Code S Season 1 - QuarterfinalsStart time: Wednesday, May 20 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The 2020 Code S Season 1 quarterfinals begins with a pair of player match-ups that have lop-sided histories. In the case of Dark vs TY, Dark seems favored to continue his streak of dominating performances against TY with another victory. PartinG vs Maru has an entirely different complexion, with Maru poised to brutally avenge the many losses Parting has inflicted upon him in the past.
Quarterfinal Match #1: Dark vs TYby Wax
Two of the great success stories of Legacy of the Void have been TY and Dark, who went from being merely 'very good' to winning six-figure prizes at the biggest tournaments in the world. Everyone's definition of 'consistency' is bound to be different, but I think most fans would agree that TY and Dark have been some of the steadiest, top-level players for their factions in LotV.
It's a bit curious, then, that Dark flat out owns TY. In LotV, Dark is 20-6 in matches versus TY, which is about as bad as the more infamous Zest vs Dear relationship. This ownage is pretty uniform across balance patches and map pools, and all types of matches with lesser or greater stakes. Actually, Dark gets even better against TY when the stakes are high: he's 5-0 against TY in offline BO5+ series.
What's confounding about this relationship is that the content of TY's games against Dark isn't necessarily bad. Both players are famous for their play in late-game, split-map scenarios, and they often engage in such 'honorable' games when they face each other. If not for the glaringly one-sided head-to-head record, I couldn't even say Dark is a significantly better player than TY in such scenarios. Just take a look at their most recent BO5 series: a WESG Korean qualifier match from December 2019 (I think it's more representative of their abilities than the 4-0 Super Tournament #2 final that took place at the height of Zerg madness). Both players got to show off their nifty late-game moves: Battlecruiser mech for TY, and Hive tech-switches for Dark. You'd be tempted to say these guys are close to evenly matched, with perhaps a slight edge for Dark. But, somehow, Dark just seems to win when it counts.
We're months detached from that series, and the StarCraft II meta has changed considerably. It's certainly a friendlier landscape for Terran, who have enjoyed success in both the Korean and foreign scenes. Dark hasn't so much adapted to this reality as he seems to be simply denying it. His RO16 series vs TaeJa demonstrated what are becoming a typical Dark-style games: fall behind, but win anyway by outmaneuvering the opponent and taking incredibly efficient fights. However, there's another kind of Dark TvZ we've been seeing surprisingly more often lately: fall behind, and die (vs Dream, vs INnoVation). But, again, Dark just wins when it count: He survived TaeJa's spirited challenge in the Code S RO16, and he rebounded from three losses to INnoVation in NeXT Spring to defeat him in the all-deciding ace match.
This could have been a golden opportunity for TY to start narrowing his head-to-head score against Dark. You can imagine the game-plan: devise a few clever openers that get an economic lead to start, and then just slow-roll Dark from there. TY is just as fast as Dark—unlike other Terrans, he could cover Dark's attempts to fight back with misdirection and backdoor attacks. The thing is, as shaky as Dark looks in ZvT lately, TY looks even shakier in TvZ. TY's victory over Solar in the Code S RO16 wasn't in those macro games he's famous for—he used a Barracks float cheese in game one, and fended off a Nydus cheese from Solar in game two. He's played several online TvZ's since then, and he's lost nearly every 'straight-up' macro game he played against players like soO, RagnaroK, Solar, and Elazer. The games he's won have largely been due to timing attacks and cheeses. Even if TY has been hiding his best strategies in preparation for his showdown with Dark, you'd expect a player of his reputation to grind out a few wins even when playing a predictable macro style (in this regard, perhaps TY has truly been replaced by Cure as Korea's #3 Terran).
Prediction: Normally, I'd expect TY and Dark to challenge each other to a gentleman's late-game duel, but their recently shaky match-up form makes me wonder if they'll opt for more devious approaches. Both of them are excellent at utilizing all-ins when they choose to, and we might see some wonky games where both players deploy an aggressive strategy at the same time.
On the other hand, TY and Dark themselves might laugh at the outside observation that their textbook play is showing some cracks, and are certain that they can step up their games when playing in AfreecaTV studio. Perhaps we'll see both players go confidently into the late-game as they've done many times in the past.
Regardless of the style of the games, I have to pick Dark to win the series. The head-to-head stats are just too one-sided in Dark's favor to make any other prediction.
Dark 3 - 1 TY
Quaterfinal Match #2: PartinG vs Maruby Orlok
Nobody Told You Life Would Be This Way?
Hold your horses everyone, the BIG BOY is back in the Code S playoffs. That's right: PartinG has returned to the round-of-eight…..and, of course, has been rewarded by getting immediately matched with the de facto best Terran in the world. For PartinG fans, that's a major buzzkill after what looked like his best Code S run since his return to StarCraft II. For Maru fans, it's a match that should fill them with sadistic glee. The last time these two butted heads was five long years ago in 2015, when PartinG was still perceived as somewhat of a 'Maru-killer.' Both players have transformed drastically since then. Maru ascended to reach and surpass his considerable potential—PartinG quit StarCraft II to seek his fortune elsewhere, only to return as a prodigal son. Let us take a trip down memory lane to see how they got here.
