2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - Round of 24by Wax
Welcome back to the GSL, where we're set to embark on the final Code S season of the year. Yes, that's the concept AfreecaTV went with for the profile photo-shoots this season. No, don't know what on God's green earth inspired them to go in that direction.
Anyway, now that you've torn your eyes away from that oddly entrancing image, it's time to move on to something much less compelling in the form of TL.net's first RO24 group preview.
Group A Preview: Trap, Spear, SpeCial, SolarStart time: Saturday, Aug 29 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group A is headlined by top seed Trap, who will be looking to get in tune after bowing out of the last Code S on a sour note. Back then, Stats enacted the StarCraft II equivalent of bashing a guitar over Trap's head, drubbing him 3-0 in the Code S quarterfinals. After seeing the way Stats tap-danced all over Trap's face, I couldn't help but think that Trap had lost the figurative 'best all-around Protoss' title belt he had held for over a year. Trap had been a worthy steward, but it was time to hand the title back to its rightful owner in the Shield of Aiur.
As we start Code S Season 3, I want to say: never mind. Trap didn't exactly win the title back—he kind of picked it up off Stats' unconscious body following the Afreeca Protoss' brutal 1-4 loss to Rogue in the Code S finals. As it turns out, I was probably a little too lenient toward Stats for his shabby PvZ form, blinded by how incandescently hot he had been in PvT and PvP. As much as I was cheering for Stats to go out in a blaze of glory before starting his military service, I should have known that a player with a 60%-ish PvZ win-rate was going to get in trouble. Of course, PvZ has been a relative weakness for Trap as well, and I probably wouldn't have picked him to beat Rogue in the finals. Still, I do feel like he would have fared a lot better. At the very least, Trap is actually willing to use outside-the-box builds in important matches (as in his DH Summer Finals matches vs Reynor and Serral), which seems to be the only way Protoss players can beat Zerg at the championship level.
It also made me take a broader look at Trap's 2020 and appreciate the sheer consistency he's displayed. He's reached the playoffs in nearly every major tournament he's played in this year: Top eight in both Code S tournaments, top four in the Super Tournament, TSL5, and the Douyu Cup, as well as 2nd place in the DreamHack Summer finals (his only dud was a group stage exit at IEM Katowice).
All that goes to say: Trap is the very best player of his faction, and such players don't ever lose in the first group stage of Code S (unless you're Rogue, anyway). Seriously, don't worry about Trap. He even gets to start his night off with what should be a cakewalk match against a first-time Code S player.
That brings us to Spear, who needs some introduction in his Code S debut. While there's not much information available about Spear, I managed to patch together a rough backstory by rummaging through his Liquipedia and Aligulac.com records.
Spear's involvement in competitive SC2 goes all the way back to the pre-KeSPA days in Wings of Liberty. He achieved his best career results in 2012 as a member of FXOpen e-Sports, qualifying for two GSL Code A tournaments that year (back when the competition in Code A was much tougher). For whatever reason, it seems like Spear gave up on having a serious competitive SC2 career after 2012, only sporadically participating in major tournament qualifiers ever since. He didn't walk away from the competition entirely, however, and has stayed fairly active in a variety of online cups. Basically, he's the type of player the Korean community would classify as an "amateur" (more a designation of skill-level than full-time status), alongside the likes of DRGLing, Prince, and NightMare.
As the 109th ranked player on Aligulac.com, it seems safe to say that Spear has almost no chance of advancing here. His qualifier run was one of the easiest possible, only needing wins over IntoTheOb (the 337th ranked player in the world according to Aligulac), ForGG, Rookie (who retired soon after), and CoCa to earn his first Code S appearance. For players like Spear, merely making it to Code S is already exceeding expectations.
While I'd normally be tempted to skip Spear's matches, this is where I realize Prince did his fellow 'amateurs' a huge favor with his run last season. Okay, it wasn't really a 'run' since Prince was eliminated in the first group stage, but he did bring some delightful cheeses and creative strategies to the GSL party. How does that old adage go? "There's nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose." Hmmm , I guess that doesn't really apply 100% to StarCraft. But thanks to Prince, I'm willing to say that there are few things more entertaining than a StarCraft II player with nothing to lose, looking to take some progamers out of their comfort zone.
