by: Wax

Finally, it’s time to decide the ultimate victor of the World Team League Winter season!

The WTL playoffs were originally planned to be held in early January, but the combination of a COVID surge in China and IEM Katowice forced a lengthy postponement. Instead of being the final check-up before IEM Katowice, the WTL playoffs will now take place as the first major event in the post-Katowice landscape.

For WTL fans, it may have worked out for the best. Many of the players will have practiced hard for the biggest individual tournament in the world, which means they’ll also be in top form ahead of the most important team tournament.

WTL Playoffs Bracket & Format

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  • Rounds 1 & 2: Friday, Feb 17 10:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
  • Rounds 3 & 4: Saturday, Feb 18 10:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
  • Semis and grand final: Sunday, Feb 19 10:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)

WTL Playoff format

Basic format: Unlike other SC2 teamleague formats, WTL is based around a LOSE CONDITION rather than a win condition. Each team has four ‘lives,’ and the first team to reach zero lives loses the match.

As in the regular season, the teams play a series of best-of-two matches. Only the initial players for each team are predetermined, while the remaining players are chosen as the match progresses.

If a match ends 2-0, the winning player remains active and plays in the next match. The losing player is eliminated and their team loses a life. The losing team then picks a new player to play in the next match.

If the result of a match is a 1-1 tie, then both players are eliminated, both teams lose a life, and both teams must send out a new player for the next match.

Ace Matches: If a match ends in a 1-1 tie when both teams are down to their last lives, they will have effectively reached zero lives at the same time (the team that goes up 1-0 first does NOT win; the second game of the match must be played). In that case, a single BO1 ace match is played to decide the outcome of the series.

Revives: Each team is allowed a single revive at any time during a series, returning an eliminated player to the match.

Playoff Teams Overview

Team GP (#7 seed): 17 points, 5-6 record, +0 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

Oh, what a bittersweet season it was for Team GP!

The lovable underdogs finally made it over the finish line, earning their first ever playoff appearance after six seasons in the WTL. Unfortunately, the COVID and Katowice related delays forced the playoffs to start after the contracts of Ryung, Prince, and NightMare had expired, leaving Team GP to scramble to find some last minute replacements. While playing with replacement players is better than a forfeit, it’s still disappointing that the ‘real’ Team GP roster won’t get a chance to prove themselves in the playoffs.

With Cham as the only holdover from the previous roster, Team GP have hastily added Gungfubanda, Krystianer, and Leenock ahead of the playoffs. It’s a pretty decent roster given the circumstances—I might even have picked them to finish above the relegation zone in the regular season. Alas, this is the playoffs, and it’s unrealistic to expect them to get any kind of result when filling in on short notice.

KaiZi Gaming (#6 seed): 19 points, 6-5 record, +7 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

KaiZi Gaming is by far the team that looks the most improved coming out of IEM Katowice. They were one of the most disappointing teams of the regular season, just barely nosing their way into the playoffs when a top seed was the original expectation. But after the world championship, you have to look at every single one of the players in a new light.

Of course, I have to start with Oliveira, our new world champion. Even before his championship run at Katowice, Oliveira had shown world-class play in the WTL. He famously stepped in for INnoVation in the ace match of the 2020 Fall Season Finals, where he took down Zoun to secure KaiZi their first ever championship. This season, he was already KaiZi’s best player with a 15-8 record, keeping the team afloat during Reynor’s slump. Now that he’s in the best shape of his career, he’s primed to make a huge impact in the playoffs.

Spirit also raised his stock significantly at IEM Katowice, piloting his sturdy macro style to wins over players like Zoun, Astrea, and ShoWTimE. Considering that Alpha X is the very next team up the playoff ladder, there couldn’t have been a better time for him to hit his stride in TvP.

Last, but not least, Reynor is finally looking like himself again after a dreadful regular season. He looked dominant at HSC XXII ahead of IEM Katowice, was the only player at IEM to finish the group stages with a 5-0 record, and just barely went out 2-3 at the hands of eventual winner Oliveira. Though getting eliminated in the top eight looked bad on paper, his gameplay suggested he was playing at a world championship level again.

I’m still concerned about Reynor’s ZvZ, which was his main weakness during the WTL regular season. He managed to dodge the match-up entirely at IEM, but there was much talk about how the Europeans didn’t practice the match-up in the lead-up to the event. However, with Oliveira playing the best StarCraft of his life, they can split the match-up duties and make this much less of a liability.

All in all, KaiZi Gaming look to be a strong championship contender despite their poor starting position on the playoff ladder.

Alpha X (#5 seed): 22 points, 8-3 record, +16 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

If the arrows are pointing uniformly up for KaiZi Gaming, it’s a more mixed story for the golden dragons.

On the plus side, RagnaroK went on a fantastic final four run at IEM Katowice, where he nabbed wins against the likes of Serral, Neeb, Dark, Cure, and the world champion Oliveira himself. While I can’t put RagnaroK into the same class as the Dark-Rogue-Serral trio of Zergs, he might be the solo occupant of the tier right below them.

Speaking of the Protosses, Zoun had a disappointing showing at IEM Katowice where he went out early in the RO36. This came as a shock to many, as his strong showing at HSC XXII (3rd place) marked him as a potential dark horse at Katowice. In hindsight, going from top three at one event to first round elimination in the next was rather on brand for Zoun. He’s one of the more confounding players of the modern era, sometimes beating world champions in BO5+ series and sometimes getting eliminated by players who are below his weight class. As has often been the case in the WTL, Alpha X’s ceiling depends on how high Zoun peaks.

