Code S RO32 - Group A & B PreviewsLast season's tagline was RE:Generation—a goal that was realized in more way than one. We saw ex-retirees PartinG and MC fight valiantly in their returns to Code S. Internationally, soO and INnoVation defeated Serral to restore Korea's honor. Old-man Classic steeled himself for one more campaign, climbing all the way to the finals with his wiles and cunning. And finally, we saw Maru recover from an early-year slump to win his fourth consecutive Code S title.
Season 2 brings us the slogan "Renaissance," a slight variation on the theme from Season 1. Will it herald the rise of our first new champion in over a year, or will it does it signal yet another one of Maru's self-reinventions on his way to a fifth championship?
Group A: Maru, Armani, INnoVation, Patienceby: Orlok
Start time: Monday, Apr 29 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The hottest player in the world kicks off the new GSL season: it's none other than four-time champion Maru. Another season means another opportunity for Maru to extend his already historic streak of GSL Code S victories, and he's poised to get off to a smooth start on opening night. His 'weekender' jinx persisted in the recent Super Tournament, but at least this time he managed to impress fans and critics alike with his exciting attempt at mech play against Stats. Before, we could point to those poor short-term tournament performances as potential weaknesses. But after four consecutive Code S championships, there's nothing negative we can say about Maru in Code S. He’s got the skills, he’s got the momentum, and he’s hand-picked an initial opponent to beat in a landslide.
That poor soul is none other than Armani, one of the most surprising players to qualify for this season. The former Samsung player had just come back from military service (he began back in 2017, June 14th), and a lucky qualifier bracket (wins vs Bomber and Losira) saw him jump right back into the Code S fray. While Armani does deserve our respect for that accomplishment, he looks doomed to play the role of sacrificial lamb. The mountain he faces is too high to climb, especially given Maru’s terrifying TvZ prowess. There is not one advantage we can name that Armani could put his hopes on—we can only hope that he puts up a credible fight.
INnoVation has had a topsy-turvy sort of year. He finally won that big prize purse he's been chasing for so long at WESG, defeating de-facto best player Serral in a thrilling best of seven. On the other hand, he flopped out of the more difficult Code S (typically a tournament he impresses in) in the RO16. These erratic results make it difficult to know exactly where INnoVation stands. A no-show at the Super Tournament and a difficult qualification path to Code S (even losing to Creator during the qualifiers) casts further doubt on his abilities. Theoretically speaking he should still be one of the best players in the world—he beat Maru and Serral to win WESG just six weeks ago. But as of right now, he can’t seem to be bothered to play at that GOAT level on the regular. While there's little danger of elimination this early on, we'd feel a lot better about INnoVation if he'd bring his A-game sooner rather than later.
Last but not least, Patience rounds out the opening group, now in his fourth straight Code S season where he's been thrown in a group with Maru (RO16 or RO32). Patience brings his usual “anything can happen” shtick—he's the kind of player that shows the perplexing notion of consistency within inconsistency. He technically is one of the weakest of all Code S participants, picked on and basically openly mocked during group selections. But somehow, he manages to survive and crawl his way to the RO16, and sometimes gives stronger players a momentary scare. Just recently, he managed to beat herO and wrestle Classic to a game five in the Super Tournament, showing solid PvP fundamentals along the way. However, despite these occasional demonstrations of impressive gameplay, Patience has yet to turn these snippets into a sturdy tournament run. He’ll need a hefty dose of luck (spelled "l-u-c-k," pronounced "cheese") to garner a fighting chance against the two Terran titans residing in this group.
Maru is Maru, and Code S is Code S. There's not a single factor here that would make us doubt his advancement, even if INnoVation handed him a rare BO5 loss at WESG. Maru has just been too strong and undeniable in Code S. INnoVation should take second place—his 'decent' could very well be better than of Armani or Patience at their peak. However, if this slump is real, his dodgy TvP could see him imperiled by Patience. As for Armani, well, best of luck.
