DreamHack Masters Summer: Season Finalsby Wax
Halfway through the year, we've finally arrived at the first Season Finals of the 2021/22 ESL Pro Tour. Once again, the top SC2 competitors from all around the world have been gathered for a competition of the highest caliber, deciding which player—and which region—will reign supreme.
Group A Preview: Trap, Scarlett, Dream, LamboStart time: Thursday, Jul 01 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Trap enters the tournament at an all-time high, having recently won TeamLiquid Starleague 7 to clinch his sixth "Tier 2" championship since December of 2020. Such terminology used to be confined to the Korean SC2 community—a callback to the mid 2010's WCS system where events with around $10k in first place prize money were classified as Tier 2—but now even official GSL interviews are using such language. It's a sign of how Trap's dual nature has become his defining attribute: In the same period where he won six Tier 2 events, he also suffered two high-profile collapses in "Tier"1 competitions—IEM Katowice and Code S Season 1.
But that's a story for another day and another tournament. The DreamHack Masters Summer Finals falls squarely into that Tier 2 zone, setting the stage for Trap to display his awe-inspiring, all-around mastery of Protoss. Of course, no one can be considered a prohibitive favorite to win in this era of parity, but Trap's resume leaves me with no choice but to declare that he leads the pack of title contenders.
Scarlett comes in as the low seed of the group, the unfortunate lot the second place player from the North American region. As per usual when Scarlett makes it into a major international event, we have to scratch our heads and ask "how good is Scarlett, really?" In the pandemic-era, Scarlett hasn't advanced a single round in major international competitions, which tempts you to paint her as a strictly regional powerhouse. However, she put in a surprisingly spirited showing at Fall Season Finals in 2020, coming within a single map of beating INnoVation and reaching the playoffs.
There's not much in Scarlett's recent DHM or WTL games to suggest she's that different from the player we've always known and loved (or hated, depending on your feelings about HotS-era Zerg): she's quick on the draw with a Roach-Ravager all-in, weirdly fond of Swarm Hosts, and won't hesitate to play a ridiculously long turtle game. While Scarlett has a brutal first match against Trap, she might benefit from the upset-friendly nature of best-of-three's.
Dream, our second player from the GSL, is a Terran at a potentially scary turning point. Last season, he became the third military returnee to make a run to the Code S semifinals. After losing in the RO16 of the current season, one has to wonder if he's also the third fluke.
The signs aren't great for Dream so far. Not only was he eliminated from Code S, but he was also eliminated in the RO8 of Super Tournament 2 before that. After being a standout player in previous SCBOY team leagues, he's been eclipsed by better teams with more star players in the latest World Team League. Also, he was only ranked #20 by Aligulac.com at the time of writing—even Aligulac skeptics have to admit that it's an abnormally low rank for a Code S semifinalist.
Still, those are too few results to draw any hasty conclusions from, and Dream may yet show us the series planning ability that saw him take Rogue to seven games in the Code S semis. Whether it's two-base timings or two-Barracks proxies, Dream's Zerg opponents will need to be very wary of his tactics.
Rounding out the group isLambo, the surprise #3 seed from Europe. Lambo won this honor by defeating both HeroMarine and Serral in the DHM Europe regionals, reaffirming his place as a top European player. Fans of the World Team League saw glimpses of Lambo's heightened abilities even earlier, as it was actually the guileful German that led Shopify Rebellion to the playoffs, not star player ByuN.
Lambo hasn't had a chance to play in a major international since December's TSL6 (his run of brutal qualifier losses was the reason for that), but his play in the WTL suggests he might be able to surprise us in the Season Finals. His most impressive performance came against Afreeca Freecs, when he went 1-1 against Trap and then won the ace match against Stats. If Lambo can play at that level again, then Trap taking first place might not be a foregone conclusion.
Prediction: While Trap is the favorite to take first place, it's extremely hard to guess who will take second place. Dream, Lambo, and Scarlett are all adept at strategizing for specific opponents, and more than willing to pull out an all-in at a pivotal moment. I, for one, am a believer in the machine-God Aligulac and its divine formulas, and am more than willing to defer to its prophecies when I'm stumped.
Trap > Scarlett
Dream > Lambo
Trap > Dream
Lambo > Scarlett
Dream > Lambo
Trap and Dream to advance
Group B Preview: Maru, Probe, Reynor , ZestStart time: Thursday, Jul 01 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
There's no such thing as a good seed for the players from the smaller regions, but Probe's group draw is especially sadistic. Group B could be called the group of death just based on three of its players, which puts Probe in an unenviable spot indeed. While Probe did win his region in quite dominant fashion by going a combined 14-3 in maps, and could very well have complicated the proceedings in a different group, landing in Group B seems to have already sealed his fate.
Just by staying put, it appears that Maru has reclaimed his spot as the consensus best Terran in the world. It felt like he was being challenged by Clem for a moment, but the young Terran's losses in TSL7 and NeXT Season 1—including a 0-3 walloping against Maru in the latter—drew scrutiny to his weaknesses in TvT and TvP. While Maru is a far cry from his indomitable 2018 form—he even lost to his personal punching bag Solar in NeXT Season 1—he's still been Terran's most consistent, championship-caliber performer across various competitions. Maru has reached the podium several times in the past year, notably achieving two second place finishes in Code S, placing top four at IEM Katowice, and winning October's King of Battles. Overall, Maru is one of many worthy championship contenders, and it would hardly be surprising if he won it all, nor would it be an indictment of his skills if he dropped out in the group stage.
The second match gives us a long-delayed rematch from the IEM Katowice 2021 finals as Zest and Reynor collide once more. This match should be quite different from their previous battle, as it's been nearly a year since Zest popularized mass Void Ray openings in PvZ. Both factions have developed multiple mind-games around that central strategy, with Queen-walks, fake-Queen-walks, fake Void Rays, and myriad other options being put on the table for both Zerg and Protoss.
Though Reynor placed runner-up in TSL7, the tournament was a good reminder of his world champion skills. Besides his personal struggles against Clem, it's hard to think of any player Reynor isn't 50/50 against at worst. His matches vs Trap were extremely close, and one has to sympathize with Reynor's view that he threw away the championship. After seeing Reynor come within a map of winning TSL7 just a few days ago, you have to think of him as the second most likely player to win the Season Finals, just a smidge behind Trap.
As for Zest, the clock continues to tick on one of the absolute legends of the game, with his military enlistment date looming as a mystery. Unlike other players whose time was numbered, Zest hasn't taken his foot off the gas. Instead, he's playing in as many tournaments as possible, often playing all three ESL Open Cups. His peak skill level seems to be as high as ever—his run to the IEM Katowice finals being the best example. However, he's also become rather inconsistent, with his precision and micro being the most noticeably shaky parts of his game. Because of this, he's prone to playing some rather… odd games, though he doesn't necessarily always lose them.
Predictions: Maru, Reynor, and Zest are barely separable when they're playing at 100% of their abilities. However, Zest isn't quite as consistent as the other two players—he's the only one who looks straight up bad when things aren't clicking. I'm going to go with Maru and Reynor to advance here, while fully acknowledging the possibility that Zests dumpsters these predictions and advances in first place.
Maru > Probe
Reynor > Zest
Reynor > Maru
Zest > Probe
Maru > Zest
Reynor and Maru to advance.