teams that managed to upset KaiZi in the GTC regular season, defeating a B-team of Nice, Bunny, and Dear. On the other hand, KaiZi isn't going to hold back in the playoffs, and they're sure to utilize both TIME and INnoVation to the max. In particular, INnoVation is an extremely dangerous super-ace who can eliminate multiple opponents. He got in a nice warm-up by winning the All-stars tournament, for which he was handsomely rewarded by receiving a 100% matching bonus on top of his prize winnings of roughly $3,000. One has to think there's a similar incentive for the actual playoffs as well, and we all know that capitalist INnoVation is very dangerous.
Strangely enough, KaiZI's biggest advantage might actually be that they have the best Chinese player in TIME. For the weaker GTC teams, the Chinese-quota roster spot can feel like dead weight. In KaiZi's case, their Chinese player TIME is a heavy favorite against any of the other Chinese players, and he can credibly challenge most of the Korean players as well. KaiZi also has another dangerous Terran player in Bunny, who’s proved to be very solid when called upon. They also have Dear, who has definitely fallen off compared to his fantastic performances in previous Chinese team tournaments, but is still ridiculously overqualified to be a team's #2 option.
Anyone facing KaiZi Gaming in Round 3 of these playoffs will likely face elimination, and even run the risk of being all-killed (sans a miracle like FanTaSy’s all-kill for Pixel 1 against KaiZi last year in CTC Season 2). The odds clearly are in favor of a rematch between the two big-money teams, which founded and built up for this exact moment.
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. They also won the big clash against KaiZi in the very first week of GTC. Both times, Dark vs. INnoVation proved to be the key match-up. INnoVation actually has a very good head-to-head record against Dark in recent competitions, but Dark has been the more clutch player of the two by winning the series-clinching matches for DPG. Should KaiZi and DPG clash once more, the outcome will surely hinge on who wins that all-important Dark vs. INnoVation match.
There are some other points to consider: Firefly, as mentioned before, had the composure to eliminate Maru in the CTC playoffs. Even if he can't produce such miracles on demand, he's still a very useful card to have in store. 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). Firefly's 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 (since Dark is unquestionably the ace), it’s hard to determine from an outside perspective, since we haven't seen much of PartinG and Cure since Code S Season 1. I will say that when PartinG was fielded in NeXT, he didn’t do all too well for the team, while Cure has more than carried his weight so far. There's an interesting circle of TvT sniping possibilities that complicates things, with Cure being the best 'value' sniper for INnoVation, while he himself is vulnerable to being sniped by TIME. It seems like a waste of PartinG's talents to let him rot on the bench, but the matches may very well play out in a way where his all-in skills are not needed. 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