Day four of IEM Katowice took place as a hybrid group stage/playoff day for the first time, with the RO24 wrapping up with the final round of games before moving directly onto the RO12 of the playoffs.
Round 5 (the final round) of group play brought a handful of last minute twists. Group A saw Clem felled by his Achilles' heel of TvT once more, as he missed out on a playoff spot after losing 0-2 to Cure. Oliveira (aka TIME) was the beneficiary, as he squeaked into the RO12 despite his 2-3 match record.
Oliveira wasn't the only one to profit from another's loss, as RagnaroK emerged as the unexpected #1 seed following rDark's 0-2 upset at the hands of Neeb in his final match.
The situation in Group B was far more simple, with the head-to-head matches directly deciding the final standings of the involved players. Reynor was able to lock in the #1 seed with a victory over Creator, while GuMiho held off Spirit in a 'deathmatch' for the final playoff spot.
Group C had the most potential for chaos, with both herO and Serral being in danger elimination under the right circumstances. However, the final standings ended up being what most fans would have expected: herO clinched the #1 seed, Serral survived his 1-2 start to take second place, and Solar (indirectly) beat out SpeCial for the last ticket into the playoffs.
Finally, Group D came to the most orderly end, as the three advancing players had already been decided on the previous day. Maru protected his #1 seed with a 2-0 win over Lambo, leaving ByuN and HeroMarine to play in the RO12.
After a short break to draw the playoff bracket, IEM Katowice proceeded with the round of 12 matches.
The first three matches turned out to be relatively one-sided. While GuMiho's varied openers may have won him points for creativity (including a cheeky backdoor proxy cheese on NeoHumanity), but Solar remained largely unfazed as he took a 3-1 victory in the first RO12 match. The silver lining for GuMiho fans was that he got to show off his signature mech in game two, where mass Thors gave him his only win of the series.
Coming on the heels of ByuN's 3-2 victory over Serral at HomeStory Cup XXII, the rematch at IEM Katowice seemed like it had potential to be close. In reality, that was not the case at all, as the Finnish Phenom took a clean 3-0 sweep. While ByuN's vaunted offensive strained Serral's defense at times, the defending champion never seemed to be in true danger as he prevailed with dominant macro play.
HeroMarine had scored one of the tournament's biggest upsets earlier in the group stage, surprising Maru with some well-selected build orders in TvT. However, he didn't seem to have much left in the tank for Oliveira, who won a very convincing 3-1 victory. The artist-formerly-known-as-TIME looked especially spry on the day, running Big Gabe ragged with quick and decisive army movements.
In an unexpected twist, the most one-sided match on paper delivered the most exciting bout of the RO12. Dark came into his match with Creator with a daunting 20-2 lead in head-to-head matches and an 18-match win streak leading back to 2017. However, only the first game on Ancient Cisterns delivered the expected stomp from Dark, as the series devolved into madness in a hurry.
Creator played a throwback Robo-Void Ray composition in game two on Dragon Scales, which Dark played into with a disastrous mass Overlord drop. Dark tried to keep things weird in game three with a backdoor proxy Hatchery on NeoHumanity, but that also amounted to nothing as Creator pulled off a defense that was somehow both shaky and solid at the same time.
Losing two games in a row seemed to heavily disorient Dark, as he committed multiple early-game errors in game four on Gresvan such as queueing up five Overlords at once (Dark later said he didn't even realize this) or getting a nonsensical 'safety' Spine Crawler. However, being on the brink of a historic victory unnerved Creator as well, as he committed to a bizarre delayed Glaive-Adept all-in from a strong position. Dark was able to clean up the attack and snowball his way to victory.
The final game on Royal Blood played out in the most standard fashion of all five games, and it seemed headed to a final showdown between maxed out ground armies. However, Dark pulled the trigger on a semi-basetrade when the Protoss force approached, forcing Creator to think fast as Zerglings ravaged his base. Creator decided he would take down a couple of Zerg expansions before recalling his army back, but this ended in disaster as his target Nexus was destroyed before the recall could complete. In hindsight, this may not have affected the outcome too significantly as Dark had already gained much from the basetrade, but it was a moment that highlighted how nerve-wracking the series had been for both players. Dark pillaged his way to a rare true elimination win, securing a hard fought 3-2 victory overall.
IEM Katowice will conclude on Sunday, Feb 12 11:00am GMT (GMT+00:00) with the remainder of the playoffs.