2020 GSL Code S Season 3 - QuarterfinalsDay 1 start time: Wednesday, Oct 14 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Quarterfinal #1: TY vs DongRaeGuby Wax
There's no such thing as an 'objectively' correct player to cheer for in any given match, but DongRaeGu comes damn close. The man from Busan has been the biggest success story among players returning to StarCraft II after completing their military service, reaching the semifinals in Code S Season 2, and then proving it was no fluke by returning to the playoffs in the present season. That kind of success doesn't just affect the individual—in a recent interview, soO pointed out DongRaeGu as someone who is inspiring him to try and return to SC2 after he completes his own military service. So, unless you're rooting for the collapse of the Korean scene (which I wouldn't begrudge some foreigner fans after the beating they took from 2010 to 2017), I imagine you're all taking DongRaeGu as your 'heart' pick to win this series.
As for the 'brain' pick... that's a more complicated story. DongRaeGu faces TY, the champion of 2020's Code S Season One, a semifinalist in Season Two, and the #2 player in the ESL Pro Tour Korea rankings. While TY has been relatively mediocre in non-Code S tournaments—achieving top 8 in TSL5, top 8 in DreamHack Summer & Fall, top 16 in the DouYu Cup, and top 4 in King of Battles—he's really made the AfreecaTV studio his home stadium in 2020. TY has been absolutely masterful at masking his strategies and creating uncertainty in his opponent's minds, playing both devious all-ins and audaciously greedy macro builds out of what look to be the same opener. If insane multi-tasking and late-game theorycraft were once TY's defining traits (especially during his breakout 2017 season), he's somehow made Hellion-drops his calling card in 2020.
On paper, this quarterfinal looks to be the classic battle between the steadfast macro player and the cunning strategist. DongRaeGu has been fantastic in macro ZvT games in the last two seasons of Code S, taking down INnoVation 3-0 and recording an aggregate 4-1 score against Cure. Typically the logic of "I was good at this once before, so I can be good at it again" doesn't work out in StarCraft II, but DongRaeGu's legendary Muta-Ling-Bane play from Wings of Liberty seems to have carried over into Legacy of the Void (let's forget about his HotS stint).
One could argue that TY is a different beast from INnoVation and Cure, and that DongRaeGu has yet to prove himself against a true master of GSL preparation™. While there's some merit to that viewpoint, there's also a case to be made that DongRaeGu can take TY's best punch and still prevail. Against Cure in the RO16, DongRaeGu played out most of his games with an economic disadvantage (due to negligent early-game defense on his part or just good harassment from Cure), but still came back to win his games on the back of his expertise with Muta-Ling-Bane. Up until last weekend, I had chalked this up to Cure being in an awful TvZ slump, rather than DongRaeGu being an elite ZvT player. But, then, Cure went off and 3-0'd Serral in King of Battles, while INnoVation defeated Rogue and Dark to help eliminate them Code S, leading me to ask myself an unexpected question: 'Wait, is DongRaeGu the best ZvT player in Korea?'
Looking at the statistics, DongRaeGu's ZvT is in the 'good-but-not-great' range with a 67.95% win-rate (53W - 25L) since the start of Code S Season 2. But competitive records are usually a lagging indicator behind actual current form, and if DongRaeGu can take out TY here, I think we could rightfully crown him as Korea's ZvT king.
TY has also played some notable ZvT series as of late, winning BO5's against RagnaroK and Rogue in King of Battles. While I don't know if TY gave that tournament the full GSL preparation treatment (he recycled a build between rounds, *gasp*), it was still a pretty good reminder of what a pain in the ass he is to play against. In a 3-1 victory against Rogue, TY showed early-game oriented builds on the first two maps (Hellion-Liberator harassment, and a super-fast Hellbat-Marine all-in), setting up the greedy, triple-CC-before-Starport builds he used to close the series out. The player cams summarized the match perfectly: Rogue slammed his fist down in frustration before his final GG, while TY couldn't help but flash a smug, Creep-eating grin.
Interestingly enough, the statistics aren't very flattering for TY, as he's recorded a sub-50% map win-rate (24W - 26L) since the beginning of Code S Season 2. I do think there's a caveat when comparing DRG and TY's records, however, as all-competition stats tend to favor strong macro players like DongRaeGu, while preparation-oriented players like TY don't fare as well in the grind of online competition.
