2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 20by Wax
While the 2022 season the Global StarCraft II League will bring some the most drastic format changes in tournament history, the upcoming first round won't be a huge departure from previous events. We kick things off with those good ol' fashioned GSL-style groups, with two players advancing from each four-player group into the next round.
The difference this time around is that we have twenty players placed into five groups, with ten total advancing to the next round. The newly formed round-of-10 is where we'll see some of the more aggressive changes (read the announcement thread for details on the round-robin stage), but for now, you can settle in and enjoy some very familiar GSL-group action.
Also, Code S will be the first major tournament played under the new balance patch, and Monday night's games are sure to hint at the way SC2 will be played going forward. Yet, one must keep in mind that it hasn't even been a week since the patch went live, so it would be prudent not to jump to hasty conclusions.
Group A Preview: Dark, Classic, DongRaeGu, DreamStart time: Monday, Mar 21 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Balance patch or not, Dark is clearly the powerhouse player who is the overwhelming favorite to take first place in the group. Although his top eight finish at IEM Katowice was somewhat disappointing on paper, it didn't really do much to change my opinion of him as a top-tier player. Dark's only losses came against Serral and Reynor: the two finalists of the World Championship event. His match against Reynor was extremely close, as he barely lost 2-3 in a series where he heavily outplayed Reynor in the late-game (to Reynor's credit, he did adapt his play to close things out in game five). Furthermore, Dark looked dominant in all of his other games—especially a 3-0 stomp over Trap—and generally looked like the championship-caliber player he had been throughout the 2021/22 season.
As I see it, the only reason Dark would have trouble advancing from this group would be if he's really let himself go since the end of Katowice. Progamers can't be permanently 100% locked-in, and they'll often admit many months after a bad performance that they just weren't in shape at the time. Of course, this is just me speculating how Dark might get upset here—I don't have any evidence that he's actually taking it easy. In fact, he may very well be as focused as ever, fueled by the pain of his RO8 loss at Katowice.
Now that I've penciled in Dark in to advance, let's move on to the trickier business of predicting who's going to claim the other RO10 spot.
Given Protoss' poor results at IEM Katowice and the heartbreaking retirements of PartinG and sOs, I'm a little bit biased toward military 'returnee' Classic. Sadly for Protoss fans, even though military returnees have delivered progressively better results in recent years, it's still hard to expect them to perform at a championship level. Personally, I'd be very content if Classic just became a solid mid-tier player who helped keep the factional balance even in the Code S playoffs.
Fortunately for me, it seems pretty realistic that he'll hit that goal—he's basically already there in terms of skill level. Though it wasn't quite Code S, Classic has already broken through the group stages of an online major in NeXT Season 2, defeating respectable opponents in DRG and Solar to reach the playoffs. In terms of GSL competition, he's been unlucky not to record his first official match victory after returning from military service, losing 2-3 to Zest in Code A, going 0-3 to god-mode Maru in a Super Tournament, and losing 2-3 again to Zest in the Super Tournament after that.
Classic's mid-season return to the pro-scene meant he couldn't earn enough points to participate at IEM Katowice (technically he had a chance to compete as an emergency replacement, but he didn't have a valid passport at the time), but he stayed active in the ESL Open Cups and won three of them in the past few weeks. Even considering the soft competition in some of the cups, there's no denying that Classic has been in great form. At the time of writing, he had risen to 6th place in the Aligulac.com Protoss standings, ahead of players like Astrea, Creator, and even Code S regular Zoun. Thus, despite a tough first match against Dark, I think Classic is a slight favorite over DRG and Dream to advance in second place.
That said, DongRaeGu and Dream are only a smidge behind Classic in my reckoning. It's a bit harder to cape up for DongRaeGu at this immediate moment, as he had a horrendous IEM Katowice showing where he flopped out of the RO36 without a single map win (0-2 vs Spirit and Creator). Yet, those two losses don't entirely cancel out two enormous wins that he recorded just weeks prior: two group stage victories against Serral that knocked the Finnish Phenom out of DHM Last Chance. In retrospect, after Serral's imperious IEM Katowice championship run, it does feel like DRG got somewhat fortunate with perfect luck in build-order mind-games. But, at the same time, it makes one respect DongRaeGu even more for being able to craft a game plan that would allow him to topple such a vaunted opponent.
The big weakness for DongRaeGu is that he's kind of a "one-phase" player in ZvP and ZvT—his inconsistent early defense makes him susceptible to harassment and all-ins, while his late-game spellcaster control isn't good enough to trade efficiently against defensive players. However, he plays mid-game macro exceptionally well, and does a reasonable job of getting the game to that stage. I can see a scenario where DRG is in great condition on the day of the matches, handles Dream and Classic's early game shenanigans with ease, and just blows by them to advance in second place (if he's really lucky, he might even beat Dark in a ZvZ as well).
Similar to DongRaeGu, Dream is an opponent you must underestimate at your own peril. I'm still rather amused by Solar and Maru's preview of IEM Katowice (unfortunately there aren't any English subs), where they implied that both DRG and Dream weren't putting in quite as much practice as some of the other competitors. Perhaps this proved true for DRG (I just think he drew some horrible match-ups), but Dream completely busted their prediction by making an unexpected run to the RO12. Not only did he clutch out a thrilling group stage victory against Cure (one of the best games of the tournament), but he even took a map off Maru himself in his supposedly invincible match-up of late-game TvT.
While that run from Dream was certainly thrilling to watch, one still has to wonder what it meant in the big picture. Looking at the totality of Dreams' performances in the last few months, IEM Katowice seems more like a blip of TvT excellence for Dream, whereas he has been rather mediocre in the other match-ups. He did comfortably qualify for all the major events ahead of Katowice (DHM Last Chance, Super Tournaments, TSL), but struggled to advance even a round once he got there. While Dream is certainly good enough to make the GSL RO10, there's no doubt that he's fallen off from his mid-2021 peak when he was going deep into the GSL playoffs.
Predictions: Even though Classic might have to play two or more PvZ's under the new balance changes, I don't think it will be too much of a complicating factor. Even during the peak of the Void Ray-Queen meta, I didn't expect Classic to have much of a chance against Dark. As for DongRaeGu, the big hole in his ZvP game has been his weakness to early harassment and all-ins, which I think will be every bit as valid for Classic right now. Otherwise, I don't see the balance changes affecting this group that much—maybe there will be one less proxy-Void Ray strategy from Classic in PvT than we would have seen otherwise.
Interestingly enough, Aligulac likes both Dark and Classic to advance, despite the two squaring off in the first match. Classic's high Aligulac rating is due to his strong performances in ESL Open Cups, and as we've mentioned in many past previews, you have to be leery about translating those results to a GSL setting. However, considering that Classic was one of the absolute best GSL-style series planners prior to his military service, I think I might have to go the other way on this one—Aligulac might actually underrate him here.
Ultimately, I ended up with the same prediction as Aligulac and the Liquibet players: Dark is a big favorite to advance in first place, and Classic has a slight edge to come in second.
Dark > Classic
DongRaeGu > Dream
Dark > DongRaeGu
Classic > Dream
Classic > DongRaeGu
Dark and Classic advance.