Code S Season 1by Orlok and Wax
Grand Finals Preview
In a reborn era of GomTvT, GSL Code S is about to crown a new Terran champion. TY returns to the Code S finals stage for the third time in his career, having lost to Maru and Zest in his previous attempts to win the championship. Despite being title-less in Code S, TY still takes on the role of the incumbent accepting the invitation of the challenger. For he faces first-time Code S finalist in Cure, a player who's sudden rise has been one of the biggest surprises of 2020. Career-wise, TY belongs to the most elite-tier of players, and is long overdue to win the Code S title most of his illustrious peers possess. But, as we've seen the past, the decorated veterans is often sacrificed for the rising star's glory.
TY: Talk the Talk, Walk the WalkTY's opponents haven't been the only people taking L's during his GSL run—there's also every other StarCraft II caster who isnt' concurrently a Code S finalist. Okay, maybe that's being just a little bit unfair to the other casters—TY does happen to possess the greatest competitive pedigree of any SC2 caster.
TY's early entry into StarCraft was both blessed and cursed: he received considerable spotlight for joining pro-team Pantech EX as a thirteen-year-old, but became perhaps the youngest Brood War progamer to ever be called washed-up when he failed to live up to comparisons with greats such as NaDa and Flash. However, his talent was quite legit—it just took a switch to StarCraft II and move to KT Rolster to set him on the path to championships.
He quickly became a vital soldier in KT Rolster's 2014 Proleague campaign, capping off a strong 17-12 regular season record with a championship-clinching bunker rush against SKT's Classic in the grand finals. Individual league success soon followed, and he became a fixture in the playoffs of GSL/SSL, eventually earning his first finals appearance in the inaugural Code S tournament of LotV (he lost 2-4 to Zest).
When Proleague was discontinued at the end of 2016, it was time for TY to shine even brighter in individual leagues. 2017 was his year, as he won back to back victories at IEM Katowice and WESG. Not only did that win him hefty paydays (over $300,000 combined), but he also earned the kind of prestige that only major individual titles can bring. While TY cooled off slightly after reaching that high point, his overall skill-level has remained in that vicinity. He reached the BlizzCon semifinals in 2017, and almost prevented Maru's Code S three-peat in the finals of 2018 Season 3. Inevitable might be too strong a word to describe TY's return to the Code S finals, but it's certainly no shock to see him here again. He's a player who belongs on this kind of stage.
The surprising thing about TY's run is that he's doing it while being Code S's primary color-commentator. When he took over JYP’s broadcast duties (JYP went to fulfill his mandatory military service) in 2019, it seemed like an odd decision. Why was a top three Terran suddenly taking on a role that had historically been reserved for retired players? Casting isn’t as easy as one might think—it’s one thing to possess deep knowledge of SC2, it's another thing entirely to convert that deep knowledge into concise sound-bites that the audience can understand. Could TY really maintain a decent level of StarCraft skill while becoming a good enough caster to please critical Korean fans? Was he signalling a career transition after a disappointing 2019 campaign where he failed to qualify for the Global Finals?
All such questions have been answered. Despite a rocky start to 2020 where TY was eliminated early in the Super Tournament and IEM Katowice (topped off by the indignity of being booted from Triumphant Song Gaming), he's made up for it by giving us vintage TY performances in GSL Code S. His quarterfinal match against Dark might have been the best demonstration of his strategic panache. Historically, TY had been Dark’s punching bag, with a 12-24 head-to-head match record overall, and 9-20 in LotV to boot. No one expected TY to put up a real fight with how poor he had been early on the year, but lo and behold: he won three straight games with map-specific, cheesy goodness.
TY's semifinal victory against PartinG reminded us how he can invent his own paradigm in a match-up, let his opponents know about it, and win with it anyway. TY had been playing variants of turtle-Terran for months on the new map pool, and PartinG was still unable to come up with a solution as he hurled waves of Protoss units to their deaths. While PartinG's throws and sloppy plays certainly helped, we can't blame TY for remaining calm and executing his gameplan.
