2020 GSL Code S Season 2 - Round of 24by Wax
Season 1 of Code S began with two early surprises, as sOs and Rogue were eliminated in the first two RO24 groups. So far in Season 2, we're one-for-one in terms of repeating that sequence, as SpeCial advanced at the expense of soO in Group A. While few will expect Dark or Stats to suffer such a fate in Group B, their recently shaky form forces us to keep an eye out for another upset..
Group B Preview:Dark, Astrea, Impact, StatsStart time: Wednesday, Jun 24 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
After Zoun crashed and burned in Group A, another Code S debutante will have a chance to do better in Group B. That would be American Protoss player Astrea, whose last notable result in a premier tournament was placing 6th in 2019's WCS Winter: Americas. Since then, Astrea has spent a considerable amount of time training in Korea, and it seems to be paying off. He's the ace of the Alpha X squad that made an underdog run to third place in China's Gold Series Team Championship (GTC), putting up a 14-4 record in the regular season. While most of those wins were earned against players from China and its surrounding regions, he also earned 1-1 draws against tough opponents like Dream, TY, and even Dark.
Astrea's qualification to Code S doesn't feel fluky at all. While he did lose twice to Dark in the qualifiers, he managed to beat several former Code S players like Bomber, Bunny, Creator, and Hurricane to earn his spot. He may not be favored to reach the RO16, but you certainly can't begrudge him this RO24 opportunity.
GSL caster TY rated Astrea as a store-brand version of Stats, which is certainly damning with faint praise. I do think Astrea can be a bit more creative than TY expects—in a previous interview with TL.net, Astrea talked about how he was able to take advantage of the preparation time in the GTC and even the odds against superior players. Playing in some of the most important matches of his career, I think Astrea has a chance to surprise this group's favorites with the build orders he has concocted.
On the other hand, I also said that the element of preparation might favor Astrea's teammate Zoun in Group A, and he ended up getting eliminated from his group in last place. While Zoun had multiple opportunities to take good fights against soO or even finish him off, his execution and micro failed him in the end. While I can't be 100% certain of what's going on inside a player's head, it sure did look like Zoun's nerves got to him as he played in his first ever Code S match-day. Thus, I have to worry that no matter how hard Astrea prepares, he might not have the composure to play up to his normal level in his Code S debut, leading to him undergoing a harsh initiation ritual at the hands of the GSL veterans.
Who better to 'welcome' a foreigner to Code S than the foreigner-killer supreme in Dark? For a player who has loved to pick foreigners in the RO16 group selections, randomly drawing an American player in the RO24 must have come as a delightful surprise.
While Dark's losses to TY in the GSL quarterfinals and Maru in the DreamHack Masters play-in match leaves us questioning his ZvT form, there are no Terrans to worry about in this group. ZvT against elite players is certainly a problem Dark will have to address in order to make a deep run in this season of Code S, but as it regards this group, there's no reason to believe his ZvP and ZvZ have suffered in the same way. One might point out that Astrea managed to steal a map off Dark in the GTC, winning in what was a more-or-less straight up game (Watch VOD). But there is a huge caveat: the series was already decided 4-1 for Dragon Phoenix Gaming, rendering the result largely meaningless. The next time the two players met was in the GSL qualifiers, where Dark defeated Astrea twice on his way to qualifying.
As for Stats, Dark has won in their last four head-to-head meetings. Dark doesn't have any head-to-heads against Impact in the last year, but the fact that Impact's ZvZ win-rate is sub 50% on the year while Dark's win-rate is around 70% tells us that match-up won't be problematic (if he even has to play it).
I should point out that it's not like Dark has won many impressive ZvP or ZvZ matches as of late, as he's mostly beat up on lesser players in online tournaments. However, he hasn't lost any big matches like he did in in TvZ. And when you're a player of Dark's caliber—a BlizzCon champion and perennial title contender since 2017—the absence of failure is enough for us to believe that he's still top-tier. He's certainly earned that much benefit of the doubt.
I wish I could say that about Stats as well, but his stretch of disappointing tournament results has gone on for too long for me to ignore. Since Stats' incredible, Serral-conquering victory at ASUS ROG Summer 2019, he hasn't placed higher than top eight in any of the seven subsequent major tournaments he's played in. Trap has surely taken away the title of best all-around Protoss from him, and Zest has topped him in terms of peak-ability. Being the third best Protoss player in Korea isn't bad by any means, but it sure doesn't feel as glorious now that Classic and herO have departed the scene for military service.
If I had to make an excuse for Stats' mediocre results, it's that he's been somewhat unlucky in his opponents. In the last season of Code S, he was eliminated from the RO16 after losing to both finalists in Cure and TY. In the Super Tournament, he had to face Maru in the first round. Still, if you can't beat top-tier opponents every now and then, maybe the quarterfinals is where you belong.
Which, I guess, still makes Stats good enough to be a heavy favorite to advance from this group. Even if he hasn't been a championship contender for almost a year now, he's still been good enough to consistently grind his way to the top sixteen or higher in every tournament he's participated in. Even if a trophy seems out of reach at the moment, you still expect Stats to do the bare minimum we expect of him and scrounge together enough victories to advance. I have to admit, I did predict soO to slog his way to the RO16 one way or another, only to see him get thwarted by SpeCial's mech. But, unlike soO, Stats doesn't have a ridiculously lop-sided skill-set where his chances of losing spikes drastically once he reaches tier 3 tech. I expect Stats to grind out the wins he needs to reach the next round—that's where his real problems will begin.
Finally, we have Impact, who barely earned his return to Code S for another season. When I say "barely," I mean it. You see, the qualifier format was modified this season to have three consecutive rounds of qualifiers, meaning each player had three separate tries to qualify. Impact and Super advanced from the third and final round, and from the losers bracket at that, making them the absolute last two players to earn Code S spots. All that goes to say: Impact isn't exactly riding into Code S on a wave of momentum.
However, I have to point out that Impact did manage to trade matches against both Zest and Stats during his qualifier run, even if Zest and Stats won the later matches that mattered more. And, considering the fact that Impact has a dominant, 7-1 head-to-head score against Astrea, he might be able to capitalize on a poor outing from Stats, or the worst ZvZ series we've seen from Dark since GSL vs. The World 2019, and sneak his way into the RO16.
Dark > Astrea
Stats > Impact
Dark > Stats
Impact > Astrea
Stats > Impact
Dark and Stats advance