The circle is closing in. IEM Katowice was the last large-scale CS:GO event to be held, but IEM Cologne is here to pick the offline event circuit back up. More than a year after the Grand Finals in Katowice had been played out in front of an empty arena, the teams are finally arriving on LAN and will fight for the most important trophy since 2020! So many storylines are coming together. We have no idea how to fit all of that into a 1000 word piece. But we’re going to try it anyways!
The event’s structure is a throwback to this year’s IEM Katowice. 16 teams are entering the Play-Ins, but only 8 can actually go through to the Group Stage. There, the qualified teams will face off with the frontrunners of recent months. So they’re going up against Gambit, Natus Vincere, Heroic, G2, and the likes. First off, we’re taking a look at the Play-Ins contestants.
THE PLAY-INS OF IEM COLOGNE
The Ninjas in Pyjamas are squaring off against LDLC. Long time no see for one of France’s biggest organizations in the early days of CS:GO. Their absence from the top has been for a reason, as the likes of Vitality have basically wiped the national scene clear. A lot of talent is concentrated at DBL Poney, but they’re not going to Cologne. So all things considered, device is probably going to dispatch the LDLC squad quite easily.
The same holds true for Bad News Bears and mousesports. On one side, we have the winners of Flashpoint 3, on the other we have a weak North American team with zero international experience. It’s already an achievement to have made it this far. However, they should still not stand a chance against mousesports.
Welcome to the proving grounds. #IEM Cologne
📆 July 6-18
— Intel®ExtremeMasters (@IEM) July 3, 2021
The Sprout boys couldn’t have had a worse seeding experience. So many teams and they still have to go up against BIG. In the past, they’ve had some heavily contested matches, but the most recent encounter went in the favor of tabseN and his men. But there were two overtimes involved, so the BIG players shouldn’t feel all too safe.
Vitality are bound to face the likes of Spirit, MIBR, and Renegades in their bracket. In principle, they should be able to handle this, but Spirit are known for their crazy upset potential. And even though the Frenchmen are getting back on their feet ever so slowly, their gameplay with Kjoyin on board is still shaky. Even ZywOo has been struggling to post his overly consistent and dominant results. Considering all the support staff behind the players at Vitality, it should only be a matter of time until they wake up and power through.
With all these top teams in attendance, we shouldn’t overlook Evil Geniuses and FaZe Clan. They both have legitimate chances to reach the Top 8 in the Play-Ins and make it to the main tournament. But there’s a slight issue – they are facing each other immediately!
Unfortuntately, the Opening Match will already be a disappointment – which is very sad given the storylines. FaZe Clan were out of their most recent event really early on, but karrigan and his men still brought the NaVi players to their absolute limits. The team desperately needs a win. After the departure of NiKo, nothing had been working for them. Even when broky is doing his best, he can’t drag them over the finish line.
At IEM Summer, Evil Geniuses had come quite far. Afterwards, they headed for the BLAST Premier: Spring Finals, where they promptly fell flat on their faces again. A positive change for them has been their head coach. During NRG times, daps had been the in-game-leader who transformed them into an international powerhouse. In the end, he was replaced by stanislaw, who brought more individual skill onto the server. Now, daps is back as head coach and can use his knowledge to hopefully help EG unleash their full potential. With so much talent on this lineup, they should be capable of much more.
✍️🔥 Leading into the Play-Ins of #IEM Cologne 2021 tomorrow, have a skim of the storylines for the 24 competing teams beginning their crusade to Masters Championship title!
It is looking S T A C K E D
— ESL Counter-Strike (@ESLCS) July 5, 2021
THE IEM COLOGNE GROUP PHASE
But enough of the Play-Ins. We already have eight teams in the Group Stage. And if we’re totally honest, the tournament favorites are already on that list.
NaVi and Gambit – it just doesn’t stop! The Eastern European scene has got Counter-Strike in its grips. The BLAST Finals have shown once again that there’s no getting past Gambit Esports. The players have an individual level that s1mple and ZywOo can barely keep up with. From time to time, other players try to measure up to them, but the Gambit boys tend to dominate the scoreboard. If sh1ro doesn’t perform over the top, then Ax1Le will. And if he doesn’t deliver, there’s still Hobbit!
So far, there is no single team that can break Gambit’s winning formula. From time to time, they may lose a match, but they rarely ever hand tournament wins away. After their failure at BLAST, Natus Vincere get a second chance. But they won’t just have to go up against the Play-Ins winners, but also against Heroic, G2, Astralis, and Liquid.
The Danish scene is on its knees. Heroic aren’t as good as they used to be during their ESL Pro League run and Astralis haven’t yet figured out how to handle the departure of device. G2 Esports still depend on NiKo way too much. Every single time, he has to put up monster performances so that G2 can at least get some close games. We haven’t seen Liquid on European soil in a while. Their NA campaign was a success and they secured lots of RMR points, but hopefully, their preparation against EU teams hasn’t suffered from it.
Few events give teams so many second chances. The Play-Ins and Group Stage will feature a Lower Bracket. As soon as we enter playoffs, the six remaining teams can’t afford to make mistakes anymore. Someone is about to win the first offline event since March 2020. Gambit can establish and era, Astralis can show that the online period was just child’s play. Of course, the offline results from IEM Cologne will be much more important than anything that happened after Katowice 2020. So we’re eager to see the teams in action and hope that they can manage themselves well between all the excitement and nervousness.