2020 GSL Code S Season 2 - Round of 16by Wax
The Code S RO16 resumes with Group B, which starts with a blockbuster match between Dark and INnoVation. With one of the two championship contenders guaranteed to start with a loss, could they be in danger of suffering an upset at the hands of PartinG or Bunny and being eliminated in the group stage?
Well, probably not, but gotta build that suspense.
Group B Preview: INnoVation, Dark, PartinG, BunnyStart time: Saturday, Jul 18 4:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group B begins with a match worthy of a grand finals in INnoVation vs Dark. It's a season of redemption for both of these title contenders, as massive waves of hype gave way to crushing disappointment back in Season One. Dark came in as the reigning BlizzCon champion, the restorer of Korea's honor, and a player looking to belatedly fulfill his goal of winning 10 championships. INnoVation was a rebooted legend, newly equipped with creative builds and arrogant swag on the mic. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. They merely served as the dragons in a fairy tale—much breath was wasted on explaining how fierce they were, but they were ultimately slain by the true heroes in TY and Cure. And while there's a certain humanistic charm to seeing the underdogs prevail, I suspect many fans lamented missing out on a momentous clash between two titans of the game.
Better late than never! Outside the GSL, we've already had many opportunities to see this match-up play out. INnoVation and Dark have been in constant conflict in the Chinese team leagues, and one could make the case for either player being the overall victor. INnoVation's supplicants would point out that he stomped Dark 4-1 in the Gold Series All-Stars finals (VOD), and went a combined 3-2 versus Dark in the NeXT Spring Playoffs. On the other hand, Dark fans could argue that the All-Stars game was merely a showmatch, and remind us that Dark won the pivotal ace-match against INnoVation in the NeXT finals. Me, I'm going to be diplomatic, and say that up until this season of Code S, the match-up between these two players was basically even.
However, recent events seem to have tipped the scales in favor of INnoVation, and it's not because of any matches that were played. The biggest theme of the latest Code S RO16 selection/draft was how ridiculously confident Korean Terrans were in the TvZ match-up. Terrans held all of the top four seeds, and all four them picked Zerg players as their initial opponents. But even under the assumption that TvZ favors Terran, it was still utterly incomprehensible when INnoVation picked Dark as his opponent. Dude! Your last big tournament runs were ended by Serral (StayAt HomeStory Cup #2) and soO (TeamLiquid Starleague 5)! Players like Bunny and PartinG were still on the board! Well, perhaps it was only incomprehensible to our feeble human brains. Whatever INnoVation's experiences are in practice, it's clearly been enough to make him feel like Dark is an 'easy' opponent. StarCraft II fans must pause and think: "is TvZ THAT broken? Or is INnoVation's TvP and TvT THAT bad?"
INnoVation just recently played vs Serral in the group stage of the DH Masters Summer Finals, but I'm not sure it qualified as a 'check-up' match. The match was a 1-2 loss for INnoVation, with him playing an paradoxically up-tempo mech-style. The thing is, INnoVation has really struggled against Serral ever since he took $100,000 off of him at the WESG finals in 2019, so adding another loss to his record wasn't a huge surprise. Second, while INnoVation does enjoy pulling out battle-mech every now and then in Korean matches, it's not his default strat by any means. It seems more likely that it was a specific adaptation to Serral (who has delighted in destroying INnoVation's bio pushes in the last year or so), or to the network conditions that would have made bio-play trickier to pull-off. That isn't to say he won't play mech against Dark—I just think bio will be the baseline, as it was in their last significant match in the GTC all-stars finals.
As for Dark, besides that all-star match versus INnoVAtion, his most significant Zvt match in the recent past was his 2-3 loss to Maru in the DreamHack Summer Finals play-in match (VOD). The theme of the series was "Roach-Ravager bad; Ling-Bane good," but it's hard to hold aggressive Roach-Ravager play against one of its most successful pilots in history. In general, a 2-3 loss against Maru can't be held against anyone—if anything, the match simply reaffirmed that Dark is still a top class ZvT player.
Anyway, that's a lot of words to say that Dark vs INnoVAtion should be an even match, even with the curious wrinkle of INnoVation hand-picking Dark as his opponent. The betting sites see this match as being as close to 50:50 as possible, and if Liquibet offered per-match voting in the group stage, I imagine those votes would have been neck-and-neck as well.
Oh, right, there's other players in this group.
Whether or not you call this group a "group of death" largely depends on how you rate PartinG's skill level right now, and how lucky you think he was to reach the semifinals last season.The Big Boy's Blink-Stalker fueled upset of Maru was THE surprise of Code S Season 1, but there's been precious little evidence to suggest that was his 'standard' level of play. Since then, PartinG hasn't won a single PvT series against anyone you'd call a Code S class Terran. His PvZ has been just slightly better, as he's taken a few BO5's off Solar in online tournaments, but Solar is hardly an acceptable stand-in for Dark. Also, it's not very encouraging that just yesterday in the Dreamhack Summer Finals, PartinG was eliminated with consecutive losses to HeroMarine and TY. Even accounting for the hiding-strats-for-GSL factor (there was a definitely feel of "I got a GSL match coming up, let me use my OTHER all-ins" in PartinG's matches), his play was not particularly impressive.
If you believe in PartinG, what you really believe in is how dirty he can be in important matches. While it's a slightly old match to reference, you can't forget how PartinG welcomed Dark to IEM Katowice 2020 by 2-0'ing him with cheeses (VOD). And, of course, there's that 3-2 upset over Maru we just mentioned. Obviously, one has to be fearful and respectful of the variance players like PartinG can bring with their all-ins and cheeses. But if you're actually picking him to advance here, I can't help but think you're predicting lightning to strike the same place twice.
The final player of the group is Bunny, who readily admitted he was in a rough spot during the group selections. Fans might recall that back in Season 1, he revealed that he phoned top seed Dark to ask him to give him a break and not pick him at the group selections, pleading for mercy as he had just returned to Code S after two seasons of failing to qualify. In contrast, Bunny showed some more verve this season, saying that he needed to prove that he could survive in a tough group this time around. Look here, Bunny: you can't win against us TL.net writers. If you bravely accept a tough group, we'll say you're dead in the water. If you beg the #1 seed to not take you with the first pick, we'll mock you for being a coward. You hear? We're undefeated!
Jokes aside (or ARE they jokes?), Bunny did play quite well in his RO24 group, defeating strong macro players in RagnaroK and Trap to advance in first place. While I'm not going to pick him to advance, I do think there's a small chance that he could eke out a TvT upset against INnoVation (who's been prone to TvT upsets) to advance in second place.
INnoVatioN > Dark
PartinG > Bunny
INnoVatioN > PartinG
Dark > Bunny
DarK > PartinG
INnoVation and Dark advance.