by Orlok and Wax
After a 64-player open qualifer and a 24-player group stage, we're left with just twelve players as we head into the most unforgiving phase of IEM Katowice. The playoffs are upon us, with thousands of dollars and hundreds of EPT points on the line in each single-elimination round.
Group A: Business as usual
Dear surprised many fans and experts alike by narrowly clinching the group A's RO8 spot over bigger stars like Dark and Stats. But despite eating a clean 0-2 loss to Dark, Dear made sure that was the only set he ever lost two-zip, showcasing dominating form to dismantle Has, Stats, PartinG and Special
WCS Global Champion Dark suffered a surprise 0-2 loss to PartinG's all-ins to open the group, but otherwise looked red hot as he chased the #1 seed. Ultimately, his initial loss to PartinG made a big difference, and he was forced to settle for the #2 spot in the group. Foreign Terran hope SpeCial's history of heartbreak continued at IEM, as once more he finished just below the RO12 cut-off with a 2-3 record (losing to the top three of Dear, Dark and Stats). Stream star PartinG also fell short at 2-3, ultimately wasting a strong first impression against Dark. Has came, cheesed, and didn't really conquer (he went 0-5), but at least he entertained us by pushing Stats to the verge of defeat with cheese before losing 1-2.
The most prominent story in Group B was the rise and fall of BlizzCon runner-up Reynor. After taking out ShoWTimE and Armani to jump out to an early lead in the group, he declared that he'd be favored to defeat the remaining Korean Zergs as well. Unfortunately for Reynor, he was thoroughly schooled by the veterans from Korea, suffering losses to Rogue, soO, and not-even-a-Zerg Zest. His losses to Zest and Rogue could be excused, however, as they ended up being the top two players in the group. Rogue took the #1 spot with a record of 4-1 and tournament-best 9-2 map score, while Zest also put up a 4-1 record (with a more modest 9-4 map score).
Instead of Reynor, ShoWTimE ended up being the European player who shined in the group. He followed the opposite trajectory: after losing his first two matches to Reynor and Rogue, ShoWTimE reeled off a streak of wins against Armani, Zest, and soO to qualify for the RO12 in dramatic fashion.
Rogue's performance may not have been a surprise, given his Code S win and top-eight BlizzCon finish last year. But Zest's strong showing was a welcome surprise for Protoss fans, as he bounced back from a tepid 2019 where he struggled to be more than a middling player for a few weeks at a time. On the other hand, 2019 champion soO struggled to rediscover last year's magic, and joined Reynor and Armani in the elimination zone.
Group C was the group that followed popular predictions most closely, with three Korean players advancing—two of them being the greatest Terrans of the modern era. INnoVation looked to be the favorite to advance in first place after three consecutive victories against Patience, Solar and Elazer, but his narrow loss in a TvT brawl against Maru was a turning point. Maru, after suffering an early loss to Trap, kicked things into overdrive, and notched four consecutive victories to overtake INnoVation and finish in first place.
Speaking of Trap, the Jin Air Protoss managed to both impress and disappoint. He defeated both of Group C's top finishers in INnoVation and Maru, but his strong PvT fell in heavy contrast to his weak PvZ as he lost to both Solar and Elazer. Unfortunately, Trap was unable to defeat last-place finisher Patience in his 'neutral' match-up, and was eliminated with a 2-3 record. That left Solar to claim the the third ticket out of the group, scrapping by with a 3-2 match record and 7-6 map score.
Group D turned out to be the most closely contested group of the RO24, with five players unsure of their fates headed into the final round of games. Serral looked like he might take the only 5-0 of the group stage after winning his first three matches against Lambo, sOs, and Cure, but he was struck by lightning out of nowhere—a 0-2 jolt from a roaring Hurricane. Still, the Finnish Phenom managed to survive that brief scare, defeating TY in his final match to secure a 4-1 record and first place.
Hurricane's upset against Serral wasn't just a cute underdog story—it was a vital win in a scrappy run that saw him rise from the losers' bracket of the RO76 and reach the RO12 playoffs. His wins against Serral, combined with wins against sOs and Lambo, allowed him to barely edge out TY for #3 in the group (IEM's controversial tie-breaker rules where # of total map-wins takes precedence over head-to-head came into play).
Online darling Cure got off to a solid start by defeating Lambo and Hurricane, but his IEM group began to look more like a GSL group as time went along. After losing his third match to Serral, Cure had to endure a tiring, marathon TvT against TY which ended in a painful 1-2 loss. Perhaps exhausted by that series, Cure then lost his final match to an opportunistic sOs, who was ready to snatch away the RO12 spot from his former teammate.