IEM Katowice CSGO 2021 Playoffs Preview
After an exhausting week filled with Counter-Strike action, the field of 24 teams has been whittled down to six. The six teams that will fight for the IEM Katowice World Championship. Before we preview the six remaining teams, let’s retrace our steps and see how we went from play-ins to playoffs.
Play-in Stage – A Surprising Source of Contenders
There aren’t many surprise teams advancing to the playoffs at IEM Katowice but the order in which teams advanced certainly was unexpected. Team Spirit’s dispatching of BIG in two maps in the upper bracket would be the first of many surprising results for the CIS team. BIG recovered with a victory over MiBR. Spirit, Gambit Esports, Ninjas in Pyjamas, and Team Liquid all headlined the first group of play-in teams to advance.
In the lower group, OG advanced after some trouble against C9, Virtus Pro dispatched Renegades, BIG beat MiBR, and mousesports reverse swept Complexity. Complexity, unfortunately, earns the “biggest disappointment” accolade for the play-in team. They lost to NiP, surrendered a map to local team Wisła Kraków, and then got reverse swept by a mousesports team without their usual IGL.
Group A – They’ve Got Spirit, Yes They Do
Moving on to the main stage, we begin Group A with Astralis. The Danes got off to a furious start with wins over mousesports and Evil Geniuses. With a playoff spot secured, they had a chance for a semifinal spot against a surprising foe in Team Spirit. Spirit was red hot after 2-0 wins against BIG and Heroic. However, it looked like they would cool off when Astralis won Spirit’s Inferno pick to open the series. But momentum shifted when Spirit stole Train right back from Astralis before the most shocking result of the tournament.
Team Spirit held Astralis scoreless for the entire first half of Dust II, with a perfect 15-0 on their CT side. Astralis only got a single bomb plant down that half, and saved themselves from 16-0 embarrassment by winning the second half pistol. However, that’s all they’d muster, as Spirit decisively won 16-1 and claimed the semifinal spot.
In the lower portion of the bracket, both Gambit Esports and G2 Esports ran the gauntlet to eventually face each other for the lone remaining playoff spot. It was a strong showing from Dmitry ‘sh1ro’ Sokolov and Abay ‘Hobbit’ Khasenov for Gambit, allowing the former Youngsters to nab the playoff spot.
Group B – Liquid Confidence
Is it Return of the Liquid, or Revenge of the Liquid? Actually, it’s both. In their opening series against FaZe Clan, Liquid avenged their two losses to their former teammate at BLAST Spring. Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo had his best series with Liquid yet, notching 50 kills over two maps, including an amazing 29-7 KD performance on Nuke. After that performance, Liquid established their return to form with grueling three-map series victories over Team Vitality then Natus Vincere. Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski especially has been terrific for the NA side.
Lower in the bracket, we saw the return of the Virtus Plow. Virtus.pro came into Katowice with a lot of confidence after their cs_summit 7 victory. With the exception of their opening loss to NiP in play-in (which they avenged in Group B play) and their loss to Na’Vi, they’ve looked absolutely dominant. They 2-0’d NiP, Vitality, then FURIA to earn that final spot in playoffs.
What to expect from the playoffs
IEM Katowice has been an absolute showcase for the CIS region so far. Four of the six playoff teams represent the region in Team Spirit, Natus Vincere, Virtus.pro, and Team Gambit. Had Na’Vi won their series against Liquid, we could have possibly seen an all CIS semifinal if Gambit and VP won their quarterfinal. Three of these teams are now top ten on HLTV, after Spirit’s performance saw them jump from 16 to 7. Gambit climbed from 19 to 15 as well.
Spirit doesn’t just have one star stepping up for them either, the whole team is fragging. Nikolay ‘mir’ Bityukov, Leonid ‘chopper’ Vishnyakov, and Abdul ‘degster’ Gasanov are all capable of leading the team on the scoreboard at any time. Virtus.pro has entered a new realm since adding Mareks “YEKINDAR” Gaļinskis in May 2020. Just a few months after was when they really started improving, and their big recent wins at summit and Flashpoint reflect their awesome growth.
Hobbit and sh1ro weren’t just good against G2, they’ve been stellar all across Katowice. Per HLTV, sh1ro has won a staggering 12 clutches across nine maps in the main event. Na’Vi are still extremely dangerous, even as the rest of the CIS region has taken a huge step forward. Their final map against Liquid in Group B could have gone either way, and they could be the one with the semifinal spot. And they’ve got s1mple, come on now.
Speaking of Team Liquid, they really look like they’ve got it figured out already. FalleN is thriving alongside Stewie; he looks great on the AWP without having to tackle the burden of in-game leading. EliGe looks like he’s campaigning early for the best-in-the-world spot. Keith “NAF” Markovic somehow looks better with a rifle than an AWP. Michael “Grim” Wince is stepping up too. His play from pit on Inferno is what pushed Liquid over the finish line against Na’Vi.
Astralis have a slight concern, but it isn’t on Dust II. Their 16-1 loss to Spirit is an anomaly at best, and an oversight due to lack of preparation at worst. They’ve lost confidence in Lucas “Bubzkji” Andersen’s status as the Nuclear option, opting to ban Nuke in most scenarios or even play without him. With this, it means their map pool has gotten smaller, putting them at a deficit. At the end of the day, they’re still Astralis, and they get to start off against VP who always ban Nuke anyway. But they’ve lost a bit of their versatility that may be key in later matchups, if they can jump out of the way of the Plow.
The IEM Katowice playoffs begin on Friday, Feb. 26 at 8 am CT with Natus Vincere facing Gambit. After that series, Astralis takes on Virtus.pro.