GTC Spring: Dragon Phoenix Gaming are Champions!

by: TheOneAboveU

The Playoffs of the Gold Series Team Championship 2020 Spring Season proved to be a turbulent affair, despite the end result being pretty much what we expected all season long: (Wiki)Dragon Phoenix Gaming fulfilled their destiny and secured their first GTC title in their debut season, winning both Chinese team leagues on their first attempt and cementing themselves as the number one team in the GTC brotherhood.

What made the playoffs so unexpected and exciting was the furious run of (Wiki)Brave Star Gaming, who started on the lowest seed and made it into the Grand Finals on the back of two all-kills, one delivered by (Wiki)Scarlett, and the other one by (Wiki)Dream, who upset massive favorites (Wiki)KaiZi Gaming in a stellar performance. While BSG couldn’t quite make the miracle happen against DPG, they almost stole the show from the eventual champions.

Team LP 0 – 4 Brave Star Gaming

Starting from the lowest seed, Brave Star Gaming had to run the entire deadly gauntlet if they wanted an opportunity to take home the trophy. Evidently, they were not daunted by such a task. BSG.Scarlett started them off strongly against (Wiki)Team LP, which made a bold choice by sending out their ace player in LP.Patience first—a common strategy on this weekend, which would prove to be more dangerous than productive for the most part. It certainly backfired for Team LP, as Scarlett was able to take two very solid wins over Patience, whose PvZ strategies neither were strong enough to pierce Scarlett’s defense, nor proved adequate at dealing with the Zerg’s own aggression. Having lost their ace early on, LP sent out LP.Impact, who looked equally helpless against Scarlett, who successfully used Mutalisk based play on both maps to outplay her Korean opponent. The third LP player sent out against her, LP.Jieshi, tried his usual DT trickery, but BSG’s Zerg star was on a roll and would not be stopped by such shenanigans, and answered with her own early attack to finish the Chinese Protoss off. Reviving Patience for one last, desperate action, LP were finished off by a Roach-Ling all-in from Scarlett without taking a map in these playoffs. In hindsight, they need not feel too bad about it, since the same fate awaited KaiZi Gaming.

Alpha X 2 – 4 Brave Star Gaming

Before Brave Star Gaming could get to embarrassing KaiZi, they first had to overcome (Wiki)Alpha X, the surprising #3 Seed of the playoffs. They made a similar decision—and, perhaps, mistake—as Team LP, sending out αX.Astrea first, while BSG opened the series with BSG.Cyan. And while things went as planned on the first map, with the American taking an expected victory, Cyan struck back in the second game, overwhelming Astrea’s small Disruptor count with a massive Blink Stalker-Immortal force to take the Alpha X ace down with him. It looked like αX.Zoun would be successful at mitigating the damage done to their team by scoring a solid 2-0 over Scarlett utilizing Glaive builds, her well-known Achilles heel. But then BSG.Dream finally entered the stage and started what would become a magical twelve map win streak in these playoffs. He smashed Zoun in some very convincing TvP matches, the first map one won based on excellent defense, and the second one based on his trademark multi-pronged offensive style. Dream moved on to quickly dispose of an outmatched αX.BreakingGG as well. Astrea was revived to attempt a desperate comeback, and he delivered a solid match with close to perfect defense for the most part. However, Dream continued to posture and poke around until he found the most beautiful engagement a Terran could ever wish for, absolutely dismembering the Protoss army and steamrolling to a win from there. The fairy tale run of Alpha X was over, but Dream was just warming up.

KaiZi Gaming 0 – 4 Brave Star Gaming

With one night of rest, the playoffs resumed with the final two matches. Most people expected a KaiZi Gaming vs. Dragon Phoenix Gaming finals, and so it’s no wonder that all the Chinese casters predicted KaiZi to take out Brave Star Gaming. What no one knew, was that Dream simply would pick up where he had left off from the previous match. KaiZi Gaming fielded KZ.INnoVation first, ignoring the difficulties Team LP and Alpha X had faced from such an approach. Possibly expecting this, and not having much to lose as the clear underdogs anyways, BSG sent out Dream. TvT is traditionally his weakest match-up, and everyone expected an anti-climactic ending to this BSG gauntlet run at the hands of the Machine. Things turned out differently, though, as Dream and INnoVation played two exciting and beautiful TvT games, which I can heartily recommend for a re-watch. The gist of it is that Dream can play both excellent Mech and Bio-Tank. He played out of his mind on that day, methodically breaking INnoVation apart and making the perfect decisions about when and where to defend and attack. That couldn’t be said about the Machine, as INnoVation did make some miscalculated moves over the course of the series.

