Code S Season 1 - Round of 24by Wax
Finally, we're arrived at the end of the Round of 24. Which two players will clinch final spots in the round of sixteen?
Also, the RO16 group-selection ceremony is scheduled to begin immediately afterward. Who will Dark take with his #1 pick, giving them the dubious distinction of being the 'worst' RO16 player? Conversely, who will get picked last, becoming the unofficial scariest player in the RO16?
Group F Preview: Hurricane, TaeJa, SpeCial, StatsStart time: Wednesday, Apr 29 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The first round of Code S is when we get ourselves comfortable and ease ourselves into the tournament before the more high-stakes matches begin. It's a place where we can enjoy subplots such as "how will the players returning from the military do?" Well, maybe we 'enjoy' was the accurate word last year, but nowadays, these matches are filling me with more dread than anticipation. It's been a rough go at it for players returning from their mandatory, 20-month military service, with none of them being able to break past the first round.
So, what do we expect from TaeJa. Aside from MMA, he's the most accomplished Terran player to give SC2 progaming another go after military service. It didn't go particularly well for MMA—a single Code S RO32 appearance was all he netted in his comeback. TaeJa's return has only gone slightly better: this will be his second time qualifying for Code S since his return. Watching TaeJa struggle is particularly discouraging because he was reputed to be one of those guys who got by on sheer talent rather than practice. Shouldn't a return after hiatus be easier for players of that archetype?
I might have given TaeJa an outside chance to advance in a different group: he has extremely unbalanced match-up stats, with a dreadful 34% TvP win-rate being contrasted by decent TvZ and and TvT that's around 60%. If he drew the right players and match-ups, the RO16 could have been within reach. Unfortunately, this group has two Protoss players, one of whom is widely considered the best Protoss of LotV. Considering that there's no way for TaeJa to face SpeCial twice, I get the feeling the military returners will go 0/5 in Season 1.
Wow, that was a cheery way to start the preview! Let's move on to Group F's Tier 1 player in Hurricane. That Tier 1 status might seem baffling to some, but Hurricane is a thoroughly baffling player. If you already forgot, Hurricane made a completely unexpected, flash in the pan run to the Code S semifinals in Season 2 of 2019—it's that result which earned him enough GSL points to earn a top seed here.
It's worth pondering: was that run really a flash in the pan? It sure seemed so at the time, since Hurricane benefited from a soft RO16 group and then drew a PvP against PartinG in the quarterfinals. [Tangent: the current GSL group selection format is too uncompetitive. The #1 overall seed always picks a group with the 3 weakest players, ensuring one of the bottom three players in the RO16 will get into the RO8. They should take away the #1 seed's "swap" right to fix this.] Afterward, he achieved little of note, dropping out of the RO32 in the next Code S while not even qualifying for the next two Super Tournaments.
That is, until IEM Katowice 2020, where Hurricane advanced from the open bracket, defeated Serral in the group stage, and survived a generally tough group to reach the playoffs (he lost to Zest in the first round). Some of Hurricane's online performances since then suggest his IEM run wasn't entirely fluky—he defeated INnoVation in his GSL Code S qualifier match, and recently finished 2nd place in the ESL Open Weekly for Korea (narrowly losing 2-3 to Cure in the final). With Patience slumping lately, perhaps maybe it's time we anoint Hurricane as his official successor. After all, we attach the "can beat anyone on his best day" descriptor to players far too often—Hurricane actually deserves the distinction. And what would Patience do in this situation? Probably advance, and get picked first by whoever has the #1 seed in the RO16 (it's Dark, so this is a hypothetical lock).
Hurricane might be the Tier 1 player here in terms of points, but I'm sure many fans are looking at the ever-steady Stats as the true favorite in the group. That's not surprising, since Stats does happen to be the most accomplished Protoss player of Legacy of the Void. At the time of writing, Stats was comfortably leading the Liquibet voting, while the other three players were fairly close to each other.
Now, there's something to be said about how Stats reputation exceeds his results just a tiny bit. Take a look at his last three offline events: Top 16 HSC XX, top 12 IEM Katowice, first round elimination in the GSL Super Tournament. Compared to his perennial championship contender status of the past, he's definitely experiencing a slump. At the same time, you hardly expect him to be in any real danger of elimination here. While we joke about online-Zest on TL, Korean pros joke about offline-Stats: they really seem to respect (or are at least amused by) his ability to over-perform in important, live matches. Now, that didn't avail him when Maru was stepping on his neck in the Super Tournament, but there's no Maru-tier players to worry about at this stage of the competition. I don't see much reason for worry about Stats yet—let's keep it short and say he'll advance.
Rounding out the group is Mexico's SpeCial, who will be looking to make to the RO16 for his third season straight. I'm tempted to look at TY's appearance in the previous Code S group as a proxy for Juan—they've been known to share strategies and ideas in the past. Dear specifically mentioned that he was taken aback by TY's mech, and said it's a strategy really only used by TY and SpeCial. In this two-Protoss group, where SpeCial faces Stats to start, we might see him showcase mech TvP as well.
Theoretically, mech could confer an advantage to SpeCial as he looks to take down a favored opponent in Stats—Protoss players rarely practice against it and they seem to struggle to put together counter-compositions on the fly (although, they instinctively seem to know how to exploit mech's immobility). But there was tidbit from TY's latest prediction video that I found to be quite interesting in the context of this match. Apparently, Stats helped TY practice for his Code S grou[, and thus TY was obliged by the unofficial progamer code of honor to help Stats practice for his. And so, TY said he gave Stats specific pointers on SpeCial's tendencies and weaknesses, though he didn't give away any builds. That seems like quite the extra-advantage for Stats when he was already favored to begin with!
Perhaps, however, this is just some fun gossip for TY's YouTube channel and not really a factor at all. After all, we've seen SpeCial prepare builds that defeated the likes of Stats and Classic in extremely high stakes matches at BlizzCon. Even if TY jokes that's he's the Infestor feeding strategies to SpeCial via Neutral Parasite, we know in reality that SpeCial is a very savvy strategist in his own right. He's often said this preparation-heavy Code S environment is where he thrives, and I imagine he'd like to prove it again in Group F.
Predictions: Even if he's slowed down lately, I have to take Stats to advance in first place on past reputation alone. Unfortunately, 'reputation' is why I have to pick TaeJa to finish last: StarCraft II has just been too consistently cruel to the returners. That leaves me to decide between Hurricane and SpeCial for second place. I'm going to go with the statistics here: PvT has been by far Hurricane's worst match-up in the last few months at a sub-50% win-rate, and he actually lost to SpeCial himself at IEM Katowice. If it all comes down to a final decider match between SpeCial and Hurricane, I'll give Juan the upper hand.
Hurricane > TaeJa
Stats > SpeCial
Stats > Hurricane
SpeCial > TaeJa
SpeCial > Hurricane
Stats and SpeCial advance.