An IEM Katowice Play-in Preview – What are teams fighting for?

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Introduction

              With the prestigious IEM Katowice around the corner, 16 teams fight tooth and nail for 8 coveted spots at the main event taking place in around a week. With underdogs, world favorites, and dark horses all taking part in this brawl, I decided to take a look at the storylines for each team coming into the play-in stage and where their dreams and aspirations lie. Will these teams crumble under the pressure to perform under the big stage? Or will they finally elevate their careers to the point of stardom?

Retooled Mousesports

              After the departure of world-class IGL Karrigan and organization mainstay chrisJ, mousesports have turned to new faces for the squad by bringing in the Aussie in-game leader dexter from Renegades, and the Flashpoint 1 champion AWPer acoR, from MAD Lions. A new era of mousesports has begun, and with that comes the growing pains of bringing in new ideas and grasping tactics under a new leader. With mithR and dexter truly having their work cut out for them, it will be now or never for the duo to prove themselves to be among the greatest minds of the game. While it will be the squad’s first outing together, the pressure still looms with superstar ropz continuously falling short of big trophies after incredible performances, and dexter finally getting his first true shot at tier 1 Counter-Strike…Will this edition right the sinking ship of mousesports? Or will the organization continue to lose grip on their coveted star players? Perhaps the main event is what they clamor for, but deep down each player knows they have what it takes to go the distance at Katowice.

Sweden’s Goliath Stirs from Its Slumber

              Sweden’s number one team, fnatic, have decided to take a chance on a fresh face in the scene, Jackinho. With rumblings of flusha wanting to step down, the team falling just short of multiple titles, and the Swedish scene raving about the potential of the youngster, it seemed the move was inevitable. Fnatic’s troubles lie with the 21-year-old having to play in his first big tournament and moreover being expected to overshadow the recent performances of three-time major winner flusha. Golden is now tasked with integrating Jackinho into the squad while simultaneously taking the team to new heights, reclaiming their former glory at the top of the table. After a great first outing at cs_summit 7 taking silver under the CIS squad of Virtus.Pro, opening remarks for new look fnatic look fantastic. However, the onus is on the Swedish squad to cruise through the play-in stage and look for top accolades at the main event. Will the goliaths of JW, Brollan, and Krimz be slain by the David’s of the play-in? Or will they continue their good form from cs_summit and prove that they only are undoubtedly the best?

Gambit’s Chance to Strike

              The Russian organization’s last tier 1 tournament win was the PGL Krakow Major in 2017. Following this win, Zeus ended things with the roster and every player on the team went their separate ways. Gambit’s only skin in the scene became their academy roster, who quietly kept gaining experience and performed decently in the online CIS space. Eventually, the team’s success could not be overlooked by the organization and the youngsters lineup was promoted to the official roster led by one of the original major winning five, Hobbit. With the online era in full swing, the stage was perfect for Gambit to showcase the insane level of growth and strength the core of Ax1le, sh1ro, and nafany had obtained over the past year. After winning DreamHack Open November and showing great performances at DreamHack Open December and January, this year’s edition of Katowice holds the greatest chance for the surprisingly battle-hardened roster to show that they belong in the conversation for the world’s best. Can the young roster show the grit and guts to rise to the top tier conversation?

Movistar Riders: A Climb Back to the Top

              The success that the Brazilian steel had shown on Immortals back in 2017 was so definite, it seemed as though the in-game leader would continue to have an impact on the world rankings. But with the disbanding of the explosive Brazilian roster, steel turned to the Spanish four of Movistar Riders to fight back to where he ended things with Immortals. However, with inconsistent results aplenty, and no real breakthrough for the roster, the organization pivoted to a more international approach with the signings of the nomadic AWP’er smooya and Estonian rifler shokz. With results in the short-term showing signs of consistent success, perhaps the squad has the chance to become a dark horse in this tournament. There is no doubt that smooya and steel, both former international mainstays, have the utmost determination and passion to make it back to their former glory days of Immortals and BIG. This paired with the dedication of the Spanish duo alex and mopoz, Movistar Riders want to strike while the iron is hot and truly make a name for themselves here at Katowice.

Return of the Juggernaut

              Complexity have finally shown their former juggernaut status after their smashing performance last week at the BLAST Premier Spring Group Stage last week, after only dropping a single map against the likes of Vitality, G2, and Evil Geniuses. Poizon has finally returned to the main roster, as without him, Complexity seemed in dire straits with a huge drop in form ever since the BLAST Premier Fall Finals of 2020. Even after acquiring the skills of Australian superstar jks, it still seemed as though the juggernaut had permanently grinded to a halt and the COVID-19 pandemic had ended another hungry team’s ambitions. However, blameF and co. were reinvigorated with the return of Bulgarian on the roster, boasting 4 out of the top 5 players in their respective group. The red-hot roster now has every piece of the puzzle they need to pick up right where the juggernaut ended in the fall of last year and crush the competition during the play-in stage. The pressure is now truly on the team as now there are absolutely no reasons for the team not to showcase their utter dominance that trounced through Europe last year. Expect to see sparks fly because Complexity will refuse to go down without a fight.

