2021 GSL Code A Season 3 - Day 1by Wax
The GSL is back for its final season of the year, sporting a stylish Art Deco theme. The message AfreecaTV is sending with this imagery seems pretty clear: "If you don't tune into GSL Season 3, we'll send Zest to collect your kneecaps." With that in mind, let's preview the first night of Code A matches.
Zest vs ClassicStart time: Monday, Aug 16 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Protoss fans have got to feel extremely conflicted headed into this match. Do they want to witness a passing of the torch moment, where Zest entrusts the honor of Protoss to the returned Classic before heading off to fulfill his own military service? Or, do they want to see Zest get one more shot at going out in a blaze of glory?
As of now, the latter scenario seems much more likely. Classic has only played a single broadcasted PvP since his return from military service in August: a 1-3 loss against herO in an Alpha X showmatch. I don't want to overanalyze a single best-of-five, but Classic did look a bit rusty in terms of micro or reaction speed. And how could he not be? He returned from the military on August 1st, which means he's been a full-time pro for less than a month. Unsurprisingly, his GSL qualifying run wasn't exactly the hardest, only needing to beat Cham and Percival to earn a Code A spot. Furthermore, in the limited games since his return, Classic has yet to defeat a Code S regular. While we're all understandably happy to see the four-time champion return to StarCraft II, we should probably temper expectations for the time being.
On the other hand, Zest remains Zest; admirably focused and in-form despite not knowing when a surprise conscription letter will arrive on his doorstep. Even his shocking 0-3 loss to PartinG in the previous Code A tournament couldn't crack his resolve—since that loss, he's redoubled his efforts in the online scene, putting up an impressive 94-27 match record for a 77.69% win-rate (35-10 in PvP) across variety of tournaments. Granted, that record is inflated due to matches against weaker international players—Zest will play in ANY cup, after all. But it just goes to show that while Classic is gradually playing his way back into shape, Zest is a finely tuned StarCraft machine that's running at 100% power.
Still, for the sake of keeping things interesting, I'll mention a few upset factors. First, Zest has given up a couple of losses he's not 'supposed' to in the past few months, dropping series to the likes of herO and NightMare—the latter of whom actually defeated Zest in this season's GSL qualifier. Second, we HAVE to respect Classic's ability to strategize and prepare for a GSL series, no matter how rusty he might be. The man walked off into the sunset with one of the most audacious and creative builds we've ever seen, and he might just reintroduce himself in the same way. The romantic in me certainly hopes that will happen, but for the sake of this prediction, realistic thinking prevails.
Prediction: Zest 3 - 1 Classic
Dream vs CreatorUp next is a match between two players who endured painful defeats in GSL Season 2, and should be looking to redeem themselves in the final GSL season of the year. Dream suffered the rare group stage reverse-sweep in Code S Season 2, going 3-0 before losing four straight games on his way to elimination. As for Creator, he didn't even make it into Code S at all, narrowly losing 2-3 to SpeCial down in Code A.
The stakes are especially dire for Creator this season, as he's at risk of going an entire year without a Code S appearance—the last time that happened was in 2014. Yet, one has to worry that this worst-case scenario will come to pass. Despite putting up a solid PvT record of 8-3 in matches (8-9 in maps) since his Code A loss, many of those victories came against non-GSL players in online cups. Creator got his revenge against SpeCial twice in cup competition, but he couldn't overcome ByuN or Cure. In terms of the Aligulac.com PvT rankings, Creator stands at 12th place, sandwiched between Astrea and SKillous.
Still, going by the 'eye-test,' there's some reason to be optimistic about Creator. His recent ESL Open Cup losses to Cure were closer than the scorelines suggest, with Creator looking strong in macro games where he was able to establish his economy and infrastructure. If only he could clean up some of his micro mistakes and be more consistent on early-game defense... ...then again, it feels like I've been saying that about Creator forever, but little ever changes.
As for Dream, he went mostly dark after his last major competition in the DHM Summer Finals, barely playing tournament games until the latest GSL qualifiers. He did happen to go 5-0 against Protoss players in this season's GSL qualifier, but given that it was against players like Puzzle, Classic, and Gyulzzing, it's more of a footnote than a major signifier of his PvT form. What I find more interesting is Dream's PvT track record in premier events—he's largely avoided the match-up in 2021, and is a poor 1-4 in said matches. For the most part, his 2021 success has been built upon TvT and TvZ (which have been excellent, to be fair). If one was to make the case for Creator, much of it would stand on this relative weakness of Dream's.
Aligulac.com gives Dream a 63.47% chance to win, which fits my estimation of Dream as a light favorite. I think the series will hinge largely on how clean Creator's execution is on his early game gambits, be it 4-Gate Blink, proxy Void Rays, or mass Phoenixes. If he executes his openers well—or simply gets free-wins due to build-order rock/paper/scissors—Creator should be able to overpower Dream in subsequent macro games. Alas, given Creator's history, I think it's more likely that he will commit a tragic error or three in the early game, costing him the series.
Prediction: Dream 3 - 2 Creator
Armani vs SpeCialThe final match of the night is between two old roommates in Armani and SpeCial.
Armani comes in off of a disappointing run in GSL Season 2, where he was quickly eliminated after going 0-3 against Dark in his Code A match. It was a rather cruel draw for Armani, who had earned four straight Code S appearances prior to that—including a semifinal run in Season 3 of 2020. Though Armani did get somewhat lucky to reach such lofty heights, he had at least earned his place as a Code S regular.
It's hard to tell what sort of shape Armani is in as he seeks to regain his station. Unlike the aforementioned Zest, Armani has only made sparse appearances in online competitions since then, ramping his activities back up ahead of the new GSL Season. Still, he took care of business in the qualifiers, defeating GuMiho, Leenock, and sOs, while only losing 0-2 to Rogue. The qualifying match against sOs was streamed by Alpha X, and generally reaffirmed my opinion of Armani: A macro-oriented Zerg who can be rough around the edges, but makes up for it with solid game sense.
As for SpeCial, he did manage to make it into Code S last season after defeating Creator, but dropped out of the group stages without a win after a series of tough matches against Trap and Solar. Given the caliber of those two players, it's not really a mark against SpeCial as he heads into a match against Armani. Since that elimination, SpeCial has put up a strong 10-4 record in TvZ matches, though, again, it's hard to know what to make of that result given the strength of his mostly international opposition. Perhaps the most interesting match to note was a 1-3 loss to Solar in the Alpha X Brawler's Club, which reminded us that SpeCial's bag of builds (and affinity for mech) is very deep, even in an exhibition.
Aligulac.com's formula gives Armani a slight edge with a 54.78% chance to win, while Liquibet user predictions were almost dead even at at the time of writing. For two players who have mostly been Code S first rounders for the last year, and haven't played much meaningful TvZ as of late, a toss-up seems like a pretty fair assessment. I suspect SpeCial's use of mech will be pivotal here, whether it leads to victory or downfall. He's been prone to getting busted early when playing the mech-card in Code S, but it occasionally vexes opponents who aren't quite used to playing against the unorthodox style. But with mech enjoying a minor resurgence lately in all match-ups, one has to wonder if SpeCial's double-edged sword will be blunted for this match. While I expect this match to be close, I'm going to go with Aligulac here and give Armani the narrowest of edges.
Prediction: Armani 3 - 2 SpeCial