Code S Season 1 - Round of 16by Wax
After a surprisingly competitive night of games in Group A, Code S RO16 action continues now in Group B. To many fans, this might be the mini-group of death (the group of severe head trauma?), packed with players who would look right at home in the playoffs. But to me, it's the group of Cure, the most perplexing player of the 2020 season so far.
Group B Preview: TY, Solar, Stats, CureStart time: Friday, May 08 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
I'll do this group in reverse order, because I want to start off with the player I think is the most interesting. TL.net readers could justifiably accuse me of repeating the same "is online-Cure for real" talking point over and over again in preview articles. Guilty as charged! But the thing is, Cure deserves all that attention. The Korean scene has been quite stale for the last few years—if you can't get hyped when someone finally threatens to intrude upon the most elite, top-tier of players, then what will you get excited for?
So, one more time, let's examine Cure's peculiar online-offline win-rate splits. So far this season, he's 188-44 in online matches for a ludicrously high 81.03% win-rate. As with most online records, there's plenty of stat-padding against foreigners, but he also has victories against nearly every Code S player (including Maru, Dark and Rogue in a handful of rare occasions where they played online). Offline, he's a mere 14-10 in the same period, and has lost most of his matches against players we'd consider Code S RO8 quality (TY, Stats, Zest, etc).
Unfortunately, I'm starting to run out of hope for our online king. Twice now, major offline tournaments have suggested Cure is not-for-real. At IEM Katowice, he dropped out of the RO24 group stage with losses to TY, Serral, and sOs. Those were three tough opponents to go up against, but exactly the kind Cure had to beat to prove there was substance behind the hype. At the Super Touranment, Cure defeated the perennially inconsistent Dear in the first round, only to lose 1-3 to Solar in the quarterfinals. First place advancement in his Code S RO24 group would have been reassuring, but instead he lost to Zest and advanced by beating Impact twice.
For me, this group decides whether or not this hype train is worth riding anymore. Obviously, Cure has improved significantly from 2019. But even back then, he was able to grind his way to the RO16 of Code S on a couple of occasions. If he fails to go further than that, I might have to admit that this is where the new and improved Cure maxes out.
Facing Cure in his first match is the player who comes close to being the "anti-Cure." It's funny to hear Stats' peers give him credit for always playing at a higher level when the stakes are raised. There's a vibe of praise with faint damning when that happens—no one truly fears Stats like an INnoVation or Maru, but Korean pros seem to recognize that in-studio Stats is going to be a much tougher opponent than the one they face on ladder or in online cups.
Now, what I said above probably isn't the most fair appraisal of Stats at this exact moment—he's actually been excellent in the limited online competitions he's participated in this season, winning a number of weekly cups. His stature during the group selections seemed to reflect that somewhat—he was respectfully taken 4th from last, with Dark nope-ing him away to a different group.
Beating Stats would be a great way for Cure to earn legitimacy as a title contender, but alas: he's on a six-match losing streak to Stats since July of last year. If Cure can't beat Stats online, does he stand a chance against him at all in Code S?
Sticking with the Cure theme (indulge me here, this might be the last time we see him this season), this group also contains Cure-lite in Solar. While any sort of offline play seems to level-down Cure's abilities, Solar suffers from a more specific affliction. He's a fantastic player in every competition except GSL Code S. With just one Code S playoff appearance since 2017, casual fans might regard him as group stage filler on par with Hurricane or Impact. But in the same period, he made the playoffs at four consecutive IEM Katowice events, placed runner-up at three major-tier tournaments, and reached the semis of three GSL Super tournaments. No wonder some of his fellow players singled him out as the most underrated player in a recent GSL video package.
Solar's GSL troubles are more confounding than Cure's. At least when Cure talks about feeling mental pressure when playing offline, it applies consistently to every tournament. Solar somehow players better at tournaments like IEM Katowice, where the stakes and pressure are elevated, and the playing conditions are worse (jet lag, long days with several matches, playing in a foreign environment). Just as intrigued as I am in Cure, I'm also curious to see if Solar will bring his A-game to the Code S stage.
Finally, we have inverse-Cure rounding out the group. TY's brief stint on Triumphant Song Gaming was disastrous, as he was cut from the Chinese team after struggling to put up even a 50% win-rate in the online Chinese team leagues. And it's not like TY was losing to ace players in Dark or INnoVation—he was dropping maps to non-Code S players like iAsonu, Astrea, and DynaMite in online matches. And yet, TY's reputation seems to have barely suffered. In fact, he's leading the group in terms of Liquibet predictions at the time of writing.
That's what a history of excellence earns you. TY's double world championships in 2017 might be ancient history in StarCraft II time, but they still carry some weight in our minds. Moreover, TY never went through any drastic slumps since winning those titles—compared to the peaks and valleys we've gone through with Maru and INnoVation, TY has come to represent a form of consistent Terran greatness.
Personally, I think that reputation has clouded our perception when looking at TY's performances this year. Group stage elimination at IEM Katowice, first round elimination in the Super Tournament (an absolutely brutal drubbing at the hands of Zest), and dismal performances in in what should have been his most significant online matches (Chinese team leagues)—Had anyone else put up those results, we'd call it a slump. TY has been the de facto #3 Terran in the world for a while now, but Cure could very well take that title away from him in this group.
TY > Solar
Stats > Cure
Stats > TY
Cure > Solar
Cure > TY
Stats and Cure advance.