2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - Quarterfinals Previewby Wax
Day 1 start time: Saturday, Oct 17 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Quarterfinal #3: Armani vs ZestLike Tastosis, I wouldn't lie to you and claim this match is equally as hyped as the other three quarterfinals. It's like an amuse-bouche, meant to whet your GSL appetite ahead of Trap vs Maru (which we hope will be as diverse and satisfying as a 9-course tasting menu). But that doesn't mean the players involved aren't intriguing in their own way.
Unlike most other post-military players, the prime of Armani's career is happening right here, right now. Up until this season, he had failed to advance from the first round of Code S six times, and failed to qualify for Code S at all on many other occasions. Reaching the quarterfinals isn't just Armani's best GSL result, it's his highest finish in any major event—including HotS-era HomeStory Cup and DreamHack events where top-tier participation was limited.
When looking for the reason behind Armani's late bloom, you obviously can't rule out how the Korean StarCraft II scene has slowly contracted since he first started playing. Armani's pre-military career overlapped with the height of KeSPA SC2, where Korean competition was arguably the fiercest in history. But there's a more personal, psychological aspect to Armani's tale as well. In an earlier interview this season, Armani talked about how he had come close to quitting StarCraft II for the second time, due to his lack of Code S success in his post-military career. But, oddly enough, coming in with no expectations and no self-imposed pressure helped him break through the group stages for the first time—even though he had practiced half as much as before.
I find it hard to believe that simply relaxing was the panacea that solved all of Armani's problems. Even Armani himself looked more confused than happy in his RO24 winners interview—I imagine he was thinking, like myself 'how the f*** does caring and practicing less lead to better results?' In any case, Armani's experience is a good reminder that there's a mental layer of StarCraft II beneath all of the macro, micro, and strategy, which can have an outsize effect on the result of a match. It's something worth keeping in mind whenever a player records an otherwise 'inexplicable' win or loss.
While all this certainly makes Armani an interesting player, it doesn't necessarily make him a great player. Let's give him his due credit for making it here, as he defeated respectable opponents in Cure, sOs, Dream, and Zoun. He plays a solid, standard macro style, and even has some late-game chops. On the other hand, Armani is this season's winner of the Awful Group Selection System Charity Playoff Spot, winning a three way battle with Dream and Zoun to make it out of Group A in second place (TL;DR: the Code S group selection/seeding system is flawed and ensures that one of the weaker RO16 players will advance to the playoffs). And while he looked strong in his games against mid-tier Code S players, the only players that are left now are championship-tier.
Well... maybe not in the case of Zest. "Is Zest good?" has been one StarCraft II's most unanswerable questions since 2018. Late-career Zest is a player capable of great heights and great failures—just this year, he finished second place at IEM Katowice, and also was eliminated in the RO16 of two Code S tournaments. Oddly enough, I think Zest has actually made a bigger impact on the StarCraft II scene with his strategic innovations than with his tournament results in 2020, codifying the modern Adept-Printer as a standard PvZ build, and making Blink-DT's a standard part of the PvT late-game. Anyway, Zest is about as fortunate an opponent as Armani could have drawn, because maybe on October 17th, Zest will not be good.
There's an aspect of vengeance in this match, with Zest having defeated Armani's fellow KR/Afreeca Zerg-clique members DongRaeGu and Solar in the RO16. There, Zest showed an inkling of the creativity that took him to the finals of IEM Katowice, using a strange new mass-Void Ray mid-game in PvZ. While it didn't seem to be a strategy that could take free wins against unsuspecting opponents (like the Glaive-Adepts he wielded at IEM), it was still unusual enough to give him the edge he needed to win. Unlike IEM, GSL gives players plenty of time to adapt and change between rounds, and Armani will surely be prepared. Of course, the same goes for Zest, who can safely unload his craziest and most devious PvZ strategies without fear of exposing them to a stronger Zerg later in the tournament.
Curiously enough, Zest and Armani have almost identical PvZ map win-rates in 2020, with Zest standing at 58.13% while Armani is just slightly better at 58.88%. However, there's another stat that's much more one-sided in Zest's favor: he's 18-3 against Armani in BO3+ matches, and 8-2 in 2020 alone.
