Code S Season 1 - Round of 24by Wax
The Code S RO24 seemed predictable when the groups were first announced, but the results have been anything but expected. IEM Katowice champion Rogue and quarterfinalist sOs are already out—will it be the runner-up Zest's turn to eat a shocking first round upset?
Group C Preview: Zest, DongRaeGu, Impact, CureStart time: Saturday, Apr 18 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The Lords of Battle.net
Like the other six RO24 groups, we have two players who seem like heavy favorites to advance on paper. As mentioned in many previous previews, Cure and Zest were two of the strongest online competitors during the pre-season. Cure put up an absurd 81.38% online win-rate during the pre-season, making Zest's 70.97% win-rate seem pedestrian in comparison.
But when IEM Katowice kicked off the 2020-21 season, we learned what the real difference was between the two players. Zest, a multiple-time champion in a bygone era, proved the adage of "class is eternal" to be true, making it all the way to the grand finals before losing to Rogue. Cure, who earned a group-stage seed at IEM Katowice by advancing through the European server qualifier (perhaps his greatest online feat of strength), fizzled out of his group with losses to Serral, sOs, and TY. As it turned out, three months of online play weren't as meaningful as four years of Code S in informing us about Cure's status: that of a player doomed to be hard-stuck in the group stages. It's clear that even without an audience, there's something about offline-play that prevents Cure from playing at his usual level. Either that, or it's that Cure's level stays the same offline, while the truly elite players step up their game when the stakes are raised.
All that said, Cure slots into the #3 Terran in Korea spot by default for now, thanks to TY's slumping results over the last month or so. He took care of business against Dear in the first round of the Super Tournament with a 3-1 win, but was thoroughly beaten by Solar in the following quarterfinal round. Cure is still regularly reaching the finals of online cups, and his online win-rate is just a tick or two below 80% since IEM. Even if you question Cure's ability to win in the later rounds of Code S, you have to think the first group stage a hurdle he should clear, offline jitters be damned. Then again, Cure should have made IEM Katowice his breakout tournament, but still failed to live up to his potential in the end.
As for Zest, his trajectory after IEM Katowice has been fairly steady, continuing to post a 70%-ish win-rate in online cups. Zest looked every bit the title contender when he drubbed TY 3-0 in the first round of the Super Tournament, but suffered a surprising 1-3 loss to Trap in the following round (chalk it up to the randomness of PvP?).
Given the fact that Rogue and sOs, two players who performed well at IEM, were eliminated in the last two groups, it's a worthwhile exercise to ponder how 'real' Zest's IEM run was. His Glaive-Adept style in PvZ factored heavily into his win, allowing him to topple Zerg after Zerg in his climb to the finals. But that very Glaive-Adept style was already over-exposed before the tournament was even over, with Rogue using the knowledge gleaned from 10+ matches to blitz Zest 4-1 in the finals. Zest looks to be a strong player all-around, but without a temporarily game-breaking strategy, the gap between him and his groupmates might not be as wide as it seems.
The World's Weirdest Rivalry: Could Impact upset Zest?
The first two groups featured major upsets where the 3rd best player on paper managed to sneak their way out of the group with a pair of all-in attacks in the decider match. All-ins in critical games? Someone get Impact on the phone! The Team LP Zerg's play-style could be described as a mutation of the soO strain: he's strongest when pumping out waves of units at the Lair stage, but he also has a pathologically dangerous tendency to make a lot of Roaches and Ravagers. It's unclear as to whether this tendency is more harmful to his opponents or himself, but it does add an element of variance to his games that's conducive to upsets. If Impact faces Cure, you know there's going to be a game where Cure goes for a BC rush and Impact counters with a Roach-Ravager timing. Now, would that result in Impact winning outright, or Cure mounting a not-really-a-comeback on the back of triple-orbital Mules? I have no idea, but it would sure be interesting to watch.
Another favorable factor for Impact is that any match he has against Zest seems destined to be a 50/50 coinflip. The two have been embroiled in a bizarre, low-stakes rivalry for years, and it's surprisingly closely contested for two players of such disparate stature. Impact actually has the winning record with a 27-23 all-time record. And if you think that stat is padded by low-stakes online matches, Impact's head-to-head record actually improves significantly to 7-3 when factoring in only offline results.
In short, Zest would be heavily favored against any other Zerg at Impact's relative skill level, but the wonkyness of their specific relationship makes it close 50/50. It's similar to the brutally one-sided Zest-Dear match-up—there's no way Zest should be owning Dear THAT hard, but there's something about the specific relationship that makes it defy StarCraft II logic.
Alright, now that I've covered my ass by pointing out the complicating factors above, I'll proceed to pick Cure and Zest to advance anyway.
Thanks for the $2,500
One of the most notable moments from DongRaeGu's career came during the Code S Season 1 finals in 2012, when he faced off against teammate and close friend Genius. DongRaeGu may have crossed the line with his elderly pal, performing a 'go to the army' ceremony by draping a military uniform and cap on him.
Well, karma is a b... ...aneling, ain't it DongRaeGu?
After returning from his mandatory military service in 2018, DongRaeGu has been living the struggle-life of all the other 'returners.' At the time of writing, he was 25th place in the Aligulac Korea rankings, sandwiched between DynaMite, Patience, and Creator above him, and Polt, TRUE, and Zoun beneath him. He's basically the designated 4th place finisher in this group. Still, you have to imagine he's pleased just to pick up the $2,500 in prize money for qualifying for the RO24, without much aspiration to advancing further.
Still, if one were to hold out some vain hope for DRG, you could look back on some half-year old results. Toward the very start of the pre-season, he participated in AfreecaTV's BJ Destruction Matches: a team tournament held live in the GSL studios. In the best string of competitive results since his comeback, he helped his team "Busan Boys" (together with Fantasy and soO) to the finals with wins against the likes of Rogue, Dark, and INnoVation (twice!).
Zest > DongRaeGu
Cure > Impact
Zest > Cure
Impact > DongRaeGu
Cure > Impact
Zest and Cure to advance.