2022 GSL Code S Season 1 - Grand Finals PreviewStart time: Thursday, May 05 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The upcoming Code S finals is one of immense contrasts and parallels, as one of the greatest players of all time goes up against one of the greatest redemption stories of all time.
Rogue aims to win his fourth Code S championship, becoming only the second player in history to reach that milestone after Maru. As for Creator, a one-time World Championship finalist, he returns to the grand finals stage for the first time after nearly a decade-long fall from grace.
The two players spent five years together on Jin Air Green Wings from 2015 to 2020, but their paths diverged in the harshest of ways. Rogue rose from mediocrity to become a legend of the game, while any glory Creator once basked in faded into nothingness.
On paper, this looks like one of the most imbalanced grand finals in Code S history: a player who has never lost a finals versus a player whose mere presence in the finals seems like a miracle. However, such stark contrast has served to give this match a unique appeal: whether you're here for the sadistic pleasure of seeing a dream die, or the hope of witnessing an act of god, it's irresistible all the same.
Creator: A Decade in the Makingby Poopi
If you asked any GSL fan who would be in the finals at the start of this season, a good amount of them would have replied “Rogue.” Other than him, you'd have expected to hear the names of Maru and Dark, and perhaps some recent finalists in Zest, Cure, and Trap.
But Creator? The same Creator who had been stuck in Code A for the entirety of 2021? The same Creator who hadn't advanced a round in Code S since 2012? Fans would have been more likely to guess he wouldn't even make the qualifier cut than make the finals. Yet, here he is, facing Rogue as the last standing Protoss hope.
Each round, and in almost every match, Creator was deemed the underdog. As he started off in a round-of-20 group with Trap, Gumiho, and Solar, TL.net Liquibet users gave him the lowest chance of advancing with less than 10% of the votes. I thought he was likely to take third place with a long shot at advancing in second—in reality, he defeated Solar and GuMiho to advance with the top seed.
Even after this good performance, most people (me included) thought it was a bit of a fluke, especially since GuMiho upset Trap giving Creator a much easier winners' match to advance from. It looked like in the RO10—where Creator was placed into a 'group of death' with Dark, DRG, herO, and Maru—there was almost no way Creator would advance. Right? 4th place seemed like the best possible outcome, considering how Maru, Dark, and herO were all near the top of the rankings for their respective races (when considering Korea only, they actually were THE top TPZ players by Aligulac.com rating). But once again, Creator not only survived but did so with verve—he actually finished the first match day at #1 in the group after going 2-1 versus both DRG and Maru. A 2-1 victory against herO on matchday two (the #1 overall Protoss and #2 in PvP player after MaxPax on Aligulac) fully confirmed his advancement to the RO6 of the playoffs, though an understandable final loss against Dark meant he couldn't earn a direct seed to the semifinals.
It was then and only then that it seemed Creator started to get some hard-earned respect in the eyes of the spectators. Thrown into the RO6 of the playoffs with Rogue, RagnaroK, and DongRaeGu, Creator lived up to some of his newly created expectations and advanced to the semifinals with a victory over RagnaroK. However, the forecast grew gloomy once again when Creator returned to facing championship caliber players. Semifinal opponent Trap was favored by head-to-head record, Aligulac rating, and career resume, making it seem like the dream run would finally come to an end. However, Creator prevailed for an improbable fourth round of the tournament, and with a convincing victory at that. He seemed destined for a 0-3 collapse when he blew game one after taking a serious build order lead, but he actually did the exact opposite and dominated Trap in three straight games to win 3-1.
Creator has overcome some serious odds to get this far. It's tough enough for even a title favorite player to reach the finals given the variance of SC2, but Creator was in the even more difficult position of being a big underdog in several key matches. He lagged far behind Maru, herO, and Trap on paper (Aligulac ratings and head-to-head record) but still found a way to defeat them all. After so many upsets in a row, it's fair to wonder how many of them were really upsets in hindsight, and how many of them were actually even matches for this much improved Creator.
In pondering this question, there is an elephant in the room that must be addressed: so far, Creator was able to 'upset' finalist-caliber players in PvP and PvT. Creator also won some PvZ matches against DRG and RagnaroK, but I think he was actually favored in those matches. The problem is that he could not upset the Maru and Trap equivalents for Zergs: Rogue and Dark. Far from it—both players defeated him rather convincingly in their matches (Rogue winning 3-1 in the RO6, Dark winning 2-0 in the RO10). The best Zerg that Creator beat this season was Solar in the first group stage (2-1), but I can't put Solar in the same basket as Rogue and Dark. He might occasionally play at a similar level, but isn't anywhere near as consistent.
It could be that Creator's run is similar to Cure’s in the previous Code S season, where he showed great strength against Terran and Protoss by beating the best players of those factions but also looked weak against Zerg. While Cure had the luck of getting his TvZ's out of the way in the group stage and facing nothing but Protosses through to the finals, Creator has to confront this most difficult test at the final hurdle.
