2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - Round of 24by Orlok
The most interesting thing about this season of Code S so far were the promotional images, where we find ourselves shifting from boy band white (which should really be its own Pantone color) to a more "gamery" feel this week. Hopefully the quality of the games will pick up as well, as we move on to what could be a surprisingly competitive group.
Group B Preview: Dark, Creator, TaeJa, ZestStart time: Wednesday, Sep 02 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Wrist pain and poor form be damned, Dark is still unquestionably the alpha dog of this group. Yes, he found himself being bopped out in the RO16 last season. Yes, he lost to sOs and Taeja in this season's qualifiers, and earned his spot by squashing tomato cans like Zoun, LunaSea, Hyeok and the now-retired Rookie. Yes, he got wiped out in the group stages of NeXT Summer, which was the only major tournament he had to play in after being eliminated in GSL. Yes, he even dropped a map to the aforementioned LunaSea, a player you're probably hearing about for the first time, in the Gold Series Team Championship. BUT, Dark’s overall body of work and history of consistency makes him impervious to any doubt or second guessing. There's no point to trying to predict when his shocking first round elimination is going to happen, because it's NEVER happened (at least not in LotV). Despite Dark's questionable form, and despite the dangerous opponents in this group, Dark gets the benefit of the doubt when we're predicting who will advance.
Speaking of dangerous opponents, we can probably say Creator isn't one of them. If you had to pick a single entity within Starcraft II that has endured the most torment, it's probably Creator. One can't help but feel bad for a player who has committed himself to StarCraft II for so long, but has so few results to show for it—save a dreamlike 2012 when he was one of the best players in the world. Despite not making it past the group stages of Code S since 2012, he's been hurling his body up against the playoffs wall ever since, hoping that it might one day fall and give way to that bygone glory. In LotV, the Jin Air environment eventually brought out the best in players like Trap and Rogue, but it hasn't at all helped Creator rediscover his long-lost potential. Perhaps he's more of a Cure than a Trap, someone who might actually need the change of scenery to be the best version of himself. In any case, given Creator's history in Code S, it's hard to expect much from him in this group, even as we hope that he'll get a rare day in the sun.
Lone Terran TaeJa comes in looking as mercurial and perplexing as ever. His game-to-game form has varied wildly since his return from military service, but if you connect the disparate data points, they form a gradual upward trend. He hit his peak back in 2020's Code S Season 1, where he actually pushed Dark to the brink of defeat in the RO16. Unfortunately, TaeJa hasn't been able to play winning StarCraft when he's outside his comfort zone. TaeJa's best games were the ones where he was able to seize the initiative and grind opponents down with constant waves of bio—that's how he made Dark fear for his RO16 life. However, TaeJa has been poor when he's the one defending against multi-front pressure, with his defensive multi-tasking looking much diminished from his prime. The TaeJa we've seen so far is definitely a rung below other returnees like Dream and DRG, so we're curious to see if he's shored up his weaknesses ahead of this campaign.
Another mercurial player in Zest rounds out this group, who's current in a rut after his high of beating Serral back in March's IEM Katowice semifinals. He’s been knocked out of the group stages in the two previous Code S tournaments this year, and though he did lose to players like Rogue and INnoVation, they're the kind of players he has to beat if we're to take him seriously as a title contender. However, outside of the GSL, Zest's third place finish in the Douyu Cup with wins over INnoVation and Trap tell us that the legend of online Zest is alive and well. In the past, Zest's online form hasn't always been correlated with his offline form (in recent Code S tournaments, he's looked weak against the outside-the-box strategies that only get used in the GSL), so it will be interesting to see how Zest performs in this group where he's favored to advance on paper. While it's more likely Zest won’t ever recover the impeccable combination of macro and micro from his prime days, he could still reasonably muster enough fight in him to advance in first place.
Code S 2020 has been surprisingly upset prone, but we're not going to be picking TaeJa or Creator to continue that trend. TaeJa can be brought to his knees by a simple speedling run-by or zealot warp-in, while Creator's history of poor GSL results just speaks for itself. Dark and Zest should eat them up for lunch, unless this is the exact day on which they fall into a massive slump. Given their history of at least making it out of the first round most of the time, it’s more likely than not the underdogs will give way.
Dark 2-0 Creator
Taeja 0-2 Zest
Dark 2-1 Zest
Creator 0-2 Taeja
Zest 2-1 Taeja
Dark and Zest to advance.