Gold Series Team Championship - Fall Season Recapby: TheOneAboveU
Finally, over a year after their formation, KaiZi Gaming have fulfilled their ultimate goal. They are champions of the most prestigious team league in the world of StarCraft 2: The Gold Series Team Championship.
It was an arduous road to a title for the Chinese super-team, who had to overcome their long history of choking in the playoffs. In the end KaiZi redeemed themselves by making the ultimate team play: INnoVation stepped aside for TIME in the championship-deciding ace match. By swallowing his pride and acknowledging his match-up disadvantage against Zoun, INnoVation showed that discretion was the better part of valor. TIME lived up to his end of the bargain, taking out Zoun and securing the title for KaiZi gaming.
While KaiZi ultimately ended up on top, they were outshone by another team in the GTC 2020 Fall Playoffs. Alpha X, the Golden Dragons of the GTC, made an incredible run from the bottom of the playoff gauntlet, defeated a murderer's row of teams in BSG, Jin Air, and DPG, and then came within a map of winning the championship. Alpha X may have been outgunned in every way on paper, but their preparation and gameplay allowed them to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best teams and players in the world.
Here's how it all went down.
Playoffs RecapThe Flight of the Golden Dragons
Going into the playoffs as the fourth seed, Alpha X had played an all-around very strong Regular Season, taking two of the top three teams to ace matches and only outright losing to KaiZi Gaming. The ace power of the remaining teams was worrisome for them going into the playoffs, as ace matches had proven to be their Achilles-heel during the earlier portion of the competition. Little did anyone know that dramatic ace matches would become the defining feature of these playoffs, with Alpha X right at the center of the action.
Alpha X 5 - 3 Brave Star Gaming
Alpha X's first match brought them up against Brave Star Gaming, the surprise runner-ups of the previous season, who had managed to overpower A-X in the previous season's playoffs with BSG.Dream having one of the finest weekends of his career. The day for revenge was at hand, however, as Alpha X now had a strong ZvT player in RagnaroK who was able to fight Dream to a draw. It was actually a series of many draws, with RagnaroK's 2-0 over BSG.Scarlett being the difference between the two teams. As it turns out, the three draws in the first series portended how close the rest of the playoffs would be.
Jin Air Green Wings 4 - 5 Alpha X
At the beginning of the season, the Jin Air Green Wings were the big boogeymen overshadowing everything. When they struggled to secure wins during the Regular Season, most fans still believed they'd put forth their full effort in the playoffs, just as they had in their previous CTC championship run. It seemed like only Dragon Phoenix Gaming could compare to Jin Air in terms of roster depth and ace strength.
The conventional wisdom of the fans was almost correct. Jin Air got pretty much the best possible start to the series they could hope for, with JAGW.Rex taking a map from αX.RagnaroK, thus taking one Korean out of the equation early on. In a way, this early success for Jin Air worked incredibly well for the Golden Dragons. When we talked to Alpha X-leader Shushi at the start of the season, he told us that he "would not mind if teams continue underestimating us this season too." His hope turned into reality at a critical juncture, as Jin Air, perhaps emboldened by Rex' victory, sent out not JAGW.Trap, JAGW.Rogue or JAGW.Maru, but their most unreliable player: JAGW.Creator. It was the lifeline Alpha X needed, with Jin Air squandering their advantage of roster depth with one fatal miscalculation. αX.Nice, one of the most reliable players hailing from the Chinese region of the entire season, evened the scores with a 1-1 of his own against Creator.
It still looked like Jin Air could afford to make a mistake, because Maru was still there to pick up the pieces and send them on to the next round. His first game against αX.Zoun was a massacre, with the Protoss players' Phoenix-Adept push being utterly crushed. The rising Protoss star did lot let himself be discouraged though, showing his more solid side in the next game by pressuring Maru with DTs and a follow-up Archon drop while preparing for a longer match. The two opposing armies missing each other on the map, and bases were traded with Maru getting the worse end of the deal. Zoun gained an unexpected yet decisive lead, and he kept a cool head to further his advantage in bases and economy. After calmly shutting down Maru's desperation efforts, Zoun secured yet another draw and knocked out the Jin Air ace.
Zoun was revived immediately, and faced the task of dueling Jin Air's fourth player in Trap. A brilliant macro performance by Zoun followed, who ran circles around Trap in terms of army movement and usage of tools such as Blink DTs. However, he could not quite close the series out, with Trap sniffing out and holding off Zoun's aggression on Deathaura to force an ace match (after some initial confusion about the format, since Jin Air thought that they had already lost the series after Trap's first loss).
