2020 GSL Code S Season 2by Wax
Semifinal #1: DongRaeGu vs Rogue
For the second consecutive season, we begin the Code S semifinals with a match that's both about making history and presenting a vision for the future.
Last season, PartinG became the first player to return from retirement and reach the Code S semifinals. While he fell to TY in the end, it was an important beacon of hope for players returning from lengthy hiatuses. This season, DongRaeGu has followed in PartinG's wake, defying all expectations to reach the semifinals. One could argue his path was even more arduous. While PartinG's retirement was due to his attempts to forge a career path in other video games, DongRaeGu had to let his gaming skills waste away in Korea's military. That's also why DongRaeGu's run is more important. There are many more DongRaeGu's in StarCraft II right now than there are PartinG's, and there will be many more in the future—soO, Zest, and Stats are set to go to the military soon, while ByuN is scheduled to be back this fall.
Ideally, we'd love for StarCraft II to pick up in popularity in Korea, and for some new blood to enter the scene. Realistically, StarCraft II is already like WarCraft 3, Tekken, Street Fighter, Brood War, and every other "stagnant water" game where Korea used to be (and still is) great: The old timers will have to keep carrying the scene for a long time. With that in mind, it's a relief to see signs that military service isn't a castastrophic, career-ending setback. It doesn't have to mean your competitive ceiling is lowered to being filler in the group stages. It doesn't have to mean you'll never win a championship again.
If you hadn't even noticed DongRaeGu had returned to progaming before this season, we couldn't blame you. In the previous four seasons of Code S, all he managed was two eliminations in the first group stage. The run he made this season was truly revelatory, as he made an almost instantaneous jump from being utterly forgettable to being one of the best ZvT players in Korea. The all-time-great player of 2012 came back to life, willing to send his swarms of Muta-Ling-Bane into a straight-up fight with anyone. With consecutive victories over SpeCial, TY, and INnoVation in macro games, we know that his ZvT, at least, is championship tier. It's true that he's been insufficiently tested in other match-ups—his two series against Dear could be summed up as a "cheese or be cheesed," while he hasn't played a single Zerg opponent so far in this Code S run. But damn, does it feel good to see a champion from 2012 come back and contend for the title in 2020.
Perhaps the StarCraft gods are evil after all, as they could not have sent a more perfect player to ruin the feel-good story of the season (unless they decided to unlock Sniper's bindings and release him from his cosmic prison). Rogue is a hype-killer extraordinaire, a player with top ten all-time skills (if not top five) but without the fanbase to match. He will beat your favorite player. He will trample all over the heart-warming narrative of the tournament. He will give a completely professional and humble interview afterward, leaving you wishing he'd be a bit more like Dark and give you an excuse to hate him.
Rogue never asked for any of this (well, except the hundreds of thousands of dollars from winning tournaments). His only sin is that he was strong when Zerg was strong, and he was good at using whatever styles and army compositions that made Zerg strong at the time. As the saying goes: don't hate the player, hate the game.
As one of the most successful Korean Zerg players of the LotV era, with two IEM Katowice titles and a BlizzCon title under his belt, Rogue figures to be the heavy favorite in this upcoming match. Famously, Rogue has never lost an offline best-of-seven series in his entire StarCraft II career, holding a 7-0 record in such contests. Now, this is one of the more deceptive statistical achievements in StarCraft II—Rogue was absolutely dismal in Code S quarterfinals (which are best-of-five) for several years, thus he never made it to the best-of-seven stages of Code S until he was ready to go all the way. Still, if we didn't read deeply into such statistical vagaries, professional sports would be much, much less amusing. So, yeah, Rogue is the unbeaten god-king of best-of-sevens. On the other hand, DongRaeGu hasn't played an offline best-of-seven since 2013, when he lost to Life in the Iron Squid II finals. Everything seems stacked up for DongRaeGu to lose, and for DongRaeGu to lose hard.
As usual, Zerg vs Zerg is the X-factor here. DongRaeGu himself gave voice to such after his quarterfinal final match, saying that though he'd be the underdog versus Rogue, he'd almost prefer a ZvZ if just for the opportunity to use the match-up's variability to try and pull off an upset. While I appreciate the confidence, I'm not sure if I believe DongRaeGu has the baseline ZvZ ability on which to build an upset. ZvZ has been by far his worst match-up in 2020, as he has a sub 50% win-rate in both matches and map score. On the other hand, Rogue has won nearly two-thirds of his ZvZ matches in the same time-frame and presently has the highest Aligulac.com ZvZ rating among Korean players.
But, as we've insinuated many times before, the stats can lie when it comes to predicting Code S. 'GSL practice and preparation' isn't just a trope TL.net users invoke to argue against Serral fans—it's a real, complicating factor that's made a player like TY an online chump and offline champ in 2020.
This feels particularly relevant now, as Rogue talked about how it could be difficult to find a practice partner during his post-quarterfinal interview. To catch you up on some obscure Korean-community news, amateur/semi-pro/unclassified player Prince had previously posted about how difficult it was to find Zerg practice partners after he was eliminated from the RO24. You see, AfreecaTV Freecs' Armani had been in Prince's group, and it so happens to be that the AfreecaTV + Friends clique encompasses over half the Code S tier Zergs in Korea. Now, the honor code about not helping people practice against your friends/teammates has been the norm since the Brood War days—nothing wrong with that. It's just that things get complicated when the scene contracts, and one team/group holds the majority of players for one race.
With that in mind, imagine this scenario: DongRaeGu comes in with the institutional knowledge of the Korean Zerg Brain Trust behind him, having collectively devised all sorts of devious builds. Honorary Afreeca clubhouse member Solar (who beat Rogue in the RO24) has canvassed the top Zerg minds of the EU scene, giving DRG additional access to forbidden knowledge. On the other hand, Rogue has had to scramble to find any kind of help, getting a "what's in it for me?" from Dark and a "you must be truly desperate to come to me for help" from frequent nemesis Scarlett. While Rogue's superior instincts and mechanics are noticeable in the match, DongRaeGu powers through on the back of well-planned builds and all-ins.
Improbable. But still plausible.
Ultimately, I have to go with the conservative prediction here. Though I fully believe in the 'realness' of DongRaeGu's ZvT abilities, and think he could actually win a GSL Code S title if he drew the perfect bracket, Rogue seems like the least ideal opponent for him to face at this time.
Prediction: Rogue 4 - 2 DongRaeGu