2023 GSL Code S Season 2
Final Day Preview: GuMiho, Dark, Cure, MaruStart time: Thursday, Jul 27 9:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The three week journey of Code S Season 2 will come to a close on Thursday night with four former champions vying for the title.
Inevitability was the theme of the Season 1 playoffs, as a dominant Maru won a record sixth Code S championship. But the GSL legend has faltered in recent tournaments, opening the door for a new—yet old—champion to claim the GSL crown.
With a runner-up finish at ESL Masters Summer and current top four run in GSL Code S, GuMiho is playing the best StarCraft of his post-military career. In fact, this is arguably the highest his stock has been since 2017, when he won his first and only Code S championship. GuMiho's stylish play has always made him a popular player, but he's only been a legitimate championship contender during limited windows. We are now in the midst of such a wondrous and chaotic period in time.
As a long-time GuMiho fan, I'm honestly a bit surprised that he's arrived back at this point. Even before going through the hand-speed destroying ordeal of military service, he was already known as a player who made up for mediocre mechanics with clever strategies. GuMiho's singular Code S championship came during a personal peak where he pulled his mechanics up to a near-elite level while sacrificing nothing on the strategic end.
Shaking off rust has historically been a serious problem for returnees, and GuMiho was no exception when he returned in 2021. Whether it was watching him take Disruptor Novas to the face or failing to react to Baneling run-bys, it felt like the game had passed him by.
That's why GuMiho's recent tournament performances have been nothing short of a revelation. Going up against Serral—perhaps the best defensive Zerg of ALL TIME—in the finals of ESL Masters Summer, he delivered what might have been the best multitasking performance of his career on Ancient Cistern. No, he didn't have the precision micro needed to target down Banelings and extract maximum value out of every skirmish, but the sheer speed and volume of his attacks made it impossible for Serral to keep up. It took me right back to his 2017 peak, where he toppled the best players in the world with this ultra-chaotic brand of Terran.
GuMiho hasn't had a chance to rematch Serral, but he's spent the last month showing us his ESL Masters run wasn't a fluke. After beating both Solar (3-0) and Maru (3-2) in Jönköping, he came back to Korea and beat them again in their Code S RO8 group. I would hardly have given GuMiho a chance to beat them two months ago, but now he's beating them convincingly in high-stakes matches.
And yet, I'm still wary of believing this is all 100% real. In between ESL Masters and the Code S RO8, GuMiho laid an egg at HomeStory 23 by going out in the group stages with losses to Clem and Elazer. With all due respect to those two, but that's not the kind of performance you expect from a true GSL title contender. Also, GuMiho's Aligulac.com ranking is a fairly modest 13th, which suggests he's either punched way above his weight class in live events or is an exceptionally good big-match player (or are these the same thing?).
Dark's situation is also rather complicated. Just looking at his recent results on paper, you'd be justified in saying the 2019 World Champion is going through a slump. He finished top eight in his last three major events (IEM Katowice, Code S Season 1, ESL Masters Summer), which is a disappointment for someone who's considered a perennial title contender.
However, it's not the last six months of tournament results that worry me—it's his poor play in this current season of Code S. He had a rocky showing in the RO16 despite advancing in first place, as he nearly lost to SpeCial and showed Swiss cheese defense against Creator's Oracle-Adept harassment. This prompted a self-critical interview from Dark where he vowed to be better in the following round, but he didn't exactly follow through.
In the RO8, Dark very nearly dropped a map to recent military returnee TY, someone he was expected to completely crush. After a close loss to Cure in the winners' match, he proceeded to advance in second by winning the decider match against herO—the only top level player who's in a worse slump than Dark. Though it's a testament to Dark's ability that he's reached the RO4 while playing poorly, it casts serious doubt on his chances of advancing any further.
This is all made most perplexing because Dark has remained a very strong player online. He's always in the mix to win the various weekly cups, had a good WTL regular season where he put up a 16W-6L record for DKZ, and had a solid top four run in the recent AfreecaTV Champions Cup. All that has earned him the 5th place spot in the Aligulac standings, which I imagine falls in line with how most fans rate him at the moment.
