2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 20by Poopi
There were some rather unexpected developments due to the new balance patch in the first group of GSL Code S, but it's still far too early to say what the long term repercussions will be. The next batch of players features two multiple-time GSL champions—will they change the meta and blaze a new way forward?
Group B Preview: Zest, Ryung, Armani, MAruStart time: Thursday, Mar 24 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
This group was always going to be one of the most interesting of the RO20, if only because multiple-time Code S champions Maru and Zest were participating. However, there's some added spice to the group, thanks to the new patch AND Ryung coming in off the back of a tremendous underdog run as a replacement player at IEM Katowice. There's even an added poetic twist of fate—Armani, the player Ryung replaced at IEM—is a part of this group.
It's hard to gauge the effect of the new patch with only one GSL group completed, especially since it takes time for players to fully adapt to a new meta (highlighted when DongRaeGu forgot the Queen nerf in a live game). The fact that there are two Terrans—who were relatively less affected by the patch—makes me think that the new balance changes won't matter quite as much here. While the opening match of Zest vs Armani has the potential to deliver some twists, overall it's pretty clear that Maru and Zest are the favorites to advance, with Ryung being an unlikely wild card.
Indeed, Ryung's Katowice journey was nothing short of incredible. He replaced Armani who declined his invitation (due to COVID concerns), coming in as a player who was mostly known as a great coach that Maru shouted out frequently in tournaments—sarcastically or sincerely. Most fans would have predicted him to win a match or two in the RO36 gauntlet before dropping out and going back to helping Maru with his matches. Indeed, that almost ended up happening—he barely beat Probe 2-1 in his first match, and then suffered a close 1-2 loss against ByuN. His losers' bracket run was fraught with peril as well, but he somehow survived with great TvP victories against Creator (2-1), herO (3-0, with herO being one of the heavy favorites to advance from the RO36), and Nice (3-0). Thrust into an RO24 group with Dark, Serral, ShoWTimE, TIME and SpeCial, RyuNG managed to defeat the two other Terrans and squeak by into the RO12 with a 2-3 match score (the one map he took against ShoWTimE ended up being crucial). While he was stopped in the RO12 by Rogue, it was altogether an amazing run from a player who hadn't been slated to compete in the first place. Taking a map off Rogue in the RO12 was a feather in Rogue's cap, leaving fans to praise Ryung as the latest, greatest version of the “replacement man”.
On the other hand, Zest's trajectory at IEM Katowice was the exact opposite from Ryung. Headed into the event, he had just won GSL: Super Tournament 1, beating Maru in the semifinals before taking down Dark in an epic 4-3 finals. After that result, he was clearly one of the favorites to win IEM Katowice, but he wouldn't escape what had initially seemed like a reasonable group. With losses to Trap, Lambo, and HeroMarine (wins versus Bunny and Astrea), it seemed like Zest had finished his final premier tournament with a whimper. Yet, as one of the most notoriously erratic players in the StarCraft II scene, Zest's level at IEM Katowice ended up being decided mediocre—ultimately it wasn't enough to even get him out of the group stage. It is hard to pinpoint what went wrong exactly, but anyone who had been following Zest for the last two years couldn't have been surprised. Still, Zest has somehow avoided conscription for yet another tournament to compete in Code S, giving him another chance to go out in a blaze of glory in his "final" major tournament.
Looking at the opening match, Aligulac considers Zest to be an enormous favorite against Ryung with around an 85% of winning. However, TvP was the fuel behind Ryung's TvP run at IEM Katowice, and he overcame similarly bad odds against the likes of herO to make his way through the tournament. Ryung was pretty modest in his interviews throughout his run, but the quality of his play suggested that it's not that far-fetched to think that he could upset a strong Protoss again. The patch probably won't shake things up much as RyunG largely prevailed in longer macro games, and he should be able to come up with good game plans against both Armani and Zest.
Since Armani did not go to Katowice, it's harder to predict how he'll do in major matches. He played a fair number of games in various qualifiers and online events in the interim, which gives us a small glimpse into his recent form. On the whole, Armani's results have been all over the board, going back and forth against players that would be considered fringe-Code S quality. However, he did get one win that's very relevant to this group: beating Ryung in the Code S qualifiers. While you'd imagine Armani doomed in his first match against Maru, he just might have a chance to advance against the inconsistent Zest and not-totally-proven Ryung.
Finally, Maru comes into the group as the prohibitive favorite to advance. Even though top eight was surely not the result he was hoping for at IEM Katowice, losing to eventual champion Serral can't really be held against him. Outside of his loss to the Finnish Phenom, Maru mostly lived up to his billing as the dominant, #1 Terran player in the world. Armani shouldn't pose much of a threat in the opening match, but Zest is a very peculiar threat. Though Maru has the upper hand in head-to-head matches, an in-form Zest did manage to prevail in their recent Super Tournament clash. Obviously, Zest could take down Maru once more if he's in peak form, but his inconsistency makes it hard to project. Ryung could also be a tricky opponent for Maru given their friendship and collaboration on strategies, but the mere sharing of information probably won't make up for the sheer difference in mechanics.
I will not go with the easy prediction of 1) Maru, 2) Zest. I want to believe Ryung’s run at Katowice was not a fluke, and that his clinical TvP play can be replicated. It is hard to predict how strong Zest will be after his disappointing elimination at Katowice, but it seems clear that he can't summon his best play on demand. With some help from the rematch curse, I'll predict that Ryung will triumph in the end for second place.
Zest > Ryung
Maru > Armani
Maru > Zest
Ryung > Armani
Ryung > Zest
Maru and Ryung to advance.
Credits and acknowledgements
Records and Statistics: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia
Records and Statistics: Aligulac.com and Liquipedia