Living Up to a Legacy: MIBR’s Dilemma

              After the calamity of Fallen’s iteration of the organization came to a crashing end, MIBR turned to a brief stint with kNG’s band of misfits as they surprised at Flashpoint 2. Quietly however, BOOM, continued to dominate the Brazilian scene with huge map win streaks and incredible performances from veterans boltz and yel. After the second iteration of MIBR had themselves released, the organization decided to sign the dominant team and have them enter the European circuit. With the sudden change of pace for the squad, MIBR faced many difficulties in their first outing at BLAST Spring. Immediately getting smashed down to the Showdown, the once dominant BOOM team had now had their first taste of European Counter-Strike and they absolutely seem to be lost among the best. With chips on their shoulders however, the Brazilians have teams that they have in their sights that they dream of eclipsing. The successes of arT’s Furia, Fallen’s Luminosity Gaming/SK, and Steel’s Immortals, undoubtedly have these scrappy and explosive five hungry for cementing yet another Brazilian team among the all-time greats. Will they have the firepower and grit to power through to the main event?

The German Powerhouse

              The number one German team have burst on to the scene this last year, having title streaks and high placements aplenty. The incredible firepower regarding the core of tabseN, syrsoN, and XANTARES, have definitely piqued the interests of the community, but with the shaky results towards the end of the year, the word is yet to truly be out for the squad coming into 2021. However, with an outstanding showing at BLAST Spring, it seems the Germans are picking up right where they left off and are looking to easily qualify for the main event. To this roster the play-in is not even a worry, for them all they wish for are top accolades against the top teams of the world. To this roster second, third, or fourth place is a disappointment. To this roster only the apex of the scene is where they wish to belong…watch the destruction of the BIG roster as the favorites look to jaunt through this week to the main stage.

The Only Polish Hope

              After the slow demise of the world’s greatest Polish team, Virtus.Pro, went their separate ways, the Polish scene deteriorated into an all-out brawl to find the best squad possible. AGO tried their hand at an 8-man roster, Illuminar tried their hand with the remnants of Snax, and Honoris tried their hand with the upbringing of unknown youngsters under TaZ and neo. With all of these rosters having minimal results, Wisla Krakow became another one of the Polish rosters who dreamt to reclaim the glory and fame that the Polish titans of Virtus.Pro used to bring to their country. Longtime Polish players SZPERO, hades, and Goofy will try to right the wrongs of Poland and attempt a miraculous run at the Katowice Play-in. With the upset potential that pieces of the ex-PACT squad have shown, do not be surprised if the Polish squad knocks a couple of sleeping giants off their perch this week.

The Rich Boys on the Block

              Boasted as one of the scene’s highest paid players, HenryG’s Cloud9 have struggled to show any real form after they have been formed. The squad has faced heavy turbulence in their time together with superstar woxic and coveted coach kassad departed. This led the general manager to sign the prodigal player from ex-Chaos, xeppaa, and the coach from the former Gen.G squad, elmapuddy. With a new infrastructure being built from the ground up, floppy and xeppaa having to bring the raw firepower of North America center stage, es3tag under extreme pressure after his incredibly high buyout from Astralis, and ALEX having to don the AWP’ing role, the North American organization has their squad riddled with question marks. A lot of these supposed questions will be answered this week, as the team has had an extended break to quietly understand the scope of their team and really begin their trek to cracking into the top ten summit. ALEX surely must be feeling the pressure leading a brand-new team that does not necessarily have the surefire superstar that he had in ZywOo in Vitality as well as going toe to toe in AWP duels versus the likes of JW, syrsoN, FalleN, Jame, and poizon. Watching this European squad unfold will be a sight to behold.

