Code S Season 3 - RO32 - Group D & E PreviewsCode S resumes with two back-to-back days of Ro32 action. Four-time Code S champion Maru will be at the center of attention, having had plenty of time to stew over his embarrassing Ro32 elimination last season. His upcoming matches might tell us if last season was just a momentary blip, or the beginning of a real fall from the apex of Korean StarCraft II.
On the other hand, Super and Dream should be intriguing to viewers for a different reason. This season has been unkind to 'returners' so far, with PartinG and Bomber suffering elimination in previous groups. Can these two buck the trend and inject some fresh-old blood in the Ro16?
Group D: soO, Dream, Zest, herOby: Destructicon
Start time: Wednesday, Jul 10 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
It’s still strange thinking of soO as a champion. But just four months detached from his career-affirming performance at IEM Katowice, soO is actually the most recent major trophy winner in this group. When looking purely at results—Ro16 in Code S S1, 1st place at IEM Katowice, and Ro8 in Code S S2—you’d think soO’s year was going great.
And compared to 2018, his year IS going a lot better... but still, soO has shown a lot of vulnerability throughout. He had to crawl his way up from the Ro76 at Katowice, followed by a very rocky Ro24 group stage where he advanced with a 2-3 record (he won a four-way tie on map score). In the Super Tournament, Classic sent him out of the Ro16 in a 3-0 sweep. And in the second season of Code S, he narrowly escaped his Ro32 and Ro16 groups in second place (dropping series to Dear and PartinG), and was swept again by Classic in the quarterfinals.
While soO had the moxie to defeat Zest, herO, and Stats on his way to his IEM title, he's struggled against Protoss ever since. Once again, Protoss players pose a grave danger to soO, with two of them lying in wait in this Ro32 group. The consistency and aura of invincibility that made it seem like soO was guaranteed to return to the finals for years on end has faded. And yet, after IEM Katowice, we can never count out the chance that even in his diminished state, soO will push through in the face of oppressive odds.
In a very ironic twist, soO’s first opponent Dream will fill the role of silver surfer in a group of champions. It's not exactly the welcoming back Dream would have been hoping for, but there's no such thing as an easy outing for any progamer returning from military service.
Quietly, Dream’s career story arc has been that of tragedy. After working his way up to a runner-up finish at IEM Katowice 2013, the final major tournament of Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm came along to force him to start over. Two years of effort finally saw him become a championship-level player again in 2015, but his dreams were undercut by back-to-back runner-up finishes in SSL. Not long after that, Legacy of the Void reset his career once more. In 2017, his life was interrupted yet again by mandatory military service (one hopes that the timing was on his own terms, for once).
For someone who took a two year break, Dream's 2019 competitive record is surprisingly not-totally-tragic at 46-39 overall and 24-33 against fellow Korean players. Is that good enough to get him to the Ro16 this time around? Probably not. But going forward? We'll have to see about that...
Unfortunately, Group D finds Zest around the same place he’s been at for the past year and a half: in some kind of weird limbo. Zest hasn’t obtained a notable first place finish since HSC XVI in 2017, though he did manage an arguably more prestigious 2nd place finish in Code S Season 2 of 2018 (enough to earn him a spot at the Global Finals, where he went out in the Ro16). Those bright spots seem like outliers against Zest's general decline into mediocrity, and his situation has worsened to the point where he hasn’t even made a single Code S Ro16 this year.
And yet, if we look at the fabled "online-Zest," he still wrecks nerds. He recently won OlimoLeague #160 (his fifth on the year; six including the March monthly), qualified for ASUS ROG 2019, and finished second in the WardiTV TLMC Tournament. Since the last balance patch, online-Zest has put up an impressive 69-23 record in matches for a whopping 75% match win-rate (though only 62.29% on maps), with notable wins against the likes of Stats, Trap, soO, Rogue, INno and Maru.
Clearly, there's a remnant of the championship-winning Zest left. He even gave us a solid offline performance at HSC XIX, where he placed third-place after losing to TY in the losers bracket final. But GSL Code S is quite different from online play or HSC, and this year, Zest has yet to prove himself in that arena.
Despite a bit of a drop-off in performance at the end of 2018, herO has recovered quite nicely. He's actually been more consistent and delivered better results than Zest on the year: Ro16 in Code S Season 1, top-four at IEM Katowice, and Ro8 in Code S Season 2.
Still, herO’s results aren’t overly impressive. He's been the stereotypical player who usually beats the players he 'should' beat and rarely upsets the ones he 'shouldn't.' He really only punched above his weight class at IEM Katowice, where some logic-defying PvP performances against Trap and Dear got him to the semifinals. His Code S showings have been more restrained. In Season 1, he beat up on Scarlett and Cure, but lost to Dark and Maru. In Season 2, he beat Impact, SpeCial, Keen, and Scarlett in the group stages, but got crushed by Dark in the playoffs.
This group is also hard to predict as the players have been going up and down faster then a roller-coaster. soO has been doing better lately but has shown quite the weakness vs Protoss. Zest could do well if he could just bring his online persona offline. herO is unpredictable and aggressive. Dream is just a total wildcard. Overall, though, I’ll put my (theoretical) money on herO and soO to make it through—at least they've made it out of the Ro32 previously this year.
soO 2 – 0 Dream
Zest 0 – 2 herO
soO 1 – 2 herO
Dream 2 – 0 Zest
soO 2 – 1 Dream
herO and soO to advance.
