First up were group A and B, both of which featured disappointing results from two paragons of protoss and the return to prominence of two established names.
In group A, INnoVation started off his tournament with a hiccup against Stats on Echo, torn apart by simple DT harass before taking some massive disruptor hits. He bounced back successfully though to take down the ex-KT protoss with strong macro play to await his opponent in the winners' match.
Rather surprisingly, that opponent was Losira. herO had initially looked in full control of that match, demonstrating his typically strong stalker play on Newkirk, before taking a huge lead on Whirlwind with adept / oracle harassment while teching up to carriers. Losira turned the tables on his opponent though with a return to Wings of Liberty; a roach / queen nydus all-in with spore support that worked better than anyone could have dreamed. Taking game 3, he pushed INnoVation all the way too, but the ex-SKT terran was able to emerge victorious in first place.
With one player through to the quarterfinals, Stats and herO faced off in a somewhat surprising losers' match. Cheese was the name of the game here, and in yet another 3-game series, it was herO again who looked like taking the win. A proxy robo immortal drop in game 3 seemed likely to do critical damage, but excellent control from Stats sealed herO's fate. Stats capitalized on this win by defeating Losira in the final match. Advancing from the group in second place, Stats secures the opportunity to take revenge on INnoVation in the elimination rounds.
The surprises continued in group B, which opened up with Zest facing off against Leenock. In the battle of ex-teammates, it was Leenock who surprisingly won in three games. Game 1 in particular was a minor classic; Zest looked shaky (as he did throughout the day), but correct decision making allowed him to force a basetrade, taking several key engagements to thin out the zerg's brood lord count before stalkers mopped up the rest.
Meanwhile, soO rolled over Trust easily in a rare 2-0, setting up a ZvZ in the winners match. For the second time of the day, it was soO who won the latest iteration of the once vaunted Telecom Wars by defeating Leenock with superior roach / ravager control, emerging from the group in first place. With soO through, it was Zest and Trust who would do battle. In what could be considered the biggest upset of IEM Gyeonggi, tournament favorite Zest was defeated by his old KT B-teamer, who showed strong disruptor play in particular to come back from a deficit in game 3. With one of the all-time greats expunged from the event, Trust was matched against another in Leenock with their tournaments on the line. Trust was able to keep his streak going, become the second player to emerge from the group.
Group C was another chance for Dark to put all his challengers back in their box. The zerg who's dominated 2016 from start to finish continued to roll on to victory here, sweeping jjakji first with strong burrowed roach play before continuing his campaign against (ex-)SKT by taking out Classic too to become the first and only player to emerge 4-0 from the group stages.
Meanwhile, ByuL continued his resurgence following a quiet 2016, beating Classic in the decider match after taking out a disappointing jjakji in the losers' match. Alongside his 2nd place at Afreeca's SC2 Cataclysm post-season tournament last month, ByuL once again looks to be improving as we move into 2017.
Group D featured what might have been the premier opening match of the group stage, with Solar and Maru facing off to start their campaigns. Much like ByuL, Maru's been a player who's severely disappointed in 2016 (individually, at least), and he made up for lost time here; strong positional play with liberators and widow mines was the name of the game here. More eye-raising though was his eventual triumph over BlizzCon champion ByuN; a sign that the once undisputed champion of TvT might be back to dominate the matchup once more.
Solar meanwhile has disappointed for the third tournament in a row; a mediocre top 8 finish at HomeStory Cup (albeit losing to an in-form Stats) sandwiching two group stage defeats at the WCS Global Finals and here at IEM. He even had the indignity of losing to the sole foreigner here in iAsonu, who showed some sharp ZvZ skills, and there'll undoubtedly have to be some introspection for the Splyce zerg going forwards as he attempts to figure out how the past couple of months could've gone quite this badly. Unfortunately for the Chinese zerg, his road ended here too; quickly dismissed 0-2 by a vengeful ByuN.
That leaves our playoff bracket as follows:
Writers: Mizenhauer, munch