2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 4 PreviewStart time: Thursday, Apr 28 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The first Code S Grand Finals of the year is guaranteed to be a Protoss vs. Zerg bout, and now it's time to decide who will have the honor of being their faction's champion.
The Zerg semifinal match is draped in gold, featuring two multiple Code S champions in Dark and Rogue. The Protoss semifinal has an entirely different complexion, with the tortured souls of Creator and Trap fighting for a chance to reach the finals where they might attain career redemption.
This Code S match is guaranteed to be historic in at least one way: it's the first semifinals featuring Creator.
Professional StarCraft II has been played for so long now that some fans might not recall Creator's glorious beginnings. In 2012, the 15-year-old Protoss player was one of the most exciting young prospects in the world. He had won TeamLiquid Starleague 4 championship over fellow prodigy Life, and took first place at the WCS South Korea regional to earn a spot at the Battle.net World Championship—the spiritual predecessor to the WCS Global Finals/BlizzCon. Creator very nearly earned the title of world champion at the BWC grand finals in Shanghai, but sadly lost 2-4 to PartinG.
Back then, Creator was actually the one overshadowing his teammate Maru, as the Terran prodigy had yet to attain any notable individual success (though both were part of a GSTL winning PRIME team alongside MarineKing and ByuN). While Maru ended up soaring to far greater heights than we could have imagined at the time, Creator never attained the greatness he was expected to have. Far from contending for titles, he fell to become a player who struggled to even be called a Code S regular, sometimes missing out on Code S qualification for entire years at a time (2014 and 2021). His best result in Code S was thus a single RO8 appearance back during his 2012 peak—that infamous season won by Sniper.
There are a lot of reasons one could point to in explaining why Creator fell so short of his potential. Internally, StarCraft II was greatly changed in 2013 when the Heart of the Swarm expansion was released. Externally, 2013 was also the year when the KeSPA adjustment-period was complete, and the old eSF players started to get pushed to the fringes. Also, Creator has admitted to becoming overconfident due to his early success, and he's also talked about having changed the way he practices.
Whatever the case, Creator has pulled off one of the greatest late career comebacks in StarCraft II history. A Creator revival had been simmering on the ladder and in smaller online tournaments since late 2021, but it took until 2022's Code S Season 1 for it to really boil over. Creator took first place in his RO20 group with wins over GuMiho and Solar, and then came out of his RO10 group in second place with a 3-1 record. There was a poetic aspect to some of his wins: He beat DongRaeGu, the same player he beat back in 2012 to reach his only prior GSL playoff, and he also beat his former teammate Maru who outperformed him for almost a decade. It was as if once Maru left Team NV, Creator was finally able to step out from under his shadow.
After a harsh 1-3 loss against Rogue in the first match of the RO6, Creator came through in the clutch in the decider match, taking out RagnaroK to reach the semifinals. Creator had been labeled as a player with a weak mental game in the past—and admitted to it himself as well—but he finally got to show some of his former greatness in a major match again.
Funnily enough, Creator's opponent for the semifinals is a former Jin Air teammate who once faced similar questions about his mentality, but overcame them to enjoy a fantastic late-career run. After years stuck in the middle of the Code S pack, and years of being overshadowed by teammate Maru (sound familiar?), Trap finally had a huge breakout year in 2019. His momentum rolled into the next decade as well, and he became arguably the best Protoss of 2020 and 2021 by winning seven major tournaments.
However, Code S is conspicuously missing from Trap's list of championships. He has reached the Code S finals three times in his career, including two consecutive appearances in 2019. All these matches have ended in defeats against elite Zergs: 2-4 versus Dark in 2019 Season 2, 0-4 against Rogue 2019 Season 3, and 1-4 again versus Dark in 2021 Season 2. Granted, Zerg dominated in 2019, so it would have been arduous for any Protoss to win to say the least. However, his third loss in 2021 came at a more favorable meta, and he actually did win grand finals matches against Solar and Reynor in the smaller tournaments of NeXT and TSL at around the same time. Trap's success in these sometimes self-proclaimed “tier 2” championships while accumulating silvers in Code S have propelled some people to call him the new “kong”, the heir of soO.
