Armani delivered the first major upset of the season, taking down sOs and Cure to claim first place in Group D of the RO24. Not only did Armani earn his first Code S RO16 berth since returning to SC2 from his military service, it also marked the highest Code S placement of his entire career.
In his first ever Code S winners interview, Armani revealed that he had even considered quitting the game after his first round elimination in the previous season, and that his lack of motivation led to him practicing half as much as usual headed into this season's group. However, perhaps having peace of mind is more important than raw skill for certain players, as Armani was able to beat his formidable opponents with solid macro play. Armani admitted that nervousness had prevented him from playing well in past GSL games, and seemed perplexed at how having a relaxed mindset had helped him so much in the night's games.
2020 Season 1 finalist Cure came through in second place, though he had a scary brush with elimination after going down 0-1 to former teammate sOs in the decider match. However, Cure was able to recover and comeback with the 2-1 victory, returning to the RO16 for his fourth straight season. After the matches, Cure gave voice to how he had been struggling with both TvZ and TvP lately—a trend that's certainly showing up in his online match statistics. Unfortunately for Cure fans, he said he hasn't found a solution as of yet, which bodes poorly for him headed into the RO16.
Coming up: Round of 24 Group E, with INnoVation, Hurricane, Zoun, and soO. Saturday, Sep 12 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00).
Initial Match #1: Cure 2 - 0 Bomber
Bomber looked to get the jump on Cure with a 2-Barracks Reaper start (in-base) on Eternal Empire, but a single SCV-scout was enough for Cure to sniff out the plan and place his defensive units accordingly. Cure's waiting infantry stopped the 3-Reaper intrusion with ease, and from there out it was all too easy for Cure snowball his advantage in what became a standard bio vs bio game.
Bomber was content to cede the advantage to Cure and play the game out slowly and extremely passively, but had to expose himself to an attack when he tried to move out and take his fourth. While Cure managed to outmaneuver Bomber and destroy the fourth base, he followed that up by overplaying his advantage and going for a killing move that resulted in heavy casualties on his side. Bomber did his best to take advantage of this momentary window of army superiority to march into Cure's territory and take out two expansions, but unfortunately for him, the game was already far out of his reach. Cure had been free expanding the entire time, and could easily afford to give up two bases while he mustered reinforcements. With a huge number of Ravens to neutralize Bomber's tanks, Cure wiped out Bomber's force and collected the first GG.
The series went to Deathaura for game two, which continued its recent GSL trend of producing map-split macro games. While the two players exchanged some perfunctory mid-game blows by blowing up each other's bases, it happened at the stage of the game where both sides had strong enough economies for it not to matter.
Eventually, the game reached the mass-Battlecruiser phase of TvT—or so it seemed! Having started his BC transition first, Cure was able to launch a major attack with a six-to-three Battlecruiser advantage, with a significant amount of bio, Tanks, and Vikings in support. After Bomber fended off this army, Cure shrewdly stopped building BC's and re-maxed on bio, looking to take advantage of Bomber's reduced Tank count. This worked out brilliant for Cure, as Bomber did him the additional favor of over-investing resources in Thors and Vikings. Cure used his stronger army to defeat Bomber in a number of fights around the crucial 'neutral' expansion on Deathaura, forcing the second GG out of Bomber.
Intial Match #2: Armani 2 - 0 sOs
Receiving the baton from Cure and Bomber, Armani and sOs went on to have their own late-game bout on Deathaura. sOs actually started with a rather peculiar strategy, opening with early 3-Gate pressure, a late Oracle, even later Resonating Glaives, topped off by a transition into fast Carriers. sOs' machinations didn't fool Armani, however, as he took minimal damage from the harassment and also scouted out sOs' intent to go Carriers almost instantly with a scouting Overseer. Armani's reaction to the Carriers seemed to be "so what?", as he was content to go for a light poke with his ground army while continuing to take expansions and tech up on his side of the map. sOs was agreeable to a passive build up, so off the late-game we went.
After some posturing and minor skirmishing which was largely meaningless in the big picture, the game came down to control over the neutral corner expansions (as usual). sOs might have regretted being too passive in the middle stages of the game, as Armani was able to spread his Creep and plant forests of Spore Crawlers toward the corners, supporting his Brood Lord-Infestor-Corruptor-Lurker armies. The game came to a rather anticlimactic end as sOs' Carriers took a disastrous fight against Infestors and Corruptors without the proper support units. sOs had been on point with Templars and Feedback for much of the game, but they were nowhere to be seen in the actual decisive fight. Armani obliterated the Protoss armada, forcing sOs to concede the map.
sOs brought out another quirky opener on Ice and Chrome, opening Void Ray into Glaive Adepts. Unfortunately for sOs, he didn't do much damage to Armani at all with his Adepts—he actually lost MORE Probes to the simultaneous Zergling runby. In any case, sOs went for another Fleet Beacon follow-up, but this time in order to go for Flux Vanes and Void Rays. Or, that seemed to be the plan, before he was scouted by another pesky Overseer.
sOs was indecisive about whether he should commit to air anyway (since he had already put money into Stargates, Fleet Beacon, and Flux Vanes), or awkwardly try to transition. He ended up in a strange spot where all he had was mass Blink-Stalkers with nothing to support them. This led to him losing his main Nexus to Corruptors, while Ravager-Ling easily tore down his fourth base. sOs ended up making a less-than-optimal transition to Zealot-Archon-Stalker with double forge upgrades, but this army was all too easy for Armani to smash with Ling-Bane-Ravager and seal the 2-0 win.