Jin Air used their revive on Trap for the ace match, while Alpha X had no other choice but RagnaroK (having used their revive on Zoun). On one hand, RagnaroK had already been the hero against BSG, with his 3-1 performance being the difference between victory and defeat. On the other hand, RagnaroK had been tepid during the regular season, strugging to defeat even GP.Prince in a ZvP in Week 1.
RagnaroK seemed close to falling apart against Trap's Starglaive-attack (there you go, Wardi, we're using it) early on, but stabilized before his losses became fatal. Mounting his own offensive with Hydra-Ling-Bane, the Zerg almost overcommitted, but crucially opened up a way into Trap's natural. In a massive oversight, eventually costing Jin Air the series, the Trap did not plug the gap, which RagnaroK relentlessly abused to get Ling-counter after Ling-counter into his opponent's bases, even destroying the Nexus at the Natural completely. The Alpha X player did not lose control of the match, keeping the pressure on Trap, who simply couldn't manage to recover even with Psi-Storm. The Golden Dragons had done it—the boogeymen, the last KeSPA team, were done for, eliminated by underdogs in their second season.
Dragon Phoenix Gaming 4 - 5 Alpha X
Did the road get easier from there? Not really. Dragon Phoenix Gaming, the defending champions, were waiting. Once again, Alpha X got the worse of the opening match, with DPG.Firefly cementing his station as a top three Chinese player with a strong performance on the first map, rolling over Zoun due to his superior build choice. Zoun held fast, however, taking the next map and recovering a 1-1 tie. DPG.Cure and RagnaroK followed the PvP. Just days before, Cure had eliminated both Serral and Reynor from King of Battles, showcasing a deadly playstyle based on quick Widow Mine drops—but his team, who had organized the KoB event, had been watching closely. What the two foreign Zerg monsters could not deal with, RagnaroK was relatively prepared for. Though he lost the first map, the clash on Jagannatha went his way after nearly 25 minutes of game time.
On paper, this was more than fine for DPG. Their greatest weapon, the guarantor of their first two team league victories this year, was about to be unleashed. DPG.Dark, however, did not turn out to be the all-ending hammer of the gods this time. Nice, just as he had during the Regular Season, held his own against the reigning World Champion, who—according to DPG's manager—simply did not feel very confident against the Taiwanese Protoss after the bout earlier on in the season. Gambling his lead away with a risky proxy Hatchery-Spine Crawler-Rush, both teams had to revive players for the fourth round. Dark was called up again, leaving Cure or DPG.PartinG as potential ace players, while Alpha X sent out Zoun again, leaving RagnaroK in reserve as the ace (to clarify: a previously revived player could not be called upon as the ace). The pattern repeated itself, with Dark taking the first map only to throw it all away with a risky early attack in the second game—this time, Zoun pulled off a tenacious hold against a Roach-Ravager-all-in.
It all came down to a rematch between Cure, the slayer of the EU terrors, and RagnaroK in the ace-match.The Zerg continued where had stopped on Jagannatha, striving to pay back his team's trust in him. Having defended Cure's harassment brilliantly, the Zerg was able to maintain a strong economy at around 90 Drones without many losses for a long time. His Regular Season performance was forgotten and forgiven the moment Cure's army collapsed and the Alpha X player broke into the Terran's production line with his Ultra-Ling-Bane-Muta-swarm. Alpha X, that team no one really knew much about last season, advanced into the Grand Finals of GTC, striking down the defending champions and making them suffer their second ever loss in this competition.
KaiZi Gaming 6 - 5 Alpha X
TIME, the Dragonslayer
The Golden Dragons looked like they were getting stronger and stronger with each and every match, seemingly emboldened by their ability to conjure miracles out of thin air. Only one team stood between them and a sensational victory, a team notorious for failing when it really mattered. The fully grown dragon bared its teeth early on with Nice—who faced his replacement on KaiZi Gaming in KZ.TIME. Nice got his revenge in the first game, proving his reputation as PvT-expert and utilizing a Phoenix-Gateway style. Nice took a commanding lead in the second game as well, with TIME looking dead in the water with a 40 worker deficit compared to his opponent. Not for the last time in this series the young Terran showed his heart and fighting spirit, though. He did not give up, seeking salvation in all-out aggression, his multi-pronged harassment being exactly the right tool against the powerful, but clunky, army Nice had amassed, consisting of Carriers, Colossi and Disruptors. The Terran turned around that worker deficit. He turned around his military disadvantage. He was everywhere Nice wasn't. And though the Protoss army remained more or less undefeated in battle, TIME forced Nice out of the game by applying a thousand cuts to his economy and infrastructure.
