IEM Katowice 2024: Round-of-24by Poopi
Group C & D Preview
We move on to the second half of our RO24 preview, with Serral presiding over a fierce five-way battle in Group C while a historic group of death will unfold in Group D.
The Elephant in the RoomSerral comes into the tournament as the heavy favorite to win the event, having dominated the field at the final check-up stop of Master's Coliseum 7. With victories over Solar (3-0), Maru (3-0), Reynor (4-0), and herO (5-1), it's no wonder that over 55% of TL.net readers are picking him to win the tournament.
Therefore, my question is not if Serral will finish first in his group—it's if he'll go 10-0. He's only ever achieved that perfect score once before: in 2022, the year he finally won IEM Katowice. If he shows that he's preserved his momentum from Master's Coliseum, it would be a strong indicator that he'll win IEM Katowice title #2. On the other hand, we saw last year how a weak group stage performance can be a canary in the coal mine. Before he suffered shock elimination to SHIN in the quarterfinals, Serral had already lost to DRG and Solar RO24.
I'm leaning on the side of perfection, as this may be the easiest RO24 draw Serral has received at IEM Katowice. On top of that, he won't have to deal with that ever-troublesome match-up of ZvZ (funny enough, he has a 3500 Aligulac rating in his 'weak' match-up—more than 300 points higher than the 2nd place player). Still, there will be a few landmines to navigate. ByuN is one of the best TvZ players in the world when he's on his game, and the group stage is probably where he'll play his best StarCraft. Also, Firefly has proven himself to be an upset machine in the WTL, and even took a 1-1 off of Serral himself.
In the end, these are just superficial concerns—whatever his map score, Serral is the prohibitive favorite to take first place.
The Land of Opportunity?If we pencil in Serral for first place, we're left with a remarkably entertaining battle for the other two playoff spots. At first glance, one could say ByuN is the obvious second place player, but his inconsistency in major tournaments has been a historical concern.
The Aligulac rankings of the remaining four players are remarkably close together: SKillous (#24), Astrea (#25), Kelazhur (#32), Firefly (#33). Every single cross match-up between these four players is less than 60:40 when going by Aligulac projections, making it extremely difficult to predict which one of these four will claim a RO12 spot.
In particular, the PvP three-way between Astrea, SKillous, and Firefly stands out as a total crap-shoot. Astrea and SKillous might have far more international tournament experience than Firefly, but PvP has proven to be the great equalizer throughout StarCraft history. Also, Firefly isn't totally unproven in big offline matches—he actually clutched out a 1-1 tie against Maru during the live SCBOY TeamLeague playoffs back in 2019. While that was quite a long time ago, it feels relevant nonetheless.
Doing a deep dive into everyone's PvP stats from the last three months didn't give me much more insight into the PvP apocalypse. Everyone had around a 63~65% match win-rate, and their record against strong/weak players generally affirmed what we've known about PvP all along—anyone can beat anyone (unless you're MaxPax during certain moon cycles).
Under these circumstances, stealing a map off of Serral may not just be a moral victory—it might be the difference between going out in the RO24 or making the playoffs for the very first time.
PredictionsWhile one could rightfully harbor some doubts about ByuN, he deserves credit for stabilizing his results in the lower rounds of big events. His previous Katowice group was much more difficult than this one, and he still got through with a 3-2 score. Furthermore, he managed top eight runs at both EPT Summer and Winter in 2023. So, previously entertaining the narrative that it's a true five-way battle for 2nd/3rd, I'm going to put my trust in ByuN locking up second place.
Aligulac predicts Serral and ByuN to advance comfortably, while SKillous will just barely take 3rd place over Firefly by the difference of a single map (both going 2-3 in matches). I also think third place will be decided by map score, but with a different final outcome. My prediction is for both Firefly and Astrea to finish 2-3, with Firefly getting his wins against the two Protosses while Astrea takes down SKillous and Kelazhur.
