Code S RO32 - Group E, F & G PreviewsCode S brings us another trio of round of 32 groups this week, with many of StarCraft II's top stars looking to get off to a good start in 2019. We'll find out if Maru is still the undisputed king of Terran or if INnoVation has finished his boot sequence and is ready to retake the throne. Meanwhile, lone foreigner Scarlett will brave the dangerous waters of the GSL and try to navigate to another top-eight finish.
Group E: Maru, RagnaroK, Scarlett, herOby: Destructicon
Start time: Wednesday, Feb 13 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
While the RO32 groups have been a lot closer and more balanced than usual, this group is mostly about a single player, whom, throughout 2018, raised the bar so high that all his future performances will be judged off it.
Maru's 2018 can only be described as phenomenal. He dominated GSL Code S, winning all three trophies in Korea's most prestigious tournament. He took home the massive $200,000 WESG grand prize and also finished top four at IEM Katowice and GSL vs. the World. Only a handful of other players have ever won four 'premiere' tier tournaments in a single year: Mvp, Life, TaeJa, InnoVation, and Serral. Despite a few hiccups (notably, at BlizzCon), Maru's 2018 is one of the greatest career years of all time.
But success can be both a blessing and a curse. Going into 2019, the question on everyone’s lips is "Can Maru do it again?" After all, even the best player will eventually find his mental or physical fortitude taxed, as it showed at the end of 2018 for Maru.
Thus far, it does seem like Maru has made the most of his winter break as he not only qualified for GSL but also for IEM Katowice 2019, defeating the likes of FanTaSy, TRUE, Neeb, soO and sOs along the way. With such results already it's looking pretty grim for the rest of Maru’s groupmates.
Unlike Maru, RagnaroK's 2018 didn't go the way he wanted. He only made two RO32 appearances in season 1 and 3 of Code S. He didn’t fare much better abroad, failing to make it out of the RO76 open bracket of IEM Katowice. More and more, RagnaroK’s 2016 SSL top 5-6 result feels like a distant memory. It's no shock that GSL's internal seeding put RagnaroK into another group with Maru, just like in the first Code S season 2018.
RagnaroK’s best bet here might be to not focus on Maru at all and simply try to squeeze through in second place. That means focusing on the two other opponents and two other races in his group. Following the latest design patch, RagnaroK’s ZvZ (60.47% win-rate) and ZvP form (60.42%) have been a great deal better than his ZvT (42.11%). As far as Aligulac.com stats are concerned, this could be a sound strategy for him.
Scarlett's name is one of the most well-known throughout the StarCraft II scene, so it's actually quite a shock that she only has one major championship to her name. Fortunately for Scarlett it was a big one: she took home the 2018 IEM PyeongChang trophy in Korea, defeating Serral, Elazer and sOs in the process. Scarlett took some of her aggressive tactics from IEM to GSL and surprised many as she advanced all the way to the quarterfinals in Season 1 of 2018, even defeating former champions Rogue and INnoVation. While Scarlett was defeated by soO in the quarterfinals, she still managed to achieve a foreigner GSL placement which hadn’t been reached since Naniwa in 2012.
The story for Scarlett in 2019 is if she can replicate that early 2018 success. Because, after that initial burst, Koreans seemed to become inoculated to her play. Scarlett fell out of the Ro32 in Code S Season 2 and failed to qualify at all for Code S Season 3. The supposedly easier WCS Circuit went poorly for Scarlett as well and she missed out on BlizzCon after a number of middling performances. While Scarlett has advanced through her WCS Winter group as expected, GSL will provide a better test of where she's currently at.
Similar to RagnaroK, herO has also had a pretty difficult 2018. He managed to take a top four finish in GSL Super Tournament 1 but it didn't stop him from being designated as one of the weakest players during Code S group selections. Perhaps, herO has found it difficult to adapt to the constantly changing metas of LotV, or it could just be that he's been swallowed by the fatigue that eventually overcomes all progamers. Whatever the cause, the Smiling Assassin has had fewer and fewer reasons to crack a grin.
Still, for a player of herO’s caliber and resume, there is always a chance for a bounce-back. While it seems a nearly insurmountable task to challenge Maru, it's a very realistic goal to win against two Zerg opponents in a MU which has historically been his best. HerO's online performances since January, while not the most reliable indicator, have been quite good against Zergs at 77.78% per Aligulac, with his only loss coming from Dark.
There is no doubt in my mind that Maru will crush this group. And as such it pretty much comes down to a battle for 2nd place, which has the potential to be pretty heated. I favor Scarlett, but only slightly as she’s good in the mirror match-up and because herO is such an unknown factor. However, I could also see herO making it if he’s finally managed to get his act together.
Maru > RagnaroK
Scarlett < herO
Maru > herO
RagnaroK < Scarlett
Maru and Scarlett to advance.
Group F: soO, Creator, Hurricane, INnoVationby: Mizenhauer
Start time: Thursday, Feb 14 11:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
While all three of this week's groups contain a bevy of tantalizing potential matchups, none is more historically significant than the seemingly inevitable showdown between soO and INnoVation.
Former SK Telecom teammates and long time competitors, soO and INnoVation have made a living of running into each other. Over the years they’ve played 29 times, with INnoVation getting the better of the StarCraft’s greatest Kong on 20 occasions. They’ve met online, offline, and on a number of different continents. They’ve played in the finals of major or premier events five times, with INnoVation winning all of them. It’s inevitable that players should wax and wane with patches, expansions, and time, but soO and INnoVation’s relative consistency has made it impossible for them to stay out of each others' way for long.
