Held in the midst of a global pandemic, Dreamhack Masters Summer had to be an abnormal tournament. The entirety of the event was held online, games were played five days a week at an almost non-stop pace, and Korean players were invited to compete alongside international players in StarCraft II's "break region-lock in case of emergency" moment. Amid these unusual circumstances, StarCraft II fans would found the conclusion of the tournament, at least, to be quite familiar: Serral emerged triumphant over a field of the best players in the world and was crowned the champion.
While the Summer finals awarded a 'mere' $12,500 for first place, the list of Serral's opponents puts it up there with GSL vs. The World 2018/2019 and BlizzCon as one of his most impressive tournament runs. Taking down INnoVatioN in the group stage, both Code S finalists in TY and Cure in the playoffs, and then Trap in the finals, Serral left little doubt as to who is the best StarCraft II player at the moment.
Oddly enough, Serral's victory in the Masters Summer Finals ended his longest championship drought since he won his first major title back in 2018. Over seven months had passed since he had last won a Liquipedia premier-tier tournament, his last victory having come at HomeStory Cup XX in December of 2019. Serral had suffered through a noticeably dry spell in the first half of 2020, as he fell to Zest in the semifinals at IEM Katowice and was ZvZ'd out by Elazer and Reynor in the early rounds of TeamLiquid Starleague 5 (Serral did win two of the smaller Stay At HomeStory Cup events in 2020). Just a week prior to the DH Masters Summer Finals, he ended another tournament run without a title after losing 2-4 to his rival Reynor in the finals of Dreamhack Masters Europe. Yet, the vibe around Serral's DH Summer Finals win—the twelfth major title of his career—wasn't so much 'comeback.' There had been no collective overreaction to Serral's disappointing 2020—just a quiet wait for business to resume as usual.
The only thing leaving the championship feeling incomplete was that Serral couldn't directly avenge his loss to Reynor from the European finals. Reynor's run of fantastic form had continued during the initial rounds of the Summer Season Finals, as he defeated two of Korea's top Terrans in Maru (group stage) and INnoVation (quarterfinals). Unfortunately for the Italian Zerg, he ended up being merely a ZvP tripwire for Serral, alerting him to the threat of Trap.
A living, breathing, chrono-boosting paradox, Trap had flown into the finals under the radar despite being Korea's best all-around Protoss. Trap's run through the Season Finals had been somewhat muted, as he had benefited from one of the easier tournament paths—victories against Has and Clem in the group stage, and a 3-1 against HeroMarine in the quarterfinals. Given his reputation for having an Achilles' heel in PvZ, it seemed like his run would end against Reynor in the semifinals. Instead, the semis ended up being a cautionary tale against overconfidence, reminding Reynor that everyone's Drones still die in two Adept hits—even those of the reigning European champion. On the other side of the bracket, Serral advanced to the finals with a clean sweep over Cure (perhaps cosmic retribution for Cure's 3-2 win over Maru, yet again preventing the elusive Serral-Maru).
Trap actually drew first blood against Serral in the finals, pulling out a stylish Glaive-Adept into Disruptor drop build on Deathaura. Though Trap had already employed the strategy to take a map off Reynor in semis, simply knowing of the build wasn't enough for Serral to mount a proper defense. Game two on Submarine followed a much more typical Serral ZvP pattern, as he shut down Trap's early Oracles and Blink Stalker harassment. As per usual, Serral kept the snowball of his early economic advantage rolling until the end, overcoming Trap's excellent combat micro with sheer force of numbers.
An ongoing evolution of Serral's game has been the addition of all-ins and cheeses to his arsenal. The middle three games of the series demonstrated why Serral fans have both cheered and balked at this development. Cheesing certainly seemed like a needless risk in game three, as he won despite having his pool-first Zergling rush stopped easily by Trap. Some DT defense here, a Zergling runby there, and what do you know! Serral was back in the lead after his early-game mishap. After handling Trap's ground force with Roaches and Ravagers, Serral applied a bit of overkill to finish Trap off with Swarm Hosts.
On the other hand, game four on Ice and Chrome showed us why even a fantastic macro player like Serral is seduced by the siren song of going all-in. After stopping Trap's Dark Templar harassment, Serral halted Drone production to gear up for a big Roach-Zergling attack. Trap didn't seem to consider the possibility of such an attack from Serral at all, and gifted Serral the freest of free wins.
And it was back to failing with cheese again in game five, as Trap calmly shutdown Serral's speedling flood with a precise, flawless defense (Serral later said he was inspired by DongRaeGu's success with the build in the GSL). Unlike the game on Submarine, Trap played out his lead far more cleanly, finishing Serral off with an Archon and Immortal supported force.
Serral then closed the series out on Golden Wall, the map with the most creative potential in the current pool. Unfortunately for Trap, he had already used his best Golden Wall specific strategy to beat Reynor earlier: A fast backdoor expansion with a proxy-Stargate. Rather than repeat the strategy, Trap opted to pull out two-base Glaive-Adept all-in against Serral. While even top Zergs like Serral occasionally lose after letting their concentration slip against Glaive-Adepts, more often they seem to scoff at such rudimentary tactics. And so it was this time around, as Serral calmly maintained his defenses, resisted the temptation of Droning up too hard, and tracked different groups of shades though his base. Trap couldn't make any headway against Serral's rock-solid defenses, and GG'd out after his desperation card of Disruptors failed to change the tide of battle.
After one of his poorest stretches of play—at least by his lofty standards—Serral once again stands unquestionably atop the SC2 world. With plenty of StarCraft II left to be played in 2020, we look forward to seeing how he'll defend his throne.