It was streak vs. career in the semifinals of GSL Code S, and the career survived by a narrow margin. Zest, playing in what is almost certain to be his final Code S before military service, took a dramatic 4-3 victory over Rogue to come one step closer writing a fairytale ending to his GSL story.
Rogue had come in with perhaps the most impressive streak in present day StarCraft: an 11-0 record in offline best-of-seven series. Rogue's crushing victory over Maru in the Code S Season 1 finals—where he had come in as the ostensible underdog—made it almost impossible to ignore the streak as a statistical fluke, and further enhanced his reputation as one of the greatest big-match players of all-time. Even Zest himself had been a victim of Rogue's streak, losing to him in the grand finals of IEM Katowice 2020.
However, this time around, Zest was able to rise to the occasion, battling Rogue across seven maps and triumphing in the end. The first five games were one-sided fare, with the outcome being decided on the success or failure of early-game gambles. Trailing 2-3 headed into game six, Zest changed his approach to the series, looking to play out lengthier macro games. This proved to be the winning choice for Zest, as he was able to clutch out the final two maps and secure the come-from-behind victory.
The final game on 2000 Atmospheres was especially nerve-wracking, with Zest seeming to be on the brink of elimination after a swell of Corruptors wiped out his nascent Skytoss fleet. However, Rogue's decision to morph Brood Lords on the Protoss side of the map gave Zest a window of opportunity, one that he exploited ruthlessly. Replenishing his army with almost entirely Blink Stalkers, the Protoss potentate pulled the trigger on a basetrade race that Rogue was simply not ready for. The Protoss ground forces were able to burn through the Zerg expansions far more quickly than the slothful Brood Lords, eventually forcing a desperate retreat from Rogue. However, Rogue lacked the units to support his Brood Lords (having only Corruptors watching on helplessly), and GG'd out after Stalkers Blinked forward to wipe them out.
Zest moves on to compete in the Code S finals for the first time in three years, having last played (and lost) against Maru in Season 2 of 2018. Asked about his preference in finals opponents, Zest said he didn't mind either Trap or Cure—not for any strategic reason, but because he wanted to keep a confident mindset going into the finals. Trap and Cure will play in the second semifinal on Thursday, Sep 30 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00), while the grand finals will be played on Thursday, Oct 07 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00).
Game 1 - Blackburn: Zest took an easy win to kick things off, hiding a Chargelot all-in and catching Rogue completely off-guard. He started the game with an expansion into Stargate—which would be his predominant opener for the series—which he used to get a handful of Void Rays and a decoy third base before quickly changing tack to mass-Gateways. Rogue didn't suspect this at all and was forced to GG out once the Zealots struck.
Game 2 - Nautilus: It was Rogue's turn to go for an early-game attack in game two with a Queen-Ravager bust, but he ended up going down 0-2 after running into Zest's solid defense. Zest looked to play mind-games after game one, once again showing his opponent some Void Rays and a third base early, but this time actually playing a typical 2-Stargate Void Ray strategy.
Rogue struck with a Queen-Ravager all-in at around the six minute mark, but the starting positions (top-left for Rogue, bottom-left for Zest) and terrain gave him only a single path of entry. Zest was able to prepare plenty of batteries and cannons at the site of the Zerg attack, and held it off with good Void Ray focus fire.
After that, it was basically playing clean-up for Zest, as he was able to tech up freely into Carriers against an impoverished and low-tech Zerg. Rogue had enough left in the tank for one more Queen-Ravager attack, but GG'd out after it failed.
Game 3 - Oblivion: Zest switched up his opening tech with his only Twilight Council build of the night, but it ended in disaster as Rogue crushed his 6-Gate Glaive-Adept all-in. If I had to guess, Zest may have gambled that Rogue would read and prepare for an orthodox 4-Gate Adept strategy, but perhaps not expect an all-or-nothing 6-Gate version. However, in reality, Rogue played the situation extremely conservatively with back-up Spine Crawlers and plenty of Roaches, which allowed him to easily stop the all-in and win the game.
Game 4 - Romanticide: It was back to Stargate openers for Zest, this time showing Rogue his third variation on the strategy. As in the game on Nautilus, he opted to go for a handful of Void Rays and a fast third base to start, but changed things up yet again by skipping his second Stargate and making a quick transition to a Gateway-unit based army. An Overseer passed through Zest's base during this tech-switch, giving Rogue plenty of time to respond.
Interestingly enough, Zest still decided to go for an early/mid-game attack once he had Chargelots supported by a couple of Archons, but it had no chance of doing damage against the massive Roach-Ravager-Queen force that Rogue had built up. In fact, the attack ended up being a painful sacrifice of troops when Zest could least afford to do so, as Rogue was intent on maxing out on Lair-tech units. A huge force of Roach-Ravager-Muta barrelled through Zest's front door in an unstoppable counterattack, forcing the GG and tying the series at 2-2.