In the end, I'll take Firefly to win the tiebreaker. Hardcore fans have pointed him out as a rising star for quite a while now, and he was robbed of his overseas debut due to a visa issue at DH Atlanta. I'm going to get on the hype train and say he makes an immediate impact in his first international event.
3rd. Firefly -- Advance
6th. Kelazhur -- Eliminated
Here we have gathered arguably the best player of each race from Korea, a former Katowice champion in Reynor, and a dangerous spoiler candidate in ShoWTimE. Even the odd man out can't be overlooked, as Cyan scored huge upsets over Ryung and DRG to qualify for the tournament. With at least one championship candidate guaranteed to be out in the group stage, we're in for a wild ride.
The Big Four#1 seed Dark had a poor 2023 by his illustrious standards, failing to continue his four-year streak of winning at least one annual championship. However, by any 'normal' measure he still had very impressive results: RO8-RO2-RO4 in three seasons of Code S, and a second place finish at EPT Winter/Atlanta (only losing to the imperious Clem). His only major disappointment came at Gamers8, where he failed to make it out of the group stage.
Dark built up some pre-Katowice momentum in the recent Master's Coliseum 7 tournament, finishing top four with impressive wins over MaxPax (4-0) and Maru (4-3). Even if Dark thinks he's slowed down mechanically compared to his glory days, he is still clearly one of the best Zergs in the world. Impending military service is coming has had wildly differing effects on the motivation of various players, but perhaps Dark will be the type to go all-out for his last ride.
#2 seed Maru comes into the tournament needing to redeem himself for giving up the upset of the decade in the finals of IEM Katowice 2023. To that end, his roller-coaster 2023/24 season hasn't exactly inspired confidence.
On the positive side, he won back to back Code S championships in Season 1 and 2, reaching an unbelievable mark of seven Code S titles. However, he also crashed and burned in a number of high profile events, finishing top 12 at EPT Summer (losing 2-3 to GuMiho), top 24 in EPT Winter (losing 2-3 to herO), and being eliminated in the first round of Code S Season 3 (losses to Scarlett and Solar). While there were some extenuating circumstances—such as falling ill in Atlanta or not being prepared for the new map pool in Code S Season 3—these were still shockingly bad performances for the alleged best Terran in the world.
Maru got back on the right track during the group stages of Master's Coliseum 7, beating Clem, Serral, and Dark in BO3's. However, he had to settle for a top 6 finish after losing to Serral (0-3) and Dark (3-4) in longer series, throwing cold water on his championship aspirations at Katowice.
Between his dominant performances and questionable losses, Maru has forced his fans to get ready for any result. He has the potential to dominate and get the #1 seed, or be the first title contender eliminated in the tournament.
The third seed in the group is none other than Reynor. Just going by 2023/24 results, Reeynor feels similar to Maru headed into the event. He's had both amazing and disappointing tournament results, and his gameplay has been everywhere between dominant and inexplicable.
However, unlike Maru, Reynor has a history of stepping up in the biggest tournaments, and he proved that again by winning the $150,000 first place prize at Gamers8. He went through a Rogue-like championship hangover after that, finishing top 12 in Master's Coliseum 6, taking a backseat to Clem and Serral in EPT Europe, and getting eliminated in the top 24 of EPT Winter (albeit, he was one of the many players who caught the bug going around). However, Reynor looks to be getting back into shape at just the right time to win another huge payday.
Master's Coliseum 7 showed that his preparations were paying off as he took third place, taking wins against ByuN, Firefly, MaxPax, Dark, and herO along the way. One concerning point was that he lost both matches against Serral, and by a combined 0-6 map score at that. However, if all goes well for Reynor, that won't be a problem he has to confront until the RO4.
