Dave Oliver, Blizzard Entertainment
The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) World Championship at Katowice is one of the biggest events of the year. In addition to the huge field of players, a prestigious legacy, and a guaranteed spot at the Global Finals going to the winner, it’s the unofficial “first time” we get to see the best players from around the world duke it out this season. We’ve seen remarkable matches all week long, but now we’re entering the high-drama phase. Let’s take a look at who’s left and what we can expect as we head into the bracket stages.
The Strength of Korea
For years, there’s been a noticeable difference in skill between players from Korea and pros from the rest of the world, but 2018 has already shown us that the gap may be narrowing. With Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn tearing up the competition at IEM PyeongChang and the Global StarCraft II League (GSL) and players like Alex “Neeb” Sunderhaft, Juan Carlos “SpeCial” Tena Lopez, and Mikolaj “Elazer” Ogonowski doing so well at last year’s WCS Global Finals, foreign talent is catching up.
While the brackets are shaping up to be heavy on Korean players, there are some incredibly strong foreign competitors to watch. Neeb and Elazer are still strong contenders to make it out of their Round of 24 groups, and Joona “Serral” Sotala could very well leverage his Zerg versus Zerg prowess into a first- or second-place finish in his group.
TY’s Repeat Performance?
Last year, Jun “TY” Tae Yang pulled off an incredible victory over Kim “Stats” Dae Yeob at this very same event. The different between TY’s performance last year and this year, however, is staggering. In 2017, he narrowly made it out of his groups and struggled through the brackets, going to an ace match in the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. This year, he’s on another level. TY placed first in his group, winning all five of his matches while only dropping a total of two maps. If this level of skill is any indication of his performance for the rest of the tournament, we could see TY go for back-to-back IEM World Championship wins.
The Potential of uThermal
While Korean players tend to get the bulk of the attention at these global events, one of the best performances so far has been from Marc “uThermal” Schlappi. While he narrowly fell from his group and was eliminated by just one map loss too many, he treated us to quite a show. As Jared “PiG” Krensel put it in an interview before the event, “Team Liquid’s uThermal is a player who isn’t really an underdog, but someone who’s been downplaying his own skill for a while whilst posting a steadily increasing streak of impressive online results. He’s been practicing hard in Korea for the last month and may surprise a lot of fans with his new skills.” He very much did, and if he can take down star players like Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung in convincing fashion like he did in the group stage, he has the potential to be a dominant force for the remainder of 2018.
IEM Katowice is the highlight event of early 2018, and the games we’ve seen so far have more than lived up to the hype. But it’s not over yet, and the best is yet to come. Make sure to tune in all weekend as the top players in the world seek the coveted IEM Katowice trophy and the first guaranteed seed in the Global Finals later this year.