IEM PyeongChang (despite its quite superficial relationship with the IOC, the International Olympics Committee) truly feels like a significant step in the StarCraft II year. The opening round of GSL is over and so is WCS Leipzig, with Serral, sOs and Zest all making significant headway. With the Round of 16 of GSL and the extremely stacked IEM Katowice on the horizon, this provides us with a good taste of top foreigners against near-top Koreans, as well as a splattering of other players trying to prove themselves as worthwhile opponents in tournaments to come. To give you an overview of what to expect from all eight matches played in the first round of IEM PyeongChang, we've decided to categorize them as follows: The first tier, named "Sweep or Bust", is for series in which you may expect one player to sink the other with little effort. Series that could provide more entertainment than you would assume at first glance are labelled "Deceptively Close", and "Bite Your Nails" marks truly competitive, unpredictable series.
Sweep or Bust
Stephano vs Zest
Zest has ventured into weekend tournaments a number of times now; he's made deep runs at the past three HomeStory Cups (winning the last two) and has performed quite well at a splattering of other tournaments. He's only lost two sets of Bo3+ to foreigners all the while—3-2 vs Elazer at HSC XV and 2-1 vs Serral at IEM Katowice. Needless to say, Stephano certainly faces tough odds, but Zest has looked oddly vulnerable against Zerg in recent times, and seeing this series become entertaining wouldn't be a massive surprise for one of the best showmen in the scene. That said, Zest should be looking at a relative simple series to kick off the tournament on his home soil.
eGGz vs Serral
Serral, the reigning WCS champion, is the hottest foreigner in the world right now - the only question people have about him is if he'll win it all, or if he'll "only" make it to the semifinals. eGGz is a rising star in Latin America who's only been to one offline event before, and his only offline win has come against a similarly unknown player in DominiC. Being drawn against Serral in the first round is a particularly brutal introduction to offline StarCraft.
Demi vs PandaBearMe/SpeCial
Holy crap, Demi's at his first offline event! Considering he's been around in the scene for a few years now, it's quite surprising to see that he's never made it to one before, although he was meant to appear at an IEM in 2013. Unfortunately, visa issues stopped him in his tracks then, and he hasn't returned until now. PandaBearMe would make a formidable although doable foe, but the most likely situation is a tough match against SpeCial - similarly to eGGz, there's little chance in this one.
Elazer vs Nice
While it wasn't broadcast on stream, Elazer and Nice played a wonderfully odd set at WCS Leipzig where Nice somehow pushed the ex-champion to five games. None of his losses were competitive in the slightest, but the two wins Nice notched were in some truly befuddling games, and it'll be interesting to watch this one just for a sense of how Elazer will adapt if nothing else. With his sights surely on a second-round match against Zest, this could be one hell of a speed-bump for Elazer.
DnS vs sOs
This may seem questionable to put in this tier, as opposed to the first one, but with DnS having practiced in Korea for a while now (and improving his performances against notable Koreans while doing so), there might just be a chance for him in this. He certainly won't be favored—sOs is one of the best Protoss in the world, and hasn't shown a particular weakness in the match-up—but that's also what we all said before DnS played against and defeated TY in the GSL qualifiers, so maybe it'll be worth watching just to see if DnS can pull a miracle out.
Bite Your Nails
Probe vs Bly
Similarly to Elazer vs Nice, this may be another dull match-up on paper, but it gains an interesting perspective with Leipzig in our rear-view. There, Probe disappointed quite hard, including an 0-2 loss to Bly, and he'll be surprised to see an opportunity for vengeance come so soon. Bly, of course, is a perennial dark horse with enough decent wins recently to make him an uncomfortable opponent for anyone. Not only that, but one has to imagine SpeCial being the next opponent is significant better than, say, Zest, sOs or Serral, perhaps giving the winner a decent shot at making it even further in the tournament.
Cham/Scarlett vs TIME
Not only is Cham vs Scarlett one of the most entertaining early match-ups of the tournament, as both are unafraid to play fiery ZvZ and both are quite good at it, but the winner of that series has an intriguing opponent in the bracket, TIME. It's hard to put TIME on a scale; he didn't impress much at Leipzig, but he's delivered decent performances in past offline events—those tense sets against Nerchio at Jönköping come to mind. Scarlett would give TIME another big name to potentially make a statement against, whereas Cham would give us a duel of underdogs.
Kelazhur vs HeRoMaRinE
This is easily the single best matchup of the first round. Kelazhur had a disasterous performance at Leipzig—he got dropped by Nice of all people. Not only that, but his challenge for the Latin American crown has been weakened even further, as he got 7-1'd by SpeCial during the WCS Leipzig qualifiers. Kelazhur had as many group stage losses in Leipzig as he did during all four WCS stops combined last year. We've seen much better from him, but he will need to deliver it here, or risk an early exit. Then, there's HeRoMaRinE who looked quite good at Leipzig, his first foray back into the scene since his impressive run at 2016's WCS Summer Championships. With a taste of success in his mouth, it's difficult to imagine the German Terran abandoning his high so quickly, and TvT is certainly a match-up he seems comfortable in. This has the makings of a very intense match.
Acknowledgements and Credits
Photos: Blizzard, Helena Kristiansson