Looking at the key statistics for this finals, there are a few interesting pieces of information. Creator is a smaller underdog than one might expect, with around 36:64 odds of defeating Rogue in a BO7 according to Aligulac. The reason for this smaller-than-expected ratings gap is because Creator really brought his PvZ rating up through strong online cup play in the last six months, and even a run of poor results in the last few weeks hasn't brought it down too much. On the other hand, Rogue has been surprisingly poor at ZvP relative to his larger reputation—even accounting for his lackadaisical attitude in smaller events, his rating is surprisingly lower than similar tier Zergs like Reynor, Serral, or Dark.
The head-to-head record paints a much grimmer picture as Creator is a mere 3W-23L-1D against Rogue with a 11W-45L aggregate map record (a dismal 19.64% win rate). That record is truly abysmal, but it's slightly alleviated by the fact that most of their matches occured when Rogue was at his peak and Creator was struggling to even qualify for Code S. But even in the matches since Creator became the 'new' version of himself (let's say fourth quarter 2021), he's 0-3 against Rogue, including his 1-3 defeat in the RO6.
The dilemma of looking at Creator's statistics is that the numbers also looked awful versus herO, Maru, and Trap, and yet he still defeated them convincingly. We often write about how long-term, big picture statistics don't capture what's happening in the short-term, isolated locale of the GSL—though it's usually in support of Rogue and not his opponent. I would agree partially that this is the case now, especially since I have already used these arguments in support of Creator in a recent preview. But going back to the PvZ concerns mentioned earlier—it's possible that Creator can both be underrated by the stats, AND still have a glaring weakness in PvZ.
Leaving the stats behind and just looking at the mythos of the GSL finals: they're definitely a different beast from any other tournament. Maru was a huge statistical favorite going into the finals of 2021's Season 1, but Rogue proved why he's the ultimate winner and crushed him with seemingly simple strategies. Conversely, 2021's Season 3 saw Zest go into the finals as the huge narrative favorite after ending Rogue's offline BO7 streak in the semifinals. On the other hand, Cure, the infamous choker, was supposed to fall short in the most high-pressure moment in his career. Instead, the series went according to the numbers, with the TvP specialist out-thinking and clinically dissecting an experienced champion in Zest.
Maybe the best way to describe the uniqueness of the GSL finals stage is that it seems to broaden the range of all possible outcomes. So when the expected outcome is already a brutal defeat for Creator, that kind of expanded range only works in his favor.
I think Creator has a real shot of going all the way. He went through a steady increase in skill over several months that suggest this isn't just a flukey run, and even his disappointing run at IEM Katowice strikes me as somewhat unlucky—Astrea was an underrated strong player in PvP while Ryung just happened to unveil his monstrous TvP performance during that particular tournament. This GSL season wasn't so much about cultivating any new skills as it was about him learning to express his existing skills in a live setting. Round after round, he's demonstrated that he is now able to hang with the best players in the world, just like in 2012.
Creator has nothing to lose, and arguably Rogue has more pressure weighing down on him. Everyone knows he's the one who's supposed to win this match, and he even amplified the expectations by predicting an easy win in his interview. Furthermore, he's set a lofty goal for himself to win the G5L trophy before his military service, and he only has a limited number of chances left.
It took a lot of years for Cure to finally win a GSL, and it broadened what we think can be possible for similar players like Creator. The combination of skill and composure that Creator has displayed so far, as well as his meticulous preparation for matches (going so far as to recruit nearly all of the best PvP players as practice partners vs Trap), make me think that he can conjure one more miracle and win this season. Rogue's formidable reputation in GSL finals will only make Creator’s victory that much more glorious.
Prediction: Creator 4 - 2 Rogue
Rogue: Inevitable, Againby Wax
Dread it, run from it, Rogue arrives all the same.
StarCraft II's ultimate big match player has come to play in his fourth ever Code S finals and the tenth live finals of his career. After going nine for nine in his previous live finals, he's now set to play what might be the easiest finals match of his career against Creator.
This match immediately reminds you of Rogue's Code S finals against Trap in Season 3 of 2019—the one that ended in a savage 4-0 sweep. Earlier in the year, Trap had finally overcome some of the psychological hurdles that had hindered him for years and worked his way into finals contention. But improved as he was, Trap didn't come close to fazing such a ruthless clutch competitor like Rogue. Unlike Creator, Trap at least had the benefit of gaining two seasons worth of high-level Code S experience before he had to play Rogue—he even had a 'dress rehearsal' of sorts in the prior season's Code S finals (losing 2-4 to Dark). In contrast, Creator's rise to Code S finalist status has occurred over the course of just five weeks within a single season.
Thus, it's not shocking that many fans are predicting a cakewalk for Rogue, and he's gone ahead and foretold the same. After winning his semifinals match against Dark, he gave his appraisal of Creator's chances: "Sorry to Hyunwoo, but I think I'll win by a one-sided score. Sorry to the fans for that, too." That was quite chilly for a player who has been accused of being disingenuously humble at times, and was even Creator's teammate on Jin Air Green Wings for several years. But with Creator having spent the last decade without advancing a single round in Code S, and Rogue himself having elevated himself to be one of the greatest players of all times, I suppose he felt he couldn't justify the facade of humility.