Having lost their most powerful player early, KaiZi must have been shook a bit. This should’ve been an easy cruise to get to their date with DPG—suddenly they had lost INnoVation. KZ.Dear was sent out to recover the situation, but you know how it is: whenever Dear takes the field, Flash flips a coin to decide if it’s Dear or Dearp, and the coin clearly did not land on Dear that day. The games weren’t even close: a Bio-Tank-SCV push with some well-timed Interference Matrices secured Dream Game 1, a multi-pronged drop attack saw Dear fall apart in Game 2. KZ.TIME came up next, hoping to succeed where INnoVation failed, but to no avail. Dream got a stranglehold over TIME’s natural on Golden Wall, forcing TIME towards several bloody breakout attempts of which none worked, and then winning a furious race of SCV-slaughtering on the next map. (According to some members of the Chinese community, KaiZi’s owner got so desperate at this point that he promised to triple the players’ winnings from the tournament.)

Dream had his first ever all-kill in reach, but to achieve it he needed to overcome a revived INnoVation. What ensued was another epic TvT, this time featuring both players going for the Battle Mech style. Interestingly enough, just a few weeks earlier in Week 9 of the Regular Season, Dream played a similar match against INnoVation’s team mate KZ.Bunny, which he had lost due to Bunny incorporating a few Siege Tanks into his composition. Things went full circle, as Dream this time sprinkled in a few tanks, while INnoVation tried to make it work without them. After several minutes of messy, non-stop fighting all over the map, Dream established a lead for himself managed to checkmate his opponent. KaiZi Gaming, hailed as the favorites to perhaps win this entire season, had been eliminated by one man alone: Dream.

Dragon Phoenix Gaming 4 – 1 Brave Star Gaming

However, KaiZi Gaming was not the final boss. In the Grand Finals, another beast waited patiently. Finally, Dragon Phoenix Gaming came forward: undefeated in the Regular Season, champions of NeXT 2020 Spring, and lead by the reigning World Champion Dark. There’s a line from our playoffs preview that seems quite appropriate here. ‘Should any other team make it this far, mad respect to them, but I’ll be inclined to say that they already used up most of their luck to even get here and will probably get demolished.

All of Dream’s momentum was stopped and thrown into a garbage can immediately by someone who is an expert in breaking Terran hype trains: DPG.PartinG. Perhaps not wanting to risk feeding Dream another TvT victory, DPG decided on not sending out DPG.Cure, but went with their Korean Protoss instead. A good decision, it turns out, as he was able to hang in the first game against Dream by a thread, despite being almost ground to dust beneath the Terran’s aggression. A very much alive PartinG survived the onslaught and used economic advantage kicking in to go on the counterattack, routing Dream’s forces and stealing the win away. While Dream did take down PartinG with him in game two, this was pretty much the end of all hope for BSG.

None other than DPG.Dark was called upon to deliver the coup de grace (PartinG had first prodded DPG.Firefly to take the stage, but the Chinese Protoss wasn’t feeling confident enough). Taking Cyan apart with Nydus-Swarm Host on Golden Wall, and then a Roach-Ling attack in the second game, Dark denied the BSG player another playoff success. Scarlett, the slayer of Team LP, came up next, but died to a Ling-Baneling attack on the first map while going Lair, and was overwhelmed by Dark’s mass Muta in Game 2. Dream came out once more, revived to try and pull off the impossible comeback, but Dark would not let it be. After all, who has more experience at crushing dreams and fairy tales? Dark crushed Dream’s Proxy 3 Rax attempt, and pushed out Mutalisks while deflecting the Terran’s follow-up aggression with Hellions and a Marine drop. Having cut corners at home, Dream had not enough anti-air to defend against the Mutalisk raid and GG’d out, leaving Dragon Phoenix Gaming to celebrate an almost perfect run to the championship. Still, even if DPG won by the rulebook, it certainly felt like Dream won in our hearts.

