Code S Quarterfinals - Day OneStart time: Wednesday, Aug 29 4:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
The time for second chances is over as Code S moves on from the group stages to the single elimination playoffs. We begin with the lower half of the bracket as Maru is away in Indonesia for StarCraft II exhibition at the 2018 Asian Games.
Quarterfinal #1: Neeb vs Rogueby Mizenhauer
Neeb and Rogue’s clash at the 2017 WCS Global Finals was quite possibly the most anticipated match-up of the group stages. Neeb had dominated the WCS Circuit by winning three out of four events and had nothing left to prove against non-Korean opponents. Rogue—a last-chance Global Finals entrant with back-to-back wins at IEM Shanghai and GSL Super Tournament #2—was the hottest player entering the tournament
Neeb ended up quenching Rogue's hot streak in a late-game slog on Mech Depot, where he proved that even the Jin Air Zerg's famous patience had its limits. It was validation for Neeb's supplicants who had long argued that he would find success against Koreans as well. Not only had he gone toe-to-toe with the best Zerg in the world, but he had upstaged Rogue in his element. Buoyed by his victory over Rogue, Neeb was in the driver’s seat after the first day of the group stages, but his story didn’t have a happy ending. It turned out he hadn't extinguished Rogue's flame—he had merely tempered his steel. Rogue easily dispatched Neeb in the group's decider match, leaving Neeb to wonder “what if” as Rogue went on to claim the title of BlizzCon champion.
It’s fair to say both players have experienced their fair share of ups and downs in the ten months that followed. Though Rogue reaffirmed his class by winning IEM Katowice, he’s otherwise struggled to live up to his title-contender billing. Here's his list of GSL finishes this year: Ro32 (Code S S1), Ro16 (Super Tournament #1), Ro8 (Code S S2), Ro16 (GSL vs. The World). This isn’t the Rogue that shocked and awed us last year.
Or is it?
The fact is that Rogue’s trajectory this year is uncannily similar to that of his in 2017. He reached two Code S quarterfinals that year as well. His poor play in SSL Challenge mirrors his dismal efforts in non-Code S Korean tournaments in 2018. For the most part, this is the same, maddeningly inconsistent Rogue: impotent one day, imperious champion the next.
Neeb’s 2018 has been nothing like his astonishing 2017. At a glance it would be a simple matter to say Serral forcibly usurped the foreigner throne, but the unquestionable reality is that Neeb simply hasn’t been good enough to contest the Finnish Zerg. It hasn’t been Serral who’s sent him crashing out of tournaments. Neeb has been ousted by MaNa once and ShoWTimE twice. He’s never come within shouting distance of the recently crowned GSL vs. the World champion. Neeb has still been good enough to virtually guarantee his spot at the Global Finals, but he’s no longer the titan who dismissively cast aside all competition en route to a WCS Circuit triple crown.
Neeb has had no choice but to grow familiar with being the underdog. On the WCS Circuit he's been just another member of the pack gazing up at Serral, and in this season of Code S he’s been looked upon as third fiddle in both groups he’s played in. Now, here he is, walking into a best of five against the same Korean Zerg that sent him packing at BlizzCon last year. Neeb entered that tournament at the peak of his powers and it still wasn’t enough. How could this diminished version topple Rogue who, if it weren’t for Maru, may have become a Code S champion? (And what does one make of Neeb's 3-2 victory over Rogue at the Hangzhou StarCraft festival?)
This isn’t the rematch we imagined after their BlizzCon showdown. Rogue had to be considered the favorite to win the first GSL of 2018, while there was no reason to believe Neeb would allow the foreign scene to slip from beneath his boot. And yet, here they are, diminished and humbled, looking up at others rather than surveying their domain. Code S can’t be won in the Round of 8, but a victory here would bring Neeb and Rogue ever closer to a crowning moment that would absolve their shortcomings in 2018.
Editor's note: Mizenhauer declined to make a prediction so I'm making one in his place:
Rogue 3 - 1 Neeb
Quarterfinal #2: Leenock vs TYby Malafice
This Ro32 matchup pits Leenock against… Wait, this is the Ro8? Leenock is still in the tournament?
Ahem… This Ro8 matchup features the perennial championship contender TY and the GSL gatekeeper Leenock. Considering their achievements in Legacy of the Void, even the most junior of TL writers could predict this match to be a one sided stomp in TY’s favor. However, Leenock’s recent GSL showings have continued to delight viewers and defy expectations. With TY looking formidable as ever, the real question here is just how good is Leenock?
As hinted at earlier, this is Leenock’s first trip to a Code S Ro8 since November of 2012. Leenock was one of the best Zergs in the world during Wings of Liberty, but he's spent the lengthier portion of his career mired in mediocrity. As a result, little more than the occasional Ro16 appearance has been expected of him.
Leenock looked like he was headed to another early exit after beginning the season in a Ro32 group with tournament favorite Maru. Leenock's fate seemed all but sealed, but a miracle occurred. The Godnock reemerged from his ancient slumber and descended upon the unsuspecting mortals of the GSL. The Godnock smote down his foes with unrelenting fury on his way to the Ro8, even pummeling Maru in a late game ZvT. Sure, Leenock ended up losing the series 1-2 to Maru, but the sheer quality of Leenock's play in that match left StarCraft II fans bristling with excitement. Leenock showed he was capable of top tier ZvT akin to the likes of Rogue and Dark. He will certainly need it if he wants to take down one of the Four Horsemen of Terran in a Bo5.
For TY, a GSL Ro8 appearance is business as usual. What’s odd for the Terran titan is the fact that he’s failed to bring home any premier tournament victories in 2018. However, nearly everyone in the StarCraft II scene will attest to the fact that TY is still in top form. Even Maru seemed wary of facing TY during the Ro16 Group Nominations, where TY remained unselected until the final round.
Taking a page out of Maru’s book, TY made quick work of both Protoss powerhouses, sOs and Stats, in the proxy-fest that was Group D of the Ro16. While TY most certainly has his eyes set on the GSL S3 finals, he would be foolish to look past the lowly Leenock.
Any other year, any other season, any other tournament, TY would be the undisputed favorite against Leenock. But not this time. Maybe this writer has been listening to too many Artosis casts, but Leenock has a real shot here against TY. Leenock proved he can go toe-to-toe with the best in a late game ZvT, and he isn’t afraid to get aggressive early either. That being said, TY’s reputation as one of the best Terran players in the world is well-earned. His tactics are unpredictable, his mechanics are god-tier, and most importantly, he wants the Code S championship that's eluded him for so long.
But Leenock wants the Code S title just as much, and he's wanted it for much longer. If the Godnock returns to pick up where he left off in 2011, this series will be a breathtaking display of exquisite ZvT. If the grizzled, old, war-torn Leenock appears instead, they might as well not even play. My faith is in the Godnock.
Prediction: Leenock 3 - 2 TY