It is finally time. The marquee event of 16 premier teams have arrived to duke it out for the ultimate privilege of becoming IEM Katowice 2021 champions. After an arduous and scrappy fight, 8 challengers have found themselves up against the best of the best in the world. With the tallest task ahead of them, will the underdogs be able to steal the crown away from the superstars of the world? Or will the legendary teams continue to cement their place deeper into the history books? (If you want to brush up on the history of the challenging teams, be sure to check out my previous play-in preview here.)
A New Superteam on the Horizon
Like the 2018 roster, it seems that the pieces are finally in place for FaZe Clan to have a roster that could rival the potential of their European lineup of old. After abysmal performances from a myriad of players, the organization has finally simmered down to former Team Liquid superstar Twistzz and legendary in-game leader Karrigan. With the Dane finally arriving back with his old boys of rain and broky, Karrigan is in pole position to absolutely decimate the competition, perhaps even earlier than expected. During their BLAST Premier Spring Groups, not only did FaZe shock the world with qualifying for the Spring Finals over Team Liquid, but they also destroyed Na’Vi with a nuclear performance from the Canadian Twistzz. Doing this without Karrigan, speaks volumes in the potential of this squad. Expect the in-game leader to unlock the superstar in coldzera, the consistency of rain, the brilliant clutch of broky, and the mechanically gifted Twistzz all in one fell swoop.
The Frenchmen Need a Hero
As the only fully integrated 6-man roster, Vitality looked poised to be the revolutionary team that the world was yet to beat. After the loss of ALEX, the roster looked towards apEX, their classically trained entry fragger, to take the helm of in-game leading. With many doubters waiting in the wings to pounce on the French organization’s decisions, apEX and coach XTQZZZ shockingly created a spectacular environment for superstar ZywOo and young guns Nivera and misutaaa to blossom into seasoned players and seized many high tier placings throughout the online era. However, during the BLAST Premier Spring Groups, apEX decided to take a personal leave of absence, which led the French squad to a last place finish. Coming into Katowice there is no doubt the raw fragging in Vitality is otherworldly. The clutch of shox, the decision making of ZywOo, the precision of Nivera and misutaaa, the reliability of RpK, it all seems too good to be true. But without the leader in apEX, the Frenchmen will need their entire roster to come into Katowice guns blazing if they want any chance to hang around with the sharpened top teams.
Last Chance Saloon
After a blinder of an ESL New York and StarSeries performance, Evil Geniuses looked poised to capture the title of world number one. But through the end of the LANs and the online era, the North American roster has continued to be show the highest highs and the lowest of lows. With zews in tow, it seemed as though the squad had found their rhythm racking up title after title in the North American circuit. However, the flaws in Evil Geniuses’ game plan began to rear its ugly head once the team began competing in the European circuit. With a lackluster BLAST Global Final, an incredibly shocking crash at DreamHack Open January, and a so-so result at BLAST Spring, the squad are knocking at the door of a potential roster move. It is time for Brehze and CeRq to show the form that they dominated during 2019. It is time for Stanislaw to follow through with his high fragging abilities while in-game leading. It is time for the bright spots of Ethan to become one shining beacon. With time ticking, it is now or never Evil Geniuses, show the world what you’ve got left in the tank.
An American on Brazilian Turf
What FURIA had in 2020 was a sight to behold. With consistent performances from yuurih and KSCERATO, the flashiness of HEN1, the rock-solid anchoring of VINI, and the ultra-aggressiveness of arT, it seemed that the Brazilians would steamroll the competition in Europe after dominating North America. However, after a couple of lackluster results and HEN1’s strong desire to play alongside his brother LUCAS1, the organization decided to take a chance on the breakthrough American AWP’er junior. With so many questions surrounding the squad, how will the first outing of new look FURIA really look? Will the language barrier prove to be a unscalable mountain? Or will the panthers strike explosively at Katowice like clockwork? Can young junior challenge the kings of Katowice in his first real international debut? Regardless, the storm of FURIA continues to brew and will stop at nothing to rampage through the tournament this week.
With one of the greatest duos that Counter-Strike has to offer, Natus Vincere have rightfully torn up the scene with consistent semifinal and final appearances throughout 2020. The Russians even won the BLAST Premier Global Finals and placed first in their spring group after settling down a red hot Twistzz-led FaZe. The world has continuously watched the s1mple and electronic destroy the competitive scene for quite some time and it finally feels as though the titles they were rightfully deserving of can come to fruition. However, the domination has come with a caveat. The squad has consistently struggled at cleanly taking victories regardless of the opponent. Perhaps it is Boombl4’s aggression being read or flamie’s anchoring coming up short in dire situations. With the prestigious Katowice on the line, the kings of CIS will surely look to cement their place at the apex of the scene by crushing any team who stands in their way. The brute firepower in s1mple and electronic, paired with the clutch of Perfecto will surely be a tall task for majority of the teams that perhaps the only real opponent standing in Na’Vi’s way is themselves.
