2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - Round of 24by Wax
After two seasons full of surprises, Season 3 of Code S has gone rather predictably so far. Is it now time we finally get a few unexpected results in the RO24? Perhaps so, perhaps not—given the erratic form of sOs and Armani, it would be hard to tell what even constitutes an upset in this upcoming group.
Group D Preview: Cure, Bomber, sOs, ArmaniStart time: Wednesday, Sep 09 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group D is what I like to call a 'check-up' group, filled with players who are in uncertain shape and must be inspected under the rigorous field conditions of Code S. This is particularly applicable to Cure, who has cooled off considerably after his incendiary rise in the first half of 2020. For the first few months of the year, Cure was an online bonjwa, dominating competitions and even recording 80%+ win-rates over long stretches. While Cure's elimination in February's IEM Katowice group stage gave us reason to worry that he was an 'online-only' player, his offline play eventually caught up to his online level as he made a run to the grand finals of Code S Season 1. That ended in a one-sided, dispiriting 0-4 sweep at the hands of TY, but there was reason to believe that we'd see Cure build upon his career-best Code S run.
Unfortunately for Cure, things haven't quite played out that way. He dropped out of the RO16 in the following Code S Season 2, going 0-4 against Stats and Zest. Even more worrying is that his sanctuary of online play was broached. Prior to that finals loss to TY, Cure had put up a 78.5% match win-rate in online competitions in 2020. After his crushing loss, Cure's win-rate dropped to 69.29%. While 70% is still quite good—we've used it as a positive indicator for other players—it's still a significant and notable drop-off for Cure.
The most dramatic interpretation of these happenings is that the crushing finals loss broke Cure's will, made him think "what's the f***ing point?", and caused him to start slacking in terms of practice. The more reasonable interpretation is that this run of results could be due to all sorts of myriad causes, all falling within the normal variance of StarCraft II (variance is probably the answer to a lot of our SC2 esports questions, but we refuse to accept it because it's boring).
On the other hand, Cure did have a few online competition moments that could be seen as positives. Though he got swept by Serral in the semifinals of DH Masters Summer, he got an impressive 3-2 win over Maru in the previous round. And while he only finished top 12 in the Douyu Cup (one of the bigger online tournaments this year), it was only after losing close 2-3 series to both Serral and INnoVation.
A dominating, perfect 4-0 in his RO24 group akin to Dark and Maru would go a long way to assuaging my worries about Cure's form, and give me hope that we'll see the title-contender version of Cure this season.
As in the previous three groups, the top seeded player gets a rather easy first draw, with Cure taking on Bomber. As a champion of the Wings of Liberty era, there was a nice nostalgia rush in seeing Bomber return to Code S Season 3 of 2019. Unfortunately, he's given us precious little to get excited about in terms of actual gameplay, as he's gone 1-8 in the two Code S tournaments he's played in since his return (his one win coming against Armani). Bomber has reminded me a little bit of TaeJa, as he can still parade-push his way to victory—albeit slowly—if you let him. However, he also looks painfully slow in this modern era of SC2 where everyone is good at multi-tasking and attacks come at you from multiple fronts.
Since Bomber's return to competitive StarCraft II in 2019, he's put up a 40% match win-rate. He was one of the players who earned his Code S spot through the 'last chance' round of qualifiers, beating Prince and NaTuRal (if you haven't heard of him, that's the point). So, it seems pretty obvious that Bomber won't be competitive in this group—and that's fine. For this 32-year-old vet from a bygone era, simply making it to Code S is already a great accomplishment.
While Cure is the best player in this group, the most interesting player is sOs. With every passing day, sOs' vestigial macro organ seems to atrophy even further, as he becomes an even more severe caricature of himself. Is Has a worse version of sOs, or is sOs a better version of Has? At this point, it's hard to tell. And yet, sOs remains a player to be feared and respected. Fans couldn't have been blamed for thinking sOs' career was finally toast after his poor 2019 campaign that saw him miss the BlizzCon qualification cutoff by a gazillion points. Instead, he kicked off 2020 with top eight runs in both the GSL Super Tournament and IEM Katowice, in the latter of which he beats the likes of TY, Cure, and Stats. It may be a crap-shoot as to whether we see brilliance or buffoonery in any given game from sOs, but this legendary hustler is still playing with loaded dice.
Unfortunately for sOs, he just hasn't been able to force a sequence of high-rolls in Code S, as he's been eliminated from the first round in four consecutive seasons (seven consecutive seasons where he hasn't made it to the playoffs). While sOs hasn't been particularly good since the last Code S Season with a pedestrian 65% match win-rate, he did have a solid qualifier run this around, beating Spear, TaeJa, and then Dark. sOs didn't need any parlor tricks to beat Dark—in fact, his cannon rush got hard countered—and instead he took Dark out in fairly straight-forward games (by sOs standards). Is this a sign that sOs is righting the Code S ship, and will reach the RO16 for the first time in over a year? Uhm, who the hell knows? All I can say is that his matches will be damn fun to watch, as always.
Like sOs, Armani has also been stuck in the first round of Code S for the last four seasons, and would really like to get a taste of the RO16. Going by Code S results alone, it's easy to peg Armani as a military 'returner' who has already hit his ceiling, doomed to remain stuck in group stage purgatory forever. However, when you look at Armani's online results, you might notice the slightest hint of Cure, of a solid all-around macro player who just can't play at their best level in the AfreecaTV studio. Armani has won three ESL Open Korean server cups this year, and even if the competition can be thin at times, it's not like he beat only chumps. Code S RO16 regulars like Trap, Zest , TY, Solar, and Cure were some of the players that were felled in his path. On the other hand, Armani also loses a lot of games to those kinds of players—there's a reason I said there's just a hint of Cure in him. Still, in my estimation, Armani is just solid enough to take first place in this group IF the Cure slump is real, IF sOs continues to roll snakeyes in Code S, and IF Bomber is Bomber.
Predictions: While this Group D is one of the more unpredictable ones in the RO24, I'm going to bet that the trend of groups going chalk continues for another match-day.
Cure > Bomber
sOs > Armani
Cure > sOs
Armani > Bomber
sOs > Armani
Cure and sOs to advance.