Dark Wins DreamHack Valencia 2022by Wax
The first major international competition of the 2022/23 pro tour came to a thrilling conclusion, as Dark barely scraped by Maru to win a seven-game finals at DreamHack Valencia. The victory broke a 10-month title drought for Dark (last winning Code S Season 2 in August of 2021), where his tournament results fell out of alignment with his reputation as a perennial title contender. Dark's final two matches at DreamHack Valencia cleanly dispelled any worries about his form: a 3-2 victory against #1 Aligulac-rated PvZ player in herO in the semifinals, followed by a 4-3 victory against #1 TvZ player Maru in the grand finals.
Dark and Maru had to endure a grueling day of playoff matches before arriving in the grand finals. Even more than equal latency and the presence of a crowd, the twelve hours between the first and last match may have been the biggest difference between online and offline competition.
Dark looked more ready for the late night match, jumping ahead to a 3-1 lead in the series. Particularly striking was his clinical dismantling of Maru's infamous turtle-style in game four, especially since Maru had reminded fans of its potency by using it to defeat Reynor earlier in the day (Maru's marathon games against Reynor was part of the reason the day was so long). However, going on the offensive allowed Maru to fight his way back into the series, and a couple of fierce mid-game pushes evened the score at 3-3.
The effects of the new map pool had been felt through all three days of the tournament, but it was nowhere more apparent than at the very end. With Stargazers—the most unorthodox map in the new pool—selected for game seven, Maru decided to fall back on his trusty proxy 2-Barracks Bunker rush. However, Dark already had a solution in mind: give up his natural expansion and take his 'backdoor' expansion instead. Is this actually a positive value proposition for the Zerg? That's a question we'll see plenty of SC2 pros and YouTubers try to answer in the coming week. But at least on July 3rd, it was a wild success, as Dark was able to dominate Maru in the ensuing macro game and clinch the championship.
A cocky young Dark once said winning ten major championships was his goal—with his eighth title in hand, he's closing in on making that dream a reality. He returns to Korea as the new favorite to win Code S—such a victory would give him his first back-to-back tournament titles since he won both the GSL Super Tournament and Blizzcon back in 2019.
Reynor plays Protoss and other notable happeningsReynor beats Solar with Protoss: We already knew of Reynor's Protoss prowess through his ESL Open Cup performances, where he defeated players like HeroMarine, ShoWTimE, and Elazer over the last few weeks. Thus, it wasn't really too surprising that he managed to 2-0 Solar in the group stages of DreamHack Valencia.
What was actually impressive was Reynor's audacity to pick Protoss in a major tournament. It's one thing to off-race for fun in $200 weeklies—it's another thing entirely to take the risk in one of the biggest events of the year.
One has to wonder how Reynor will deploy his formidable PvZ going forward. While it seems highly unlikely he'd try to test himself against ZvP monsters like Serral, it could be a useful tool to reduce variance against weaker Zergs who might have tried to cheese him out in a ZvZ.
Top players drop out: It has to be noted that several strong players could not participate at DreamHack: Valencia.
Rogue and Trap were unable to travel overseas due to Korean government restrictions regarding men who haven't finished their military service. While the two 28-year-olds had been aided by KeSPA in receiving a travel exemption for the IEM World Championship in Katowice, it seems that such support was not available (or not requested) for a satellite event like DH: Valencia.
Serral also bowed out, though for unspecified reasons. The Finnish Phenom had failed to earn a direct seed after suffering a shocking upset at the hands of HeroMarine in the European regional, and would have had to start in the open bracket had he decided to attend.
China's TIME had to decline his invitation as well, though it's unclear if this was due to visa issues or complications due to COVID-related restrictions in China. Code S player Ryung also had his name on the initial sign-up list but ended up declining to compete.
It's impossible to know how the tournament would have played out if all the title contenders could have competed. While none of Trap, Rogue, or Serral have been in great form in recent weeks, one still has to respect their capacity to get hot for a single event (as they've done in the past). Also, when you consider how they would have affected the groups and brackets, the tournament would 100% have played out very differently.
Of course, this doesn't invalidate Dark's victory or put an asterisk next to it. After all, the above circumstances were entirely outside of his control. When it came to the one thing within his power—defeating every single opponent the tournament put against him—he succeeded every time.
Creator continues his roll: Prior to this tournament, some fans were still trying to figure out what to make of Creator's runner-up finish in Season 1 of Code S. Was this truly a new Creator, or was it just a miracle run for the long-suffering Protoss?
Well, now that DreamHack Valencia has concluded, the answer is only slightly clearer. Creator's top four finish was a very nice result, but he also lucked out by having a relatively easy path compared to the other semifinalists. His most difficult opponents were the NA big three of Neeb, Scarlett, and Astrea, so the impact of Creator's accomplishment hinges largely on one's view of NA StarCraft.
Perhaps the most important takeaway for Creator was that he stayed relatively calm under pressure. Sure, he had some big emotional outbursts when he was winning matches, but what mattered was that he kept it together at key moments where he might have lost.
His RO8 match against Neeb went all the way to game five, where he was pushed to the brink of elimination by the American Protoss. But instead of suffering another tragic collapse, Creator kept his composure and won a stunning comeback victory by drawing Neeb's army into a cul-de-sac and executing a textbook surround maneuver.
Even if Creator is not yet a true title contender, it's great to see him play to the best of his ability.