2020 GSL Code S Season 2: Grand FinalsIn recent seasons, the GSL Code S finals has frequently been the last trial for players with something to prove. We've seen first time-finalists, zero-time GSL winners, and online-bonjwas attempt to seize a career-affirming championship.
This season, the Code S finals will offer StarCraft II fans a more traditional heavyweight bout. Entering the finals stage are two titans of StarCraft II, both entering with their hard-won Code S championships draped figuratively around their waists. These two players are already deeply ingrained in the history of competitive StarCraft II—this match is about furthering their glowing legacies.
Rogue: Seven for Sevenby Wax
Last week, I pointed out that Rogue is the apex hype-killer of StarCraft II. Indeed, many a StarCraft II fan has been tricked into thinking they were watching a feel-good story starring their favorite player, be it during soO's BlizzCon 2017 run, Zest's IEM Katowice 2020 run, or more recently, during DongRaeGu's GSL Code S run. Haha, you suckers! Those were actually genre-subverting tragedies, crafted by the auteur director Rogue. But even as audiences left the show feeling like they had been punched in the stomach by the ending, they must have admitted it was artfully done.
This week, ahead of the Code S finals, I'd like to remind everyone about another aspect of Rogue. Much digital ink has been spilled in fierce arguments over who is the greatest StarCraft II player of all time, and we haven't gotten anywhere close to a consensus. However, I think I could convince you guys to reach an agreement that Rogue is the most underappreciated player of all time.
When people talk about the GOATs, the discussion naturally centers around the most popular stars of their times, such as Mvp, INnoVation, Maru, or Serral. But what about Rogue? Even a cursory glance at his resume should tell you he's at least a top ten all-time player. He's won six championships, including a BlizzCon title, a GSL Code S title, and two IEM Katowice titles. In fact, Rogue is the only player to ever achieve that specific career triple-crown, winning the three most prestigious tournaments in competitive StarCraft II. As you look over Rogue's competitive record, you'll probably start getting this creeping feeling: 'Wait, is Rogue a top five player of all time? Top three????'
I'll leave it to you guys to argue about where exactly Rogue ranks in the replies, or in a future GOAT thread that will inevitable pop up on TL.net. For now, my point is simply that Rogue's failure to enter these kinds of discussions proves that he's the least appreciated of the all-time greats. Maybe winning a second GSL will put our collective view of him in better focus.
Anyway, with that piece of business out of the way...
Rogue may be one of the all-time great players, but he's not without his weaknesses. His motivation is... inconsistent, to say the least. There are only a couple of instances in which you'll see a fully-inspired Rogue. One, obviously, is when he's trying to win a $100,000+ first place prize. Considering how the Code S prize curve has been continuously smoothed out over the years, that's unlikely to ever be a factor for Rogue in the GSL. Fortunately, for GSL fans, Rogue has a second mode of max-motivation that can activate in the GSL: redeeming himself after hitting rock bottom.
Time for a brief history recap. In Code S Season 1 in 2018, Rogue entered as the newly crowned BlizzCon champion and undisputed #1 player in the world. Ironically, he ended up killing his own hype when he suffered utter humiliation in the RO32 group stage, where he was cheesed out at the hands of Scarlett. A month and a half later, Rogue went to IEM Katowice 2018 and completely redeemed himself, taking first place and winning the $150,000 grand prize.
In Code S Season 2 of 2019, Rogue was once again eliminated in the first group stage, this time by Leenock in his literal last tournament before beginning military service. It wasn't even an inspiring, last hurrah for Leenock—after eliminating Rogue in the losers match, Leenock himself was eliminated by FanTaSy in the group decider match. In the following season of Code S, Rogue rebounded and won his first ever GSL Code S championship, destroying Trap in a dominating 4-0 finals sweep.
