2021 GSL Code S Season 2 - Semifinals Day 2by Wax
Two former Global Champions collide in the second semifinal match, though there's a huge gap in when they last stood on top of the world. PartinG won the inaugural Battle.net World Championship in 2012, while Dark won the last World Championship Series Global Finals back in 2019. Whatever the difference, they've both rounded back into championship form in July of 2021, and are one step away from reaching the Code S grand finals.
Semifinal Match #2: Dark vs PartinGStart time: Wednesday, Jul 21 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
It's undeniable that Dark and PartinG are historically great players, but at present, both could use a championship to remind everyone what they're about. Dark has made precious little progress on achieving his goal of ten career championships since winning BlizzCon 2019, adding only a TeamLiquid Starleague 6 title in late 2020 (bringing his total to five majors). One might even dare use the L-word to describe Dark's run in that tournament, as he defeated Rogue, Reynor, ShoWTimE, Maru, ByuN, and Serral on his way to the championship. That legendary performance is what has inoculated Dark against criticism through a rather lackluster 2021 where a top six run in TSL7 was his best finish—with a little booster shot from his 4-1 over Clem in TSL.
Despite an awful GSL 2021 campaign where Dark suffered two RO16 eliminations in the Super Tournament and group stage elimination in Code S Season 1, fans didn't seem to lose much faith in him going into Season 2. And, ultimately, they were right to trust in their hero, as Dark advanced in first place from his RO16 group and took out last season's champion Rogue in the quarterfinals. Along the same lines, fans didn't seem all that surprised with Dark's victory either—he was just a great player, doing great player things. Not that Dark needs external affirmation to be confident, but he seemed to think his second Code S title was already half in the bag after defeating Rogue, touting him as the biggest obstacle toward winning a championship.
Meanwhile, PartinG's quest for respect seems much more urgent and personal. If we're going by the "Tier 1/2" rubric that Trap has brought back to the forefront in the Korean scene, then PartinG hasn't won a Tier 1 championship since the Battle.net World Championship in 2012. I recently read a post on a community site asking if PartinG was really a legend—I initially scoffed at the ridiculous question, but then reconsidered from the perspective of a newer fan. After returning to SC2 in 2018, the best result PartinG has ever gotten in a major tournament is top four, and he's dropped out of the Code S group stages on multiple occasions. Someone who started watching in LotV would be justified in thinking of PartinG as more of an entertainer than competitor.
PartinG definitely takes this kind of disrespect to heart—who else calls out individual TL.net forum users who predicted him to lose? Perhaps he's trying to manufacture slights to motivate himself—a hallmark of great competitors across sports—but real insecurity may lay underneath. In any case, it's given us the best version of PartinG since IEM Katowice 2021, and he claims to be practicing upwards of fifty, sixty games a day. How paradoxical—is the best way for PartinG fans to support the Big Boy to keep doubting him?
While PartinG has certainly silenced some of his critics with his return to the Code S semifinals, I personally think his rapid surge in form is best encapsulated by his three consecutive wins against Zest. It used to be a relationship where PartinG was the punching bag, but he's turned it around completely. That's the kind of rapid payoff that makes you truly believe that PartinG can go from Code A roadkill to Code S champion in the span of four months—IF he can sustain this intense training.
Head-to-head and PredictionsEver since PartinG came back to StarCraft II in 2018, his match-ups versus Dark have been some of the nastiest, dirtiest, and least honorable in all of StarCraft II. You may ask "isn't that just a normal PartinG match?" To which I respond, yes, but also no. PartinG certainly brings all the cannon rushes, proxies, and other cheeses you'd expect, but he also inspires Dark to be even more aggressive than usual. I'm not using any data to support this, but it feels like Dark's mentality against PartinG is 'well f*** you too,' causing him to go for an extra proxy-Hatchery rush where he might normally not. It's kind of like Rex vs. Has (if you know, you know), but upgraded several levels.
The all-time match record favors Dark at 7-4, with Dark currently on a four match winning streak. However, two of those wins came in ESL Open Cups, which aren't always indicative of how players will perform in major tournaments—just look at Cure. I think their most recent offline match from Code A Season 1 is much more telling, where Dark narrowly won by a 3-2 scoreline. PartinG took his two maps with his signature cannon rushes, navigating his way to victory by using his superior experience and decision-making in cannon rush-specific situations. However, PartinG's attempts to play mind-games off Stargate openers didn't go nearly as well, as Dark was largely unfazed by fast Carriers, a Void Ray-Adept timing, and regular Glaive Adepts. Ultimately, cannon rushes seemed to be the only thing to shake Dark, and he was able to play out a regular macro game in all other scenarios.
Oddly enough, this might bode well for PartinG. While it may seem like excuse-making, PartinG himself admitted that he hadn't prepared well enough for that Code A match—but he still made things very uncomfortable for Dark. Now, imagine what this new and improved PartinG with hundreds of games of practice could do to Dark, by mixing in other deadly builds with his signature cannon rushes. The classic "soul train" all-in is a thing of the past, but PartinG is capable of empowering any number of ground-based all-ins with his precise micro. Also, when PartinG's force-field micro is at 100%, there's no better wielder of the Stalker-Colossus mid-game composition.
Or, going by his games against Solar in the RO16, more practice for PartinG might just mean more cannon rushes, executed even better—but what's wrong with that? Until Dark can prove he can reliably stop PartinG's cheeses, the best approach may be to keep cramming them down his throat. I actually think it would be counterproductive if PartinG's practice somehow made him a little too confident in his standard play, taking away from his complete mastery of early game cheese.
One has to wonder how Dark will prepare for the myriad underhanded tactics PartinG is sure to bring. Against Protosses who favor standard play, Dark often has the advantage because of his unpredictability with various mid-game busts and Nydus builds. Against PartinG, it's much harder for Dark to get into such attacks, because he's usually the one being hit first by the Protoss.
While the match-ups are different, I find Dark's prior duel with Rogue to be instructive here—he really valued taking the initiative and setting the tone/mind-games for the series. Whether that means going for proxy-Hatchery rushes as in previous matches against PartinG or something other all-in, I don't think Dark is going to take a passive approach to start things off.
Aligulac.com's prediction gives Dark a 57.89% chance to win, while Liquibet users are favoring Dark at a 2 to 1 rate at the time of writing. Gambling odds fall along the same lines as Aligulac, giving Dark around a 60% chance of victory. Personally, I think this series is much closer to a coin toss, given both players' history of playing high-variance early-game cheeses against each other. Progamers always say the first map is very important in any BO5+, but I feel that will be especially true here. Whoever gets inside their opponent's head first with their early-game gambits should be able to roll to a one-sided victory.
Ultimately, I'm giving Dark the edge due to experience and mentality. The last time PartinG was in this situation, he lost his cool against TY and committed some uncharacteristic errors. Even against Zoun in the last round, PartinG's execution didn't seem absolutely pristine, as if nerves were getting to him again. In contrast, Dark has proved that he's one of the most composed and confident players in the game, and I think that will carry him through to the finals.
Also, a message to PartinG if he happens to win: you're welcome.
Prediction: Dark 4 - 1 PartinG