2021 GSL Code S Season 1 - Grand Finalby Wax
After weeks of fierce competition, it's finally time for Code S Season 1 to come to an end. Rogue versus Maru will face off in a battle between two of the all-time greats, with both of them fighting for a chance to further their already legendary legacies.
The Stakes: No Matter Who Wins, History Will Be MadeMaru vs Rogue may be the most impactful grand finals in Global StarCraft II League history. It's not so much a subjective opinion as it is an inevitability. The GSL has existed for over ten years, establishing a deep legacy replete with legendary moments and players. The longer the GSL lives on, the more we gain the benefit of context. Winning three Code S championships was already impressive in 2011, but in 2021, we've come to fully appreciate the special class of players that can reach that milestone. We've learned which records exist to be surpassed (alas, the Nestea Award has lost much of its luster), and which ones have a truly mythical quality. Now, after over ten years of Global StarCraft II League competition, Maru vs Rogue is the culmination of all that history.
For the second time, Maru will attempt to win the GSL's most elusive, most coveted prize: The G5L. It was conceived in 2012 as the ultimate coronation piece for Mvp, the most dominant player of early StarCraft II. Headed into the finals of Code S Season 4 in 2012, Mvp had an unmatched four GSL championships to his name. We don't know why GSL decided that his potential fifth championship was more worthy of special commemoration than his fourth (maybe if it had been the "Global 4geOfEmpires League"), but in any case, the G5L trophy was commissioned prior to the finals.
As it turned out, this was a jinx the likes of which casters can only dream of conjuring. Not only did Mvp lose the finals to Life, the most infamous villain in StarCraft II history, but no one came close to even sniffing the G5L trophy for over six years. Until 2018, INnoVation was the only player who managed to win even three Code S titles, while Life and Zest earned two a piece. The G5L trophy came to be thought of as a pipe dream, as StarCraft II's impossible prize. And, as such, it took an impossibly skilled player to finally contend for it.
In 2018-2019, Maru ripped off an extraordinary streak of four consecutive Code S championships. It was a run of utter dominance that completely defied comparison—only one player had even won two consecutive Code S titles before: Nestea back in 2011. Over the course of a year, Maru not only won entry to the GSL pantheon, but rose to become its undisputed leader.
And, yet, the G5L has still managed to elude the GSL's greatest player. Maru's back-to-back-to-back-to-back streak was ended by a shocking implosion, with Maru suffering RO32 elimination in his campaign for a fifth straight title. The slump continued for over a year, until Maru finally rounded back into form and earned a spot in the grand finals of 2020's Code S Season 3. A new G5L trophy trophy was made for Maru, but alas, it was haunted by the same old curse. Maru was ultimately bested by TY, who was in the midst of his own late-career surge.
In 2021's GSL Season 1, Maru has earned one more shot at winning the G5L trophy. As mentioned above, Maru is already the greatest GSL player ever. There's no one left to chase—now it's all about setting records on top of records and running up the score on everyone else (greatness has no limits, nor is it subject to diminishing returns). And, in this case, perhaps ruin the record of another...
Rogue brings his own momentous accomplishment to the Code S finals. He heads into his duel with Maru with a perfect, unblemished, and incomparable 7-0 record in major tournament finals. This streak was earned not only in the GSL, but all around the world. Of these victories, only two came in lesser 'tier 2' majors in IEM Shanghai and the GSL Super Tournament. Three were earned in World Championship-tier events: BlizzCon 2017, and IEM Katowice 2018 & 2020. The remaining two triumphs came in GSL Code S.
It's the kind of accomplishment that makes one rethink all the notions of variance, luck, and whatever else goes into a 'smart' fan's understanding of StarCraft II. Instead, 7-0 leads you to believe that the physical side of the game isn't the most important one. It leads you to believe that "coin-flip" is just a term used by those who don't understand the immaterial, intangible, mental side of the game. It leads you to believe that "flipping the switch" and "willing yourself to win" aren't just trite cliches, but core abilities for the best players in the world. Or, as Jaedong so aptly put it, "winners gonna win." How else could one explain Rogue's perfect record?
It may have something to do with Rogue's mastery of best-of-sevens. His 7-0 score in finals is a subset of a longer winning streak: Rogue is 10-0 in major tournament best-of-seven's. Perhaps Rogue isn't just clutch, but he also has a particular strategic brilliance that only comes out in the most grueling form of competitive SC2. Most progamers don't just plan strategies for individual maps in a series, but try to connect those strategies as part of a larger master plan. Could Rogue be several levels above his peers in this specific type of strategizing, with the added complexity of two more maps in a best-of-seven giving him an insurmountable advantage?
Consider Rogue's history in Code S. He once bore one of the GSL's more ignominious streaks with eight straight losses in Code S quarterfinals, which are best-of-five series. But in 2019's Season 3, when Rogue was finally able to get over the quarterfinal hump and reach the best-of-seven semifinals, he ended up going all the way to the championship. Then, in 2020's Season 2, he did it again.
