2021 GSL Code S Season 2 - RO16 Previewby Wax
Welcome to Group D of Code S, or as I would call it, the group of "will we finally return to some semblance of normalcy?"
Here are just a few of the chaotic events that occured in the last few weeks. In NeXT Season 1, we saw the odd case of a boxer getting knocked out by his punching bag, with Solar swinging back and defeating Maru. Down in Code A, RagnaroK and PartinG didn't just overcome the odds—rather, they crushed them, sweeping Cure and Zest respectively. In DreamHack Summer, Trap was eliminated in the first group stage, while Scarlett somehow found a way to advance. Clem, the hottest rising star in the world, had the his sheen of TvZ invincibility stripped from him seemingly overnight (recently going 0-2 against Denver in the ESL EU Weekly). As for Code S, we just recently saw Maru go out in the RO16, while sOs returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
RO16 Group D: Trap, SpeCial, PartinG, SolarStart time: Wednesday, Jul 07 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Looking at the four names in Group D, it seems like it's primed for yet more surprises. Well, perhaps not, if only because I don't know what constitutes a surprise anymore.
If Group D is to be the turning point for the forces of order, then Trap needs to destroy his opponents in this group. He's certainly the favorite on paper, having won about half the major tournaments since December of 2020. Regardless of his high-profile meltdowns in events like Code S and IEM Katowice, he's been consistently excellent in the lower rounds of tournaments. Or, he had been, before Lambo and Scarlett kicked him out of the DH Summer group stages.
Personally, I think that result had more to do with Lambo and Scarlett's cunning and opportunism than any further mental deterioration on Trap's side. The two foreign Zergs said that Trap had become too predictable with his Void Ray openers and subsequent transitions to Gateway armies, and punished him accordingly with Queen-Roach-Ravager busts. While those were certainly 'bad' losses for Trap to give up, they're also somewhat understandable since he played so many high-profile PvZ matches in major tournaments. Also, there's the silver lining that he was alerted to this weakness in his game before a potentially difficult match against Solar in this group.
As for PvP and PvT, nothing has happened to make me question Trap's status as the best player in those match-ups. In particular, it feels like he's hard-gapping the competition in PvP, where he #1 in the Aligulac.com rankings and has an impressive 38-11 match record on the year. His PvT isn't quite as impressive in terms of pure win-loss record, as he's dropped plenty of series in online cups for a 36-22 match record in 2021. But aside from the aforementioned IEM/Code S collapses, he's yet to drop out of a major event on account of his PvT, and even against Maru, he was eliminated in a close 3-4 loss.
And besides, what does he have to worry about against his hand-picked opponent SpeCial? Well, perhaps such a dismissive attitude against the Mexican Terran could have been justified a few months ago, but SpeCial's recent play suggests he's not to be taken lightly. No, his DH Summer campaign didn't go well at all, as he was eliminated in last place from his group after going 0-4 against INnoVation and Rogue. However, prior to that, he made top eight runs in both Super Tournament 2 and TSL7, thanks to his impressive macro TvT play.
Now, what good will that be in this two-Protoss group? Well, here's the thing—SpeCial chose to make this a two-Protoss group. After being selected by Trap, SpeCial used his pick to draft PartinG to Group D, boasting that he was "so good" in TvP. Fans might think this was a ridiculous move—PartinG certainly did, declaring that he would "pulverize" SpeCial for his insolence (he had already defeated SpeCial in the qualifiers)—but it makes some sense on paper. In terms of Aligulac.com rating, there's not much difference between SpeCial's three match-ups, and in terms of win-loss record, TvP has been his best match-up in 2021 at 77-35. Consider it this way: If SpeCial has been playing well enough to reach the RO8 of major tournaments on the back of his TvT, but actually thinks that TvP is his best match-up, then why shouldn't we take his word for it?
PartinG may have bristled at being selected by SpeCial, but perhaps he was glad enough on the inside to be in Code S at all after such an arduous GSL journey in 2021. In Season 1, he drew a brutal Code A match against Dark, barely losing 2-3. This season, he drew yet another unlucky and difficult Code A match against Zest, but overcame the odds—and a ridiculous head-to-head record deficit—to return to Code S.
Not only does PartinG have considerable wildcard potential in this group, but he could continue to sow chaos in this tournament as a whole if he advances. It feels like we've already forgotten that PartinG came within one map of reaching the IEM Katowice finals, making a run that reminded us of his old world champion days in 2012. At least in terms of Aligulac.com rating, he hasn't fallen off since Katowice—he's actually risen from #5 to #2 in the Protoss standings. Arguably, he could be just as good as he was at IEM Katowice, but only fell out of our consciousness due to his incredibly unfortunate Code A draw against Dark in Season 1.
Well, what about NeXT Season 1 and TSL7? Shouldn't an IEM semifinalist be able to qualify for at least one of those third-party tournaments? Well, PartinG actually has a reasonable excuse for failing to qualify, but that comes with a bit of bad news as well. In both tournaments, the final qualification spot from Korea came down to Trap vs PartinG, with Trap prevailing both times. Given that Trap went on to win the championship in both NeXT and TSL, those seem like understandable losses for PartinG... too bad Trap is in this very group!
Ultimately, this group will serve as a long-delayed check-up on PartinG's skills after a scintillating IEM Katowice performance. Was it just one last blaze of glory for a former world champion turned streamer? Or will he prove that he's still very much in title contention?
The final player of the group is Solar, who had the 'honor' of being picked last overall in the group selections. One might wonder why anyone would fear him after ten consecutive seasons without a playoffs appearance, but his recent runner-up finish in NeXT Season 1 suggests that he might be ready to end that ignominious streak. Solar's NeXT run included victories against Reynor, TIME, Maru, and ended with a narrow 3-4 defeat against Trap in the grand finals.
While Solar's all-around gameplay was very impressive in NeXT, his victory over Maru felt especially important for a different reason. In the Code S group selections, Solar was in absolute terror of Maru—a result of numerous major tournament losses he suffered against him over the years. Maru represented the kind of 'true' championship contender who always crushed Solar's dreams in the end, even if he did make a deep tournament run. It's no coincidence that the most improbable, game-changing nuclear strike in competitive SC2 history occurred in a match between the two players.
While confidence built in online tournaments doesn't 100% carry over into the GSL studio, it can certainly help. One has to think that Solar's woes in the GSL studio are largely mental—no other explanation makes sense when you consider his high overall level of play during his long Code S playoff drought. Having taken down his most feared nemesis, and having come within one map of winning his first major championship since 2016, Solar might be ready to see the Code S playoffs again.
Trap > SpeCial
PartinG > Solar
Trap > PartinG
Solar > SpeCial
Solar > PartinG
Trap and Solar to advance/