2020 GSL Code S Season 2 - Round of 16by Wax
Code S Season 2 continues on with the round-of-16 group stage, where the four seeded players from Season 1 finally enter the fray. The first one up is none other than #1 overall seed and reigning Code S champion TY, who has picked himself two non-Koreans and a military returnee as his first opponents.
Group A Preview: TY, SpeCial, Scarlett, DongRaeGuStart time: Tuesday, Jul 14 10:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Following in Code S tradition, TY used the overwhelming drafting power of the #1 seed to assemble a trio of the softest group-mates possible: Scarlett, SpeCial, and DongRaeGu (the RO16 group selection/draft mechanics are pretty complicated, so I recommend just watching the full group selections if you want to know the details). What's odd, however, is that I had to stop and wonder if TY actually needed this advantage to advance.
If you only tune into major tournament matches, your last memory of TY is probably his one-sided, 4-0 sweep over Cure in the last Code S finals. Since then, that kind of dominance has been almost entirely absent from TY's games. TY has been ambling along with a terrible post-championship hangover, putting up only a 7-5 match record with a meager 22-15 (59.46% win-rate) map score. Here's the list of players he's lost to in that period: ShowTimE, Armani, Bly, Solar, and soO. That's more than enough to warrant some concern.
Still, I'm struggling to determine how much these results really matter. After all, I've often said that one can't read too deeply into online tournament performances—it's common to see top players scale their efforts up and down depending on the importance of the competition. However, TY wasn't just sandbagging in small weekly tournaments. He suffered an embarrassing group stage elimination from the Douyu Cup—one of the biggest online competitions this year with around $21,000 in prize money. It's not a tournament you expect players to take lightly.
On the other hand, the content of TY's Douyu Cup games made me think he truly was just playing casually, saving his best strategies and performances for GSL Code S. A TvZ Ghost-Hellion rush, a TvT BC rush, a handful of different proxy-Barracks variations—if TY is the man of one-hundred builds, it certainly felt like he was reaching for the ones at the bottom of the barrel. It was the kind of performance that would have had the Korean community saying he was "playing with YouTube in mind," using entertaining strategies which could form the basis of his next video. Who knows? Maybe TY really does have the luxury of not having to go all-out in one of the biggest online events of the year.
After considering all the factors, I've come to a boring and safe conclusion. Until proven otherwise, the accomplished, establish, star player deserves the benefit of the doubt. No matter TY's struggles in online competition, I still believe he'll be playing on an entirely different level in Code S.
Alright, let's look at the race for second place. One of the bizarre side-effects of letting the #1 seed draft the weakest three RO16 players into their group is that one of them gets to sneak into the quarterfinals. While this sucks for the viewers, it's the reason why the RO16 underdogs actually like getting picked into the #1 seed's group—they'd barely have a chance of advancing to the quarterfinals otherwise. Thus, during the group selections, Scarlett, SpeCial, and DRG seemed pretty content with joining TY in Group A, even if it meant accepting that ignominious label of being the worst players of the RO16. Sure, it probably hurt their pride in the moment, but the extra $2000 in prize money from advancing to the quarterfinals would help assuage that pain.
Scarlett surely can't quibble with TY perceiving her as the easiest opponent among the RO16 players. She's lucky to be in the RO16 at all, as she was nearly eliminated in the RO24 by amateur player Prince and his creative cheeses. Fortunately for Scarlett, Prince's hands couldn't quite keep up with his brains, and she was able to pull out a comeback victory. More recently, in DreamHack Masters North America, she came in fourth place behind Neeb, Astrea, and Future—not a great sign when you consider NA isn't exactly considered a fiercely competitive region.
Up until a few weeks ago, I'd have said Scarlett would have been happy due to the no-Protoss nature of this group, as she has possibly the worst Glaive-Adept defense of all the GSL Zergs. Unfortunately, recent games suggest that ZvT is now her most pressing problem. She's on a three-match ZvT losing streak in July, with losses to Future, TY, and uThermal. While some of those losses were due to weird cheeses (the aforementioned Ghost rush from TY), Scarlett seems to generally struggle in the macro-duel of Muta-Ling-Bane versus the endless Terran parade push. It doesn't seem like it's just her problem—looking at the RO16 selections as a whole, it was clear that Korean Terrans felt really good about the state of the TvZ match-up right now (that might change when they face Serral and Reynor). Not only did the four Terran top seeds all pick Zerg opponents, but #4 seed INnoVation actually took mother-fungalling Dark with players like Bunny and PartinG still on the board.