It was KZ.Solar who relieved some of the pressure on KaiZi. He had won a CTC before with Triumphant Song Gaming and showed his experience against RagnaroK, breaking the cycle of 1-1s with a solid 2-0 over the other Zerg. Mutalisks, as so often during the Regular Season as well, proved to be the Alpha X player's undoing. KaiZi wouldn't keep the lead for long, however, with Zoun tying it again for the Golden Dragons. Game one saw Zoun use Adepts to distract Solar, opening the way for DT's to clear out the main. Tasting blood in the water, the Zoun finished his prey off before the desperation-Spire could work a miracle. Mixing things up in game two, Zoun opened with Speedprism-Disruptor, keeping Solar on his toes while building a good economy and a force of Colossi. Zoun was able to overpower the Zerg forces in the battles, with Solar's Vipers coming into play too late.
Just as DPG had a trump card to play with Dark, KaiZi Gaming still had the Machine to unleash. KZ.INnoVation took the field, but over at the side of Alpha X things remained pretty calm. Zoun, after all, has a nickname amongst their community: INnoVation-killer. Indeed, their historical head-to-head record was skewed towards the rising Protoss star. From the Golden Dragons' point of view, things were going more or less according to plan. Submarine saw Inno's push against Zoun's third base crushed by the latter's preferred Phoenix-style, after which the Protoss hit a very effective counter-timing and secured a lead for himself, which he did not let slip away, winning the ensuing macro game. For once, Zoun was the one caught off guard on the next map, INnoVation's triple Hellion drop landing some devastating shots, giving the Machine all the advantage he needed to run away with the game.
Once again, both teams had to decide which players would be kept in reserve for a potential ace match and which would fight on in the fourth match. Both players chose to revive their Zergs for a rematch, leaving INnoVation and Zoun as the presumptive ace match players—a favorable outcome for Alpha X if RagnaroK could take the series there. RagnaroK would indeed prove his worth, with his game one Nydus-attack striking at just the right moment and forcing Solar's Mutalisks to fight in terrible conditions for them. Match point for the Golden Dragons was reached. Back and forth Ling-Bane skirmishes saw RagnaroK gain and lose the advantage, and once again his Muta vs. Muta skills were not great enough to match up to Solar's. KaiZi's new recruit saved them from defeat. Again though, this left Zoun to clash with INnoVation once more, a match-up in which the young Protoss could be confident.
Only, in the moment where his team needed him to step up and prove his status as one the greatest players to ever touch this game, INnoVation's erred on the side of caution. In the video conference amongst the team members, the Machine expressed a lack of confidence against Zoun. This underdog, this rising star, had struck the Machine's cold steel-heart with fear. Without hesitation, TIME offered to play instead. Maybe he felt like it was his day, having just cheated death against Nice through sheer willpower and determination. So, the ace match to decide the GTC 2020 Fall title was settled—it was to be a duel straight out of a heroic saga: The young knight, stepping forward full of courage as his older comrades were incapacitated, took up the Dragon's challenge.
The Alpha X player fell back to his tried comfort-style, basing his early game around Phoenixes, successfully delaying TIME's harassment attempts with Widow Mines and Liberators by showing him his air defense. TIME was the first to make a move, sieging the Protoss Natural and severely reducing the Phoenix count with fantastic targeting on his Widow Mines, but ultimately wasn't able to break his opponent. Catching another Siege Tank on the map as he chased TIME's routed units, Zoun furthered his army lead, but economically the KaiZi player was still in a good position. He hadn't sacrificed much for his push-out and the Protoss did have to pull Probes to hold. The game stabilized as neither player was willing to risk it all on some gamble—yet.
TIME was about to show his true mettle, though. Engaging Zoun's strong army several times without showing any fear whatsoever, the Chinese player sniped Disruptor after Disruptor milliseconds before their novas could chew through his forces. All the while, a second bio squad cleaned up a base on the other side of the map. Zoun held against the onslaught, with Zealot run-bys relieving some pressure. However, he got too confident at one point, pushing into the triangle between TIME's natural, third and fourth bases, giving the patient Terran the perfect opportunity to surround and crush his army. TIME saw his chance and pounced, once again showing an absolute disregard for Zoun's Disruptors, trusting his speed and precision to take them out before their novas could explode.
His courage to do so paid dividends: Zoun's army was mauled severely and TIME was free to apply pressure once more, sacking bases and forcing a panicking Alpha X player to make a final, fatal mistake in recalling his army to a threatened base, where they were annihilated by an awaiting Terran force. Zoun hung on for a bit, hoping for a miracle, but the fortune of Alpha X had run dry. TIME, in a moment which would surely have belonged to one of StarCraft 2's greatest had it happened in front of a live audience, had stepped up as the underdog where INnoVation would not and secured his team's first title in the league. Live Audience or not, it was the crowning moment of what is indoubtedly the best team league storyline of the year: TIME the Dragonslayer.
