Code S Season 1by Wax
Semifinal #1: TY vs PartinG
The Code S semifinals begins with the peculiar match-up of Twitch streamer vs. YouTuber. Up until a few weeks ago, it wouldn't have been an exaggeration to say PartinG and TY were getting more attention for their extra-curricular activities than their ostensible day jobs as progamers. Not only was TY regularly casting the GSL, but his newly established YouTube channel was garnering interest for both its insightful Terran guides and ability to jinx progamers with uncannily bad predictions. As for PartinG, you've probably seen a couple of the… ...unusual clips from his stream by now.
An unbelievable day of games in the Code S quarterfinals changed all that, as TY and PartinG transformed into championship contenders after winning enormous upsets over Dark and Maru.
Of the two, PartinG's tale is the more improbable, and perhaps the most convincing underdog tale the GSL has seen in years. Following his 2018 return to competitive StarCraft II, PartinG had gradually improved to become a solid, mid-tier Code S player. No one thought he had regained enough strength to take down the greatest GSL player ever in Maru.
As with any Cinderella story, I have to ask "when will the clock strike midnight?" About a year ago, Hurricane made a similar, dark horse run to the Code S semifinals before getting obliterated by Dark. Let's compare their paths to the quarterfinals: 2019 Hurricane: 2-0 Solar, 0-2 Classic, 2-0 Solar, 2-1 FanTaSy, 0-2 Classic, 2-0 RagnaroK. 2020 PartinG: 2-1 Dream, 1-2 RagnaroK, 2-1 Dream, 2-1 soO, 2-0 Bunny. Not particularly impressive on either end.
The difference is, PartinG defeated Maru to reach the semis, while Hurricane merely defeated PartinG. How legit you think PartinG is hinges almost exclusively on how much weight you put into that 3-2 victory against Maru. There are few greater tests of skill in StarCraft II than a BO5+ series in GSL Code S. But there's no series that's completely free from the inherent variance and unpredictability of competitive StarCraft, even if it takes place within the hallowed halls of the GSL.
PartinG's game one victory against Maru wasn't a huge surprise. Despite Maru expecting and blind-countering an aggressive, 4-Gate Blink-Stalker strategy, PartinG had the precise execution to force a victory anyway when Maru failed to show equal adroitness on defense. That's exactly the kind of play post-2018 PartinG has become infamous for (similarly, he somehow won with a cannon-rush opener against soO in the RO16, despite soO going 12-pool as a blind-counter). If PartinG had won against Maru in such a manner three times, we might be looking at his victory as more of a Protoss-powered fluke.
Fair or not, macro games are what we've come to perceive as "real" StarCraft II (one could argue Code S hasn't had a consensus "cheesy" champion in years). And by winning exactly such real games in sets four and five, PartinG legitimized his championship candidacy. After taking economic leads in the early-mid game, PartinG snowballed his advantage by surgically picking Maru apart with active and aggressive play. It has to be mentioned that Maru's failed early game gambits (a 1-rax proxy & 2-rax Reaper build) helped PartinG get into an advantageous position. But, given the enormous gulfs in their stature, Maru was expected to win regardless, somehow combining adamantine turtling with slippery harassment to erode PartinG's lead. Instead, the two games ended up being a throwback to an ancient time when PartinG was the best macro PvT player in the world.
While one could still be reluctant to put faith in PartinG on the basis of one series, TY has earned the benefit of the doubt. He never really went away as a title contender—we just started to ever-so-slightly suspect his skills were flagging behind his reputation after two lackluster showings at IEM Katowice and the Super Tournament (it probably didn't help his image that he had taken over JYP's role as the analyst on the GSL casting desk, suggesting a departure from 100% focusing on progaming).
His 3-0 sweep over Dark in the quarterfinals quickly corrected any errors in our collective perception. Oh yeah, that's the guy who won back-to-back $100,000 prize purposes in 2017, the same guy who has been a top-three Terran for virtually all of Legacy of the Void. If you hid the names on the VOD, you might be confused into thinking you were watching Maru beat up Dark instead. Game one: An easy win after doing crippling economic damage with a proxy 2-Rax. Game two: Win an excruciatingly patient turtle game, and hit a gigantic nuke for good measure. Game three: "Fail" a proxy 2-Rax, but win with Medivac drops anyway. Now that's some Terran bulls***.
While StarCraft II fans have rightfully been swept up in the emotion and drama of PartinG's run, one has to wonder if TY now fancies himself the favorite to win the Code S championship. After all, it was not long ago that PartinG was being looked upon as a snack during the group selections, becoming a member of the RO16 'group of life.' How much could have really changed in the span of a few weeks?