Recurring match-ups are part of the essential nature of sports and StarCraft II is no different. In a world where the same names do battle ad infinitum, such showdowns have become one of the game’s defining features. What’s interesting is that few are true rivalries. More often than not the results are skewed in one party’s favor. Stats and Dark once traded wins, but now it seems like Stats has reined in his Zerg foe. Anyone who fancied themselves as Maru’s rival learned the error of their ways last year.
One could argue that soO and INnOVation’s constantly collisions are not just a result of the cream rising to the top, but of a contracting Korean scene. But on nights like this, it seems not to matter. Code S is back in swing, and when the FreecUP studio lights up Mountain Dew green, we retire our petty arguments and watch as the maestros go to work. Repetitive as it may be, the possible matchup between INnoVation and soO is a perfect example of the marquee matchups that bring fans to the FreecUP studio. Code S’s opening round is frequently defined by one-sided drubbings, but it’s showdowns such as these which keep fans interested in the historic tournament.
It’s not all hype and grandeur though. soO and INnoVation are big names, but they’ll have to share the stage with Creator and Hurricane, a duo of substantially less acclaim. The pair of Protoss are far from stiff competition, having reached Code S a combined nine times since the release of Legacy of the Void (out of 18 possible seasons) and Hurricane possessing the lone Round of 16 appearance.
If one were to ask what giants have been keeping them out of StarCraft’s premier competition they would be less than enthused to discover that Hurricane’s path has been barred by luminaries such as Nightmare (known mostly for those blink DT games against GuMiho). Creator, on the other hand, has fallen victim to full-time caster JYP as recently as Season 1 2017.
Everyone considers INnoVation and soO’ the odds on favorites to advance from Group F. However, the fact that Creator has won his last two matches against everyone in the group does raise an intriguing question about results versus reputation. Ultimately, it's not by winning qualifiers and online tournaments that one finds their name etched in the annals of StarCraft history. It’s under the brightest lights where legacies are made.
Group G: TY, FanTaSy, Impact, Leenockby: Orlok
Start time: Saturday, Feb 16 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
StarCraft II history has not been kind to TY. The Code S Season 3 Finals could have been the coronation of a new king, but it turned out to be nothing more than another chapter in Maru’s saga. Despite being in a superior position in game seven, TY crumpled after taking one decisive blow from Maru and let himself down in the GSL once again.
Thankfully, TY has not fallen into a pit of lethargy after such a dispiriting loss and has earned dual qualification to GSL and IEM Katowice to begin the year. Normally, we'd consider such qualifiers a routine check-up for the previous year's top pros and declare that they're ready for another championship campaign. However, Stats' early dismissal at the hands of MC and GuMiho serve as a reminder that there is no such thing as guaranteed advancement in Code S. TY stands head and shoulders above all the players in this group in terms of renown, but caution is advised for even the heaviest favorite.
Veterans and their returns have been a big theme in recent GSL tournaments. FanTaSy is one of the many ex-retirees to stage a comeback after finishing military service and he's the most surprising one to do so. When FanTaSy was discharged, plenty of fans surmised he would return to Brood War. Starcraft II has historically lived in the shadow of its predecessor in Korea, while Brood War enjoyed a renaissance after KeSPA disbanded its teams. Given that FanTaSy's Brood War success far outweighed his SC2 results, it seemed obvious that he'd join his old compatriots on the AfreecaTV streaming circuit. Yet, out of the blue, Fantasy publicly announced he would be playing Starcraft II. Only FanTaSy knows the true reasons behind his decision, but it's been a pleasant surprise for StarCraft II fans.
Present day FanTaSy is similar to pre-retirement FanTaSy: an enigma. He didn’t make the cut for IEM Katowice, but he did stamp a return ticket to GSL Code S after a relatively short amount of practice (eight months or so). Combined with his surprise qualification for Super Tournament 2 last year, he's making an extremely quick recovery from retirement. While he didn’t tear up the opposition, the fact that he qualified for Code S at all was is impressive. Despite rarely being favored against any of his opponents 'on paper,' he can still take games off the best players this scene has to offer. This wild card factor is a double-edged sword, as he also suffers confounding losses in bizarre situations.
If Fantasy’s gameplay is an mystery, Impact's identity as a player is even more perplexing. The duality of his online-offline form has intrigued the TeamLiquid.net writers on more than one occasion.
Just when we thought Impact had finally gotten over his Code S RO32 hump by steamrolling Zest and Byun in the previous season, he went full
Rounding out this group is Leenock, a seemingly ubiquitous presence in the GSL. Leenock was one of the unluckiest players in GSL last year, with an unexpected gallstone surgery coming right before his quarterfinal match in Code S Season 3. It brought a cruel, painful end to a comeback that came after six years of failing to make it past the RO16. When you take into account the high degree of skill Leenock showed in the group stage (including a magnificent one-map win against Maru), it made the disappointment that much greater.
Moving into the new year, we have to question whether or not Leenock has maintained that level of play. Without anything to play for, it can be hard to stay motivated and keep your momentum going. While this group seems manageable outside of TY, we haven't seen enough from Leenock outside that one quarterfinal run to say he's a favorite to advance. Fantasy and Impact, however erratic their play is, are no pushovers.
Normally this group should be an easy pick, with TY coming out on top and Leenock following in second place. However, Group C reminded us just how easily upsets can happen. The fact that both TY and Leenock must face mirror matches first makes things all the more unpredictable. Fantasy and Impact are both capable of beating anyone when they're 'on,' so there's no clear-cut way to break down this group.
TY > Fantasy
Impact < Leenock
TY > Leenock
Fantasy < Impact
Leenock > Impact
TY and Leenock to advance.