As I've said many times before, online ability is a pretty good predictor of offline ability—especially for players who have already proven they don't have any offline nerves issues to deal with. However, it feels like Dark has abruptly regressed to become something like 2019 Cure—an incredible online player who inexplicably plays terribly once he's in the AfreecaTV studio.
Prediction: This match is about the sustainability of two trends. Can GuMiho, who has only won a single major championship in his career, continue this run of championship-quality play? Will Dark, who has always broken out of slumps and shown his class in the end, continue to play at a maddening low level in Code S? I can't say I know the answer.
In terms of gameplay, this isn't just an unpredictable match, it's literally NOT predictable. Dark might be known as the Roach Guy, but he mixes it up with every style of Zerg play available. Muta-Ling-Bane, Hydra-Ling-Bane, Roach-Infestor—he's liable to play all of that in the same series. Of course, he also has his repertoire of all-ins and aggressive openers, which he is incredibly good at masking and deploying at unexpected moments.
GuMiho also has one of the deepest strategic bags in StarCraft. He rarely brings out a strategy that is truly novel, but the number of known options he can deploy makes him basically unreadable. I'm going to repeat my go-to summary of GuMiho: the most predictable Battlecruiser-rusher in professional StarCraft II can only make it work because his opponent is worried about a dozen other things.
Still, readers expect a prediction out of these previews, so I'm going with my gut and saying Dark will find a way to win. Aligulac.com does favor him heavily and gives him a 78.48% chance to win, but that's only played a minor part in my prediction. Even if Dark is slumping now, we have to remember he's considered one of the most consistent players of LotV for a reason: he always comes back to championship form eventually.
Prediction: Dark 3 - 1 GuMiho
Maru is called the "End Boss" of the GSL for a reason. We could only do so much to try and hype up last season's final four before coming to the conclusion that Maru was just going to win it all. Indeed, that was what came to pass, as Maru vanquished Cure 4-2 in the grand finals to win his sixth Code S championship.
One has to wonder how Cure felt after having his incredible comeback season ended so coldly. Perhaps he was bitter for having squandered his best major tournament performance since his championship run in 2021. Or he may have felt like the viewers—that he was just the unfortunate victim of the GSL's cosmic force. Whatever the case, Cure once more finds himself facing off against his one time teammate, this time in the semifinals.
To Cure's credit, he's looking even better than he did in Season 1, like a player out to redeem himself. He's been on a rampage since his premature group stage exit at February's IEM World Championship, and his momentum didn't stop after his Code S Season 1 runner-up finish. After recovering from an arm injury that forced him to settle for top eight at ESL Summer, he reappeared in Code S Season 2 as its most dominant player. He's put up a 8W-1L map record so far—the best of any player this season—and the quality of his gameplay has matched the scoreline. He looked similarly impressive at last weekend's AfreecaTV Champions Cup 2, where he beat ShoWTimE, herO, Classic, and Dark to reach the finals. And, while he was ultimately defeated by current #1 player Serral, he definitely looked like a championship quality player. .
On the flipside, Maru is looking more mortal by the day. GuMiho condemned him to a top 12 finish at ESL Masters Summer, and then forced him to settle for a 2nd place finish in their RO8 group. And it's not just GuMiho's Viking-centric TvT that's caused Maru trouble—Cure himself took a BO3 series off of Maru in the group stages of Code S Season 1. Even though Maru has never seemed to be fully focused in mid-size online events, it's also worth noting that he suffered a group stage loss to MaxPax before being eliminated from the playoffs by Dark in the AfreecaTV Champions Cup.
Of course, Maru is still a fantastic player—being a step down from invincible is still a higher level than most players could imagine reaching. He is also the undisputed greatest player in the history of GSL Code S with six championships (no, there's no such thing as 'too much' emphasis on the six championships part), that that demands—no, requires—us to make him the favorite by default.
What is particularly interesting about the matchup between Cure and Maru is how different the stakes are for each of the Terrans. A win for Cure would be a titanic career achievement. The list of players with two or more Code S championships is shorter than you think, and a second title would put Cure on par with greats like Zest and Dark. In contrast, a win for Maru would be business as usual. Everything that has come—and will come—after he shattered Mvp's record is gratuitous. He will retire as the greatest Code S player ever, and there isn’t anyone in the world that can catch him.
