DreamHack Masters: Last Chance 2021by Wax
The end of the 2020-21 ESL Pro Tour is in sight, with a new world champion waiting to be crowned at IEM Katowice 2021. But before we get there, there's one more tournament left: DreamHack Masters: Last Chance 2021.
Originally envisioned as a cutthroat, make-or-break event with IEM Katowice qualification on the line, the EPT point rankings have ended up in a place where DH: Last Chance will barely affect it. But don't be disappointed! It's still a kickass event. By striping away the regional seeds of the DH Season Finals and hosting completely open qualifiers on all three servers, we've ended up with a killer roster of players playing for a handsome prize pool of $57,000.
DH: Last Chance has the same format as the three DreamHack Season Finals, with a GSL-style group stage in the round-of-sixteen, followed by an eight-player, single-elimination playoffs (best-of-five until the finals, which are best-of-seven). The tournament kicks off on January 12th with the first RO16 group.
RO16 Group A Preview: TY, RagnaroK, Clem, ZestStart time: Tuesday, Jan 12 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Clem, the undeniable breakout player of the 2020, might be the most intriguing player in the group. After showing gradual improvement throughout 2020, Clem enjoyed his breakthrough moment in November's DH Europe Winter where he defeated both Reynor and Serral to win his first continental title. It was a moment that converted DH Europe from a two-player race to a championship triumvirate, while writing the next chapter in Europe's ongoing youth movement.
However, while Clem is certainly championship-class in Europe, he's not yet on the level of his Zerg rivals in terms of challenging for international titles. Specifically, his TvT and TvP leave some room for improvement. Clem has really struggled against Korean Terrans in the 2020-21 season with a 33% map win-rate, and he's hovering around a 50% map win-rate against his closest European peers in uThermal and HeroMarine. And though Clem's TvP win-rate against Korean players is statistically solid at a near-60%, he just can't seem to overcome them in the most important events.
Perhaps Clem is the product of an unusually fractured StarCraft II scene, where the best Terrans and Protosses reside in Korea while the best Zergs play in Europe (though Dark would disagree). Or, perhaps, he's just one of many players in history who have had unbalanced match-up strengths. Whatever the cause may be, it's critical for Clem to improve these facets of his game in order to take the next step in his promising career. Personally, I'm rather hopeful. The entire story of Clem's 2020 has been of gradual improvement and overcoming obstacles—DH Last Chance could be the stage for his next breakthrough.
Clem will face a few tough tests right off the bat, as he's been drawn into a group with TY, Zest, and RagnaroK. On paper, TY might be THE single most difficult TvT opponent in the world. He's been an elite TvT player for nearly all of LotV, and it's the match-up that won him two Code S titles in 2020. But while the Code S version of TY would likely crush Clem, the online-version of TY has been noticeably anemic—especially in DreamHack Masters tournaments. TY has played in all three DH Season Finals, and all three times he lost in the first round of the playoffs. The story has been largely the same in non-DH events as well, with King of Battles being the only notable exception.
It's worth considering that there aren't any distractions for TY ahead of DH: Last Chance—there are no GSL matches to cast, he's ended his brief dalliance in Brood War (for now), and he was pretty active in online tournaments all throughout the Christmas/New Year's break. However, given TY's overwhelming trend of poor performances in online tournaments, I'm skeptical that he'll play well—or even make it out of the group stage—in DH: Last Chance. Should Clem face TY, it could be a good opportunity to pad his vs-Korean-Terran stats.
Zest has been living out his last year of progaming before military service as an especially dangerous wild card, liable to miss the Code S playoffs but also capable of going all the way to the finals of IEM Katowice. He's also shown himself to be a rather creative player, popularizing the ubiquitous 'Adept printer,' mass Blink-DT use in PvT, and Void-Ray openers in PvZ. Being able to unbox an unfamiliar strategy could be quite the advantage in a major tournament (especially against players who never play on your server), but I imagine Zest will want to save any meta-changing tricks for IEM Katowice itself.
Zest is a player who grinds online cups regularly and thrives in such an environment—in fact, he comes into this group having won the final ESL Open cup of the season (which occured on the same calendar day in Korean time). Of course, we know that online cups are only a loose proxy for performance in larger events. All in all, Zest is in the opposite situation as TY—he should be able to bring his 'normal' level of play in DH: Last Chance. The only problem is, one can only guess as to what that normal level actually is.
Finally, there's RagnaroK, who doesn't seem to have much of a chance to advance when we're comparing resumes. Given Clem's record against far more accomplished Zergs, you'd expect him to stomp a mudhole in RagnaroK. While that may be the case, the uncertainty around Zest and TY means that RagnaroK might not be as big an underdog as you would think. Every Code S-tier player in Korea seems to have a puncher's chance against stronger opponents, and RagnaroK demonstrated that by defeating Dream and Cure in the DH: Last Chance qualifiers. Going back a bit further, RagnaroK also scored one of the biggest upsets of TSL6 when he cheesed out Trap in the first round. If RagnaroK runs into the 'right' versions of Zest and TY, or if he can pull out the right cheeses against Clem, then we might see him extend his underdog run to the playoffs
RagnaroK > TY
Clem > Zest
Clem > RagnaroK
Zest > TY
Zest > RagnaroK
Clem and Zest advance.