2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Round of 10by Wax
The first day of round robin play in Group A showed that the DNA of Code S is something that persists regardless of the format, with the five players demonstrating their careful preparation with an assortment of creative build orders and all-ins. Will this pattern hold in Group B, or will we see more macro-oriented play as some of the best late-game players in Korea step up to play?
Group B - Day 1 Preview: Dark, Maru, Creator, DongRaeGu, herOStart time: Thursday, Apr 14 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Dark and Maru have been battling it out with each other since 2013, and it feels fitting that the two iconic GSL players are almost perfectly even in career head-to-head records. Maru has a tiny lead with 19 wins, 17 losses, and 1 draw in matches, and has a one map lead in total map score (56-55). It just so happens to be that at present, the two are very evenly matched in terms of Aligulac.com rating as well, with the predictive formula giving Dark a narrow edge with a 53.88% chance to win. Interestingly enough, there's one data point that's very skewed: Liquibets. Indeed, TL.net users are picking Maru to win by well over a 2:1 ratio.
I think that aligns pretty well with my gut feeling about the two players right now, which I'm pretty sure is shared by a lot of fans. Dark has been shockingly unclutch when playing in big tournaments for the last six months, often getting eliminated by the first 'top-tier' player he runs into. Just to go over events since November of 2021: 1-3 Rogue (RO8 Super Tournament 3), 2-3 Lambo (RO4 NeXT), 0-2 Reynor (TSL8 lower bracket), 3-4 Zest (finals Super Tournament 1), 1-3 Maru (RO8 DHM Last Chance), 2-3 Reynor (RO8 IEM Katowice). While he has a few quality wins like his 2-1 win over Maru in TSL8 or 3-0 sweep of Trap at Katowice, there's definitely a larger pattern of beating up on mid-tier players but losing to the top title contenders in the later rounds. On the other hand, Maru has hit some ridiculously high peaks in the last six months, and even enjoyed a stretch where he beat basically every top Zerg player in the world while winning major championships.
As such, I'll be going along with my fellow TL.net users and predicting Maru to win this one. Whether it's through excruciatingly long turtle games or with his trademark 2-Barracks cheeses, he should be able to eke out a victory in the end.
Prediction: Maru 2 - 1 Dark
I'm not that optimistic about DongRaeGu's chances of avenging himself as ZvP has been a problem match-up for him ever since he returned from military service. Actually, it was a relatively weak match-up for him even during his prime WoL years, but it was never a serious flaw for him like it is now. To make it simple: DRG's problem in ZvP is that he's really prone to dying. That might sound silly, but I can't really come up with a better way to describe it. Whether it's a super fast cheese or a well-calculated mid-game timing, he just never seems to have the units needed to defend against a Protoss attack. While DRG did defeat Classic 2-1 in the RO20, the two maps he won involved Classic stubbornly playing a passive 2-Stargate Void Ray style. In the one game that Classic actually did play aggressively with proxy Stargates, DRG basically invented a new way to lose by forgetting that Queens can't transfuse off Creep anymore.
Interestingly enough, DRG's ZvP Aligulac rating (2781) is only around 100 points lower than his ZvT (2903), which isn't really a huge gap compared to some other players who have lop-sided strengths. However, he has a tendency to lose key ZvP's in major tournaments, and you can tell he's very aware of it by how self-deprecating he is about his ZvP in his various interviews.
On the other hand, PvZ is Creator's best match-up at the moment, and it's what's helped him hit his best patch of form since 2012. After only being able to show his PvZ skills in online cups for a while, he finally got over the live-setting hump in the last couple of GSL tournaments where he beat Solar twice (3-0 in Super Tournament 1, 2-1 in this current Code S). Aligulac gives Creator a 58.27% chance of winning but I think that in the AfreecaTV studio, the odds are even more heavily skewed in his favor. You couldn't have said that about Creator up until a few months ago, but he really seems to have made a lot of progress with the nervousness issues he admitted to having in the past. DRG can be a good ZvP player on the rare days when his defense is clicking, but it's not something I can count on.
Prediction: Creator 2 - 1 DongRaeGu
astute Redditor pointed out, he recently overtook Zest to climb to #1 in the Aligulac.com Protoss rankings. Much of this leap was due to an incendiary online tournament run in the past few days, where herO went 30-5 in maps including a 1-0 victory over Serral in the Caster Civil War, a 4-0 win over Solar in an AfreecaTV showmatch, a 2-0 win over Dark in an ESL Open Cup, and a 2-1 win over Rogue in an Alpha X showmatch. Thanks to this extraordinary run, Aligulac now only sees herO as a minor underdog against the fearsome Dark (the #1 ranked ZvP player in Korea) with a 42.21% chance to win.