IEM World Championships have also led some to question Trap's composure in high-pressure situations. Right before IEM Katowice 2021, Trap was ramping up with multiple tournament wins and was considered one of the favorites to win it all. However, he crashed and burned in the RO24, suffering an ignominious early elimination. Expectations were lessened for Trap in 2022 as he was playing poorly prior to the event, but he did manage to get out of the groups. However, his tournament still came to a disappointing end in a particularly one-sided 0-3 loss to Dark in the RO12.
All the signs were poor for Trap after Katowice, but Code S Season 1 has turned into a surprising rebound event. He gave a very impassioned balance-related interview during the RO20 group stage, but still managed to top his RO10 group with 3-1 record—including a 2-1 victory against a frequent tormentor in Rogue. While he hasn't expressed much outward confidence yet, it does seem like he's starting to shake off the cobwebs.
Trap's IEM Katowice interviews suggested military service is coming for him soon, which means this GSL is one of his last remaining chances to finally claim Korea's most important trophy. Unfortunately for Trap, the other semifinals is between Rogue and Dark, so beating Creator to reach the finals will only be the first step and he'd ultimately have to defeat the demons of his past. But that's getting ahead of ourselves: Trap already has a tough challenge in the rejuvenated Creator.
Some numbers point to Trap being the favorite in this match-up, with Aligulac.com giving him around a 63% chance of winning this best-of-five series. He's also absolutely dominating Creator in head-to-head record at 19-6 in matches (76% win-rate) and 40-14 in maps (74.07%). However, those numbers are deceptive because the two haven't played each other in nearly a year, and basically all of their matches occurred during the dark period of Creator's career when he was on the fringes of Code S. Also, Creator has already overcome greater Aligulac ratings gaps this tournament, beating Maru and even the #1 ranked PvP player herO in the RO10 group stage.
Creator didn't offer any particular insight about this match in his post-RO10 interview, mentioning the volatility of PvP and saying he would 'trust his luck' going into the duel. As for Trap, he wasn't able to speak on his RO4 match as he qualified directly as a top seed earlier on. However, Trap superfan GGemini19 did chime in on Twitter by saying that Trap had already noticed how well Creator was playing ahead of IEM Katowice, echoing the sentiments of other players such as Dark. It does seem like Creator has been gaining more and more respect from his peers for several months now, so it's doubtful that Trap would consider himself a favorite in this match.
As Creator said, this PvP match is very difficult to predict. A victory would mean so much for either of these two players, as they'd get a chance at winning an all-redeeming championship. Yet, only one of them will get a shot at the trophy against one of the two most successful Korean zergs of LotV. In my opinion, Trap is a slight favorite given the aforementioned statistics, but not by enough to automatically call him as the winner. Creator has a lot of momentum behind him, and I suspect there will be less fear for him as he's already achieved the best Code S result of his career and is playing with house money.
Indeed, this Code S performance probably set Creator free of any mentality problems that prevented him from showing his full potential before. He's been the underdog for almost the entire tournament, and it will be the same all the way to the finals. On the other hand, Trap carries the stigma of being weak in the later rounds of tournaments, and he also has the pressure of looming military service weighing down on him. The pressure to win will be huge, and there might be some anxiety of having to face Rogue or Dark in GSL finals.
Those factors, alongside my desire to see something new, is enough for me to jump onto Creator’s hype train for this match.
Prediction: Creator 3 - 2 Trap
As other players have surged and slumped in skill, and have departed and returned from the military, Dark and Rogue have stood out as the two constants in the 2020's era of Code S. They've won three of the Code S championships in this decade, and this tournament marks the fifth consecutive time the Zerg greats will collide in a head-to-head match.
The tenor of this fixture has changed somewhat over the course of the last year. Back in Code S Season 2 of 2021, after beating Rogue 3-2 in the quarterfinals, Dark made the surprising comment that he was happier than if he had won a championship because he had finally defeated Rogue. While the overall head-to-head record between the two players was almost even back then (and still is now), their clashes in major tournament playoffs—the matches Dark really cares about—had all gone Rogue's way. It was only three matches Dark had lost: the IEM Shanghai RO8 (0-3), the 2019 Code S Season 3 Semis (1-4), and the IEM Katowice 2020 RO8 (0-3). However, the one-sided nature of those defeats seemed to be enough to make even the normally haughty Dark feel fear.
