2021 GSL Code S Season 2 - RO8 Day 1 Previewby Wax
Once again, it's playoffs time in GSL Code S, with eight players left to contend for Korea's ultimate championship. Group stage upsets have left this bracket noticeably light on Terrans, which could be a boon—or curse—for our title contenders.
Quarterfinal Match #1: Bunny vs DongRaeGuStart time: Monday, Jul 12 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The first quarterfinal match sees Bunny go up against his Team NV compatriot DongRaeGu. Just a day ago, they were brothers in arms as they helped lead Team TV to the World Team League championship. On Monday, they'll be bitter foes fighting for personal glory.
Bunny seems to be enjoying the first sustained period of success in his career, reaching the top eight in nearly all of his 2021 events (except IEM Katowice 2021). It's hard to point to one single factor in his breakthrough—he's simply become a better all-around player, combining strong mechanics with strategic savvy. That's how he beat Rogue to steal the first place spot out of Group A, defeating him first with straight-up bio play, and then finishing the job with a Hellbat timing on the next map.
However, Bunny's inability to make it further than the top eight makes one wonder if the nerves start getting to him as the stakes rise, or if needs to get better at strategizing for best-of-five maps. Bunny's quarter final series against Dream in the previous season of Code S was a total disaster, as he suffered a 0-3 sweep after letting his opponent disortient him with proxy-Barracks mind games. Fortunately for Bunny, he'll probably be the one trying to get into his opponent's head this time around, as DongRaeGu tends to favor an orthodox, Muta-Ling-Bane style.
DongRaeGu should be feeling a sense of déjà vu, as he was in Bunny's situation nearly a year ago. Back then, he had upset defending Code S champion TY to advance in first place from Group A of the RO16, becoming the sentimental star of the tournament. DongRaeGu then went on to smash quarterfinal INnoVation 3-0 in perhaps the best performance of his post-military career, earning a spot in the semis (he would end up being swept in turn by Rogue).
It ended up feeling like a bit of a fluke run, with DongRaeGu missing the qualification cut for several major tournaments while generally getting eliminated in first rounds of the tournaments he did manage to get into (to his credit, he returned to the quarterfinals in Code S Season 3). Part of DRG's problem is that his match-up strengths are unbalanced—looking at his Aligulac.com match-up ratings, he has the #6 ranked ZvT in the world, while his ZvP and ZvZ are #9 and #10 respectively. Still, that should hold him in relatively good stead against Bunny—while a team-kill is always regrettable, it feels like a match both players should see as quite winnable.
The all-time head-to-head record slightly favors DongRaegu at 14-10 in maps, but their last game occured in 2020, before Bunny started on this recent stretch of great play. ZvT may be DongRaeGu's best match-up, but Bunny has been playing solid ZvT as well and is projected to have a narrow 55:45 advantage according to Aligulac.com's projections. The simple 2021 win-loss stats in the match-up also favor Bunny by quite a bit as he's 33-20 in maps, while DongRaeGu has a surprisingly poor 78-72 (neither player gets to pad their stats much against weaker opponents).
Overall, I think early game defense will be the key to the series. DongRaeGu can play a beautiful, swarming Muta-Ling-Bane style if he's able to set up his economy, but his reaction speed and multitasking on defense has been a weakness in the past. Even without going for any drastic early game attacks, Bunny could very well pull ahead with Cloaked Banshees or light drops. While I'd slightly favor DongRaeGu if he's allowed to set up his preferred Muta-Ling-Bane style, Bunny's recent play tells me he has a fighting chance in macro games as well.
Another important factor could be Bunny's comfort level in playing long defensive games (whether it's mech or not). We saw DongRaeGu's Muta-Ling-Bane run out of steam against a relatively weak opponent in KeeN during their Code A duel, and his Hive-stage play has generally been unimpressive across all three match-ups. While DRG did well to bust Dream's mech before it could get fully set during his Code S matches, he seems like a player who can be worn down with determined defensive play. Bunny has shown a preference for speedy, active mid-game play, but he may want to change his approach on the more defense-friendly maps.
Overall, I think DongRaeGu's one-dimensional nature in ZvT won't be enough to topple Bunny. While I'm sure he'll bring a few curveballs to this BO5 series, I'm not confident in his ability to execute well when not playing his signature Muta-Ling-Bane. As for Bunny, he's proved he's a very well-rounded, versatile player, and he should be able to prevail as long as he doesn't psyche himself out.
Prediction: Bunny 3 - 2 DongRaeGu
Quarterfinal Match #2: sOs vs TrapQuarterfinal match #2 is a reunion of old Jin Air teammates, as Trap goes up against sOs.
On the face of it, this is easily the most one-sided match-up of the playoffs. Trap is on an absurd nine match winning streak against sOs, recording a dominating 19-2 map score over those games. Aligulac's formula gives Trap a 77.74% chance of winning this match, which is indicative of the massive 400 point rating gap between the two players in PvP.
It's precisely the kind of "easy" match Trap probably wanted after a rough couple of weeks. Not only was he ousted from the DHM Summer Finals by Scarlett and Lambo, but he was bested by the German Zerg yet again in the WTL playoffs as Afreeca Freecs went flaming out (Lambo put up an aggregate record of 4-2 against Trap in the series). Not even his normally awesome PvP was a refuge for him, as he gave up a 0-2 upset to PartinG in his Code S RO16 group, forcing him to advance in second place. While Trap still retains the title of #1 Protoss player in the world, it's partly because there's no one obvious to replace him.
I don't know that sOs will have learned much from PartinG's first game against Trap, as his old hands will probably struggle to imitate PartinG's daring anti-Disruptor plays (sOs wasn't exactly the best micro player even in his prime). However, the second game should have instilled some confidence that even the best players occasionally fall to a good cheese, as proven by PartinG's Void Ray + Battery all-in. sOs can't let his trickery be limited to his 'random' mid-game Dark Templars—that's long since become a predictable part of his repertoire. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be such a thing as a truly surprising cheese in this current PvP meta, where proxying seems to occur in over 50% of the matches. Also, Trap has navigated this hazardous landscape with aplomb, sitting atop of the Aligulac.com PvP rankings for much of 2021.
All-in-all, it's a very unfortunate draw for sOs after he broke a very lengthy Code S playoffs drought in impressive fashion, topping his RO16 group with wins over Zoun and Maru. He may have a slight practice advantage, as Trap went almost straight into the World Team League playoffs after finishing up his Code S RO16 group. On the flipside, Trap's shortcomings in the WTL playoffs saw Afreeca get eliminated on Saturday, giving him a full day to prepare solely for the GSL.
While this has been a season of upsets, it's hard to see this particular upset happening. Unless Trap suffers an unbelievable collapse—which isn't totally out of the question, since this is Trap—sOs may have to be content with ending his 'comeback' season in round of eight.
Prediction: Trap 3 - 1 sOs