Searching for Redemption
After being tossed aside by FunPlus Phoenix at Flashpoint 1, having their players being poached, and constantly being pit as the second-best Danish squad under Astralis, Heroic found themselves seemingly down for the count. That never stopped the cadiaN-led squad at all. After snagging the Danish niko under their wing, the squad reached heights never thought possible by the organization. With a huge win at the prestigious ESL One Cologne and a comfortable victory at DreamHack Fall 2020, Heroic had slogged through the online era and every single punch the scene threw at them to arise and join the ranks of the best. However, towards the end of 2020, the slew of good placements found themselves to be replaced with mediocre ones. IEM Beijing, BLAST Premier Fall Showdown, IEM Global Challenge, and cs_summit 7, all ended with less-than-ideal results for the Danes. But that is where the resilient Danes thrive in. After facing adversity, nothing emboldens the roster more and the hunger for redemption grows stronger and stronger. The explosive, young core of niko, stavn, and TeSeS will stop at nothing at Katowice to take home the trophy and return to their early 2020 form.
Titles or Bust: G2’s Pressure Builds
The potential of G2 is undeniable. One of the most mechanically gifted players in NiKo, the star fragging performances from the IGL nexa, the legendary veteran AWP’er kennyS, the cold-blooded clutch of AmaNEk, and the monstrously consistent huNter create an incredibly potent and deadly five. However, once these moves were put into place, the organization has yet to create any real titles or meaningful placements in quite some time. Falling short at BLAST Premier Fall Finals, the Global Final, and not making it out of their Spring Groups, G2 find themselves in quite a predicament. The roster has one of the greatest amounts of skill assembled in any starting five yet continue to come up empty handed. As fingers slowly start getting pointed at the Frenchmen AmaNEk and kennyS for lackluster performances, and the superstar ego of NiKo being brought into question, the pressure has officially mounted to a screaming high. It must be time for coach maLeK and IGL nexa to kick it into high gear and unlock the dominance that G2 surely has in the tank. Watch the European legends enter Katowice looking to silence the doubt surrounding the squad.
The Greatest Look to go Beyond
The greatest roster of all time. The perfect blend of measured and deadly Counter-Strike. The four-time major winning champions. What can be said about Astralis that has not already been told? The legends of the game have had a difficult 2020, having to play with stand-ins JUGi and es3tag as both Xyp9x and gla1ve forcibly took leaves of absence throughout the year. With Magisk at the helm, the team achieved so-so results that the community deservedly gave a pass as the young Dane dove headfirst learning the ropes of a brand-new role. Even after the turbulence in the organization’s mishaps, the clutch minister and mastermind of Astralis returned to the active roster and picked right up where the team had left off. Winning DreamHack Masters Winter and the IEM Global Challenge, while placing second at both BLAST Premier Fall and Global Finals, the legendary five had seemingly gotten everything back together. The only doubt that remains is the most recent outing for the Danes at BLAST Premier Spring groups, where they decimated into the Showdown. Do the titans of Counter-Strike have what it takes to compound on their decorated legacy here at Katowice? Or will the cracks start to grow under the feet of the greatest?
A Well-Oiled Swedish Machine
After absolutely decimating Complexity through their first round with smooth T-side protocols and stellar fragging all across the board, Ninjas in Pyjamas looked well and truly ready for the main event. They then faced Flashpoint 2 champions, Virtus.Pro and continued on their onslaught dispatching the CIS squad to the lower bracket 16-13, 16-11. Plopski on Overpass, hampus on Nuke, and nawwk on Dust II, the Swedes looked fearless across the board and ztr fit into the squad comfortably. Outplacing their Swedish counterparts in fnatic, the true Swedish cohesion and chemistry has surfaced, and the young squad will continue on their rampage of wins into the main event top dogs that await them.
Liquid Scrape Through the Cracks
Although Liquid found their way into the main event of Katowice through the upper bracket, that does not mean it was all roses and sunshine to get there. They began their campaign against a fiery MIBR who seemed to have the upper hand on the Americans through almost the entire game. It all came crashing down for the Brazilians as some key rounds and economy troubles plagued them down to the lower bracket 16-12. Looking to put up a stronger performance, Liquid then took on OG with a crushing 16-7 win on OG’s mirage. However, soon the pressure began to mount for the squad as the Europeans rallied back on Overpass 16-7 and edged back Nuke to 14-14. Liquid looked in dire straits, seemingly crumbling under the spotlight when NAF and EliGE brought some clutch heroics to secure a spot in the main event. If Liquid want a chance to go big at Katowice, they will need FalleN’s AWP and Grim’s rifling to shine a bit brighter alongside the consistent EliGE and NAF.
Gambit’s Stars – Old and New – Shine Bright
The bracket had aligned for Gambit to make a run for the main event having to defeat the underdogs in TeamOne and the newly retooled mousesports. Sh1ro dominated against the Brazilians, stealing away round after round with his precise AWP’ing and crushed TeamOne 16-5 on Train. The young Russian tried his best on the first map against mousesports but the duo of ropz and Bymas was too much for the team to handle and fell short 16-11. Fired up from the loss, shockingly the veteran Hobbit took over the game going 58-24 over the next two maps. With none of the real core of Gambit needing to show up, the CIS squad look like a dangerous underdog coming into the main event. Do not be surprised if Hobbit’s Gambit tear a couple series away from the prime competition this week.
