Code S Season 1 - Round of 16by Orlok and Zealously
Imagine you're a professional StarCraft II player. You are not without accolades, but have never truly stood in the spotlight. A quarterfinal here, an online cup win there, a modest but devoted fan following. Imagine you continue to persevere, slowly encroach into the upper echelon of the scene, and start to notice your peers talk about you with more respect.
In the first Code S of the year, on the back of a quarterfinal finish in the previous season, you reach the Round of 16 with relative ease. You know what people are saying about you now: In almost any group, you seem like a real threat to make the quarterfinals again. Almost any group.
Imagine you're Ragnarok at the Group Selections. It goes by in a blur. You remember getting picked early. You vaguely remember joking with PartinG hyung. You also remember walking up to INnoVation in a trance-like state. When you finally come to and look around you, the selections have concluded. Who do you see?
Maru, Zest, and Innovation.
Group D: The Three Trials of RagnaroKIn every Code S tournament, fans are eager to designate one of the RO16 groups as a "Group of Death." While at their core they represent the same kind of perilous predicaments, we might divide them into two types:
1) Groups with no clear favorites, or even no favorites at all. Groups where any player breezing through 4-0 would be a surprise. Usually these are groups with four, very evenly matched or notoriously inconsistent players.
2) Groups in which an extraordinary amount of skill and past tournament success has been concentrated.
The infamous 2013 Code S Group featuring Life, Parting, Innovation and Flash is the greatest example of category #2. But we could sub-divide category #2 even further: In some of such groups, every player could reasonably be crowned champion at the tournament's end. In others, three players stick out (such as Life, Parting and Innovation in the aforementioned example) while the fourth seems just a bit out of place. Three, though, is often enough.
At face value, this group looks exactly like type 2b: Three clear favorites, joined by a plucky, but unfortunately doomed fourth player. By name value alone, three of the players in this group belong in the pantheon of StarCraft II's all-time greats. Maru and Innovation could square off directly for the title of the game's top Terran (perhaps joined by Mvp for those who value the past). Of course, Zest has a strong case to be called the all-time best for his own faction.
RagnaroK seems hopelessly lacking when compared in this context, entering the group with no major championships to his name. It's tempting to look at the group as a three-man melee because our eyes are generally drawn to the superstars. But at this very moment, that would be a mistake. This may be the best version of RagnaroK we've ever seen—if there was ever a time for him to defy these titans, it would be now. This group of RagnaroK's making will now become his trial.
You don't need to do deep statistical analysis to know that players who win their initial match advance more often than those who lose in GSL-style group play. In this group, Ragnarok's first opponent is unfortunately Maru, who excels under the bright lights of the AfreecaTV studio (and just excels at StarCraft II in general). Even if RagnaroK loses, the match could be a great way to gauge his all-around readiness. Will he look spry and force some close games out of Maru as he has done in the past? Or will he be overrun by the four-time Code S champ?
In terms of ZvT, RagnaroK has recently recorded victories over TY and INnoVation in the WardiTV Spring Championship, displaying good early-game instincts and strong mid/late-game macro play. The greatest testament to RagnaroK's ZvT skills might actually have come in a loss: he went the distance with INnoVation in another, seven-game series during the Olimoleague Monthly Finals (more on that in a bit). It's safe to say that RagnaroK—at least online—is in shape to take on Korea's top Terrans.
Fittingly, for this narrative, Maru was the one to eliminate Ragnarok last season. The content of those games fits this story as well: RagnaroK gave a great account of himself in straight-up games, and then Maru gave him a figurative pat on the shoulder before blasting him into oblivion. Maru is a tough player to predict as we haven't seen him play for over a month—his last broadcast match was his Super Tournament finals victory over Dark. On the one hand, there is no reason to believe that Maru is anything other than that same, championship-favorite player. On the other hand, Ragnarok is probably better now than he has ever been, and he's played surprisingly close games against Maru in the past. Win or lose, you get the feeling that he's going to at least try to take on Maru in straight-up games. One has to wonder: will Maru oblige him again?