While I'm happy for Armani that he's on a career-best run, I think this is the match where he suffers a harsh reality check.
Prediction: Zest 3 - 1 Armani
Quarterfinal #4: Maru vs TrapAnd on to the main event! This might be the absolute best TvP match you could book in StarCraft II at the moment. According to the Aligulac.com ratings, Maru and Trap are currently the top players of their respective factions, and most fans would probably agree with this assessment (a few of you might cape up for TY or Stats).
While it's been a rough year for Protoss as a whole, Trap has been persevering and doing his best to put Protoss on the medal stand, highlighted by his two runner-up finishes in the DreamHack Summer & Fall Finals. As for Maru, he recently overcame a summer slump to win King of Battles, one of the biggest non-ESL/GSL events of the year.
As it so happens, this is a rematch from the King of Battles group stage, where Maru scored a narrow 3-2 victory over Trap in an elimination match. It was a thrilling duel that largely lived up to the hype, with the two players trading blows in those back-and-forth macro games we all delight in. Hopefully, the pair didn't use up all their 'entertaining game energy' in KoB, and will have more in store for us in the GSL.
Maru vs Trap begins at 4:03:30
Maru and Trap also played TvP matches against elite opponents in the Code S RO16, with Maru winning against PartinG and losing to Stats, while Trap defeated INnoVation. Combined with their head-to-head from King of Battles, that gives us a pretty good sample of games from which to preview the series.
Personally, I'm most intrigued by how the hyper-late-game will play out, even though there's no guarantee that any of the games will go that long. Against both Trap and PartinG, Maru showed us that he's confident in the hyper-late-game, in a way that was reminiscent of the early stages of his 4x Code S championship run. However, while Maru defeated Trap in their late-game slog from King of Battles, he actually dropped a map against PartinG when he tried to do the same in the GSL. The key factor was that PartinG found a way to be more efficient than the turtling Maru, which wasn't something I thought was possible. Maru's investment in dozens of Nukes and over a hundred Turrets didn't net him much in return, which led to the peculiar ending of PartinG out-Maru'ing Maru.
I wonder what adjustments Maru will have made on the back of that match. Maybe he's analyzed his mistakes, and made the necessary tweaks to ensure that he can outlast any Protoss player in a marathon game. Or, perhaps his conclusion was that the late-game experiment was a failure, and it's time to get back to Infantry-Tank pushes and out-maneuvering Protoss in the mid-game.
On Trap's side of things, I'm curious as to how much cheese he's willing to use in this series. In his RO16 win against INnoVation, he deployed a Robo-less Blink-Stalker all-in, which he said he used to take advantage of INnoVation's predictable play. Well, who's more predictable than your own teammate who you practice with all the time? Unlike Stats, for whom deviating from standard sometimes seems like a mistake, Trap is a very well-rounded PvT player who gets a lot of mileage out of early game gambits. While Trap is certainly a top-tier macro PvT player—he beat Maru with both the Robo and Templar styles in King of Battles—I wouldn't blame him for trying to make this a short, early-game oriented series.
Overall, it's a shame that one of these players has to be eliminated so early. Even if Trap has the best PvZ among the top Protoss players, it's pretty clear that he's still better off not playing against Zergs at all. Throughout 2019, some fans said Trap could have won a Code S title if he could just avoid getting matched against top Zergs. Well, this is his chance to prove those fans right, and show us that he's not merely the heir to soO's silver legacy. Such a golden opportunity to win a Code S title may never come again.
As for Maru, he's rounding back into form after a weirdly poor summer, where he lost in the RO16 of Code S Season 2 and was eliminated from the quarterfinals of the DreamHack Summer finals. While Maru will forever be an honorary title contender due to his 4x Code S title run, he hasn't actually been in the Code S finals since season 1 of 2019 (the '4' in the '4x' title run). While it was nice to see other players win their first ever Code S trophies in the interim, it feels like it's about time for Maru to get back into the Code S championship picture.
I see this match as being almost dead even, with any type of game or result being possible. I'm going to go with my personal sentiment to decide the tie, and say Trap will take advantage of this opportunity and continue on his run of destiny.
Prediction: Trap 3 - 2 Maru