When asked by TL.net about how casting had affected his play, TY said that playing off-race as part of his casting preparation had really let him understand the mindset of the other factions. Maybe that's why his incisive early-game builds have been hitting their mark so frequently this season. He's had some luck in terms of his opponents' poor scouting, but everyone needs a bit of luck to reach the GSL finals. For Terran players, TY has been a sudden thunderclap during a dry day. Of the top three Terrans, we expected INnoVation and Maru to thrive under the supposed #TerranPatch, but in the end, it's TY and his encyclopedia of builds that's headed to the finals.
We’ve never seen a player continue to be as good as TY has been while shouldering on the casting workload. Not only is he casting, but he's committing to regular streaming and creating content for his growing YouTube channel. Considering the anomaly he is right now, this could be the first and possibly only time such a hybrid player ever wins a major championship. In an age where it seems like every possible milestone in StarCraft II has been reached—from Serral winning BlizzCon, Maru winning four consecutive Code S titles, to everyone under the sun winning the Nestea Award—TY's run to the finals actually has an element that makes it feel unique. While Cure’s story is a very dramatic and sympathetic one, it's nothing truly new at its core: he's one of the many late-blooming underdogs in recent GSL history. TY’s story, that of a progamer finding opportunities outside of tournaments but not losing an iota of his competitive edge, is one that's just as worthy of getting behind.
Cure: Born AgainIs it such a terrible curse to be good but not great? Apparently, that's the kind of existential question Cure has been asking himself. After his 4-3 victory over INnoVation in the semifinals, Cure said in his post-match interview that following his 2019 departure from Jin Air, he had spent a lot of time alone with his thoughts. Among them was "will I go down as another progamer who never got notable results?"
Cure didn't elaborate much further, which left us to speculate about kind of conclusion his soul-searching led him to. Did he make peace with all he had achieved (or had not achieved) in ten years of progaming, giving him the freedom to finally play without pressure? Or did he choose to obsess over his failures and blown opportunities, and use that bitterness and regret as motivation?
Whatever the case, Cure was reborn in 2020. Every single facet of his play improved, whether it was his mechanics, decision-making, or ability to craft builds for a specific opponent. The overarching narrative has been that he always had top-tier skills, and it was only his weak mentality that was holding him back in the GSL booth. While we'd be more skeptical of this kind of over-simplification for other players, it's hard to think of a single bigger reason behind Cure's rapid rise. He went from being a very good online player to god-like online player seemingly overnight, without some intervening period for intensive practice. After spending the last four years as a group stage player in GSL Code S (not even qualifying on occasion), he's made abrupt intrusion into the grand finals.
Sure, he probably benefited from the 4.11.X balance patch and change in map pool, but no other Terran player enjoyed as much drastic improvement in such a short period of time. In the span of six months, Cure has forced his way into the top tier of Korean Terrans, joining INnoVation, TY, and Maru to create what one might call a new "four horsemen of Terran."
In many ways, Cure's 2020 is reminiscent of Trap's 2019. Both players languished in mediocrity on Jin Air for years, occasionally flashing signs of their talent before falling back to the middle of the pack. For all of 2018, it seemed like the most attention they were getting was in interviews with Maru, as adequate practice partners for a truly great player. In both their cases, a mental block was blamed for their shortcomings in the GSL, one they magically overcame without much explanation in their breakout years. Heck, they even share the fact that they both have a single devoted fan on TL.net who's supported them through thick and thin
In Trap's case, his career year of 2019 ended up being bittersweet, as he lost in two Code S finals against the two greatest Zergs in Korea, playing under one the least favorable PvZ patches in years. Cure, in comparison, has the wind of the times at his back. Terran is as strong as ever, and his finals opponent—while certainly formidable—is hardly the worst possible opponent he could face. In fact, Cure probably overcame his most feared foe in the previous round. He headed into his semifinal match against INnoVation with a 9-31 head-to-head match score deficit, and was perhaps haunted by some lingering trauma from his semifinal loss to INnoVation in 2014. Cure overcame those odds and pulled out a gutsy 4-3 victory—albeit in a shaky performance that saw him almost blow a 3-1 lead—but it was still a hugely significant win against the most hyped player in the scene. While there will always be doubters that that consider Cure an online-only, paper tiger until the day he wins a major title, for most of us, that victory over INnoVation was the ultimate stamp of legitimacy proving that the new Cure was for real.