The Gritty Polar Bears Persevere
Virtus.Pro in true Virtus.Pro fashion edge through to the main event after a relatively easier bracket run. In the upper-bracket, VP handled the Polish Wisla Krakow 16-10 off the back of a stellar T-side on Inferno. New look NiP spoiled the celebrations shortly however, as the Swedes had slick fragging from entry-fragger Plopski, IGL hampus, and AWP’er nawwk. After a couple worrying signs from buster, the Kazakh came back swinging against the Renegades with incredible entries across both maps of Vertigo and Dust 2. With the consistency from Jame’s AWP’ing and the awakening of YEKINDAR to boot, Virtus.Pro trounced the Aussies 16-9 and 16-3. If buster and qikert can continue to work back up to the form the duo showcased at the Berlin Major, the CIS squad may look increasingly more of a threat to make a deep run at Katowice. Look for the roster to endure through a lower bracket run and to challenge the favorites to the brink and beyond.
A True CIS Terror
The scope of how dangerous Spirit could really be may have been too narrow. As one of only two teams to not drop a map going into the main event, the CIS squad look poised to be a threat to the crown at Katowice. The most surprising factor of Spirit’s run in the play-in was that it was handled through the veterans of chopper and mir and lesser the young guns of degster and magixx. First, the Russians took the fight to Cloud9, absolutely running circles around the boys in blue 16-7 on Inferno. The fireworks kept rolling on as the squad had a nuclear T-side on Overpass and carried the momentum to a 16-11 victory off the back of heroics from sdy and chopper. Finally, the team kicked it into high gear and ground out a 16-13 win, courtesy of the aforementioned deadly duo of chopper and mir. With their dominating run, Spirit are surely feeling confident to take scalps off of many shaky top teams like Heroic and Na’Vi. Watch the ticking time bomb of Spirit reach its climactic finale this week as the dragons look to wreak a fiery havoc.
Signs of Brilliance, Signs of Worry
OG showed both sides of their clutch coin throughout the play-in and luckily for them, it ended up landing on headshots. Looking good after dispatching fnatic down to the lower bracket, OG seemingly had Liquid comfortably in their sights. In fact, after pushing the North Americans to the limit on Nuke, it looked like all the stops had been pulled and the Europeans would pull through to the main event. Sadly, the ever-elusive clutch evaded them in the closing sectors of the final map and the European squad was relegated down to the lower bracket. Looking to bounce back from the bitter loss against Team Liquid, OG prepared for a brawl with their mixed European counterpart in Cloud9. Similar to the game against Liquid, Aleksib and co. capitalized on the opponent’s map pick and dropped the ball on their own after getting awfully close to clawing back a huge 11-4 deficit. This time around however, OG had lady clutch on their side and stopped the Cloud9 near 12-3 comeback and advanced to the main event. The Europeans showcased beautiful and ugly Counter-Strike alike and if they want the extra ounce of strength to get over the line of a deep run at Katowice, ISSAA and valde will absolutely be key pieces to continue keeping up the team’s resiliency.
The Germans Hungry for Redemption
The number four team in the world, after taking multiple losses to Spirit in the last couple weeks, are hungry for some revenge against the Russian squad. After tossing aside Movistar Riders and mauling MIBR to a pulp, the Germans will stop at nothing to silence degster’s international debut run and rise to a deep run at Katowice. Their first-round matchup pits them against the familiar Danish opponents in Heroic. Taking turns winning titles, the two teams have had a history of draining three map affairs throughout 2020 and there is no doubt that with the momentum and match practice that tabseN and co. have gathered, they will be seeing red looking to steamroll Heroic and await Spirit once more at the main stage of Katowice. Can the German powerhouse rise back to the number one spot in the world and take top accolades at Katowice? Or will the roster fall prey once again to the deadly underdogs that wait with bated breath?
Mousesports Sucker Punch Into Katowice
Close maps all around, mousesports celebrate dexter’s debut with a burst onto the main stage at Katowice. Following a nail biter of a fight against Renegades, the IGL’s former team, the European roster duked it out against the young CIS squad in Gambit. With a herculean effort from Hobbit, Gambit managed to hold back mousesports regardless of ropz’s best efforts. Relegated down to the lower bracket, one obstacle remained…blameF’s juggernaut, Complexity. Frozen tried to stop the efforts of poizon’s lightning quick AWP as best as he could and put mousesports against the ropes going into map two. It had looked that after the momentum the juggernaut had gathered in map one’s domination, there would be no stopping Complexity’s domination. But through the heroics of ropz and the awakening of acoR, the Europeans clawed back a 15-9 deficit and shockingly took Complexity to a third. Now in the driver’s seat, it was acoR’s turn to dominate on the server and absolutely stole away the hopes of Complexity, qualifying for IEM Katowice. While the team certainly had their ups and downs, there is no doubt that frozen, ropz, and acoR have the potential to rattle the titans of Katowice and shake up the standings.