This has been an unbelievably exciting season of Global StarCraft II League Code S. Well, kind of. Round of 32 and 16 were thrilling and when it came down to the top eight top players, four of these players far superior to the other four. We had two 3-0 matches and two 3-1 matches, none of which ever felt close.
"Okay," we said. "Round of four will have awesome close games!"
Oh, how wrong we were.
There was a huge difference between the top and bottom four players in the round of eight, but there was an even bigger difference between half of the players in the round of four.
Jun "TY" Tae Yang 4-0 Kim "Cure" Doh Wook
Joo "Zest" Sung Wook 4-0 Baek "Dear" Dong Jun
Not. Even. Close.
You could actually see Dear and Cure, two of the best players in the world, fall apart mentally in front of the forces that were their KT Rolster opponents. The differences between the top four players in the world and everyone else is astounding. Not since the days of Jung "Mvp" Jong Hyun and Lim "NesTea" Jae Duk have we seen anything like it.
TY's GSL Code S run is pretty fantastic this season. 15-3. Undefeated vs. Terrans, with his only losses coming against Dear, another top four player this season, and a loss to Kim "MyuNgSik" Myung-Sik, one of the highest variance inducing Protosses of all time. This isn't really all that impressive in comparison, with Zest's GSL Code S record being 15-1.
Let's take a closer look at Zest's season.
A sole loss against Seo "Journey" Tae Hee in the round of 32. He even 3-0ed Cho "Maru" Seong Ju, easily one of the top players for the past several years, and still one of the top four in the world, in Code A. In fact, in televised Protoss vs Terran this year, Zest is 16-1, and is currently on an 11-0 win streak.
Zest's style sometimes feels like perfection. He does everything at once. Most top Protosses are just about the same up into their third bases. This is where Zest's play jumps ahead. He'll just fit in more expansions than any other Protoss. That fourth base will be done and mining while he's harassing the Terran, sometimes minutes before other Protoss pros.
His map vision will make this possible. There will be spotter Pylons and Observers spread all over the place. On top of that, his heavy mid game pressure will give him a firm understanding of what Terran currently has, and what might be missing. If anything goes by on the mini-map, he will see it and react instantly. If you think this sounds daunting, you are right. There are very few holes in his play based on the current PvT metagame.
Zest will fast expand almost every single game. Out of his 17 PvTs that we've seen, only two of them were one base plays, both of which were Stargate Oracle builds. By the way, that's it for Stargates. Zest doesn't want flying units. We've seen two base Blink All-In, and it was very early on this year. We've seen just one rushed Adept Drop/Warp-In. The vast majority of his openers (13 total) involve a fast Robotics and Twilight, whether it be a safe Blink opener with some pressure or a DT drop. It's important to note that his early game defense is nearly perfect at this point.
The Killing Move
To win his games, Zest normally relies upon a Terran misstep. The one time that you are not sieged up with your Liberators. The one time your army is out of position. The moment he sees it, he pounces, and you will not recover from that damage.
If you do not have a moment like this, Zest will play a very safe game most of the time, teching out fully, and playing you in a very long, harass-filled macro game. His mechanics, stamina, and decision-making are second to none, and he will prove it to you by whittling you down for as long as it takes.
TY's style is that of perfect defense and out-maneuvering you.
He is near impossible to break, not only in the early game, but throughout. His Liberators, Siege Tanks, Bunkers and Turrets will always be ready. He is a beach and Protosses are the waves. And he knows exactly where the high-tide line is. As TY reaches a comfortable spot on defense, he will begin to poke and prod, looking for weakness.
He will move out Liberators and Medivacs to draw the Protoss army around the map, using other pieces of his army to make strong moves against the Protoss's expansions. TY knows when Protoss is gearing up to counter-attack. He withdraws the majority of his army for defense (normally just enough to hold off the attack), leaving as much as possible out on the map to deal massive damage when all the Protoss forces are brought to his front door.
TY almost always opens with Reaper Expands. Sometimes he will go Reactor Expand, but will almost never go for a Command Center first or gasless Barracks Expand.
From here, there is a lot of flexibility with TY. Based on his scouting, he could go as safe as an Engineering Bay, or as Greedy as a third base after his Factory. Almost never will he go three bases before a Factory. TY's primary goal is to stay alive. He will use Engineering Bay to block your minerals if given the chance (which, of course, gives him tons of intelligence on where your units are, and allows his Reaper to scout your whole base so that he can accurately defend against your strategic choice).
The Killing Move
Many Protosses kill themselves against TY, choosing to be too aggressive against the best defender that Terran has to offer. If the Protoss is a level higher, TY will attempt to draw Protoss's army out of position so that he can make a strong move on to a third or fourth base. Once the strong move is successful, TY will defend against any counter-attacks that the Protoss will be wanting to pull off, thus getting an economic and army advantage, also known as a win.
If the Protoss blocks all of this successfully, TY will play an extremely long game, utilizing Liberators to patiently and steadily push the Protoss into the ground.
How does Zest win?
Make TY unsure of what's coming. If TY isn't completely sure what Zest is up to, he will defend maximally, which could allow Zest to get ahead. Specifically, Zest might want to stop the Engineering Bay blocks early on, and keep the Reaper out of his base by doing so.
Abuse overly technical openings. In some games, TY will make lots of tech units. Liberators, Siege Tanks, a Cyclone, etc. Zest's play against TaeJa when he used this type of opening was some of the most flawless StarCraft II ever seen. If Zest follows the same style against technical openings, TY will have to rough it out in a very, very long game to have any chance at victory.
How does TY win?
Abuse the Robotics, Twilight, third base opening that are the basis of Zest's PvT. Zest's sole loss in the match-up this year was to Journey, who did this with an unorthodox Reaper Expand to Three Barracks Marine/Marauder rush, hitting before the Observer got to his base. To be fair, Zest was a bit out of position when Journey arrived, but it's still an intelligent strategy.
Abuse the "always fast expand" philosophy. Zest doesn't like to make any units before his expansion Nexus. There could be a hole here.
What weirdness can happen?
The mind games are real within a team. Changing up their styles and build orders could be a strong way to catch each other off--it should be something we see in at least a couple games from both sides. Masking their opening strategies will be important as well. Make a strategy where all the information your opponent sees looks exactly like something that he's expecting, and then hit him with the unexpected.
The GSL Code S finals coming up on on May 1 should be one to remember. The amount that these two players have risen above all of their competition means that this is not an event that you will want to miss.