I should note that it's not like TY is invulnerable in the GSL, or else he would have two championships on the year. In last season's semifinals, Stats demonstrated the PvT version of what DongRaeGu will hope to do on Wednesday: absorb all of TY's early-game tactics and win anyway. Even when Stats got off to a poor start (due his own failed gambits or successful strats from TY), he was still able to outplay TY handily if he could survive to play a macro game. Of course, Stats was able to pull that off because he's unquestionably a top two PvT player in Korea. Is DongRaeGu equally good at ZvT?
As someone who has a conservative approach to predicting matches, I tend to follow the philosophy of never predicting something to happen for the first time. While DongRaeGu has defeated a championship tier Terran in a Code S BO5 this year, he hasn't done it against a Terran who can really take advantage of GSL preparation like TY. On the other hand, TY has been consistently excellent in GSL-style BO5+ matches this year. Thus, my 'brain' pick is TY to win in a close series, while my 'heart' pick is for DongRaeGu to triumph and keep SC2 dreams alive for post-military players.
Prediction: TY 3 - 2 DongRaeGu
Quarterfinal #2: INnoVation vs Statsby Orlok
What's up with INnoVation? Is he just bad against Protoss? Those are questions that need answering ahead of his match against Stats, the steady co-captain at the helm of the Protoss ship.
INnoVation is 1-2 against Protoss in this season of Code S, losing to Trap and Zoun in both cheesy games and macro games (he beat Hurricane). He recently opted out of the ace match in the GTC Fall grand finals, supposedly because was worried he might lose to Zoun again. Yes, Zoun. He's given voice to how TvP is very tough these days in his interviews, and even if he is prone to complaining about imbalance, it's coming across more convincing than usual.
Taking all that into account, one could easily come the conclusion that yes, INnoVation is indeed bad against Protoss, and he's as good as dead against a PvT master like Stats. On the other hand, a look at his overall TvP stats on the year tells us a more complicated story. Consider his 2020 head-to-head stats against some of the Protosses who reached Code S:
Hey, that doesn't look too bad, even if it's not stellar. You could argue that even if INnoVation looks shaky right now, it's nothing that can't be explained away with normal variance/fluctuations in form. The bigger picture of INnoVation's TvP is that he's still a player, who at worst, can fight evenly with the top players in the world. Then again...
vs Stats: 1-5
If there's anyone who's owned INnoVation all year, it's Stats. Their latest clash, a 4-2 victory for Stats in Alpha X Series Special back in September, saw Stats only lose when his early gambits failed (a Blink all-in and a DT drop), and generally stroll to victory whenever he got to play anything resembling a 'normal' macro game.
How does one square all that long-term, short-term, individual match-up, and overall match-up information? INnoVation has been solid this year, and it’s not hyperbole to still call him a perennial title contender. But in the case of this match, we're going to swallow the recency bias imbalance pill (patent pending) and say INnoVation has met his match. After surviving the RO16 group of death, INnoVation said he would prepare some special strategies for this clash with Stats. He'd better make good on that statement if he's to have a shot at contending for another GSL title.
It’s been an eventful year for Stats. He joined Afreeca Freecs, made the Code S finals for the first time in two years, got slammed by Rogue in the finals, and survived a tough RO16 group despite ailing with a severe fever in the week prior. Though last season's campaign ended in a painful defeat, he now has a golden opportunity to redeem himself and go out in a blaze of glory.
Those in the 1992 club all face the same problem, namely that military service is now becoming an actual legal problem that can't be put off any longer. In the face of that murky yet inevitable end (the exact date of enlistment can remain unclear for a while), players seem to recognize the value of the career they might have once taken for granted. Stats' Season Two surge was proof of that, but his weakness in the PvZ match-up (at a paltry 59% map win-rate in 2020) doomed him right at the cusp of victory. Considering that we're not even sure how many more chances we'll have to see Stats in major SC2 tournaments, it was heartbreaking to see his heroic run end in tragedy.
Perhaps the StarCraft II gods saw Stats, pitied his effort, and decided to send him a blessing. Moreover, Rogue invited the gods of death with his choices during RO16 group selection, and the reaper came eagerly came knocking at his door. Dark was the collateral damage of Rogue's hubris, and now we enter a Code S playoffs where we're missing the top two ZvP players in Korea. In contrast to Stats' PvZ, his PvP and PvT have looked excellent. In effect, the two biggest obstacles to him winning a title have already been eliminated.
Zerg players DRG and Armani lie in wait, but in all fairness, neither player is on the same level as Rogue and Dark in the ZvP match-up. They’re not even guaranteed to advance in the quarterfinals either, with TY and Zest blocking their way. Of course, the Protoss and Terran players Stats will have to face are all top-tier, but he should be much happier to face them than the
Prediction: Stats 3 - 1 INnoVation