Spring Season Awards

Playoffs MVP Award & Best Terran: BSG.Dream

After already raking in our Regular Season MVP Award with his high win rate and heavy carrying for Brave Star Gaming, (Wiki)Dream also claims our playoff MVP award with his stellar performance. Who else? The Terran went on a twelve game win streak, finishing off Alpha X on Day 1 and then simply picking up his momentum on the next day, achieving his first ever all-kill in a team league match against the heavy favorites from KaiZi Gaming. Winning 7-0 against the likes of KZ.INnoVation, KZ.Dear, and KZ.TIME is truly impressive, and all the more so because traditionally TvT has been a weak point for Dream. With a combined record of 29-5 during the regular season and the playoffs, Dream has been the strongest Terran player this season without a doubt. No wonder he cleared his Code S RO24 group in first place! Even though he could not carry BSG all the way, he achieved far more than his team could ever have asked of him.

Our runner-up for the MVP award is DPG.Dark, who stepped up for Dragon Phoenix Gaming to seal the deal in the Grand Finals for the second time. After delivering a BlizzCon title, an NeXT title, and a GTC title, there’s no doubt that this contract killer is well worth the money.

Best Protoss: αX.Astrea

In a way, a ‘Best Rookie’ award would’ve also been fitting for (Wiki)Astrea, but that awards seems out of place in the current SC2 scene where most ‘new’ players have been around for years. So, highlighting Astrea as the best Protoss player of the season has to suffice. Though he couldn’t quite make magic happen in the playoffs, the American’s regular season performance remains one to be impressed by: his 14-4 record includes wins over favorites like Dream, TY and Dark, as well as one important ace match victory. Astrea has shown excellent preparation abilities and was a steadfast pillar his team could rely upon. Overall, one could say this was a breakout performance for the Protoss, who stood above his peers in this league.

Best Zerg: DPG.Dark

(Wiki)Dark kind of flew under the radar during the regular season, simply because he played as well as we’ve come to expect of him. He amassed an 11-1 record, merely dropping one rather meaningless map to Astrea, but otherwise collected win after win, doing his part to keep Dragon Phoenix Gaming at the top of the rankings. So, since he was doing his job and performed up to expectation, we really didn’t have much reason to talk about him a lot. He was just being Dark. His five wins in the playoffs bring him up to a combined 16-1, and also make him the only undefeated player in the playoffs. All in all, Dark clearly was the strongest representative of the swarm this season, though other than his initial 2-0 win over INnoVation in Week 1, he lacked highlight matches to capture our attention. Sometimes, simply doing your job and going about it quietly is what makes you the best.

Best Production: Gold Series Team Champion

Yes, there’s some Obama awarding Obama going on here. But it’s well deserved! While we unfortunately couldn’t enjoy an English broadcast, the Chinese stream offered some excellent production perks: picture-in-picture provided an overview in the more hectic multi-tasking situations (and those came up a lot), and good use of player cams gave us a feeling of closeness to the protagonists that basically came as close to an offline event as possible. We even got a glimpse of the teams’ decision making processes, because we got to tap into their team communications during the breaks, as they decided who they’d send out next (getting a live translation of those conversations would have been the cherry on top). All of this enhanced the product quite a lot for the viewers, and should be the gold standard for online tournament production going forward.

What’s to come next: GTC and NeXT Summer Seasons are planned for August

Without sugarcoating it, it’s been a difficult season for GTC, despite everything beginning so hopeful and optimistic. Three of the teams originally participating in the tournament are no longer in existence at this point: Chivo SC completely disbanded, Triumphant Song Gaming no longer field a SC2 division, and Dian Lake Gaming turned out to be a disappointing scam of an organization. While new teams like Dragon Phoenix Gaming, Alpha X, and Team GP added new life to this season, we now have less organizations in the GTC brotherhood than at the beginning of the year.

Not all is bleak, however. TSG may come back to SC2 one day, once their sponsors’ economic situation has recovered. There are also rumors stirring about other teams having the intention of joining (or coming back to) GTC, so the next season should definitely find enough teams to field a competitive and interesting roster of participants. From a Western viewers’ perspective, we might also hope that the broadcasting will be resolved, as they were with the WarCraft III version of the very same tournament.

There is interest in a prestigious, big team league in the West, and the stories it can tell. With its high profile names, the exciting format, the excellent production, and it’s plethora of interesting tales and developments, the GTC definitely has the right recipe to become even bigger in the future. We’ll see you again in August, when GTC will be back with another season, alongside with another edition of NeXT for dual teamleague action.

Thank you all for sticking with us this season, we hope you enjoyed our coverage.

