All eyes in StarCraft will fix on Poland next week, as the esport opens up it’s 2020 season with their crown jewel tournament, IEM Katowice.
Competing as one in an exceptionally strong 76 player bracket, top Australian player Sean “Probe” Kempen will be looking to advance through arguably StarCraft’s most prestigious tournament of the year.
Probe won’t be the only Australian at the event however, with Australian casters Jared “PiG” Krensel and Leigh “Maynarde” Mandalov also flying the flag.
Their voices will soothe and excite the many fans watching in the arena, and from home, and while his 25 hour journey to Poland fills him with dread, Maynarde is always glad to go back.
“It’s talked about all year around as being the best tournament of the year,” the caster said.
“Even when BlizzCon rolls around — people are like BlizzCon is great, but nothing beats IEM Katowice.
“The games are of a level that you don’t see elsewhere, every player that’s worth their salt in StarCraft shows up for it.”
Maynarde is right. With 2019 World Champion Park “Dark” Ryung-woo attending, as well as 2018 World Champion Joona “Serral” Sotala and 2019 World Championship Runner Up Riccardo “Reynor” Romiti, Starcraft’s top dogs are hungry to add another trophy to their cabinet
These are just three names from the 76, other names including Koreans heavy hitters Maru, INnoVation, Rogue, Stats, sOs, soO and Trap to only name a small handful.
It’s a tournament which has captured the hearts and minds of StarCraft fans since its inception in the start of 2013.
Previous winners include legends like sOs, Polt, Zest, and TY, but it was a victory last year for soO that really pulled on the heartstrings.
“I was starting to get choked up [when Smix went to interview soO after his victory],” said Maynarde. “I used to be a competitive esports player myself and I know what it feels like to be the guy that never wins, that always gets to the final but never goes that extra one step to win the final.”
“soO had been second place in six GSLs and a bunch of other international events…it was called ‘soOcend’ because he never won anything and then bam — he wins the big one.
“I remember talking to InControL being like ‘oh I got this frog in my throat man, I’ve got to go hide in a corner somewhere because I’m getting emotional.’”
It’s sure to be another long ride for these players over the next few weeks, with Australian contender Probe looking to make his dream run start with a match against young Russian Protoss SKillous.
Despite boot camping in California for a week prior, Probe is realistic about his chances, saying that with his first match being Protoss vs. Protoss, anything could happen.
“There’s no easy bracket [but] I didn’t get an impossible bracket which is nice,” he said. “SKillous is really good, way better than me I think, so he’s going to be really tough, but not impossible.”
Maynarde is a little more optimistic for our Australian Protoss, saying the week-long boot camp was a great environment to be in to sharpen his skills for Katowice.
“[Probe] against SKillous is a pretty good matchup for Probe but I’m a little worried for the next match… because INnoVation is a potential semi-finalist, rather than a potential open bracket quarter-final player,” he said.
“We have to hope Probe’s Protoss vs Terran is insane, or he has something cheeky planned for INnoVation, or he has a good run in the lower bracket. If he tries to play regular against INnoVation I think he’s going to get wrecked.”
IEM Katowice starts with the open bracket on Monday February 24, 9pm AEDT, with Probe beginning his campaign later that night at 12:40am AEDT.