Finally, the fourth seed of the group is herO, whose bizarre 2023/24 campaign makes Maru and Reynor's inconsistency look trivial in comparison. Despite playing insanely well in online cups and maintaining an extremely high Aligulac rating, nearly all of his offline performances ended in disappointment. He was eliminated in the RO16 of Code S Seasons 1 and 3, while his two EPT runs ended in the top 28 and top 16. The best result he achieved was a top 8 finish in Code S Season 2, which is still a disappointment in the current GSL landscape. Gamers8 went poorly as well, as he was eliminated in the group stage with losses to Serral, Dark, and Solar in his signature PvZ match-up. All these poor results are the reason herO has such a low seed, making this group of death possible in the first place.
However, herO has undeniably been a great player in online play, and arguably remains the best Protoss in the world. He lit a beacon of hope for Protoss players in Master's Coliseum 7, finishing second place with wins against Bunny, Classic, MaxPax, Solar, Dark, and Reynor. Although he did lose 1-5 to Serral in the finals, second place to the prohibitive favorite is a result that any Protoss fan would gladly accept at the moment.
Sure, herO had a disappointing year overall. But his online skill never wavered, and he could make another deep run at Katowice if he works out whatever mental issue he's had in offline play.
The Potential TroublemakerShoWTimE is part of the EU gang scraping to claim that 4th place below the the Serral-Reynor-Clem trinity, which he successfully achieved in EPT Europe Winter by beating HeroMarine (x2) and MaxPax. Unfortunately, he has really struggled to punch-up against stronger players in BO5+ matches, which gives him a reputation as a highly consistent player (playing in his fourth straight Katowice RO24) with a fixed ceiling (only made the playoffs once).
However, he has proven he can make stronger players sweat when it's a BO3, having beaten the likes of Serral (HSC) and Maru (TSL) in such settings. His only Katowice playoff run came on the back of such an upset, when he beat Zest in the 2020 group stage. While I highly doubt ShoWTimE can get the 3+ wins that will probably be necessary to advance, the top four players were surely very displeased that the #5 seed in their group was ShoWTimE. He's an upset threat against everyone in the group, making it all the more stressful for the players (and entertaining for us!).
The Sacrificial LambCyan is incredibly unlucky to be in this group, especially when you compare him to Firefly in Group C. Both players shocked SC2 fans by making it through the online qualifiers at the expense of players like Classic and Creator. But while Firefly was rewarded with a realistic chance of making the playoffs, Cyan looks dead before his matches have even started.
Cyan's best match-up is PvZ according to Aligulac, and he looked excellent in his 3-1 upset over DRG in the qualifiers. However, going up versus Dark and Reynor, he's going to struggle to make a dent. Still, if Cyan can show even a little bit of his fire from the qualifiers, perhaps he can score a few map wins that change the course of this group.
Predictions:While I haven't gone back and checked every group in history, this is probably the deadliest IEM RO24 group ever in terms of Aligulac rating. The #4 through #7 ranked players are all in this group (in order of Maru, Dark, herO, and Reynor), while ShoWTimE comes in at #18 (Cyan's #51 is the only one out of place). In such a group, is it really possible to make a better prediction than "it will be a bloodbath"? Well, I still have to try.
At the very top level, I feel like the reliability of Aligulac ratings, head-to-heads, and other statistics really break down, and the eye-test and gut feeling regain some credibility. I'll take Maru to place first place, as his BO3 group stage performances have historically been very good. Yes, he has the occasional brain fart in Code S, but by and large, he's not troubled at this phase of an event.
herO's offline woes can't go on forever, can they? Especially since that's a problem he's never had previously in his 10+ year career. With so much at stake, I'm trusting him to get over whatever was vexing him and live up to his responsibility as the Protoss hope.
That leaves me with a tough, tough choice between Reynor and Dark for the last spot. Dark had a better year if you exclude Gamers8, but why would I exclude Gamers8 when we're headed into a $500k tournament? Reynor is at his best when the stakes are the highest, and I also think he feeds off the crowd quite well. With apologies to Dark, I'm predicting his farewell tour to begin with a flat tire.
3rd. Reynor -- Advance
6th. Cyan -- Eliminated