PartinG's series against Maru was a reminder of who he was. TY's series against Dark was a reminder of who he is. If TY overcomes PartinG, he'll be guaranteed to play his vaunted Terran vs Terran in the grand finals. In TY's quest to finally win a Code S title, maybe the third will be the charm.
The historical head-to-head match record favors PartinG 9-4, but those matches go all the way back to 2012 when TY was still struggling to establish himself in StarCraft II. Since PartinG's return to StarCraft, TY leads 3-2 in matches, and has prevailed in their last three clashes.
One factor in PartinG's favor is that PvT has been his strongest match-up in the 2020 season, with an imperious 51-11 (82.26% win-rate) match record. However, TY has TvP stats that are almost just as impressive, with a 45-11 match record (80.36% win-rate). Not surprisingly, their Aligulac ratings (a modified Glicko system) in their respective match-ups are nearly identical, with TY leading by just a few points (2862 vs 2851). TL.net Liquibettors are also predicting this match to be almost dead even, with the ratio of predictions favoring TY 53:47 at the time of writing.
One of the most important things PartinG did versus Maru was to establish his 4-Gate Blink-Stalker build as a persistent threat—something his opponent has to play around every game. It was the kind of performance that even affected matches PartinG wasn't playing in—Cure mentioned after his quarterfinal match with Dear that he had been anticipating the aggressive Blink-Stalkers, feeling that PartinG had started a new trend in PvT.
It's a good diversion to mask PartinG's broader repertoire of cheesy builds, be it the Maxpax-style proxy-gate, fast DT drop, or even something as outlandish as proxy-double Robo. PartinG has shown TY plenty of his aggressive openers in their past matches, so presenting 4-Gate Blink as his default opener might be the key to making TY let his guard down to other possibilties.
While last week's match vs Maru is the only major PvT PartinG played lately, TY had to play three consecutive TvP BO5's in his current TeamLiquid Starleague 5 run (losing to Trap and defeating Harstem and ShoWTimE). Still, I'm not too worried about TY over-exposing himself. If anything, the matches just showed off the encyclopedic size of TY's playbook, as he brought a variety of recycled GSL builds (his own and INnoVation's) and online cup builds. Facing TY in TvP must be like facing Classic in ZvP: you might be aware of all the possibilities, but it's damn near impossible to find a pattern or deduce which build he'll bring on a given map.
The one predictable thing about TY is his proclivity to mech on certain maps. Without map bans in GSL best-of-sevens, we're looking at Obsidian, Eternal Empire, and Nightshade as strong candidates. Though not unbeatable, TY's mech has been tricky for other Protoss players to face this season—they seem unsure about exactly what army composition they need in response, and when they can safely make major tech transitions. No one else plays TY-style mech in TvP (except perhaps SpeCial), so it will be tough for PartinG to find adequate practice against this style.
TY and PartinG actually faced off little over a week ago in WardiTV Spring, though the players didn't reveal any new cards in their hands. Still, the games might have affected their mindsets for this upcoming semifinals. Game one saw TY scout out and defend conservatively against a Maxpax-style proxy-gate, while he held off a 12-Pylon 13-Gate Adept-Stalker push in game two. PartinG might have been disheartened by having two regular cheeses in his rotation fended off so easily, and might refrain from testing TY's early-game skirmish micro. Then again, establishing these builds might have pushed TY off from daring to play greedy. Game three saw PartinG get caught out by TY's recently favored Hellion-Marine rush, allowing TY to transition smoothly into a mech and choke PartinG out in brutal fashion. While PartinG has defeated TY's mech in previous games, it highlighted the problem of letting TY get to mech safely.
Prediction: It was alarming how easy it was for Maru to blind-counter PartinG's 4-Gate Blink strategy (even in the game where he lost, Maru's idea was 100% correct). With a week of preparation on both sides, I don't think the build will be any stronger. PartinG will need to have developed some twists on his bread-and-butter opener, or have concocted some very devious mind-games based on it.
On the other hand, I think TvP mech will continue to be problematic for PartinG. While I think PartinG's overall ability to punish Terran mispositioning and time his counter-attacks gives him a solid, baseline ability to fight against mech, it's not something he can completely pick apart the way he did to Maru's bio.
Before TY's GSL preview videos became a new symbol for bad predictions in the Korean community, TL.net predictions were often the butt of their jokes. While I'm thankful to TY for taking the heat off of us, I'm still giving him the kiss of death.
Prediction: TY 4 - 2 PartinG