Similar to Zoun, Astrea also followed up a strong HSC XXII run (runner-up) with a tepid showing at IEM Katowice. Having been seeded into the group stage as the #2 player from the NA region, Astrea went out in last place in his group with a 0-5 record. Again, it’s hard to know how deeply to read into this, as Astrea is another player who can be inconsistent at times. Still, if the version of Astrea that won’s ‘best WTL regular season Protoss’ award shows up, he might very well lead Alpha X on a deep playoff run.

Shopify Rebellion (#4 seed): 24 points, 8-3 record, +18 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

The Shopify Rebellion is the team whose stock changed the least after the IEM World Championship. Everyone basically got eliminated where their historical results suggested they should have, leaving little room for disappointment or excitement. Yes, ByuN was getting a lot of hype for his play in HSC XXII and online cups in the lead-up to Katowice, but let’s be real: RO12 elimination was largely in line with his offline results after returning from the military.

Luckily for the Rebellion, they’re the team that elevates their level the most in the WTL. Something about the online BO2 format suits all of their players greatly, and I’ve gone from calling them overachievers in their first WTL season to expecting them to finish in the top four ever since.

Ultimately, the lack of a super-ace player puts a ceiling on how the Rebellion can rise. The only X-factor is the possibility of an absolutely incandescent run from ByuN—if he feels like he didn’t get to show all his skills at IEM Katowice, there’s no better time to let loose.

Onsyde Gaming (#3 seed): 27 points, 10-1 record, +23 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

Although Maru was the final sacrifice in Oliveira’s fairy tale run at IEM Katowice, Onsyde Gaming has come out of Katowice looking just as strong as before—if not even stronger.

If you can avert your attention from Oliveira’s shocking, history-making performance for a second, you’ll recall that Maru actually looked very good at the tournament. He dominated the group stage—only suffering a minor hiccup against HeroMarine—and went on to crush Solar and RagnaroK in the playoffs.

Granted, the losses to HeroMarine and Oliveira signalled that he’s no longer completely invincible in TvT, but his masterful wins against ByuN and Bunny reminded us that he’s still the #1 player in the match-up. It’s hard to say anyone else really shined in the midst of Oliveira’s supernova showing at IEM, but Maru may actually have been the second most impressive player there.

Not only that, but Solar and Neeb put in impressive performances as well. Neeb managed to beat both Oliveira and Dark in the group stage, and with one more map win, he would have snuffed out Oliveira’s miracle run before it even started. Full-time student or not, it’s clear that Neeb is still playing StarCraft II at a very high level.

As for Solar, he was solid as usual, reaching the playoffs of IEM Katowice for the sixth time in his career. It wasn’t a performance that showed championship upside, but that’s not a huge concern in the WTL. He’s been one of the most consistently strong players in SCBoy Teamleague history, and he’s the most reliable wingman any ace player could ask for.

PSISTORM Gaming (#2 seed): 27 points, 9-2 record, +26 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

PSISTORM are the wild card of the playoffs, bringing four players who all have upset potential against stronger opponents.

Well, it’s actually an insult to MaxPax to say he would be ‘upsetting’ anyone in the WTL. While he never plays in major offline tournaments, he’s absolutely a top-tier player when it comes to online cups and the WTL. In this particular arena, he’s proven that he’s just as good as the other ace-class players such as herO, Dark, or Reynor. Even Maru, the best TvP player in the world, has every chance of dropping a map to MaxPax in a BO2 series. With an online player of MaxPax’s caliber at the helm, a championship is on the cards for PSISTORM Gaming if everything goes right.

It all comes down to how well the rest of the roster can back MaxPax up. GuMiho and SpeCial both looked fantastic at IEM Katowice, with the Towel Terran reaching the RO12 while Juanito narrowly missed out on the playoffs despite putting up a 3-1 record in the group stage. However, both players have struggled with consistency in 2022, and it’s hardly guaranteed that their IEM form will carry over into the WTL. In a way, they’re like the Terran version of the Zoun-Astrea duo on Alpha X—they have the potential to beat anyone, but it’s only potential until it’s realized.

Given the format of the WTL playoffs, it seems unlikely that Gerald or Has will figure into the proceedings. Still, Gerald deserves a shoutout for recovering from his summer slump and making key contributions to PSISTORM’s #2 finish in the regular season. We rarely see Proleague-style ‘snipers’ in the WTL, but Gerald is my pick to fulfill that role should the right situation come along.

Dragon Phoenix Gaming (#1 seed): 27 points, 9-2 record, +32 map differential

Roster and regular season records:

Despite the strong showings of other teams at IEM Katowice, and despite the razor-thin margins that decided the final rankings in the regular season, I’m still picking Dragon Phoenix Gaming as the favorites to win the WTL Winter playoffs.

That’s not just because they have the enormous #1 seed advantage—even if you eliminated that factor and put the teams on even footing, I’d still favor DPG because I believe they have the strongest all-around roster.

IEM Katowice didn’t really change my opinion of herO or Dark, who I still consider to be top five players in the world. Dark just happened to lose to fellow top player herO, while herO went out against the eventual world champion Oliveira—how could I hold that against them? Not only that, but they’ve really thrived in the online team league setting this season. Even Dark, who has been less-than-amazing in the WTL at times, really locked in during WTL Winter and put up a ludicrous 18-2 regular season record.

Only KaiZi Gaming can make a case to have an equally strong one-two punch in Reynor-Oliveira, and that’s if you make the assumption that Oliveira can replicate his level of play from IEM Katowice. But even if you granted KaiZi Gaming that benefit of the doubt, I’d still give DPG the overall advantage because Cure is a stronger third player than Spirit.

Thus, while the competition in the WTL is as fierce as it’s ever been, I’m predicting that DPG will edge out their competitors and win a third straight championship.