Code S Semifinal #1 Preview - Neeb vs TYby Mizenhauer
Start time: Wednesday, Sep 05 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Reaching the round of 4 in Code S is an incredible feat. It's the realm of the truly elite, an arena in which heroes such as Stats, INnoVation, soO and Dark do battle. The unworthy are so ruthless weeded out that the lineup can become repetitious—three members of last season’s Ro4 have returned for another shot at becoming Code S champion. TY, Zest and Maru have been here before and have proved they have the skills to advance beyond it. Counted among the best of StarCraft II, they are players befitting the grandeur of the GSL Ro4. They are champions of some of the biggest tournaments in the world, while Zest and Maru are champions of GSL Code S itself.
There is an intruder in their midst. Neeb participating in the first GSL Code S of his career, finds himself challenging players with dozens of seasons of combined experience. He's also a foreigner, the first we've seen reach the Code S semifinals since January of 2011. He isn’t what we envision when we think of a typical Code S semifinalist, but here he is, with a puncher's chance of making the impossible possible.
Neeb came to our attention in dramatic fashion, shattering the Korean hegemony at the 2016 KeSPA Cup. His subsequent conquering of the 2017 WCS Circuit had fans thinking he was a serious challenger to the Koreans heading into the WCS Global Finals. There, he ended up having a mixed but ultimately disappointing performance: he won one of the most impressive single games of the tournament against Rogue, but was nonetheless eliminated from the group stages by Rogue in a rematch.
It’s been a rocky path for Neeb ever since. We assumed that his WCS Circuit dominance would continue in 2018, but instead he has been totally usurped by Serral. In a way, Neeb has been lucky—Serral's undisputed reign has overshadowed every other storyline in the foreign scene, including Neeb's string of underwhelming performances. At WCS Leipzig, he was defeated in the semifinals by ShoWTimE—a player he had a 3-0 head-to-head advantage against in offline events. Neeb was then stunned by MaNa at WCS Austin, and then lost again to ShoWTimE in the Ro8 of WCS Valencia.
To say we expected more from Neeb would be an understatement. We pictured dominance, another three titles, and a chance to absolve his shortcomings at BlizzCon heading into 2018. Instead he’s dropped the ball over and over, stumbling in ways he hasn’t since the early days of LotV. He hasn't even been able to deliver us a dream-match against Serral in WCS (Serral did sweep Neeb in a largely forgotten Ro8 meeting) at WESG). A best-of-seven in the most high pressure environment would settle, once and for all, who reigns supreme in the foreign scene. The blame rests solely at Neeb’s feet—he simply hasn’t been good enough.
And yet, in another way, this year has been a wild success for the American Protoss. He's balanced out his Circuit woes with triumphs against Korean opponents that would be considered historic if not for Serral. Neeb was unable to escape the group stage at Katowice and lost the only match he played against a Korean at WESG, but his performance at the Hangzhou StarCraft Carnival echoed his shocking victory in the KeSPA Cup nearly two years ago.
He tripped out of the starting block, losing to INnoVation, but caught his stride in the playoffs where he beat Rogue and herO to lift the championship trophy. Liquipedia may not have conferred 'premiere' status to the tournament, but it was a significant accomplishment for Neeb this year. Contentious as the result may be given the setting, the format of the tournament, and the form of his opponents, it can’t be denied that many of those who vehemently diminish the validity of Neeb’s victory also gave him no chance to win in the first place. It’s an eerily similar situation to the KeSPA Cup, where Neeb left our jaws on the floor, even as he boarded the plane, trophy in hand.
Neeb defeated Rogue and herO en route to the $30,000 1st place prize at Hangzhou StarCraft Carnival
The Neeb paradox has reached its peak in GSL Code S. When Neeb first tried to qualify for Code S in Season 3 of 2017, his hopes were dashed by the lowly Hurricane. To think that Neeb would be left on the sidelines while NoRegret made his first Code S appearance was unthinkable, but sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
Neeb bided his time, waiting for Season 3 of this year to move back to Korea for another go. This time he managed to break through to Code S, only to earn a group that included foreigner killer Dark for his troubles. Finishing second place in that group was only mildly surprising and, with the benefit of hindsight, later victories over Impact and Reynor in the round of 16 were expected. Yes, he’d advanced twice, but the real tests were yet to come. A match against Rogue loomed, surely that would be the end of Neeb’s run. That was the precise moment when Neeb decided to flip StarCraft II on its head.