Now, let's get back to RagnaroK's second trial in INnoVation. This test is one of RagnaroK's own choosing—but weeks after the group selection, we still don't fully understand why RagnaroK picked INnoVation. The implacable machine has been an absolute terror since he topped his GSL group back in mid-April. He boasts 70%+ map win-rates in EVERY match-up since then, and he’s beaten the cream of the crop of every faction along the way. Players like Dark, Zest, Trap, and Rogue have been vanquished, and the way INnoVation has done it exudes championship class. He's shown us both "I don't care that you know all my builds" macro and also the cheesy all-ins needed to keep opponents honest. INnoVation hasn’t shown this kind of swagger since he was running for GOAT of StarCraft II back in 2017, and he even voiced it during the group selections by declaring himself the inevitable Code S champion.
However, there's a small but important caveat regarding the specific match-up of RagnaroK vs INnoVation. RagnaroK has been the spirited underdog who refuses to back down from INnoVation. In their seven-game Olimoleague series, RagnaroK dared to outproduce INnoVation, dared to sniff out and stop his proxies, and dared to take easy wins with Ravager cheese. Simply put, Ragnarok gave peak INnoVation just about as much as he could handle. So, while INnoVation's momentum and swagger point to a loss for RagnaroK, there might be enough upstart insolence in our Zerg protagonist to steal a victory. Even with INnoVation looking to be in his best form in years, he still has to put his money where his mouth is.
As for Zest, he poses a different kind of problem. When Zest unveiled his Adept-printer style at IEM Katowice, it might have seemed like a return to the horror days of early LotV. But since then, Zest has shown Glaive-Adepts to be quite the versatile opener, as capable of transitioning into a strong-three base attack as it is of going 'brrrr' on a Drone line.
Ragnarok has played only a handful of matches against Protoss opponents since advancing to the RO16. While he did beat Trap and Creator, he also lost to PartinG, and, wouldya-know-it, Zest. Due to their fondness for playing in online cups, RagnaroK and Zest have actually faced each other a ton in the new season, and they're currently tied 6-6 in series while RagnaroK leads 20-18 on maps. RagnaroK should be more than familiar with Zest's style of play and vice versa.
So, what will happen when these two take their mutual knowledge of each other into a Code S match? Fans might hope for the best version of an ESL Open/Olimoleague/Kung Fu Cup duel between these two: a high-level, standard PvZ. But, considering how the RO16 has gone so far, they're likely to use their mutual familiarity to try and trick one another. And, if they try that approach at the same time, their games could get very strange.
Have the #TerranPatch memes have gone too far? Is it not even a meme anymore? Anyway, for reasons of personal bias, I'm going with the two best Terrans to advance. INnoVation has the statistics and momentum behind him, while Maru always seems to show up in great form in GSL Code S. Here’s to the glorious victory of the Terran race!
Maru 2-1 RagnaroK
INnoVation 2-1 Zest
Maru 1-2 INnoVation
Ragnarok 1-2 Zest
Maru 2-1 Zest
Maru and Innovation advance.
It's hardly a secret that I have a weak spot for over-matched underdogs. There is something very inspiring about success against imposing odds, and if I could, I would predict the fall of the established elite every time.
The first match will go Maru's way, however hard Ragnarok might make it for the multiple-time champion. Against Zest and Innovation, there are an abundance of past matches to review if Ragnarok feels so inclined, but the same does not hold true for Maru.
But we know Ragnarok is capable of fighting evenly against both Zest and INnoVation, so I think advancement in second place with victories against both those players is possible. Yes, yes, we all know online results don't always count for much in Code S matches. But in the absence of other information, I'm clinging to the hope that the Ragnarok who shows up on Saturday is at least as good as the one we've seen online.
Ultimately much will depend on daily form, both for our titular hero and his three opponents. Ragnarok will need to be in great condition (or bring particularly well-prepared cheeses) to tip the scales in his favor and pass this series of trials. The GSL has been home to particularly scrappy games of late, and it would be far better for Ragnarok to be the one pushing his opponents out of their comfort zones than be the one being pushed.
Maru 2-1 Ragnarok
Innovation 2-0 Zest
Maru 2-1 Innovation
Ragnarok 2-1 Zest
Innovation 1-2 Ragnarok
Maru and Ragnarok advance.