Fair or not, how we remember Cure and Maru’s 2023 will hinge on a handful of matches. Cure has failed the most crucial test once, in the process adding to Maru’s unfathomably long list of achievements. There's no telling how many more chances Cure will have this year, or how long this run of good form will last. Should he want the year to be remembered as more than a series of near misses, he has to finish the job this Thursday. For Maru, it’s another day at the office for the world's best final boss.
Prediction: Even with mirror-match losses piling up, Maru is still the top TvT player in the world. On the other hand, Cure's relatively weak match-up during this current surge has been TvT, where he rates as 'just another' top Terran. This is reflected in the Aligulac.com projection, where Maru is being given a comfortable, but not unsurmountable, 69.84% chance of winning. The historical record isn't as grizzly as you might think considering the two players' vastly different career arcs, but even here Maru has a solid 14W-8L lead in lifetime series.
One thing that might work in Cure's favor this time is that they'll be meeting in a BO5 and not a BO7. That creates more room for volatility, which is ultimately what Cure is going to depend on to defeat a TvT master like Maru. Remember, Cure actually went up 2-1 against Maru in the previous Code S finals, only for Maru to rally back and win 4-2. But if it had been a BO5, being down at match point might have rattled Maru—akin to the way he was rattled to the core by Oliveira at IEM Katowice.
As mentioned above, Maru's accomplishments require us to pick him in the official prediction, but Cure has a realistic shot of taking the upset.
Match Prediction: Maru 3 - 2 Cure
Potential Finals Match-ups and Predictionsby Wax and Mizenhauer
It's hard to project how all four potential finals will go, especially since our appraisal of the players could change drastically depending on how they perform in their semifinal matches. However, here's a quick rundown of how things look at the time of writing.
GuMiho vs Cure: Cure should theoretically have the practice advantage since he'll have prepared for TvT in his first match, while GuMiho will have focused on TvZ. But realistically, GuMiho and Maru have too different styles for it to really matter. GuMiho puts a huge focus on Vikings in his TvT, and often plays them as part of a mech style. While Maru is no slouch in terms of air control, he still seems to have an affinity for the fast double-Ebay bio style that helped win him Code S Season 1.
Even so, Cure should have a slight edge in the series. He may have lost 1-3 to GuMiho at ESL Masters Summer, but he was playing with an injured arm AND the series was closer than the scoreline suggests.
GuMiho vs Maru: Will the third time be the charm for Maru? Probably yes, but there are some potential pitfalls for Maru. After losing a late-game Sky Terran war against GuMiho in the RO8, he said in his post-match interview that he couldn't accept how he lost the big fight. Well, it looked somewhat obvious to the viewer, as GuMiho had more Vikings than Battlecrusiers, and had some twenty odd SCV's repairing from below.
Who knows? Maybe there's just something about GuMiho's Viking TvT that breaks Maru's brain. Regardless, Maru will have to lose about three more major BO5+ series for us to stop auto-picking him to win in TvT.
Dark vs Cure: Cure will be licking his lips if he gets to play Dark in the finals, as he has a 6W-1L match record against him since Code S Season 1. In fact, Cure defeated Dark twice in the past week alone—in Code S RO8 and during the AfreecaTV Champions Cup 2.
A big problem for Dark in these matches was in dealing with Cure going turtle-mode. Dark may have been one of the best late-game ZvT players at a previous point in time, but right now he seems lost as to how to pierce the hyper-efficient Terran defense. Could he have totally retooled his late-game ZvT in a week's time? It's possible, but unlikely.
Dark vs Maru: On the plus side, Dark did beat Maru 2-1 in the AfreecaTV Champions Cup. On the negative side, Darks' late-game ZvT issues reemerged when Maru was able to split the map. Even if Maru can't just force turtle-mode victories like he did back in 2020 and 2021, playing a no-ban BO7 in this map pool should get him over the finish line.
Dark > GuMiho
Maru > Cure
Maru > Dark
Maru wins Code S Season 2