Code S RO32 - Group B, C & D PreviewsGSL competition resumes this week with a triple-header of matchdays as the crunch is in to finish the round of 32 before IEM Katowice. As is the norm for the GSL, there will plenty of championship-caliber players in action this week. However, two interlopers have also popped in and are threatening to steal the show. All eyes will be on MC and PartinG to see if the former retirees can show us they're truly Code S-worthy.
Group B: Classic, TRUE, Losira and Trapby: Mizenhauer
Start time: Thursday, Feb 07 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The hallowed GSL is still going strong after nine years, inviting fans back for another year of the most skillful StarCraft II league in the world. There's an allure that brings the strongest players from around the globe to FreecUP studio. As far as competitive StarCraft II is concerned, all roads lead to the GSL.
In the case of TRUE, you could say all roads lead back to the GSL and then back again. TRUE was one of Jin Air’s rising stars in 2014, reaching the semifinals of Code S with his unorthodox style of play. However, the proxy-hatch king didn't get by on just panache and flair—his standard play was sound and his mechanics were precise. We can only speculate as to what TRUE might have accomplished had he stayed in Korea, as he left the KeSPA fold to ply his trade in the West.
Viewers who weren’t privy to TRUE’s peculiar brand of genius got a pleasant surprise at WCS Summer when he plowed through the competition using the same tricks he’d employed in Korea. It was a stunning victory which potentially signaled of another era of Korean dominance despite region-lock provisions (we'll spare you the visa details). Yet instead of counting trophies, we’re left asking why TRUE wasn’t able to build upon his early success.
Time went on and TRUE’s results on the WCS Circuit declined. By 2018 he was back in Korea, participating in the second season of Code S and pulling double-duty on the WCS Circuit. Less than a year later he finds himself living in his home country full time, his attention solely (for now) focused on the GSL.
While TRUE experienced the highs and lows of being an international journeyman, most GSL players are solidly rooted in Korea. One such player is Losira, who made his debut way back in 2010 as one of sixty-four players to take part in the first ever GSL tournament.
Losira enjoyed much success in the early days of the GSL, winning Code A back when it used to have a championship, and even reaching a Code S finals before falling to the fabled NesTea. He was unquestionably a top-tier macro Zerg in 2011, but it's been mostly downhill ever since. Losira gradually faded to the periphery, his status slipping from championship contender to round of 32 underdog.
Though he may be lacking a title or even a NesTea Award (for 10 consecutive Code S appearances), Group B marks Losira’s 18th Code S appearance, a tally which ranks fourth all-time. He may never recaptures his past glory, but the fact that he’s earned another attempt to do so is tremendous in its own right. Alongside Leenock and GuMiho, he’s one of the few remaining survivors of the pre-KeSPA days and his presence alone is a testament to his tenacity.
Like Losira, Classic also experienced a quick rise to prominence. However, he's managed to sustain a high level of play ever since. He was introduced to us as just another KeSPA invader in 2013, but he became a Code S champion on only his second try.
Classic’s first title defense was a complete disaster (RO32 elimination), but he successfully rebounded from the slip up and has since had a long fruitful career. He won SSL in 2015, and IEM Shenzhen soon afterwards. He’s made the Round of 4 a number of times, and claimed a fourth premier championship last year when he won the second Super Tournament.
Though particularly vulnerable to the persistent ebb and flow of form, Classic has, for the most part, been a permanent fixture in the top 5 Protoss list, even holding the #1 spot for significant portion of 2018. And yet, his deflating performance at the WCS Global Finals last November and multiple failed attempts to qualify for IEM Katowice paint a picture of a player who, while undoubtedly talented, is still far from the best version of himself at the moment. With this season’s compressed time frame and rapid-fire schedule, Classic will need to round into form as quickly as possible or risk being left out in the cold.
For all Classic’s up and downs, he's still one of only 25 players to win Code S. All roads may lead to GSL, but even the most excellent players often fail to reach the summit.
Trap is a perfect example of that kind of player. He's certainly excellent, but he's stalled in the 9-12th place parking lot. Still, there are worse places to be stuck at. His position as Code S stalwart is unassailable, and we largely expect him to make it out of his initial group. He continues to threaten those who rank above him, even if he finds himself falling short when push comes to shove. His Code S experience is a rare one in this modern GSL where the distinction between the elite and chaff is so clear, but that only makes his position more interesting. Should he make a breakthrough, what would it yield?
