Code S Round of 8 - Matchday 1 PreviewWhat lessons have we learned from the first four months of competitive StarCraft II in 2019? That depends on your point of view. Some might say it's that Serral is no longer invulnerable, and the title of 'best in the world' is up for grabs. More sentimental fans might say it's that hard work truly does pay off, as evidenced by soO's storybook run at IEM. Hardcore viewers of the GSL know the real take away: The GSL is an entirely different beast compared to other competitions.
As we head into the first GSL playoffs the year, we notice the conspicuous absence of supposed world champions soO and INnoVation. And while they will be missed by many, few will make excuses for them. We've known for years that the GSL is a proving ground unlike any other in StarCraft II—it's an arena where it's a tremendous honor to win, and it's no great shame to lose. The eight remaining contenders, by simple virtue of having survived this far, have been proved worthy. Let's meet the first four.
Quarterfinal #1: Bunny vs Darkby Mizenhauer
Experience is a powerful asset. Having walked down a road before means one can better prepare themselves better for the trials ahead. Even nervous jitters and the anxiety of uncertainty can become familiar after enough journeys down the same path. The experienced are simply better equipped to handle whatever adversity they will inevitably encounter.
The first quarterfinal of this season’s Code S features perhaps the greatest disparity in experience we’ve seen at this stage of the tournament in recent years. In one corner towers Dark. While it’s only his third career visit to the round of 8 in Code S, Dark has been one of the most prolific players since the launch of LotV with semifinals-or-higher finishes in over 14 premier tournaments. He's strong in nearly every aspect of the game, and that goes beyond his prodigious physical gifts. He has one of the keenest killer instincts StarCraft II has ever seen, knowing exactly when to kill his opponent off. His main weakness is an ugly habit of inexplicably losing big matches, but that hasn’t stopped him from making one deep run after another. Dark is counted among one of the game's elites and perennial title contenders, even if he hasn’t converted his boundless talent into a championship since 2016.
Where Dark has battled on the biggest stages under the brightest lights, Bunny career has been largely spent toiling in anonymity. His StarCraft II debut came way back in 2013, when his team CJ Entus made the switch from Brood War. He made no headway in individual events, failing to qualify for Code S in his first three years as a progamer. He only appeared 21 times in Proleague during that period.
LotV marked the beginning of more fruitful times for Bunny, who started qualifying for Korean leagues with regularity. He wasn’t accomplishing much more than that, but it was a real sea change for someone who had been relegated to the B team of one of the more depleted rosters in Proleague. His performances in minor competitions started to catch the eye of hardcore fans, who enjoyed his aggressive, drop-or-nothing style. That might be oversimplifying his play, but having a stereotype at all proved that he had earned a modicum of relevancy in the scene.
This season marked Bunny’s third appearance in the Round of 16 in Code S, but it’s the first in which he managed to advance. In fact it’s the first in which he even notched a victory, a feat made all the more impressive given Maru’s looming presence in their group. Bunny made quick work of the three time defending champion with an aberrant performance that probably left many wondering how he failed to defeat uThermal and Scarlett at IEM Katowice.
Whether it’s cosmic forces, the comforts of home, or the lack of jet lag, Bunny looked altogether different in his return to the FreecUP studio. Dark meanwhile struggled mightily when it came his time to play, limping his way to a second place finish in a group in which many considered him the prohibitive favorite (vs herO, Cure, and Dear). If you didn’t know anything else about them, you might even peg Bunny as the better player going into their Wednesday showdown.
That’s all well and good, but the simple truth is there’s a reason Bunny has never made it this deep in Code S before. In fact, over the course of his six year career he’s only reached the quarterfinals of a premier event once, the sixteen man GSL Super Tournament 2 held last year where he was trounced 3-1 by, you guessed it, Dark. With a 9-2 lifetime record against the Team Blacer Terran, and a commanding 14 to 4 map advantage in their last six meetings there’s no reason to believe the first Code S quarterfinal of 2019 won’t be business as usual.
Quarterfinal #2: Classic vs Rogueby Wax
Classic vs Rogue is a match-up that insists on being an ultimate showdown of destiny, to the degree that you can basically hear the ominous Latin chanting in the background. But who cares that this storyline is a bit trite? It's just too delicious to pass over.
One year ago, Classic and Rogue faced off at IEM Katowice with more than just the first place prize of $150,000 on the line (but mostly $150,000). Reigning BlizzCon champion Rogue had been humiliated after suffering RO32 elimination in GSL Code S, and only another world title could clear his reputation. On the other hand, elder statesman Classic was making a late career surge, looking for one final title that he could perhaps retire upon.
What passed was one of the most brutal grand finals massacres in StarCraft II history, with Rogue taking a comprehensive four-game sweep where he won in almost every conceivable way: a Nydus cheese, a deluge of hydralisks and banelings, a grueling late-game choke-out, and one of those bizarre games where both players went all-in. If the series had been extended to a best of nine, you figure Rogue would have swatted down a two-base timing from Classic just to drive the point home: Classic got OWNED.
A year later, Classic is on yet another 'final' tour of the GSL as his mandatory military service hangs over his head. Out of nowhere, he's stumbled across something more to fight for than one last championship. He now has a chance to prove that revenge is indeed, a dish best served cold, in the—*dun dun dun*—GSL Code S round of eight. Classic's enemy might be Rogue, but Rogue faces an equally fearsome nemesis in the RO8 itself. He's never advanced past this stage of Code S in seven previous appearances, with his defeats ranging from understandable (2-3 vs god-mode Maru) to unforgivable (0-3 vs Curious). It's the one last "but" his critics can hold over his head—he's won BlizzCon and he's won IEM, but he's never won GSL Code S.
The stats say this is a match that Rogue should win. Since the beginning of the WCS 2019 cycle, Rogue has tallied an absurd 27-5 record in ZvP matches (with a 73-33 map score), while Classic stands at a mere 6-4 vs Zerg opponents (15-12 map score).
Neither player has competed a live PvZ/ZvP match since the Code S RO32, where Rogue trampled Patience with two all-ins, while Classic just barely survived TRUE's roach-ravager-queen cheeses. They've played a handful of online matches in the interim—in Rogue's case, his Olimoleague matches vs Trap and Creator reaffirmed his status as a kind of 'reverse-Dark,' in that he loves to all-in, but he'll still totally outplay you in a macro game if you give him a chance. As for Classic, he experimented with a variety of Protoss openers against Impact and DongRaeGu, though the lessons learned were less clear (maybe 'glaive-adepts are good when people forget they exist?').
The complicating factor is that this is the GSL, where careful preparation can bridge any gap in skill, form, or class. This is the stage where the smartest, most dastardly Protoss strategies are supposed to make their appearance. Yet, Rogue and Classic's previous meeting in the BlizzCon group stage (where GSL-style prep is still possible) makes you less optimistic about Classic's chances, as Rogue basically laughed off Classic's surprise disruptor-drop on his way to a 2-0 win. And, of course, there's nothing better to ruin a Protoss' well-laid plans than a well-laid Nydus in their main.
Even as I stress the importance of Protoss trickery in a GSL playoff match, it might actually be Classic's ability to read and react to Rogue's play that matters most. For an underdog, the 'easiest' win available against Rogue is to defend convincingly against one of his nydus all-ins or roach-ravager attacks. Unfortunately, Classic hasn't looked sharp enough on the offensive or defensive end of PvZ in the limited number of games we've seen, so I'm picking Rogue to advance to the semifinals.
Rogue 3 - 1 Classic