The first day of IEM Katowice 2023 concluded with Classic, Cure, Elazer, and Spirit advancing from the round-of-36 play-in stage and earning spots in the group stage of the tournament.

At first it seemed like Classic might have an easy path to the RO24, as he defeated Scarlett and NightMare 2-0 in BO3 series before going up 2-0 against Elazer in the BO5 qualifying match. However, a disastrous Disruptor shot on his own Adepts in game three cost Classic a chance to close out the series, and Elazer put him against the ropes by tying things up at 2-2. Fortunately for Classic, he averted a total collapse by finishing Elazer off in game five.

Cure also had a tough day at the MCK arena as he won by the narrowest margin possible in every match: 2-1 vs Armani, 2-1 vs Harstem, and 3-2 vs Spirit. The final series against Spirit was especially nerve-wracking, as he went down 0-2 to start. However, thanks to his strong macro play, and also some mistakes on Spirit’s end, Cure managed to pull off a thrilling reverse-sweep victory. The scrappy series was clearly the most entertaining match of the night and is well worth a watch for any SC2 fan (VOD).

Despite suffering a heartbreaking reverse-sweep at the hands of Cure, Spirit was able to compose himself and advance with a 3-2 victory against Zoun in the lower bracket. While not quite as entertaining as his match versus Cure, this was a fun series as well—especially the BattleCruisers vs. Skytoss war on NeoHumanity (VOD). Unfortunately for Zoun, the 2-3 loss may have been his last series as a professional StarCraft II player, with commentator Artosis noting he was due to begin his military service in the near future.

Although Elazer suffered a painful 2-3 to Classic in the upper bracket qualifying match, everything worked out fine in the end as he faced Ryung in the lower bracket qualifier. With a well-known weakness in Terran vs Zerg, Ryung simply couldn’t put up much resistance as he surrendered a 0-3 sweep.

The effect of the new map pool was felt more than the new patch, with the overall larger maps leading players to aim for longer macro games. While this was sometimes for the benefit of the viewers as in Spirit’s exciting games, it also led to some Protoss vs Zerg standoffs reminiscent of darker days in SC2 history.

Following the conclusion of the RO36, the four advancing players were drawn into the RO24 groups. This year’s RO24 group stage will be played out on a different schedule from previous years, with all four groups having their games spread out over three days (February 9-11). Detailed match scheduling is expected to be revealed shortly before the RO24 matches begin.

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