2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 20by Wax
Reducing the first round of Code S from 24 players to 20 may not have seemed like the biggest deal at the start of the year, but it's given us some very competitive groups so far. The fifth and final RO20 group will continue the trend—all four players are closely matched, and any combination of players advancing seems like a realistic outcome. Well, that would have been the case, if not for some unfortunate events...
Group E Preview: Cure, herO, RagnaroK, BunnyStart time: Monday, Apr 04 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
There's one important piece of news that has to be addressed off the top: Bunny broke a finger after a stairway fall and will be playing wearing a cast. The injury was revealed a few weeks ago via Team NV's Instagram, and Korean commentator JYP followed up during the Group D broadcast by saying Bunny would be attempting to play despite still being in a cast.
Obviously, this changes the complexion of the group considerably. Bunny was the only Group E member who was coming into the group after having performed above expectations at IEM Katowice, surpassing players like Trap and Zest to take first place in his RO24 before finishing in the top eight (where he lost 1-3 to Rogue). In contrast, the three other players are all riding a downward wave of momentum after disappointing showings at the World Championship (or a "non-showing" for RagnaroK who had to forfeit due to a positive COVID test), so there was good reason to feel positive about Bunny's chances of reaching the RO10.
Going by the images on Team NV's social media, it seems like Bunny's fourth and/or fifth fingers on his mouse hand (right hand) have been affected. So while he should technically be capable of wielding a mouse, it's hard to say exactly to what degree his movements will be hindered. It might be the case that he plays brilliantly, showing us that SC2 was actually just a three-finger game all along (at least on the mouse-hand side). Or, he could be visibly slow and sloppy, proving that any kind of physical discomfort can have a huge effect on a precision-based game like StarCraft.
It's worth noting that that legendary WarCraft III player Moon once played in the NGL-One team league finals (2006) while wearing a cast due to a broken wrist, and won several key matches for his team Meet Your Makers on the way to the championship (the exact details are unclear, but it seems certain that he won at least a single match while wearing the cast). Of course, SC2 and War3 are very different games, so it's hard to make a direct comparison to Bunny's situation.
Moving on to the players who are whole (in body, anyway—who knows what playing SC2 does to the soul?), let's look at the ostensible favorite in Cure. The DPG Terran comes in as the #1 seed of the group, having earned that right by winning the final Code S tournament of 2021. Usually, being the defending Code S champion would entail a lot of hype, but Cure had a rocky road ever since he lifted that trophy.
He put up lackluster results in many of his subsequent tournaments, getting eliminated in the early rounds of DHM Winter, TSL8, NeXT Season 2, and Super Tournament 1 (2022). Still, he did make a top four run in Super Tournament 2 (2021) and finished runner-up at DHM: Last Chance, preserving some of his pride as the reigning Code S champion. Alas, his latest major tournament result was the most disappointing of all, as he fell out of IEM Katowice group stages. This was due to his rather unclutch performance against Dream in a winner-take-all match at the end of the group, where he ceded an upset victory to the GGG Terran (one of the most entertaining series of the tournament).
Fortunately for Cure, the biggest problem for him right now is top-level TvZ. We can say he's slumping because we have Code S champion-level expectations of him, but what's happened to him is really something that's happened to almost every other Terran: they can't beat the top-tier Zergs anymore. For the most part, it's been players like Rogue, Dark, and Reynor who have been giving Cure the boot from major events—when he faces anyone else, he still wins most of the time. Indeed, he's #3 in the Aligulac.com Terran rankings (behind Maru and Clem), and he's still a very respectable #7 in the overall standings. Thus, while I'm very doubtful about Cure's ability to defend his Code S title while Rogue and Dark are still in the competition, he should probably get out of the group stage barring another IEM-esque meltdown.
Another player looking to start anew after a poor IEM is herO, who headed into the RO36 play-in stage as one of the strong favorites to qualify for the group stages (well, according to me anyway). He had reached the RO8 of consecutive Super Tournaments and was tearing it up in ESL Open Cups—surely play-in competition was beneath him? Well, what actually happened was that herO took a one-two combination of punches to the gut. First, the PvP gods frowned upon him in the opening match against Taiwan's Nice, forcing him to the lower bracket. While herO recovered with wins against Elazer and Cyan, he had the misfortune to run up against Ryung, who seemed to have suddenly developed top-tier TvP skills just in time for IEM. After suffering a 0-2 against Ryung, herO was out of Katowice after just a day of games. While this isn't an excuse for the losses, I do think herO was pretty unfortunate to run up against the two of the three RO36 players who exceeded expectations the most (Spirit being the other one).
Despite the poor showing at the world championship, I do think herO is in a similar place as he was before Katowice. He's still on a ridiculously quick recovery curve for a military returnee (he even said that his mechanics are completely recovered), and his unpredictable, aggressive style makes him a unique threat that no one can truly prepare for. At the time of writing, he was one of the top ranked Protoss players in the world at #4 on Aligulac.com—ahead of both Trap and Classic. While that's partially indicative of the dire situation Protoss is in right now, it's also a testament to how well herO has been playing over the course of the last nine months.
Alongside Bunny, RagnaroK is also one of the mystery men of the group, albeit for an entirely different reason. He was the only IEM Katowice competitor who had to forfeit due to testing positive for COVID on his pre-flight test, losing out on his chance try and break through the RO36. Headed into this group, I have to wonder if he has some 'banked' IEM Katowice preparation that he'll get to unleash here. Sure, everyone else practiced hard for IEM Katowice as well and thus raised their baseline ability. However, RagnaroK probably has specific build orders and strategies he hasn't had a chance to show yet—Code S would be the perfect place to reveal them.
Regular TL.net readers might know that I've generally been high on RagnaroK in ZvT. He's simply a great, straight-up macro player when he can get to the mid-game in a good position (you just have to overlook all of his losses in every other situation). Given that this is a two-Terran group, I'm liking his chances to advance as a sneaky underdog, or maybe even as an ever-so-slight favorite now that Bunny's health has been compromised.
Prediction: Despite Cure's struggles against the absolute top-tier of players, I think he's still in a great position to advance from this group. RagnaroK could upset Cure if he's at the absolute peak of his game, but I think the most likely result here is for Cure to take first place.
I'd probably have favored Bunny to take second place if he hadn't suffered such an untimely injury, but as it stands, there's too much uncertainty to pick him. Thus, my other pick comes down to either herO or RagnaroK. In terms of head-to-head results, RagnaroK actually has a big lead, as he's 4-0 against herO since his return from the military. It makes me wonder if RagnaroK's aggressive/cheesy style of ZvP is a kind of soft-counter to herO's own aggression, leaving him less susceptible than players who prefer a greedier style. I'm going to follow along with the head-to-head here, and give RagnaroK the edge.
Cure > herO
RagnaroK > Bunny
Cure > RagnaroK
herO > Bunny
RagnaroK > herO
Cure and RagnaroK to advance.