2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - Round of 16by Wax
The Code S RO16 begins with the group-of-life, where #1 seed TY has assembled the three players he has deemed to be the weakest. Will his judgment prove to be correct, or will this be the season where the underdogs finally punish the #1 seed's hubris?
Group A Preview: TY, Dream, Armani, ZounStart time: Wednesday, Sep 23 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
In typical #1 seed fashion, TY has assembled himself a silk tofu-soft group in the round of sixteen. In non-typical #1 seed fashion, I feel like TY actually needs this advantage.
To refresh everyone's memories: TY also had the #1 seed last season, and put together what seemed to be another extremely easy group with DongRaeGu, Scarlett, and SpeCial. However, he only managed to escape the group in second place, ceding first place to DongRaeGu in the winners' match.
That performance made me think that while TY is still solid in straight-up macro games, it no longer seems like he's in the very top-tier of that field. Even TY's friend/student/tormenter SpeCial joked that he and TY are the two Terrans who make up for their slow hands with their big brains, and I think there's a lot of truth to this jest (heck, maybe SpeCial wasn't even joking). If insane multi-tasking was TY's signature move in the past, it's changed to the Hellion-drop in 2020. His Code S championship run was founded largely on his ability to do heavy economic to his opponents in the early game, using uncertainty and deception to mask what might seem like predictable harassment tactics.
It's good for TY to face relatively easy opponents who he's still favored to beat in orthodox macro games, and perhaps save some of those GSL prepared™ strategies for the later rounds. Or, he could just try to bamboozle these three players as well, since he probably has plenty of strategies to spare in his incredibly deep playbook. Either way, there's not much to say about TY at this stage of the tournament. Whether or not you agree that TY's macro-game skills have diminished, his accomplishments this year still far outshine the other players in this group, and he's a virtual lock to advance from this group.
Before we move on to the other three players in the group, I have to make the requisite complaint about how bad the GSL group selection format is, now that the 'meta' has been figured out for years. The swap power of the #1 seed heavily distorts the proceedings, because the simple threat of the swap prevents any other player from picking their desired opponent. GSL caster Gisado tries to explain to the players every season that they can gang up on the #1 seed since they have thirteen picks, while the #1 seed can only steal/swap one player. However, since no player wants to be the lone sucker who actually gets their pick stolen away, they all end up conceding everything to the #1 seed in the end (still waiting for a game theory/math major to break this down in technical detail).
Anyway, let's take a look at the three players who were totally happy to join TY in Group A and fight for the playoff ticket they would otherwise have a much slimmer chance of earning.
TY selected Dream as his first opponent, saying he was miffed because Dream ranked him (TY) as the 4th best Terran in the world during an interview. Dream responded to this by saying he had actually bumped TY further down to 6th place since then, due to the return of ByuN and the rise of Clem. Dream followed that by saying he rates himself as the 7th best Terran, which I suppose makes TY vs Dream the decider match for the 6th best Terran in the world. Uhhh.... cool? If I had to describe my level of excitement for that match, I guess it would be somewhere between getting a second yolk in an egg, and winning $5 on a $1 scratch lotto ticket.
Jokes aside, I find it curious that TY rated Dream low enough to take him so early in the group draft/selection. Remember, Dream made an impressive run to the quarterfinals in the last season of Code S, taking down Solar and Trap to advance in first place from his RO16 group (even if that was overshadowed by DongRaeGu's even more impressive run to the semifinals). Fans of the Golden Series Team Championship will know that Dream has been one of THE top-tier players of that league, outperforming more illustrious aces such as INnoVation and Rogue.
On the other hand, Dream's overall statistics are rather pedestrian in 2020 with a win-rate barely over 60%, and he's only #14 in the Aligulac Korea rankings. Perhaps that's the version of Dream that TY runs into during his ladder sessions. If that's who TY sees in Dream, instead of the big-match player fans like me see through our rose-tinted glasses, then this may have been the right pick for TY.
I don't think there's much of a difference in opinion regarding the final two players in the group, with TY, the other progamers, and fans seeming to mostly agree that first-time RO16 participants Armani and Zoun are the weakest two players in the RO16.
The circumstances behind Armani's RO16 advancement were quite odd, and not just because he upset sOs and Cure to advance in first place from his group. After the matches, Armani talked about how he had come close to giving up SC2 after continued RO24/32 eliminations, and hadn't even practiced half as much as in previous seasons. But as it turned out, being able to play without any expectations or pressure was more valuable to Armani than hundreds of hours of practice, as he was finally able to play at his usual level in the GSL studio. It was one of those interviews that made me wonder that if in spite of all our analysis of army movements and map positioning, the most important space to control in StarCraft II is actually the one inside your own head.
Going off of Armani's games in the RO24, his solid macro-style gives him a puncher's chance of extending his career-best Code S run into the playoffs. However, the most important thing on game day might not be Armani's skill, but his mindset. Maybe he'll think he's already achieved his goal by reaching the RO16, feel like he's gambling with house money, and continue to play without pressure. On the other hand, maybe expectations will once again weigh heavily upon his shoulders now that a quarterfinal spot is within grasp, bringing back the nervousness and anxiety that hampered him in the past.
Finally, we have Zoun who actually does seem to have a bit of fan-hype behind him. I don't know when we crossed the point where fans started calling Protoss players 'creative' instead of 'cheesy,' but I suspect it was around the time we noticed that Protosses weren't winning major events anymore. Anyway, I get the feeling that a small contingent of fans are looking at Zoun as the heir apparent to the house of sOs—to them, I'd say hold your horses (feel free to call me out on this straw man). Sure, Zoun is a Protoss who can upset strong players with cheese, and can also occasionally play a decent macro game. You know who else fits that description? Patience.
Regardless which Protoss Zoun is the heir to, he also has a respectable chance of escaping this group and claiming a playoff spot. One of the undercurrents of the group selection was how loathe Terran players were to pick Protoss opponents, and how eager Protoss players were to pick Terrans (PartinG took Maru over Trap, which says it all). It's amusing that Zoun was the only Protoss player who actually got 'picked' by a Terran—TY clearly regards him as too weak of a player for even imbalance to matter. Alpha X's scouting department has surely been hard at work analyzing the weaknesses of Zoun's opponents (αX is the only team I hear get public credit for this from their players), so perhaps Zoun will show TY that even the mightiest players can be PROTOSSED.
TY > Dream
Armani > Zoun
TY > Armani
Dream > Zoun
Dream > Armani
TY and Dream to advance.