It seems reductive to basically imply that Rogue is a sorcerer, so let's attempt a more rational look at Rogue's grand finals success. One could argue that he was favored in all seven finals (marginally in some cases, heavily in others), with Rogue himself admitting that he was benefitting from imbalance during one specific phase of SC2. It's also quite noticeable that he almost never faced Terran in these best-of-sevens—there's at least one championship run where you could accuse him of being lucky to duck his relatively weak TvZ at the time. If we heavily simplify things and assume that Rogue was a 2:1 favorite in all of his finals, the chance of him winning them all would be around 6%. Not likely, but still enough to make the case that this 7-0 record is just a statistical fluke. However, if Rogue's finals streak survives this extreme myth-busting session with Maru, then even Rogue's harshest critics will have to admit that he really does know how to perform black magic.
Head to Head: Historically Close, Now Favoring MaruMaru and Rogue are closely matched in their all-time head-to-head record, with Maru holding a narrow lead of 10-8 in matches with a 26-24 map score. But what if one were to indulge in a bit of creative record-keeping and only consider matches after Rogue became, you know, Rogue? Narrow the range down to matches starting in 2017, the year when Rogue ascended out of mediocrity to win BlizzCon, and our two finalists are actually dead even at 6-6 in matches and 17-17 in maps.
In contrast to this historical parity, recent form suggests Maru is the heavy favorite with Aligulac.com's predictive formula giving Maru a 74.19% chance to win. Aligulac.com rating isn't a perfect metric, but there's presently a huge gap between Maru (3213) and Rogue's (2862) ratings on their respective sides of the Terran vs. Zerg match-up. A four-hundred point gap—especially between players in the same competitive region—is almost certainly meaningful.
TL.net user opinions line up closely with Aligulac.com's projection, with Maru having a 216 to 94 lead in Liquibets at the time of writing. Those who wager their real-life money instead TL.net points give Maru a slightly lesser chance of winning, with the odds implying he has around a 66% chance to take the championship (an unspecified gambling website was used as a reference).
The eye-test generally supports Maru as well. He obliterated Rogue in their last major match, winning in a 3-0 sweep in the quarterfinals of IEM Katowice 2021. Rogue was completely helpless in the series, not even looking like a worthy warm-up opponent as Maru advanced into a semifinal match with Reynor. Though Maru ended up losing to the Italian Prodigy 2-3, it was one of those rare, closely-fought series where even the loser managed to enhance their reputation.
Still, the outlook isn't entirely rosy for Maru. Something went horribly wrong for him in this season's qualifiers, where the underdog Armani handed him a stunning 0-2 defeat. Also, Maru's seemingly invincible turtle stance was busted by Solar in the RO16, with the KaiZi Gaming player able to snowball a brief lapse in Maru's defense into a victory. Maru adjusted and came back to win the series 2-1, but Maru's aura of late-game invulnerability was somewhat diminished.
Meanwhile, Rogue enters the finals after struggling through a tough best-of-seven against Dream. It seemed like Rogue was knocked off balance by Dream's cheesy approach to the series, and he very nearly lost game seven to Dream's Bunker-rush before capitalizing on his opponent's error. The glass-half full view is that it was a demonstration of Rogue's clutchness—in a high pressure situation, sometimes it's good enough to simply not make mistakes and wait for your opponent to lose their composure. But on the flip side, one has to wonder what would have happened if Rogue had faced an opponent who was more even-keeled, and wasn't playing in their first major best-of-seven in years. Rogue had professed his confidence in TvZ prior to his series with Dream, saying his practice had gone well. But after going through seven maps of stressful mind-games with Dream, he seemed to do a 180 on the match-up in the post-match interview.
Amusingly enough, Maru might be Rogue's biggest believer headed into the finals. He's consistently called Rogue the best Zerg in the world for over a year now, and they still seem to practice together regularly after Jin Air's disbandment. Of course, when you consider Maru's humility and history of lavishing praise on his Jin Air teammates, you have to take his public comments on Rogue with some giant grains of salt.
Prediction: We Wish It Was Too Close To CallWhile this is a colossal clash in terms of historical stakes, there are many indicators suggesting we'll end up with the 'traditional' one-sided GSL final. To make a case for Rogue, you have to believe in the mystique of his 7-0 record in finals over the 70:30 chance being given to Maru by both fans and predictive metrics. You have to have absolute faith in the fact that Rogue has never choked away a final due to his own errors, while irrationally focusing on Maru's absolute worst mistakes (like getting supply-blocked on his second depot during a BlizzCon match) and ignoring all the matches where he pulled out a clutch victory. You have to look at the cheesy nature of the two semifinal series, and believe that Rogue will manage to out-predict Maru and secure several build order victories (never mind that Rogue basically went 50/50 with a lesser Terran in Dream).
There's something irresistibly compelling about the narrative-based, gut-feeling argument for Rogue. It channels the same kind of emotions that made fans believe that summer would magically bring championships for TaeJa, that Has always had the chance of stealing an upset, or that Serral somehow wouldn't be able to overcome the aura of competing in GSL Code S. At the same time, there's something equally emotionally compelling about Maru finally taking his just due, not just inheriting Mvp's legacy but surpassing it, and further cementing his legacy as the best GSL player ever. Even in the realm of mythos, Rogue can't seem to find an advantage.
When I add it all up, I have no choice but to predict a victory for Maru in the finals. And while it would be a shame to lose StarCraft II's most remarkable streak, it would be a worthy sacrifice to finally award the G5L.
Prediction: Maru 4 - 2 Rogue