Although I'm a big fan of Aligulac and think its formula and ratings are very accurate in a big picture sense, I do feel like this is a scenario where it's not sufficiently accounting for the difference between online cups and GSL studio matches. Rather than herO's latest 35 online matches, I'm much more concerned about what happened to him the last time he played offline in the AfreecaTV studio. That was last week in Group E of RO20, where he advanced in second place by defeating Cure two series. However, he missed out on first place because he lost 0-2 to RagnaroK—hardly a player most fans would put in the tier of Serral, Rogue, or Dark.
While the loss can be somewhat explained by RagnaroK's brilliant offensive Hatchery mind games (though being unable to deal with prepared strategies is a weakness unto itself), herO was just sloppy and mistake-prone throughout. He almost lost a game solely due to miss-microing and losing his crucial first Adept, and he blew a potential comeback in that same game because of his overaggressive tendencies. On the other hand, my most recent memories of Dark playing offline ZvP involve him grinding Protoss players into a fine powder and using them to season his soup: a 2-0 demolition of Classic in the GSL RO20, and before that, a 3-0 stomp over Trap at IEM Katowice.
TL.net users seem to agree with me on the eye-test as well, and are currently favoring Dark by over 6:1 in Liquibet selections. While I'd love to see herO's online might carry over into the GSL-verse, I don't think it's likely to happen against Dark.
Prediction: Dark 2 - 0 herO
73.68% chance to win according to Aligulac.com ratings. However, Maru is notorious for barely playing in any tournaments outside the majors, and much of his sky-high TvP rating was built on games he won many months ago. In fact, the last two offline TvP games he played were actually losses, going 1-2 against Zoun in the IEM Katowice group stage, and a 1-3 loss to Zest in the Super Tournament semifinals a month before that. If you go back yet another match, he took a narrow 3-2 victory over herO in that very same Super Tournament. While all of this is a very small sample, it makes you wonder if Maru is on a slight TvP decline that Aligulac rating just hasn't picked up yet.
As for Creator, his PvT isn't quite on the level of his PvZ, but it has definitely helped him in his return to relevance in major tournaments. His most recent major tournament results are a bit tricky to interpret. When he was eliminated by Ryung in the RO36 of IEM Katowice, it seemed like another typical Creator choke job against a player he should have been heavily favored to defeat. However, Ryung's subsequent TvP rampage makes you wonder if the 1-2 loss was somehow a good result in retrospect (especially considering he beat Ryung in a long macro game scenario where the team GP ace seems to excel). In the RO20, Creator took down GuMiho 2-1 to advance in first place. A few months ago, you could have said GuMiho was a player Creator should have easily defeated, but the level of play he showed in the RO20 suggests he might have been a legit, RO10-quality opponent.
Still, even if Maru is a little worse at TvP than the numbers say and Creator is a bit better, Maru should still be the favorite to win this match. One area I'm particularly worried about for Creator is his reaction speed against various drops and harassment: he can be pretty solid when he has time to place his units and focus solely on defending, but he can get pretty flustered when the situation gets hectic. Maru might be the single best player in the world in terms of TvP harassment mechanics, and he'll severely punish any lapses in concentration from Creator.
Prediction: Maru 2 - 0 Creator
The general outlook for this match is fairly similar to the Creator vs DongRaeGu match outlined above but more difficult for DRG on all fronts. At least when Creator is playing, there's a chance that he'll play one or two games in a passive style like Classic did. When herO is playing, there's a chance that he'll use some crazy, unpredictable timing attack in every single game. DRG has barely a 30% chance to win this match according to Aligulac, and I have to agree with that assessment.
I think the key to DRG winning this match—and perhaps in the match against Creator as well—would be taking a page out of RagnaroK's book and going for some kind of unorthodox start in every single game. ZvP has a reputation of being the match-up where Zerg does the exact same thing every game and reacts to what Protoss does, but RagnaroK's recent stretch of Code S matches showed that you can play winning ZvP while doing something wildly different on every map. However, that's really just not DRG's style (though he does mix in an occasional all-in), and I don't think there's a realistic chance that he goes too far outside of his comfort zone of playing macro.
Prediction: herO 2 - 0 DongRaeGu