2021 GSL Code S Season 1 - Quarterfinalsby Wax
Dream and Rogue are set to clash in the first semifinal—now it's time to learn who will advance from the opposite side of the playoff bracket. Day two of the quarterfinals starts with Maru facing a heavy underdog in Hurricane, followed by Trap and INnoVation squaring off in a battle of titans.
Quarterfinal Match #3: Maru vs HurricaneStart time: Thursday, Apr 22 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
We begin the night with what projects to be a colossal mismatch: four-time Code S champion Maru versus one-time Code S semifinalist Hurricane. The difference in Code S championships isn't the only grim statistic for Hurricane. According to Aligulac.com's predictive formula, Maru has an almost 90% chance to win this best-of-five match, while an unnamed gambling site is giving Maru similar odds. TL.net Liquibet users also predict a grizzly demise for Hurricane, with the voting being 304 to 9 in Maru's favor at the time of writing. Since the start of 2021, Hurricane's match win-rate in PvT is barely over 50% at 9-8, while his map win-rate is actually below 50% at 23-28 (largely due to a 1-10 loss to INnoVation in a showmatch). In the same time frame, Maru has a perfect 8-0 match record in TvP with a perfect 17-0 map score (granted, Maru has played somewhat easier opponents than Hurricane).
This is one of those times where I don't have any objections with the popular impression of the match, and have basically no complicating factors to bring up. I can't even fall back on my favorite cliche and muster a good "puncher's chance" argument for Hurricane. Sure, despite being a perennial first-round-and-out player in Code S, Hurricane made a number of unexpectedly deep tournament runs throughout the year. Most notable, he made a Code S semifinal in 2019 (sweeping PartinG in the quarters) and reaching the IEM Katowice playoffs in both 2018 and 2020. I also really enjoy the Korean SC2 community's running joke about Hurricane being a Serral-killer, due to the fact that only Zest and Hurricane managed to take series off the Finnish Phenom at IEM Katowice 2020. But those are just cute bits of trivia—they don't have much bearing on how I feel about this specific match.
In fact, what comes most readily to mind ahead of Hurricane's clash with Maru is his disastrous 0-2 loss to Bunny in the winners' match of Group A, where he was thoroughly out-microed and out-multitasked in early-game harassment wars. Maru is excellent at forcing early game damage upon an opponent with dogged harassment (even normally solid Protosses seem to freeze up against him), and I can't see Hurricane how will avoid being another one of Maru's victims. Even if Hurricane somehow gets into a macro game with an economic lead, he has to contend with the fact that Maru is the best player in the world at turtling up, dragging the game out, and winning at the end of an exhausting brawl. As I see it, the impossible path to victory for Hurricane is to prepare a devious cheese/all-in on every map, and try to win games outright in the early going (or take utterly insurmountable economic leads).
It's a real shame that Hurricane drew Maru in the playoffs, considering how well he played in his earlier PvZ matches against DongRaeGu and RagnaroK. Granted, neither of those players are elite at PvZ, but Hurricane executed some clever all-ins and had a few moments of amazing combat micro (his Force Field use was great in particular). While I certainly wouldn't have picked him to beat Rogue in a best-of-five, I think Hurricane would have at least been able to take a map or two and generally give a good account of himself. Against Maru, however, the likely outcome seems to be a one-sided beatdown.
This is how I'm going to sum up the quarterfinal: For Hurricane, this match is a chance to tie his best ever Code S result, and take the single biggest win of his entire career. For Maru, this match is a perfunctory step on his quest to win a record fifth GSL Code S title.
Prediction: Maru 3 - 0 Hurricane
Quarterfinal Match #4: INnoVation vs TrapThe second quarterfinal match of the night is similarly one-sided—at least you might get that impression if you watched Trap's post-match interview from the round of sixteen. Trap was comfortable bypassing the usual nicieties of GSL interviews, saying that drawing INnoVation was a "best case scenario." After sneaking in some subtle balance whine about Terran, Trap said it was a relief that the Terran he happens to play is INnoVation. Of course, we have to take all that with a grain of salt. The two former STX Soul teammates have been friendly rivals for years, with their online cup matches often being more interesting for trash talk than gameplay.