In 2020, Rogue made history at the first major tournament of the year, becoming the only SC2 player to ever win two IEM Katowice titles. In a bit of deja vu from 2018, he followed that up by getting eliminated by Scarlett in the group stages of Code S. That brings us to the present, where we are in the midst of yet another one of Rogue's raging rampages of redemption. Yet again, losing in the previous season's Code S group stage lit a fire squarely underneath Rogue's butt, which has propelled him to another Code S finals.
Rogue didn't have the cleanest Code S run this time around—he finished second place in both group stages, dropping series to both Solar and Stats (more on that match later). However, he seems to be peaking at just the right time. Rogue has been in dominating form in the playoffs, crushing both Dream and DongRaeGu in one-sided sweeps. As the saying goes: it's not how you start, but how you finish. And all the past evidence says that Rogue will finish strong.
That leads us to Rogue's other signature trait, and this one is entirely praiseworthy. Not only will we see 'redemption rampage Rogue' in the finals, but we'll also be seeing 'never loses in finals Rogue' as well. For his career, Rogue is a perfect 8-0 in offline BO7 series, with six of those wins coming in the finals of major tournaments. As he's never played in a BO5 finals, that makes Rogue a perfect 6-0 in major tournament grand finals.
Players like Maru, Serral, and INnoVation have Rogue beat in a variety of statistical categories, be it total number of premier tournament wins, total number of finals appearances, total sum of prize money won, or consecutive finals wins/appearances. But in terms of having a perfect finals record over the course of six premier tournament wins, Rogue has the entire StarCraft II scene beat by a huge margin. The best record anyone else has is three-for-three in finals, which Nestea achieved back in 2011 and ByuN back in 2016—and that's only IF I do some arbitrary fan-accounting for borderline "major" tournaments. It's a truly one-of-a-kind record in the StarCraft II scene.
Now, luck and small sample size must play a part in this astounding stat, especially given the fact that Rogue's offline best-of-five match win-rate is below 50% (including multiple choke-jobs in the Code S quarterfinals). But on the other hand, it's hard to believe that the elusive clutch factor isn't playing a part in Rogue's success as well. It seems contradictory for a player to frequently flop in quarterfinals but always deliver in the grand finals, but what can you say in the face of results? Rogue is a walking, breathing, championship-winning contradiction. It fits in perfectly with the overall theme of Rogue's career: He's not always fully checked-in, but when he is, there's no one more dangerous.
Rogue, the ultimate comeback player. Rogue, the undefeated master of finals. Both of these two myths are on the line. Let's see if either of them survives the finals.
Stats: The Platonic Idealby Orlok
What would the ideal Starcraft player look like?
They would have to be strong at every phase of the game, capable of both navigating the late-game labyrinth and flawlessly executing early all-in attacks. Their micro would need to be strong, allowing them to transform disadvantageous engagements into decisive victories. Their mental alacrity would have to match that of their hands—for only then could they define metagames, invent new strategies, and properly prepare for the grueling offline series by which we measure the truly elite.
Since we're just making a fantasy wishlist here, we'd prefer this player be likable outside the game as well. They should be cheerful, ready with a smile, and always eager to please the fans following their journey. They'd love StarCraft II as a game and not just as a career, enough so that they'd convince their friends to keep playing even in moments of deep despair.
Oh wait, that player already exists! It's Stats.
Considering that Stats' results have been rather unremarkable for about a year or so, you'd be forgiven for briefly letting LotV's Protoss GOAT slip out out of your consciousness. His quiet, consistent greatness is the kind of thing that can get lost amidst the more glamorous events in StarCraft II history, which recently included Dark bringing the BlizzCon trophy back home to Korea, Reynor’s ascent as a next generation superstar, or the slew of players winning their first ever Code S finals.
StarCraft II, like its predecessor, has borne witness to extended periods of dominance by singular stars. In 2018, Serral and Maru played the role of 2010 Flash, capturing the imagination and adulation of fans everywhere. So dominant were their reigns that Stats’ personal renaissance in StarCraft II, which began all the way back in 2015 when he made his first deep playoff runs, didn't seem all that notable in comparison. Yes, us fans often talk about how he's the best Protoss of LotV, and how he's been one of the most consistently excellent players in this expansion. But it's mentioned in the way we might recall a recipe for French toast or our friend's phone number. You don’t build monuments to those sorts of things—for better or for worse, they're just plain facts, lingering somewhere in your memory.