It's tempting to look at that victory for Dark as a one-off, as Rogue has actually gone back to mostly beating Dark in major tournaments—he defeated him in 2021 Code S Season 3 (3-2 in the RO8), ASUS ROG Online (3-1 in the RO4), and 3-1 in 2021 GSL Super Tournament #3 (3-1 in the RO8). The only BO5+ victory Dark added was in the King of Battles 2 Tournament where he took a 3-1 victory.
Yet, ahead of this match, Rogue quite plainly said Dark was the better player. Rogue is not always a reliable interviewee, often contradicting himself. Indeed, right after he said Dark was the better player, he also mentioned this tournament was a great opportunity for him to win another championship and that he was confident against Dark. Still, I think I get the underlying gist of what he meant to say. Rogue made similar comments about Serral being a better player before facing him at IEM Katowice, and the throughline between Dark and Serral is that they're both better late-game ZvZ players than Rogue. Dark's two huge Lurker-based comebacks against Reynor at IEM Katowice are what probably come immediately to mind for most fans, but Rogue himself also lost to Dark's turtle-style during the group stage of a recent DreamHack Masters event. Even though Rogue has won the majority of his BO5+ meetings against Dark in the past, there's now a serious lose-condition that he is forced to play around. I believe Rogue was alluding to this need to finish the game before a certain point in time when he said it would be 'fun' to prepare build orders against Dark. As for Dark's thoughts on this match, we didn't get to hear them because of the sequence of Code S games. Even so, it's worth noting that after Dark locked in the direct seed to the RO4, he joked that he had wanted to bore the audience with 6 hour games. I don't think it was said entirely in jest, as Dark definitely knows how good he is in the late-game.
In terms of the Aligulac.com ZvZ rankings, the two players are right next to each other with Rogue sitting at 4th place (3010 rating) while Dark is just below him at 5th (2989) rating. As such, Aligulac predicts this match to effectively be a toss-up, with Rogue having a 51.72% chance of winning the BO5 series. TL.net Liquibet players are in agreement, with the votes falling basically 50/50 on either side.
As mentioned above, the overall head-to-head record is pretty close at 20-18 in favor of Rogue in matches, and 65-49 in favor in maps. However, if you narrow the range to BO5+ matches in major tournament playoffs (I include tournaments like King of Battles and ASUS ROG even if Liquipedia doesn't consider them 'premier'), Rogue still leads considerably at 7-2 in matches and 25-14 in map score.
It's incredibly hard to predict how this match will play out, as it involves the usual ZvZ build order volatility, the fact that these two have absolutely no compunctions about cheesing, PLUS the fact that there are multiple levels of mind-games present due to playing each other so often. Or, as I described it in an earlier preview:
…this particular match-up is an even more volatile knife fight than regular Zerg vs Zerg—it's a knife fight with poison frog venom on the blades, fought on a creaky rope-bridge suspended above an active volcano.
Going back to that Code S RO8 series where Dark finally beat Rogue in a playoff match: remember that it started with a Dark 12-pool into an 11-minute draw, followed by Dark going for the same 12 pool all-in in the re-game. The full range of Zerg vs Zerg strategies is open to these players, from going for the most drastic all-in multiple games in a row, to turtling up in the most excruciatingly boring way.
Ultimately, I do have to give Rogue the edge due to his history of success against Dark, and his general history of success against everyone when he puts his mind to preparing. To bring up Serral again: Yes, Rogue did get whomped by the Finnish Phenom in the IEM Katowice semifinals. But in their meeting prior to that, in the TSL8 grand finals, Rogue beat him in almost record time with a barrage of cheeses. While I doubt Rogue will focus on the early game to that extent, I do believe he'll be able to catch Dark off-guard enough times to win this series.
Prediction: Rogue 3 - 2 Dark