Stepping Into the Spotlight: NiP’s Resurgence

              THREAT’s coaching and amount of growth he has brought out of the young Swedish roster cannot be ignored. With the team becoming strong on pocket pick maps such as Overpass and Vertigo, as well as admirable Inferno and Mirage teams, the Swedes after continuously being battered and bruised out of events have shaped up to be a potential dark horse at perhaps even the main event of Katowice this year. With an incredibly sharp and young roster, the core of nawwk, REZ, and Plopski have torn up the scene with their pinpoint mechanics and deep understanding within the game. Pair this core with the x-factor in budding Young Ninja, ztr, and the development of in-game leader hampus, look for the Swedish squad to come out of fnatic’s shadow and show that they also have the ability to become world beaters. Although the result may seem like a fluke, beating the likes of Astralis and BIG, the manner in which the Ninjas cleanly dispatched top teams finally shows the potential of the squad. NiP have a tall task ahead of them with Complexity as their first round matchup as well as OG and fnatic waiting in the wings. It’s time to see if the Ninjas in Pyjamas will become a feared roster or the fear-filled roster.

Silent But Deadly

              Objectively, Virtus.Pro does not seem like the type of roster to be feared. After all most of their map victories come from close 16-12 to 16-14 victories. However, somehow the major finalists after recruiting the services of youngster YEKINDAR, are on a four event winning streak. That is the Virtus.Pro way. While fighting tooth and nail in every map, once the final sectors of the map play out the clutch factor of every one of their players shine as they orchestrate chaos to their will and emerge victorious. Regardless, the team is still continuously looked over as they will never be the flashiest team, but never count them out. From the calculated Jame, to the brazen qikert, and the boldly supportive SANJI, this team has all the pieces to be an assassin of a team this week. While the results will continue to keep the community lackadaisical in following this team, the deadly polar bears will surely cruise through the main event and look to take the fight to the top dogs of the main event.

Oceania Dreamin’

              The Renegades had an absolutely smashing time during their online era in Oceania. Having won every single event in their region, the Aussies comfortably ruled the roost. However, with the departure of dexter, the former heavy hitter of the squad and in-game leader, question marks have spawned regarding the potential of the team during this event. Entering the European space comes with its challenges as seen from MIBR with their dominance in the Brazilian field and crashing in Europe and the Renegades surely do not want to face the same fate when it comes to the Play In Stage. While they definitely have some mechanically skilled players in Sico, malta, and INS, the integration of aliStair from ORDER must surely buck the trend of titles for the Australian roster. With the odds stacked against the squad, the Renegades will look to carry the hopes and dreams of Oceania to make a run for the main event.

The Hunt for a Killer Instinct

              Team Liquid is the most decorated North American organization to ever enter the Counter-Strike space. They have won the Intel Grand Slam, appeared in multiple Major Semi-finals, and boast the most mechanically skilled lineup North America have ever produced. Yet still, in the online era, Team Liquid have failed to absolutely impress. With the losses of both nitr0 and Twistzz, and additions of Grim and FalleN, Liquid have been looking for the edge that they need to really capture the synergy they had when winning the Grand Slam. Ever since entering European soil, the North American squad have continued to put up acceptable results but not nearly the type of results befitting the legends of EliGE, Stewie2K, and NAF. They lack the polished qualities that the dominant 2019 summer Liquid held: dominant half-buys, clutch plays, and blindsiding rifle abilities. Most of all, they dearly miss the killer instinct of old. In search of it, former commentator turned coach Moses looks to rekindle the fire that raged through 2019, hunt for the big title in Katowice, and bring back the international glory that Team Liquid held.

The Grit and Determination of OG

              Ex-stars from all across Europe came together on OG to create a new European powerhouse. After making a statement during the LAN stages of 2020, Aleksib showcased a gritty team who would look to grind out comebacks and pair it with crisp T-side calling. Following the start of the online era, they continued to fight and impress by winning an RMR event and placing highly at many events in the circuit. However, things started to take a turn for the worse ever since with inconsistent placing galore. They became runners up at Flashpoint 2 but crashed out of the BLAST Premier Fall Finals. They almost took home the title at IEM New York but failed to qualify for any meaningful placements at cs_summit 7 and BLAST Premier Spring Groups. While the European squad certainly have the firepower and tactics to be the world’s best, the inconsistency of their stars in valde, mantuu, and ISSAA, clearly show where their weaknesses lie. Aleksib and co. will look to stabilize this week with the Play-in Stage and go for a deep placing at the main event.

The Simplicity in Spirit

              Spirit is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous dark horses in the CIS region. The core of, chopper, mir, and sdy have always been a sight to behold with their crisp aim and outrageously aggressive playstyle. After adding the services of youngsters magixx and degster, Spirit have looked the most dangerous they might ever be in the organization’s tenure. Although the inexperience of the two young guns may appear to be a worrying talking point about the squad, the Russian duo has absolutely dominated against the likes of BIG and FPX. After winning DreamHack Open January 2021, the CIS roster is looking for bigger prey to take on at Katowice. It’s been an extremely tedious time for the squad but look for them to unleash degster this week and try to prove themselves as the top dogs of the extremely competitive region.

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