Code S Season 1 - Round of 16by Orlok
The revised first round of Code S has finished, and from here on out we're back to the familiar old format. The twelve players who advanced from the RO24 are joined by four seeded players from the Super Tournament in the RO16 group stage, with eight players advancing to the single-elimination playoffs.
Be sure to check out TL's recap of the group selection ceremony to see how the RO16 groups were put together. As is tradition, we begin with group A, where the #1 seed has entrapped the prey of his choice. In this most dangerous of games, will any of the underdogs be able to turn the hunter into the hunted?
Group A Preview: Dark, TaeJa, Scarlett, DearStart time: Wednesday, May 06 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Dark comes into group A as its seeded player and the #1 seed overall. It's similar to his position in 2019's Season 3, when he drafted a group of the three easiest Terrans. Once again, he's unquestionably the clear favorite to advance. There’s simply no one in this group who realistically has a shot at taking series off of him in terms of skill, and it really is Dark’s group to lose. Dear is a RO16 regular but not someone who's prone to creating PvZ upsets. TaeJa and Scarlett certainly showed persistent resolve to get here, but they haven't shown RO8 quality in a while.
The three underdogs will have to roll the dice by using riskier builds if they're to have a chance against Dark—that, or have an absolutely inspired, once-in-a-year performance in macro play. Dark should comfortably advance out of this group in first place. While INnoVation narrowly got the better of Dark by going a combined 3-2 against him at NeXT Spring, the games were more a credit to INnoVation than demerit against Dark. And, in the end, Dark showed his clutch factor by beating INnoVation in the ace match to win the championship for his team.
TaeJa, in his current state, is no INnoVation, and should barely register as a threat on Dark's radar. After all, that's why Dark picked TaeJa as his first opponent (the win-rate of first-picking in the GSL Ro16 has to be absolutely insane, we never see this strategy lose).
TaeJa is one of the players in the group who surprised us by advancing from the RO24 at all. It was nice surprise as the other four military-service returnees in Dream, DongRaeGu, Armani, and Bomber all failed to get over the first hurdle in Code S, despite showing some decent play. Taeja seemed poised to join them in elimination when he fell flat in his first match against Hurricane, but rallied to show us some of his vintage magic (it's always summer somewhere). He showed off his TvT skills to beat SpeCial in the losers match, and then took the rematch against Hurricane in convincing fashion. It wasn't so much HSC or DreamHack TaeJa we saw—it was the mercurial TaeJa of the Korean leagues who could look lost in one match before dominating in the next.
Unfortunately for TaeJa, facing Dark is a whole other ball game from taking on SpeCial and Huricane. Taeja could pin some hopes on the fact his statistical best match-up since returning to SC2 is TvZ, but a lot of his wins are against foreigners or fringe Code S players. As a player who's strength has always been macro games, one has to wonder if TaeJa will try to fight Dark straight-up or surprise his opponent with some cheese. He'll have to play an absolutely masterful game to whittle Dark down in macro, and his results since returning to SC2 don't paint many realistic scenarios where that happens.
Scarlett, one of the other players who surprised us by advancing from the RO24, comes into this group as an enigma. Her surprise win over IEM champion Rogue was a nice departure from usually predictable outcomes of the first round, and she did it by being crafty with all-ins. Coach NoRegret and Scarlett will surely have been busy scheming up even more tricky builds, so it's certainly plausible that she could advance to the RO8 for the first time since 2018. As for Scarlett's opening ZvP series against Dear: she's only played a ]limited # of games against Code S-level opposition, but she proved she was up to the task of beating Korea's top Protoss players in online competitions by defeating Trap and Zest to win an ESL Weekly Open back in March. If one were to be maximum optimistic, there's a best-case scenario where she beats Dear and then outfoxes Dark to claim first place.
Dear rounds out the group as a slightly odd last-pick for Dark. Dear wasn't the weakest opponent Dark could have drafted into his group, so we can only surmise that Dark rates his PvZ abilities quite poorly. Dark did stomp him 2-0 in the IEM Katowice group stage, and Dear's PvZ win-rate is merely 55% so far this season.
Dear, despite being the second most prominent in the group with nine consecutive Code S appearances, faces an unclear path towards advancing to the next round. Scarlett isn't the most consistent player out there, but her PvZ happens to be her statistical best match-up, and she's one of the players who has benefited most from the planning-heavy nature of Code S. TaeJa, though lackluster for much of his return, definitely has the raw talent needed to become the most successful of the military-service returnees (the Korean casters even joked that he's actually practicing now). In a universe where past results, statistics, and reputation lead us to a logical conclusion, Dear should simply out-macro both Scarlett and TaeJa to advance in second place. But live StarCraft II is full of surprises, and it seems equally possible that Dear would catapult himself skyward to success, or drive himself straight into the ground.
Again, Dark should have this in the bag, barring one of the biggest sequence of upsets in Code S history. One could argue that he's been the best overall GSL player for nearly a year now, and none of his opposition really pose a huge threat here. It's a lot harder to confidently say who will advance alongside Dark. Dear deserves the benefit of the doubt for his long tenure in Code S, but there are enough variables that make this almost a coin flip decision.
[Editor's note: The cowardly writer refused to give a detailed prediction so I'll provide it instead.]
Dark > TaeJa
Scarlett > Dear
Dark > Scarlett
Dear > TaeJa
Dear > Scarlett
Dark and Dear advance.