GTC Fall Season AwardsThe organizers gave out out their own official MVP award this season, and deemed αX.Zoun most worthy of being called playoffs MVP. Users on TL.net also voted Zoun the MVP title in an impromptu poll in the live report thread.
TL.net Playoffs MVP: αX.RagnaroK
While Zoun was given $750 USD for winning the official playoff MVP award, we all know that pales in comparison to prestige of winning the TL.net MVP award. This season, we're giving it to RagnaroK, due to his fantastic playoff performance that combined one-man heroics and all-around stability.
Up until the playoffs started, one could describe RagnaroK's performance in the Fall season as lukewarm at best—he certainly didn't deliver the reliability and ace power Alpha X hoped for when they signed him in a lightning speed deal before the season began. The Zerg player turned his performance up a few notches just in time to really help his team, though, securing decisive wins against Brave Star Gaming as well as outright ace match victories over favored opponents against Jin Air Green Wings and Dragon Phoenix Gaming. While the Golden Dragons' playoffs run was a true team effort, there can be no doubt about the fantastic contribution RagnaroK made to the cause.
Regular Season MVP & Best Terran: KZ.INnoVation
KaiZi Gaming being able to close out the Regular Season with a ridiculous +22 map difference score had a lot to do with the awesome consistency of INnoVation and Solar. Ending this portion of the competition with a 13-3 record, the Machine truly lived up to his reputation. Though two ace losses do put a bit of a question mark behind this performance, as the Terran seems to have lacked a bit of edge in these decisive matches, ultimately KaiZi Gaming secured the direct seed into the Grand Finals despite these two losses, so no harm done. When INnoVation was on the field, a 2-0 for KaiZi Gaming was almost guaranteed—his single 1-1 happened in 'garbage time' when his team had already won the series.
Best Protoss: αX.Zoun
While Trap was definitely a strong contender for this award, securing two ace matches for Jin Air during the Regular Season, Zoun gets a very clear edge over his Protoss colleague due to his contributions to Alpha-X's miracle run. Going 9-5 in the Regular Season, he was already the main force behind his team's steady success despite some hiccups, and a playoff record of 7-6 with wins over Dream, Maru, Trap, Dark, Solar and INnoVation is simply outstanding. On top of that, Zoun's development and improvement as a player ever since last season has been very visible in his matches, and it's always fantastic to see hard work pay off.
Best Zerg: KZ.Solar
As stated in INnoVation's section above, Solar's consistency this season was a big factor in KaiZi being able to secure the direct ticket to the Grand Finals and thus the championship—who knows what might have happened, had they been seeded in the semis instead? Solar was hired before the season to contribute heavily towards the team's title campaign and he fulfilled that job almost perfectly with his 12-2 record. His few losses against players from the Chinese region did ultimately lead to ace matches, which KaiZi couldn't win, so the award for Regular Season MVP went INnoVation's way, despite their performances being very similar overall. Solar seems to have found his team league groove again after a disappointing last season with TSG, becoming a CTC/GTC champion with two different teams.
Best Chinese Region Player: KZ.TIME
Once again the players from the Chinese region showed some truly excellent gameplay over the course of the season, and they more and more become a regular threat to the juggernauts from Korea. Naturally, TIME takes the crown as best player from his region, but before the playoffs happened, this was a close affair. Firefly has equaled TIME's 8-6 Regular Season record (though TIME going 6-6 against non-Chinese players is in a class of its' own) and both Nice and BSG.Cyan had very solid seasons as well, going 7-8 and 6-8 respectively. Nice topped this with a very critical 4-4 score in the playoffs, taking maps against Creator, Dark and TIME. The surprise of the season is perhaps iG.XY's 3-5 against non-Chinese players—that's what you call punching above your weight class.
Again, the concept of GTC continues to work for the Chinese scene, as their local players keep getting stronger and stronger. Though with aspiring stars like Zoun profiting from the GTC experience, the league truly has a positive effect on Korea as well.
As organizers SCBoy have announced, the GTC is set to return in 2021, hopefully with as many or more teams and even more support from Netease and the community. The two seasons this year have been the best regular team league content in years, in terms of stories coming out of it, high-level matches, production quality, simple old-fashioned entertainment and positive effects on the StarCraft 2 scene. Thank you all for once again following our coverage!
Credits and acknowledgements
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com & Liquipedia
Written by: TheOneAboveU
Stats: Aligulac.com & Liquipedia