As is often the case with Scarlett in these later rounds, her advancement seems to hinge on preparing, hiding, and executing deadly all-ins. Even though her cheesy reputation precedes her, she always seems to have enough creativity to get at least one series win over a supposedly stronger opponent. A cheesy win against either SpeCial or TY, combined with a regular ZvZ win against DongRaeGu might be enough to see Scarlett through to the RO16. (By the way, I just saw Bly proxy-hatch his way to a victory against TY. That should remind you that in Starcraft, nothing is truly impossible.)
While I'm not optimistic about Scarlett's form, I feel like her foreigner compatriot SpeCial has a great chance to become the first non-Korean to reach the Code S playoffs since Neeb in 2018. He comes in with the momentum from winning Dreamhack Masters Latin America, which marked his seventh straight title win in regional LATAM competitions. While it wasn't a Code S-tier competition, he won it in especially dominating fashion by not dropping a single map (14-0 total record).
SpeCial had a solid outing in the RO24 of Code S, where he upset soO with two 2-0 wins to advance in second place from his group. Those series were a great demonstration of why he's at his best in the Code S format. Not only did he prepare different kinds of early-game harassment to keep soO off guard, but he played a great big-picture mind game as well. After using turtle mech to defeat soO in two games, SpeCial completely broke soO's ankles with the fake-out move of transitioning his mech opener into standard bio. Even if SpeCial doesn't have the lightning quick hands of the best GSL Terrans, he certainly works hard to make up for it with his intelligence.
To be fair, I have to consider the possibility that I'm overrating SpeCial, due to the fact that soO was basically a perfect sandbag for him to beat up on: a macro oriented player who tries to play predictable and safe against a perceived weaker opponent. If SpeCial ends up being the one who has to face unorthodox plays from his opponents, things could get very unpredictable. Given Scarlett's recent ZvT games, I don't think that she's going to sit back and try to play defensive Muta-Ling-Bane against SpeCial. Whether it's with Nydus tactics or proxy-hatches, I get the feeling Scarlett is going to try to take SpeCial outside of his comfort zone. As for DongRaeGu....
DongRaeGu encapsulates one of the dilemmas players returning from military service face. Since DRG's return, he's preferred to play a standard macro style, somewhat similar to the one he played during his prime during WoL. While DRG's macro play has been respectable, it definitely felt like he had hit his ceiling in the Code S RO24.
Now, one might wonder why these old veterans stubbornly try to keep pace in standard games with pros who have basically been practicing non-stop for years (looking at you, TaeJa). Maybe that's just the nature of the world, where it's hard for old dogs to learn new tricks. Or maybe it's because changing styles would be conceding defeat, admitting that there is no road to full recovery for anyone returning from 20 months of military service. Damn, I depressed myself just typing that.
Whatever the reason, DongRaeGu was notable to me this season because he made a very conscious decision to finally adapt. He played against his reputation and went for two incisive speedling all-ins against Dear, for which he was rewarded with RO16 advancement. I think that approach is the right one for a player of DRG's caliber at the moment, as he's a solid macro player but can't really force that style in every single game. He needs to resist the temptation of looking at SpeCial as one of the weaker opponents and going for solely macro games. That's something 2012 DRG could have done—2020 DRG has to be more cunning than that.
Predictions: TY will easily advance in first place. If SpeCial and Scarlett meet, they will play a terrible, terrible mech vs Zerg turtle game on Ice and Chrome. If Scarlett and DRG meet, we'll see at least one 12-pool Spine Crawler rush. The winning lottery numbers will be 29 06 25 32 11.
TY > Scarlett
SpeCial > DRG
TY > SpeCial
Scarlett > DRG
SpeCial > Scarlett
TY and SpeCial advance.