2021 GSL Code S Season 3by Wax
The final Code S Season of 2021 could also be the final Code S of Zest's career. Will Zest ride off into the sunset with his head held high, or will Trap, SpeCial, and Keen throw cold water on his farewell tour?
RO16 Group A: Trap, SpeCial, Zest, KeeNMonday, Aug 30 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Despite falling to Dark in the previous season's finals, Trap still enters Code S Season 3 as the #1 overall seed by virtue of having earned the most GSL points this year. His two Super Tournament titles contributed greatly to his point total—a rare case where his tier 2 success has benefited him in a tier 1 tournament.
The story for Trap should be very familiar to fans by now. He's the best Protoss player in the world, and could quite possibly be the best overall player in the world… ...if not for his tendency to implode in big moments. While it's arguable that his three Code S finals losses were 'normal' defeats against stronger opponents (losing twice to Dark and once to Rogue), the stark contrast between those failures and his tremendous tier 2 tournament success makes many fans suspect it's an issue of mentality.
While watching Trap in the later rounds of Code S can be a nerve-wracking experience, he shouldn't have much of a problem breezing through this round-of-sixteen group. Not only does he typically play well in this setting, but he used his #1 seed rights to draft two of the weaker Terrans in SpeCial and KeeN to the group. Trap really thrives in low-pressure matches against Terran players, bullying them in the early-mid game with his excellent micro. Some of his aggressive plays would be described as "high-risk, low-reward" if executed by other players, but Trap always seems to make them pay off for himself. Of course, Trap has solid macro play to go with this, but so does every Protoss player in PvT (seriously, I think I've written this about every single Protoss player).
While the unpredictability of PvP means there's a decent chance that Trap cedes the 1st place qualifying spot to Zest, it's almost unthinkable that he'd actually be eliminated in this group. No, the real challenges for Trap lay further down the playoff bracket, and deeper in the recesses of his head.
Clearly, Trap was not impressed by SpeCial's 3-2 victory over Armani in Code A, seeing how he snapped him up with the first pick of the group draft. That's the second season in a row that Trap has picked SpeCial as his first opponent (Trap was the #2 seed last season), and it's hard to find any fault with his decision making. Trap is 8-1 in matches against SpeCial in his career, and in terms of Aligulac.com rating difference, he's the opponent who gives him the second highest win chance (KeeN is the first).
If facing Trap as his first opponent wasn't bad enough, SpeCial made his situation even worse by taking Zest with his own pick. Just like his head-to-head record against Trap, SpeCial's record against Zest is dismal at 2-21 in matches. If we're to take the events of the group selections at face value, it seems that SpeCial "sold" his pick to whoever offered to buy him a free meal, and Zest's offer of a https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gopchang dinner (SpeCial's favorite Korean dish, apparently) was the winning bid. Was it really as simple as SpeCial making a deal with the (handsome) devil? Could it have been an attempt to make a 5D chess move that blew up in his face? In any case, with Trap and Zest in his group, all I can do is wish SpeCial good luck and bon appétit.
The outlook is similarly grim for KeeN, who was tagged early on by Trap as his 'swap' pick of the draft. It's probably a fate he expected, as this is his very first Code S appearance since returning from military service earlier this year. Exceptional cases like ByuN aside, players freshly returned from military service have typically been easy pickings for Code S regulars. While we've seen military-returnees like DongRaeGu and Armani eventually reach the Code S semifinals, it took them well over a year to shake off the rust and elevate their gameplay to that level.
KeeN optimists might have been intrigued by his interview after dispatching Ryung 3-0 in Code A, where he said that it didn't feel like his mechanics had slowed down after going to the military. That might point to a quick improvement timeline akin to Dream and ByuN, rather than the slower growth of DongRaeGu and Armani. Still, fans should temper their expectations for this season—even when KeeN was in his 'prime,' he rarely made it out of the Code S group stages, and it will be especially hard in his first Code S appearance after a long hiatus.
Rounding out the group is Zest, who will be participating in perhaps his last Code S tournament ever. Military conscription has haunted Zest for the entire year, and the uncertain nature of the exact date has caused much anxiety in his fans. Yet, Zest has handled his situation in a very professional manner, staying in good form and participating in as many tournaments as possible. When he suffered a stunning 0-3 loss to PartinG in last season's Code A, no one would have blamed him for winding down his progaming activities and focusing on personal time ahead of his military service. Instead, he seemed to redouble his online efforts, sometimes even playing in all three ESL Open Cups in a given week. The romantic in me wants to say it's the fervor of a player who wants to go out in a blaze of glory, akin to Classic at Blizzcon 2019. Of course, it could just be that he wants to bank as much money as he can while the opportunity is still there (perhaps a little bit of both).
Speaking of money, Zest may be one gobchang dinner poorer at present, but he stands a great chance of becoming $2,000 richer in the near future ($2,000 being the prize difference between the RO16 and RO8). In terms of Aligualc.com ratings, his PvT is ranked even higher than Trap at #2 in the world (PartinG being #1). If this is a great group for Trap, then the same should apply to Zest for similar reasons. I should point out that Zest is more vulnerable to early game all-ins than Trap, with both SpeCial and KeeN exploiting this weakness in past games (KeeN in the Season 2 GSL qualifiers, SpeCial way back in a 2020 Code S match). But even with that in mind, it's hard to imagine Zest getting eliminated in the group stages of his final Code S.
Trap > SpeCial
Zest > KeeN
Trap > Zest
SpeCial > KeeN
Zest > SpeCial
Trap and Zest to advance.