IEM Katowice 2021 - Round of 24by GhostForGood
Also read: Europe's Big Three - Preview with Lambo - North & Latin America at IEM - Zest, the Meta Changer
Group A Preview: TY, Maru, Clem, Solar, ShoWTimE, ByuNStart time: Sunday, Feb 21 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Go out with a bang: TY eyes final world championship before military service
With the main event of IEM Katowice 2021 set to begin, the 2017 World Champion TY will be setting his sights on what could be his final World Championship-tier title before he begins his mandatory military service this coming summer.
Topping the EPT 2020/21 season's point ranking with 3162 points, TY is ostensibly the favorite and headliner in Group A. However, passing the RO24 test won’t be a walk in the park for 26-year-old TY. Given his inconsistency in tournaments outside the Code S—failing to even qualify for the recent 2021 GSL Super Tournament 1—it’s tough to predict how he'll fare when he faces off against groupmates Maru, Clem, Solar, ShoWTimE, and ByuN.
Still, TY's fans might be feeling confident as far as the Terran side of Group A is concerned, since TY has historically thrived in the Terran mirror. Of course, TY will still have to keep his guard up: enter another legendary Terran in Maru, the player with the second most EPT points in the group, and perhaps TY’s biggest threat in the group stage.
2020 was a mixed bag of results for Maru. Although he did manage to win two Liquipedia premier-tier competitions in King of Battles and Super Tournament 1 (2020), as well as take second place in Code S Season 3, it’s fair to say that his consistency has been lacking. His play in two DreamHack Season Finals was disappointing, especially in the Winter Finals where he failed to even win a single group stage match. Even in the prior Summer Finals, Maru seemed far off the mark, getting dismantled by Finnish Serral in one of the most anti-climatic matches in recent memory. This certainly isn't the Maru from the glory days of 2018, when he became the WESG champion and won all three Code S tournaments on the year.
King of Battles and the Super Tournament can't compete with world championship-tier events, and it appears that Maru’s greatest achievement from last year (if falling short of titles can be considered a ‘great’ result for such an accomplished player) was actually in IEM Katowice 2020. Maru displayed some serious skill to march his way through the event, reaching the semifinals before falling short only to the eventual champion Rogue in a nail-bitingly close ZvT battle. However, what's more relevant right now might be his vicious TvT play in the group stages. Maru showcased a series of ruthless TvT builds against INnoVation in a battle for the top spot in Group C, which highlighted his skills as an aggressive and versatile player. An early Reaper/Cyclone/Tank push into INnoVation’s natural secured victory for Maru in game one, while a remarkable recovery from a failed proxy 2 Rax Reaper rush led him to victory in game three.
Bringing the focus back to Maru’s specific match-up with TY, Maru is still a fearsome TvT opponent for the AfreecaTV Terran to face. TY and Maru have famously clashed in two memorable Code S finals, splitting the championships 1-1. Back in Season 3 of 2018, Maru took a 4-3 victory over TY to win his third straight Code S title, with TY coming closer than any other player to ending Maru's streak. In 2020's Season 3, TY paid Maru back by defeating him 4-2, though the content of the games still showed the two Terrans to be extremely evenly matched.
As a part of his IEM Katowice quest, Maru is more than capable of adding another BO3+ win against TY that will help bring their head-to-head record closer to dead even.
The third Terran in the group is none other than Team Liquid’s 18-year-old star Clem. As France’s sole SC2 competitor at IEM who even has a song dedicated to him by French esports channel O'Gaming, there's certainly a lot of external pressure on Clem's shoulders as he heads into the tournament. Clem's outing at IEM 2020 Katowice was disastrous, as he failed to qualify for the RO24 after losing to both Hurricane and Nice. However, Clem proved throughout the remainder of the 2020/21 season that he is a growing force to be reckoned with, winning the Winter regional in Europe and reaching the semifinals of four major international events. Most recently, he put up a gallant effort against top Protoss Trap in the semifinals of DH Masters: Last Chance, falling short in a 1-3 loss. Without a doubt, there's a very bright future ahead of this young SC2 professional.
Although Clem's TvT is statistically excellent (whether measured by Aligulac.com rating or by win-rate, the French Terran has had some TvT struggles in major events. As TheOneAboveU noted in a recent TL.net preview, Clem suffered a high-profile loss to new teammate uThermal in TSL5, and was booted from King of Battles and TSL6 by Maru and ByuN, respectively. Group A boasts three of SC2’s absolute best TvT players in Maru, TY, and ByuN, so it will be fascinating to see how well Clem has prepared for the Terran mirror ahead of IEM.
It's worth noting that Clem may have turned a corner in recent months. For example, Clem took a group stage victory over Maru in the recent DH Masters Winter: Finals, destroying him with clever auto-turret and bio/mech play in a match-up that lasted less than 25 minutes. He also managed to defeat ByuN 3-0 in the WardiTV 2021 main event—even if a smaller scale event can't replicate the intense pressure of IEM, it's a positive sign. In terms of head-to-head results, all three Korean Terrans are currently just narrowly ahead of Clem. If Clem's prodigious improvement from 2020 has continued into 2021, then he might even things up by the time Group A is finished. In any case, Clem vs all three Terrans should be must-watch matches!
