Written by TheOneAboveU
This article is part of a cooperation between ESL and TeamLiquid.net for the IEM World Championship event coming up in Katowice. ESL has provided images, information and financial support for us to produce this article and others.
The yearly pilgrimage to Katowice has become a reliable tradition for fans and players of StarCraft 2. With ever-improving production quality and increasing prize money, the Polish tournament has built up a level of prestige second only to GSL Code S, rivaling the WCS Grand Finals itself. This is reflected by the fervent fan engagement the tournament gets, with the traditional fandom powerhouse Netwars being an especially solid pillar.
2018 marks the sixth iteration of Katowice, which means it has already accumulated an illustrious history. So far we have five events worth of stories to look back to, competitions full of surprising twists, crushed hopes, and epic journeys.
2013 – The Next Generation
In January 2013 the IEM circuit made its first stop in Katowice. It came off an unusual tournament in Singapore where Korean Terran Sting emerged as the surprising champion, leaving the legendary Grubby in the dust. Foreigners had fared well in Singapore, with 3 players finishing in the top 4, so naturally fan hopes were high for Katowice. The legions of Polish attendees were especially zealous, chanting out their support for local heroes like MaNa and Nerchio. For Korea, one name stood out as the clear favorite despite being an IEM novice: PartinG. In his shadow, a less distinguished guard of Koreans traveled to Katowice. Players like Dream, YoDa, and First hadn’t found much success in Korea at this point, yet they were marked as up-and-coming talent.
They proved that label right. First dominated his opponents every step of the way, only dropping two maps across the entire tournament, to add another title to Incredible Miracle’s already considerable collection—a foreboding sign of what was about to come. Dream ended PartinG’s debut for SK Telecom T1 in the semi-finals, being hailed as a new Terran star despite his ultimate loss to First. It was a first omen, perhaps, that Katowice was going to be different.
Dream showcasing his dizzying multitasking against PartinG, which would later become his trademark.
2014 – A Legend Rises
After its impressive premiere last year, Katowice was promoted to be the location for the IEM World Championship. It was decided that the 100.000 USD prize pool would go to the winner only—a bold first in SC2 history. The champions and runner-ups of the season gathered for a final showdown of epic proportions. Again, an early portent hinted that this would be a remarkable competition. In the Ro16, NaNiwa forfeited his match against Polt in a notorious fit of rage, convinced that the booths were not sufficiently soundproof.
The now infamous incident between Naniwa and Polt.
In most tournaments, this unanticipated drama would have been the emotional apex. But the grand final surpassed the earlier operatics as it developed into one of the most iconic SC2 series of all time. sOs reached deep into his coffer of cheese to make (extremely) short work of herO. The trickster Protoss claimed the 100.000 USD prize, his second purse of that size after winning WCS a few weeks earlier. Winning the World Championship earned him the nickname $O$ and solidified his reputation as an uncanny genius, whereas herO showcased severe PTSD in PvP over the next couple of months.
The ultimate duel between sOs and herO became a career-defining series for the Jin Air player.
2015 – Field of Honour
One of the most stacked lineups in SC2 memory returned to Katowice, showcasing the massive power of the Korean scene in the heart of Europe. The crème de la crème attended, from BW legends like Flash and FanTaSy to SC2 stars like TaeJa and Maru.
Dark was one of the heavy favorites to win the tournament, with his series against Maru showing exactly why he was so highly regarded.
Two men battled their way through the unforgiving bracket. Despite being considered in a slump at the time,
Zest overcame Hydra, INnoVation, and Bbyong—no small feat in the golden age of SCV pulls—to become the dark horse of the tournament. His final opponent Trap, considered a feckless underdog, quickly took the displeasure of the masses onto his shoulders by eliminating fan favorites Flash, FanTaSy, and Dark. His miracle run had no hope for a happy end though. Zest washed any doubts about his form away through a dominating macro series, winning the only PvP of the tournament.
Trap takes a wacky series against the supposedly superior Dark, building momentum for the final clash.
2016 – Battle of Heroes
The next edition of the tournament featured a more diverse field as the newest WCS rules barred most Koreans from participating; only US residents viOLet, Polt and Hydra were left to represent the SC2 powerhouse. The passionate Polish fans easily made up for the weaker competition, buttressing local heroes Nerchio and Elazer deep into the bracket. Besides them Norwegian idol Snute also shined, even eliminating the first Korean in viOlet.
Hometown hero Nerchio faced off against Polt, with the might of Poland behind him.
Even the crowd's encouragement couldn't push Nerchio and Elazer past juggernauts Polt and Hydra. Both fell victim to their Koreans opponents after strong runs, leaving Snute to carry the European banner alone. Katowice was particularly disappointment for Nerchio, as he was praised as a possible title contender prior to the start. The Polish horde rallied behind the remaining foreigner, giving him their power during his victory over Hydra in the semifinals. Overcoming that obstacle, only Captain America stood between Snute and the world championship. A desperate struggle ensued but the Terran easily powered through his foe after an early victory by Snute. The Zerg fought back briefly towards the end, albeit his effort proved vain. Once more, a Korean triumphed and lifted the trophy on the podium. It was Polt’s last big tournament victory, a fitting end to a fantastic career.
Captain America was unstoppable that day, despite Snute trying his best.
2017 – Money in the Bank
The latest edition of IEM Katowice witnessed the return of the Korean beasts in greater numbers, befitting for one of the WCS Circuit’s prestigious global events. While local folk hero Nerchio once more put up a brave fight, and Finnish prodigy Serral stockpiled some upsets (foreshadowing his eventual rise to prominence), the international competition fell short this time as well. The finals proved to be a Korean-only affair, with the duels between the Terrans being especially close and brutal.
INnoVation and aLive delivered one of the finest TvTs in LotV history.
Dark and Katowice have a twisted relationship. The Zerg comes as one of the favourite and shows some of the most entertaining games of the tournament, but before the end he inevitably bites the dust.
After years of rather one-sided grand finals, a feature the WC shares with GSL itself, Katowice finally enjoyed a drawn-out clash of titans. TY and Stats—hailed then as the hottest competitors—engaged in a no holds barred scrap, hitting their opponent with every stratagem at their fingertips. The series went the full distance and in the end, one of the most maligned players in SC history seized his spot in the limelight. Only weeks after winning $200,000 at WESG, TY added another hefty sum to his bank account. $100.300 instantly catapulted him into one of the top 3 all-time earners of SC2. It was the crowning jewel of his long career, the reward for all his struggles since starting to play professionally at a very young age.
The best Grand Final of Katowice so far: TY and Stats face off.
IEM Katowice is a mirror for so many developments of StarCraft 2 and its professional scene, both within the game and outside of it. The tournament has become an integral part of the game’s history and 2018, we can be sure, won’t be an exception.