Against a more accomplished foe, I'd have to make a much bigger deal out of the fact that Rogue's aura of big match invincibility took an irreparable blow last season. Rogue's undefeated streak of 11 wins and 0 losses in offline BO7 matches had been one of the most impressive records in competitive SC2, but it was finally broken by Zest in game seven of the Code S semifinals. Maybe, if Rogue's finals opponent was a battle-hardened champion like Maru or Dark, I would look at that loss and say "This is the chance! The beast is finally vulnerable!" Unfortunately, 'battle-hardened champion' is the furthest thing from what Creator is. He's actually only played a single offline BO7 in his career: the 2-4 loss to PartinG in the grand finals of the Battle.net World Championship that still haunts him to this date. Thus, I'd rather point out that even after the loss to Zest, Rogue is STILL 12-1 in offline BO7's. When did he pick up that twelfth win? Oh, you know, just against MARU in the Super Tournament, when he happened to be at the peak of his TvZ form.
Interestingly enough, while all the external factors like experience, mentality, and reputation favor Rogue by an enormous margin, the gap in actual gameplay is smaller than one might think. As mentioned above in the Creator portion of the preview, the Aligulac rating difference between the two players has closed to the point where it's only around 64:36 in Rogue's favor (I imagine the 'gut feeling' odds are closer to 95:5). Despite the many, many caveats about Aligulac.com rating we've written out over the years, I think the eye-test somewhat supports Aligulac's appraisal.
In particular, I think the BO5 match the two played in the RO6 revealed some of Rogue's potential weaknesses. Rogue was uncharacteristically sloppy in the one map he lost, failing to snowball his way to a win after stopping a drastic 2-base all-in. He went for some wasteful counterattacks, and ultimately ended up in a losing basetrade after badly misjudging the condition of Creator's army. Rogue fessed up to his poor play after the games, saying he had actually felt nervous in the booth for the first time in a while.
An area I think Creator will be aggressively targeting is Rogue's early/mid-game defense. The most popular ZvP plan for Zergs during this season of Code S has been to play standard Roach macro into a slower Spire (which can be used for light Mutalisk harass or heavy commitment to air units). Creator actually exploited that brilliantly in the first map against Rogue, cutting Probes and nearly winning the game with a pre-Spire timing. It was really only the terrible micro mistake of losing two Disruptors which cost him the game—even Rogue admitted in the post-match interview that Creator basically had it in the bag.
Combined with an earlier loss against NightMare from the RO20—where Rogue missed his window to Drone up because he was too paranoid about an all-in from his underdog opponent—it does seem like Rogue isn't on the level of someone like Serral in terms of making early/mid-game reads in ZvP (the Finnish Phenom almost never dies to all-ins, and always comes out with a good economy). So far, Creator has been great at being unpredictable with his follow-ups after taking his third base, threatening a variety of timings between the 7-8 minute mark or just faking aggression and playing out a macro game instead. Given Rogue's less-than-impenetrable defense, I could see him dropping a map or two to well-prepared timings from Creator.
On the other hand, the very fact that Creator blew a game he should have won due to a bad micro mistake is why I feel extra confident that Rogue will win this series in the end, even if he doesn't play perfectly on the day. Creator is prone to making errors when games get tense or multi-tasking heavy, and in a seven game series, I think at least one game will go to Rogue solely because of that reason. Heck, Creator even did it in his last series vs Trap, as he failed to close out with a proxy 2-Gate build because Trap's single backdoor Adept disrupted his combat micro in a key moment.
When it comes to straight-up, standard play, I have no doubt that Rogue is the superior player. Going back to their RO6 match, game three saw Creator decline to go for a timing and simply invite Rogue to a macro party on Blackburn. It was an unwise decision: despite Creator starting Phoenix production in anticipation of mass Mutas, Rogue still managed to pick Creator apart by sheer force of multitasking and overall superior mechanics.
Also, while Rogue should be concerned about how Creator might attack him early on, Creator should be much more worried about what kind of nastiness Rogue will be up to. All-ins have been a huge part of Rogue's arsenal since before he was a championship player, and they've played a huge part in several of his grand finals victories. Trap probably went into that aforementioned 2019 finals match against Rogue wondering how he was ever going to beat Zerg in one of the hardest late-game PvZ metas ever... …only to lose the first two maps against early-game Nydus all-ins. A lot of great players use their strong macro play to set up the occasional all-in—for a player like Rogue, it's often the other way around. Indeed, Rogue already started the mind-games with a little quip during his post-semis interview, saying he'd prepare a lot of "fun" builds for the match.
Well, that was a lot of words to reach what should be an obvious conclusion to almost everyone: Rogue is going to beat Creator, win the finals, and lift his fourth Code S championship trophy. Creator fans: don't be sad when it's over—be happy that the run happened. Also, be happy that you get a built-in excuse: he had to play Rogue, after all, and who actually beats Rogue in the finals?
Prediction: Rogue 4 - 1 Creator