IEM Katowice 2021 - A Totally Unbiased Trap Previewby GGemini19
“Trap has shown the world that he is ready for our recognition. Now let’s pay attention.”
This is what I left you all with when I last wrote about Trap ahead of a tournament. It was June of 2019, and Trap had reached his first ever GSL Code S finals after years of trying to break through a mental barrier. In every GSL season from 2017 through 2018, Trap hadn't made it past the round of 16. Nothing ever went his way, and he would somehow find himself losing against players he was fully capable of beating in any other setting. One time, during the depths of his despair, Trap took almost four whole minutes to wrestle with his thoughts before a RO16 decider match against Leenock, only to get cheesed out and denied a playoff spot for the sixth season in a row.
In 2019, it seemed as if Trap had finally made a breakthrough, escaping the RO16 and advancing to the bracket stage of Code S. However, an ounce of progress brought a mountain of new challenges. That final I wrote ahead of—Trap lost 2-4 to Dark in rather depressing fashion. Trap very easily could have spiraled back into mediocrity and never contended for a trophy again. Instead, Trap swallowed his disappointment and continued to grind away. Several subsequent playoff and finals runs in 2019 and 2020 showed that Trap had broken through his initial mental wall, proving he was indeed worthy of our recognition. And yet, another wall was waiting further down the tunnel, more daunting and impenetrable than the last.
That wall was the one blocking Trap from the title of “champion.” Trap had won a trophy at MLG Anaheim in 2014, but much like soO's KeSPA Cup, it had been become largely disregarded in service of a larger narrative. Trap, in the eyes of the community, was a finals loser until he proved otherwise.
After losing to Dark in 2019, it took Trap over a year and several more playoff failures before he finally tore down that next wall. In the grand finals of 2020's GSL Super Tournament 2, Trap emerged victorious after winning a tense, seven-game finals against Stats. Having seen Trap come short so many times in the past, watching Trap close out the deciding game seven was emotional, to say the least. He gave us a beaming smile, but it had a certain level of composure behind it. He had won a championship before, after all. And in that moment, you could see how much it meant to Trap to finally show that his MLG win years ago wasn’t just a fluke. Finally being able to lift that trophy was the culmination of six years of hard work, grinding his way up to become the best Protoss player in the world.
Unlike Trap's previous breakthrough, success has begotten even more success. After winning Super Tournament 2, Trap won two more trophies in the following weeks, winning DreamHack: Last Chance and 2021's first Super Tournament. After searching for glory for so long, Trap had found it in droves.
Just like in a game of StarCraft II, Trap's timing couldn't be any more perfect. He's pulling the kind of move we saw from Rogue in 2017, getting hot in the months immediately leading up to BlizzCon. Coincidentally, the Super Tournament was the last event Rogue won before becoming the WCS Global Champion. Now, Trap is in a prime position to ride his current momentum to a fourth premier title in a row—this one being significantly more grandiose than the previous three. Despite Trap's success, some would argue that Trap has only won what the Korean community calls “tier 2” premier events. Super Tournaments have never held the same prestige as full seasons of Code S. DreamHack Masters events have lower prize money compared to previous tournaments like GSL vs. The World. And while Trap has beat the likes of INnoVation, Serral, and Stats—hardly “tier 2” competition—it seems as if there's still one more wall Trap must break through: winning a true world championship caliber event.
Luckily for Trap, he's chipped away at and torn down all of the walls in his career so far. And in each of his first place tournament wins, he found a way to overcome immense in-game challenges as well. Let’s go back to game four in the Super Tournament 2 finals. Trap was up 3-0 in the series, and the light was shining brightly through the cracks. All he had to do was launch one final attack and he'd find himself on the other side of that barrier. With all the confidence in the world, Trap jumped on Stats' forces. “This is it! The last rock that I’ll pull away into the clearing,” he must have been saying to himself. Instead, he found himself instantly enveloped by the darkness once more, from which Stats’ Stalkers sprang forward to snipe his Warp Prism. A massive wave of Zealots flanked Trap's army from behind, routing them all the way back across the map and forcing a GG.
Trap's first trophy, the light shining behind the broken wall, had evaded him. And it did so for three more games, with a dominating 3-0 lead turning into a 3-3 tie. It was happening again. All of the sudden, Trap was on the verge of defeat, the verge of having the trophy snatched away from him in front of his very eyes. This time, however, things ended differently. Despite having taken a debilitating gut punch, despite accidentally building a 2nd forge in game seven (and not using it) while both players were doing the same build, despite all the swirling doubt in his head that must have been trying to take control, Trap was able to keep his composure, control his emotions, and punch through the last stone holding up the wall and emerge on the other side. For the first time in six years, he was a champion.
