IEM Katowice 2021 - Round of 24by GhostForGood and Wax
The reigning IEM World Champion is finally set to make his appearance as we head into the last of the round-of-24 groups. While fans may expect Rogue to comfortably advance to the playoffs and mount a spirited title defense, the events of the last three groups have taught us you never know which stars might fall miserably short of expectations—and also who might step up and steal their spotlight.
Also read: Europe's Big Three - Preview with Lambo - North & Latin America at IEM - Zest, the Meta Changer
Group D Preview: Rogue, Stats, Cure, PartinG, Neeb, RagnaroKStart time: Thursday, Feb 25 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Headlining Group D is none other than two-time IEM Katowice champion, Rogue. At first glance, he appears to be the clear favorite ahead of the final RO24 group. In fact, after his jaw-dropping display of Zerg mastery at last year’s prestigious IEM 2020 Katowice, Rogue fans will be disappointed with anything less than total domination from the Dragon Phoenix Gaming Savage. However, in reality, things may not prove so easy for him. He 'only' won a single premier event (Code S Season 2) after IEM Katowice, and made it abundantly clear that consistency wasn't his strong suit in major SC2 tournaments throughout the year. Whether this is due to lapses in motivation, bad luck, or an actual decline in skill, it’s tough to say. Regardless, if Rogue wants to make good on his goal of becoming a three-time champion, he can’t afford to show the weaknesses he displayed at times during the 2020/21 season. Especially not in BO3's against the unpredictable players in Group D!
Making things trickier for Rogue is the Protoss-heavy draw. PvZ may have been a decent match-up for Rogue during the 2020/21 EPT season as a whole, but two of his groupmates have troubled him in recent months. Stats is 5-1 against Rogue since November, exacting brutal revenge for the 4-1 defeat Rogue dealt him in the Code S Season 2 Finals. Their lasting meeting in December's GSL Super Tournament 2 saw Stats win in a 3-0 sweep, with Rogue unable to stop Stats from assembling a deadly, Carrier-centric force. PartinG is dangerous for an entirely different reason. Rogue has largely gotten the better of PartinG over the course of the EPT 2020/21 season, but their matches in the last few months have invariably seen PartinG steal a map or two with a well-orchestrated cannon rush. That being said, let’s not forget that Rogue is capable of trickery himself, and he could hand the 'Cannon Rush King' some deflating, early-game defeats.
Another Protoss threat to Rogue's IEM Katowice campaign is Group D’s sole non-Korean representative in Neeb Neeb. As the player who became famous by travelling to South Korea and disrupting the country's status as an unstoppable, world-dominating SC2 force, Neeb should be more comfortable than most other players in his situation. In the recent DH Masters: Winter Finals competition, Neeb showed glimmers of his peak abilities by defeating Clem and Armani in the group stage, and then sweeping TY (the 1st place player in IEM Katowice's Group A) in the quarterfinals. Fans may remember that the last time Protoss was considered favored in late-game PvZ, Neeb was willing to wait for nearly an hour to extract a GG from Rogue at BlizzCon 2017. Given the current state of the PvZ meta, we might see Rogue subjected to such torment again.
Cure, one of Rogue's new teammates, is yet another player capable of pulling off ridiculous results. Being the only Terran in the group, he might benefit from more focused preparation than the other five players. Prior to the pandemic, we made a big deal about the fearsome player known as "online-Cure" and whether or not he would ever show up to a live event. This narrative has shifted somewhat, as we now ask ourselves whether or not "minor tournament Cure" will be able to prove himself on a more significant stage. Cure has been killing it in smaller cups and online competitions in the last couple of months, climbing all the way to #3 in the pre-IEM Aligulac.com rankings and taking the #1 spot in Korea. It almost makes you forget about his terrible premier tournament performance in the last three months, where he was eliminated in the RO16 of TSL6 and both Super Tournaments. Still, one needs only look at his finals run in GSL Code S Season 1 and King of Battles to see that he can, indeed, beat top players in high-stakes games. In particular, his 3-0 victory over Serral in the King of Battles quarterfinals reminded us that there's a world championship class player inside of Cure—even if he can't summon that player at will.
Rogue might be relieved with the addition of RagnaroK from the RO36 play-in bracket. Although the latter is clearly a strong, well-rounded ZvZ competitor, capable of defending against the deadliest of Nydus Worm tricks and piling on his own mass Muta harassments (as was seen in his match-up with Armani in their Ro36 qualification battle), he's hardly been a clutch competitor in big tournaments. None of the RO36 players have escaped their groups so far (putting up a collective 3-12 record), and RagnaroK is actually the worst among them in terms of both Aligulac.com ranking and EPT points (tied with Bunny). Of course, this doesn’t mean that Rogue is guaranteed a win—in terms of win-rate, he's only posted a modest 60% win-rate during the 2020/21 season.
While RagnaroK has shown a preference for macro games in ZvT, his latest two ZvP series in premier tournaments (vs Trap in TSL6 and Zest in DH: Last Chance) showed he has a taste for cheese as well. With three Protoss players in the group, RagnaroK may very well complicate someone else's playoff chances.
Prediction: Although Rogue is the apparent favourite in the group, one should be wary about predicting his direct qualification into the quarterfinals of IEM 2021. Consistency is key at this stage of the game, and that's something Rogue appears to lack (well, except his ability to consistently win world championship-tier tournaments…). The same goes for Cure, a fact Terran fans will certainly be lamenting. Stats, even if he's not quite the impenetrable bulwark he was in the past, might be the favorite to grind out a quarterfinal berth through solid play. Finally, I have a feeling that Group D is to be full of upsets—not to mention some Protoss trickery, courtesy of PartinG. With that in mind, here's the final prediction:
Stats, Rogue, PartinG to advance, Stats to take first place