2021 GSL Super Tournament 1 - Day 1by Wax
As the 2020-21 ESL Pro Tour awaits its grand finale at IEM Katowice, Korea's Global StarCraft II League is ready to kick off its 2021 season. The first event on the calendar is Super Tournament 1, the first of three such competitions this year (increased from two in 2020). Though the competition will have no bearing on the seeding at IEM Katowice 2020, it will serve as an important final check-up on the top competitors from Korea—and one from Mexico.
Super Tournament 1 will run on an accelerated schedule compared to prior Super Tournaments, being played on consecutive days between January 27-30. While it has yet to be announced if Super Tournament 1 will award points toward the upcoming 2021-22 season of the ESL Pro Tour, a total prize pool of $25,600 has been confirmed.
All match days start at 08:00 GMT (+00:00). All matches are best-of-five, except the grand final which is best-of-seven.
- Jan 27: Round of 16 - First four matches
- Jan 28: Round of 16 - Last four matches
- Jan 29: Round of 8
- Jan 30: Semifinals and grand final
Day 1 Preview: Round of 16Start time: Wednesday, Jan 27 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
RO16 Match #1: Trap vs Dark
Due to an unexplained quirk of seeding, Super Tournament 1 begins with a grand finals caliber match between the two hottest players in StarCraft II. Dark comes in as the winner of 2020's last major event in TSL6, where he survived a historically difficult losers bracket gauntlet (defeating Rogue, Reynor, Maru, ByuN and ShoWTimE) before sweeping Serral in the finals. Opposite of Dark is Trap, the champion of 2021's first major event in DreamHack Masters: Last Chance—his dramatic comeback win over Serral in the grand finals should be fresh in fans' minds. That victory was the third in a sequence of year-end tournament wins for Trap, who had already thrust off his silver shackles by winning championships in Super Tournament 2 and NeXT Winter.
In that last tournament, Trap actually defeated Dark 3-2 in the finals (VOD), setting up a juicy backdrop for this rematch in the GSL. As expected from two players who are masters at every stage of PvZ, the NeXT finals featured a wide variety of strategies and approaches. Trap didn't recycle a single opener, going for Oracles, Dark Templar drops, 2-Stargate Voids, 4-Gate Glaive-Adept harass, and finally, a 6-Gate Glaive-Adept all-in to clinch the series. Dark, while playing a more reactive style due to the nature of the match-up, took a variety of mid-game approaches, be it going for a massive mid-game bust with his favored Roach-Ravager, taking on Void Rays with mass Corruptors, or going for the 'standard' Hydra-Lurker composition. I expect this upcoming match to deliver a similar variety pack of PvZ strategies, where we'll get to see all sorts of ways this match-up can play out at the championship level.
On paper, Trap might look like the heavy favorite to win this match, as he's on a five-match winning streak against Dark since October. However, I think that stat may overstate Trap's advantage. Over the period of that streak, Dark has put up an astounding 33-4 record against non-Trap Protosses, while Trap is a 'mere' 25-10 against non-Dark Zergs. Even if the two players' styles match up in a way that confers Trap an advantage, I still expect this series to be close.
Prediction: Trap 3 - 2 Dark
RO16 Match #2: INnoVation vs Solar
Is 'odd-year INnoVation' more than just a TL.net community meme, and an actual, undeniable reality of StarCraft II? Early returns in 2021 are inconclusive, as the Machine started off his year with a mixed showing at DreamHack: Last Chance. In the group stage, he defeated both Reynor and HeroMarine, but also gave up an upset to Bunny (who, to his credit, was playing fantastic StarCraft II on that day). INnoVation was then eliminated from the quarterfinals in a narrow 2-3 loss to TY. The glass-half-full interpretation of these results is that INnoVation took out one of the strongest TvZ players in the world, and then just barely lost to the absolute best TvT player. One could also throw cold water on INnoVation's performance by pointing out that Reynor is slumping hard in TvZ at the moment, and that TY never brings his A-game to online events. Super Tournament 1 will give us a better clue as to whether or not INnoVation is motivated to rebound from his good-but-not-great 2020, and if he'll be back in title contention at IEM Katowice 2021.
Solar is looking to recover from a much longer slump, as it's now been a full three years since he last saw the GSL Code S playoffs. Fortunately for Solar, 'weekender' style events such as the Super Tournament have given him a place to shine, as he's picked up several top-four finishes in such competitions (alas, silver has been his ceiling since 2017). Solar also put in a mixed performance at DreamHack: Last Chance, defeating Stats and Serral in the group stage before losing 2-3 to eventual champion Trap in the quarterfinals. One could be optimistic about Solar's victories against two of the absolute best players in the world, and his narrow defeat to another. Yet, ZvT is an entirely different beast from ZvZ or ZvP, and one could rightfully question Solar's chances of getting past INnoVation.