Maru and INnoVation to advance
Group B: GuMiho, Trust, Impact, Zestby: Destructicon
Start time: Tuesday, Apr 30 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
After a mediocre beginning to 2019 with eliminations in group stages of both Code S and IEM Katowice, GuMiho redeemed himself by putting in a strong performance in the GSL Super Tournament. Just beating Dark in a series full of macro-games (Dark's supposedly specialty) was impressive in itself, but GuMiho then proceeded to sweep IEM and BlizzCon runner-up Stats in the next round. It was all the more amazing considering that Stats had just defeated Maru in the previous round (granted, Maru has never been as strong in the Super Tournament).
GuMiho proceeded to take care of business against PartinG in the semifinals, but was then stopped 4-1 by Classic in the finals. While it was a deflating end to a great run, the score doesn’t do the whole story justice. A few of the games could have easily gone the other way had GuMiho not thrown away leads in terrible fights (a credit and indictment of his play at the same time). Given the caliber of opponents GuMiho has faced and defeated in his Super Tournament run, he should feel confident about his chances of advancing from this group.
Unfortunately, we doubt Trust will be anywhere near as confident as GuMiho. Trust has been a long-time participant in Code S, but he's hardly been a frequent one. After making his first Code S appearance back in 2014, he hasn't been able to escape the RO32 in six attempts.
Is there any reason to believe things will be different this time around? One could point out that the barrier separating the bottom and middle of the pack has become thinner over the years, which has seen players like Impact and Bunny rise slowly upward (meanwhile, the barrier between the good and the elite seems as impenetrable as ever). While the odds are still quite stacked against him, Trust might still be able to pull off an upset under the right conditions. If we were to grasp at straws—at IEM Gyeonggi 2017, Trust managed to beat both Zest and Leenock to advance out of his group, and this situation isn’t that dissimilar.
While some players find themselves constantly testing their sanity trying to break through the Ro32 in perpetuity, others eventually manage to break through. Last year, Impact finally broke his jinx and reached that promised land of the RO16, and once he got a taste of that mid-tier success, returned once more in the first season of 2019. Interestingly enough, Impact actually had a decent chance of pushing his upward mobility even further last season. He got in on the tail end of Maru's slump and came within a map away of handing Maru a shock elimination and taking his place in RO8 (maybe Impact should take credit for being the one who scared Maru straight).
While we do need to see a bit more from Impact before we can call him a RO16 regular, the online-powerhouse might be playing the best offline StarCraft of his career. This group is close enough to his last season’s Ro32 (TY, Fantasy, Leenock) and 16 (Maru, Bunny, Patience) in terms of skill level where we can say he has a solid shot at advancing.
Despite being lauded as an avatar of consistency in his early days, LotV Zest has been anything but steady. The mercurial muscleman has left us constantly puzzled, going from Code S finalist to RO32 dropout in the span of less than a year. In the last season of Code S, he was shockingly eliminated in the first round with his typically solid PvP (seemingly, the only reliable thing about him) looking quite powerless in two matches against Patience, a lesser opponent on paper. However, he then went on to break through the IEM Katowice group stage and made the playoffs on the back of his strong PvP (which incidentally included a victory against Patience).
Zest's name still carries more weight than any of his group opponents, but as he becomed one of those 'beat anyone/lose to anyone' players, it's incredibly hard to be confident about any prediction.
With his recent performances and historical Code S records, I definitely see GuMiho advancing. He has consistently been cracking into the Ro16 for years and can even elevate himself to championship-level at his best. Between the other three, all of them have a strong shot at making it as all have shown weakness and strength in their own way. Zest technically should have the best chance but I just don’t trust him anymore, so I’ll flip a coin on this one.
GuMiho 2 – 0 Trust
Impact 0 – 2 Zest
GuMiho 2 – 0 Zest
Impact 2 – 1 Trust
Impact 2 – 1 Zest
GuMiho and Impact advance.