In preparation for this finals, let's re-calibrate. Stats is without a doubt a great player, and in a more important way than just being a champion and frequent finalist. There are few Korean pros who have been more genuine in their passion for the game, as seen when he decided to play a few "refreshing" games of StarCraft II right after returning to Korea from 2018 BlizzCon, or in his 2017 WCS profile video where he expressed his desire to keep playing as long as possible.
Stats has quietly been an important presence behind the scenes, staying resolute as a StarCraft II player despite plenty of pestering from people about a return to BW (stating that until he is totally finished with StarCraft II, he wouldn’t consider it at all). He’s been a steadying presence for his colleagues—TY credited him for encouraging him and others to continue their careers in StarCraft II when they pondered retirement after most KeSPA teams left the scene in 2016.
This may not come across internationally (especially given his move to AfreecaTV), but Stats has been a beacon of positivity for the Korean StarCraft II community as well. While other players stream with somewhat dull, worksman-like demeanor, Stats is always putting out good vibes. He talks both realistically and optimistically about the game's future, expressing his belief that StarCraft II will stick around in the West, lamenting the lack of new talent in Korea, and expressing his willingness to return to the Korean scene after military service. Few players wear their passion for SC2 on their sleeves like that.
All of this makes Stats the player who feels the most like a fellow fan. Other players like INnoVation and Dark can be rather blunt about the occupational side of progaming, that sometimes it all comes down to the money to be made. Certainly, similar thoughts must pass through Stats' head, but the public face he presents us with is that of someone who's just happy to be involved in the scene and working at his dream job, with all of his high tournament finishes and big paydays being the cherry on top.
In an era of StarCraft II where you can't blame progamers for having a more pragmatic mindset, Stats and his genuine enthusiasm is something we will sorely miss when he starts his own military service. Though the date is indeterminate, it's quickly approaching on the horizon. soO was the first of the born-in-1992 club to put a definitive date on it, and it's likely that we'll be hearing from Zest and Stats soon enough. Stats has been more open to talking about it, stating his impending service as the reason he’s tried to muster up what's left in the tank for this championship run. And after a lengthy three year period, he’s back to push for his second Code S title.
As we ready ourselves for what might be Stats' last performance on a finals stage, we should perhaps think harder about what constitutes a great player. While we most often focus on championships, prize money, and other criteria that can be easily counted, maybe we should also focus on things that can't be so easily measured. No, Stats didn't win the most championships, didn't have the most gaudy win-rates, nor did he absolutely dominate an era of StarCraft. But, his earnest passion showed us that he wasn’t just an opportunistic talent, that he wasn't so much of a progamer as he was a gamer who turned pro, that like all of us who'll be watching him at home, he was just another fan of the game.
Match breakdownby Wax
Head-to-head history: As with most players who are skilled enough to reach the Code S finals, Rogue and Stats have an extensive competitive history in StarCraft II. Rogue has a slight lead in head-to-head record, with a 19-15 advantage in matches and a 47-41 edge in map score.
However, there isn't really a relevant historic reference point for a duel of this magnitude. The highest-stakes matches Rogue and Stats have played against each other were in a couple of SSL/GSL quarterfinals matches and Proleague playoffs, all of which occurred so many patches ago they might as well be ancient history. Their most recent BO5+ clash was in the RO16 of 2019's Super Tournament #2, where Stats won 3-1 with a combination of cheeses and impressive macro play against the OP-Zerg meta of the time. However, there were extenuating circumstances: it was a must-win match for Stats in order to confirm his BlizzCon spot, while Rogue already had enough WCS points to be secure.
Match-up form: Since the 4.12.0 balance patch (June 9th), Rogue is 17-8 in ZvP matches with a 26-15 map score. As for Stats, he's 18-11 in PvZ matches with a 45-29 collective map score.