Winners' Match: Armani 2 - 1 Cure
Cure got away with a rather greedy start in game one on Eternal Empire, taking three fast bases and getting double-Engineering Bay upgrades very early. Armani couldn't get anything done with his fast Mutalisk build, giving Cure the significant advantage in the ensuing macro game (he had his 2/2 upgrades researching before Armani even started his 1/1). Cure didn't commit any significant blunders, which meant he was able to just build up an army and roll over Armani once he had 3/3 upgrades.
Game two on Ever Dream saw Armani answer Cure's fast upgrades with the Zerg version of the strategy, getting two fast Evolution Chambers for 1/1. This didn't work out quite as well as it did for Cure, as he didn't have the troops to defend his fourth base when Armani went for his initial move-out with Stim. Nor did things get any better when Armani got to take the 2/2 vs 1/1 upgrade advantage fight he wanted, as his upgrade advantage wasn't enough to counteract the disadvantage of fighting off Creep. Cure was able to march forward and kill off Armani's fourth base for the second time, while Armani could only try to get in a little bit of damage with a counter-attack. However, just as it seemed like Cure was going to grind out a safe victory, he let his army get caught in a terrible position, split up and half on creep. Banelings were able to melt the Terran army in an instant, forcing Cure to surrender.
The deciding set on Deathaura had the makings of another lengthy game as Cure opted for mech, but Armani's decisive moves brought the game to a surprisingly quick end. Putting together a combination of Swarm Hosts, Nydus Worms, and Ravagers, Armani was able to break Cure's mech force of Tanks and Thors before it could hit critical mass, and before there were enough blue-flame Hellbats to help kill off Locusts.
Losers' Match: sOs 2 - 0 Bomber
The first game on Deathaura saw Bomber's Drilling Claws Mine-drop go up against sOs' fast 3-Gate pressure. Things worked out quite well for sOs as he had good reaction speed against the Mines, and had an early Observer to stop them from lingering around. On the other hand, Bomber's Mine-drop left him with little to defend against the Gateway unit force, which picked off a number of units and delayed Bomber's expansion for a significant length of time. sOs played out his early game advantage without incident, smashing Bomber in the mid-game with a superior army.
Bomber went for yet another Mine drop in game two, while sOs also went for a repeat strategy in the form of 3-Gate pressure. However, Bomber skipped the Drilling Claws this time around, letting his drop hit before the Gateway unit attack. While sOs didn't take much damage from the mines, he seemed to get distracted from his frontal attack, which let Bomber defend against it much more easily.
Bomber then went for a bizarre follow-up, producing a Thor out of his factory to go for an all-in with a handful of Marines, a Medivac, a single Thor, and SCVs to repair the Thor. Perhaps it would have worked against a player who was caught completely off-guard, but sOs was more than prepared with an Immortal and several Shield Batteries back at home. Once his attack was thwarted, Bomber GG'd out to send sOs to the decider match.
Decider Match: Cure 2 - 1 sOs
The series started in disaster for Cure, as his proxy 2-Barrack strategy was scouted quickly by a cautious sOs. Cure was forced to cancel both Barracks after having already invested significant time and money, changing tack to a desperate 1-base all-in. Not surprisingly, Cure's plan B didn't work out at all after such a catastrophic start, and he was forced to GG out not long after.
sOs got off to another good start in game two on Eternal Empire, with his Proxy-Oracle teaming up with a single Adept to rack up a number of SCV and Marine kills to start. However, his follow-up Blink Stalker harassment ended up being more of a Blink Stalker donation, handing the advantage to Cure on a silver platter. sOs continued to crank out Gateway units to try and strike when Cure pushed out to take his third base, but it only led to a complete massacre of Zealots and Stalkers. Cure's forces marched forward to collect the GG.
The deciding game on Pillars of Gold followed a similar pattern as game two, with sOs opening proxy Oracle into Blink Stalker harassment. Once again, the Stalkers overstayed their welcome in the Terran base, getting mangled in the process. Unlike the previous game, Cure wasn't planning to just safely take his third, but was aiming to go for a massive SCV-aided bio all-in off two bases. sOs probably didn't intend to ram his Gateway unit army straight into this force as it left the Terrran base, but that's what ended up happening. Once again, the Protoss forces were smashed, giving Cure his second win and ticket to the RO16.