A Microcosm of the GSL: Code S Group GWritten by @Mizenhauer
On July 27th, 2010, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was released. Two months later, the Global StarCraft II League began. Since then, the GSL has defined the course of StarCraft II esports. For eight years, we've hailed the hallowed few who have stood atop the mountain, and paid our respects to the hundreds who had the bravery and skill to attempt the ascent. We've gorged ourselves on every possible storyline and devoured every sliver of drama. In the process, we've become all too familiar with the many species of competitors who inhabit the GSL—The contenders, the aspirers, the prey. However, it's rare to see them all gathered by the same watering hole.
At a glance, Group G of this season’s GSL is your run-of-the-mill, lower-round group. But for the astute observer, it's a near-perfect arrangement of the GSL's archetypes, in all of their glory and tragedy (more of latter—only one of thirty-two players can lift the trophy, after all). It’s a perfect encapsulation of the GSL, which makes it fascinating beyond its humble RO32 billing.
Impact: The Typical GSL PlayerImpact finds himself once more in his natural habitat. It took Impact six tries to escape Code A and break into Code S, and it may very well take him six Code S RO32 appearances until he advances to the next round. The present season marks attempt number four.
As tragic as it sounds, Impact's tale of being stuck at the lowest rung of Code S competition is more the norm than exception. Among the 2017 GSL participants, Impact was one of eighteen players who have never escaped the first round (Scarlett and Curious had the mixed honor of reaching and being eliminated in the RO32 of all three seasons). Meanwhile a mere twenty-three players saw the RO16, while eight players reached the RO16 or higher in all three seasons. In short: the elite stayed elite and everyone else stayed the same.
All this demonstrates the difficulty in upward mobility for players like Impact. Though their talents are formidable, they might as well be chum thrown to the sharks. 'Slow and steady improvement' is harder than it sounds—when everyone is improving, one must outpace the others to achieve even marginal gains. This may be the lowest spot on the GSL food chain, but players in this category have made up the vast majority of the GSL since its inception. Impact and his peers remind us of the brutal nature of competition, where one can be forgotten despite being a top 32 player in the world.
Similar Players: Despite their past success, players like Leenock, Losira and KeeN have shared Impact's plight for the last few years. Historically, Impact can be compared to players such as YugiOh, RagnaroK and DeParture, who never made it further than the RO32 in Code S.
Cure: Lightning in a BottleCure is a rather curious case. He’s only made Code S five times in his career, which might lead you to believe he's in a similar category as Impact. You might even think Cure is worse—Impact is at least somewhat consistent in his status as a low-tier GSL denizen, while Cure frequently fails to qualify for GSL at all. Then, you look at Cure's results when he does qualify for the GSL and your mind does somersaults. Cure has reached the semifinals on two separate occasions. In his first semifinal in 2014, he just barely lost to INnoVation in a tight seven game series. His other semifinal ended in a 0-4 at the hands of TY in the first GSL of LotV.
That loss turned out to be the end for Cure. The end of what, one can’t be sure, but ever since Cure has been relegated to average performances in online cups. Or maybe it wasn’t the end of anything and merely a natural regression back to his normal state. However, that might be a dangerous assumption to make of a player who once had the skill to reach two GSL semifinals.
Similar Players: Though Cure has his own personal quirks, his overarching storyline is not unique in the GSL. Form fluctuates and players experience dramatic upticks in performance without apparent explanation. Ryung would be the first and most obvious comparison. He may have had a longer career in GSL than Cure, but he’s also cropped up in a pair of semifinals many years apart. Curious earned his reputation as the gatekeeper because of his proclivity for banishing upstarts to Code A, but he also made the semifinals twice.
TY: Contender and PretenderTY is on the hotlist of title contenders every time Code S begins anew. He’s reached the quarterfinals in five of the last six GSL’s, even making it to the finals back in 2016. He lifted the championship trophy at IEM and WESG, and placed top four at BlizzCon as well. TY's results demand that we respect him as one of the best players in the world. And yet, it's hard to look past the fact that he's never been crowned GSL champion.
TY has made an art form of transforming fine form into baffling displays of ineptitude. His brilliance seems reserved for the international stage, with none of it forthcoming in his most important GSL matches. Still, he's far too clever and mechanically gifted for anyone to doubt him in the lower rounds. The community wouldn’t liquibet him if he wasn't a lock to make a solid run in the GSL. We’ve come to expect a lot from TY over the years, and he's delivered on most of those things: Terran innovation, precise execution, and exciting games. But as far as winning the GSL goes, maybe that's too much to ask.
Similar Players: Solar and herO have experienced a great deal of success is other tournaments, but GSL Code S has always been a thorn in their side. While Solar has always been a bit inconsistent, herO’s 1-4 record in GSL quarterfinals is more confounding than anything else. TaeJa might be the ultimate historical comparison, with GSL elitists refusing to concede "best in world" status to the Terran prodigy no matter his international success.
soO: (Would-Be) ChampionsIt’s painfully obvious that soO is not a GSL champion, but he certainly has all the traits of one. He has won countless games on his unfailing mechanics alone, while he has the grit and resilience to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Even after so many finals defeats, fans still honor and burden soO with the highest of expectations: that he will do battle on the most exalted stage, fighting for the ultimate prize after all others have fallen.
This is the most exclusive tier in the GSL hierarchy. Maintaining this position requires a player to remain at the top of the scene, something very few have been able to do. Zest, ByuN and many other have had their memberships mercilessly revoked. Playing at this level attracts the greatest scrutiny, but it also imparts the greatest glory. Even the losers can become some of the most fondly remembered players in GSL history, simply by gracing the finals stage enough times.
Similar Players: INnoVation, Maru and Stats are all tipped to reach the latter stages of every GSL they enter. The trio have made seven GSL finals between them, while also posting exceptional results elsewhere. They may not always hold this rank, but sustained results will grant them occupancy in this club. As a historical comparison, we'd be remiss not to mention MarineKing, a fan-favorite and perennial title contender from another age.