Game 5 - Oxide: Zest reached deep into his bag of tricks for one of his older builds, but clever Overlord recon from Rogue allowed him to easily scout and counter his opponent. Going back to Stargate openers, Zest looked to go for his unusual version of 2-Stargate Phoenixes with fast +1 and no Warp gate upgrade—a strategy that let him defeat Reynor in the IEM Katowice 2021 group stages.
However, in this game, Zest's initial Void Ray missed a single Overlord that Rogue had hidden away on the edge of the map, which meant Rogue found out about Zest's Phoenix production with plenty of time to spare. After holding off the Phoenixes with Queens and Spores at home, Rogue used his hero Overlord to open up a Nydus Worm inside Zest's base and end the game with mass Queens and Roaches.
Game 6 - Lightshade: One map away from elimination, Zest brought out his fifth different Stargate variation of the night, this time skipping Void Rays altogether and going for a more old school approach with 3+ Oracles. After finding Rogue to be impenetrable for three straight games, Zest finally got back under his opponent's skin as he picked off a significant number of Drones with his early Oracle-Adept harassment. This put Zest in good position as he prepared to play a macro game, leaning on a Blink-Stalker and Disruptor army as he went up to four bases. On the other end of the map, Rogue secured his own bases while remaining on Lair tech, aiming to overwhelm Zest by sheer force of numbers in the mid-game.
Rogue's 'surprise' Mutalisks turned out to be a dud as Zest parried them easily, but his follow-up Roach-Ravager-Baneling attack looked more promising. The Zerg swarm managed to take down Zest's fourth base, but it didn't seem like it had done enough damage on balance as it didn't significantly slow Zest's transition into Carriers. Rogue attacked once more with a deluge of Corruptors and Banelings, dealing some moderate damage but again failing to slow the growth of Zest's Skytoss fleet. While Rogue still had a strong economy and plenty of bases on his side of the map, his limited tech and upgrades meant he was on a timer. In the end, Rogue was unable to prevent Zest from assembling his invincible army. Moving out with Carriers, Void Rays, and Archons, Zest easily tore through a Zerg force that lacked spellcaster support, sending the series to a decisive game seven.
Game 7 - 2000 Atmospheres: With his Code S career on the line, Zest opted to play it greedy, going for a 2-Stargate Void Ray opener into fast 3-Stargate Carriers. Amusingly enough, a nervous Zest misplaced his natural Nexus, and was forced to cancel and rebuild the base at a 100 mineral loss (Zest later said he didn't want to give Rogue any confidence by revealing such a nervous mistake). Fortunately for Zest, Rogue declined to go for any early-game attacks with Queens. However, Rogue's delayed 'timing' with mass Corruptors and Queens at the nine-minute mark seemed like it could be just as deadly.
Rogue's 30 Corruptors easily cleaned up the 3 Carriers and 5 Void Rays Zest had at the time, and proceeded to fly into the Protoss main and demolish two Stargates with Caustic Spray. Yet, despite having the core of his Skytoss strategy completely broken, and even with Greater Spire nearing completion for Rogue, all was not lost for Zest. He still had a strong four-base economy, and his Gateway production was coming online at just the right time. Freshly warped in Stalkers and Zealots cleaned up the Queens on the ground, leaving Rogue's Corruptors with little to do.
Zest hasily tried to muster enough ground units for a counter-attack, even adding three Robotics facilities (which he wouldn't end up really using). Meanwhile, Rogue flew his Corruptors around Protoss territory looking for buildings to Caustic Spray down, but was chased off by Zest's Stalkers. Rogue eventually settled on morphing eight Brood Lords in deep Protoss territory, while trying to build mass Spines for defense back at home.
Zest's sense of urgency was absolutely critical here, as he knew he had to attack as soon as he had a credible ground force. His timing and positioning ended up being virtually perfect, striking before the Spine Crawlers were complete, and on the side of the map directly opposite from the opposing Brood Lords. It forced Rogue into an uncomfortable base race, where his Brood Lords were far slower at razing buildings than the Protoss army. And, with so much of his supply locked into the Brood Lords and Corruptors, he found himself without a way to slow the advancing Protoss force.
Ultimately, Rogue was forced to turn around his Brood Lords and send them on the excruciatingly slow flight home to try and defend. However, as it is with most base trades, being the first one to blink means you've already lost the game. Zest's forces were already done razing most of the Zerg expansions by time the Brood Lords got back, and had also wiped the crucial ground support that Brood Lords require. A few late-hatching Infestors couldn't do anything to turn the tide, and Rogue GG'd out after Zest's Stalkers jumped on top of the Brood Lords.