Stats' relatively poor ZvP is actually marring what would be an otherwise incendiary patch of form. Stats has been on a killer run in online play since July, which coincides neatly with his return to form in Code S. If you excluded PvZ, Stats' match win-rate since the patch would be well above 80%.
Rogue's online stats aren't nearly as good, but it would be unwise to interpret that as a weakness. Players like PartinG and TY have given explicit voice to how their level of focus for online tournaments and Code S is completely different, and plenty of other players in the past have demonstrated as much through their gameplay. At this point, it seems pretty clear that online win-rates are more of a secondary indicator of overall form when it comes to predicting Code S. Rogue's absolute destruction of his last two GSL playoffs opponents tells us what we really need to know about his current form. In a similar vein, Stats' online stats are just affirmation of what we should already know from his Code S games: he's playing ridiculously well at the moment.
It feels like we're going into the finals a bit blind, as neither player had to play the relevant finals match-up in the previous playoff rounds. However, they did play a very intriguing head-to-head game in the RO16 group stage where Stats won 2-1.
The series didn't start pretty, as it looked like Rogue was going to lose game one off an error—he gave combat to Stats' two-Stargate Phoenixes with a pitiful number of Queens that he must have known were going to lose. However, Stats managed to gift the game back, overestimating the power of his Phoenix support in a ground attack. It's the kind of game that makes me go 'hmm, maybe there IS something to their poor PvZ win-rates' after eschewing online stats just a moment ago.
Game two was the game where the two players lived up to their reputations/stereotypes, with Rogue going for a proxy-hatch Spine Crawler all-in while Stats did his best to defend and play off one base. The shield ended up beating the sword that time around, but it was interesting to hear Rogue explain his loss in a post-match interview. Rogue put his loss down to him getting nervous (who would have imagined it was possible for our ice-blooded BO7 killer?) and over-committing to finishing Stats off early, instead of deftly transitioning to a macro game as he had in practice. For Rogue, it's a lesson that's better learned in the RO16 than in the finals.
As for game three, Stats fired up the good ol' Adept-Printer, and Rogue was unable to hold. While that strategy is deservedly well-meme'd for being rather one-note, there is some marginal difference in execution at the high end. The entire point of early Glaive Adepts is that it's one of the most ridiculously snowbally strategies in the game, with a breakdown at any of the Zerg's three bases starting a chain reaction of collapses. In terms of getting that first breakdown to happen with clever Adept movements, Stats is one of the best in the game.
Final Prediction: Stats has typically never been one to venture too far outside his comfort zone in a PvZ BoX series—his ideal game-plan has typically been to get early harassment done with precise micro (be it with Adepts or Oracles) and play out a standard game with an advantage. He might mess around with a proxy-Stargate or a Cannon-rush once in a while, but that's about it.
I have to wonder how joining the Freecs and gaining access to the new Korean Zerg clique will affect Stats' approach. The Afreeca Zergs failed to adequately prepare DongRaeGu for the challenge of Rogue one week ago, and they'll certainly want revenge this time around. However, none of the Afreeca Zergs (+ Solar) are quite as creative-minded as Rogue, as they're macro-game players at heart. They might make fine practice partners for standard games, but they can't fully prepare Stats for whatever wacky builds Rogue will have cooked up.
I feel like it's a near wash between these two in standard macro games, so the outcome will come down to whether or not Rogue's aggressive strategies hit their mark. Much of Rogue's success is due to the fact that he's never gun-shy about going for an aggressive move in a big match, be it a proxy hatchery or a Nydus all-in. You imagine his opponents would have caught drift of this by now, but Rogue's repertoire of cheeses is so deep, and his opponent's respect for his macro game potential is so great, that he always seems to find a way to land a few dastardly blows.
Damn, that was a lot of words to say "who the hell knows what will happen in a GSL finals?"
Rogue 4 - 3 Stats