Bonus: All-Star Game Recap

In 2020, one of the greatest exports of the Chinese StarCraft 2 scene has been a steady supply of duels between (Wiki)INnoVation and (Wiki)Dark in their vibrant team leagues. NeXT 2020 Spring gave us several matches between them, with INnoVation winning more in the end, but Dark triumphing in the decisive moment to secure the title for his team. In the GTC All-Stars event, a traditional warm-up competition happening before the playoffs of the team league, the next edition of the classic match-up ensued. This time, there was no doubt about who came out victorious overall.

Neither Dark, nor INnoVation had a perfect run into the finals, but remained quite dominant in their match-ups before meeting each other. Dark had an entertaining opening series against (Wiki)Dream, with Game 2 and Game 3 in particular being much recommended. After Dream won the initial game against Dark’s Lurker-based play, Game 2 featured Dream gaining a significant advantage in the skirmishing phase of the match on Eternal Empire, but Dark stubbornly held on in typical Dark fashion until he reached Ultralisks. The Terran couldn’t believe how the tables had turned from their respective positions just a few minutes earlier, giving out the good old ‘?’ in chat, to which Dark merely answered ‘;;’, after which Dream had to take a minute in stunned silence before he called the GG. Game 3 on Golden Wall had Dark mix it up, not playing the usual Mutalisk-style so commonly found on this map, but going into double Nydus Worm-Swarm Host pressure to keep Dream busy, who himself opted to neglect the upper half of the map and instead expanded on the bottom half, leading to a fascinating macro game between the two with many interesting tech-switches and beautiful army moves from both sides.

Chinese VOD of Dream vs. Dark

While (Wiki)Patience delivered a bit of a shocker by taking the first map against Dark, the Zerg quickly recovered and took back control of the series, swatting down any aggressive attempts by the Protoss and winning another late game scenario similar to his GSL game against (Wiki)Astrea (VOD). The American himself, also invited to the event, had to face off with INnoVation in the first round. Though he was able to take a map against the Machine, which one might already call quite the respectable result, he did exit the competition early (VOD). INnoVation continued his run into the finals against his Chinese team mate (Wiki)TIME (VOD), whose own win over (Wiki)Firefly in the first round remained the only 3-0 in the tournament (VOD).

Dark and INnoVation started us off with a fairly normal game, in which Dark’s Roach-Ravager simply couldn’t handle the Marine-Tank pressure from INnoVation and collapsed under the weight of the constant attacks. Game 2 on Submarine turned out to be probably the weirdest game of the tournament, with both players opting for a base trade, since Dark couldn’t find a way to engage INnoVation’s army on this map with chokes and destructible rocks everywhere. While Dark lost all of his tech, he was able to evacuate Drones and build up new Hatcheries all around the map. Most critically, he also was able to finish the research of Burrow, having correctly identified this to be a decisive tech in that scenario. After all, Dark had destroyed all of INnoVation’s detection capability. The only buildings the Terran still had left were some production structures floating at the tail of his Bio-Tank army.

A game of cat-and-mouse now began, with the Terran trying to hunt down Dark’s bases, and the Zerg sniping units and buildings with his Mutalisks. Baneling landmines now made every step a potentially deadly one for INnoVation, who began lifting units over ramps instead of walking on them. Having re-built his Baneling tech and lured INnoVation’s army to one of his bases, Dark adapted to INno’s anti-mine tactics in a beautiful mind game: exploding a small amount of payload on the few units INno had sent to scout ahead, Dark tricked the Terran into thinking the ramp was safe to cross. Little did he know about Dark’s actually having burrowed his entire contingent of Banelings there, which all sprang forth to trigger the ambush when the Terran army marched by. Having now taken out the core of INnoVation’s army, Dark finally used his Zerglings which had been patiently kept in reserve to swarm the remains of the Terran force.

Chinese VOD of Dark vs. INnoVation

This was, however, the last game Dark should win in this Bo7, as INnoVation proved relentless in the remaining games, pulling out builds from the entire Terran arsenal, be they Battlecruiser openers into Mech, a Two-Rax-Proxy opener, or a Hellbat push. Dark, for his part, seemed rather down and defeated in the later games of the series, leaving the matches uncharacteristically early. Perhaps he felt his energy was better used in the playoff games, or that hoping for INnoVation to make a mistake was a rather futile effort anyways.

The Machine put on an impressive show of force, earning himself the almost $3,000 USD for first place, which promptly was doubled by the owner of KaiZi Gaming, who delighted in the fact that the ace player of their arch-rivals Dragon Phoenix Gaming was so utterly defeated. And yet, DPG once again would have the last laugh in the team league playoffs.