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Fabio | 12. July 2021

IEM Cologne Group Stage: s1mple’s Dominance and Return to LAN

It’s a wonderful sight to behold. The players are at back on LAN, can scream at each other, and compete with 5 milliseconds of ping. In the form of Natus Vincere and Gambit, the two frontrunners have made it to the playoffs, but all the biggest storylines IEM revolve around s1mple. 

After all, no one will have the chance to pass NaVi if Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev plays like he did in the Groups. After three matches and a total of nine maps, he has acquired a 1.52 rating. No one should expect him to perform as phenomenally all the way to the Grand Finals. But it does announce him as one of the biggest stars of the upcoming LAN era. Mathieu “ZywOo” Herbaut, who had been voted best player in the world for the last two years straight, had some starting troubles. For him, a 1.12 rating is bad and this should give s1mple’s fans some hope. Maybe he can return to the #1 spot this year.

TWISTZZ LEADS FAZE INTO PLAYOFFS

But s1mple is by no means the only impressive player at IEM Cologne. After waiting for months, we have finally witnessed the performance that Russel “Twistzz” VanDulken can deliver under FaZe Clan leadership. His impact kills turned quite a few bad situations around for FaZe and he remained calm in pressure moments. This is exactly what FaZe had lacked so far. When the matches became close, nervousness took over. Tournament after tournament, we could see Finn “karrigan” Andersen and his men attack the biggest teams, and either let a comeback go through or fail with their own comeback on the last few metres. It was almost like a curse – but they seem to be getting better. In their last few matches against Spirit, Vitality, and Heroic, they have shown that they can finally close out tight matches.

Abdul “degster” Gasanov ended IEM on a sad note. So far, he has been the tournament’s second best player with a 1.34 rating. He set himself on top of Heroic and FaZe individually. But his team didn’t follow through. Without him, Spirit would have exited much quicker, but even his prowess couldn’t help them over the finish line.

Now, the other frontrunners have to take the lead in Cologne – at least those that are still with us in the playoffs. Astralis are outliers in that regard. None of their players have made it into the Top 10. It’s quite impressive to see a team reach the playoffs with a 1.01 average rating. It once again goes to show that the players work together as a unit. They don’t necessarily need a star player like Nicolai “device” Reedtz – although he’d be quite useful going up against Virtus.pro and G2 Esports.

NAVI OR GAMBIT… OR G2?

Prior to this tournament, Natus Vincere and Gambit Esports were the obvious favorites. In recent months, they’ve been the ones to consistently battle for international trophies, leaving everyone else behind. But one factor is different here: Gambit are playing on LAN. If we are to trust their results versus G2, they’re not as good as they were online.

Things look different on the NaVi camp. After all, s1mple and Denis “electronic” Sharipov are proven LAN beasts. Even Ilya “Perfecto” Zalutskiy managed to gather some experience before the pandemic. The ratings show that Valeriy “B1T” Vakhovskiy can withstand the pressure. After Gambit have missed out on the Semi Finals slot and are now going up against a hungry FaZe roster, we have to wonder whether Gambit will exit the playoffs early on this time.

However, G2 are stepping onto the scene as legitimate Grand Finals contenders. Their Group Stage performance was impressive and it seems as though Nikola “NiKo” Kovač doesn’t have to carry all the weight anymore. However, his performance will remain a winning condition for the team. The playoffs of the first LAN event in 15 months are about to commence. IEM Cologne is nearing its end and the winning team will be able to secure the most important trophy since 2020.