With Trap looking like a near lock to advance while Spear is likely to be eliminated, the remaining ticket out of the RO24 should be contested between two players who haven't been able to take RO16 advancement for granted.
SpeCial is the sole Code S foreigner to survive the exodus caused by COVID-19 related visa issues, and thus gets one more shot at reaching the Code S quarterfinals for the first time in his career. Last season, he tied his career best Code S performance by getting all the way to the decider match of his RO16 group before being eliminated. While SpeCial did lose to his mentor TY by a clean 0-2 scoreline in that critical match, the games were actually surprisingly close and competitive.
SpeCial's RO24 performance last season was pretty impressive, as he out-mind gamed and out-macroed soO by goading him into a number of Mech vs. Zerg duels. Even considering soO's propensity to implode against turtling players, SpeCial had to be lauded for putting himself in position to start soO's self-destruct sequence to begin. Personally, I was most impressed with his showing against Zest, where he went full galaxy-brain with an in-base proxy factory build and a one-base all-in with seemingly every Terran unit. Even though it ended up being a loss for SpeCial, and even though the games weren't especially well-played, it demonstrated how SpeCial is the most creative Terran build-smith in Code S. TY's strategies might have a higher win-rate, but SpeCial has him beat on pure audacity.
While last season was somewhat of a best-case run for SpeCial, things have gone much more poorly in the past. Sometimes, the creative strategies just don't hit their mark, or SpeCial just gets rolled in macro games despite setting himself on a good economy. SpeCial has gradually improved his Code S results since moving to Korea, and he's certainly a player who looks like he belongs in the RO16. Yet, at the same time, he's not yet a player for whom RO16 qualification is a guarantee.
Surprisingly, neither is it for Solar, who's trapped in a strange form of GSL limbo. In fact, it's amazing how long Solar has been stuck in the same, peculiar spot in the StarCraft II hierarchy. There may be plenty of debate about who's the "GOAT" of SC2, but surely there must be consensus that Solar is the undisputed "IPWABLOPIETTOACTPACMDPRIWAITBHSKOWMBTSHFCPA100%SIGSLCS," which, of course, is short for "inconsistent player whose absolute BEST level of play is equal to that of any championship-tier pro, and can make deep playoff runs in weekenders and international tournaments, but has some kind of weird mental block that stops him from consistently playing at 100% strength in GSL Code S."
2016 was the last year Solar won a major championship and earned a BlizzCon qualifying spot. Ever since then, he's only ever escaped the Code S group stages on a single occasion, and he's never scraped together enough points to make it back to the WCS Global Finals. Though he has made a number of deep playoff runs in non-GSL tournaments, championships have remained outside of his grasp.
In Solar's last GSL Code S outing, fans got the complete, full-blown, quintessential Solar experience. In his RO16 group, he caused one of the biggest upsets of the entire round by defeating Maru, basically dominating him in straight-up macro games. However, all Solar achieved in the end was setting Maru up to be eliminated alongside himself. Though Solar was able to take down Maru, he was unable to overcome the obstacles of Dream and Trap as he headed to his eighth straight group stage elimination in Code S. And lest anyone think it was a fluke, Solar recently beat Maru AGAIN in the Code S qualifiers to earn him his spot in this group. Even accounting for Maru's questionable form in recent months, it was a good illustration of how good and how infuriatingly inconsistent Solar can be.
Predictions: I think this group really hinges on what kind of form Solar happens to be in on Saturday. At his best, he's completely capable of taking out Trap and advancing in first place. At his worst, he could lose to SpeCial in two sub 6-minute games in the decider match.
Trap > Spear
Solar > SpeCial
Trap > Solar
SpeCial > Spear
Solar > SpeCial
Trap and Solar advance.