2021 GSL Code S Season 3: Semifinals Match #1 Previewby Poopi
Match Time: Monday, Sep 27 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
This is most likely to be Zest’s last Code S before he leaves to fulfill his mandatory military service. Reaching the semifinals would already be considered a great result for most players, but Zest seems to be thirsty for one more shining moment at the top of StarCraft II. The prior greatest performance before military service belongs to Classic who retired after a fantastic Blink-DT build to upset one of the favorites Rogue at BlizzCon 2019.
Does Zest have a chance to equal or surpass Classic? He certainly has a lot of momentum behind him, as he has been performing spectacularly well in online cup competitions. However, one must wonder how relevant that will be ahead of this specific match. After all, Rogue has yet to lose a single offline best-of-seven in his entire StarCraft career. The 'easy' prediction here is to pick Rogue to extend his 11-0 record in such series—it’s one of the few records that still holds in an ever-changing StarCraft II scene.
But, as usual, there are factors that tempt you to doubt—perhaps foolishly—such a historic player. After all, Dream—who was the huge underdog against Rogue in Code S Season 1’s semifinals—made Rogue sweat up until the very end in a close game seven. While Rogue ultimately prevailed, both players admitted there was some luck involved. Given that Zest is a player who is far more accomplished and proven to be calm in big matches, he might just be the man to end the mythical streak.
Contrary to players like TY, whose results suggest StarCraft II was not his primary focus before leaving for the military (which can be understandable after an amazing 2020), Zest is going all out in his final year. He seems to spend every spare moment playing in online cups, and it’s paying off for him in terms of both prize money and Aligulac.com rating. Indeed, the statistics website currently rates Zest as the best Protoss player in the world by a respectable margin, as he sits 100 points above #2 Trap. Of his $70,000 in prize money so far this year (#3 among all players), nearly $20,000 of it was scratched together in smaller online tournaments.
If we choose the DH Summer Finals (where Zest was unfortunately eliminated by the winner and runner-up duo of Reynor and Maru) as the starting point for our arbitrary frame of reference, the DPG Protoss has been on one heck of a hot streak. Since that tournament, Zest has accumulated a scary PvZ record of 104–30 (77.61%) in maps and 43–4 (91.49%) in matches (the usual caveats about opponent strength in online cups apply). In that period of time since DHM Summer and up to the recent ASUS ROG Fall tournament, Zest's only four PvZ losses have come 3-4 to RagnaroK, 0-3 against DRG, 1-2 against Solar, and his 2-3 loss to Dark barely a week ago at ASUS ROG Fall. While RagnaroK and DRG might not be opponents fans think Zest 'should' lose to, it should be mentioned he beat those same players, or those of similar caliber, many times as well.
The most eye-catching stat is that Zest went 4-0 against Rogue in this recent timeframe, taking three 2-0 victories and a tighter 5-3 in a showmatch. These results are encouraging, but you have to take them with a boulder of salt considering that Zest is facing offline-BO7 Rogue. It won't be enough to be an online warlord—Zest will have to draw on whatever remains of his inner world champion, his inner best-in-the-world if he's to extinguish Rogue's aura of invincibility and go out in the ultimate blaze of glory.
While the stakes aren't quite as dire for Rogue, it's not like he's a spring chicken himself. There's little young blood in the Korean StarCraft II scene, and Rogue is staring down at his own military service in a year or so. Yet, he still has just enough time to solidify himself as the undisputed greatest player of all time. He has won three Code S tournaments, and is probably the utmost favorite to win this season—which would allow him to chase the elusive G5L trophy in the future (there's one more IEM Katowice chance as well, but we'll talk about that when we get there). It’s almost unbelievable to think that Rogue was once a quarterfinals-limited player, but now he seems like one of the best big-match players of all time. If the legend of his offline BO7 performances should hold, then it's almost inevitable that he takes the G5L trophy before Maru.
But let's not get too ahead of ourselves and focus on the match at hand. If we look at Rogue’s ZvP history from July 2 to now—the same time frame we used for Zest, his ZvP record is far less impressive. He's barely above a 50% win-rate, with a 11W-10L record in matches and 31W-31L record in maps. These ten losses include the four losses against Zest, as well as defeats to Showtime, PartinG, Zoun, and even players like herO and Nice.
If these online matches were a good way to predict Rogue’s performance in GSL playoffs, this would not bode well for him at all. However, it feels almost useless to look at those numbers, because Rogue has proved he is a master of offline best-of-sevens. His ability to prepare for lengthy series combined with his unshakeable composure allows him to make the best players in the world look like fools. However, his aforementioned close call against Dream showed the cracks in his armor—you could see the theory of how Rogue might lose to an opponent who was equally well-prepared with effective, synergistic builds for every map.
The career head-to-head record for Zest vs Rogue favors Zest slightly at 42-38 in matches, while they are tied 118-118 in map score. But if you select for offline matches only, Rogue has the edge with a 13-9 match score, with most of Zest's wins having come in the pre-LotV era when he was arguably the best player in the world, and Rogue was far from being a championship player. In fact, Rogue has won their last four clashes in offline settings, including his 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals of this year's Code S Season 1, and his 4-1 stomp of the Gladept-wielding Zest in the grand finals of IEM Katowice 2020.
While it's hard to make any statistics based case against Rogue, it's still fair to use the numbers to give some credit to Zest. His overall PvZ win-rate in 2021 is around 75% in matches, while his recent mid-late summer record is at a ridiculous 90%. That means he's definitely improved since losing to Rogue in the quarterfinals of Code S Season 1.
Zest showed a variety of different skytoss-oriented strategies against Dark in ASUS ROG Fall, but he surely had GSL in mind and probably has some tricks up his sleeve that are meant for Rogue alone. As for Rogue, he hasn't had to show much of his hand in the match-up recently, but considering his infinitely deep bag of tricks, and how differently he tends to play in big matches compared to online (who would have predicted that he'd beat Maru almost exclusively with Roach-Ravager), the lack of scouting information doesn't change much.
Given their recent PvZ performance, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Aligulac.com's mighty formula sees Zest as the clear favorite in this match with almost a 68% chance of winning. Conversely, Liquibet users are favoring Rogue by around the same ratio. One could say that predicting this match comes down to following machine logic with Zest winning on the back of overwhelming stats, or believing in the myth of Rogue and his invincibility in offline BO7 matches.
Yet, there is a third path that I will take: going with Zest on the basis of the heart. Zest will be able to find his dominant self once again for his last GSL, and through his great preparation, mental fortitude, and a decade of accumulated mastery in his craft, he will overcome the seemingly insurmountable mountain that is Rogue. Once again, fans will be able to chant “Zest is best”, louder than before, and he will write himself the most glorious storybook ending.
Prediction: Zest 4 - 3 Rogue