The head-to-head stats favor INnoVation, as he holds a 12-5 match advantage over Solar in the 2020-21 EPT Season. Their overall match-up stats points to INnoVation having the edge as well, with Solar recording a 34-29 match record against Terran (53.97% win-rate) in the latest balance patch, while INnoVation is 20-14 (58.82% win-rate) in the match-up (filtered against Korean opponents only, due to Solar's quantity of matches against weaker opponents in international competitions). A cursory glance at some of their recent clashes in the ITaX Trovo Series of showmatches ((1), (2)), suggests there's not much difference in skill between the two players, but I'm predicting INnoVation to pull ahead on the weightier stage of the GSL.
Prediction: INnoVation 3 - 2 Solar
RO16 Match #3: sOs vs ByuN
At first glance, this match looks like the first easy prediction of the RO16, with ByuN favored to take down sOs. After all, ByuN jumped right back into the title picture after returning from from his mandatory military service last August, winning the championship at ASUS ROG Online and coming in third place at TSL6. In contrast, sOs has fallen flat ever since he conjured up a last bit of magic at IEM Katowice 2020 (where he reached the top 8), failing to escape the first round of Code S in all three seasons of 2020.
However, a closer look suggests this match isn't quite so straight-forward. First, there's the pressing issue of ByuN's health. In his last two matches in the AfreecaTV studio—against Maru in Code S and Dark in the Super Tournament—he had to request mid-game pauses due to numbness/pain in his wrist. ByuN ended up losing those matches and being eliminated. While we can't say definitively that ByuN's wrist pain was the main reason for his losses, you can't deny that it affected his gameplay adversely.
We don't know the exact reason why ByuN can be such a marathon man online yet be so frail in the AfreecaTV studio. In a TSL6 interview, ByuN surmised it could be due to playing outside the comfort of his home setup, combined with the stress and pressure of playing on the GSL stage. In any case, ByuN may end up self-destructing again if he can't find a solution. SpeCial stacked his chairs at WCS events, HuK brought a pillow for support at MLG's, and Snute talked to the producers directly about lighting at BlizzCon—maybe ByuN should take a page out of the foreigner playbook and do whatever he can to make the AfreecaTV studio more accomodating.
Second, Aligulac.com is curiously forecasting this match slightly in favor of sOs, giving him a 50.32% chance to win. Statistical comparisons are hard to make between a hardcore online grinder like ByuN and someone who picks his spots like sOs, but their overall match-up stats place them close together. In the current balance patch, sOs is 9-6 in PvT matches for a 60% win-rate, while ByuN is 71-37 for a 65.74% win-rate. Small sample sizes, yay!
Finally, you have to consider the fact that this is f***ing sOs we're talking about. Even if his all-around mechanics have slipped and he's become awfully prone to making fatal micro mistakes, his mind is as devious as ever. His inventive, all-or-nothing strategies have the potential to turn any match into a crap shoot. When I add it all up, I have to go with sOs here. It may not feel clean in the end—whether it's due to ByuN's health or a filthy Protoss cheese—but I'm predicting that sOs will escape with the victory.
Prediction: sOs 3 - 2 ByuN
RO16 Match #4: DongRaeGu vs Dream
ByuN may be the first player to win a championship after returning from military service, but let's not forget the efforts of other 'returnees' who came before him. DongRaeGu made a shocking semifinal run in Code S Season 2 in 2020, defeating both TY and INnoVation along the way. Dream doesn't have a singular result to compare to DRG, but he's been a favorite among hardcore fans for his heroics in the Gold Series Team Championship where he helped Brave Star Gaming punch far above its weight. I'm holding out hope that these two have not yet peaked in their post-military careers, and greater things await them in 2021.
While it's hard to generalize across different factions and playstyles, I think DRG and Dream (also Armani) share one key strength. When they're allowed to set themselves up the way they want, when they're allowed to play 'their game,' their macro games are as good as anyone else in the GSL. Under the right circumstances, 2012 DRG will emerge from the shadows, overwhelming his opponent on every front with Muta-Ling-Bane. On the right day, you might confuse Dream for Maru, sending endless streams of bio to pull apart a Zerg by attacking wherever the defenses are weakest. The problem is, they get derailed off their games much more easily than the Code S elites (the mine-drop horror show of DRG vs TY is a glaring example), and they have a harder time grabbing those 'free' wins with a well-prepared cheese. Well, those are concerns for another day—for now, they face each other.
The head-to-head score favors DongRaeGu, as he's 7-4 in matches against Dream in the 2020-21 season and has won their last four meetings. The overall match-up stats also favor DongRaeGu, who holds a 38-20 ZvT match record (65.52% win-rate) in the current patch, while Dream is 36-28 (56.25% win-rate) in the same period. Interestingly enough, Aligulac.com's formula says Dream is a slight favorite—likely due to a heavier weight on more recent results where Dream has been outperforming DRG. With neither player distinguishing themselves in any recent major events, I'll go along with Aligulac.com's cold hard math and pick Dream to win in a close series.
Prediction: Dream 3 - 2 DongRaeGu