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Serral wins IEM Katowice 2024

Date:

by Wax

After IEM Katowice 2023 delivered the most miraculous tournament run in StarCraft II history, the 2024 edition of the competition gave us the most dominant championship performance ever. Serral lifted his second Katowice trophy on the back of a truly monstrous display: 8-0 in matches, 20-1 in combined map score, and a brutal 4-0 sweep of Maru to end it all.

The only comparable runs in tournaments of similar stature were attained by Mvp in Code S January 2011 (16-1) and Nestea in Code S July 2011 (14-0), but neither event came close to the $150,000 first place prize of IEM Katowice 2024.

For a player who had entered as the prohibitive championship favorite—predicted to win by nearly 60% of TL.net poll respondents and receiving close to 3-to-1 odds to win on betting sites—Serral somehow surpassed such expectations with his display of destruction. The Finnish Phenom himself seemed to acknowledge that it was his magnum opus in his post-finals interview, remarking “I think I gave this one my everything… …this was my full performance. I don’t think I can do much better.”

Even though IEM Katowice lost its official “world championship” status in 2024 (that title being passed onto the Esports World Cup), its profound legacy and $500,000 prize pool surely imparted it with the prestige of a world championship. Thus, the victory gave Serral his third world championship-tier title overall—WCS/BlizzCon 2018, IEM Katowice 2022, and IEM Katowice 2024—tying him with Rogue and sOs for the most in SC2 history.

In the eyes of this writer, at least, that accomplishment is enough to push Serral from being one of the greatest, to being simply THE greatest player of all time. If we measured players solely by their auras—the reverence voiced by their peers and the fear felt by opposing fans—then Serral would have long ago locked up that title. However, I believe world championships are the truest measure of a player—after all, even if pros appreciate the respect of their peers and the adoration of the fans, ultimately it’s the trophies that bring them to tears.

Thus, by now having three of StarCraft II’s greatest prizes in hand, and having been the most daunting presence in the competitive scene from 2018 to 2024, I believe the title of “GOAT” is now Serral’s undisputed honor.

Although Serral hardly needed any extra luck in the tournament, he began his run with a fortunate draw into Group C—considered the easiest of the RO24 groups. He summarily dispatched all five of his group opponents with a perfect 10-0 record—the same way he began his championship run at IEM Katowice 2022. Of the Group C players, SKillous came closest to handing Serral a map loss, but couldn’t capitalize on a successful Dark Templar opener that caught Serral off-guard (one of the few times Serral was fooled in the entire tournament).

Luck was definitely not on Serral’s side in the playoffs, as he would end up facing a thorny gauntlet of Clem, Dark, and Maru. The RO8 match against Clem may actually have been the most challenging on paper. Despite Serral winning the majority of their head-to-head matches in 2022-23, Clem seemed to have turned a corner by winning their most recent clashes at EPT Winter/Atlanta (3-1) and in the World Team League playoffs (2-0). However, Serral showed those losses were just a momentary blip, and held off the Liquid Terran’s infamous mid-game infantry pressure to take late-game victories.

The RO4 match against Dark presented an entirely different type of challenge. Throughout all of Serral’s periods of dominance since 2018, Zerg vs Zerg always loomed as a threat due to the innate chaos of the match-up. Serral’s runs at the two previous $500k-tier tournaments had ended at the hands of a Zerg—a 0-3 loss to Solar at Gamers8, and a 2-3 defeat against SHIN at Katowice 2023. Indeed, as Dark’s early-game Zergling-Baneling attack forced Serral to type out his first GG of the tournament, such moments came readily to mind. However, that turned out to be just a momentary speed bump, as Serral resumed his red-hot streak by torching Dark in the following three games. Game three on Equilibrium stood out as an example of how Serral was exquisitely prepared for the tournament, executing a fast Lair strategy from a fast gold-base start thanks to his meticulous defensive building placement.

The grand finale was a best-of-seven showdown against Maru, a player who had been Serral’s top rival since 2018—at least in terms of narrative. In reality, the two icons of Legacy of the Void had rarely faced each other in high-stakes tournaments, and the victories had almost always gone to Serral—including in a 3-1 romp on his way to the IEM Katowice 2022 title.