Next up is the sole Zerg addition to the group, Solar. The South Korean ZvZ expert has struggled to perform well in premier events of late—in fact, to find Solar’s latest top four finish, we have to rewind to March last year: 2020 GSL Super Tournament 1. Solar displayed some impressive play in the tournament to reach the semi-finals, albeit being completely dominated by Maru in the semifinals.
If we wind the clock back one month more from then, we can reflect on Solar's performance in the last IEM Katowice. Solar played well to advance from the group stages, overcoming Elazer, Patience, and Trap. However, he also lost to Maru and INnoVation, revealing his relative weakness in ZvT and struggles against top title contenders in general. This could prove to be a problem for Solar, as four of the world’s strongest Terrans are in this group. That being said, Solar could prove to be a surprisingly difficult hurdle for TY, depending on your point of view. Solar has a fairly even head-to-head record against TY, and even handed him a 3-0 defeat at IEM Katowice 2019.
If the KaiZi Gaming Zerg is to advance, it will be crucial for him to defeat sole Protoss ShoWTimE. Solar showcased relatively solid ZvP during the 2020/21 season, and managed to look strong in close defeats against Trap—who's arguably the best Protoss in the world—in DH: Last Chance and Super Tournament 2 (2020). If Solar can clinch victory against ShoWTimE and score an upset against one of the Terrans, he has an outsider's chance of advancing.
While ShoWTimE might seem like an underdog in this group, he shouldn't be written off in the playoff race. As a player who showcases his best play in straight macro games, ShoWTimE can command a complex, late-game Protoss army to victory against even the most successful Terrans. A perfect example of this was ShowTimE’s epic match-up against TY in TeamLiquid StarLeague 6. TY decided to play longer macro games against ShoWTimE, and the German Protoss was more than happy to overpower TY with his late-game armies. However, if pressed hard from the onset of a match, ShoWTimE might prove to be vulnerable. In a world championship event, it's unlikely that the clever Terran strategists in this group will allow ShoWTimE to build up the ultimate Protoss deathball of units.
Entering from the Ro36 as the sixth and final player in Group A is none other than the people’s favorite ByuN. The Shopify Rebellion Terran has made for much conversation in the SC2 world of late, due to his dream-like performances at the ASUS ROG Online, TSL6 and DH: Last Chance events—all after returning from mandatory military service last August. As a result, ByuN gained much hype heading into IEM 2021, looking like one of the clear favourites to pass through the Ro36.
Interestingly, the play-in stage proved to be rocky going for ByuN, as he dropped his first match-up against Dream—a player ByuN had won five straight TvT's against. ByuN also struggled through his lower bracket TvZ with fellow South Korean DongRaeGu, narrowly turtling his way to a 2-1 win against the Zerg to keep his hopes alive of qualifying into the Ro24. Apparently, ailing wrists weren't the only health-related issue for ByuN, with an upset stomach purportedly being part of the problem with his play.
Despite the slow start, things did eventually start to look up for ByuN. After a good night’s sleep and careful decision not to eat before his day two matches, ByuN took a tight victory over Hurricane and then faced sOs in a Bo5 decider match for a ticket to the group stage. Perhaps taking solace in the fact that his opponent had entered the lower bracket after a loss to fellow Terran Dream, ByuN looked to be full of confidence as he battled against the Protoss. ByuN took a hint from sO's games against Dream and decided to opt for longer games, trying to slowly whittle down his opponent, piece by Protoss piece. And ByuN did this to great effect, ending sOs’s RO24 prospects with a convincing 3-1 win.
So how will the ByuN perform in what is looking like the toughest group in the Ro24 of IEM Katowice? That’s a tough one. Although ByuN can boast recent wins against most of his Group A rivals (except against TY, who beat him 2-0 in a recent IntoTheAlphaX Pro Circuit match), he is increasingly becoming a tough player to predict. If ByuN can replicate his incredible TvT and TvZ from TSL6—in which he notably defeated Clem, Cure, Rogue and Elazer to finish in 3rd— and the 2020 ASUS ROG Online event, anything is truly possible for ByuN in Group A.
With the sixth and final Group A ticket now claimed by ByuN, it is certainly hard to predict TY’s future in the event. True, TY’s mastery in TvT should see him through to the Ro12, but how will he fare towards the latter stages of the prestigious competition? On one hand, his incredible EPT ranking does give him a serious claim for the IEM Katowice 2021 title. However, on the other hand, there are likely to be even more dangerous opponents ahead, with players like Trap and Serral both having strong head-to-head records against TY.
That being said, don’t write TY off just yet. Sure, overcoming the seemingly unstoppable Protoss or Finnish Phenom will be no easy feat, but a determined TY will surely unveil his best strategies and most cunning all-ins over the next week to try and go out with a bang. Remember, this is the Terran who has proved time and time again that he is capable of winning big. He's a former IEM World Champion and WESG champion, and he completely dominated 2020's Code S Season 1 and Season 3 tournaments. His status as a world-class StarCraft 2 competitor shouldn't be questioned.
Good luck TY! Whatever the outcome, StarCraft 2 salutes you!