2021 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 16by Wax
The round of 16 comes to a close with Group D, where three championship-winning Protoss players are joined by an unlikely underdog in Armani. It's a warped mirror image of Group B, where sole Zerg Solar had to go up against three far more well-regarded Terrans. The streamlined practice may not have availed Solar then, but perhaps Armani will show us what three weeks of his finely honed ZvP can do.
Group D: Trap, Armani, sOs, ZestStart time: Thursday, Apr 15 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Any talk about Trap has to start with addressing the elephant in the room: what the hell happened to him at IEM Katowice 2021? Headed into the tournament, he was the most-hyped player on the planet, having won three major titles in a row. But when it came time to play at the world championship, the weak-hearted choker of the past re-emerged. Trap was humiliated in the group stages, getting eliminated after finishing behind players like HeroMarine and Astrea.
This... this is a concern. Trap himself admitted in past interviews that his championship at DH: Last Chance wasn't quite as meaningful as if he had won a bigger tournament like GSL or IEM Katowice. You have to wonder: did he only manage that three tournament winning streak because the pressure was off? Because those tournaments—two Super Tournaments and DH: Last Chance—were merely 'tier 2' tournaments? If that's the case, then it means Trap still has significant mental barriers to overcome. Sure, there's a chance his IEM collapse was just the product of crazy variance, the kind that we've come to expect in competitive StarCraft II. But even then, Trap will be the subject of much doubt should he reach the Code S finals again.
Still, Trap's growth and accomplishments over the last two years suggest that the Code S RO16 should hardly be an issue for him anymore. Prior to IEM Katowice 2021, Trap was clearly the best Protoss player in the world—not just a jack-of-all-trades but an ace in every department. Whether it was all-ins or late-game play, macro or micro, you could hardly find fault in anything he did. If Trap is to rehabilitate his reputation and prove that he's not just a paper tiger, then dominating his opponents in Group D will be an important first step.
At least he has an easy initial opponent on paper—or does he? Trap snapped up Armani with the second pick of the group selections, seemingly unimpressed with Armani's unbelievable, titan-slaying qualifier run. Code S qualification this season was more complicated than usual—basically, the qualifier was divided into two segments. On the first day of the qualifiers, four direct Code S seeds were handed out to the best players on the day, while everyone else who qualified were forced to go through the rigors of Code A. Obviously, you'd expect the four players to win those direct Code S spots to be the cream of the crop. And that was the case, for the most part. Rogue: Obviously. INnoVation: Sure. Solar: Not a huge surprise if he was playing at his highest level. Armani: WHAT?
Indeed, Armani managed to claim one of those precious direct seeds, defeating Dark (twice!) and Maru in order to do so. Alas, we don't have much info on what the hell happened. Little could be gleaned from the banter of the group selections, with the precise events of the qualifiers left unmentioned. But the fact that Trap snapped up Armani suggests he is NOT a believer. That's not to say that Armani is a poor player—he's become a solid member of the GSL middle-class, even making a one surprise semi-final run in 2020. But, as his #16 standing in the Aligulac.com Korea rankings suggests, he's not a player who you expect championship contenders like Trap to sweat. While I'll agree with Trap's implicit appraisal of Armani for now, I'd love for Armani to show us what let him score those massive upsets in the qualifiers.
Speaking of mysterious players, the third contestant in Group D is none other than sOs. Now, there's a contingent of readers on TL.net who are convinced that the legendary sOs has been washed for years, and is just living on his reputation from a bygone era. There's some merit to that viewpoint, considering that this season marks his first return to the Code S RO16 in around two years. Yet, has sOs made enough 'random' deep runs in major tournaments during that time to suggest that he's still got a lot of fight left in him. Furthermore, various video vignettes often reveal that sOs' fellow progamers are quite averse to playing against his unpredictable style. At the very least, the draft order shows he's still more respected—or at least more loathed—than the likes of Zoun and Hurricane.
The fourth and final contestant in the group is Zest. There's an ill omen for fans of the veteran Protoss: among the class of players consigned to mandatory military service this year, both TY and Stats have already been eliminated from their final Code S season (it's not 100% certain with Stats, but it seems likely). Going out on top is certainly an attractive concept, but when you look across the history of sports, clinging on until you flame out is more of the norm. Even Zest himself has given clues toward this kind of anticlimactic finale, mentioning his reduced practice during the group selections.
Still, there's more than ample reason to have a positive outlook for Zest headed into this group. He has the best recent major tourney result of any GSL player: a second place finish at IEM Katowice 2021. While his micro, macro, and multi-tasking vexxed viewers at times, there was nothing confusing about his ability to put wins on the board. Sure, warping in 12 Zealots when your opponent doesn't expect it is a bronze-tier tactic—but getting it to work against the best progamers in the world is why Zest is SC2's galaxy brain.
Prediction: Unless Armani can reinvoke his mojo from the semifinals,this group will probably come down to PvP ability. In that regard, Zest and Trap have a significant advantage. Though PvP still deserves its reputation as an unpredictable match-up where anyone could win, there's still plenty of skill separation at the top level. Over the course of the 2020/21 EPT Season, both Zest and Trap recorded over 70% match win-rates in PvP, while sOs only recorded a 57% winrate in that same period.
That said, there are some interesting head-to-head quirks to consider. Trap is 7-0 against sOs since 2020. In that same time frame, sOs is 1-0 against Zest, having swept him in their meeting in December's Super Tournament. As for Trap and Zest, it's close to a wash, with Trap leading 11-9 in series.
What does all that mean? Ehhh, who knows.
Trap > Armani
Zest > sOs
Trap > Zest
sOs > Armani
sOs > Zest
Trap and sOs to advance.