Game one of the finals saw Serral continue his trend of beating up on the ONSYDE/Vitality Terran, as he swallowed up the expansions of Hecate and overwhelmed Maru with superior resources. The spacious map of Radhuset Station portended a similar result in game two, but Serral was forced into a much more difficult fight due to a legendary defensive effort from Maru. Despite giving up a 7 to 9 expansion split and allowing Serral to accumulate a 10,000+ resource bank advantage in the mid-game, Maru somehow clawed his way back to even footing after a 40-minute war of attrition. However, Serral was just slightly more composed at the very end, executing one final Brood Lord-Infestor tech switch to clinch the victory.

Following such a grueling bout, Serral changed the tempo of the series with a fast Roach-Ravager-Zergling attack on Hard Lead. Maru was caught off-guard by the attack while going for a greedy opener, and was forced to surrender in less than seven minutes.

Maru decided to bet his survival on mech in game four, and for a while, it seemed like the gambit might stave off defeat for one more map. His early/mid-game pressure with Cyclones kept Serral pinned back on Alcyone, giving himself the breathing room to take expansions and gain a healthy worker lead. However, as in so many matches throughout Serral’s career, run-by’s were the saving grace in a difficult situation. First, a group of Banelings equalized the worker count, and then, a series of Zergling raids severely hampered Maru’s attempts to get a Tank-push going. What started as a push from a strong position gradually turned into a desperate all-in, which Serral had no problem putting down. With his economy devastated and Tanks overrun by Ravagers, Banelings, and Zergligs, Maru typed out the GG that gave Serral his second IEM Katowice title.

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Odds and Ends: Early Upsets into an Inevitable Conclusion

Although Katowice 2024 will be remembered for Serral’s dominant, almost inevitable, championship run, it actually began with a number of surprises in the RO24 group stage.

HeroMarine, who seemed to take a step back in 2023, passed Solar and GuMiho to take first place in Group A with a 5-0 record (his 10-1 map score was second best to Serral). Group B also gave us a surprise winner, with SHIN beating out Cure, Clem, and defending champion Oliveira to top the group table. While SHIN had certainly proven his quality by finishing top four at IEM Katowice 2023, his poor EPT 2023/24 season had led to a downward forecast ahead of this year’s event.

As for Group D, the group of death, Reynor was the unlucky title contender to be eliminated in the RO24 (one of Maru, herO, Dark, and Reynor were guaranteed to be knocked out). However, that wasn’t the biggest surprise of the group—that was Cyan taking a crazy 2-1 upset over Maru in the opening match, giving Maru an elimination scare early on (VOD).

Overall, the group stages featured solid, respectable showings from players making their debuts. trigger went 1-4, defeating the more seasoned Spirit to take fifth place in Group A—probably higher than most expectations. WTL cult hero Firefly acquitted himself well in his first ever event outside of China, going 2-3 in Group C with wins against SKillous and Kelazhur. And, even though SKillous didn’t technically ‘debut’ in the event, he made the most of his first RO24 appearance and advanced to the RO12.

However, from the RO12 playoffs on, the results were rather straight-forward with the favorite winning in nearly every instance. Unfortunately for Protoss fans, one of the few upsets occurred in the RO12 match of herO vs Cure, with the DPG Protoss suffering a narrow 2-3 loss despite being a slight favorite according to Aligulac. Combined with other factors such as Classic and Creator being eliminated in the qualifiers, and ShoWTimE being drawn into the group of death (and some would say balance played a part as well), this resulted in the third ever IEM Katowice RO8 where one race was entirely shut out (no Protosses in IEM Katowice 2022, no Terrans in IEM Katowice 2019).

The top four players of Serral, Maru, Cure, and Dark all earned spots at the upcoming Esports World Cup (Serral’s duplicate seed will rolling over to another player), the site of the new EPT World Championship for SC2. The EWC was alluded to several times over the course of the broadcast—ESL’s willingness to dilute attention from an event as prestigious at Katowice leads one to suspect that EWC will deliver on its promise of “the largest prize pool StarCraft has ever seen” in a significant way.

Recommended Games

For pure entertainment value, these two, hyper-chaotic Terran vs Terran games from the group stage were the best games of the tournament.
When taking out-of-game context such as playoff round, stakes, drama, etc. into consideration, the following series are recommended:


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