IEM Katowice is known by StarCraft II fans everywhere as the title’s premiere event, second only to BlizzCon. This year’s audience was treated to countless upsets, a new meta, and one very epic ending. In the beginning, all eyes were on tournament favorites Joona “Serral” Sotala of ENCE and Cho “Maru” Seong Ju of Jin Air Greenwings, who each had record-setting 2018 runs. Many expected a continuation of Serral’s dominance, and he remained one of the biggest narratives throughout the week-long broadcast.
Eventually, however, Serral fell in the Quarterfinals to soO, a StarCraft legend in his own right. Unlike Serral, though, soO’s fame doesn’t come from winning nearly every trophy in StarCraft II‘s lineup. Instead, known for his seemingly endless second-place finishes, soO stood in the shadow of champion after champion, destined to surf silver medals for eternity. Or so we thought.
With the tournament favorite Serral behind him, soO had another opportunity at taking it all. Yet, the opponent he faced was never his primary foe. After years of reliving his worst nightmare in every post-game interview, soO’s biggest enemy now was himself. Even if he made it to the finals, viewers knew that soO would have to battle his demons and overcome StarCraft II‘s greatest curse.
Pushing past the Prince
In the Semifinals, soO faced herO, another player who brought an exciting story to the Polish stage. Once known to SC2 fans as the “IEM Prince,” herO returned to Katowice for his chance at glory. Clawing his way out of a multi-year slump, herO’s aggressive and brutish playstyle thwarted his many Protoss opponents.
Unlike his previous Protoss vs. Protoss matches that led him this far, herO faced a Zerg in soO. Commentators questioned herO’s Protoss vs. Zerg prowess because we hadn’t seen it yet, and many wondered if he had what it took. Though herO managed to take a map during their best of five, soO emerged triumphantly.
Stats, the ‘Shield of Aiur’
The Finals saw soO up against another top-tier second-place finisher, Stats. Stats was the only player in the latter half of 2018 to push Serral to his limit. However, when facing Serral in the finals of GSL vs. the World and the BlizzCon Global Finals, Stats was defeated. Both Stats and soO hoped for a chance at redemption, but soO’s curse stretched far deeper and far longer than any other player.
Through interviews surrounding his nine second-place finishes at premiere events, we knew that soO was self-aware regarding his curse. In the finals against Stats, we thought we were witnessing the continuation of his darkened legacy. The best of seven kicked off with soO down 0-2. Camera shots locked on soO’s face, putting his agony on full display. The writing was on the wall, and game three began with a quiet hush from the Katowice stands. Finally, though, soO broke away from his Roach/Ravager style, instead utilizing Hydralisks and Banelings to crush the ‘Shield of Aiur.’
Stats slowly unwound over the next two games, and soO ended up on match-point with a lead of 3-2. While game six was a bit of a throw from Stats, the lackluster final battle did not detract from soO’s incredible victory. Fans could not have asked for a more significant moment as they witnessed one of StarCraft II‘s longest-standing narratives finally come to an end.
soO lifted the Katowice trophy, and with it, lifted his curse. He felt a level of relief that few others could know, and his interview on stage was an emotional one. With mandatory military service knocking at his door in Korea, soO will likely remember Katowice as the crowning achievement of his career, and as validation for never giving up.