Cure now has the chance to fulfill his dreams and win the championship he's been chasing for over ten years. If he ever lost sight of that goal over the course of that brutal KeSPA grind, he'll now be more focused than ever with the championship trophy within grasp. Cure follows in the path of many late-bloomers before him—from Nestea in the inaugural year of GSL to even finals opponent TY himself. Now, it's up to Cure to take that final step, and claim his just reward for all his hard work, patience, and perseverance
PredictionsFew players should be as acutely aware of Cure's post-Jin Air metamorphosis as TY. Prior to 2020, TY held a 10-2 head-to-head advantage against Cure—in 2020, he trails 4-6 (12-15 map score). TY has watched and commentated over the entirety of Cure's Code S finals odyssey from the GSL announcer's desk, and he even became a part of Cure's tale when he lost to him in their shared RO16 group.
From an outsider's point of view, it seems like TY would be forced to consider Cure an equal in nearly every aspect of TvT. In 2020, they've traded blows with each other in all sorts of game types, be it the traditional Marine-Tank macro wars or rock-paper-scissor fights between early-game aggro builds. While TY's multi-tasking and mechanics have been lauded throughout his career, there's nothing to Cure's games against TY that suggest he's lacking in that department. Even in the art of extreme, late-game turtling—a traditional strength of TY's that has re-emerged in this GSL run—Cure was able to outdo TY at IEM Katowice.
However, there are two areas in which TY might eke out an advantage against Cure. First, there's the preparation of strategies. TY has always been known as a craft build-smith, but his use of early-game strategies this season has been particularly notable. Nearly every opponent TY has faced this season dropped a map after taking damage from some form of surprise attack in the early-game, or just straight-up died to that attack. In the case of Dark, these attacks caused him to lose in a 0-3 quarterfinals sweep. One notable exception, however, was Cure, who actually killed TY with his own 3-rax Reaper build in the RO16.
Cure built much of his fearsome online reputation on the back of his strong standard play (which isn't to say he didn't have some quirky, pet-builds like his BC's in TvP), but this Code S run has revealed that he is also a capable strategist as well. Perhaps his reputation as a macro player in online tournaments is serving him well here, as he's been able to pick his spots and take some easy wins with all-ins. While one has to give TY the slight edge in prepared strategies due to his vastly greater BO5+ experience, Cure's prior series against INnoVation suggests he has some hidden depths he's yet to reveal.
The other area where TY has to be favored is also related to experience. Cure, for the longest time, was a player we defined by his nervousness in live matches. While Cure's has been asked about his mental state in a variety of interviews, we really haven't gotten any insightful self-psychoanalysis from Cure. After the quarterfinals against Dear, Cure said he had been so nervous he hadn't slept the night before. But he then continued to say that being sleep-deprived actually dulled the sense of nervousness. What's one to make of that? Against INnoVation, he said he was wavering when he allowed INnoVation to pull back from 1-3 down to 3-3, but pulled it together to clutch out the game seven win.
On the other hand, TY has won matches in front in some of the biggest crowds in StarCraft II, playing for much more money than is on the line in this particular finals. That isn't to say big-match experience inoculates you against the jitters forever—it's not like Cure's two prior Code S semifinal experiences helped him avoid all those group stage eliminations in the following seasons. But in the case of TY, he's put in enough great performances in high-stakes matches over the years that we trust him to play up to his potential in this kind of situation. He might get out-mechaniced or out-strategized, but he's not a player who chokes.
Ultimately, this mental factor is the deciding factor in making a prediction for this grand finals. In terms of pure gameplay, there's not much separating our two finalists, and Cure might even have the slightest of edges in terms of recent form. But there's just too much lingering uncertainty about Cure's mentality, even if it's improved to the level where he can reach a GSL finals. We predict a narrow win from TY, with either a moment of frailty from Cure or brilliant early-game strategy from TY being the difference.
Prediction: TY 4 - 3 Cure