Group E: Maru, Super, Impact, TYby: Ziggy
Start time: Thursday, Jul 11 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
When Maru failed to advance out of his Ro32 group in the previous season of Code S, people were very quick to cast doubt over his future. That's the cold reality of things—once you're on top of the mountain, you're not allowed to make mistakes lest your career be declared over.
It was only three months ago that Maru won four Code S tournaments in a row and the notion of him ever losing again seemed hard to grasp. Who knows how far the Jin Air Terran could have taken the streak if he had landed in a different group last season? Five Code S championships in a row? Six? Frankly speaking, what difference does it make? He's already created one of the most gripping storylines in the broader StarCraft fandom, a storyline that's always going to be there.
I was genuinely disappointed when the streak came to an end, but given its recency, I'm sure at some point in the future I'll look back on it fondly and be content I got to witness it in its entirety. To make a comparison to pro-wrestling, my heart sank in a likewise manner when Brock Lesnar pinned the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 30, thus ending the Deadman's 21-0 streak at Wrestlemania events. But now it's a memory I cherish, and I'm not as upset about The Streak ending as much as I am happy that it existed.
Maru is still one of the most formidable players on the scene and certainly has a leg up on all the players in his group. He's still expected to cruise through the Ro32 and quite possibly reach the playoffs without a major hitch. But he has been upset before, and it's something he needs to be wary of.
Whilst your average foreign viewer (myself included) won't be able to attest to the specific content of Korean casting, I'm sure we've all noticed that it's saturated with emotion and excitement. It has a clear sense of character: vibrant, uninterrupted, and loud. Say what you will, but I reckon you'd be hard pressed to say the same about TY's stream. And it's not me having a go at TY—he's an amazing player, whose stream has provided me with countless hours of educational entertainment. However, if you want banter, you tune in to someone like, say, PartinG.
That's why I hope I was rather taken aback by TY picking up the GSL casting baton after fellow pro-turned-caster JYP abdicated his position due to military service. While the Splyce Terran seems to have somewhat slowed down since his apotheosis in early 2017 (when he won dual world titles at WESG and IEM), he still remains a force to be reckoned with. That notion was reinforced by his recent Homestory Cup performance, where TY was second only to Serral, falling to the WCS Global Champion in a remarkably close 3-4 grand final. My personal worry is that TY's dabbling in commentary will end up having a negative effect on his output as a professional player—JYP didn't juggle two jobs, after all. However, that paranoia isn't that deeply rooted—as long as TY doesn't get knocked out in the Ro32 for the second season in a row, any doubts I have about TY's future as a player should be dispersed.
Impact has had a good year so far. His team LaoPaoer were the runners-up of the China Team Championship organised by SCBoy. His other 'team' of Classic, RagnaroK, and Solar took first place in the most recent AfreecaTV BJ Destruction Match. Individually, he managed to reach the Ro16 in both Code S seasons. According to Aligulac, Impact is the 5th best Zerg in South Korea. Not too shabby for a player who was once considered Ro32 fodder!
Impact is a beast in online cups, though he hasn't made quite as big a splash in offline events just yet. It's worth pointing out Impact had to face off against both Maru and TY in the first season of Code S 2019, failing to fight back in either series. Impact seems to have a solid grasp on how to play a wide variety of styles, though not necessarily win against the Code S elite. Personally I think the most accurate comparison to be drawn here is between how Impact plays now and what Keen used to show in Proleague in 2014/2015. He has a remarkable ability to get himself into a favorable position in the mid-game, which he follows with an indecisive late-game, which ultimately leads to his demise in a drawn-out macro game where he had ample opportunities to win. As I've already mentioned, there's a noticeable difference in how Impact performs offline as opposed to online, where it feels he'd rather show good games than win. Nonetheless, he's had a good year so far and with just a dollop of luck he might just eke out his third consecutive Code S Ro16 in 2019.
The caliber of some of the recent returnees to the scene is quite staggering. TaeJa, PartinG, Bomber, Dream—names that have already left their mark on professional StarCraft II. Super doesn't necessarily have a similar pedigree to fall back on, as his most notable individual result seems to have been a top 8 finish in SSL Season 1 of 2015. However—and this won't be the last time someone points this out—the landscape of professional StarCraft II has changed quite drastically since then.
We're used to gauging a player's merit by how much they've achieved in individual leagues, as that is simply all we have nowadays. Some people tend to forget there used to be much more than that to being a 'good player.' I'm talking about team competition—Proleague, IPL, GSTL—tournaments that created room for a different type of players. A type that Super fits into very well—he's always earned his bread by being a consistent and reliable team-player. Those were the days when not having an individual championship under one's belt didn't rule you out as a reputable player. And as such, saying Super hasn't quite hit his stride in SC2 would be inaccurate—even if his specific street has been closed off for good (or has it?). I don't expect him to go far in Code S and quite frankly I don't think we'll be seeing too much of him in the near future. Having said that, I wouldn't object to being proven wrong—be it by Super himself, or by the glorious return of proper team leagues.
Maru 2 – 0 Super
Impact 2 – 1 TY
Maru 2 – 0 Impact
TY 2 – 1 Super
TY 2 – 1 Impact
Maru and TY to advance to the Ro16!