[Editor's note: Mizenhauer conveniently "forgot" to put in his prediction so I'll fill in with boring, safe picks.]
Classic > TRUE
Trap -> Losira
Trap -> Classic
TRUE > Losira
Classic > TRUE
Trap and Classic advance.
Group C: Stats, MC, Cure, GuMihoby: Orlok
Start time: Friday, Feb 08 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group C brings us a collection of talent and resume that might be unmatched in the entire round of 32. Each of these players knows the ins and outs of the GSL and it's anyone's guess as to who will continue to make an impact on the first Code S of the year.
At the forefront is Mr. Consistency himself. Though 2018 was a disappointing year for Protoss players on the whole, Stats was a flickering light in the darkness. He snatched a Super Tournament title alongside a runner-up finishes at Code S, GSL vs. The World, and BlizzCon—perhaps a downgrade on paper from his dual SSL-GSL titles in in 2017, but an improvement in paper coming into his bank account. Some might say his finals losses to Serral and Maru were damning proof of his limitations, but it's praiseworthy to have co-starred so often with the two best players of the year. Everything Stats has shown since the release of Legacy of the Void affirms his status as one of the best, even if he has suffered a recent setback with his failure to qualify for IEM Katowice. Nonetheless, we know what to expect from this GSL campaign—solid games and a real chance to make a championship run. Given the veteran’s overall legacy, he’s definitely the favorite to make it out.
Speaking of veterans, MC's sudden return inspired equal parts excitement and worry in the StarCraft II community. After fairly lackluster stints as a League of Legends coach and caster, one couldn’t help but worry about how MC's return to StarCraft II would go. SC2 has been unforgiving to those who return after lengthy breaks. With champions like PartinG and MMA barely making it to Code S after a year of practice, it seemed an imprudent move to make. Even if the collective talent of the Korean scene had become enervated, there was still apparently more than enough to deny the efforts of ex-retirees seeking another stay in the limelight.
In classic MC fashion, the Boss Toss instantly shut down his naysayers with a lightning quick return to GSL. While the sheer speed MC ironed out his kinks is a testimony to his dormant skill, the road he traveled fails to inspire much faith. Normally, losing to Code S mainstays like soO and RagnaroK before beating SortOf twice doesn’t bode well for a podium finish. But when one takes into account players such as INnoVation and Dark also required two chances to qualify, it would be rash to dismiss MC as merely cashing in on luck. While this comeback tour was briefly threatened with the announcement of military service, joining ROOT and further postponement has allowed him to circumvent this setback. All eyes will be on MC to see if he can pull off a fitting return to glory.
While MC enters as the returning hero, GuMiho unfortunately plays the part of the fallen champion—a stock character in the GSL. Ever since he shelved his middling Terran persona by winning Code S in 2017, he has slipped back into his old position of being a good, mid-tier GSL player. He never slumped out of the competition entirely, but he continues to walk the tantalizing tightrope of success. Sadly, his creative strategies and aggressive mindset have failed to earn him another deep GSL run. GuMiho pummels early competition into pulp but when push comes to shove, he has consistently faltered. His final 2018 result sums everything up neatly: on the cusp of securing Korea's 8th and final spot at BlizzCon, he failed to qualify for the Super Tournament entirely. It was an infuriating ending for both GuMiho and his fans who know the Towel Terran can be so much better. It’s up to him to see if he can shed the curse and return to his zenith.
Rounding out Group C is Cure, somewhat of a letdown from the three Code S winners before him. A tormented soul who would love to have “champion” juxtaposed with his name in any fashion (even 'championship contender' would be nice). Despite sharing a career of similar length with his groupmates, he has never been blessed with a single first place finish. Ever since his semifinals exit against INnoVation way back in 2014, Cure has lost whatever spark ignited that appearance in the first place. Sure, he did get second place at 2014's Red Bull Battlegrounds Washington, but his domestic output has been starkly unremarkable. Sporadic sprees of qualification have produced just two semi-final appearance in the span of nearly 20 GSL/SSL tournaments. His one silver lining lies in the hopes that with the blessings of the new year, he can turn over a new leaf and become a threatening player once more.
GSL has become a league of grizzled veterans, but there's still a hierarchy among them. Stats should skip throughout this group without trouble given his consistency has never fizzled out this early in a tournament. GuMiho should—bar some mirror match madness from Cure—battle his way to second, but MC boasts a wildcard factor that mucks up any confidence in my prediction. Despite the Boss Toss’ rustiness, his killer instinct and aggression has never been lackluster. Whether he can harness these to another victory will definitely be the unknown variable that decides the outcome.
