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Stories to Watch at the IEM Cologne Group Stage

Zakaria Almughrabi

CS:GO’s IEM Cologne Group Stage begins on July 7th. Following the Play-in Stage, the total pool of teams has been cut from 24 to 16. Only six match wins stand in the way of the IEM Cologne trophy and a $400,000 prize. So, which teams have the best shot at going all the way?

IEM Cologne Group Stage

Cloud9 broke their LAN curse at IEM Dallas, can they win a second consecutive IEM event at Cologne? (Image Copyright: ESL | Eric Ananmalay)

Who’s Playing in the IEM Cologne Group Stage?

IEM Cologne Group Stage Participants

Natus Vincere FaZe Clan Ninjas in Pyjamas Team Liquid
G2 Esports Cloud9 ENCE FURIA Esports
MOUZ 00 Nation Heroic Team Spirit
Movistar Riders Outsiders Team Vitality Astralis

The spotlight is on Natus Vincere and FaZe Clan to top their respective groups and make a run in the playoffs. Also favored out of the gate are ENCE, Cloud9, and G2 Esports. These five teams are all title contenders, but many other teams could stand atop the rest on their day.


NAVI Try to Keep Consistent

NAVI’s CS:GO team is still operating in the wake of long time in-game leader Kirill “Boombl4” Mikhaylov’s departure. Despite fielding an emergency substitute in the form of Viktor “sdy” Orudzhev at the BLAST Spring Finals, NAVI still managed to win their first trophy of the year. Now, NAVI will be looking to continue that success here at IEM Cologne.

IEM Cologne is a much bigger event than any BLAST event in terms of the preparation that teams put into it. With NAVI and sdy now in the spotlight, teams will no doubt be putting emphasis on countering them. Group A is the more difficult of the two and NAVI will need to run a gauntlet of top-level teams in order to claim that important first round playoff bye. This will be a good indication of how strong this new NAVI really is.


FaZe’s Free Fall

Sitting at top seed in Group B is FaZe Clan. The PGL Major Antwerp winners and Intel Grand Slam leaders rocked the CS:GO world to it’s core in the first five months of the year. Since then, however, FaZe appear to have stalled out. “Post-major blues” is a well-documented phenomenon in Counter-Strike, where the team that wins the biggest trophy in the game tends to fall off in the following months.

FaZe failed to crack the top four at both IEM Dallas and the BLAST Spring Finals. They then fell short of taking the Roobet Cup at the hands of BIG, a team that just failed to qualify for the IEM Cologne Group Stage. If FaZe wants to bounce back and complete their Intel Grand Slam, they’ll need to show the same form that won them IEM Katowice and the Major. They have the right tools for the job, the question is if they can put everything together again.


Cloud9 No Longer Blue at LAN

Cloud9, back when they were under Gambit Esports, has a reputation for being world beaters online that just couldn’t get the job done once LAN events came back post-COVID. They recently broke that curse at IEM Dallas last month. After beating FaZe, BIG, and ENCE, this CIS core won their first ever trophy on stage.

Mentality is a very powerful thing. Knowing that you can get up on stage and have as good a chance of becoming champion as anyone else is the first step to victory. Now that Cloud9 has that monkey off their back, this team of young stars is ready to put their best foot forward at the prestigious IEM Cologne. Look for C9 to qualify for playoffs early, as they have potentially the easiest route to 2-0 of anyone.


Six Hopefuls, Three Playoff Spots

Group A at IEM Cologne is stacked to the brim with talented teams. While NAVI is very favored to move on, Heroic, Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2 Esports, Team Vitality, and ENCE will also be battling it out for one of the three playoff spots. It’s impossible to tell exactly which teams will end up advancing due to the strength and variability that these teams have shown leading up to IEM Cologne.

On paper, ENCE should be able to make it to playoffs. However, a surging Team Vitality stands in their way in round one with a potential G2 matchup awaiting in round two. NiP has Heroic to contend with, then a punishing round two match against NAVI that will likely send them to the losers’ side. Whichever teams manage to fight their way out of that death pit of a lower bracket will certainly be primed and ready for playoffs.

The IEM Cologne Group Stage begins on July 7th at 6:30 AM EDT. The initial matchups are:

Heroic vs Ninjas in Pyjamas

G2 Esports vs Movistar Riders

FaZe Clan vs 00 Nation

Astralis vs FURIA Esports

Natus Vincere vs MOUZ

Team Vitality vs ENCE

Team Spirit vs Team Liquid

Cloud9 vs Outsiders