But seriously, where do these two stand? Personally, I'm inclined to say Trap has a small but significant advantage. As I mentioned last week, Trap's disastrous performance at IEM Katowice 2021 was probably more a reflection of his mental foibles than his actual skill level. Indeed, in his Code S RO16 group, Trap once again looked like the player who won three straight championships prior to IEM Katowice, going 4-0 against Zest and sOs to advance in first place. While it would be totally fair to question Trap's mental fortitude in a later playoff match, I feel like he's arrived at the point the quarterfinals don't put much pressure on his shoulders, and he can truly show 100% of his skills. At his best, I'd still rate Trap as the #1 player in the world. Sure, Zest might be better at strategizing, PartinG might be better at combat micro, and Stats might be better at pure defense. But Trap has the best all-around game, and is capable of playing the widest variety of build orders and styles. There are few obvious holes in his game to exploit, making him a tough draw for any opponent.
As for INnoVation, the question isn't about his mentality (unlike WTL who have awarded him a 10/10 mental score, I feel like it's more of a "non-applicable" field for the Machine), but if he's truly hit a late-career wall. Over the last year or so, INnoVation has been remarkably consistent about reaching the final eight of major tournaments—he's finished inside the top eight of all but two major events he's participated in since 2020. But he's also been remarkably consistent about ending his tournament runs in that particular round—of the thirteen times he reached the top eight, he only advanced further on four occasions. He's like a weird, modern version of Curious—while Curious was once a gatekeeper to the playoffs, INnoVation is now the guardian of the medal stand. That said, those who believe that INnoVation still has championship potential could rightfully point to his brief hot streak in the spring of 2020, when he reached the top four of Code S (barely losing 3-4 to an in-form Cure) and the grand finals of TSL5 (losing again by a narrow 3-4 scoreline to soO).
Let's take a look at the stats. Trap's PvT record in 2021 isn't astronomical, but it's still quite good—he has a 23-11 match record for a 67.65% win-rate. On the other hand, INnoVation is slightly worse with a 18-11 record for a 62% win-rate. INnoVation used to rack up wins against Trap back when he was still RO16 fodder on Jin Air, but Trap has caught up significantly since he levelled-up in 2019 and now trails slightly with a 17-22 all-time record. Their last major tournament duel in January's Super Tournament 1 ended in a close 3-2 victory for Trap—at least in that series, the two appeared to be very closely matched. Aligulac.com, gambling sites, and Liquibet voting all have Trap as around a 2 to 1 favorite in this series, which roughly matches my subjective view of the match-up well.
Beyond the numbers, I am still a little bit concerned about INnoVation's general reputation. It's one thing for Trap to playfully trash talk INnoVation—it's another thing for a relative newcomer like Zoun to treat INnoVation as a beatable opponent at the group selections (as mentioned in the RO16 preview). Sure, INnoVation did manage to win his RO16 match against Zoun, but Zoun's evaluation of INnoVation as a player who can't dodge Disruptors proved to be 100% accurate. In general, Korean players don't seem to fear INnoVation as much as they used to, which is probably a reflection of their experiences playing against him on the ladder.
I have to take a second here to yet again point out INnoVation's impressive career body of work, which includes a number of championships he seemingly won out of nowhere. It's a repetitive narrative that always follows INnoVation, whether it's written in a TL.net preview or spoken by broadcast commentators. But it's an attribute of INnoVation career that's worth repeating every time he plays—legendary players like him deserve it. Unfortunately, if I have to look at the last year of results and make a cold, cynical prediction, then another top eight exit appears to be INnoVation's destiny.
Prediction: Trap 3 - 2 INnoVation