As satisfying and motivating as that win must have felt, the story wouldn’t end there. Trap was looking to cross yet another name off of his hit list. In eight previous matches, Trap had never defeated Serral. The Finnish Zerg had even dealt Trap one of his finals defeats, defeating him 4-2 in the prior DreamHack Summer finals. Not surprisingly, the rematch during Dreamhack: Last Chance finals couldn’t have looked more hopeless in the first half of the series. Trap quickly went down 1-3, only taking a map due to a strange build order choice from Serral. It seemed like the bliss of the Super Tournament would give way to cold reality, with Trap once again being reminded of his station in the StarCraft 2 world. Serral was simply too strong and too solid, and Trap would forever be a lesser player than him.
Yet, suddenly, the cards started to fall into his favor. He outlasted the Hydra-Bane onslaught on Deathaura. He expertly blocked a 12 pool on Submarine. Then in game seven, he saw the same Hydra-Bane strategy being used, and the light started to shine at the end of the tunnel once again. Trap managed to come back from a situation that almost no other player had, swinging the momentum fully back against Serral and closing out the series. It was the first time Trap has bested the Finnish Zerg in a series, and he had done it in a grand finals. The Super Tournament hadn't been a fluke, and all of the glory Trap was basking in was very real.
Another opportunity arose a mere ten days later in the form of another GSL Super Tournament. This time though, Trap entered as the clear favorite, a position that he’d never had the honor of holding. How would he compose himself going into a tournament with all the hype and wind in his sails? Would he get caught up in the attention and go flying off the rails, or would he handle his new situation with grace and calmly win another championship? At first, it seemed like the latter would be the case, as he took a rather strong 3-1 victory against Dark to begin the tournament. However, the quarterfinals would prove to be more difficult than Trap envisioned, as he started his series against INnoVation by going down 1-2. Both of his losses looked incredibly uninspiring, it seemed like he was being blown off course once again. However, just like before, Trap righted the ship and took an impressive win on Lightshade before snowballing the entire series with an absolute blowout in game five on Submarine. He then moved on from that victory to dispatch Dream in a rather simple 3-1 fashion, putting him in yet another finals, a mere seven weeks after ending a six-year dry spell.
His finals opponent this around it wouldn’t be against a lifelong rival, a previous champion, or a fellow chieftain of the Protoss faction. No, it was Zoun, a relative newcomer to the top-tier of the competitive scene, who was having the tournament of his career after quietly honing his skills over the past few months. For the first time ever, Trap entered a final as the clear favorite. He was supposed to win. And, despite some spirited challenges from Zoun, Trap's veteran experience and newfound confidence shined through as he took a relatively easy victory in six games. Trap was, without a doubt, the best Protoss in the world.
And now, here we are, with Trap set to play in the biggest tournament in SC2. Right now, Trap is experiencing in his own words, a “golden age”. But interestingly enough, IEM Katowice has been a tournament he's always played well in, even when he wasn't as successful. He actually reached the grand finals back in 2015, though he was still a young player who ended up being severely outclassed by a peak-form Zest. But even after that, Trap has found his way to the playoffs of multiple IEM Katowice tournaments, with fans using those results as evidence of his great potential. The fact that he's finally entering Katowice as one of the clear favorites for the title speaks volumes for how much he has grown during his career.
Trap's opening group for the Ro24 looks quite promising as well. HeroMarine should prove easy fodder for Trap's top class PvT. Trap has seen enough tricks from Astrea to be able to maneuver his way around the NA Protoss without much trouble. Reynor has been struggling against the Protoss favored meta in recent months, and Zest has shown potential weakness in PvP, losing to Zoun in the last Super Tournament. Dream has been very vocal about his dislike of TvP in interviews, and for sure, Trap is a very big reason for it. Nonetheless, Reynor and other top Zergs are rumored to be cooking up some new builds for Katowice, and Zest is once again heating up with impressive runs in smaller online events. With that said though, all signs still point to Trap easily making it out of his group.
The crazy thing is that I can't just block out my old anxiety that Trap will fall victim to his mental blocks when a situation starts to turn dire. Even I can't get totally used to the fact that Trap can seemingly pull himself out of any hole he finds himself in recently. Up 3-0 and then down 3-3 to win the finals vs Stats? No problem. Down 0-2 vs Solar in DH: LC to then win three straight games? Easy. Getting destroyed 3-1 by Serral and turning it right back on him to win 4-3? Piece of cake. Getting crushed by INnoVation crisp builds and execution but coming back to win 3-2 anyway? Just as he drew it up. Trap's opponents dread it, run from it, but his victories seem to arrive all the same. Whatever the Afreeca Freecs Protoss has done to fix his mentality has worked, as he’s consistently fought his way out of tight spots in every tournament he’s played in recently. It’s as if he’s discovered that the mental prison that once held him was never truly real, and he can simply reach out and grab the championship.
Nevertheless, IEM Katowice is a challenge unlike any other, and even the greatest of players have failed to reach their goals at this stage. Will Trap once again find himself hopelessly bashing his head up against a wall, or will the light of victory continue to shine upon him?
Also read: Europe's Big Three - Preview with Lambo - North & Latin America at IEM - Zest, the Meta Changer