Code S Season 1 - QuarterfinalsStart time: Saturday, May 23 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
A pair of shocking results on the first day of the quarterfinals have completely re-calibrated our expectations for this Code S Season. Over the past couple of years, GSL championships were reserved for members of an exclusive, elite club—TY and PartinG's upset victories make us feel like we've returned to the wild, free-for-all days of yore. As we head into day two of the quarterfinals, we have to wonder: is one of these four players our future champion?
Quarterfinal Match #3: Cure vs Dearby Wax
Similar to our previous two quarterfinal matches, Cure vs Dear will be played against a backdrop of one-sided beatdowns. Dear enters the match with a 14-6 all-time head-to-head match record against Cure, and is 5-1 against him in those all-important offline matches. That long-term, historical head-to-head record really encapsulates who these two players have been for most of their careers. Dear, a frequent subject of TL.net in-jokes about his maddening inconsistency, averages out as a mid-tier Code S player. Cure, a frequent subject of TL.net in-jokes about how good he is in practice, averages out as a stepping-stone for mid-tier Code S players like Dear.
But, just as in our previous two quarterfinal matches, this shared history doesn't really reflect who these two players are in the present. After leaving Jin Air Green Wings at the end of the 2019 season, Cure went through an incredible transformation. His online stats in 2020 bear constant repeating: he dominated online competition, putting up an 80%+ match win-rate at his peak (at the time of writing it's down to 79% due to a rough week of games). To some degree, this improvement has translated to the offline realm as well. No, he's a top 3 player as Aligulac.com would have you believe at times, but he's regularly making it to the midway mark of the major tournaments he competes in: RO24 group stage at IEM Katowice, top eight at the GSL Super Tournament, and now, the quarterfinals of GSL Code S. Past comments from his teammates commending his skills no longer sound like empty compliments—we're finally seeing the sparring partner who could help Maru and Rogue win the most prestigious tournaments in the world.
RO16 Cure made a statement with his strong RO16 performance where he defeated both TY and Stats 2-0 to advance to the playoffs in first place. He didn't just play the solid, standard games that make him look like INnoVation-lite when he's bulldozing through an online cup—he also brought a pair of deadly all-ins befitting Code S (Proxy-Barracks reapers against TY, and a 1/1/1 proxy against Stats). And still, one worries about how he'll fare as the pressure continues to mount. In the past, Cure has been honest about getting nervous when playing Code S matches. After winning his Code S group, he confirmed that the butterflies hadn't gone away, and admitted he hadn't slept a wink the night before. All in all, the best way to describe Cure right now is as a Dear-esque player: extremely skilled with high peak potential, but not someone who can be relied on to hit that peak every night.
If we're only recently rediscovering the "Can Cure live up to his potential?" narrative, that's been a story we've telling about Dear for so long that "talented but inconsistent" should be his middle name. What else can you really say about a player who had a brief, three month run in 2013 as the best in the world? It's the sort of thing that overshadows the rest of your career. So, here we are yet again, telling you that Dear is a solid player who could beat anyone on his best day. It shouldn't shock anyone that he has a better offline peak than Cure this year, reaching the top eight of IEM Katowice. It shouldn't shock you that he also lost a fairly one-sided series to Cure in the Super Tournament.
Let's look at those those head-to-head results again. When you narrow the range down to the last major patch in November of 2019 (around where Cure starts his renaissance), Cure actually leads 4-0 in matches against Dear (with two ties in the Chinese team leagues), and is ahead 13-6 in games. While the stereotype of these two is as macro-oriented players who prefer to play a standard games, the two tended to get tricky in their recent head-to-head matches. Their last offline match, Cure's 3-1 victory in the Super Tournament, could be instructive in telling us how this clash will play out. The pair deployed a variety of off-kilter strats, from Battlecruiser rushes (a staple of Cure TvP), proxy-Tempests, to proxy-DTs. Their last two matches in the Chinese team leagues ended with Cure nabbing quick wins with proxy-Barracks cheeses.
Perhaps Cure is afraid of playing straight-up macro games against Dear. Though not gifted with extremely precise micro, Dear just has a great sense of timing, positioning, and all-around recognition of his win conditions. For Dear, Zest, and other players of this ilk, perfect Blink-Stalker micro isn't as important as always being in position to execute the one Zealot backdoor warp-in that will single-handedly win a game and have Twitch chat screaming "PROTOSSED." Indeed, in a limited sample size of games on the year, Dear seems to get the better of Cure in such games. Alternatively, Cure's proclivity to cheese Dear could be part of a larger trend where progamers are starting to see Dear as an easily duped mark (see: vs Scarlett, TaeJa in the RO16).
Prediction: Both Dear and Cure last reached the Code S semifinals in 2016. Winning this match and returning to the top four will go a long way toward erasing that stinging caveat "...but inconsistent" from their TL.net profiles.
Given the history between these two, I feel like this match will continue the current trend of Code S matches being extra cheese-laden. So far, Cure has come out ahead in those types of games. While I can't rule out an incredible, in-booth collapse from Cure (Dear has gotta Probe-scout a proxy at some point, right?), I think it's most likely that Cure prevails and earns a long-awaited return to the semifinals.
