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Stories to Watch at the IEM Cologne Play-In Stage

Zakaria Almughrabi

IEM Cologne, one of the most prestigious Counter-Strike: Global Offensive events of the year, begins on July 5th with the Play-In Stage. Sixteen teams have been seeded into a double elimination bracket with two match wins earning them a spot in the main stage. A $1,000,000 prize pool is on the line here at Cologne. Which teams are looking to take that first step towards a shot at the title?

Vitality IEM Cologne

Vitality will be looking to capitalize on their momentum from BLAST Spring Finals here at IEM Cologne. (Image Copyright: ESL | Carlton Beener)

Who’s Playing in the IEM Cologne Play-Ins?

IEM Cologne Play-In Participants
Heroic Team Vitality Outsiders 00 Nation
Complexity Gaming MIBR ORDER TYLOO
BIG Astralis Team Spirit Imperial Esports
Movistar Riders paiN Gaming MOUZ Sprout

The most notable teams present at the IEM Cologne Play-Ins are Heroic and Team Vitality. These two should be sure bets to make it to the Group Stage. Also favorited to advance are Astralis, BIG, Team Spirit, and Outsiders.


Heroic Build Back Up

At the start of 2022, Heroic were one of the teams looking to crack top five worldwide and content for titles. They had a good early showing at the first IEM championship at Katowice, finishing top four. After that however, Heroic started on a decline in form. They were booted from ESL Pro League S15 in 12th at the hands of a weak overall Team Liquid. A top eight at PGL Major Antwerp was a bit better, but still not up to par for where this team wants to be at.

Heroic recently made a roster change, swapping Ismail “refrezh” Ali for Jakob “Jabbi” Nygaard. Jabbi played for Copenhagen Flames for the past couple of years and was a key part of their recent expectation exceeding performance at PGL Major Antwerp. The transition to Jabbi shouldn’t be too difficult for Heroic as refrezh was a role-playing rifler. Regardless, they’ll be looking to get fully acclimated during the Play-In Stage in time for Groups.


Is Vitality Finally Here?

Vitality’s super team made up of half their old roster plus half of the legendary Astralis core did nothing but disappoint through the first half of 2022. Obviously, combining two very different teams, both culturally and stylistically, is not an easy endeavor. Vitality decided that they were in for the long haul on this one, and their faith was finally rewarded two weeks ago. The team not only broke into a top four for the first time all year, they made runner-up at the BLAST Premier Spring Finals.

Although they couldn’t overcome NAVI, beating ENCE and G2 Esports to get there is no small feat. With the first taste of success under the belt of a roster with so many trophies to their names, it has to be wondered if this is the start of something big for Vitality. These players are no strangers to winning after all. If Vitality is able to make a splash here at Cologne, this could be the sign of the roster finally gelling together.


Don’t Underestimate Team Spirit

One of the teams that typically goes under the radar at CS:GO championships is Team Spirit. They don’t command the same respect that names that NAVI,, or other CIS orgs do in this esport. However, whenever they do have a competitive roster, Spirit will almost always make the most of it. The first step came at PGL Major Antwerp where the team surprised everyone with a top four finish, even taking the eventual champions FaZe Clan to triple overtime in semifinals.

This team right now is made up of four young talents led by one of the region’s most experienced active in-game leaders in Leonid “chopper” Vishnyakov. We got to see the 18-year-old Robert “Patsi” Isyanov make his breakout tier one debut at Antwerp. Pavel “s1ren” Ogloblin and Boris “magixx” Vorobyev are also under 20, despite the latter having been on the team for almost three years.

Spirit also has a brand-new player in the form of 17-year-old Ihor “w0nderful” Zhdanov. We haven’t yet seen w0nderful play in any event above B-Tier, so this pickup is likely the result of extensive scouting. While Spirit haven’t had the most time to integrate this change, their early matches here should be on the easier side. The only way for Spirit to go from here is up, and that trajectory could be taking off sooner rather than later.


BIG on the Rise

Germany’s most prominent CS:GO team are back in the spotlight after their unexpected top four finish at IEM Dallas. They then followed that up with a huge first place at the Roobet Cup last week against FaZe Clan. Although it was an online event, that winning mentality will be crucial as they come into IEM Cologne.

BIG did exit the BLAST Spring Finals in last place in between the two events. This result is easy to toss out the window, as their 0-2 finish in the Group Stage came at the hands of ENCE and NAVI, two of the three highest rated teams in the world. Now that they’ve taken down FaZe and won their first trophy since 2021, BIG should be looked at as real threats.

Unfortunately, BIG will be missing Josef “faveN” Baumann for the duration of the event due to illness. His replacement is Nils “k1to” Gruhne who was a mainstay on the BIG roster throughout 2020 and 2021. He knows this team better than anyone else and will fit in with ease. BIG do have a potentially difficult matchup in round two of Play-Ins, but they should advance if recency has anything to say.

IEM Cologne begins on July 5th at 5:00 AM ET. The initial matchups are:

Heroic vs Sprout

MOUZ vs paiN Gaming

Team Spirit vs Complexity Gaming

00 Nation vs Astralis


Outsiders vs Imperial Esports

MIBR vs Movistar Riders

TYLOO vs Team Vitality