Those who believe in curses would point towards Rogue’s 0-8 record in Code S semifinals, but the fact is that Neeb thoroughly outplayed the twice crowned world champion. He brought a better game plan and executed it to a T. The victory put Neeb in rarefied air. Seven years have passed since Jinro reached the semifinals in the first Code S of 2011, but here we are, watching a foreigner come within two steps of claiming the most fiercely contested trophy in StarCraft II.
TY defended the GSL's honor against Neeb in the 2017 edition of GSL vs. The World
If Neeb is intruding and defying expectations, then TY is in his element and intent on rectifying past mistakes. He made it this far last season but lost to Zest in a full, seven game series. It’s been slow going since then. Four straight quarterfinal exits in Code S meant that he never got within shouting distance of the finals. He blew a 2-1 lead against Dear, got reverse swept by soO and GuMiho and was embarrassed by Dark. His failure to navigate the Round of 16 in the first season of 2018, as well as his Round of 8 exit in the IEM World Championship, cast TY in a critical light. No one could deny the validity of his championships at WESG and IEM Katowice in 2017 (after all, what progamer wouldn't try their best to win a $100,000+ first place prize?), but one could rightfully question if he had what it took to win Korea's most precious title.
It wasn’t really surprising when TY beat GuMiho last season to advance to the semifinals. Maru had been singing TY’s praises for some time and popular opinion actually fancied TY to defeat Zest. That result would have set up a true crowd-pleaser: a showdown between the two best Terrans with everything on the line. Zest had other ideas. The semifinal was a sloppy affair, with short games full of proxied buildings, hidden bases, absurd builds and ceaseless aggression. It was very much a modern PvT. And, while it was not the refined, macro-oriented StarCraft some fans may favor, it was an exciting set in which the players were evenly matched. The margin of error was so thin that it may have come down to a single, well placed stasis ward that decided the outcome. Ultimately Zest advanced, only to be ground into dust by Maru in what could hardly be described as a competitive match. TY was left at home, shaking his head, wondering what might have been.
Disappointment is an essential part of all competition, and while TY had plenty of reasons to be discouraged, he has bounced back admirably since losing to Zest. He’s seen great success in online events and ran over Stats and sOs in the round of 16 just a few weeks ago, proving that whatever TvP woes he might have once had have been dispelled. The authoritative manner in which he made quick work of an ailing Leenock could be attributed to his opponent’s health issues, but the fact of the matter was that TY appeared a cut above.
TY now enters the semifinals cast as the favorite, but bears an unfair burden of expectations. Should Neeb emerge victorious, the storyline will be as much about TY’s failure as it will be Neeb’s triumph. Should TY win, everyone’s focus will immediately shift back to Maru. It’s an unforgiving situation, but that's TY's fault. He’s been viewed as one of the best players in the game for quite some time, yet his lack of Code S success still haunts him. He may have won enough money to make him a one-percenter in StarCraft II, but what progamer starts their career with wealth as their primary goal? Undeniably talented, and possessing a virtually unmatched sense of strategy, TY has fallen short in the pursuit of competitive glory in Code S.
Then wouldn’t this be the perfect moment to buck that image? Over the totality of their careers TY has been the superior player to Neeb in almost every facet of skill. Even as we dismiss TY as a choker in Code S, his victory at the IEM World Championship eclipses any of Neeb's titles thus far.
Yet, Neeb is still the first foreigner to win a StarCraft II tournament on Korean soil, while TY's blazing speed and clever tactics have not availed him in Korea. I admit a StarCraft II match shouldn't be reduced to something so simple, but as it regards TY coming through at a critical juncture: I'll believe it when I see it.
Prediction: Neeb 4 - 3 TY