Cure 3 - 1 Dear
Quaterfinal Match #4: Trap vs INnoVationby Orlok
It's funny how time flies. Back in 2013, STX Soul became the first ever champions of an all-SC2 Proleague, defeating and sOs-led Woongjin Stars team in the finals. The key player for STX Soul was INnoVation who was starting to be recognized by many as THE elephant in the room and perhaps the best player in the world. INnoVation was backed by a deep STX roster with few weak links, featuring players such as Dear, Classic, and Trap.
Years later, the two former teammates face off in the Code S quarterfinals. INnoVation, having gone through several notable ups and downs in his career, is on the precipice of restoring himself to his former glory. Trap, once the long-suffering symbol of mediocrity, is trying to preserve the tenuous foothold he has carved out in the elite tier of Korean pros.
When INnoVation declared himself the eventual champion of GSL Code S during the group selections, fans responded with healthy skepticism mixed with some curiosity. Hadn't he shown the same kind of confidence at IEM Katowice, only to get destroyed by Serral in the playoffs? Yes, he had smashed IEM champion rogue 2-0 in the RO24, and his online performances had started to pick up, but it seemed like scant evidence that he could win a Code S title in the era of Dark and Maru. After all, his Code S campaign in 2019 had been largely disappointing, where he made just a single quarterfinal where he lost in uninspiring fashion to Trap. It was hard to believe this bravado had that much substance behind it.
Well lo and behold. This INnoVation might just be the real deal. The inklings of greatness in his online play have translated into success in the GSL studio, as he conquered the group of death with 4-0 wins against both Maru and Zest. What's most fascinating is that he showed us a creative side that we've never seen before. Even during his prime years in 2013 and 2017, INnoVation wasn't seen so much as a 'strategic' player as a brutally efficient, physically gifted, mechanics monster. He stuck to what he did well: making a ton of units and marching them across the map. Like other great Terrans before him, it didn't particularly matter if he didn't vary his play or if his opponents could predict how he was going to play.
While INnoVation has embraced two base tank pushes and proxy-rax bunker rushes for some time now, what he showed us in the RO16 went beyond those garden variety cheeses. Against Zest, INnoVation got deep into his opponent's head. Having frequently played two-base all-ins against Zest in their previous online matches, he duped him with a fake two-base all-in into a hidden third base in game one, followed by an even more drastic one-base all-in in game two. Against Maru, he actually seemed whimsical, going for a double-Starport proxy Battlecruiser strat which somehow startled Maru enough to steal a victory. Having acquired a taste for creativity on top of his normally plain palette, INnoVation has given his opponents another threat to worry about.
Trap has come a long way from being hardstuck in the RO16—now he's someone we actually expect to see in the playoffs. He was arguably the best Protoss player of 2019 (and undoubtedly the most consistent one), and surpassed the likes of Stats, Zest and sOs to reach a pair of GSL finals and finally attend the WCS Global Finals. It's hard to say if he will retain that stature in 2020. He started things off with a disappointing elimination in the group stage of IEM Katowice, where he beat Maru and INnoVation but lost to less illustrious foes in Solar, Elazer, and Patience. He's done better in the GSL, reaching the semifinals of the Super Tournament on the back of strong PvP, while he got over the RO16 hump in Code S to make his fourth straight playoffs.
However, he hasn't looked quite as strong as he did in 2019, when he even seemed to supplant Stats as the best all-around Protoss. After cultivating a reputation as a PvT master, his close call against Bunny in the RO16 was a worrying result. PvZ was a weakness in 2019, and it doesn't seem like he's made significant improvements on this front. Trap certainly isn’t playing awful or massively below his 2019 level, but so far 2020 has been a disappointing follow-up to a career year.
Trap and INnoVation last clashed in a best of five setting last year, in the quarterfinals of the GSL Code S Season 2. Despite having a 40 percent win rate in matches against INnoVation at the time, it turned out to be a decent tug of war series, with battle mech compositions and mid game battles aplenty. Trap eventually took a hard-fought 3-2 win, sending INnoVation into a downward spiral for the rest of the GSL year (RO32 elimination in the next Code S, failure to qualify for Super Tournament #2).
In 2020, the two players have been fairly evenly matched, tied at 3-3 in matches with INnoVation holding a narrow 10-8 map score advantage. As former teammates, their online matches have been full of 'friendly' jabs and banter, with a single "?" able to express all sorts of contempt, mockery, and discontent with the state of balance. INnoVation was even confident enough to bring some of this trash talk to the GSL studio, saying that he was sure to win the quarterfinals because Trap was "so bad" in their last online match.
INnoVation certainly has all the momentum behind needed to get that win. Sure, Trap isn’t the GSL pushover he used to be, and they've fought some close battles against each other online. But given just how breathtakingly easily INnoVation made beating Maru and Zest see, and how much of a wrench in the gears his oddball builds will be for Trap's series planning, we're going to pick INnoVation to walk the walk once again.
INnoVation 3 - 0 Trap