PartinG has been the epitome of flair throughout his career. In the first half of his career, he demanded the attention of StarCraft II fans by taking and winning dangerous fights, out-microing his opponents with Blink-Stalkers or reshaping the battlefield with his famed Force Fields. His personality was just as flamboyant as his play, not shy about taunting his opponents with either words or celebration. We remember all too well his ruler ceremony against Flash, which sparked outrage from KeSPA fans who were accustomed to the more prim and proper Brood War scene. If the stereotypical Korean pro was seen as modest and restrained, PartinG was one of the players who shattered that mold.
Despite enjoying a quite successful career during the first two expansions, PartinG abruptly decided to leave the scene at the end of the 2015 season. He made two failed attempts to go pro at other games: first in League of Legends, and then at Honor of Kings. After two years of journeying in the wilderness, PartinG decided to return home to StarCraft II in 2018. The time away took its toll on his StarCraft II skills. He struggled hard in his first year back recording just a single RO32 Code S exit in 2018.
But in 2019, PartinG started to show signs of life, with his considerable talent starting to shine through once more. A soft Super Tournament #1 bracket saw him reach the semis, and he followed that with a quarterfinal appearance in the following Code S Season. PartinG reverted to group-stage fodder for the rest of the year, but if you look hard and squint, you'll see there's been a slow, upward trend in his performances. He's been a strong performer in the Chinese Team Leagues. He's been qualifying for the main events of most major tournaments, be it IEM Katowice, Super Tournament, or TSL.
From an optimistic point of view, this second Code S quarterfinals appearance might be a turning point. In the group stage, he looked like the most solid, composed version of PartinG we've seen since his return. soO's "12 pool every game" strategy might have worked against an earlier PartinG who was prone to making mistakes and giving up free wins, but this time around PartinG navigated the potential crisis to take a 2-1 victory. Against Bunny, he even found himself behind after failing a DT-rush, but he came back by playing a masterful macro game that was almost reminiscent of ancient times when he was the strongest macro PvT player in the world. Unfortunately for PartinG, even the fully restored, youthful version of himself would struggle to steal some games in this upcoming match.
Once upon a time, PartinG was one of Maru's worst enemies. In WoL, PartinG overpowered Maru by being one of the best macro PvT players on the planet. In HotS, he tormented Maru with his devilish Blink-Stalker use. Their career match-record stands at 7-2 in favor of PartinG, with their last match being played in 2015.
Of course, much has changed since then. In late 2015/early 2016, around the time PartinG drifted away from StarCraft II, one might have thought Maru had already completed his entire career arc. He first appeared on our radars in 2010 as an intriguing 13-year old playing in the GSL Open. He quietly cultivated his skills, breaking out in Heart of the Swarm as a hyper-aggressive player who didn't need Vikings to fight with Colossi. He walked the royal road in 2013, winning the OnGameNet Starleague with victories against the likes of INnoVation and Rain. Maru went on to enjoy a decent amount of success in the years that followed, even adding an SSL title to his trophy case. His story was one of those happy, but not terribly remarkable ones in progaming: a young talent had reached his potential, and went on to have a solid career. Yes, the most cynical observers could say he underachieved compared to his talent, but he was still one of the undoubted success stories of StarCraft II.
Then, 2018 happened, where Maru went on the greatest run in the history of GSL, if not all of StarCraft II. He unlocked whatever unfulfilled potential he had left on the table, winning four consecutive Code S tournaments in a row. That incredible run shot him up from being perhaps a top thirty player of all time, to a strong candidate to be called the greatest ever.
Maru is an anomaly. He started out as an entertaining but flawed player, single-minded in his aggressive approach to the game. Now, he's more than just well-rounded—he's excellent at every facet of the game. His late-game macro is second to none. He knows exactly when to deploy cunning, pre-planned cheeses (sometimes it's every game in a series). He can still run circles around other top-tier players with sheer speed of multitasking. And he achieved all of this late in his career, after years of struggling with pain in his wrists.
When PartinG last faced Maru in a Code S match, they were players in the same tier. Now, they are worlds apart.
Predictions: Yes, PartinG crushed Bunny to get here and looked good while doing so, but Bunny simply isn’t the same player Maru is. Maru can beat Protoss players with seemingly anything he wants, be it proxies, mech, two-base all-ins, or endless mine drops.
In pure StarCraft terms, it’s hard to see this version of PartinG make any headway against this version Maru. The hope for PartinG is that their dusty head-to-head record isn't totally meaningless, and that he has some advantage over Maru that exists outside of StarCraft. It's hard to say PartinG was an overall better player than Maru back in HotS-WoL days—maybe the reason he had such a lop-sided record against Maru was because he knew the secret to messing with Maru's mental state, the tricks needed to tilt him past the point of recovery.
PartinG 1 - 3 Maru