Stats > MC
GuMiho > Cure
Stats > GuMiho
MC > Cure
GuMiho > MC
Stats and GuMiho to advance.
Group D: sOs, PartinG, Bunny, Solarby: Destructicon
Start time: Saturday, Feb 09 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group D brings us a colorful and lively lineup of players, each with his own flamboyant style. There's a penchant for the unpredictable as well as a need for affirmation in all four of these players, which should make for a particularly explosive concoction.
sOs certainly has the least to prove here as he's shown that he can outsmart anyone and win any tournament. Well, except this particular tournament. And actually, he hasn't won any major tournament since the 2015 WCS Global Finals...
It's not like sOs has been coasting on his past reputation, but he hasn't looked like the 100% best version of himself either. Since BlizzCon 2015, he's been plagued by numerous "close but no cigar" moments, with his best results in 2018 being a pair of second-place finishes at IEM PyeongChang and the GSL Super Tournament II, and a top four finish at the 2018 Global Finals.
Those would be fantastic results for nearly any other player in the world, but sOs is a two-time Global Champion. It used to be that nothing could faze sOs mentally, and he'd win tournaments by always making the right gamble in a crucial moment. While he has displayed some motes of brilliance in his games, it's just doesn't feel quite the same as before.
Going into this new year, after having seen his teammates Rogue and Maru win major championships in 2018, will we see 2015 sOs again? The signs aren't great so far, as he began the year by failing to qualify for the group stage of IEM Katowice (he'll be braving the RO76 open bracket). At this point, sOs could really use a kick start in the GSL.
It's fitting that the 'Rascal Toss' PartinG is sOs' first opponent as the two are surprisingly similar players. PartinG's name also hangs from the BlizzCon rafters in Blizzard's Hall of Honor for his triumph at 2012 Battle.net World Champion (the previous incarnation of the WCS Global Finals) and he's been chasing a triumph of that magnitude ever since.
PartinG first made a name for himself for his out-of-game antics, powerful macro PvT, and off course the immortal Soul Train. Much like sOs, PartinG was often derided as being cheesy by his detractors, but no one could argue against the results he got. Though he hasn't cashed any $100,000 checks since BWC, PartinG subsequently picked up championships at Red Bull Battlegrounds, DreamHack, and HomeStory Cup.
However, the most pertinent thing about PartinG in the present is the long hiatus he took from StarCraft during 2016-2017. He had a decent RO32 showing when he appeared in last July's Code S Season 2, and the question of the night will be how much he has improved in the following seven months.
In terms of tournament placements alone, Bunny could be considered the weakest player in the group. He's the only player who hasn't won a major championship and he has frequently exited tournaments in the early rounds. Still, even in a group with more illustrious foes, Bunny can be a bit of a wild card. His playstyle is aggressive-bordering-on-suicidal, almost like a GuMiho with even less control over the chaos he wields.
However, this style of play finally seems to be working for Bunny right now. Against all odds, he managed to earn a RO24 seed at IEM Katowice in the absolutely stacked Korean qualifier. He didn't just qualify in any plain way: he beat beat Dear, sOs and Solar (two of his groupmates) while compiling a 6-0 match record (14-3 map score). If Bunny brings the same level of play to his GSL group, he might actually be the favorite to go through to the RO16.
Rounding out the group is Solar, multiple-time champion and nemesis of both PartinG and sOs. Similarly to his opponents, however, Solar hasn't lifted any major trophies lately, his last being in SSL Season 2 of 2016.
When you take a closer look at Solar's results, he's been collecting wins against extremely strong players and championship contenders. He seems to have all the skills needed to take home the gold, but he's been stuck as yet another one of those players who can't string those wins together when it matters most. There was no better representation of that than last year's GSL Super Tournament II, where Solar competed for a last-gasp ticket to BlizzCon. He showed off his abilities with an impressive 3-1 victory against Stats in the quarterfinals, only to cede the BlizzCon spot to sOs with a narrow 2-3 loss in the semifinals.
This group has the potential to be a lot of fun as everyone is capable of bringing outside-the-box strategies that defy the norms of StarCraft II. Their recent results (or lack thereof) makes this quite hard to predict, so I'll go with what seems like the most fun result.
sOs < PartinG
Bunny > Solar
PartinG > Bunny
sOs < Solar
Bunny < Solar
PartinG and Solar advance.